England’s leaders


When he took office, Brian Barwick (in pic), the FA Chief Executive, was rash enough to declare that he would be judged by his implementation of Steve McClaren’s appointment as England’s manager. Well, if one didn’t judge him then we can surely judge him now.

“Against stupidity”, wrote the German poet, Schiller, “the gods themselves struggle in vain”. So there was really nothing to rejoice when, after England’s football team recently collapsed in Moscow, Sir David Richards, Chairman of the Premier League and vice-Chairman of the Football Association, opined that the beleaguered Steve McClaren “had done a bloody good job”. Even if it was alarming to wonder what a bad job could possibly have meant.

McClaren, in fact, had done so good a job that England, in no small measure the victim of his craven tactics against Russia, and his suicidal decision to rely on a goalkeeper, Paul Robinson, alarmingly out of form, were as good as dead in the European water. Failing, for the first time since Alf Ramsey, in his managerial dotage, was outmanoeuvred by West Germany in 1972, to reach the finals of the European Championship.

Richards, however, is one of those supposedly influential figures who rarely puts his head above the parapet. More sharply and dismally in focus is the Chief Executive (it used to be called the Secretary) of the Football Association, Brian Barwick. When he took office, he was rash enough to declare that he would be judged by his implementation of McClaren’s appointment as England’s manager. Well, if one didn’t judge him then — and I certainly did — we can surely judge him now.

A former sports television supremo, Barwick gave little confidence with his first interview as FA supremo. He had, he told us, a very good relationship with the then manager of England, the grotesquely overpaid Sven-Goran Eriksson, which was “significant”. Which indeed it was, though hardly as Barwick would have wanted us to see it. Especially when greedy Sven failed so signally at the 2006 World Cup finals; just as he had failed before.

For good or bad measure, Barwick fatuously added that he deplored the Manchester United striker Alan Smith’s withdrawal from the current England squad. “I never played for England”, he mindlessly added. Only to be shown up almost immediately, when Ericksson himself said that the withdrawals from England’s squad by Smith through injury had been with his blessing.

Subsequently as we know all, too well, Barwick went blundering around Europe trying — well before the 2006 World Cup finals — to persuade Portugal’s coach Big Phil Scolari to manage England. When that failed he and the FA panicked and absurdly alighted on McClaren, then Eriksson’s assistant; though the World Cup was weeks away; and no other country changed its coach till after the tournament.

But if Barwick is a disaster so indeed was McClaren — dropping points like autumn leaves, above all in Croatia where his fatuous 3-5-2 formation invited the defeat it got. Not to mention dim goalless draws with Israel away and Macedonia at home. And his blow hot blow cold relationship with David Beckham whom he first dropped then brought back as a kind of pseudo Messiah. There were brief signs of hope when injuries caused him to bring the accomplished Gareth Barry and the burly Emile Heskey into the team, but in Moscow his bizarre insistence on defence at all costs inevitably led to defeat.

Yet who, since the retirement as FA Secretary of the formidable Sir Stanley Rous, has been of any consequence as the FA’s leader? Rous was there from 1934 to 1962. The day that the ineffectual Denis Follows was confirmed as his successor — the result of the machinations of the notorious intriguer, the late Professor Sir Harold Thompson, at the expense of the obvious candidate, England’s manager Walter Winterbottom — I sat with Follows outside the BBC radio studio. “The Secretary,” he intoned pompously, “is meant to be the servant of the Association; and we all know what happened. The servant became the master.”

Just as well, I thought, that he did. Internationalist and progressive, Rous dragged the FA into the 20th century, re-wrote the Laws of the Game, fought the isolationism of English football. Not perfect by a long chalk. He kept Winterbottom, his protege, in office for an absurd 16 long years, despite his manifold failings. He didn’t care much for the troops on the ground. In all his years in office, England’s team never travelled with a doctor, though his Australian business host, middle-aged Mr. Ghalwyn, actually lived in the England training camp at the 1962 Chilean World Cup!

And when, just before the Final, the whole world waited to see whether Brazil’s Garrincha, sent off in the semis against Chile, would be allowed to play and was phoned by TV’s Kenneth Wolstenholme to find out the situation, he replied, “The disciplinary committee met this morning. 7 and 9; 7 and 9. 7 was cautioned and 9 was suspended.” 7 was Garrincha!

Subsequently, Graham Kelly left the Football League to assume the FA role; and was responsible, in tandem with the biggest clubs, in forming the Premier League, which I at once nicknamed the Greed is Good League, at the expense of the lesser League clubs. More recently, there has been Adam Crozier, despite the fact that a newspaper exposed him as having distorted his figures when an advertising executive at the ‘Daily Telegraph’. Without authority, he moved the FA headquarters from Lancaster Gate in West London to hugely expensive premises in central Soho Square; and hired a flock of £80,000 a year dolly bids as “marketing executives”, at the expense of experienced, long serving officials.

After Follows came Ted Croker, once on Charlton’s books, who told me and a ‘Sunday Times’ colleague how shocked he had been to see the hold the Wembley Stadium people had over the FA; forcing them to play all England’s matches there. But he never did anything about it and you could only wonder why.