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When it comes to FIFA the FA’s not got a leg to stand on

FICK FUFAMark Perryman of Philosophy Football is unconvinced by English football’s occupation of any moral high ground vs FiFA Corruption

I’m incredibly disappointed with the timing of what the BBC seem to be proposing with Panorama. To do it the week before the vote – I don’t think think it’s patriotic.”

So said Andy Anson, Director of the England World Cup 2018 bid, in November 2010. That’s right, on the eve of England’s doomed bid to host World Cup 2018 the bid director took time out to lambast the BBC for investigating FIFA corruption. Five years later with FIFA headquarters raided by police and arrests made the smell of the hypocrisy of English football adopting the role of the game’s moral guardian should border on the overpowering. But almost all of this context is lost in the soft target discourse of Blatter-bashing.

Even a cursory look at England’s bid would reveal the lows it was quite willing to sink to. Not all England friendlies are pointless but an early summer trip to play Trinidad and Tobago for a match certainly was. The sole purpose to buy up the island FA’s valuable executive vote, the notorious Jack Warner. The sheer awfuness of this kind of practice was cruelly exposed when the planned friendly in Thailand was cancelled after Thailand failed to vote for England’s bid. No vote? No game. A transaction that is corrupt as they come.

I’m no fan of the Royal Family or the Tories but when Cameron and Prince William were joined by David Beckham to do some  some serious last-minute lobbying the days before the 2018 vote lobbying we were asking a future king,  the Prime Minster and a former England Captain to play footsie with some of the most corrupt individuals in world football. Just how low would England sink in the process of scrambling around for votes? As low as required.

One of my favourite memories of South Africa’s World Cup 2010 was the South African fans chant ‘FICK FUFA’. Africa’s first World Cup, a showcase for post-apartheid South Africa left a nation fleeced to the limit by FIFA tax breaks, profiteering and sponsorship spivs. ‘FICK FUFA;’ is the default position of football fans the world over. Another footballing memory. The Women’s Football Gold Medal match at London 2012. Sepp Blatter’s face appears on the big screen as he prepares to walk out to present the medals prompting near universal boos all around Wembley. He looked shocked, shaken, don’t these people know what he’s done for world football? Yes we do, that’s why we booed. He didn’t bother coming back to do the medal presentation for the Men’s football Olympic Final.

Football has grown enormously since the England team’s one golden moment, winning the World Cup in ‘66, 49 years ago this July. Its gone global, but that international spread has been shaped absolutely by a corporate model of globalisation. Taking the World Cup to the USA, Japan and Korea, South Africa, seeing the rise of the game in Africa, the Caribbean, the Middle East, newly formed nations post ‘89 finding their identity on a football pitch. All of these are essential goods of human liberation. But those positives squandered via the drive to turn territories into markets, commercialising the goodness of the game out of existence, stitching up inter-continental TV and branding rights to enrich those who run the game in their own interest and nobody else’s.

The earlier period of European imperial patronage that once ran World football replaced in the post-modern era by a nakedly monetised patronage. Football’s governing class is now almost exclusively drawn from the world of commerce, and when individuals don’t fit that particular background their values and ambitions are entirely dictated by the commercial imperative. Of course modern football is an increasingly expensive enterprise, though we might well ask why costs are ever rising with no obvious benefits to the supporters who follow the game, the non-elite players who form its cultural and sporting backdrop or the children and youth players development to create our future for the sport. Where are the supporters voices and experiences in this organisational culture? Where are the coaches, the players providing any kind of meaningful input to how the game is run? Where are those who staff the game, mainly voluntarily , at the base to provide the breadth of participation, though this is in headlong decline,provided with the channels to influence the future of football?

That’s the problem, a universal one. Football’s bosses simply don’t reflect any kind of image of the game of this sort. Blatter the soft target, who however legitimate our utter contempt for the man, symbolises the ugly inside of what was once proud to be not only the beautiful but also the people’s game. Simple rules, no expensive kit required, playable on almost any surface,  played by any shape of the human body, male or female, and for the lucky few a professionalised route out of poverty too the world over. No marketing plan was needed to create football’s global appeal, its these values and traditions that provided it with an entire planet of fans and players.

FIFA has  lost all touch with this most basic appeal of football but then so has the entire sport. Cry no tears for Blatter and his cronies, they deserve every bit of ignominy we would wish upon them. But the owe brokers most likely to usher Blatter out the back door are the corporates, the sponsors, the suits who see their careers and cash cow threatened, diminished by his illicit actions. These are no saviours of any remnant of the game  because they remain people with next to no understanding of its popular beauty .

Mired in hypocrisy, football won’t be cleaning up its act any time soon. We need to turn the game upside down to do that, governed by its grassroots, internationalism replacing patronage. A first step would be the England team, and  English club sides too, touring Africa in the pre-season not to flog shirts or hoover up FIFA Executive votes but because this continent has given the world game so much and been rewarded with next to nothing in return.

For ninety minutes the world of football is at loggerheads with one another, its the same all over, but the essence of FIFA should be what unites us once the final whistle has been blown. The love of the game, a loyalty to what it represents that no transfer fee on earth can buy. Its an emotion that few who run modern football have any kind of recognition for, any understanding of, any affection because it stands in total opposition to the monetisation of our sport, our fandom, that they crave. While enjoying Blatter’s and FIFA’s tribulations and hopefully trial too, we shouldn’t lose sight of the fact that football’s problems won’t be solved until this salient fact begins to be addressed..

Mark Perryman is the co-founder of Philosophy Football.In 2016 his new book, 1966 And Not All That, will be published by Repeater Books.   


  1. Robert says:

    Politics sport money and sport, I really cannot be bothered.

  2. swatantra says:

    Best critique on the FIFA scandal I’ve seen yet.
    Sepp must go; corruption is endemic in Football even here in Britain. Bernie Ecclestone must also go. These private bodies must be taken over by an International Sporting Authority.

    1. Robert says:

      Which is run by more people seeking to get rich.

    2. Rod says:

      “an International Sporting Authority.”

      Which will be headed by Blair as he’s now looking for a new prestigious ‘public service’ role.

      Better to democratise the whole shebang but there’s no money to be made from doing that.

      1. swatantra says:

        Tone’s got his eye on the Popeship, but EdM and Gordon are still looking around for something useful to do.

  3. Billericaydickie says:

    Got any Bradford Spring T shirts ? What a plonker you are Mark!

    1. Matty says:

      At least he is not a convicted racist Terry (aka Billericaydickie)

      1. Billericaydickie says:

        Are you the ex councillor from Eltham? I’m me, who are you?

        1. Matty says:

          Did you ever apologise to the people you racially harassed? How do you feel now about what you did?

  4. David Pavett says:

    I agree with much that Mark Perryman says but I wonder if his approach doesn’t suffer from a bit of the one-sidedness of the current popular game of stone-throwing with Sepp Blatter as target.

    It not that I hold any brief for Sepp B but I would like to see an assessment of what Fifa under his leadership has done for football in the under-developed countries. Certainly there are those who argue that it has done a great deal (see for example Vivek Chaudhary in the Guardian). Is this true or not? The claim that the centre of gravity of world football has shifted away from Europe and Latin America towards Africa and Asia seems to be correct.

    And there is surely a problem with European critics pontificating about football being dominated by money rather than the needs of the sport. This complaint comes from a continent where football has become big business, where clubs are quoted on the stock exchange and where clubs are bought and sold by billionnaires. Players in the last seven top transfers made much more money than the alleged corrupt earnings of the seven Fifa Fifa official arrested on corruption charges. Just how do they think such things look from a poor country that has had help from Fifa in boosting its local football?

    I don’t for a instant want to excuse corruption but I think that Fifa’s role around the world needs to be evaluated in a balanced way. The idea that the Europeans are the good guys keeping football clean as opposed to corrupt Africans and Asians is hard to take. The difference is that in Europe silly money can be made entirely legally by treating the sport as a business. That this establishes a moral high ground from which to berate Africans and Asians (and let’s face it, that’s what it is about) is less than clear.

    Where there is good evidence for corruption those responsible should be brought to book but let’s go easy on the sanctimonious stuff.

  5. Mark P says:

    Thanks David.

    Vivek Chaudhary raises some very important points in his piece today you refer to. We’ve promoted it on our twitter feed.

    The point I would make is that the imperial patronage of FiFA under Rous has been replaced by a financial patronage under Blatter.

    The latter has spread football’s largesse around the world, some of it well-spent , much of it not.

    In campaigning against FIFA corruption we need to popularise the need for an equitable global game. Neither the FA or UEFA have much of a record in this regard. For starters what have the FA or UEFA given back to Africa, a continent that has given so much to the English and European game? A popular football internationalism would address this rather than monetising nations into markets to flog replica shirts to.

  6. Barry Ewart says:

    Wouldn’t it be lovely if football could be democratised with fans etc. having a say and fans reps on boards.
    Could get all clubs to register fans and all have a vote OMOV in who the FA should nominate – this could be one constituency.
    The second constituency could be players and retired players through the PFA.
    A third constituency could be Managers and retired Managers.
    And no constituency for owners and administrators.
    So done in every country the beautiful game would belong to those who love it (fans) those who play or have played it and those who have managed it.
    Can be revolutionary stuff this democracy!

    1. Matty says:

      One of the few good things in the football business lately is the amount of clubs becoming supporter-owned. FC Manchester (built out of the anti-Glazer campaign) have just built a new stadium and are a co-operative.
      The vast majority of clubs were set up as non-profit making entities eg by the church or by groups of workers at factories. They were sold off by people who were supposed to be their custodians. That’s what you get in entrusting assets to the supposed “betters”.

  7. Billericaydickie says:

    What should be done, if money talks, is that the money leaves and takes the game with it. Without European cash the whole thing collapses so it’s time for UEFA to think about pulling out. That will buck up the ideas of all of those countries with a vote and no actual football to speak of.

  8. Billericaydickie says:

    Oh, I almost forgot. How many ” Bradford Spring ” T shirts do you have left Mark? Got that one wrong didn’t you?

  9. Mark P says:

    Barry and Matty raise important points.

    FIFA is almost entirely dominated by a mix of an international corporate and political class. Precious few voices in the oreganisation have any deep roots in player, coach or fan culture.

    The FA should be promoting wht FC United have achieved with every resource thet have. But they don’t and won’t bewause of course it is counter to almost everything the goverrnance of football has become, domestically and globally. Next year’s Emirates FA Cup Final, says it all really.

  10. James Martin says:

    Thankfully my own club (Chester) is 100% fan-owned (I’m an owner myself) and fully democratic and accountable to the fans. Ask most of us if we would rather have that and a modest playing budget, or one of the many dodgy sugar daddy owners we had to put up with in the past and I suspect most would opt for the former.

    And it will be interesting to see how far fan-owned clubs can get in the English league. AFC Wimbledon have been at home in L2 after claiming back up from the pub leagues and I can see them getting to L1. My club and our bitter cross-border fan-owned rivals (Wrexham) are bidding for league status again, but after that the silly money of other clubs becomes a serious barrier to progress.

    As to Blatter, you can never ever imagine the clown ever being a footie supporter and cheering on a team can you? No, it’s all about the bungs and nothing else. And when you look at that FIFA conference you just see rows and rows of corporate old men, and I suspect the only women in that lavish hall were there afterwards to clean up.

  11. David Ellis says:

    FIFA has always been corrupt. It is only now when the money men have sold football to Russia and Arab oil money that Western imperialism has realised it has lost control of an important instrument, football, for soft power projection so-called. In trying to wrestle back control they are destroying FIFA and the game. Fucking good job. Hopefully next will be the IOC and Bernie Ecclestone.

    I understand England were going to boycott the next world cup after the qualification stages anyway.

    1. swatantra says:

      Best to declare now that they will not be attending and claim the moral ground, because as sure as heck they’ve no chance of qualifying.
      We’ll probably end up like another corrupt sport Boxing with 3 World Championship Belts.

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