Triesman on trial as England expects
There is a moment in All Played Out, Pete Davies' fly-on-the-wall account of England's 1990 World Cup campaign, when Bobby Robson tells the author that his numerous critics in the media would be shot as traitors "if this was a war".
I was reminded of this a fortnight ago when I asked Lord Triesman, the chairman of England's bid to stage the 2018 World Cup, how he thought the bid was going - "much better than our colleagues in the media believe", was his reply.
All of us who would like to see the world's greatest football competition staged in this country again should pray the good lord is right, because this bid is bust if the British media is correct. A dripping tap of negativity became a tsunami of scorn last week when the bid team gathered for what looked like the dictionary definition of a crisis meeting.
But before we get to what happened there, we should ask a more pertinent question: how did a rock-solid bid, which ticks so many boxes, lose the home front?
The short answer, and one many have gone for, is Triesman himself.
The 66-year-old has been dividing opinion since he became the Football Association's first independent chairman in early 2008. A background in academia, trade unionism and Westminster politics did not immediately cry out "football man" and his appointment surprised many.
In the interest of brevity, I will skip his first year in charge, stopping only to note the enemies he acquired: his predecessor Geoff Thompson (turfed out ahead of schedule), the Premier League (furious with his statements about club debt), his "friends" in government (they weren't that friendly in the first place) and the media (he was just too good a target).
And that's just the day job. When he also became chairman of England's 2018 bid, he managed to upset these people all over again with a series of blunders that do not matter when people like you but become indictments when they don't.
So, as short answers go, the "it's all Triesman's fault" explanation looks solid.
There is a slight problem with this theory, though. Life at the top of the national game isn't that simple.
There is no doubt Triesman's time in charge has been bumpy, but most of those bumps have been a long time coming. For example, any independent chairman worth his salt would have fallen out with the Premier League at some point. Upsetting Thompson was clumsy, but the man the Mail on Sunday described as a "rumour" was hardly putting in a great shift.
In terms of the 2018 bid, Triesman has presided over mistakes (the make-up of the original board and an unseemly squabble about his pay being the most serious) but most of them have been inconsequential in the long run.
In truth, there is nothing straightforward about a process that brings together English football's estranged bedfellows (FA, Football League and Premier League) for an election campaign that will be decided by characters as diverse as German football great Franz Beckenbauer and Trinidadian football executive Jack Warner.
England's bid has plenty going for it - passionate fans, decent infrastructure, great stadia, bags of tradition and so on - and probably warrants its front-runner status. Unfortunately, all of that matters but not as much as it should.
England's bid for the 2006 World Cup looked pretty good on paper, too, but is now remembered as a textbook example of how not to run a campaign because it arrogantly ignored the darker arts of a bidding process.
What really makes the difference to the 24 members of Fifa's executive committee who make this decision next December is (in ascending order of cynicism) what you offer world football, each voter's national federation and each voter himself.
That ranges from selling lots of tickets, to playing friendlies in far-flung places, to trading favours. A bidding country must remember who the electorate is and tell them exactly what they want to hear, when and where they want to hear it.
Thankfully, this message has finally got through.
A bruising month - during which the aforementioned Warner moaned about not being given a plastic bag only to completely lose it when the bid team gave him a £230 designer one - has ended with a clear-out.
Five board members, including the current sports minister Gerry Sutcliffe, have been demoted to an advisory panel, while the government's "envoy", former sports minister Richard Caborn, was not even invited to the emergency summit, which should give you a clue as to his fate.
Going the opposite direction and joining the board is Thompson, who, as a Fifa executive committee member, is the only Englishman who can actually guarantee at least one vote.
A late call-up has also been given to former Arsenal boss David Dein. He does not get a seat on the board, but he will get a chance to boost his air miles by taking the England 2018 message abroad.
These changes do not add up to a "Cassani moment" as neither Thompson nor Dein come close to matching the charm, energy or profile that Seb Coe brought to London's 2012 campaign when he replaced Barbara Cassani, but they will help. And it is worth noting that Coe, who also sits on the 2018 board, was instrumental in getting Triesman and his chief executive Andy Anson to see this.
Hopefully, Anson and his staff can now get on with the job in hand. They need to stop moaning about power struggles at the top and give up on the idea that Gordon "a golden decade of sport" Brown is going to give them any more public money.
A government source told me the PM cannot believe he is taking flak for withholding £2.5m from Britain's richest sport during this country's worst recession, particularly when his government has received few thanks for delivering millions of pounds' worth of guarantees for boring but important items like security costs and free visas.
But that's what happens to politicians when people give up on them: the same does not apply to Triesman, not yet anyway.
England's sales pitch remains strong. It might lack the cash of the US bid, the unequivocal political support of Russia's, the novelty value of going to Australia or Spain/Portugal's powerful friends, but each of those bids has its own weaknesses and none can call on the global popularity of the Premier League.
The South Africa trip is the perfect opportunity for Triesman and co to show they have been listening. It is a chance they cannot afford to let slip. Regain the initiative there and today's "handbags" can be tomorrow's fish wrappers.