James Lawton: The 'beautiful game' is at a crossroads: can anyone out there provide the answers?
Football is indeed teetering on the brink of being ungovernable
When Lord Ouseley, chairman of the Kick It Out campaign, described the governance of English football as a moral wasteland riddled with hypocrisy he did it against the backcloth of the Palace of Westminster.
This at least was good for a laugh but on the lips of anyone connected with the game it was one which surely had the briefest of lifespans. This, after all, was not a good time to collect such a denouncement – not a good day or week or year because, sooner or later, a certain reality will have to be absorbed.
It is that if football was any other branch of the nation's commercial life, one guaranteed more than £3bn paid by a captive audience, it would some time ago have been hauled before a parliamentary subcommittee, if not a full scale Royal Commission.
Ouseley is a one-issue man, albeit one of huge moral implications, but when he attacks the Football Association, the Premier League and leading clubs Chelsea and Liverpool for their equivocal reaction to the John Terry and Luis Suarez affairs, his criticism might easily spread itself over a much wider agenda. An increasingly bitter truth is that football, even while awash with the largesse of TV, is indeed teetering on the brink of being ungovernable in anything like moral terms.
That was the thrust of Ouseley's argument in relation to the refusal of Chelsea and Liverpool – and by extension the FA and Premier League – to see Terry and Suarez as other than important assets that had to be protected at all costs. It just happened that the former chairman of the Commission for Racial Equality decided to make war on football in a week when it was already bracing itself against another torrent of evidence that the game which in another age celebrated national heroes like Sir Bobby Charlton and Bobby Moore and Sir Geoff Hurst has never slipped so low in public regard.
On Sunday there was a worrying indication that the violence which besmirched the nation's image for three decades might be returning to terraces already mired in vicious and frequently unspeakable tribal chanting. That certainly was the concern provoked by the volley of coins at the Etihad Stadium, one of which brought down United's Rio Ferdinand and could so easily have blinded him in one eye.
On Friday the most devoted fans of Portsmouth will learn if they are to be allowed the chance to rescue their famous old club from debts of £61m, mostly accrued in a desperate attempt to maintain life in the promised land of the Premier League.
On Sunday the annual popularity contest of the BBC's hugely hyped Sports Personality of the Year will feature a parade of Olympic and Paralympic winners without a single vote being cast for a multimillionaire football player.
It is the latest rebuke for a football industry whose leaders made vividly clear the extent of the challenge facing the entire game in the season following an extraordinary summer of sports glory. But if this is a bad week, the issues it has raised most pointedly would scarcely fill out the required agenda in the unlikely event of all branches of football leadership – the FA, the League, the clubs, the players' union – displayed the instinct and the will to come together to address the malaise. Where would they start? Maybe they would consider Ouseley's charge that no one within the game, not at the FA or the Premier League, or Liverpool, or Chelsea, has the nerve to make any stand beyond their own immediate interests.
They could certainly broach a few questions. Who will stand up and say that cheating, by both attackers and defenders, has reached such a level that some of our greatest old performers can no longer watch a game without suffering bouts of nausea?
Who will go in and rail against the scandalous lack of opportunity for young home-grown players in the Premier League?
Will anyone ask the FA to quantify its support of the Hillsborough families in their monumental fight for justice – and explain why it had to be shamed into an explicit public apology for its own share of responsibility for the tragedy?
Might there be a question or two about the FA's mealy-mouthed rubber-stamping of Chelsea's shoot-from-the-hip persecution of referee Mark Clattenburg? Could we maybe get a better idea of the resources that might be applied to the job of making large sections of Premier League grounds fit for decent, hate-free human habitation?
Is it time for the Premier League to talk less of its worldwide fan appeal and a little more about how it is reacting, if at all, to the brilliant business model and fast-rising performance levels of the Bundesliga? The questions keep coming, don't they? Maybe one of these days we will get a few answers. Meanwhile, bring on the Olympians.
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