Sam Wallace: Something about the FA makes reckless gamblers out of staid accountants
No one will stop to ask whether this level of scrutiny might be better directed at Fifa,which seems to escape miraculously from every tight spot
Monday 17 May 2010
For an organisation that was built on the Victorian zeal for muscular Christianity and still gives two of its council seats to the representatives from Oxbridge, the Football Association punches far above its weight when it comes to the pedigree of scandal.
Long before there was the Faria Alam scandal or Sven Goran Eriksson and the fake sheikh, the late Sir Bobby Robson took his team to the 1990 World Cup finals against a backdrop of salacious stories about his private life. The first chief executive, Graham Kelly, quit over the loan to the Wales FA for the 2006 World Cup bid. Something about the place makes reckless gamblers of staid accountants and marketing men.
Yesterday Lord Triesman followed an ignoble FA tradition when he found himself at the centre of a classic FA scandal involving all the key elements: a younger woman, a restaurant assignation, careless words and a secret recording. This time, however, it is impossible not to feel uncomfortable about the dethroning of Triesman.
The secretly recorded conversation is the biggest stitch-up in modern public life. It places the victim in a situation that few of us could imagine emerging from without saying something embarrassing. And then when the moment of disclosure comes it is the victim who is forced to pay with his career.
It would be nice to think that Triesman might have tried to ride this storm out, to argue he was simply guilty of no more than being an old goat in pursuit of a younger woman. But it became increasingly inevitable yesterday as first he quit as the 2018 World Cup bid chairman that he would not be able to hang on to the equivalent job at the FA, and so it worked out by the end of the day that he had resigned both posts.
All because of some allegations Triesman made to the woman in question, which would be no more likely to form part of his public discourse than he would consider chairing a meeting of the FA board in his favourite pair of pyjamas.
Unfortunately, none of this will matter in the wave of apologies that are already sweeping from the FA to Fifa headquarters. No one will stop to ask whether this level of scrutiny might be better directed at Fifa, an organisation which seems to escape miraculously from every tight spot in which it finds itself, including the highly dubious collapse in 2001 of its marketing partner ISL which had debts of £153m.
To scrutinise an organisation that is hidden within the secretive world of Swiss finance and holds to ransom any national government that attempts to regulate it would actually take effort and long hours. No one has even stopped for a moment to ask whether there might be something in Triesman's allegation that there is the potential for bribing referees at the World Cup.
So much better to tape secretly the ill-advised words of an FA chairman trying to impress a younger woman and, when the acute embarrassment finally kicks in, engage in that old sport of destroying a man's reputation.
As for the 2018 World Cup bid, it is a source of bewilderment to other nations why the English are so determined to destroy their own chances of hosting the tournament. No one expects English newspapers to act as cheerleaders to the bid but, even by our standards, the level of self-destruction is breathtaking. We must be mad.
It also means we will not have to listen to men such as the insufferable Jack Warner, one of the 24-man Fifa executive committee (ExCo) which will make the final decision, lecture the 2018 World Cup bid on morality and ethics. We barely need to go over the story of the 2006 World Cup ticketing scandal in which Warner's son was involved, apart from to say that if Triesman did the same he would have to resign all over again.
Objectively, England is perfectly well-equipped to stage a World Cup. It has the stadiums, the infrastructure, the football heritage and the know-how. Whether Triesman has said something daft does not affect the capacity of St James' Park to host great World Cup matches or the building schedule for Tottenham Hotspur's ambitious new stadium.
The trouble is, winning the right to host a World Cup finals has never been as simple as having enough good stadiums and hotel rooms. It also does not really have anything to do with whether New Labour peers say something daft in private. Winning a World Cup bid has more to do with appeasing the myriad of different self-interest groups on the Fifa ExCo.
The 2018 bid is not dead in the water because of Triesman; no more so than it is destined to be a success because Blatter now has David Beckham on his speed dial. There will be recriminations and sermonising and then the men who run the 2018 bid will quietly go back to the business of finding out what deals can be struck to get England the votes that it needs.
Every scandal requires a sacrifice – it is the way – and there was no more fitting offering to the gods of international football than poor old Triesman. The sorry saga will enter the folklore of the FA to be treated as another one of those colourful episodes in the lives of the ordinary folk who run the English game's 147-year-old governing body.
But it is worse than that. It is, at its very heart, a stitch-up. One which only serves to make the paranoid, secretive world that is English football more paranoid and more secretive, and does no one involved any credit.
Capello commits but could it end up costing the FA?
The deletion of the break clause from Fabio Capello's Football Association contract that would have come into effect this summer is regarded as a great success on both sides, signalling his commitment to his employers and theirs to him.
Let's just hope that it does not go the same way as when Sven Goran Eriksson signed his last contract with the FA in March 2004, which eventually proved an expensive mistake when the FA decided to sack him just two years later. Everyone wants Capello to be a success but you have to pray that it was not the naming of his 30-man squad that prompted him to abolish the break clause.
Stirring evocation of great tradition deserves to abide
It is a great disappointment that the singing of the FA Cup final hymn "Abide With Me" is not given greater billing at Wembley these days. It is not the fault of the FA, which still does it with all the bells and whistles, it just seems that not many people in the stadium really seem to appreciate the significance of it anymore.
Modern stadiums are full of sound and fury and, at Wembley on Cup final day, flame bursts and tickertape – but there is nothing that quite stirs the blood like Henry Francis Lyte's deathbed composition.
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