English FA's foul play shows disdain for clubs and fans

Thu, May 3, 2012, 01:00

The English Football Association has made worldwide television revenues the number one priority, writes DAVID ADAMS

THE ENGLISH Football Association is, in many respects, a woefully inept organisation, as evidenced by its sacking of national team manager Fabio Capello only months before England competes in this summer’s European Football Championship.

However, if ineptitude was the FA’s only failing, those of us who follow English football would be a little more forgiving, and even hopeful that things might improve over time. This is far from the case. The FA is also callous.

Upon sacking Capello, FA insiders briefed journalists that Harry Redknapp, the Tottenham manager, would be appointed as his replacement. It didn’t matter what effect this might have on the then high-flying Tottenham team, which was looking like a serious contender for the club’s first league title since 1961.

Predictably enough, Tottenham’s season fell apart in the subsequent frenzy of media speculation around the manager’s future. The team will now be lucky to finish in the top four of the premiership, to qualify for next season’s European Champions League. Without champions league football, some of Tottenham’s top players will undoubtedly leave the club. The FA couldn’t care less. For months, it chose to neither confirm nor deny the Redknapp speculation. Until this week that is, when it suddenly announced that West Bromwich Albion had given permission for its manager, Roy Hodgson, to be interviewed for the England job. Hodgson has since been appointed, leaving Redknapp (and Tottenham) to pick up the pieces of a wrecked season.

Its handling of the recent FA cup semi-finals was another indication of how contemptuous the FA is of football clubs and, most especially, their supporters. To help pay for the new national stadium, FA Cup semi-finals have been staged at Wembley since 2008. Which is fair enough, but one would expect that fixtures might be arranged with some thought for travelling fans. No chance of that.

This year the FA decreed that Everton and Liverpool, whose supporters were required to make a round trip of almost 600km, should play one another at 12.30pm on a Saturday. This meant that close to 80,000 fans had to set out from Merseyside in the early hours to arrive in London in time for the game.

Perversely, the other semi-final, which involved two London clubs, Tottenham and Chelsea, whose grounds are within a few kilometres of Wembley, kicked off at 6pm the next evening. How much of an effort would it have taken for the FA to switch the Saturday and Sunday kick-off times to suit the fans?

The timing of the FA Cup Final itself has caused even greater chaos. The FA has decided to dump tradition and move this Saturday’s final between Liverpool and Chelsea from its usual time of 3pm to 5.15pm. Even if a normal train service was running this weekend between Liverpool and London, the vast majority of Liverpool fans would not arrive home from the game before Sunday morning.

However, as the FA was aware when arranging the final, there is only a limited rail service available, with no return trains to Liverpool until 5am on Sunday, due to engineering works that were planned and announced two years ago. After Saturday’s game, up to 25,000 Liverpool fans could well be left stranded in London overnight. Again, the FA couldn’t care less.

Richard Branson of Virgin Rail asked the FA to “look again” at its plans. Arrogant as ever, it refused to budge, determined to cash in on worldwide television revenues. The later time “maximises a greater domestic and global broadcast audience”, explained an FA spokesman, without the slightest sign of embarrassment.

The FA presides over a game in which the standard of refereeing has plummeted to embarrassing – even suspicious – levels of incompetence, but does nothing about it. Referees are, in effect, left to their own devices, accountable to no one but their peers.

The FA disciplines players, managers and clubs in a fashion so far removed from any reasonable notion of natural justice that the Everton manager, David Moyes, recently compared its hearings to a “kangaroo court”.

Some of those who have passed the FA’s “fit and proper persons” test, to be allowed take ownership of a football club, could hardly be less “fit and proper” if they tried (amongst them a Russian oligarch, serial human-rights abusers, and carpetbaggers and chancers of every type).

Yet none of this bothers the FA. Indeed, so arrogant has the English Football Association become, it can no longer be bothered to even pretend that it gives a damn about football clubs or the ordinary football fan.

Obviously, to try to force change, supporters should take a stand and boycott this Saturday’s FA cup final, refusing even to watch it on television.

But of course we won’t. Whatever the difficulties involved in getting to Wembley and home again, 25,000 Liverpool fans (at the very least) will descend on London to cheer on their team. Hundreds of thousands more will be glued to TV sets around the globe. The FA mandarins know this: it’s why they can afford to treat us and our clubs with such contempt.

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