It happens to just about everybody who finds themselves on a panel commissioned to produce a Report about how football should be run in England. (I should know; I’ve served three of them in one capacity or another.) They spend a year or so gathering evidence and opinion; they see clearly what and where the major problems are, and produce a substantial document outlining ways forward.
Then they wait for football to ‘respond’, usually with a few anodyne moves in the general direction of some of the Report’s recommendations (but which never actually change anything about the disposition of power in the game). And it’s all forgotten about.
It’s as if a fly has been buzzing around a big jar of treacle for a while, then as it gets closer, it inevitably gets caught up in the sticky stuff and expires forthwith.
This week, John Whittingdale, the Chairman of the media and sport select committee which produced the latest attempt at reforming the game, stubbornly refused to let it die. The Report was published in July, 2011, with a requirement for ‘football’ to respond within a year and to put the changes it promised into effect by the start of this season.
According to Whittingdale, The principal football powers, the FA and the Premier league, “….simply don’t address the fundamental problems……much greater reform in football is needed to make the game inclusive, sustainable and driven from the grassroots”. The threat of government legislation remains if football fails to respond properly.
The Report’s core concern is ‘governance’, particularly with regard to financial controls, ownership of clubs, and the role of organised supporters in the game. The key issue is the power and control that the Premier League exerts from both within the FA and without it.
Why can’t the FA ‘control’ the PL (which is but one over two thousand leagues registered with the FA)? Why can’t the governing body of football bend the twenty clubs in the PL to its will? How come those who are supposed to be the ‘governed’ out-power those who are supposed to be the ‘governors’?
Most people shrug their shoulders and say, ‘It’s all about the money, isn’t it?’ The poor can’t control the rich. But isn’t government in a modern, developed democracy supposed to be exactly about doing that? The FA had its chance to properly govern the PL more than two decades ago when the would-be breakaway group of clubs sought ‘recognition’ from the FA, but the latter simply didn’t have the balls for the game.
The putative PL back in 1991 just had to be under the FA’s umbrella, otherwise their players would not be registered (and therefore not be available to play for any national team in the world); nor would any of the member clubs be able to compete in Uefa competitions.
That power remains with the FA. Why don’t they use it? There would be some interesting legal proceedings, of course, but the FA is the governing body of Association Football.
After 150yrs in the role, it would be difficult for even clever lawyers to disestablish that.
THIS WEEK’S ARTICLES:
PROZONE: THE FUTURE GAME – ANALYSING FOOTBALL’S DEVELOPMENTAL TRENDS
ROGAN TAYLOR: THE FA’S SECRET WEAPON – A BIG JAR OF TREACLE
KEIR RADNEDGE: A NEW ROUND OF MUDSLINGING
ROGAN TAYLOR: THE LONG ROAD FROM LEPPINGS LANE
Dr Rogan Taylor is the Director of the Football Industry Group at the University of Liverpool. He is also a writer and broadcaster, with five football books and numerous radio and TV contributions. He has acted as a special adviser to The FA, The Premier League and Premier League Clubs.
The views of our regular columnists are independent, and as such do not represent those of Leaders in Football.