A funny old week in football governance
Posted by John Beech on March 26, 2010
The week started badly enough with the surprise resignation of Ian Watmore as Chief Executive of the FA (1), swiftly followed by a typically decisive FA reaction, to appoint current chief operating officer Alex Horne on a temporary basis until December in his place (2). This has been followed by a major round of conspiracy theories, some of which may even be true. It is clear that there are major problems in football governance related to conflicts of interests. Not that these are new – they can be traced back to 1888, when the various cup competitions organised by the FA provided insufficient matches to support the emerging professional game, and a new Football League began the division of governance in the game. This situation was of course only exacerbated by the breakaway of the Premier League twenty years ago.
At that time Wigan Athletic had barely been out of the Northern League ten years, and yet today they have the vast experience of almost five years in the Premier League. Chairman Dave Whelan seems to have forgotten how recently his team was down there in Step 4. Speaking as if they were one of the venerable teams, up there with the likes of Arsenal and Everton, he quickly jumped onto the post-Watmoregate bandwagon to pontificate on what was wrong with football governance, and to suggest some solutions (3).
I would certainly agree with his diagnosis that “Watmore is merely the latest [chief executive to have been victim] of the chronic instability inherent in the way English football is run. It (the FA) is riven by conflicts of interest and people’s roles and responsibilities are either not defined at all, are blurred, or worse still, set up directly in competition with each other.”
His further analysis however I would most certainly disagree with. He sees football as neatly divided into a professional game and an amateur game, and thinks that the FA should stick to governing the amateur game.
The division between professional and amateur is deeply blurred, with a swathe of clubs operating on a part-time basis, or with only a core of professional players. This extends further down than the Northern Premier League whence Wigan recently came.
He also seems to suggest that a) the Premier League should be the governing body of the professional game, conveniently ignoring the Football League, and indeed the Conference and the Step 4 Leagues, and, in presumably an early attempt to secure my annual ‘Chairman Say the Funniest Things’ Award, b) the Premier League should be responsible for the England team!
Would that be the Premier League that has demonstrated its management skills by running up debts of over £3 billion between twenty of them? Or the Premier League which has always shown such a marked reluctance to release players for international duties?
No, it would be the Premier League who would no doubt start paying clubs handsomely for the use of their players and handsomely compensating them for the most minor of injuries, leaching more money out of the game to feed their habit which Wyn Grant has neatly termed their addiction to money.
Mind you, the up side would be that the most expensive players would suddenly be consistently available.