Sweet memories of an ivory tower

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The Independent Football

The Football Association is abandoning Lancaster Gate, an address synonymous with the tradition and authority of English football, for some modern new offices in Soho Square in the heart of London's West End. As they pursue their policy of modernisation and the squeaky-clean image, the smart young men of the FA do not realise they are leaving a building which formerly housed the Association of British Launderers.

The Football Association is abandoning Lancaster Gate, an address synonymous with the tradition and authority of English football, for some modern new offices in Soho Square in the heart of London's West End. As they pursue their policy of modernisation and the squeaky-clean image, the smart young men of the FA do not realise they are leaving a building which formerly housed the Association of British Launderers.

I suppose they do need better accommodation if they are expanding their role as a service industry for those who play and watch the game, but, as the great Freddie Trueman would say: "I just don't know what's going off down there."

Do they constantly have to depict the old place as the original ivory tower? To quote Jim Royle: "Soho Square, my arse." Working alongside England teams and managers around the world was all very exciting and glamorous - well, maybe not in Tirana or Chisinau - but never was I happier than waking up of a morning and driving to Lancaster Gate to spend my day at the very hub of the game behind those famous doors at the top of the steps from which I delivered my weightiest pronouncements.

The W2 traffic was not as heavy as the West End's but nevertheless I would arrive ahead of the rush hour. One day I rolled up a little too early and caught a couple of youths relieving themselves of their sentiments about English football's governing body and no doubt a dozen pints of lager as well all over the beautiful shiny nameplate that you see behind the television news reporters who deliver pieces to camera from the Lancaster Gate pavement. I rang the local nick which, I have to say, did not exhibit undue concern about the pee in our porch. "Probably all Scots," I thought as I gave chase to the culprits. Thankfully, as I had not decided what I would do if I caught them, they disappeared into Kensington Gardens.

The move to the West End will not seem too much like a good idea when kebabs are pushed through the FA's letterbox at 4.0am; nor will they have the park for a lunchtime kickabout.

My favourite room at Lancaster Gate was the library, with its shelves creaking under the weight of fabulous and fascinating histories of the game and coaching tomes from Walter Winterbottom to Charles Hughes. It was Hughes who, perhaps unwittingly, with his low regard for the professionals at the clubs, did much to perpetuate the ivory tower image. It was always fascinating to watch England managers move into their office on the third floor, which Hughes ruled with a rod of iron.

Graham Taylor, whom Hughes might have regarded as somewhat of a protégé, was too cute to become publicly aligned with the director of coaching. By contrast, Terry Venables, surely the epitome in Hughes' eyes of the duckers and divers of the professional world, was surprisingly embraced as a potential technical director of the future.

Venables' allegedly thin attention span survived many a long afternoon in Hughes' office only for the England coach to emerge eyes glazed at 5 o'clock. No wonder he liked his karaoke of an evening.

Literally the same council members who once complained about the belief of my predecessor as chief executive, Ted Croker, that he could do his job better without their input are now bitching to me in White's Hotel across the road about the autonomy they have given to my successor.

For my part, I left it to the PR guys to deflect the ivory tower jibes, content that the edifice was filled with masters who, even if they sometimes treated Lancaster Gate like a club (white anglo saxon male), genuinely wanted to serve football, and servants like me who were prepared to take the flak and work within and sometimes against the system which the councillors clung doggedly to. Despite the structure, we managed to create the Premier League and the commercial programmes on which the FA's wealth is now based.

There were servants, too, like Steve, the competitions administrator, who, not content with waking up in a cold sweat worrying about the prospects of play for the preliminary round FA Cup tie at Snodbury St Peter, managed a Sunday League side as well.

"Do you miss Lancaster Gate?" journos frequently ask. Of course I bloody miss it. Not so much now I've been invited onto the board of Luton Town. It's great. I get a free seat at every match, and a cup of tea too, and I no longer stand in the rain at Snodbury with Steve.

grahamkelly@btinternet.com

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