The FA's new chairman has to trump Lord Triesman when government calls
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Buradasınız >> Ana Sayfa IN ENGLISH General Issues The FA's new chairman has to trump Lord Triesman when government calls

The FA's new chairman has to trump Lord Triesman when government calls
  • The Guardian, Wednesday 15 December 2010
  • The last time the government got involved in football the result verged on humiliation for the then FA chairman.

    From the ruins of the 2018 World Cup bid, as the Football Association prepares to nominate a chairman at next Wednesday's board meeting and face a parliamentary inquiry into football in the new year, comes a cautionary tale about how the Premier League dealt with the last FA chairman and the previous government's attempt to reform the game.

    Lord Triesman, then the FA chairman, wrote what was widely viewed as a letter of surrender in June 2009 to Andy Burnham, the Labour secretary of state for culture, media and sport, who had asked seven pointed questions of the FA, Premier and Football Leagues with an overall plea for football to "reassess its relationship with money". Triesman, although a declared reformer having warned that the £3bn debts owed by professional football presented "very tangible dangers", nevertheless offered nothing from football's governing body to Burnham, whose questions covered debt, club ownership, insolvencies, the financial disparity between the top clubs and the rest, and the weakness of the national team. Instead the FA chairman meekly stood aside, referring Burnham to the responses made separately by the leagues.

    That supine response was decried at the time as a fit of irritation by Triesman. It was said he had worked up FA proposals on financial issues but did so too privately, then when he brought them to the FA board, the Premier League representatives on that board said there had not been enough consultation. Triesman, it was said, wrote that letter in a huff, hoping Burnham would read it as "a cry for help" and try to bolster the governing body.

    The Guardian has now seen a copy of that draft FA response, which Triesman was never authorised to send to the government and which has still never been published. It runs to 26 pages, containing far more detail than either league's response, a thoughtful document which saw the FA overseeing arrangements by which clubs would limit their debts, develop a "formal relationship" with supporters groups, hold "a preliminary discussion" about sharing money more equally, and nurture more young English players.

    The reason the FA never sent it to the government was not because Triesman flounced off but because, led by the Premier League chairman, Sir Dave Richards, and the other Premier League representatives on the FA board, Triesman was instructed not to. Instead they told him to write to Burnham, on behalf of the FA, expressing support for the leagues. That episode encapsulates English football's lopsided organisation: an FA, the governing body, instructed not to send even a meaningful reply to government questions about the running of the sport.

    The House of Commons select committee for culture, media and sport last week announced an inquiry in the new year into "the governance of professional football clubs", in particular whether "generations of football supporters are ill-served" and fans should be better represented in the running of clubs. It is widely believed this Conservative-Liberal Democrat government will closely follow the inquiry, the Tories having committed in their manifesto to encouraging supporter ownership of clubs.

    Inquiries like these have a dispiriting habit of beginning in hope then, once the lobbying has finished, deciding the FA is too weak while lauding the success and global dazzle of the Premier League. The FA is perpetually criticised for its lack of independent directors – it has five from the professional game, facing down five from the national, amateur game – while the Premier League customarily escapes censure for its board of only two, Richards and the chief executive, Richard Scudamore.

    "I really hope this inquiry is not going to be all about the FA," says Tony Kleanthous, the Barnet chairman and FA board member. "The Premier League have 90% of the money in football and are not accountable to anybody but themselves. This committee needs to look beyond the FA, at the Premier League's power over the rest of football."

    Burnham's questions, posed in October 2008, were his attempt to bang heads together and restrain football's commercial overkill which so many fans loathe while still loving their clubs. The minister asked for a unified response, proposals to which the FA, Premier and Football Leagues would sign up together. The FA, chaired by Triesman, and Football League, chaired then by Lord Mawhinney, agreed, but the Premier League refused, considering itself superior in organisation to the FA – even though three of its own representatives sit on the board.

    Triesman's relations with Scudamore, who is now hugely influential in football, were irreparably damaged in February 2008 when the FA chairman asked for "some fresh thinking" about the Premier League's proposed "Game 39" international round of matches, then warned of the dangers of debt. Scudamore took huge umbrage, believing he had not been pre-warned sufficiently either time, and even basic communication with Triesman became sparse.

    The Premier League, going it alone, issued its response to Burnham in May 2009 with a series of new rules giving enhanced governance, developed after extensive consultation with the 20 clubs. These most significantly included clubs having to be passed as financial "going concerns" at the beginning of each season, tightened up the tax permitted to be outstanding, and required clubs to deliver plans and proof of funding to the Premier League. Responding to the criticism that top clubs provide too few opportunities for young English players, the Premier League introduced for the first time a quota, for eight homegrown players to be included in the 25-man first-team squad. Premier League sources suggest further financial regulation will be introduced in the near future to build on these.

    The Football League then issued its own letter, not dissimilar, in which Mawhinney argued that the financial gap between the two leagues was "arguably the biggest threat facing the modern game". He suggested the Premier and Football Leagues reunify, to do a joint TV deal, an invitation the breakaway Premier League has never appeared even to acknowledge.

    Premier League sources, and board members, say Triesman did not consult them enough about the response the FA was working on. FA sources say there was some ongoing discussions with Premier League officials, however there was no systematic open process and in a climate of hostility Triesman found it difficult to engage in a full discussion.

    Finally, with both leagues having written their letters, Triesman felt forced to bring his full document to the FA board for discussion and approval. Around that dysfunctional table, Richards is said by FA sources continually to remind the five "national game" representatives that money for the game's grassroots comes from the Premier League's financial power.

    At that meeting, Premier League representatives are understood to have complained they have been consulted too little on the detail in the FA document. However rather than ask for more time to consider it and deliver a full FA response, Richards suggested the board resolve that a letter be written to Burnham, from Triesman, in which the FA would simply express support for the professional game. The five national game representatives, according to FA sources, took the view that it was not a battle for them, so Triesman felt there was no point testing the preference of the two Football League representatives and the issue was never even put to a vote.

    Hence that supine response, a painful surrender by an FA chairman who had worked for months on progressive proposals aimed at restoring the FA as a governing body, with overall responsibility for the financial wellbeing of the game.

    That is what happened the last time the government involved itself in trying to improve the governance of football. Now the game's authorities are lining up again, preparing to make separate cases to yet another parliamentary inquiry. The new FA chairman, if one is appointed next week, will stride into the offices in Wembley's outsized girth, hoping he can negotiate football's lethal politics and make some progress, rather more happily than Triesman did.

    The rogue report

    The response developed by the FA under Lord Triesman's chairmanship, which the FA board instructed him not to send, included these following principal recommendations:

    • "The FA must be trusted to lead across the full breadth of its remit, including its role as regulator, which [is] a core function of the FA"


    • A licensing system, overseen by the FA, in which clubs would commit to financial regulations, and minimum levels of community and supporter involvement, and youth development


    • Clubs to make annual financial reports to the FA, including whether their accountants have passed them as "going concerns"


    • A single fit and proper person test to be applied to all professional clubs, including prohibiting people from being owners or directors if they are under criminal investigation or have been cited by Human Rights Watch as human rights abusers


    • Owners must say where all the money they invest in clubs has come from


    • "A formal relationship [to be] developed with supporters groups … promoting discussion of the distinct local character of the club and its community role"


    • Boards to publish "an annual statement of their plans for the club"


    • "A preliminary discussion" to be held on sharing money more equally in football, and providing clubs with financial incentives to develop young players


    • "A discussion" to be held with Uefa about "wider distribution" of Champions League TV money


    • Working to prevent clubs signing players from overseas until they are 18 years old.{jcomments on}

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