Examiner Column (15.12.2016): FA in Dire Need of Reform

Smedley Butler isn’t a name you often hear round these parts, so let me fill you in.

‘Old Gimlet Eye’, as he was affectionately known, was a major general in the United States Marine Corps at the turn of the last century. According to those who knew him, Butler was fearless, intelligent, and hard as nails.

And that reputation was well deserved: during the course of an illustrious thirty-four-year career, he fought in the Spanish-American War, the Philippine-American War, the Boxer Rebellion, the Banana Wars, and, for good measure, the Great War. For his troubles, Butler was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor, not once, but twice.

The kind of square-jawed Übermensch they stick on recruitment posters, right? Well, not quite. You see, as soon as Butler ditched the khaki, he donned a Quaker’s hat, telling everybody in earshot that “war is a racket” and soldiers are “gangster[s] for capitalism.” 

Hence, in certain sections of American society, when a person criticises an institution once they’ve taken leave of it, they’re said to have “done a Smedley Butler.”

In England, it should be called doing a Greg Dyke, or a David Bernstein, or an Alex Horne, or a David Triesman, or a David Davies.

Take your pick, because on Monday, this group of former Football Association executives publicly stated what football supporters have known for a very long time: that the governing body is “outdated”, unable to counteract the power of the EPL, and being “held back by elderly white men.”

Now, it would be easy, not to mention justified, for those of us involved with the supporters’ trust movement to roll our eyes and make “pot, kettle, elderly white men” jokes till the cows come home.

But I’m a big believer in giving credit where credit’s due.

The Gang of Five should be applauded for putting football governance issues back in the headlines, as well as increasing the pressure on the current F.A. leadership to adopt a reformist agenda.

Unfortunately, however, the problems afflicting English football and its governing bodies are deep-rooted and structural, which makes it difficult for even the most zealous of executives to bring about meaningful change.

The F.A. Council has proved to be a particularly stubborn obstacle, not least because it’s dominated by twenty-five life vice-presidents who, in the words of Dyke and co, “do not represent anyone but block even the most minor of changes.”

That’s why HTSA fully support the recommendations set-out by the FSF and SD in their joint submission to the F.A. Board back in March.

Making the F.A. more representative of the communities it’s supposed to serve and independent of the bodies it’s supposed to oversee would go a long way to moderating some of the more damaging and disagreeable aspects of modern football.  

But whatever happens in the coming months and years, one thing’s for certain: with Parliament increasingly keen on a legislative solution to the current deadlock, doing sweet F.A. is no longer an option.

Of course, it’s never been an option for HTSA, which is why we’re kicking off the New Year by running a coach to Wigan. Members can reserve a seat for just £12, while non-members can get one for £14.

The coach will be departing from outside the Fantastic Media Stand at 11:45 am on Monday, 2nd January. 

You can book by ringing our Travel Line on 07905 580784 or emailing Robert Pepper (repepper.rep@gmail.com).