The board of the Football Association would do well to read closely the first chapter of their prospective new chairman Greg Dyke’s autobiography Inside Story, for a measure of the man whom they are about to put at the very top of the FA.
It is a breathtaking evisceration of many senior figures at the BBC, including BBC governors, whom Dyke holds responsible, in different ways, for his own dethroning as director-general and failing to protect the BBC from a New Labour onslaught. For all the chairmen and chief executives who have left the FA over the years with a figurative knife in the back, not one settled their scores in quite such spectacular fashion.
Dyke’s nomination as chairman of the FA has been met with almost universal approval and certainly his credentials are good. As the one Manchester United director who refused to sell out to BSkyB in 1998 he was on the side of right in spite of the subsequent Glazer takeover. Although it should be remembered even Dyke’s opposition gave out when the share price offer reached 240p.
He was obviously a popular leader of the BBC and his chairmanship of Brentford in recent years gives him that credibility that only an association with a club that never wins anything can bring. It should also be remembered that it was Dyke who, as chairman of ITV Sport in the early 1990s, was part of those who helped turn the Football League, and ultimately the FA, into the poor relations of English football.
In Inside Story, Dyke writes of a dinner in the autumn of 1991 with the “big five” of the time – Arsenal, Liverpool, Everton, Manchester United and Tottenham Hotspur – who were eager to reconfigure the next television deal in their favour, having previously signed a record-breaking £11m-a-season deal with ITV.
“Many have claimed they were the architects of the Premier League,” Dyke writes, “but when the official history of the Premier League is written, this dinner meeting will surely be seen as the time and the place at which it became a reality.” In the end it was BSkyB who swooped in and stole the prize from Dyke and ITV. Yet it was Dyke who helped engineer the most lucrative breakaway in the history of British sport.
At the time Dyke was on the other side of the fence, a television executive trying to deliver his employers the prize of live football. He would not have known that 22 years down the line he would be the man charged with leading the organisation which has had its power and influence diminished to a fraction by the clubs enriched by his Premier League breakaway. But let’s not rush to sanctify him too soon. The legacy of that breakaway is an elite club game drowning in money and an FA that is stretched beyond imagination trying to govern that elite as well as look after the ordinary people at the bottom who play the game, and pay to watch the game.
It is an organisation that dare not criticise Rio Ferdinand for flying to Qatar when he has withdrawn from the England squad on fitness grounds, lest it offend Manchester United. That cannot punish Callum McManaman’s infamous challenge on Massadio Haïdara because it is hidebound by Fifa. That builds a state-of-the-art football centre but has no stake in developing elite English young talent, instead having to defer to clubs who then sign foreign teenagers for their academies.
Yes, everyone seems to agree Greg Dyke is a great bloke to work for and has had a fascinating career. But can he actually arrest the FA’s declining influence in the face of the beast that he, Dyke, helped to create?
In an interview with my colleague Glenn Moore before Brentford’s FA Cup fourth round tie with Chelsea in January, Dyke bemoaned the fact that the FA had not sought any conditions from the big clubs when they lobbied for the FA’s support in establishing the Premier League 22 years ago. Instead the FA was just fixated, he said, on “shafting” its hated rivals at the Football League.
“It was ridiculous; they could have had anything – a league of 16 clubs, players released for England, a quota of English players,” he told Glenn. “I’m surprised the FA hasn’t tried to assert itself since a bit, but there are moments and – like the RFU when rugby became professional – they missed theirs.”
It was a damning indictment of the organisation that he will now lead. Indeed, in Inside Story he is just as scathing of the RFU. It was Dyke who made the Channel 4 programme in which the then England captain Will Carling described the RFU as “old farts”. The critical difference between the FA and the RFU is that in the intervening period the RFU’s England team have won a World Cup.
Dyke also writes that Graham Taylor told him that as England manager he realised he was “less important than the FA council member for Norfolk”. “I’d discovered,” Dyke adds, “the people who were organising and running sport in the UK were largely hard-working, well-meaning, enthusiastic amateurs”.
Dyke has little time for sports journalists either – “most journalists know little about money,” he writes, “but sports journalists know the least”. He certainly is not afraid of picking out the mistakes of others so he won’t mind me pointing out that in the iBook edition of Inside Story I downloaded on Friday he writes that his club Manchester United did not win the league title for “16 years” (it was 26 years).
The conclusion on reading the putative new FA chairman’s take on the game is that he was present at the pivotal moments in modern football’s history and was shrewd enough to see where the power lay. As FA chairman he will find most of that power lies elsewhere. Can he help to redress the balance in favour of the 150-year-old organisation over which he hopes to preside? Can anyone?