Setback to the strong case for a benevolent dictatorship

If the Football Association is to progress it may have to replace its broad parliament with a more dynamic style of leadership.
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The Independent Online
APPROACHING THE 21st century, English football cannot quite decide whether to be run as a genuine democracy or a benevolent dictatorship. Does it want key decisions made - slowly and laboriously, perhaps - by a broad parliament representing all levels of the sport, or a single dynamic executive in the style of the NFL's Commissioner? At present, for better or for worse, the governing body is run under the former system. Veering too far away from it is what has landed the Football Association's Keith Wiseman and Graham Kelly in uncomfortably hot water.

A century ago, the single committee running the FA since its earliest days was transmuted into a 50-strong FA Council. The Council now comprises 91 members, with representatives ranging from Ken Bates and David Dein of the Premier League to Lt Cdr PJW Danks of the Royal Navy. Canada and the West Indies have lost their membership, but Australia and New Zealand remain, as do Oxford and Cambridge University, and the Independent Schools. Crucial to the structure is that every one of the 43 county football associations are represented.

As well as 73 members drawn from these different bodies, there are an assortment of vice-presidents and life vice-presidents, the latter group tending to comprise some of the sport's more senior citizens: one of their number has been a Council member since 1954. In the handsome Council Chamber at Lancaster Gate - currently out of use because of the fire there earlier this year - the newest members sit in the back row, slowly working their way forward as the years wear on or the others die off.

Every member sits on at least two committees, of which there are 20 in total, covering all aspects of the game: disciplinary, commercial, refereeing, international, the FA Cup etc. And the greatest of these is the 11-strong executive committee, which on Monday formally expressed its lack of confidence in Wiseman, the FA chairman.

These then are the "gentlemen in blue blazers", some of whom David Mellor of the Government's Task Force suggested might be ripe for a cull. (How many are actually gentlemen is not known: the one who certainly is not is Miss Julie Hemsley, representing the Women's Football Alliance).

Mellor wants "a proper administration for football... appropriate to a modern, high-profile financially driven game". The FA now has a turnover of pounds 60m and a full-time staff of 150; the chairman, unlike the chief executive, does not receive a salary, despite Wiseman's attempt to award himself pounds 75,000 a year, which was turned down by the Council.

Other important officers include the company secretary Nic Coward, who is a legal expert, a commercial director, director of finance and the director of public affairs, David Davies, all of whom will take on added responsibilities to fill the void left by Kelly's departure. Then there is the revamped technical department under Howard Wilkinson, now including a whole raft of regional development officers.

Modernisation in those departments has occurred as a result of recommendations in the FA's 1991 "Blueprint for the Future of Football". Attempts at reforming the Council have been less successful, for the same reason that turkeys do not vote in favour of Christmas. As long ago as 1968, the original Government-sponsored Chester Report suggested a compulsory retirement age of 70 and felt it was "extraordinary" that members reaching 75 should be promoted to become life vice-presidents. "The FA should encourage younger men to participate in the administration of the game," the report said, adding: "A Council of 84 members, though excellent for broad discussion and for representing the interests of the game in every part of the country, cannot be an effective policy-making body."

Like many of the report's recommendations, the introduction of an age limit was ignored, while the number of councillors has actually increased. The more recent Blueprint balked at reforming the Council, but wanted the executive committee to assume greater powers; the consensus is that this has not happened, despite the presence on it of big-hitters like Wiseman and the FA's vice-chairman Geoff Thompson, Bates, Dein, David Richards, of Sheffield Wednesday, and the former Football League chairman, David Sheepshanks. Part of the reason is that all major decisions still have to be ratified either at the FA's AGM in June or at one of the two- monthly Council meetings.

Gentlemen in blue blazers or loose canons firing off pounds 3m loans? Wiseman's piece of Welsh wizardry may eventually lead to a system of government somewhere between the two.