Football Governance - Culture, Media and Sport Committee Contents


Examination of Witnesses (Question Numbers 24-55)

Lord Burns, Graham Kelly and Lord Triesman

8 February 2011

Chair: I welcome our second panel of witnesses this morning, in particular Lord Burns who chaired the FA Structural Review in 2004, Graham Kelly, the former Secretary of the Football League and Chief Executive of the Football Association, and Lord Triesman, the former Chairman of the FA.

Q24 Mr Sanders: Mr Kelly, is the Premier League today the Premier League you envisaged during negotiations for its establishment?

Graham Kelly: No, Mr Sanders, it is considerably different. If you were to read the Blueprint for the Future of Football you would struggle to reconcile that with the animal that exists today in the form of the FA Premier League. I do not know if the coalition that runs the country at the moment is the coalition that emerged from the negotiations back in May but it seems it is rather different. The football that existed in the middle of the 1980s has already been referred to this morning. It was thundered during the middle of the 1980s by one eminent leader writer that football is a slum sport played in slum stadiums followed by slum supporters and we had to break out from that situation.

After the Taylor report, the Government report into the Hillsborough disaster of 1989, I commissioned the FA blueprint on the instructions of the FA executive committee. The FA executive committee was 12 leading members of the FA Council; there were no directors of the Football Association at that time. The FA Council comprised 92 members of the FA. The board members of the FA were those 92 members of the FA Council. The FA did not have a board whatsoever at that time and one of my first duties upon taking office as FA chief executive was to attempt to institute some reform of the FA but we were unable to effect any significant change. Upon taking office we tried to effect some reform. Be that as it may, the Hillsborough disaster sadly occurred and the Taylor report was the outcome.

  A lot of things happened in the 1980s, as you have heard already this morning. The Taylor report came about, the blueprint happened and the FA Premier League was formed in 1991-92. The model for the FA Premier League was the French league, the French football federation or the German football federation, both of which entail vertical integration. The league in both those two countries is an integral part of the Football Association and the key members of the league were intended to have key roles within the Football Association Council. Nine members of the Premier League were intended to have seats on the FA Council, but because of challenges to the blueprint and because of various litigation and recriminations, the original plan for the blueprint was not implemented.

Q25 Mr Sanders: With hindsight, should the FA have secured more commitments from the Premier League with regard to supporting the national team and the lower leagues?

Graham Kelly: I think probably it should. As Mr Collins said this morning, one of the prime aims of the FA Premier League was to improve the conditions of success of the England team. At the time, the number of teams in the top division was 22 clubs; that was reduced. There was to be a phased reduction from 22 to 18 and that was one of the aims of the Premier League, to come down to 18. That came down over four years from 1992 to 1996 and I think probably the commitment should have been or could have been stronger. There was, as I say, a lot of recrimination between—

Q26 Mr Sanders: Do you mean stronger in the sense it should have gone down to fewer clubs or do you mean stronger in other ways?

Graham Kelly: Not necessarily fewer. There perhaps should have been a stronger commitment from the Premier League to the success of the England team perhaps in the initial stages maybe, but I don't know.

Q27 Mr Sanders: Lord Burns, how happy were you with the FA's reaction to your review?

Lord Burns: A certain amount of the recommendations that we put forward have been implemented and some have not been implemented. There has been, undoubtedly, progress since I did that report. We have had the introduction of an independent chairman, and the chief executive is now a member of the board. The process by which the rules and regulation are implemented has improved since that time. Some of the proposals we made about the national game were partly followed: having a separate board and a funding rule that means it gets a proportion of the revenues from the FA. It has been left to manage them itself, and that has worked pretty well. I think that whole national game board side has worked pretty well.

  The main recommendation, of course, which was not followed was with regard to the board. I recommended that there should be at least two independent directors and if the chairman was an independent director then there probably should be another two as well. The pattern whereby the board, which essentially I think now consists of a chairman, a chief executive and five members from the national game and five members from the professional game is really not a sensible basis for going forward. I do not want to put too much emphasis on this because England's performance in the World Cup has very little to do with governance. The fact that we did not get the World Cup here in 2018, I am not sure has an enormous amount to do with it. But I listened to the conversation this morning in terms of how the game is being taken forward and how the FA really needs to become an effective regulatory body. If we are to have regulation of football, which I assume we do want, and as we implement the rules that have now been developed in UEFA, then it needs a board that is constituted differently from that which it is now. The present board, is as if with the Financial Services Authority we had a controlling interest by the banks whom they are regulating. I do not think anybody would regard that as really being a satisfactory state of affairs. So a lot depends on what you think the purpose of the FA is. Is it to run the England team? Is it to be an effective governing body and regulatory body of football? The more you want it to play the second role, the more that it has to have some people on the board who do not have vested interests in the regulation that is taking place.

Q28 Mr Sanders: Lord Triesman, when the former Government engaged with football bodies on football governance, your response to the then Secretary of State was to refer him to the responses submitted by the Premier League and by the Football League. Why did the FA not submit its own?

Lord Triesman: The former Secretary of State asked the three organisations to prepare a joint response to his questions, and I thought that was absolutely right. It would be very good if it was possible to come to some amicable agreement about how to carry forward the regulation of the game. The Football League was completely willing to engage in that with the Football Association; Lord Mawhinney was completely willing to do so; the Premier League was not. After some period of trying to persuade everybody to come together to do it, the Premier League produced—I think we have probably all read it—its own response to Andy Burnham.

The Football League then produced a response to Andy Burnham and the FA, which had been doing very considerable amounts of work on football regulation for some time past and discussing it with all the partners, produced a document that was submitted to the FA board, having been discussed with a number of other people. The professional game representatives on the FA board took perhaps a maximum of two minutes to say that the document should not be submitted and to issue a board instruction that a response should be made simply referring the Secretary of State to the wisdom of the professional league, and in particular the Premier League. I thought that was a grave disappointment and, Mr Chairman, just in case it is helpful, I have brought the response that we would have made.

Q29 Mr Sanders: I was going to ask were there any substantive proposals that you would have liked to have submitted but were unable to do so?

Lord Triesman: There were a significant number of substantive proposals, some of them were to do with tightening the overall arc of financial regulation, because it was very apparent that we were in extremely choppy waters financially and that you could see very great football clubs with very long histories in severe trouble. It was by no means clear that they would all pull out of that severe trouble. We could see a whole range of difficulties in the fit and proper persons area. I heard earlier the example of Manchester City being mentioned. Quite aside from the financial thing, as a former Foreign Office Minister, I thought that there were other very, very grave doubts about the person who had taken over Manchester City and, indeed, had been sent by the Foreign Office to encourage him not to dispose of his political opponents in quite as ruthless a manner. But none the less, he was able to take over that club.

I believed that it was entirely possible to have one set of regulations for finance. It might, rather like our company law, have a different requirement for plcs to limited companies. Of course you could have something that graded the level of difficulty so that you would not be asking a very small club to perform as though it were a massive club, but none the less one set of regulations, preferably coherent with the emerging UEFA regulations. It would be possible to have one set of regulations about fit and proper persons and so on, right through the regulatory system.

  I answer the question in that way because one of the things I have found, not least with colleagues in the media, is trying to describe how the bodies all have completely different approaches and how things fall through the gaps between the different approaches is very difficult. When you try and describe that to football supporters, it becomes almost impossible. It is a thoroughly unsatisfactory system with the key consequence that the FA itself, in my judgment, having been its first independent chairman, has, apart from on-field discipline—red and yellow cards and the like—has backed out of regulating altogether.

Q30 Chair: Lord Triesman, we are extremely grateful to you for bringing a copy this morning of the submission that was not put forward by the board. Are you providing that to the Committee?

Lord Triesman: I am, Chairman, because I think that the response of the FA must have been all but unintelligible to the rest of the world. It was to me. But I thought it best that people should see the body of work, and very kindly a former colleague at the FA last week sent me a copy and I have brought it.

Chair: Thank you. We will read it with considerable interest.

Q31 Dr Coffey: I have to declare an interest. I am undertaking a sports parliamentary fellowship with the Football Association. I have done one day. You specifically mentioned the former owner of Manchester City. Is it your view then that the Foreign Office, either proactively or reactively, said this person does not pass the fit and proper test? I am trying to understand what you just said, because you were saying as a former Foreign Office Minister there is no way he would have passed the smell test, but are you sure that the Foreign Office said that, either proactively or reactively?

Lord Triesman: I do not know, because I had left the Foreign Office by that stage. All I can reflect on is that there were severe difficulties, which you can find in the human rights annual report, which were associated with that individual. While there are rules about who is and is not a fit and proper person, it is extremely unlikely that somebody at that stage, a head of state or immediate past head of state, is going to fall foul of the courts in that country. That is not what is going to happen. Consequently, you know that these are issues, that they have not been tested in law, but the body of public knowledge about the individual is quite large enough to say, "Is this an appropriate way?" I can answer the question a little more by saying that were this to happen in a plc, I have no doubt whatsoever that the board of a plc would say, "We're not going to do that".

Q32 Damian Collins: I would like to pick up on the fit and proper person test, just to follow up on the question I asked in the previous session. Do you think there should be greater powers for redress against the directors of football clubs who preside over their club going into administration—clubs like Leeds and Portsmouth are particularly strong examples—to act as a disincentive for people to engage in bad practice and as a message to say that if people have done that in the past, "We don't want you in this game"?

Lord Triesman: I think there is a very strong case for that. The principal reason that I say that is because most of the clubs that have got themselves into that position—and this would not be 100% of all clubs that have got themselves into that position—have got into that position by spending money, as I think was described in the last session, related to their ambition rather than to their business model. They want to beat other clubs; they spend what they believe is necessary to do that. The model falls apart—Leeds is a very strong example of that—and they are left with a huge financial crisis on their hands. People in other clubs reflect not only on the amounts that were spent but on the unfairness to the competitive regime that it creates.

I know people think that "financial doping" is a rather dramatic term but it is a pretty accurate term for what is described. From my own experience, this is not a matter of an outside observer believing that that is the case. Most of the people I spoke to who ran football clubs were among the people who were fiercest about it, fiercest about the points deductions, argued often for greater points deductions or for other kinds of sanctions. People want it to be a fair competition on a level playing ground, and they are right.

Q33 Damian Collins: Lord Triesman, following your comments earlier, you talked about the fact that the FA, other than regulating the rules of the game, does not get that involved any more in the regulation of football more broadly and I just wanted to ask a couple of questions about that. Do you think there is scope on certain issues that are linked to the way clubs are run where the FA should have more of a voice? David Cairns mentioned Wimbledon in the previous session. Should we have clearer rules that say you cannot pick up football clubs from one part of the country and move them somewhere else? Should the FA have a voice on whether it is desirable for Tottenham to move their club from north London to east London? Should those be the sorts of the things where the FA speaks for football?

Lord Triesman: That is a very sensitive question to ask me. The FA has a large book of rules, much as the Premier League and the Football League do. The question is whether it applies any of those rules in any systematic way. My view is that it should do so: it should do so systematically, it should do so transparently and everybody should know the reasons for a decision, including on-field decisions incidentally. I see no reason why those should not be publicly disclosed; not just the penalty but the reasoning. One of the key reasons for doing so is that under FIFA's statutes, the FA is supposed to fulfil that role. That is one of the things of the independent football associations of each of the countries that are members of FIFA are supposed to do. Subcontracting it is obviously a model that does not fit with the international regulation of the game. I have no doubt that in the course of hearing evidence you will hear people who will say "The FA does do all of those things and it is not realistic to say that they don't, and here is the book that sets out all the regulations." I am just saying at first-hand experience that it has subcontracted and does not question the subcontractor in those key roles.

Q34 Damian Collins: Do you think the way in which the game is run drives this incentive for clubs to take financial risks and spend more than they can earn? Does the way the game is structured encourages that? I am thinking particularly of the transfer windows. We have just seen the very large expenditure at the end of the January transfer window. Do you think that acts as an incentive to clubs to pay higher signing fees and salaries, because they know they have literally a rapidly closing window of opportunity and that can be exploited by other clubs and agents to drive up prices in a sort of shotgun transfer?

Lord Triesman: It does do so. It certainly does for clubs fearful of relegation, although I do not think they were the main people spending money in this last transfer window. It does it for clubs who are fearful of not getting a European slot at the end of the season, because that is the key to the door of very, very much larger sums of money. The answer to it, I am very confident in my own mind, lies in the arrangements that Michel Platini has advocated. Sadly, because he is French or because it was not made here, he also was attacked very roundly and very frequently. But saying to a business that over a period of time it really ought to wash its own face, that it should not drift further and further into debt as an attempt to buy that kind of success, seems to me to be absolutely right. Believe me, I am no mad advocate of massive regulation. I would like to think of myself, particularly when I was in Government, as a deregulator rather than a mad regulator. But with a little further adjustment in, for example, debt ratios—excluding the building of new grounds and improving facilities, which is a different sort of borrowing usually secured against the asset—you could probably get fair competition across Europe and without the excessive risk.

Lord Burns: Can I just comment how it seemed to me from an historical perspective? The FA grew up in much the way that many of the governing bodies of sports did whereby there was a Council of people who came up through the national game- effectively, through the county football associations - and they had a whole series of committees. The tasks that they set themselves were basically to do with running the England team, running the FA Cup, the on-field rules, regulations and discipline. They really spent relatively little of their time in these other matters that we have been talking about with regard to regulation. Then we had the emergence of the Premier League and the huge amounts of money that have come from television, including the FA Cup, the European competitions and the vast amounts of money that are involved in these. The game became a very different game. The role of the FA in principle then, of course, became much wider as far as regulation is concerned and they also set up a board of the FA that initially had the job of trying to simply deal with the financial aspects of the Football Association.

  I would not like the idea to emerge that somehow historically the FA had played a very important role in off-field regulation of football or of the structure of football and it has retreated from that area. It seems to me what has happened is that the game has changed and the requirement and the interest in some of these off-field aspects of regulation has become much bigger, because the sums of money involved are much greater. It has become a much more international business, both in terms of the matches that are played, in terms of the ownership of clubs, in terms of the interest worldwide in watching the games on television and therefore the value of the rights. That has set up a different set of issues.

  My perspective on this is that the FA has struggled to come to terms with the extent of the change in the game and therefore the burdens and the requirements that have been placed upon it. It has operated a sort of subsidiary model as far as the management of the leagues is concerned. We now have the slightly strange situation where the lead has been taken by UEFA in terms of the fair play rules and they are beginning to carve out an approach to it. Our FA, I have to say, looks to me to be being dragged along behind that rather than, as one might have expected given the historical position of the FA, having been more in the lead on these issues.

Q35 Damian Collins: Do you think UEFA can create an equitable system for the European leagues? There has always been a lot of competition between the European leagues and one thing we might credit the Premier League for is that there is a lot more money in the English game and a lot more of our players play here. I looked up that when England played Germany in 1990 in the World Cup, seven of the starting 11 had either or did go on to play football in European leagues. In the last World Cup when we played Germany, none of the England starting 11 had. Now, you can draw your own conclusions as to whether it is a good or bad thing for players to play abroad but it used to be a big factor that we supplied the European leagues with players and now they come to us. We cannot turn the clock back and we must be concerned that we might hamper the Premier League in that regard.

Lord Burns: First of all my perspective on the way that UEFA has approached this. It has not been that its seeking to regulate our leagues or our games but it is seeking to regulate fair play among its own competitions. Therefore, it all comes down to the licensing of the clubs who might be eligible for the UEFA competitions. The rest, I am afraid, is a matter of judgement. My observation would be that the huge amount of money in England for football has meant that this has become the real marketplace where everyone is competing to be - much the same, say, as with financial services. The result has been, of course, that it has become more and more difficult for our players to get into the Premier League teams. Also the people who are very good, the outstanding players, can make a very good living here by comparison with going abroad, whereas once upon a time some of the more successful teams were overseas. So there has been a shift in the balance.

Graham Kelly: The shift has been over here because the majority of the money is here. The Sky money, the satellite money, is here and it has attracted more of the players here.

Lord Burns: And kept our good players here.

Graham Kelly: Our clubs are more able to retain the best players and to attract the best players here.

Q36 Damian Collins: The Minister for Sport, Hugh Robertson, said that he thought football was the worst governed sport in the country. I know Patrick Collins was asked this question on the radio this morning, and he said that, with all due respect to the Lawn Tennis Association, it was. Do you think that is a fair assessment by the Minister for Sport on the governance of football in this country?

Lord Burns: I do not want to answer that directly. But if we were looking at this in terms of outcomes I find it very difficult to imagine that that was the case because we do have the most successful football in the world. It is taking place in the UK on our television screens, that a huge amount of people can watch. We have wonderful stadiums and we have wonderful playing surfaces. I compare this to the kind of football that I watched when I was much younger, and it is completely different, looked at in terms of what is it that is being produced. It is really quite remarkable what has taken place over this period in terms of the quality of the football that is now played in this country and that you can turn up and see at the stadiums in this country. You cannot say that that has been a result of brilliant governance or management by the football authorities. It has been a combination of events, as has already been mentioned. But in the light of that, it becomes quite tricky, and I would say quite difficult, to substantiate the charge that this is the worst managed sporting organisation in the country. I would not like to have to justify that. David may have a different view.

Lord Triesman: I think in terms of outcomes we obviously have fantastic success in the Premier League and that is to be applauded. It is an amazing competition; last weekend was an amazing example of that competition. If we look at outcomes for England as a country playing international football, the outcomes are very poor and I do not think they are satisfactory to England football fans. I count myself as a straightforward England football fan in that sense and I think that we have done very poorly. As a system, if the Minister was thinking about whether we have a good system, we have systemic failure. The board is heavily conflicted. By the way, Terry—if you do not mind, Chairman—I ought to say that after a small while I learned that I should never use your name in FA headquarters. I could talk about the reforms but if I wanted some sort of means of frightening the children I would quote you.

We are deeply conflicted. Terry was saying would you have a banking regulatory system. The model that always went through my head was would you have Ofcom exclusively made up of Sky, ITN, the BBC and possibly ESPN now. The answer is you would never ever construct something that way, which is why the original recommendations on independent members is such an important proposition. The reality is we have now seen some extremely good and extremely sophisticated people coming into the management of parts of the football business: Ivan Gazidis at the Arsenal, not my club, as many people here will know. There are people of great quality who have come in, but generally speaking as you go round, is this broadly a successful group of people running such an incredibly important institution as well as business in our society?

Other sports have changed in those last areas, in their systems and in the people. They have become diverse; we did not. They have not the same conflicts of interest in the way in which they govern; we do. Hugh Robertson has made a point that should not be dismissed. Cut into the layers of it, it is a serious point and should be taken seriously.

Graham Kelly: I'm sure, Mr Chairman, the FA fully accept that they must take on board the concept of independent directors. They know they have to go for independent directors. They know, the Premier League know that there must be independent directors at the FA. I'm sure they will welcome that recommendation. They have to be committed to that now. They have to go for that now.

Chair: They didn't welcome it before.

Lord Burns: It was very interesting because the people who are on the FA board from the national game see this as the pinnacle of their life in football. This enables them to be on the various committees, go down and shake the hands of the England football team, go down when the FA Cup final is taking place, nice seats to watch the games, and they are highly respected by their colleagues. They see that they have worked for years and years and years through the county associations and therefore this is an honour and it is the peak of their ambitions in football. To then say to them as I tried to, "Well, I'm sorry, you can't have five or six people from the national game on the board of the FA, it should be reduced to three" and all of a sudden there is panic as to, "Which three of us are going to have to leave and over which period and what does it mean?" The professional game was not so concerned about the number. They would have reduced their numbers, but of course it wanted equality with the national game. You cannot have a system whereby you simply increase the total numbers of people on the board otherwise it would have become unmanageable.

So, whereas most of them would agree about the principle of independence they had two problems. One was, "What does it mean for me and therefore what does it mean for my colleagues and for the number of people who will be able to be on the board?" The second, which was put to me more than once, is they would say, "What is the point of having independent directors because independent directors clearly don't know anything about football and what is the point of having people here who don't know anything about football?" Whereas the idea was, in principle, acknowledged—I'm sure Graham is right that many people would like to see it--there is an awful lot of built-in resistance to this. I am not holding my breath about a big change in this area unless there is some real push from someone.

Q37 Chair: Do you stand by the recommendations in your original report?

Lord Burns: Yes. Everything that has happened subsequently confirms that this is the direction of travel. Indeed the only slight regret I have is that maybe I should have been more ambitious about it. I was hoping to have a set of recommendations that went in the right direction, that went far enough to make a real difference but which had a reasonable chance of being accepted, because I knew the whole problem about turkeys voting for Christmas. It may be that instead of saying there should be two or three independent directors, if I was looking at this now I would be looking for a larger number of independent directors.

Graham Kelly: I wouldn't want there to be any misunderstanding about this. I am very, very proud of the Premier League for a lot of reasons. Last year, £36 million was distributed by the FA and the Premier League via the Football Foundation. You talked to the previous witnesses who talked about the trickle-down effect: £36 million trickled down and was distributed by the FA and the Premier League throughout football through the Football Foundation. That goes down throughout football to all levels: to stadiums, to grassroots, new pitches, new small sided pitches.

It isn't the Premier League that was originally envisaged, I know that, I'm not stupid, but before it came into effect, ITV had a cartel. Patrick Collins talked about Derby winning the first division championship, and they did because they had a brilliant manager and they had a good team, brilliant team, but by and large Liverpool had pre-eminence over a lot of years in the 1980s. There was the big five and in 1988 to 1992, ITV signed a secret agreement with five clubs. Nobody knew about that in 1988 and the money—only a small number of clubs were guaranteed exposure under the television contract in those four years. So until that was broken, there was not the spread of television matches like we saw last week with West Brom versus Wigan midweek. So there wasn't the spread of matches like there is at the moment, so there isn't the concentration of power in the Premier League like there was in the old first division. So, football isn't quite so romantic as sometimes we like to think it was.

Q38 Chair: Lord Triesman, Lord Burns suggested that he might have been even more ambitious had he been able to. Going on your experience when you were chairing the FA, do you think the Burns recommendations would have done a lot to make the FA a more effective organisation and would you like to go further, as he is now suggesting that he would?

Lord Triesman: We would have been more effective if we had adopted all the recommendations and it would have been good to go further. The reality is that what counts in this country as being an insider in football or somebody who comes in who is independent is probably a rather blurry line. I do not know whether I would have counted—I was independent, I was the first independent chairman, but I had played football right the way through to my mid-30s, got to the bottom ranks of the senior categories of referees and had my coaching awards. Apart from occasionally going and earning a living, I always felt that I was deeply embedded in the sport and probably people who would have come in as independent directors would have also had that love and engagement in the sport.

Lord Burns is completely right, also to say, as people used to say to me, that there was no appetite for changing the personnel at any level. That was not because members of the council had not made a great contribution around the counties. I can think of one or two of them: Ray Kiddell from Norfolk who had been one of the great driving forces in women's football, for example, and should get great credit for that, and David Elleray in refereeing. But if you try to raise the question of, "Why is it that this room is entirely made up of men, bar two, that there are two black faces, one of whom came in partly because of the report, Lord Ouseley, why is it that hardly anybody here has played professional football or has been a coach in professional football?" the answer, of course, is you do need those voices and you need that knowledge and that experience in any professional and amateur sport but they weren't there and no one was going to change it. I understand that people see it as the summit of a great deal of very valuable work. Of course that is true, but other sports have managed to change and other sports reflect what Britain is like today in ways that have not damaged those sports.

Q39 Paul Farrelly: Thank you, Lord Triesman, for providing us with the FA's proposed response. It is has helped save the FA time, effort and expense in complying with a polite request from this Committee to provide it, so hopefully it will go on our website as soon as possible for the world to read. The title of this inquiry is football governance and I wanted really just to probe further into how the board of the FA operates. Lord Triesman, you have given me the perfect example when you cited the case of the representatives of the professional game taking just two minutes to look at your document and then it was decided not to submit it. By my arithmetic, the board is made up of 12 people, five from the professional game, and that leaves seven others. What happened? The numbers were with you.

Lord Triesman: Just so you get the sequence right, the professional game board meets usually the day before the FA board and it comes to a conclusion. It is led by the most powerful force in professional football because the most powerful force in professional football controls such a high proportion of the money that flows through. At that stage, there were 11 because we were between CEOs; there were 11 people rather than 12. When you get into the room the point was made, as it happens, by the chairman of the Premier League, that this should be disregarded from that point on and we should simply acknowledge the work that had been done by the Premier League principally, but by the professional game, and reminding the members of the national game, the amateur representatives there, where their money came from.

Q40 Paul Farrelly: So in good Leninist style, the representatives had had a pre-meeting—we encountered this in the Labour Party not too long ago—but still there were six. So are you saying that the representatives of the national game are all too easily cowed into not standing their ground?

Lord Triesman: On issues which are regarded as absolutely critical to the professional game, they may not vote with them but they will not vote against them.

Q41 Paul Farrelly: You mentioned the chairman of the Premier League, Sir David Richards. Can you just give us a flavour of how, following these pre-meetings where the line is decided, he conducts himself at FA board meetings when issues of vital interest such as this come up?

Lord Triesman: Let me preface this by saying that I believe the problem is systemic rather than the personalities. It is to do with the balances and the interests and the conflicts of interest. My experience is that he will put his point politely in a board meeting but discussions outside, across football generally but certainly with some people, are extremely aggressive discussions, really aggressive discussions. The points are made in a very colourful way.

Q42 Paul Farrelly: How colourful?

Lord Triesman: Very colourful. I would not—

Dr Coffey: So it would be unparliamentary language, would it?

Lord Triesman: I wouldn't use that language.

Q43 Paul Farrelly: One of the things that we hear from time to time is that the premiership represented by its chairman occasionally might threaten to withdraw its clubs if the FA did not toe the line. Can I quote from The Beautiful Game by David Conn, who is a Guardian journalist, "I have it from three members of the FA's main board that Dave Richards was constantly threatening to withdraw the premiership clubs from the FA Cup, or saying the clubs would withdraw if he didn't get his way on an issue, usually over money. The sources complained that they could not debate with Richards in any detail. He would fly off, be dismissive or issue a threat." On the following page, 365, the book also quotes Dave Richards' response to that as, "Bollocks". Do you recognise that sort of behaviour?

Lord Triesman: That has a terrible ring of authenticity.

Q44 Paul Farrelly: Is it right that the chairman of the Premier League, who does not represent a Premier League club, although I think he was involved in Sheffield Wednesday many years ago—and we wish Sheffield Wednesday the best of success in the future—should be on the FA board, and certainly after 10 or more years should still be on the FA board?

Lord Triesman: I think there is a good principle in trying to get a circulation of people on the boards of any enterprise. It is inevitable, and I am not making this as a comment about anybody in particular, that you get a little stale if you are doing the same thing year after year after year. Of course you bring growing experience but you do not necessarily bring new ideas. So circulation would be a good thing. The structure of the FA board puts the chairman of the Premier League on the FA board. That is a structural decision; whoever it was would be there. The reason I am so supportive of Lord Burns' view is that we could have done with probably even more independents than appeared in his report is because it is extremely hard for anybody who comes in representing the Premier League to do other than represent the Premier League. It is not the FA that is being represented at that stage. There will be a great deal of courtesy about its history and why it is so important, but that is not what is being represented and that is the problem.

Q45 Paul Farrelly: Is it the case that if you have been around for a long time and you have a certain way of behaving and a certain track record in getting your way, you might lack some of the self-awareness where other people independently might say that you don't recognise that your behaviour might be a problem and also for the reputation of the Premier League itself as well?

Lord Triesman: The reality is this is a very, very macho sport and I think some people have cultivated what they think is the language of the dressing room as being appropriate everywhere.

Q46 Paul Farrelly: After a decade or more, do you think it is right for the Premier League to question who it has as chairman and who it chooses to represent it on the FA board and whether, indeed, Sir Dave Richards, with that description of authenticity about the behaviour—some bullying behaviour as many people would categorise it as—has really had his day?

Lord Triesman: Whoever the Premier League decides it wants as its chairman or therefore wants on the FA board under its current arrangements must be a matter for the Premier League. It has a board of two people with, I think, a third person attending. I think that is right. It may be three but I think it is just two with one other person attending. It comes to its decisions and it must be for the shareholders in, I suppose I should give it its proper title, the FA Premier League. It is still its actual title. We held a golden share; I could never find out to use it. But the decisions are taken by that board of two people and I guess with the support of the clubs. I'm not trying to avoid your question. I do think, though, that bodies that are constituted properly in their own right need to take those decisions. I would like to think that they looked at things afresh from time to time, because it is in the interest of the sport to do so.

Q47 Paul Farrelly: I would like to put a couple of questions to the other panel members but, Lord Triesman, you mentioned you have heard also that the board of the FA and perhaps the FA itself—you tell us—could be categorised as white, middle-aged and male. I do not have a bone of political correctness in my body, but you said that there were certain interests that should potentially be more widely represented throughout the FA. Did you try yourself, when you were the chairman, to bring more people through and, if so, what was the response at the board?

Lord Triesman: There was no appetite for change. I think that sums it up pretty much. When Ian Watmore was the CEO—in my view, an exceptionally talented person--and stayed for just nine months, he also made real efforts to see if change could be achieved. You may well be seeing him and you can ask him the questions for yourselves, but he did not believe that change was going to be achieved. He had, as an alternative, come up with a proposition, which I supported because I thought it might at least make some progress, to get a group of people in who would be advisers who were drawn from the game, who were more diverse, both in ethnic and gender senses. That idea was dismissed. I do not know that it took much more than the two minutes either. That idea was dismissed on the grounds that the talent that was needed was in the room and so there were a small but very significant number of people who, in my judgment, would have been very valuable advisors to us, but that was not possible either.

Q48 Paul Farrelly: I hope we will get a chance to ask him. What do you understand was the straw that broke Ian Watmore's back?

Lord Triesman: I think you need to ask him that. He was managing director of Accenture. That is a post I believe you get by being elected by your partners. It is probably not the easiest job to win in the world. He had vast experience in business way before he came into senior positions in the civil service. If I were on your Committee, I would ask him whether he believed, based on all of his experience, he thought that he could contribute to getting any change at all.

Q49 Paul Farrelly: Lord Burns and Graham Kelly, can I finish my questions by asking two linked questions? Who would be responsible for appointing independent directors so that they are not creatures of one constituency or another? In appointing an independent chairman and independent directors, what is the problem that we are trying to fix?

Lord Burns: The problem that we are trying to fix, and we have been through in some detail already, is the fact that the board is dominated by people whose main interests lie on one side of the game or the other. If the board is going to carry out a regulatory role then it needs some rebalancing, and for the reasons also that Lord Triesman has explained, independent directors do bring a different perspective on life. They are usually working elsewhere, they are seeing how other boards work, they see standards and practices and the way that things are done, and they are able to help in terms of the whole culture of the way in which a board operates. I have spent the last 13 or 14 years on a whole variety of company boards and the independent directors really do bring a very different perspective. They ask the questions that very often are not being asked by the executive team or the people who are not independent.

Indeed, following my report, I notice that there has been an introduction of independent directors on to the national game board. I think there have been independent people brought on to the regulatory body that has now been established. So the principle does not seem to be lacking in the FA. It is just that when it comes to the FA board itself, the vested interests of the people who are on that board are making it very difficult to get any real breakthrough on this. Having one person who is independent—and all credit to Lord Triesman for seeking to carry out that role—it's an enormously lonely role to be the only independent director. Frankly to be chairman and the only independent director I think is even more lonely.

Q50 Paul Farrelly: Who should do the appointing to make sure they are truly independent?

Lord Burns: In the end that has to be a process of nominations by the board itself, but the council then should have a role in terms of approving them. The council are effectively the shareholders or, in a sense, the parliament of football. I think they are the people who are best placed to do that. I can't quite see what other body would do it. I do not think there would be any great shortage of candidates. I think there would be a lot of really very good people, as we see from lots of regulatory bodies, who are able to do those jobs.

  I should also say that there has been some shift, too, since my report,in the make-up of the council itself. Some of the bodies that Lord Triesman mentioned are being represented: the referees, the professional footballers themselves and various minority groups, women's football and so on. So there has been a bit of opening up of that but it is still very much dominated by the same groups and the same methods of working their way through the national game. It is a structure that makes change enormously difficult to bring about because of the positions. There are one or two people who were on the council, who were representing positions, which it is very difficult to see how in this day and age they should have been representated. I will not name any but you just have to go down the list to see some of the anomalous positions that are there. They came to me and protested about the suggestion that some of them should no longer have seats on the council. It was clear to me that one of the overriding concerns they had was that they would be seen as the last person who had been a representative of this particular organisation and they would go down in history as the person who had lost their seat on the FA Council. This was something that they were not quite prepared to live with. So you have these enormous forces for no change that are built into it all.

Graham Kelly: No, I can't add to that, Mr Farrelly, It's just too entrenched. The structure of the council at the moment is just too entrenched. It needs opening up to support the independent chairman. I do not know how Mr Bernstein is going to approach it. They have made the appointment of a different independent chairman now, but he needs the support to make progress.

Q51 Jim Sheridan: The turkeys at the Scottish Football Association have some difficulty in agreeing with Christmas as well because they want to cut the numbers but see it as somebody else's job that they want to cut. On this bullying, harassment and threats of the Premier League, if I was a supporter of a lower league club hearing that this sort of behaviour is going on and that the FA, the body that is supposedly looking after my interests, is being bullied and threatened, that would give me some concern. I would be looking for the current board of the FA, or if necessary the Government, to take some sort of action to stop this behaviour. What help or advice could you give the current board to stop this?

Lord Burns: I believe that the board has to be the agent of change for itself and it then has to carry on the process of changing the constitution of the council itself in terms of opening it up to other groups. I fear that I share a view that I heard expressed in the earlier session today: it is not easy to see where Government has any real purchase on this. I think you have to ask the question whether there are any built-in advantages that football has, which in a sense have been provided by Government, either in relation to tax or the way that it deals with administration or whatever. To simply have Government march in and try to exercise a role would be quite difficult. I think it has been mentioned again earlier that one of the requirements of FIFA and of the international bodies is that the Football Association should be independent of Government. So Government has to be very careful about how it sets about this.

  I worked with John Major back in 1991 in terms of putting together the proposals that eventually led to the all-seater stadiums. If I remember, we channelled some of the pools betting duty into the Football Trust to support the all-seater stadiums on the basis that the clubs were themselves going to also put in money. This provided Government with a certain amount of leverage because it was doing something itself. But without that leverage, and without something that Government is putting in or has some role or where there are some special privileges that football is having as a result of Government action, I think Government has to tread very, very carefully.

Q52 Jim Sheridan: The status quo is not an option, is it, if you are a supporter of a lower league club?

Lord Burns: There is one route that is proving to be quite important in bringing about change. As I mentioned earlier, that is coming, through UEFA which has done a lot of work on fair play, particularly with regard to financial matters. It has its leverage because it has to agree that the teams that may be in the Champions League, or the other competitions, are licensed to do so. It then passes on the job of doing that licensing, I think, to the FA. That in turns gives the FA a certain amount of power. The process has to be one of persuasion. I think that Government simply stepping into this area and seeking to impose solutions will run up against considerable obstacles.

Lord Triesman: Obviously, I have thought about that issue at some length. It seems to me that there are three ways in which you can potentially get people to change what they do. The first is that you persuade them and if there is a process of persuasion and authority that is fine, that will always be the best, but I think that is pretty hard. UEFA will help in that, I suspect, but it would not necessarily have an impact on the clubs going right the way down though the system.

  The second is finance and finance has been used for leverage purposes. I do not mean debt leverage but leverage on the FA. For example, there was a lot of reluctance to accept the new anti-doping regulations of WADA and we were put under considerable pressure to do that. The paradox, of course, was that we would lose Government money if we didn't do it but the money we lost was essentially money that was going to the amateur game; the issue about doping testing was in the professional game. There was a mismatch and it was very hard to make that work. I hope that it now potentially can work.

  The third is, and I think this is an interesting debate to be had, is that it is certainly true that FIFA does not want the intervention of Government in football but there are a number of countries that have a basic sports law. It covers all sorts of things like mounting Olympics and world cups and so on, so you can then do with secondary legislation what we trawl our way through dealing with primary legislation. You can use it for all sorts of purposes but it can also, and it does in some countries, allocate the key responsibility for the regulation of sport to the sports governing bodies so that they must do it and they must be accountable for it. After that the Government stands back. I have not known FIFA withdraw its authority or threaten to exclude any one of those countries from its full role in running the sport. It would be a great pity to have to consider legislation as a means of doing it but it would not be right to rule it out. It certainly would not be right to rule it out on the ground that FIFA would automatically object to it if the consequence was that that sports governing body—in this case the FA or the SFA—had the absolute clear responsibility for the regulation of the sport.

Q53 Alan Keen: If I could make three quick points. First of all, did we not get a timely reminder last week of leverage being available with the woman who was buying TV coverage of football from Greece? I went to Brussels as part of a small team of people to lobby the European Union when there were threats to the ability to negotiate the Premier League games as a total rather than let it go to individual clubs. That is a very big issue if European law was brought to bear. I think Damian was a little bit unfair on Peter Ridsdale; he was sort of saying he is a bad man. I think there is no comparison between Peter Ridsdale who did what the Leeds supporters wanted him to do—it was bad financial and technical football decisions that he made and it failed—but you contrast that with the Glazers who have no interest in Manchester United or their supporters. There is no comparison. I think we did Peter a disservice.

  Secondly, David, you gave Michel Platini the credit for the fair play rules. The all-party parliamentary group plan in 2009 recommended that. My sparring partner and friend, Richard Scudamore, straightaway said it was impossible to define. It was not impossible to do because they have found ways to define it, so it is going to happen.

  I wanted to ask about FIFA. Is it true that the FA has not really over the years made proper efforts to engage with the international game through FIFA? We complained when we did not get the 2018 bid—I was as disappointed as anybody—but really we, as part of the international game, should be looking to spread the World Cup around the world. Maybe one time it should be a well-established nation like us and the next four years it should be a developing nation. But the main question is has the FA failed to engage with FIFA. Going right back in history, we felt so important that we didn't even join. Is that right?

Lord Triesman: Over a long period, apart from the process of bidding for the 2018 World Cup, the only real link with FIFA has been Geoff Thompson who is one of the vice-presidents. Aside from that and efforts made in special circumstances, I don't think there has been any real engagement at all.

  There is one area in which we do engage, along with the Scottish, Welsh and Northern Ireland FAs, and that is in the International Football Association Board where those four FAs and FIFA are responsible for the on-the-field laws of the game. That is a fantastically nice piece of history to still have in place. But it is certainly true that to have a great sense of the internal councils of FIFA you have to have vastly more engagement than we have had. Sometimes we have backed out and had none.

Q54 Chair: Lord Triesman, I can't resist: Alan mentioned FIFA and the World Cup bid. Do you have any observations on the outcome?

Lord Triesman: Very, very acute disappointment. I think there will be a time, Mr Chairman, when the contacts that I and others had with members of the FIFA executive should be described in detail, because some of the processes I don't think really stand up to proper scrutiny.

Q55 Chair: When should that time be?

Lord Triesman: I think it would be a long part of a session here. I am not averse to doing that, but it would probably be rather longer than you intend for this morning's session, given where we are at this moment in time. When we set off on the bid, there was a huge amount of encouragement from FIFA who said that they weren't certain about how the finances of South Africa would work out or how the finances of Brazil would work out. There were risks. Their risk registers on whether these tournaments would return a substantial income to FIFA were very high. There was, for those reasons, a lot of encouragement for England to go for it, because we could do it, we could produce tremendous returns, we can organise events of that kind and complexity and handle security and all the other things that you have to do. Had they said at the time that the aim was to break into new territories, I would have advised the FA board not to start in the first place. We started on what turned out to be a completely false prospectus.

  Chair: Tempting though it is to go on for some time, I think we should probably draw a line there. I thank the three of you very much.


 
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