A television thing is not the vision thing

You can't avoid the question that if football can arrive at an acceptable compromise between the demands of club and country, why can't rugby?

Compared to the nasty, snarling mess that disfigures English rugby union, the relationship between the controlling influences in English football is almost serene. The English team, plus the other international representatives of these isles, went about their business in the World Cup qualifiers yesterday while the big clubs stood by idly, and apparently happily, awaiting the safe return of their players.

Compared to the nasty, snarling mess that disfigures English rugby union, the relationship between the controlling influences in English football is almost serene. The English team, plus the other international representatives of these isles, went about their business in the World Cup qualifiers yesterday while the big clubs stood by idly, and apparently happily, awaiting the safe return of their players.

We can be certain that the football clubs consider international football to be a pain in the arse and wish it had never been invented but the two sides have learnt to live with each other and, superficially at least, all is sweetness and light between them.

No doubt, had the foot and mouth outbreak not forced the postponement of Ireland's Six Nations match with England in Dublin yesterday, we could have witnessed a similarly peaceful skin-deep situation in rugby. But the game was off and the two factions of clubs and union filled the vacuum with a vitriolic clash of interests that would worry anyone who is concerned with the future of rugby.

You can't avoid the question that if football, where the commercial imperative is vastly bigger and of a more complicated nature, can arrive at an acceptable compromise between the twin demands of club and country, why can't rugby find a basis for agreement? I don't intend to delve into the finer points of the confrontation while better brains than mine attempt to unravel the situation on page 11, but I am prepared to offer the opinion that union could do worse than make a close study of how football's unity was forged.

The first point to recognise is that the truce, and that is all it is, has been achieved by crawling over far rockier ground than that facing rugby. Leagues are a comparatively new feature in union whereas they have been the very spine of domestic football for more than a century.

The Football Association is the older institution but the Football League wielded the professional power; so much so that the formation of the breakaway Premier League at the start of the Nineties was achieved with far less trouble than was envisaged.

This was to a large extent due to the support of the FA, who saw the advantage in allowing the big clubs to break free and raise the upper standards of the game. This ought to have produced a better grade of international player but, regrettably, this has not proved to be the case.

The move has greatly improved the appeal of the domestic game but has yet to manifest itself at international level. This does not bother the clubs. Indeed, if you have been watching the BBC2 programme The Men Who Changed Football you could beforgiven for thinking that some miraculous transformation had taken place and that it was entirely due to the visionary talents of a handful of club directors.

Men like David Dein of Arsenal, Martin Edwards of Manchester United and Irving Scholar, formerly of Spurs, were to be seen agreeing modestly with the premise that it was their entrepreneurship that laid the foundations of the buoyant state of the present game.

I tend to the belief that the men who changed football were to be found mainly on the pitch and, in greater numbers, in the stands. There has never been a great difficulty in selling the national game to the nation. There have been fallow periods in its appeal but these have had causes far more profound than the BBC2 programme was prepared to investigate.

I don't recall anyone saying, "Let's go to Highbury, I hear Dein is a brilliant director." And I may have missed the clamour to watch Scholar take his seat in the Spurs directors' box - was this the man who bequeathed Alan Sugar and then Enic to the game? And how many went to Old Trafford in the hope that Edwards would read the minutes of the last board meeting over the Tannoy before they announced the team changes.

Was this the same Martin Edwards who was going to sell his stake in United to Michael Knighton? Now that really would have been bold advancement of the game's interest.

I don't object to these gentlemen making money out of football. If they were prepared to invest at the right time then they are entitled to any profits that accrue. But I doobject to them taking credit forsuperhuman vision.

Like any business, football is evolving and owes as much to its past as to its present; to the hordes who stood in discomfort, to the players who performed for peanuts and to the directors who invested far more than they ever had a prospect of taking out. And if they failed to develop better grounds this was due mainly to the pig-headedness of successive governments, who insisted on ground improvements being taxed but not transfer fees. Hence, the rise in transfer fees and not in comfortable stands.

Past rulers of the clubs could be accused of failing to release the full potential of the game and there is no doubt that for decades the game sold itself too cheaply. That does not excuse the present accelerating rise in admission fees.

That's why Sunderland should be congratulated for already announcing reduced season ticket prices for next season. The more money they get from television - and don't let them make out that screwing larger fees from television companies calls for great business intellect - the less they should demand from the people who are willing to turn out in all weathers to support their team and flesh out the atmosphere of ourstadiums.

The owners of our top rugby clubs, who on the whole I tend to prefer, have a long way to go before they achieve what they desire. I trust they will persevere andone day they may earn the rightto be as smug as their football counterparts.

---

Rugby will make its final farewells to the much admired Gordon Brown at Troon tomorrow. Since Scotland's fabled Lions forward died last week, tributes to him have been many in number and rich in praise.

One of the most appropriate, and which would have certainly won his approval, took place in the shadow of the Cardiff Arms Park on Wednesday night where several of his team-mates from the 1971 Lions party celebrated his memory.

They had convened not for that purpose but to help Barry John launch a Chinese restaurant. David Duckham, John Bevan and Chico Hopkins were among theformer Lions who were joinedby a throng of more recent Welsh internationals.

Brown was remembered by a minute's silence and, more fittingly, by several hours of rowdy behaviour. His name was still being toasted at dawn. "It was a great night and was dominated by stories of Broonie," said Barry John.

The presence of King John among the king prawns marks his latest venture. It is within 50 yards of the entrance to the Millennium Stadium and called Barry John's Oriental Kingdom - an impressive name based on an original idea by Genghis Khan.

The occasion also marked the publication of a book entitled World in Union, the story of rugby union world-wide, which is published by the International Rugby Board and is the result of two decades of loving research by its editor, Chris Thau.

Lavishly illustrated, it will help entertain you until the international game gets back on its feet. This limited edition of 1,000 copies is priced at £50 and can be ordered by credit card on 0117 977 9188.

---

Among the many sportsaffected by the foot and mouth disease is ballooning. All balloonists in Britain have been banned from taking off, presumably on the grounds that pigs might fly.

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