FIFA is bad – Is the FA much better?

The FA

It has been an incredible week for the most popular sport on the planet, as its international governing body has been subject to fraud allegations, FBI investigations and, ultimately, the resignation of the head of the organisation Sepp Blatter.

FIFA has been on the edge of a major scandal for over a decade now, and the only real surprise about the spate of arrests and revelations that have emerged in recent days is that it has taken so long.

The Sunday Times ‘Insight’ team have been on the case for several years now, and the journalists involved deserve a great deal of credit for continuing to dig, harass and question the football authorities under extremely challenging circumstances.

For those like me who worry about the social media explosion destroying investigative journalism, this saga, and its conclusion, is a breath of fresh air.

UEFA and our own FA were front and centre of demands that Blatter should go; and indeed representations from Michel Platini, Greg Dyke and other senior European football officials, have been made over a period of months now.

Of course they are right to have raised their concerns, and take the stance that they did – but isn’t it about time they started to take a long, hard look at what damage they are doing to the beautiful game too?

UEFA have spent the past decade or more promoting the Champions League to the detriment of all of its associate member leagues and destroying the once credible EUFA Cup with the introduction of the competition nobody wants to qualify for, the Europa League.

And what of our own Football Association? The Premier League has been a huge success, become the UKs biggest export, and taken media coverage of footy to another level.

However, the unintended consequence of this have been a significant erosion of the club-supporter relationship; television dictating the fixture calendar and kick off times; an undermining of every club and league outside of the ‘elite’; the destruction of what was once accepted as the most successful cup competition in the world; and most worryingly financial mismanagement and club ownership going unchecked to the extent that long standing, well established teams have suffered bankruptcy and near extinction.

Ask Leeds United, or indeed Blackburn Rovers fans, if they think that the ‘fit and proper person’ test is worth the paper it is written on.

The explosion in agents, hangers-on and footballer’s salaries have further undermined a game that now only needs supporters in the same way that Coronation Street needs extras. They help create an environment and atmosphere that makes the TV experience all the more appealing. But it is the TV cash that is King!

I’m not suggesting that the FA is corrupt; or that its officials are taking backhanders to host the newly created pre-season money making ‘tournaments’ at the Emirates rather than Stamford Bridge. But they have ripped up and thrown away the set of principles that once led boys like me to develop such an emotional attachment to a club that as an adult is as important as political allegiance and religion.

Will the new set of replica wearing, friendship scarf buying, Sky subscribers be as loyal to their chosen ‘brand’ as the traditional support base that have kept clubs going for generations? Or will they find another pastime, or just follow the next club that gets a multi-billion pound foreign owner?

What happens to football when Sky gets fed up with football? That is what should be exercising the minds of the English FA, as much as the crisis that is FIFA.

What next for Leeds United?

Leeds United

This week the unlikely pair of Watford and Bournemouth are celebrating their promotion from the Championship to the promised-land that is the Premier League.

Not the most fashionable of clubs, it is nevertheless refreshing to see unfancied teams succeeding and in the case of both newly promoted sides, it is fair to say that, Bournemouth, in particular, have enjoyed a real rags to riches journey over the past few years.

These two Cinderella clubs leave some genuine giants behind them for another season, none bigger than this city’s very own Leeds United.

At the seasons start I, as a glass half full kind of guy, blogged about reasons to be cheerful following the installation of a new owner for the club. However, without going into the unfortunate detail surrounding the various controversies surrounding Massimo Cellino, 2014/15 has been another in a long line of wasted seasons at Elland Road.

Had Leeds picked up half as many points as their new owner has had in column inches they would have been crowned Champions by Christmas. As it is, the farcical nature of the off field antics of owner, injured players and the managerial turnstile that has apparently been installed at Elland Road – and it has been another false dawn; another frustrating nine months of football in a division that Leeds have been stranded in for far too long.

It has, of course, been worse, with the club spending a short time in the English leagues third tier for a period since its dramatic demise since the Premiership relegation of 2007. But that is no consolation for supporters who still hark back to memories of the halcyon days of Revie, Giles and Bremner; and in more recent times the Howard Wilkinson title winning team of 1991-92.

Average attendances are still a relatively healthy 25,000 plus, the away following is as passionate as ever, and the club still has a reputation in the English game that, with the right investment and management, would surely attract a crop of players decent enough to challenge for a place in the top league once again.

But that seems a million miles away, and Leeds fans will spend the summer worrying more about survival than they will dreaming about ‘doing a Bournemouth.’ It is a crying shame for the club, its fans, for football in general – and for the city’s economy too. Because Premier League football is huge business for our hospitality sector, and provides a massive boost to the city’s marketing potential and profile as well.

The sooner Leeds can get back on track and back where they belong, the better. But not even the optimists among us are holding our breath anymore.

What next for Leeds

Earlier this week Councillor Keith Wakefield announce his resignation as the leader of Leeds City Council. I have met Cllr Wakefield on several occasions, interviewed him at the very first Downtown Leeds policy forum, and always considered him to be a steady and thoroughly decent guy.

His introduction of Leeds & Partners, which replace Marketing Leeds and the ‘Love Leeds’ brand was, to put it mildly, hardly an unmitigated success; but the city has continued to enjoy economic growth, regeneration and attract investment during his tenure.

In more recent times, Wakefield has been at the heart of driving the devolution agenda in the Leeds city region. But he seemed reluctant to take the bold step of supporting calls for a city region mayor, and appeared to settle for a watered-down version of Devo Manc for Leeds and its neighbouring local government partners.

It will be interesting to see what change in direction a new leader will bring to the party, particularly in respect of that devolution initiative, which, whatever the result of next week’s election, will continue apace.

Cllr Wakefield plans to remain on the council, and I am sure all those associated with Downtown wish him all the very best for the future.

Are Politicians Anti-Business?

Ed Miliband

The Sunday Times decided to devote half a dozen pages and an editorial lead last weekend to expose how business ‘unfriendly’ Ed Miliband and the Labour Party is. And, despite the mindless repetition among the thousands of words written to prove its point, there is no doubt that the narrative being used by the official opposition does not lend itself to one drawing the conclusion that the private sector has the full confidence and support of Labour’s leadership.

Indeed, though Shadow Business Minister Chuka Umunna has been at pains to point out that it is tax dodgers, unscrupulous bankers and poor employers that Labour has a problem with, the consistent and constant attack on ‘the private sector’ has led many to conclude that Ed actually is ‘red’ and he would lead a government determined to strangle enterprise and wealth creation.

But, just as there appeared to be an open goal for David Cameron to knock the ball into, and prove the Tory Party’s business – friendly credentials, the Prime Minister decided to shoot himself in the foot by telling bosses it was time they gave their employees a pay rise!

The problem with the rhetoric from both Labour and Conservative’s at the moment is the generality with which they speak – and the obsession with the negative.

For all the talk of ‘economic recovery’ it is a fact that many small businesses are still facing challenging times, and that far from being in a position to increase pay, they worry about being able to keep the staff they have.

The fragile recovery has not allowed business to increase their prices to customers, so where is the additional cash for wage hikes to come from?

The failure to distinguish between ‘big’ business and the vast majority of UK companies who are ‘SME’s’ is starting to grate with many business owners and entrepreneurs.

Have our political leaders thanked all those businessmen and women for fighting through tough times, keeping on staff and surviving by taking a pay cut themselves? Has the Prime Minister called on the treasury to give small bosses a break and be less aggressive when it comes to collecting VAT or corporation tax (no sweetener deals for the small or medium sized company I’m afraid), or indeed have Ministers been exploring how UK Plc can take the pressure off a business owner by actually meeting a promise they all make pre -election – and genuinely cut red tape and bureaucracy?

There is no doubt that unscrupulous employers, illegal tax dodgers and financiers on the fiddle should be held to account and punished. However, they are a very small minority of what makes up the business community of the UK, and it is time for politicians from all sides to start to acknowledge the hard work, honesty and contribution that the vast majority of business owners make to the well -being of the country.

The Footy

And so it came to pass that another bonanza football deal has been brokered, with a sum in the region of £5Billion being paid by a diverse range of media outlets for the TV rights to Premier League football. As I wrote last week here we will be witnessing a fixture programme that will stretch throughout the week, and I do believe this is the beginning of the end for the game.

Dopes like me who have an addiction to a football club, rather than the game itself, will probably continue to moan and groan, but like a chain smoker that has been threatening to pack in the fags for years, will find it almost impossible to ‘give up’ something that is no longer interested in the supporter. However, kids, the next generation of fans, will see football as a TV series, and they are likely start to choose to support teams randomly, depending on results. They certainly won’t be stupid enough to brave a cold, dark Wednesday night to watch Stoke battle out a mid- table fixture against West Ham!

If grass roots football was to benefit, or indeed prices for tickets were to be slashed, there may be something to celebrate. But the additional cash will simply go into the pockets of overpaid footballers, their agents and football ‘administrators’.

To those at the top of the game at the moment of course, this is an irrelevance. ‘Make hay while the sun shines’ should be the FA’s new motto, and one they could inherit from the banking community who had such an attitude during the financial boom – and look what happened to them!

Saturday at 3PM

Football 3pm

The next round of television rights for the product that is the Premier League is about to be negotiated, and various proposals are being presented by the media companies that will give the once ‘beautiful game’ even greater riches in exchange for even greater flexibility as to when games are played; and the notice period that has to be given in announcing televised fixtures.

Potentially this means that we will see ‘live’ games on TV from Friday through to Wednesday evening.

We have already witnessed the further dilution of our once feted FA Cup this season, with TV insisting on 3rd Round ties being played on a Tuesday night – meaning that the 4th Round draw had taken place before some of the previous round of games had been completed. Now, night time kick offs and even more bizarre kick off times look likely to be introduced as FA Premier League bosses prioritise the chasing of the shilling over the interest of supporters.

There is no doubt that the Premier League has been more of a force for good, with greater investment in stadium facilities; a more family friendly environment at most grounds; and a competition that is the UKs most successful export product.

Nevertheless, the Television viewing public, whether they be in the pubs of Moss Side and Walton or the bars of Delhi and Shanghai, are as hooked on the ‘product’ not simply because of the unpredictability of the result and the patchy quality of football on offer, but by the fabulous atmosphere that is generated by fervent, bonkers supporters of English football clubs.

If the powers that be continue to mess around with fixture planning and kick off times, then attendances will, sooner or later, begin to be hit – and when that happens the FA will find themselves in a much more difficult round of negotiations with the media outlets than has been the case thus far.

There is a simple solution to all of this nonsense. We should go back to the entire weekend programme being played on a Saturday at 3PM.

The argument that this would adversely affect attendances is patently nonsense now, as any football supporter who wants to watch a game live via a TV, iPad or laptop can easily find a channel that is streaming the game of their choice – or find a pub that has a foreign channel showing the game.

Saturday at 3 O Clock is the traditional time for football in England. It fits with our culture, and offers supporters the certainty of planning their match days, whilst also significantly reducing the number of ‘domestics’ as fans justify to their partners why they are having to leave the family home at 8.30am to watch a football game that starts at 11.30am (Man City vs Everton a couple of seasons ago).

There is a case for playing a ‘headline’ game on Sunday at 4pm, but other than this, for me, it’s Saturday’s all the way.

And if we could also convince UEFA to see the sense of re-introducing a knock our UEFA Cup, played on Wednesday night, rather than the crazy Thursday evening Europa League, we’d really be making some progress.

And we’re off… or are we?


The Premier League season officially kicked off on Saturday, and it is great to see the Northwest with five teams in the top division again, with the mighty Burnley joining their more established Merseyside and Manchester peers.

I was at Leicester to see Everton draw their opening fixture on Saturday, and like all avid football followers watched the highlights of all the other games on Match of the Day, enjoying the beginning of the inevitable renaissance that Man United will enjoy now that they have a foreign manager – oops, maybe not!

But, as much as it was nice to have the ‘beautiful game’ back after what was an even shorter break than usual due to the World Cup, you can’t help but have the feeling that we have got off to a bit of a false start. Indeed, until the transfer window closes at the end of this month we don’t actually know which players each club will have available to select for the remainder of the campaign.

This is a ridiculous anomaly that supporters are used to; but what has added to the ‘phony war’ environment this term is the fact that those players returning from World Cup duty were not deemed fit to play.

I can’t understand why the powers that be didn’t put back the opening day fixtures by a week. But then again, when have the football authorities ever operated on a logical basis?

In the long term, over the course of a long, tough season, the opening weekend results may have little impact. But, when you are shelling out anything between £35-£90 for a match day ticket, then the very least you should expect is to see the best players on the pitch entertaining you – not sat in the stand, posing for the paparazzi and signing autographs.

Nevertheless, we are where we are as they say, and so it is prediction time. I am expecting Chelsea to win the title, just pipping City this time around. Fabregas looked awesome at Turf Moor on Monday night, and Mourinho has now got his own squad in place that I can’t see being beaten.

I’ll take Arsenal to finish third, and any one from Liverpool, Everton, Spurs and United to finish in the final Champions League spot. Through gritted teeth I would have to accept that those loveable Reds from Anfield are the favourites at the moment.

Burnley will survive, Real Madrid will retain the Champions League and Luis Suarez will receive a lifetime ban for biting Cristiano Ronaldo on the arse! Enjoy the season.