Adam on leave

Stephen Wagg offers a revisionist view of Adam Crozier's time in charge at the Football Association

When Adam Crozier left his job as chief executive of the Football Association, I was in­trigued by the language in which this was rendered by the football media. It seemed for all the world as if some tribune of the people, having heroically held the line against “commercialism” in the game, had now de­parted the stage. In his wake the fat cats of the Premier League would now continue to boost their own financial power at the expense of ordinary football folk. When one con­siders the circumstances of Cro­zier’s appointment and the key events of his comparatively short tenure at the FA, this seems more than a little absurd.

When Crozier resigned on October 31, Henry Winter in­formed readers of the Daily Telegraph that a “brave man chose to walk away from the Football Association yesterday”. In August, James Lawton of the Independent sat for two hours in Crozier’s “stylishly minimalist office” apparently spellbound by the “awe­some performance” of its tenant. In the broadsheets Adam Crozier always got a good press. “English foot­ball is about to undergo a revolution,” reported the Ob­server in March 2000, a revolution planned by the FA’s new “ultra-reformist chief executive”, who had then been in the job only a matter of weeks.

The revolutionary in question was a truly postmodern figure. A good-looking and articulate man in his late thirties, with an open-necked shirt and a Scottish burr, Crozier was the epitome of cool. As such, of course, he made a stark contrast to the archetypal football bureaucrat – a portly man, perhaps, in a blazer, who had started his administrative life as secretary of a local league. Crozier had held no formal position in English football. Indeed, this was a large factor in his appointment.

He was a whizz kid in the advertising in­dustry, having made his name at Saatchi & Saatchi, and therefore would bring with him a close acquaintance with style-and-surface capitalism. At Saatchi, he was responsible for the advertising ac­counts of 35 of the world’s top 50 companies. The FA, having sat for several years on the goldmine of the Premier League, needed a sharp, con­temp­orary bus­iness brain to streamline the wor­kings of what was now a global business. Out went the un­charismatic Graham Kelly, whose solemn face sug­gested he had taken the minutes at a mil­lion meet­ings. In came the dashing young advertising executive. He must be a good bloke and a man of the people; after all, he spoke softly and wore no tie.

When Crozier came to the FA he brought with him a business plan, much of it broadly categorisable un­der the heading “Corporate Public Relations”. The FA would not be so tactless as to allow Manchester United to withdraw a second time from their annual cup com­petition. There would be a customer relations unit and a financial compliance unit to monitor clubs’ bus­in­ess dealings and act as an “early warning system” of trouble ahead. (This seems to have worked a treat at Bradford City, Leicester City, Nottingham Forest, Coventry City, Barnsley and Derby County.)

Crozier also moved quickly to engage the services of, run by a friend from his, to act as “strategic consultants” to the FA during the bidding process for broadcasting rights to England and FA Cup games. When the allocation of these rights was announced in June 2000, seemed to have furnished the not desperately original advice that they should go to the highest bidders – the BBC and Sky. Crozier claimed “the key thing for us was to ensure that as wide an audience as possible on free television had access to games”. But in fact it was the price extracted that gave Crozier’s FA its unprecedented financial clout – not much evidence of anti-commercialism there, then.

Nor does the Wembley project show Crozier as a friend to the common fan or of the lower reaches of the game. He held out for a national stadium at Wembley which was astronomically expensive (£750 million at the current estimate) and raised serious doubts both at the banks and at the FA itself. The new Wembley threatens the much more modest (but undoubtedly more important) investment in the National Football Centre at Burton-on-Trent, the women’s game and the grassroots in general. It will also halt the already very popular con­cept of a travelling England team performing in different parts of the country. The new Wembley may prove to be Crozier’s Millennium Dome.

Crozier also set a media bandwagon rolling about the prospects of the England team, the butt, since the mid-1970s, of more or less continuous tabloid den­igration. There was talk that 3,000 “grassroots super clubs” would be set up, following the models of Hol­land and Germany. Coaching standards would be improved and all coaches and managers required to gain an FA li­cence. England would be going all out to win the World Cup in 2006.

Here Crozier seems to have had a stroke of luck. When a traumatised Kevin Keegan resigned as Eng­land coach in autumn 2000, Crozier pressed him to change his mind. But once Keegan confirmed his de­cision, Crozier moved to engage the services of Sven-Goran Eriksson. The xenophobic outcry in the English media that greeted Eriksson’s ap­pointment helped to strengthen the view that Crozier was a pro­gressive.

The subsequent infatuation with Eriksson by the same media has done Crozier no harm either. The England team of late has looked as obstinately poor as any of its postwar predecessors. Many football rep­orters, hitherto merciless in such circumstances, have nevertheless continued to portray Eriksson as some kind of football mystic, and his every polite evasion is invested with enormous profundity. Inevitably, when Crozier departed,the press dished up a feast of speculation on the matter of whe­ther, if Adam went, English football’s Dalai Lama would go with him.

Crozier and Eriksson probably didn’t expect that a nation with 150 years of football history would sud­denly begin to play the sort of game that’s needed to win a contemporary World Cup. But they knew how to sell tickets. Crozier, better than anyone, knew that the chief executive of the Football Association is administering not a game, but a brand. You don’t need a lot of men in blazers from the referees’ association or the local leagues to do that. So, like Tony Blair, another widely celebrated “moderniser”, he abandoned the traditional apparatus of government as “unwieldy”.

The effective ruling committee of the FA was slim­med down from 91 members to 12, most of whom were ignored anyway. But he was faced down in the end by the increasingly powerful chairmen of the Premiership clubs, anxious, for example, that the FA should cover the salaries of players while they’re with the England squad. But this wasn’t com­mercialism v the people’s game. It was a battle between powerful brands and Crozier knew that well enough. The idea that he was somehow on the side of those of us who hack a ball through the municipal mud on a Sunday morning (and who were therefore, ultimately, his responsibility) is, I’m afraid, a bit ridiculous.

From WSC 191 January 2003. What was happening this month