The Last Word: One word sums up the FA – weak
Incompetence is coming home as bungling officials keep making gaffes. Reform at the top is the only way forward
Sunday 22 May 2011
Somewhere deep in the heart of England, sitting unsighted in a disused quarry, is a production line churning out sporting figures. Alas, this is no footballing factory, no playmaking plant, no Messi manufacturer, no Cristiano construction. This belches out babies in blazers, who shake hands instead of rattles, grasp spreadsheets instead of teddies. And on their poor heads is stamped their destination. "FA," it says. "This way up."
And there you were, wondering where these people come from, these faceless, nameless characters who have removed the governing out of governing body. Barely 24 hours go by nowadays – never mind anything so long as a week – without some shambolic whiff emerging from Wembley. England's national sport is not football; the nation is not most naturally suited to the guile and style of the beautiful game. When it comes to producing bungling officials, England is simply without equal. Incompetence is coming home.
Where to start on the patrol of the fault line? The last month is as bad as any. These four weeks should rank with the most embarrassing in the Football Association's near 150-year history, certainly from a PR perspective. Even when they claim the moral high ground – with the corruption claims against Fifa – they find a posse of critics taking justifiable aim. Bizarrely, the good guys are also the hapless guys. It is like the Keystone Kops embarking on a clean-up crusade in Fort Apache The Bronx. It is difficult to be taken seriously when everyone is laughing at you.
Just think, this next week should be a time of immense pride and showcase for the FA, as their gleaming home hosts the Champions' League final, the club match of all club matches. Yet for those unfortunate souls employed to front their press operation, it will predominantly be about damage limitation than gain maximisation. Look around, gulp a breath, there are fires to be put out everywhere. Some small, some big, all destructive. If you spot a PR chap tackling a forest blaze with a B&Q extinguisher, then feel for him. He works for the FA.
Managers being fined for praising referees; tearful 11-year-old girls who are banned from playing with the boys being interviewed by Lorraine Kelly; the wrong names on the FA Cup flags... these are just the nonsensical head-scratchers which point to a deep systemic malaise. Even the politicians, those most hypercritical of mismanagers, feel able to target the organisation. So Hugh Robertson, the sports minister, can call football "the worst governed sport in the country" and everyone nods in agreement. Really, the Government should be hit by a hail of "you what?" whenever they dare pinpoint the spec in sport's eye. They should be told "keep your nose out, until you decide to fund sport properly, until you start to back up your grand statements with deeds". But they aren't and that proves the current state of the FA. One word sums them up: weak.
Weak in curbing any of the Premier League's worst excesses; weak when those Fifa blaggards made their World Cup demands; weak when caving in to Sky's wishes to play Premier League games on FA Cup final day; weak in every facet of the third-party ownership hearing against QPR; weak in each and every disciplinary they bring against managers and players in the futile attempt to uphold their weak Respect campaign. Again, this is not the total of their inadequacy, merely the recent examples, merely the latest indications of an association which plainly isn't working. The reason for repeated failure was written all across the staff survey leaked a few days ago in the Daily Mail.
Too many board members leaving, too many of these board members, in Robertson's words, fulfilling the FA stereotype "of being white, male and late middle-aged" featuring "nobody who has played the game to any reasonable level and no women nor anyone from the ethnic communities". They are out of touch and out of their depth. And so the gaffes go on and the miserable history repeats itself. The FA are desperate for a strong, merciless, respected hand, for a man at the helm who will make those damn turkeys vote for Christmas. Reform at the top is the only way forward.
But it shouldn't be too professionaland definitely not too corporate. As it is there is a gaping divide between the playing class and the ruling class. The relationship is at an all-time low and only integration will fix the problem. They need football men, proper football men, men with football in their brains and hearts. It sounds quaint but it shouldn't be.
Football is big business, but it is essentially football. So much of what the FA do focuses on the bottom line instead of what transpires on the important side of the touchline. It could be worse, they say, they could be Fifa. But hey, in certain respects it's better to be corrupt instead of incompetent.
At least, Blatter's self-interested tribe know what they are doing, however repulsive it may be. Yes, repulsive enough for the FA to refuse to back either Sepp Blatter or the equallydespicable Mohamed Bin Hammam. We can only pray the FA don't mess that up. Shouldn't be too difficult NOT to fill a form in, should it? After all, they haven't ticked any boxes of late. Why start now?
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