There's more to football than bonking and betrayal

Eriksson could take an entire secretarial agency to bed if England had won Euro 2004
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The domestic football programme begins again on Saturday, providing a timely reminder that there is slightly more to the wonderful old game than furtive sex, corporate irresponsibility, grubby betrayal and staggering hypocrisy. It will be nice to see some real own goals, after the alarming series of metaphorical scores by the Football Association.

However, the domestic programme that begins on Saturday excludes the Premiership clubs, who return to action the following weekend. It is only then that the crisis-torn FA may feel the heat of public scorn beginning to diminish, as attention turns from vastly overpaid men with bald spots and middle-aged spread to even more vastly overpaid younger men with hair and six-packs.

Of course, it is easy to ridicule the ridiculous. A harder job is to extract some useful lessons from an unseemly episode, so that similar mistakes are avoided in future. An even harder job than that is to hold up a mirror to this brouhaha, and to recognise that some of the hypocrisy we have been railing against is our own.

One downmarket Sunday tabloid, for example, opined in an editorial that the Sven-Goran Eriksson-Mark Palios-Faria Alam saga boiled down to just one thing - "a sad case of balding, overpaid, middle-aged men at the FA trying to protect their fat pay cheques while getting their leg over the office secretary". Remove the words "at the FA" and you have a scenario not entirely unknown in the offices of downmarket tabloids.

Still, even by the standards of balding, overpaid middle-aged men, the main players in this sorry yet compelling saga do seem unusually libidinous, in particular Mr Eriksson, which makes it ever so slightly satisfying - as well as utterly reprehensible, needless to add - that the 56-year-old Swede was, if I might be blunt about it, being screwed at the same time as screwing.

Colin Gibson, the FA's director of communications, reportedly promised to blow the whistle on Mr Eriksson's affair with Ms Alam - whose sexual allure, if we are to believe what we read, makes Mata Hari look like Hylda Baker - in return for The News of the World keeping the name of his boss, the FA's chief executive, Mr Palios, out of the story. It was this revelation that forced Mr Palios to resign, and Mr Gibson to start walking the plank himself.

By so doing, Mr Palios and Mr Gibson managed to reclaim some of the moral high ground, even though, in this particular story, the cliffs are shrouded in mist. Nobody has emerged with any credit, and it is hard to see anyone who will. All the same, Mr Palios's resignation implied a degree of responsibility-taking that had until then been conspicuously absent.

Moreover, he unwittingly chose a good day on which to stand down, the same day as the announcement that Dr David Hope, the Archbishop of York and second in the league table of English clerics, Chelsea to the Archbishop of Canterbury's Arsenal if you will, is resigning his mighty post to become a humble vicar in Ilkley.

If you're going to resign, you might as well do so on the day someone else gives resignation a good name. Much more of this resigning lark, indeed, and both the Church of England and the Football Association, beleagured institutions both, might begin to recover some serious credibility. Meanwhile, if Mr Palios follows Dr Hope's lead and becomes chief executive of Budleigh Salterton or even Ilkley FC, saying he wants to give something back to the grass roots of the game, his redemption will be complete.

What, though, of Mr Eriksson's redemption? He has behaved shabbily at best, and his is the resignation the FA needs most, yet also the one it seems least likely to get. It can't sack him without being liable for a compensation package that would feed a small country for a year, and besides, he still enjoys the support of some powerful men on the FA's board of directors, notably David Dein, also the vice-chairman of Arsenal, who at club level seems to be a man of impeccable judgement, yet who still apparently thinks that Mr Eriksson is the man to lead English football into a brave new future, when manifestly he is not.

It is football that ought to be of the essence here. As with so many bonking and betrayal stories, but in this case even more so, neither the sex nor the whistle-blowing are, if I might again bring religion into the mix, cardinal. Mr Palios resigned over a non-footballing matter, yet his main act of stupidity was to react to Chelsea's overtures to Mr Eriksson by granting him the enormous salary increase that appears to have made him unsackable, and which he did not, by any sane standard, deserve.

As for Mr Eriksson, he could take an entire secretarial agency to bed if he wanted to, had he masterminded an England victory in the 2002 World Cup or at Euro 2004. That he didn't, for all that anyone still tries to blame a Swiss referee, or a moving penalty spot, or sheer bad luck, is squarely down to the coach's own limitations. So ultimately, although this is a story of three FAs, two of them, the Football Association and Faria Alam, ought to be incidental to the third, which is the sweet FA that England have achieved, or are likely to achieve, under Mr Eriksson.

b.viner@independent.co.uk

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