Why sport needs Dyke and Dyke needs sport

Despite that Government fall-out, the former television chief still has a role to play - but he is yet to discover what.
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The Independent Online

As Greg Dyke signed the umpteenth copy of his new autobiography, one of the young students who had been standing in line after his talk-in at the London School of Economics last week asked him: "What are you going to do next?" "Dunno?" replied the former BBC director general. "What do you think?" "Well," said the student, "as a Manchester United fan, I wish you'd become their chief executive."

As it happens Dyke's name heads quite a few sporting wish-lists at the moment. There has been speculation that he might be asked to lead the review body that the Government demand must overhaul the Football Association; or perhaps even become an independent chairman of a reformed FA itself. Failing that, there's the available chair of UK Sport.

Dyke himself is scornfully dismissive any such notions. He says he loves sport too much to want to get involved in running it. "In any case these sort of jobs are mainly Government appointments. And I'm the last person this Government is going to give anything to."

As he had just spent an hour slagging off the Government in general and the Prime Minister in particular, you could see his point. "Anyway, sports administration is not something I know enough about. Yes, I do have a background in sports journalism and I'm a sports nut but that doesn't mean to say I would be any good at running it.

"Whatever we may think of administrators they have a terribly frustrating life and I'm not sure I need that now. You also have to look at where the power in sport is and I'm not sure it is with the administrators. Who has the power at the FA? Not those in charge of it."

So it seems we can take that as a no. No job in sport for the man who was controversially forced to resign from the BBC after the Hutton Inquiry and is now unemployed but not bothered about it because, as he says, he has been lucky enough to make enough money in his life never to need to work again.

But he surely will and another possible scenario arises. Should Brian Barwick, now ITV's Head of Sport, become the new chief executive at the Football Association, for which he is reportedly favourite, could Dyke be persuaded to return to his old stamping ground? He was, after all, in charge of sport for a while at ITV, where he famously removed wrestling from its programming and was subsequently threatened with a house visit by Big Daddy and Giant Haystacks. Even recently he had to have a police presence while speaking in Bath because of concerns that a local nutter obsessed with wrestling "might come and give me a hard time". Why he axed "downmarket" wrestling and how he caused Will Carling to be temporarily stripped of the England rugby captaincy following the "57 old farts" outburst on a sports programme Dyke fronted for Channel Four called Fair Game, are among the tales he tells in a fascinating chapter devoted to sport in his *book. It also reveals how he was instrumental in bringing about the Premiership, to the fury of most League clubs, and, as a then director of Manchester United, helped thwart Rupert Murdoch's proposed takeover of the club.

So what does the man who calls himself "A Cockney Red" think of the current Manchester machinations. "Well, you are now in a position where two phone calls buys you the club. This may have been inevitable from the moment they floated. Maybe it was always going to happen this way in the end.

"When I was on the board I did my best to stop Sky buying it but once an organisation becomes a public company there's always the danger you get bought, though I don't know what Mr Glazer's next move is. But someone borrowing vast sums of money doesn't strike me as a good idea for a football club."

Disaffected New Labourite Dyke also tells impishly in the book of a time when he was on much better terms with Downing Street. "Cherie Blair, whom I knew quite well, rang one Christmas to ask if I could get a discount on a Manchester United shirt. Her son Euan wanted David Beckham's No 7. I offered to give her the shirt for free but she insisted on paying. For a while I was tempted to keep the cheque and frame it; in the end I decided the money was more important than the memento."

As for sports bosses, he now says: "What I discovered was that people who were organising and running sport in the UK were largely hard-working, well-meaning, enthusiastic amateurs. Sadly, in many sports, they still are.

"David Mellor once captured all that was suspect in British sports administration when he said: 'Sport in Britain will only improve when a lot of old men in blazers fall on their swords.' Unfortunately, what we have discovered since is that there are always a lot of young men in blazers prepared to replace them.

"Sport in Britain has changed beyond all recognition in the 15 years I've been involved with sports broadcasting. The coming of pay television has brought millions into certain sports - the ones the public want to watch on television - to the disadvantage of others.

"It has also changed when and where live sports events are played. The traditionalists, including many sports journalists and newspapers who hate the control broadcasters now have, tell us what a terrible thing this is. But in today's sports world money is all. The broadcasters supply the cash, so they call the tune."

Dyke says he was brought up in a household where winning at sport was always more important than achieving exam results. As a cub reporter he covered sport for his local paper, the Hillingdon Mirror, and Reg Gutteridge, the former boxing correspondent of the old London Evening News, regularly received calls from "Dyke of Uxbridge". "I used to kick his arse," Gutteridge recalls whimsically.

Dyke, 57, has done a fair bit of arse- kicking himself in his time, and doubtless would do more if he ever could be tempted to help knock sport into shape. And despite what he says, you feel one day he just might, because isn't he restless enough to need something to do when the book-signing stops?

He laughs: "We'll see. You know, when you resign the popular thing to say is, 'I want to spend more time with my family'. Well, I've quickly discovered that my family don't particularly want to spend more time with me!"

¿ 'Inside Story' (HarperCollins, £20)