Thursday, 2 March 2017

The beautiful game - but an ugly establishment

Happy New Year! Am I a little late saying that? Well anyway, how was the old year for you? A lot worth talking about, eh? Well it's fair to say 2016 was a terrible year for English football. The 'home of football' as it is so affectionately viewed, England nonetheless has not had the easiest reputation in the beautiful game. And if last year is anything to go by a lot of the current issues reflect very badly on the FA themselves.

Okay, so lets start with something positive - Leicester City, 5000-1 outsiders and look what they achieved. Premier League glory! Yes, that's starting to become a distant memory now with the same team dangerously close to the relegation zone. I hope for them they survive but it goes to show when you suceed where others wrote you off, live in the moment because far from being the start of a golden era it could just be a one off, something womderful to savour before normal service resumes. But a lot of other teams will take inspiration and say 'why not also us one day?'

So Leicester was England's pride for 2016 because the national team's humiliation against Iceland in Euro 2016 is one few of us will ever come to terms with. Far from hoping for the big prize we should have just looked at a quarter-final match with France as a decent enough place to exit being that the host nation was playing impressively enough. A friendly victory a few months earlier against arch-rivals Germany had shown us massive potential that we all thought could be put together in the finest England team for a generation. But once again we were to be dissapointed and worse against a team we were supposed to beat! It raises questions about how well our grassroots system prepares young footballers for their career ahead but also how far they manage to go in a league system which maybe stacked against them compared to other countries. After Germany won the 2014 World Cup the pundits were commenting on just how developed their academy system but there is something even deeper about Germany's clinical approach that has made it one of the most successful teams in the history of both the Euros and the World Cup. It is fair to say Germany does a lot of things better than England, I could go on all day about that, something in a country's mentality makes all the difference.

So out went Roy Hodgson and in came Sam Allardyce. I looked at his philosophy and his approach to training and couldn't help feeling we were on to something. This was surely the man to rescue England from abyss, the man who had been waiting in the wings for so long. But then it was all over so soon in a shock revelation about Big Sam's dealings caught on a hidden camera. What a fool, the man had let us all down and now, as Alan Shearer said, we're a complete "laughing stock"! How much lower could England go? Well, we have Gareth Southgate now and whatever his flaws our trust in him isn't likely to be tarnished anytime soon.

Outwith the national England's football establishment itself, the FA, has shown recently just how retrograde and stuck in the past it can be. In the autumn several former professional footballers bravely waived their right to anonymity to reveal that they were sexually abused when they were young players. No doubt we can expect the FA to do something about the predators in the system but we have to ask the obvious question: was there something they could have done earlier but didn't? Even when no victim comes forward surely somebody in a position of authority should have been able to spot the warning signs and also be able to properly vet people apply to work with children and young people. We know only now in recent years that this has been a long running problem in other areas of the establishment like the BBC and the damming thing there has been that the controllers should have picked up on the allegations early and acted appropriately. And the FA is the latest institution thaat will need to confront this issue so it is seen to act when it matters the most.

This article will be updated later. I can't be asked to finish it just now.