Who fouled up football?

Published : Nov 28, 2009 00:00 IST

Accomplished writer Michael Henderson writes about the troubles and troublemakers in today’s football but there was room for more, feels Brian Granville.

In his new book, ‘50 People Who Fouled Up Football’, Michael Henderson ranges far and wide. An accomplished writer not only on cricket and soccer but also on classical music, his targets are mostly valid ones and his criticism is pungent, scathing and unforgiving. In certain instances, however, I wish that he had gone further than he has. Not least in the case of Richard Scudamore, Grand Panjandrum of the Premier League — which, on its inception, I christened “The Greed Is Good League”. Scudamore it was, as Henderson deplores, who wanted to add a 39th fixture to the 38 played by the Premiership teams, all of them to take place abroad. The clubs very properly rejected it, and Henderson makes great play of the absurdity of burdening “the good folk of Kuala Lumpur” with a match between two of the lesser Premiership teams at some $100 a time? Indeed, it is perfectly plain to any rational person that outside the Big Four Premiership clubs, few indeed would have any attraction in such distant but discerning places.

Imagine how Chennai or Kolkata would be enthralled by the prospect of watching Bolton Wanderers play Wolves! No wonder Sepp Blatter, the President of FIFA, in one of his more rational moments dismissed the wheeze with scorn. Henderson, however, also derides Scudamore and his organisation for the arrant mess they made of the Tevez-Mascherano affair, a couple of seasons ago when both Argentine stars were brought to West Ham by their owners, a consortium, wholly against the rules of the game: rather than by actual clubs. Sheffield United, who eventually were relegated in no small part thanks to the goals Carlos Tevez scored, were incensed that Hammers were fined £5.5 million rather than having points deducted, which meant West Ham were able to stay up by the skin of their teeth while Sheffield United, at huge cost, went down. It took 16 months before an FA tribunal ordered West Ham to pay The Blades £15 million compensation.

Henderson, however, doesn’t mention the deeply sordid Shinawatra affair, when the disgraced President of Thailand, forced out of office for massive corruption by a military junta, was allowed, seemingly “a fit and proper person,” to buy Manchester City. This, despite an appalling record of repression and torture, emphasised by the Amnesty organisation. As we know Shinawatra, who stayed well away from Bangkok, where he would be found guilty and sentenced, eventually sold a club which he should never have owned.

Especially interesting to me was Henderson’s charge against Alf Ramsey, the only England manager to win the World Cup. I had expected him to accuse Alf of ruining the English game for years to come with his hard running, all too basic, tactics. Indeed, it’s hard to forget the way the Viennese intellectual Hans Keller, brought up on the premier Austrian Wunderteam, concluded his piece in the New Statesman magazine, the day before the Final: “Next week I shall tell you how England won the World Cup: and what we can do about it.”

Many club teams slavishly followed the pattern of Alf’s so called Wingless Wonders, the team based on so called work rate. But Henderson’s accusation concerns the return European Nations Cup game against West Germany in Berlin in 1972.

England had lost badly in the first leg at Wembley, 1-3, largely thanks to Alf, who had arguably lost the plot by then and failed strangely to use a midfield marker to cope with the surging runs of inside left Gunter Netzer. Hendo, however, is more preoccupied with Alf’s palpable loan of nerve in Berlin where he simply and strangely lacked the moral courage to go for a win preferring instead to err miserably on the side of caution, fielding a team of hard men with no greater ambition than to avoid defeat. Which he drearily did in a goalless draw: after which Netzer famously remarked, “The Whole England team has autographed my leg.”

Coming closer to the present, Hendo has nothing but scorn for the spice dame Mrs. Victoria Beckham though her hugely overrated and overpaid husband David might have made a more appropriate target. Great contempt is shown for Ken Bates, once and for many years the domineering Chairman of Chelsea, who walked away with a £17 million pay off from Roman Abramovich, the current owner; at a time when the club was yet again lurching towards financial disaster.

The snowy bearded Bates, of course, then, for some reason known only to himself, decided to take over Leeds United: a once so powerful club which under his aegis has shrunk into obscurity and indeed financial failure: with a 15-point deduction imposed by the Football League for plunging not only into the third division but into insolvency. Since then, Bates, ever litigious himself, especially towards the soccer Press, has had to pay out huge sums in libel expenses to a former Leeds director. The biter bit, you might say.

Hendo, I think, never knew Bates. I did, for many years and have to confess that, for all his autocratic ways, I liked him. He has a cutting sense of humour, a certain geniality. But as owner of Chelsea, though not initially at their Stamford Bridge ground, he did have a lot of luck. And was bitterly resentful when a younger man with real City money, Matthew Harding, came into the club and stole his thunder. Only to die in a helicopter crash on the way back from a Cup tie in the Midlands.

The fact is, I was told by Brian Mears, scion of the family which founded Chelsea in 1905 and Chairman before Ken, Bates could have bought the club from the Mears family for £400,000, but Ken couldn’t raise the money. Somehow, though, he kept predators at bay till an enormous stroke of luck, when the whole property market crashed and the owners of the ground were unable to build on it, got him and Chelsea off the hook. Enabling him to build the elaborate so called Chelsea Village – hotels and restaurants – behind the famous Shed end.

Hendo hasn’t much time for Graham Poll, a former international referee, now forever pontificating in the Press on referees’ mistakes. Hendo recalls the 2006 World Cup game, between Croatia and Australia, when he inadvertently gave the same Croatian THREE yellow cards, before sending him off. Hendo, however, focuses chiefly on a game I myself saw, Arsenal versus Manchester United at Highbury when Poll allowed Wayne Rooney to swear horribly at him no fewer than 27 times without sending him off. His attempted explanation, writes Henderson, with justice, was “the canting drivel of a social worker.” Pontificate as he may, Poll, as Hendo suggests, can never live that down.

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