This Saturday marks the 150th anniversary of what can now be termed the first ever Football Association commission. Yesterday a blue plaque was unveiled at Wembley to mark the meeting in a central London pub of Ebenezer Cobb Morley, George Twizell Wawn and six other properly named fellows to draw up the original laws of the game.
As Gregory, as we should probably call him in this company, Dyke places 150 candles in the cake in readiness for Saturday’s gala dinner he would do well to keep checking over his shoulder in case Sir Dave Richards, the ghost of football governance past, tiptoes into the room ready to plunge the chairman’s head into the icing. It has been that sort of month for Dyke.
The FA planned the celebratory events of the year with the meticulous care of a Victorian benefactor. It began in January and has marched through 2013 with a mix of pomp, ceremony and, it should be said, some pretty entertaining football at their Wembley home; from Wigan reminding everyone what the game can be all about, to Bayern Munich reminding everyone what it is all about and even England giving a reminder as to why, with its accompanying tension and dramatic sweep, it remains the greatest game.
Which is all in stark contrast to the mess the governing body has made of instigating its new commission. There is something akin to Yes Minister about it; new man arrives with new broom and visions of distant, sunlit uplands whereupon civil servants nod sagely and praise his boldness and then point out we must have someone from the board, someone from the League Managers’ Association, the players’ union and all the various bodies that have played a part in making English football what it is today.
The names of those on the commission have emerged damagingly in dribs and drabs. It needed to have the England manager involved – after all it is his team this is ultimately about – but clearly he could not be involved until his team had completed World Cup qualification (because if they had failed the FA would probably have been looking for a new England manager).
The line-up should have been guarded until it was complete, and that – presuming you take the FA’s word that Rio Ferdinand had always been a candidate – would also have avoided this weekend’s shelling of HQ over the commission’s lack of diversity.
Wembley Way has been paved with good intentions but it still looks a botched job. Sir Alex Ferguson said in a recent interview that by the “time you pick the team, you should never think you’re not going to win”. Looking at the side Dyke has selected, it does not suggest another blue plaque will be unveiled in its honour somewhere down the line.
Football, and in particular British and English football, has always been inward-looking. In a sense it has a right to, given its predominance in the sporting landscape, but, to mangle C L R James’s abidingly adroit judgement of cricket, what do they know of football who only football know? This commission is all English and all embedded within English football. It is a game that needs to look beyond its boundaries, both national and sporting.
Two points struck home from reading the slew of interviews with Dennis Bergkamp over the weekend about his new book. The first is his dismissal of the relevance of winning at youth level, his belief in putting a youngster with a weak left foot on the left flank until he improves regardless of the effect on the team. It is a simple trade, long-term gain for short-term loss.
The other is perhaps even more striking – how minimal the impact of his youth coaches at Ajax, the great and fabled Ajax youth system, were on his early career. It is not all about coaching, coaching, coaching into a pre-determined system, suggests Bergkamp. It is also about individuals, although that does conjure an apocalyptic vision of England’s age-group teams all chanting “Yes, yes, we’re all individuals” in a film to mark the FA’s 200th anniversary called the Life of Brian (Barwick).
Who knows, Danny Mills and Ferdinand may have similar ideas to Bergkamp, but they have only been schooled in the English way. This is the diversity the commission needs, one of nationality. And then there is one of sport.
As a sporting nation as a whole Britain is enjoying a golden era, and nowhere more so than in cycling. It is easier for a well-run, structured, financed and innovatively coached national team to win barrow-loads of medals in a sport like cycling, especially track cycling, than in football, a sport that obsesses most of the world. But the manner in which British Cycling and its alter ego Team Sky have first achieved success then sustained it demands closer study. When Dyke failed to persuade Sir Dave Brailsford to lend his time, he could then have made another request: since Sky’s season is done could we borrow Tim Kerrison? Brailsford may well have told Dyke to get on his bike but the example of what Kerrison did to spark Sky’s Tour de France triumphs is a potentially important lesson.
Kerrison is a former rower, former rowing coach and a former swimming coach. Brailsford became aware of him during irregular get-togethers between coaches from swimming, rowing, cycling and sailing in the mid-2000s. When Sky struggled in their first attempt at the Tour de France, Brailsford offered Kerrison, this absolute outsider, a job and then let him spend the best part of a season merely observing. Kerrison looked, listened and learned and put together a plan. It is one that has seen Sir Bradley Wiggins and Chris Froome win successive Tours. Wiggins is a great sportsman but not an easy individual, he is wary of outsiders yet he was broad-minded enough to listen to this quiet, studious Australian with no background in cycling telling him how to best ride his bike. The rest is history.
Stuart Lancaster, the England rugby union coach, has recruited Matt Parker, the man in charge of finding those famed marginal gains for British cycling, to be part of his backroom staff. Lancaster himself attends occasional get-togethers with Brailsford and others from across sport, including Mike Forde, until this summer director of football operations at Chelsea and a rare football presence in this area. “No one knows everything,” says Lancaster of why he tries to broaden his horizons.
Football, via Southampton and Rupert Lowe’s job for his friend Sir Clive Woodward, has very occasionally flirted with outsiders. But this is not about a permanent position, it is about exploring a diversity of ideas and a diversity of experience. The FA tracked down the descendants of the founding fathers from across the globe for yesterday’s ceremony. If only there had been such enterprise in establishing Dyke’s commission.
How are Pakistan still able to challenge from such chaos?
On Wednesday, Pakistan begin their attempt to seal a Test series victory against South Africa, the world’s best side. Prior to winning the opening game, Pakistan had lost their previous Test to Zimbabwe, the world’s worst side. They can’t play at home, have a governing body that is an absolute mess, and constantly chop and change their side – in the first Test spinner Zulfiqar Babar made his debut aged 34, while Khurram Manzoor and Shan Masood became their 565th, or something like that, opening partnership of the year. Pakistan zindabad.Reuse content