Saga of poor relations and a broken home

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The Independent Online
One important aspect of the cash-for-votes controversy surrounding the Football Association has been conveniently overlooked. If it had not been for a dastardly display of bad neighbourliness on behalf of the FA over the past 14 years the Welsh would not have been in the impoverished position of needing a back-hander for services rendered and Graham Kelly and Keith Wiseman might still be sitting pretty, if that is the right description.

The annual matches against England and Scotland in the Home Championship were the financial lifeline for Wales and Northern Ireland for more than 100 years until, in 1984, England and Scotland decided to scupper the championship on the grounds that because of the demands of modern international football they'd be better served by a different and more stimulating diet of opposition.

It was a brilliant idea, as can be seen by England's blazingly spectacular record in the years since, but I digress. The final Home Championship game England played against Wales was in May 1984, when the English proved what a lack of challenge these games had become by losing 1-0 at Wrexham to a goal scored on his international debut by Mark Hughes. Incidentally, the final championship was won by Northern Ireland on goal difference. Wales were second. It was, we suspected at the time, the sort of embarrassment the back of which England were glad to see. Far better to be shown up by foreigners.

Despite many requests in the 14 years since, not once have England deigned to play Wales in a friendly match, even though Wales have had their moments of good form during that time and could have given them a valuable workout in front of a capacity crowd at the National Stadium in Cardiff.

Not only would a few such meetings have greatly eased Wales' financial problems, they would have made it possible for West countrymen to get a rare glimpse of the English team. The dislocation has been close to bizarre and I fail to think of any other neighbouring countries in the world who have not played each other for that length of time.

Was it, then, a guilty conscience that partly prompted chairman Wiseman to arrange the pounds 3.2m grant that has caused all the trouble? I doubt it; just as I doubt that a sudden passion for the development of youth football in Wales aroused his benevolence. On Friday afternoon, three days after the storm first broke, Wiseman claimed that the idea of a grant in return for supporting his selection to the Fifa committee first came from the Welsh.

Having spent an entire career studying the Football Association of Wales with growing astonishment at the depth of their unsuitability to govern even a small country's football, this shocked me, for it revealed a Machiavellian tendency much in keeping with modern sports administration.

At least, it brought Wales into a scandal that had been the sole preserve of England. There were many Welshmen who found it difficult to understand how the FAW had survived unscathed and untainted for the vile offence of taking money from the English. This brings us to another vital question that has been obscured by the media's obsession over the effect of this issue on the 2006 World Cup - how can the Welsh preserve their precious independence now that the whole world has been informed that they can't exist without flogging favours to England? The answer to that has far more serious implications than the destination in eight years' time of a World Cup to which England had dubious claims even before offering Fifa another reason to look elsewhere. That I should be complaining about this is an irony indeed because I have made myself unpopular in the past by advocating a United Kingdom team for the major championships.

Since, separately, we haven't been wildly successful at the top international level, the pooling of our resources might give us a better run for our money. There is the additional consideration that we keep producing world- class players who have the habit of being attached to the wrong countries for making their mark on the world stage. George Best was the prime example from the past and Ryan Giggs serves as a sad reminder of an unfulfilled career of the present.

I have been savagely attacked by the Scots for daring to make such a suggestion, and even in my own country I have had my patriotism challenged by FAW members who demand in indignant voices gruffened by years on the freebie circuit: "Don't you realise that Fifa are just waiting for the chance to call us one country? Would you give away our autonomy?" Of course, I wouldn't.

Neither would I sell it like they've just done.

Wales have given themselves a fighting chance of qualifying for the European Championships, but if they don't they will slip further down the scale and into deeper debt. Keeping autonomy under those circumstances will be a struggle not helped by appearing to be a district office of Lancaster Gate.

It seems to me that Wales require the sort of assistance the Lottery was invented for. It is odd that Wales have to demean themselves to raise money for youth development while the Treasury sit on billions of unallocated cash. Meanwhile, back at the Gate, we now face the unedifying struggle for plum positions. The post of chief executive will not be easy to fill, Graham Kelly is too solid a man to deserve the attempted destruction of his reputation since his resignation.

The most galling part for him must have been the call from the former chairman, the octogenarian Sir Bert Millichip who cocked up his replacement on the Uefa committee, for a complete overhaul of the FA set-up. Why the hell didn't he do it when he was in charge? The FA in its present form is beyond professional control. Just as England sack managers because they can't make a world-class team out of mediocre players, they may soon be given to sacking chief executives who can't cope with the inadequacies of the scores of amateurs above them.

British footballers have long given up attempting to emulate the skills of Brazilian footballers but, ominously, news from Brazil now offers our boys an off-field chance to copy them. The rising Brazilian star Vampeta has agreed to be photographed nude by a gay magazine. He will receive pounds 60,000 for this Full Montezuma.

Vampeta has been explaining to shocked fans: "I'm not gay, I'm doing it for the money" - a sentiment that will immediately strike a chord with our top players, who will do anything for cash, as long as it doesn't involve the hardship of having to play better.

Brazil's national coach, Wanderley Luxemburgo, is not very happy about his top prospect exposing himself, but has been slightly compromised by the fact that he, too, has had an offer from the magazine. At least Vampeta has made a conciliatory gesture to his club, Corinthians, who are likely to clinch the championship on Wednesday. He has asked the magazine not to publish the photographs until January.

However, such has been the publicity, the leading Sao Paulo newspaper has acquired one of the shots and will reveal Vampeta's all in their 24 December edition under the heading "Christmas Turkey"; turkey being the popular local nickname for the male organ.

It all puts our dreary scandals in the shade and while we brace ourselves for similar occurrences here it may be a comfort to know that the proprietors of British gay magazines are likely to be deterred by the fact that our biggest turkeys are to be found in football's corridors of power rather than the dressing-rooms.

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