Peter Corrigan: Barwick in need of luck - and a good book

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The Independent Football

Between now and when he places his asbestos cushion on the chief executive's chair at the Football Association on Monday 31 January, Brian Barwick has sworn not to utter a public word about the job. It is a shame that he cannot keep his eyes and ears closed as well.

Between now and when he places his asbestos cushion on the chief executive's chair at the Football Association on Monday 31 January, Brian Barwick has sworn not to utter a public word about the job. It is a shame that he cannot keep his eyes and ears closed as well.

Since he was appointed just 10 days ago, the problems he faces have been multiplying almost daily. It is bad enough having to clean the Augean stables without people popping in to add to the heap.

We have had the FA's femme fatale, Faria Alam, alleging that in addition to her dalliances with Mark Palios and Sven Goran Eriksson she was sexually harassed by another high-ranking football administrator in the organisation.

A survey has revealed that over half Football League clubs would prefer the game to be run by an independent regulator instead of the FA. Yet another example of England player-power has surfaced, and at a plush conference of football plutocrats in Dubai some of our top club barons have been sounding off in a manner that does not encourage confidence that the future of the game is in the control of visionaries.

Meanwhile, the spectre of a Government-inspired independent study group into the workings of the FA hangs over us all. Some inside the association thought they should wait for that group to report before they appointed a new chief executive.

Are they crazy? By the time Barwick reports for duty it will be six months since Palios quit the post. If they had waited for an inquiry that has not even been set up yet it would be another year before they reported back, and the game could be as good as dead by then. It may seem melodramatic but, truthfully, there isn't any time to spare to get the ailing guardian of English football back on its feet before any more calamities befall it.

Fussing around with formats at this stage is typical Government fudge. The salvation of the FA has less to do with committee structure than bone structure, and in particular the bone that runs down a man's back.

The introduction of a few less collapsible spines into vital positions in the Football Association would help, and I am impressed with Barwick's appointment. I know him only by reputation, and I am aware that one or two higher-profile candidates dropped out because the brief was so woolly, but this is the sort of job in which you make your own brief.

If Barwick wanted a less turbulent life he could have remained as a big hitter in television, but he must be fully aware of the horrendous difficulties ahead and he still wants the job. That is precisely the type they need, and if he needs a little stimulation before he takes up the challenge I urge him to read a recently published book called The Beautiful Game by David Conn (Yellow Jersey Press, price £12). Subtitled Searching For The Soul Of Football, Conn's work could not be more topical for anyone keen to judge the size and scope of the problems. Conn writes a weekly column called Inside Football for our sister paper The Independent, and no more dedicated or more assiduous digger for the truth exists.

I cannot promise football devotees any comforting reading, but for a fascinating insight into the causes, and the creators, of the game's ills this is a superbly told tale. And the timing of its launch offers Barwick a priceless account of the battle he is about to join.

The book covers a lot of ground in describing and apportioning blame for the plight of many clubs but, quite rightly, it pinpoints the departure of the top clubs from the Football League in 1992 as the catalyst for the present plight. Before then, the agreement was that television fees were divided, with 50 per cent going to the First Division, 25 per cent to the Second and 25 per cent to the Third and Fourth Divisions. The big clubs liked neither that nor the fact that the smaller clubs could outvote them, so they petitioned the FA to sanction a breakaway by the bigger clubs.

The FA, to whom the League was always a pain in the arse, saw the oppor-tunity to align themselves with the powerful and welcomed the desertion with open arms. They naïvely imagined that they would run the Premier League like they ran the FA Cup, that it would enhance their control of the game.

But the then FA chairman, Bert Millichip, began by telling the clubs they did not have to adhere to the previously agreed limit of only 18 clubs and, furthermore, achieved absolutely nothing in return for sanctioning the move. This has all been stuffed into an inadequate nutshell, but you get the drift.

The then chief executive, Graham Kelly, admitted to Conn that the FA missed a golden opportunity. The clubs were desperate for their freedom and would have agreed to a structure that would have eventually worked to everyone's advantage. Instead, they were allowed to break away, keep all the television money and have been shafting the FA ever since.

Since 1992, and up until 2007, the Premier League have negotiated a total of £3.7 billion from television. As Conn says, you have to wonder how such a deluge of money into the game can have left financial problems for any club.

But the drip-down has been meagre, and even that is begrudged. That imbalance would be more palatable if the proceeds were not so blatantly purloined by players and their agents - and let's not forget many in the boardrooms who have made their fortunes out of the breakaway.

You only have to examine the huge income being acquired by the likes of the mouthy Newcastle United chairman, Freddy Shepherd, who was sounding off in Dubai last week about small clubs holding them back, to realise what a scandalous situation we are in.

Is it retrievable? Only Barwick and a few good men and true at the head of the FA can achieve that. It is not promising that an attempt to stem the rise of Premiership power has already failed. Barwick's last-but-one predecessor, Adam Crozier, left with the marks of big barons on his hide.

According to Conn, Crozier was asked to sign an agreement on behalf of the FA that would have handed ultimate control to the Premier League over all commercial decisions affecting the FA Cup and England matches. The League also wanted to approve all England's friendly fixtures. Crozier refused, and that show of defiance led to his exit with a £750,000 pay-off that guaranteed his silence. I thought at the time he put up a brave fight, and Conn's account confirms that opinion.

Where Crozier could have been criticised was in reducing the average age of the FA staff. Receptionists and secretaries who had served long and faithfully were replaced with younger women. We now know one of the devastating results of that policy.

Conn is unsparing in his criticism of those who he thinks have been the main culprits in the rape of the FA's sacred duty, but, as mournful as the situation is, he keeps faith in football's ability to right itself.

But you are left in no doubt that what faces Barwick is more of a crusade than a job, and you would have to be churlish, or a big-earning Premier League director, not to wish him all the luck in the world.

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