Friday 22 February ~
There was almost a ripple of excitement when it was announced that Britain's most anonymous sports administrator, the cadaverous Geoff Thompson, was stepping down as chairman of the Football Association. His replacement was to be an “independent”, someone not beholden to any of the various competing interests in English football, the two main factions often being referred to in terms of their clothes – the “blazers” representing amateur football and the “suits” from the wealthy League clubs. The choice came down to two candidates, former Manchester United chairman Sir Roy Gardner and the Spurs-supporting Labour peer Lord Triesman. The latter was unanimously approved by the selection panel and began work in late January. What a start he has made.
Triesman's first major task on taking office was to respond to the Premier League's Game 39 plan, announced on February 9. The proposal to stage English league matches overseas generated a swift and almost universally negative response from football administrators around the world. But for more than a week the FA, which purports to be the governing body of English football, made no response at all. Finally, they admitted to having “severe reservations” about the idea. But this was only after FIFA president Sepp Blatter had unequivocally condemned it. Another week passed and the FA had a board meeting after which a detailed verdict was delivered by Lord Triesman.
The FA are not convinced that the plan in its current form is “sustainable”. The PL will have to offer “new variants” soon if the idea is to be taken further. There are plenty of points to note amid all the lawyerly caution, such as the use of the term “football family” which is meant to imply that English football is still one big inter-connected community rather than the sort of unit Charles Manson presided over. But this comment from Lord Triesman is the key: “I don't want this to drift on, particularly as we are to launch our World Cup bid.” The FA are terrified of offending Sepp Blatter at this early stage of the lobbying process so they waited to see how he responded to Game 39 before reacting. But what if Blatter had not condemned Game 39 but instead suggested that it was a good idea whose time had come? The FA would have dutifully fallen in line and we would have heard about how pleased Lord Triesman and his colleagues are to be involved with a bold new venture for the football family.
No one gives a damn about the 2018 World Cup. With another six years until the hosting decision is made, it seems as far away as the first passenger flights to the moon. But it appears set to dominate the behaviour of Football Association right up until the moment that Sepp Blatter or his successor opens the envelope containing the winning bid and the FA slink back to work out how they messed it up again.