Internal intrigue reveals a capacity for vendetta

Ken Jones finds nothing new in the machinations of the FA committee that puts personal power before the health of the England team
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The Independent Online
The more newspapers publish about internal affairs at the Football Association, the more obvious it becomes to the reader that not much has altered in some cases since officers arrived by Hansom cab and reached decisions by gaslight.

What I have specifically in mind is the confusion caused yesterday when Terry Venables let it be known that he will not continue as England coach beyond next summer's European Championship finals, because the FA hierarchy have not given him their unanimous support.

No doubt there are people, especially those clearly involved in a vendetta against Venables, who anticipate gleefully his departure, but the dramatic outcome of events at Lancaster Gate leaves the FA smelling of something other than roses.

Not for the first time in history an unavoidable impression is that members of its International Committee - in succession to those who booted out Sir Alf Ramsey - have again been unable to formulate a policy with which they themselves are all fully conversant and unanimously agreed upon.

The idea that all are pulling together for the long-term benefit of English football is, and always has been, a nonsense. As with most fraternities the FA is factional and beset by personal ambitions. Power is eagerly sought and guarded jealously.

Nothing could illustrate this better than the situation that developed around Venables while he was trying to reconstruct the England team. He had the backing of the FA's chief executive, Graham Kelly, but not of Ian Stott, whose supposed influence in committee is remarkable since he speaks from no loftier position than that of Oldham Athletic's chairman.

Then there is Sir Bert Millichip, 82, whose chairmanship of the FA ends with the European Championship finals. From being fiercely opposed to Venables' appointment - "over my dead body" - Millichip later came out in support of him, somersaulting to join Kelly in pledging a contract beyond the 1998 World Cup finals in France.

Even when allowances are made for the fact that Venables has been spending almost as much time with lawyers as his players it was rather late in the day to conclude that legal entanglements had made him embarrassingly unsuitable.

Recently, Venables has sometimes seemed bewildered, less buoyant especially when some of his stoutest supporters of 1994 put the heat on him for things they chose to ignore previously.

Naturally, everybody concerned at the FA denies for publication that any prejudice was held out and that a committee campaign had been mounted against Venables. Chances are they denied it to him, too, this being protocol. However, Venables needed no firm evidence to take action. He had to act as soon as the rumours became common currency.

Probably Venables remembered the fate that befell Ramsey, mainly through a conspiracy formed almost from the day of his appointment in 1963 as Walter Winterbottom's successor. Among the great services Ramsey performed for English football was refusal to accommodate the interference of a selection committee. Where Winterbottom had often conceded to ludicrous regional bias, Ramsey demanded absolute independence, his policies, his team. "I suppose I'd better inform these people," he said one day in the west of Scotland, making off towards a group of powerless senior officials with belated word of the team he had picked.

Some never forgave him. Ramsey, the feted hero of 1966, was fired six months after failing to guide England to the 1974 World Cup finals in West Germany, the recrimination brutally consistent with the antagonism he aroused at Lancaster Gate after dismantling long-established procedures.

If there was ground for complaint and concern when it became clear that Venables was more deeply involved in litigation than even close friends imagined (comments passed by the judge who ruled for the plaintiff in a case heard last month unquestionably damaged his reputation), to suppose that he would be willing to continue until next summer without contractual assurances was laughable.

It is possible of course that Venables is gambling on the clamour that would ensue if he wins the European Championship. As for a successor, considering the difficulties in construction imposed by the frenzied nature of British football, who in their right mind would want the job anyway?

The FA International Committee

Noel White (chairman) - Liverpool

Frank Hannah - Manchester FA

Jack Wiseman - Birmingham City

Ray Berridge - Bedfordshire FA

Keith Wiseman - Southampton

Ian Stott - Oldham

Ray Kiddell - Norfolk FA

Gordon McKeag - Football League

David Dein - Arsenal

Arthur Clark - Northumberland FA

Charlie Thomas - Durham FA

John Davey - Sussex FA

Doug Ellis - Aston Villa

Chris Willcox - Gloucestershire FA

Peter Swales - former chairman of Manchester City