Peter Corrigan: We need leadership, what do we get? FA

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The Independent Football

If anyone should experience a squelchy feeling when walking into Old Trafford it will be all that soup they have swept under the carpet. Here we are, a week after Manchester United and Arsenal enacted another of their high dramas, and we are no nearer knowing who threw what at whom, or even what flavour it was.

Some say pea, some say tomato, some say that a side order of pizza was included and some say who cares anyhow?

But explanations are on the way. Despite an unusual silence over Old Trafford during the past week, United are said to be compiling a dossier on the entire episode and will deliver it to the Football Association this week.

Earlier last week, it looked as though both clubs had decided to stay tight-lipped about the affair. Arsenal's vice-chairman, David Dein, visited United's chief executive and they agreed that the less said the better. Unfortunately, gentlemen's agreements can often suffer from a lack of gentlemen. And while United's manager, Sir Alex Ferguson, clamped tight his jaws, Arsenal's Arsène Wenger can't stop talking about it. His complaints about Ruud van Nistelrooy's attack on Ashley Cole's shin has already saddled the Dutchman with a three-match ban, but Wenger hasn't been happy to leave it there. Not only does he deny that any fracas occurred, he has accused Van Nistelrooy of being a cheat, and what he has called referee Mike Riley would require a dossier of its own.

Because of this, even those of us who have no affiliation to either side would have found it hard to remain neutral. Indeed, many of us have only just realised why we were so happy at Arsenal's 49-game unbeaten record: they are such bad losers let's hope they go another 49.

Having notched up a few brownie points by his restraint, Ferguson felt able to let loose yesterday about Wenger. He claimed that the Arsenal man had broken the agreement because he has a "mental problem" with Van Nistelrooy.

This will rage on, but whether we will ever get a full disclosure of who threw the soup, and/or pizza, that forced Ferguson into a change of clothing before appearing on TV is still in doubt. Controversial referee Riley won't be much help, because he and his assistants remained resolutely locked in their dressing room while the fracas was ensuing. It is probably just as well. Had he presented himself as a target it is unlikely that they would have taken the soup out of the can.

Unfortunately, the presenting of a dossier to the FA is no guarantee that a tin-opener will be taken to the affair. They make PC Plod look like the Flying Squad, and have long lacked the ability to be sharp and positive when firm government in needed.

An extra problem could be that they are so embarrassed over the David Beckham farce they don't know what the hell to do. It is only 10 days ago that the FA turned themselves into laughing stocks when they decided not to charge the England captain for admitting he deliberately got himself booked in the Welsh match. Despite the fact that Beckham had virtually put the handcuffs on himself and climbed into the back of the Black Maria, the FA decided they had insufficient evidence to charge him. Beckham admitted he was "pleasantly surprised" at the outcome. The rest of us are still dumbfounded.

This latest example of the FA swerving sharply off their line of duty in order to keep their players happy was dangerously ludicrous enough to draw a response from the Sports Minister, Richard Caborn, who called on them to get their house in order by appointing an independent assessor to advise them on structural reform.

On balance, I would prefer to see the FA investigate the Government, but there is no doubt that we have reached the stage when a higher authority needs to step in. I am not keen on Government interference, but when the control of the most important sporting organisation in the land appears to be in the hands of incompetents, it is Whitehall's duty to take an interest.

It is true that the FA haven't had the advantage of a chief executive since the departure of Mark Palios over the amorous-secretary affair in August. But can we depend on them to make the right choice as his successor? The chairman, Geoff Thompson, is the first ever to be paid for occupying the post, yet offers no evidence that he has the slightest idea how the governing body of England's national sport should be run to the advantage of the game as a whole.

At the very least, it makes the FA more vulnerable to a takeover by the powerful Premiership clubs, if it isn't happening already. Southampton's chairman, Rupert Lowe, last week revealed a proposal that the responsibility for the England team and the FA Cup, among other things, be handed over to the professional game board, which is dominated by representatives of the clubs. This would render the rump of the FA even more toothless than it is now. And if this unseemly battle between our two most successful clubs does nothing else it proves the need of a strong and independent controlling force at the top of the game.

Now would be a good time for those at Soho Square to assert what remains of their authority. Otherwise we may as well assume that the substance involved was duck soup and that the Marx Brothers had something to do with it.

The fight games

Rivalry between Manchester United and Arsenal is such that it is a wonder their fans don't carry the battle into the streets. Perhaps it proves that these days hooliganism is born of the despairing rather than the high-riding.

Last week's outbreak of trouble in the League Cup matches at Millwall, against Liverpool, and Chelsea, against West Ham, brought a wave of fear that hooliganism is once more taking a grip on the game.

Truth is that hooliganism never went away, it just moved out of the limelight. Top teams might not suffer it too much, but some clubs in the lower leagues are only too aware that they have warring factions following them. And cup football gives them the big stage they crave.

Guilt by association

I can thoroughly recommend Terry Yorath's autobiography (Hard Man, Hard Knocks, Celluloid, £17.99). He admits that he is better known now as Gabby Logan's father, but his career with Leeds, Coventry and Spurs, and 59 caps for Wales, most as captain, deserves some attention.

The personal tragedy of losing his 15- year-old son Danny from a rare heart condition while they were playing football in the garden is described with powerful emotion, as is his recent conviction for drink-driving after knocking down and injuring a young woman.

I saw Terry play as a 15-year-old with Cardiff Boys - John Toshack was in the same team - and have closely followed his career, which so nearly reached a glorious peak when his Welsh team failed narrowly to qualify for the 1994 World Cup finals in the USA. Despite that setback, he would have become a force from which Welsh football could still be benefiting had he not been sacked by some nonentities justly fearful that he would outshine them. How many football associations fall into that category?