Football Management

Commentary on the management of over 160 English football clubs by Dr John Beech, winner of the FSF Writer of the Year Award 2009/10 Twitter: @JohnBeech Curator of! Football Finance

A not quite 24 carat golden age of football ethics?

Posted by John Beech on November 16, 2011

Received wisdom seems to be that, once the baton of running FIFA was passed on from safe and reliable English hands, there was a rapid descent into a quagmire of unethical goings on.  Even Uncle Sepp himself now admits that FIFA “has had a rough time of late” and concedes that there is now “the need for change and the urgent need for sweeping reforms” (1).  He concludes “FIFA remains committed to walking the walk and won’t get stuck in solely talking the talk. By December, this will become clear for all to see. Until then, I invite everybody to bear with us so that we can clean house and come back to the public with facts that allow FIFA to enter a new decade of doing business. And never again revert to doing “business as usual”.”  Whether he himself decides to ‘walk the walk’ is anybody’s guess.

I’m just back from a work trip and have been reading en route Sir Stanley Rous’s autobiography Football Worlds, published in 1978, a couple of years after he had been replaced as FIFA’s President by João Havelange.  A couple of passages particularly caught my eye as they reveal that back then all was not 100% squeaky clean.  Consider this first quote:

In Nasser’s day I was once present to watch a game there when the Sudan played Egypt in the final of a competition.  My host was General Mostafa, later Vice-President of FIFA, and an enthusiastic crowd of 110,000 worked themselves to a pitch of excitement when the winner had to be drawn by lot after the game had ended with the scores level.  The referee was blindfolded before making the draw, and a great roar of cheers greeted his pulling out the slip with Egypt on it.

When the General returned from the field I congratulated him on the luck of the draw.  He replied that there was no luck involved as, by agreement, both pieces of paper had Egypt written on them.  He may have been joking, but the Sudanese officials showed no sign of disappointment and the result made the day for Nasser and the spectators.

This, for some reason, brought to mind a different recent occasion when, rather than two identical slips of paper, a voting card had only one choice on it.

Sir Stanley was not averse to telling a story against himself.  He writes this from his days refereeing, concerning a game between Millwall and Charlton:

At a crucial point in the game I saw a defender’s hand fist the ball away in a goalmouth melee.  As I blew the whistle for a penalty the players untangled themselves and looked at me in surprise.  It was then that I realised that it was the goalkeeper, not a full-back, who had punched the ball.  So I walked past the penalty spot, past the goalposts, to the edge of the crowd and called at the top of my voice: ‘If the man with the whistle blows it again I will have him removed.’  Then I restarted the game by dropping the ball and the mistake was retrieved without disaster.

A more innocent age perhaps, or perhaps not, than the kind of confessions that can appear in autobiographies today (2) – a reference to Matt Le Tissier, to save you clicking through.

Overall, one would have to conclude that, compared to today’s ills, it was generally a much more ethical football scene, but not some Halcyon era of perfect ethics.


5 Responses to “A not quite 24 carat golden age of football ethics?”

  1. John Beech said

    Some interesting news on Uncle Sepp from Andrew Jennings here.

  2. Tony said

    John, not sure I agree entirely with the conclusion that it was ‘generally a much more ethical football scene’. It’s difficult to quantify at best. Could it be perhaps that because the digital age we are now in, it is simply much more difficult to hide misdemeanors as everything is played out in the public domain? Even yourself, quoting from Sir Stanley’s autobiography, highlight in only 3 lines:
    – Whilst president of FIFA, introducing the use of drawing lots or the toss of a coin to decide the winner of a football match;
    – Whilst president of FIFA, attending a fixed match and passing it off as okay as long as the General and the crowd were happy;
    – A man who openly admits to bribery and match fixing directly to the president of FIFA, later being made vice-president.

    At the end of the day, the people occupying the lofty positions in FIFA, the confederations and the individual federations are politicians – nothing more and nothing less – football has very little to do with it, and you get what you pay for. Some are better at it than others, of course.

    In fact, playing devil’s advocate, you could even turn it around the other way around, and say that despite Blatter’s faults (and I agree there are many), is anything which is happening at the moment worse than the well documented shenanigans which took place at the 1934, 1938, 1950, 1954 and 1978 World Cups, for example? And the 1966 World Cup was won entirely fairly wasn’t it?

    • John Beech said

      I’d probably go further and say it was imposible to quantify, Tony! And I certainly take the point about the digital age we now live in.

      For clarity, it’s not clear from the autobiography what the precise timings of the incidents were, so it is not clear whether he was already President of FIFA – their location in the text suggests it was before he was appointed.

      This is not the forum for debating whether ‘that’ goal was over the line in 1966. I’ll just say though that when I was living in Austria in 1967, mathematicians there announced that they had calculated it was a physical impossibility for it to have gone over and come out again, something which I don’t think was reported in the UK media…

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