Firstly, let me point out that I originally wrote this article back in late 2016, and I think many would admit it was, in the words of Her Majesty, an ‘annus horribilis’ for the FA (not to mention FIFA) with allegations of corruption, child abuse, poor governance, match fixing and even culminating in the departure of the England national team manager after just one match.

After a period of reflection and not to mention comments from colleagues, friends and family I chose to ‘sit on the article’ not so much for fear of rocking the boat but more so that I would give the ‘new broom’ at the FA (e.g. new Chief Executive and new Chairman) time to address many of the issues.

However, it is now almost one year on and having attended the select committee hearing where the FA chairman said “judge me in a year”, we have in the year that followed seen a vote of no confidence in the FA passed in the house of commons (February 2016), allegations of pay-offs, racism and sexism, not to mention the departure of yet another senior England Team Manager with questions unanswered. So, it seems people are starting to ask the question YET AGAIN as to whether the FA is fit for purpose, hence I am not sitting on this article any longer as I would then be as guilty as anyone else in propagating what seems to be English Footballs ‘groundhog day’.

So, here is the original pretty much unchanged article ………………………………..

Following the general malaise and allegations that have surrounded the FA and football in general, many have asked the question “is the FA fit for purpose?”. And whilst the temptation is there to ‘jump on the bandwagon’ and respond with the easy option of kicking the FA whilst they are in a state of flux, I would surprisingly say that I do not think the FA is unfit for purpose (which would surprise many who know me). But like several of the FAs former chairmen and senior executives have been reported to have said (in a letter to the Chairman of the DCMS Select Committee); the FA does in my opinion need assistance and overhauling in terms of its roles, responsibilities, governance and structure, not to mention a change of mentality.

This is an organisation that has in over 150 years been arguably the leading national Football Association in many aspects, but is now seen to be floundering and being questioned, if not attacked from many sides. It is an organisation that has possibly tried over many years to ‘paper over the cracks’ as its remit and responsibilities outgrew its infrastructure, knowledge and mindset. Subsequently these ‘cracks’ are now so numerous and in some cases gaping (e.g. agent/intermediary governance) that it needs a major overhaul, whilst it is still possible to rectify the problems that both currently exist and those new ones that are imminent so as to save the association that we all want to be proud of.

Most would agree football has changed dramatically in recent years and the business aspect of the game in particular has outgrown the FA as the national governing body in its current form. Even to an extent that we now have a competition organiser (the Premier League) that is arguably more powerful and more commercially astute than the sport’s National Governing Body (The FA) which it is meant to answer to, and this in itself cannot be healthy for the sport and the majority of its participants.

 

We dont just need a strong FA, but we need an Efficient One

English football needs a strong FA, but it needs an FA that is effective and efficient; which is something we arguably don’t have at the current time. I don’t accept the argument that the FA is under-resourced, possibly some departments of the FA are under-resourced but that is a matter of effective organisational management and I am sure there are many within football circles who can clearly identify where the FA waste resources and funding that could be better spent elsewhere for both the benefit of the association and the sports participants irrelevant of their individual roles, areas of interest and/or level in the game.

 

Arrogance, Ignorance or Naivety

Before anyone accuses me of being an ‘FA luvvie’ because I am providing somewhat of a defence for the FAs short-comings if not failings, I can guarantee you I am far from an ‘FA luvvie’ : something many both within and outside of the FA will vouch for.

Whilst many seem to like using the popular ‘blame the blazers’ mantra when having a dig at the FA, I think the ‘blazer’ analogy although generally meaning to depict FA Council is actually more representative of the mentality demonstrated at times by The FA. We have to recognise that this is an organisation that for more than 150 years has been the sports national governing body. As such maybe it is understandable that they are reluctant to admit their modern day flaws or indeed accept help from others, let alone actually seek and ask for help or assistance, even when it when it is offered. But when this approach borders on arrogance, ignorance or naivety in addressing issues it may well be a time to worry.

Many of the flaws, oversights and apparent failings of the FA identified in recent months may not have been part of the FA’s remit 20 years ago. The associations apparent inability to adapt and evolve to address modern day issues beyond ‘on the pitch’ matters affecting the national game and professional game is where failings may have occurred, that stem more from an engrained mentality and ill-advised ‘pride’, rather than any deliberate neglect or ineptitude.

Whilst I have experienced this myself in relation to aspects of governance surrounding agent (intermediary) matters, it can furthermore be demonstrated by how the FA have responded to the requests and advice passed down from UK government over several years. Furthermore it appears nothing has changed in this mentality from the most recent responses of the FA to the Governments DCMS select committee hearing on Football Governance. This culminated in a ‘performance’ and later a written evidence submitted by the new FA Chairman to the committee that could be accused of showing similar contempt and arrogance to external advice and offers of assistance. In addition to this the FAs decision not to have their own Director of Governance attend the select committee hearing despite being summoned was similar to that of Newcastle United owner Mike Ashley risking a charge of ‘contempt of parliament’ (however Mr Ashley did eventually agree to attend and give evidence to a select committee when requested at another select committee hearing and answered many of those questions posed).

 

Interference or Assistance

Now it has been widely reported that the Government are poised to ‘interfere’ in football , but I think it important that people refer back to what has actually been said and/or misinterpreted, not just in recent months but over an extended period of time. And if people refer back to such things as the transcripts from select committee hearings with the FA they will see that the government have been clear in issuing advice, concerns and actions to the FA most of which have gone largely ignored for many years. Also looking at the transcript from the most recent select committee hearing attended by the FA, they were asked numerous times as to what assistance (if not powers) they would like, only to provide answers along the lines of that ‘they did not know’ and ‘needed more time’.

Apart from it being clear that the government’s primary concern is ‘Football Governance’ rather than the sport itself; one of the more specific things that seems to have been inaccurately conveyed are the warnings by the Sports Minister, that the FA could lose government funding without reform.

This reluctance by a large proportion of people for the government to intervene revolves around the common assumption that ‘politics and sport don’t mix’, and also the fear that the loss of government funding in this case will impact on grass roots football. However, if people look closer at what has been suggested; football won’t necessarily lose the government funding, it just won’t be distributed via the FA if notable change in governance is not recognised. Arguably if this funding was managed/distributed by the likes of The Football Foundation (as a regulated charity), it may well be better managed and put to more effective use.

The fact is, maybe it is time that the government intervened, and either they and/or UK Sport were involved overseeing football governance and other elements that weren’t directly related to the sport and on-field matters. With such important aspects as child protection, fit and proper persons tests for club ownership, tax avoidance, conflicts of interest, third party ownership and the activities of agents; maybe it is time for the pressure created by these aspects to be released and reduced from the FAs strenuous modern day remit. Thereby, allowing the FA to focus their energy and resources on the key aspects of the sport that they managed so well for many years.

 

Be Careful What You Wish For

Despite drawing parallels between the problems at the FA to those that have enveloped FIFA over the past 12 months, there are some similarities between the two; BUT I do not believe the FA is broken or should be disbanded.

The FA in my opinion, amongst other things; is out-dated, overstretched and unbalanced, with a requirement for an external organisation(s) to step in and look independently into areas of improvement that those within the FA cannot see or address as they are possibly too close or too full of misguided pride in being part of The FA.

However like a set of football fans who hope that a new manager or new owners for their club will bring success with mass changes, some people must be ‘careful what they wish for’; as there are people and organisations in the football business hoping to see the FA fail and become totally powerless, if only to seize on the opportunity for their own ends and no one else.