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No spare change for Sporting Chance

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Matt Slater | 14:46 UK time, Friday, 18 December 2009

Fabio Capello is a superb coach. Decisive, determined, dignified - he could end up being the best manager the English national team has ever had.

But is he value for money? Is he worth more than three times what the next best-paid manager in international football is worth? Is he 25 times better than the men in charge of Algeria, Slovenia and the USA (to pick three teams at random out of a large goldfish bowl)?

I bring this up not to criticise the Italian - if that much over the market rate is what the Football Association deemed necessary to get their man, good luck to him. But I wonder what the FA thinks about its negotiating tactics now it has to cancel meetings, freeze hiring and find 10% spending cuts across the board. One of those cuts looks like it might be the £50,000 cheque the FA sends to the Sporting Chance Clinic every year.

Set up by former Arsenal and England captain Tony Adams, the clinic has been helping footballers get over addictions, depression and other personal problems for nearly a decade. But its work is now threatened by uncertainty over the FA's support. That cheque - less than 1% of Capello's annual salary - was due on 1 December and there has been no word of explanation from HQ.

Fabio Capello and FA chief executive Ian WatmoreEngland manager Fabio Capello faces the press with FA chief executive Ian Watmore

"We are still in the dark so I can only assume the worst," said Sporting Chance chief executive Peter Kay.

A lack of communication between the governing and the governed has been a recurring theme of late, and for the second week in a row I have known more (though not much more) about somebody's fate than they did.

Having confirmed the worst to Olympic cyclist Rebecca Romero about her event being scrapped last week, this week I had the dubious pleasure of telling Kay his funding was "under review".

The FA's charity commission met on 7 December to discuss Sporting Chance's grant (among other things) but "reached no decision". They also did not reach for the phone to let anybody at the clinic know.

Kay told me he has made repeated requests for information to FA chief executive Ian Watmore and chairman Lord Triesman but has now given up trying, fed up with the "disrespect".

I'm no Woodward and Bernstein. The FA's press team only told me because I kept pestering them. Kay has not had a straight answer from anybody since he first heard rumours about his funding a few months ago.

"It's apparent we're not high on the FA's list of priorities," Kay said. "They are not interested. They have never come down to see us so they don't have the passion we have for what we do.

"It is a dire situation and I must concentrate on putting together an emergency budget to maintain the basics of our work."

That work is more extensive than the headlines would suggest. As well as the high-profile interventions Sporting Chance has made with the likes of Joey Barton and Paul Gascoigne, the clinic also helps everybody from the academy player with an alcohol problem to a pub footballer who cannot control his temper.

Kay is proud of the work his small team of therapists do, as is Adams, who remains closely involved with the Hampshire-based centre. Having overcome a very public alcohol addiction of his own, the Highbury legend is dismayed at the FA's stance.

He knows only too well that there was a gap in the market before Sporting Chance came along, the prospect of that gap reopening has left Adams fuming: the FA might want to think again if it has plans to use him as an England 2018 ambassador any time soon.

Newcastle midfielder Joey Barton

If the evidence of Adams' own story is not compelling enough, football was given an appalling reminder of the demons some of its brightest stars battle with only last month. The suicide of German goalkeeper Robert Enke shocked fans and players around the world but appears to have made little impact at Wembley.

It was noticed, however, by the Professional Footballers' Association, English football's trade union. Its boss, Gordon Taylor, told me the Enke tragedy only underlined the importance of providing a support network for players with personal problems.

Taylor would not be drawn on the FA's wavering support for Sporting Chance but said the significant funding the PFA provides (close to £200,000) to the clinic is "money well spent".

The continued backing from the union (and their counterparts in Scotland, the English Premier League, Scottish Premier League and Football Foundation) has come as a relief to Kay, without it he said he would be laying staff off before Christmas, but a £50,000 hole in his finances is significant.

Thankfully, Sporting Chance has picked up a few friends along the way. When the aforementioned Barton heard Kay had cancelled an order for a second-hand people carrier the clinic could no longer afford he paid for it himself. It is saying something when the FA (annual turnover £262m) is taught a PR lesson by a man as notorious as Barton.

So how did the sport's custodians get themselves into this mess?

It wasn't that long ago FA chief executive Brian Barwick could look English football in the eye and say 'you've never had it so good'.

"This is the most prosperous period in the history of the FA," crowed Barwick, and with Wembley finally open for business, TV cash pouring in and sponsorship revenues only going up, he was probably right.

Robert Enke's memorial serviceRobert Enke's Hannover 96 teammates carry his coffin at a memorial service

For a moment everything seemed possible. An English World Cup bid? No problem. The best manager money can buy? Here's a blank cheque. A National Football Centre? Build the field, they will come.

The downfall of Setanta is the chief cause of its current difficulties (the Irish broadcaster went bust 12 months into a four-year TV deal worth £150m to the governing body) but the overspend associated with Wembley's construction is still a drain on resources. The governing body paid nearly £40m in debt interest last year and has been subsidising the stadium's annual running costs to the tune of almost £15m.

And there are other holes in their pockets. FA Cup sponsor E.ON is not renewing its contract and the FA is still paying the £2.4m annual rent on its former offices in central London. That situation will continue until a new tenant is found.

So just two years after Barwick's boast the "most prosperous period" has passed: national game and nation in harmony.

The outlook, however, has improved in the last month. US media giant ESPN has stepped in to fill the void left by Setanta (although for considerably less, £60-70m, than the Irish broadcaster paid) and Watmore has acted decisively to limit the pain by trimming where possible, the prize fund for the FA Cup, for example.

But this comes as scant consolation to Adams and Kay. Losing a significant chunk of funding is one thing: not being considered important enough to hear it straight is another.

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  • Comment number 1.

    The whole world has been affected by the financial meltdown. Maybe if footballers who earn millions of pounds a year could contribute something they wouldnt need this money from The FA.

    Im sure Joey Barton could afford to donate that himself every year from his salary

  • Comment number 2.

    How sadly like them this is. Anyone who has had any dealings with the FA won't be at all suprised. Bet they all get inflation busting pay rises again this year.

  • Comment number 3.

    I do have to agree with the comment at #1 here. From the looks of it the FA haven't dealt with the situation very well but can't the footballers who need the help pay for it? I understand players from League 2 might struggle so helping in their situation is brilliant.

    I am not knocking what Sporting chance do but waiting on £50,000 a year from the FA is nothing compared to £130,000 a week wages some players in the premier league get.

    Personally I think it should be setup like a union. Players sign up for it and pay a monthly fee. If they have problems then they can check themselves in. The monthly fee would be dependant on the wages you are actually paid.

    To me that makes way more sense then the current setup.


  • Comment number 4.

  • Comment number 5.

    @1. & 3: have you read the post that you commented on...? It says:

    "Taylor would not be drawn on the FA's wavering support for Sporting Chance but said the significant funding the PFA provides (close to £200,000) to the clinic is "money well spent"."

    As far as i understand, professional footballers (PFA = Professional Footballers Association) DO add to this budget, significantly more too, as the FA does, it's just that they still planned on that 50k the FA sends them, and would have been happier to get the news of the cut face to face........

  • Comment number 6.

    It's more the principle than the actual amount.

    They make a lot of money our of the players, and therefore should have a structure in place to support them.

    They are always quick to discipline, but not to help.

    Players these days need more help than ever because of their huge wages and the fact that they are thrust into the spotlight at such an early age. Some are able to handle this, others not, and those that can't are in a situation that makes things a lot worse than for people in other professions.

    It seems to me that this organisation is actually run on a shoe string budget, and should really be funded properly and opened up to other sports as well.

  • Comment number 7.

    Is anyone surprised by the way the FA acts look at the wembley building debacle millions over budget ,when England play abroad why do so many so caled officials have to go no doubt the FA is picking up the tab,i hope things get sorted out but with the FA it will be long winded.

  • Comment number 8.

    I don't know about anger management, or the treatment of depression, although the latter is definitely available free on the NHS, but there is at least one world wide organisation that is available, absolutely free of charge, to anyone who wants to tackle their alcohol problem. As well as being free and world wide, it is also by far the most successful method of tackling alcoholism. That organisation (it's actually a fellowship), is called Alcoholics Anonymous and footballers (or anyone else for that matter) can find the helpline number in their local yellow pages, or on the web. There are thousands of meetings throughout the UK, where people will find help, support, encouragement, advice, kindness and most importantly, people who can identify with you because they've been where you are. There are a host of other organisations (such as Narcotics Anonymous and Gambling Anonymous) to help anyone (including footballers) absolutely free of charge, to deal with other addiction issues. You do not need to spend any of money, let alone loads of money, to get well.

  • Comment number 9.

    I heard Fabio Capello saying it "was his dream" to manage England. Now I understand why. Not blaming him for a moment, but The FA appear to have very skewed priorities if they can afford 5 Million a year for the manager but not 50 thousand a year for a worthy charity. Clearly they need better PR too.

  • Comment number 10.

    Surely, given the vast sums of money within the game, though certainly not shared by all, the PFA could introduce a COMPULSORY tax of say .5% or even 1% of all players within the league earning over a certain amount, say £250,000 for example). This very modest amount of income, (0.5% of £250,000 only equates to £1250) could then be set aside for the charities that benefit from the FA's support. Given the number of players that are priveliged to earn such great sums of money, this small (hopefully non taxable) charitable donation would then be mulitplied greatly which would make a great diffence to those that need it.

    If necessary there could be a cap at £'x'k on the amount donated by the top earners, however a relatively small donation, by all, would help resolve such difficulties and perhaps help the FA refocus on other areas in desperate need of reinvestment that aren't charity based...youth and grass roots football.

  • Comment number 11.

    This, in the context of the article shows how the FA are total idiots. A charity that has a track record of helping many players is seemingly hung out to dry for an amount of money that Fabio probably wouldnt get out of bed for ! I think it should be something the PFA looks at paying directly out of their own coffers.

    The FA have started a vicious circle for themselves as the good managers know that they can take advantage of the money in the English game and demand silly money.......

  • Comment number 12.

    Yes it would be nice for the FA to give this charity money every year - but thats up to them. the fact they have given money for a decade is already good - they dont have to give anything if they dont want to. Yes they should speak face to face with the charity, but other than this, i dont see the problem.

  • Comment number 13.

    At the end of the day, Sporting Chance is a charity, and the FA has no obligation to donate. Footballers have their own salary to pay for private healthcare, and failing that, there is the fallback of the NHS. Should the players and the PFA feel differently, they are of course entitled to replace the FA's contribution with one of their own.

  • Comment number 14.

    Given the money that footballers earn and the lifestyles afforded to them they, via the PFA, have a responsibility to give a little back to the game, or the industry as it now is.

  • Comment number 15.

    Im sorry but its not the players fault they earn vast amounts of money.. some are greedy but thats their choice.. Why should they have a compulsory fee to pay every year.. I bet if they introduced small compulsory fees into your workplace to help charities you may never use you wouldn't be happy..

    Shame but there are plenty of other people in trouble just now.. and footballers as mentioned by another poster above have the luxury of being well paid and therefore can afford good professional help if needed.

    Well done Joey Barton.... seems a bit of a madman but that was decent

  • Comment number 16.

    Afternoon all, just back from what should have been a quick trip up the M40 to interview somebody. A truckload of cows intervened, though, and mayhem ensued. Anyway, here are some replies:

    mjb1 (1) - Fair point and one worth making. The FA has been hit by much the same sucker punch as the rest of us. I should also point out that the FA has five official charities and has promised to maintain its investment in grass-roots initiatives via the Football Foundation. But the real issue here is the lack of communication/transparency. Sporting Chance really is run on a shoestring and that £50K matters. The timing couldn't be worse either, with Adams and Kay now looking for alternative funding to maintain its services and guarantee jobs. On the issue of the players funding Sporting Chance, again, fair comment. But they already do indirectly through their subs to the PFA and players treated by Sporting Chance also contribute. But the clinic does a lot of preventative work too which they don't bill for (not directly anyway) and they also look after, as I mentioned in the piece, the weekend warrior who takes the warrior bit a tad too literally. That should fall under the "national game" remit of the FA.

    shammyowens (3) - Nice idea. I'm sure Sporting Chance would be up for that as it would give them a much bigger guaranteed income. That means they could expand. I know they have ambitions to open more centres and eventually work with other sports: rugby is next in line. I guess this would mean they have to get much closer to the PFA, though, and almost become another service provided by the union. I don't see this being a huge problem but I might be missing something.

    akatommysmith (4) - As a Southend United fan, I'm always keen to see how the best player I've ever seen at Roots Hall is getting on. I missed that particular story, though. But I did read the story he based that piece on, Kay's interview a week earlier for ESPN:

    The difference between this story (and Stan's) is that the FA's failure to fund Sporting Chance was just a rumour in November. It hadn't happened yet. After 1 December it had, and on 7 December it was underlined. I first spoke to Kay three weeks ago but chose to wait to see what the FA would do, and get a comment from them (unlike ESPN or Stan). I also made a few calls to check Kay's story, including one to the PFA, which I've quoted. So you're right, there's no such thing as an original idea anymore, but I'd like to think I've nudged this tale along a bit.

    digenie (6) - I think you're right about the principle being more important than the money now. Kay in particular seems pretty fed up with the FA and his real beef is with their offhand manner and refusal to be straight with him.

    stracepipe (8) - Very true. And you're right to point out that footballers are just as capable of helping themselves by going to AA as doctors, plumbers, shepherds and even journalists are. But, without meaning to make Adams/Kay's argument for them, I think history suggests footballers as a group are less likely to take this proactive step without a major shove in the back. Why? I don't know. A lack of maturity/self-knowledge? Fear of looking weak within a group? Being able to mask their problems with their higher than average physical fitness? The higher relative strains of the job? I'm pretty sure Adams/Kay (and the PFA) would say you need a specialist organisation like Sporting Chance to actually step in.

    Rabster (9) - I couldn't possibly comment....and it was a bit naughty of me to bring his salary into it. It's not his fault Sporting Chance is being squeezed. But I did it to illustrate what the FA is spending its still impressive amounts of cash on. And regardless of what happens next summer, is it just me that thinks it's a bit embarrassing our national governing body believes it has to offer such a market-busting pay package to attract top talent? What does that say about the actual job?

    Sundayleaguehero (10) - Excellent idea. Not sure about the numbers but love the principle.

    Poshbarrington (11) - Agreed on all counts. I think the PFA will fill the void left by the FA's contribution, if they haven't done so already.

    Phil (12) - You're absolutely right, of course, and as I said in my first answer, they do back charities like the British Heart Foundation. But it's a pretty hand-to-mouth existence for most charities so any kind of uncertainty over funding is very damaging. I'm pretty sure Kay would have got over his anger much quicker if he was dealt with more honestly a month or so ago.

    Cheers all, Matt

  • Comment number 17.

    Mikey, I understand your point and I'm not here to criticse or penalise any footballer as doubtless you or I would complain if we were earning the sort money that they do, even more so to play the good game. The point was that, as pointed out in my earlier post (#10), a minimal percentage contribution from those earning over a certain level would hardly even be noticed, let alone be missed! Of course, as Phil points out, my numbers would have to be looked at more seriously rather than picked out of the air, but the principle I think would work.

    As for myself, if I were earning over the agreed levy then I probably wouldn't be that bedrgudging of a small contribution, but unfortunately for me I'm not. Or anywhere near it! ;-(

    Then again, it is Christmas! Lol.

  • Comment number 18.

    "They also did not reach for the phone to let anybody at the clinic know."

    Anybody who has to deal with the FA will know that their communication leaves little to be desired. Also their lack of disrespect as mentioned in the article that this shows.

    In running my local sunday league team I have come to be exhausted with the FA for issues such as:
    * Sending late payment fines to me for charges I've never received (cant they just pick up the phone to ask??)
    * Sending us notices on bans with a timeframe to repond as 7 days - and i get it with 1 or 2 days left so I have to drive 20 miles to sort it in time (because when you call them they cant extend the deadline)
    * Or on one occasion because we had queried a fine they sent the league (out of the blue) a suspension notice on our club without prior contacting me.

    Their attitude stinks aswell when you have an issue you get childish responses on email. So I can relate to the "disrespect" aspect alright.

    The FA is like a dictatorship to me. How can any organisation say were fining you and if you contest it we will fine you even more (other than the Police)???

    I have lost all respect for the FA. The England team, I follow. Referees, I have respect for. But the pen pushers who organise our game are ruining it sometimes.

  • Comment number 19.

    I am not knocking what Sporting chance do but waiting on £50,000 a year from the FA is nothing compared to £130,000 a week wages some players in the premier league get.

    Footballers Salaries are paid by the team owners; and most of these teams are also active in many charities.

    But it is the FA that pays Fabio Capello over 6 million GBP a year.

    Hypcracy of readers is showing big time.

    Not a single criticism for the salary of manager who is making over 125 thousand GBP per week EVERY weak of a year for 4 years. And he actually wins something there is even more money for him.

    No other manager comes even close to this salary. So its ok for
    the FA and public to be so desperate for a world cup win to pay such unheard of amount to a manager who actually had some awful years as manager (but hey why ruin a good party and mention not so unsuccessful stunt with a team with less resources than Juva and Madrid); and for him
    to squeeze as much out of the FA as he could; but shame on the players for doing the same at club level. Hypocrisy at its finest.

    This article is about an over paid manager, not players.
    I am glad that someone in media has the guts to put this outrageous salary
    of an as yet unproven (at national level) manager under some scrutiny.


  • Comment number 20.

    Re your response to my earlier post; alcoholics have a range of character attributes in common: believe me footballers would not be alone:-) No-one accepts they have a drink problem enthusiastically: everyone needs to be pushed, one way or another, usually by the consequences of their behaviour. Unfortunately, footballers are protected by their clubs, by their youth, by their union, and by their high salaries so they may not seek help as early as others might. The demands of their job are not onerous (in fact I would think too much spare time is a major part of the problem, along with the 'laddish' culture). Career ambition, being obsessively house proud, being athletic, fitness mad etc, are all means that addicts use to hide their drinking. I genuinely believe that to single footballers out by putting them in their own special rehab, thus reinforcing their sense of 'terminal uniqueness', is counterproductive. It certainly would not engender humility. The whole principle of anonymity is about everyone being equal, whether they are a brain surgeon, a footballer or a down and out. I would think that the only advantage of attending Sporting Chance, rather than AA, is that it affords, not very well people, slightly more protection from the irresponsibility of the British tabloid press. Many thanks for the blog anyway.

  • Comment number 21.

    Good stuff, stracepipe, can't really disagree with any of that as it is so well argued/sensible. Particularly your point about the tabloid press. Thanks for reading and taking the time to comment.

  • Comment number 22.

    A National Football Centre .... is it needed?

    Comments please.

  • Comment number 23.

    Matt--That is not good news for SPORTING CHANCE..What will they do?

    =Dennis Junior=


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