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Lords lunch proves unpalatable for Brooking

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Mihir Bose | 18:37 UK time, Thursday, 20 November 2008

Did a lunch at the House of Lords a year ago sow the seeds for last week's public row over youth development in English football, a row so well chronicled by Radio 5 Live? If so, what might seem a small thing has had huge consequences.

Those sitting down to eat were Sir Trevor Brooking and Lord Mawhinney. The two could not be more important figures in the English game. Brooking is the Football Association's director of football. Mawhinney is chairman of the Football League. The latter, eager to discuss a problem that had been festering for more than a year, had been the one to issue the invitation.

Let me explain. Until 2006, Sport England was responsible for distributing the pot of money for youth development, to which various bodies, including the Premier League, the Professional Footballers' Association, the Football Foundation, the FA and Sport England, contributed.

For various reasons, Sport England and the PFA decided to pull out, which meant that, for the 2006/07 season, money for youth development was provided on an interim basis. By the autumn of 2007, however, it was clear a better solution was necessary. Unfortunately, finding one wasn't straightforward.

In the meantime, the Football League had set up the Football League Trust, arguing that their clubs provided enough financial resources of their own and should be in charge of their distribution. They still wanted the FA's money and were happy to allow a representative of the FA, as well as the Premier League and PFA, to have a seat on the Trust. But, while the Premier League and the PFA accepted, the FA spurned the opportunity.

Sir Trevor Brooking turned down the offer of a seat on the Trust

That is because when Brian Barwick, the then chief executive of the FA, suggested to Brooking that he should be the one to take the FA's seat, he refused. Brooking's point was that, as a solitary FA representative on the Trust, he could not "quality-control" the use of the FA's money. Would it really be going to developing players between the ages of five to 16, as he wanted, or diverted to the first-team needs of the Football League clubs?

At the subsequent lunch at the House of Lords, Mawhinney gave Brooking 20 minutes to explain his side of the story and then asked him to prepare a paper, no more than two pages in length, explaining what he wanted. A year later, Mawhinney has yet to receive the two-page document.

I have learned that Brooking did not put pen to paper because of a 48-hour deadline imposed on him. He felt he could not do justice to this complicated topic in that time. So, instead of building bridges, the lunch at the Palace of Westminster created a further divide between the two organisations.

In the year that has followed, the divide has only widened. There have been big changes at the FA following the Burns report and the arrival of Lord Triesman as the organisation's first independent chairman, an appointment made by a selection panel headed by Mawhinney.

Lord Mawhinney

Three weeks ago, Mawhinney led a Football League delegation to see Triesman and told him that the FA had not yet appointed a representative to the Football League Trust. Triesman was said to be appalled and remedied the situation by appointing Jonathan Hall, the FA's head of governance.

For Mawhinney, the Football League could do no more. For Brooking, this remains a matter of principle. How can the FA allow its money to be spent by someone else and not know where it is going? No other football federation does that.

The English situation is unique. Other leagues are not independent of their federations as leagues are in this country. Here, Victorian distaste for money meant the FA remained amateur, forcing the clubs to got it alone by forming the Football League.

In the 1990s, there was a chance to correct this when the bigger clubs went in search of more money and were allowed to form the Premier League by the FA. But, although the Premier League's first office was at the bottom of the stairs at the then FA headquarters in Lancaster Gate, it was soon clear that the child would outgrow the father.

Victories like that in Germany on Wednesday may make us believe that everything is fine in the English football garden, but the deeper problems of youth development have not suddenly gone away. Remember, 60 per cent of Premier League players come from overseas.

The problem with English football, and English sport in general, is that it has too many structures. It is the penalty of England having been the pioneers in sport.

The huge problem for English football is how to accommodate change in historic structures that are not amenable to change. The manufacturing industry did not manage it. English football cannot afford to fail.


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