The FA should show government the red card

The UK government has told the Football Association that it does not like its performance. Apparently it is not doing enough to advance the women’s game and for youth development, amongst other things. The FA is a private organisation. Politicians might not understand how such powerful bodies, that achieve so much in society, and which are not motivated by profit, become so large and important without them being created and managed by politicians and government bureuacrats. But, the fact is that they do. The government has no right to comment in any way whatsoever on the performance of the FA.    

The government might argue that the FA is a powerful body with quasi-monopoly status. This is certainly not true. Apart from the other UK football associations, there are other bodies concerned with the management of football in the UK. And, if women are not happy with the promotion of their game by the FA then they are perfectly entitled to set up their own voluntary body and could, I am sure, easily do so. It was not long ago that the top clubs left the Football League and joined a league organised by the FA instead.    

It seems that the only bargaining chip that the government has – indeed the only justification for its comments – could be the £25m grant that it provides. Personally, I think that the FA should tell the government it can keep its money. However, even if this grant entitles the government to a say in how that particular sum of money is spent it entitles them to no more.    

The FA responded with: “The issues raised by the original questions and the Minister’s response represent important challenges to the game at all levels. They merit careful thought and a proper response with football working together in partnership.” The issues raised may or may not be “important challenges”. They may or may not merit “careful thought”. But, under no circumstances should the FA give a “proper response”, still less should it work in partnership with the government. I would like to think that I can kick a sphere around (if I wished to do so) without the government interfering.

When I was at school I seem to remember an acronym MYOB — standing for ‘Mind Your Own Business’. Could this be resurrected and aimed at governments, quangos, etc.? Should a write-in campaign be organised? Or what about MYOB stickers to plaster over official announcements? How long ago it now seems since Sir Geoffrey Howe, then a newly-appointed Chancellor of the Exchequer in 1979, flabbergasted a television interviewer who asked him what the government was going to do about something or other, by replying: “Nothing: it’s none of our business.” Not words one would ever hear from Gordon Brown!

The government has previous on this – in a recent blog I discussed Andy Burnham’s attempt to lay down the law to the Premier League. My namesake, Len Shackleton the Sunderland and England footballer, wrote a famous autobiography with a chapter containing a blank page, headed “the average director’s knowledge of football”. The “average politician’s knowledge of football” (despite poses such as Tony Blair’s pretence of having seen Jackie Milburn play) would encompass many more blank pages.

When I was at school I seem to remember an acronym MYOB — standing for ‘Mind Your Own Business’. Could this be resurrected and aimed at governments, quangos, etc.? Should a write-in campaign be organised? Or what about MYOB stickers to plaster over official announcements? How long ago it now seems since Sir Geoffrey Howe, then a newly-appointed Chancellor of the Exchequer in 1979, flabbergasted a television interviewer who asked him what the government was going to do about something or other, by replying: “Nothing: it’s none of our business.” Not words one would ever hear from Gordon Brown!

The government has previous on this – in a recent blog I discussed Andy Burnham’s attempt to lay down the law to the Premier League. My namesake, Len Shackleton the Sunderland and England footballer, wrote a famous autobiography with a chapter containing a blank page, headed “the average director’s knowledge of football”. The “average politician’s knowledge of football” (despite poses such as Tony Blair’s pretence of having seen Jackie Milburn play) would encompass many more blank pages.

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