FA’s his­toric cuts threaten grass roots

The Daily Telegraph - Business - - Sport - By Tom Mor­gan and Sam Wal­lace

Foot­ball’s grass roots were plunged deeper into tur­moil yes­ter­day as the FA an­nounced the most dev­as­tat­ing round of job losses in its his­tory to fill a £300mil­lion black hole caused by Covid-19.

Staff work­ing di­rectly with the se­nior in­ter­na­tional teams are ex­pected to be shel­tered, but else­where a to­tal of 124 posts – a sev­enth of the gov­ern­ing body’s to­tal work­force – will be made re­dun­dant over the com­ing weeks.

Among the losses are around 15 coaches work­ing with the ju­nior Eng­land teams, The Daily Tele­graph un­der­stands, in a ma­jor blow for the St Ge­orge’s Park or­gan­i­sa­tion that has yielded a gen­er­a­tion of com­pet­i­tive na­tional sides.

Mark Bulling­ham, the FA’s chief ex­ec­u­tive, said lock­down and loss of re­sources from Wem­b­ley had caused “ir­re­versible” dam­age to the non-profit or­gan­i­sa­tion’s fi­nances.

At a re­cent board meet­ing, FA ex­ec­u­tives had un­der­lined the im­por­tance of pre­serv­ing the elite pipe­line of tal­ent into the men’s and women’s Eng­land teams, as well as fund­ing lev­els for the FA’s anti-dop­ing regime. How­ever, se­nior sources have since said “no area is en­tirely im­mune”.

Sup­port for de­vel­op­ing ac­tiv­i­ties, such as fut­sal, is ex­pected to be slashed im­me­di­ately, while in the grass-roots game cam­paign­ers fear ef­forts to tackle the short­age of all­weather pitches will be put back years, if not decades.

The Tele­graph launched its “Save Our Game” grass-roots cam­paign in 2018 af­ter the FA’s pro­posed £600 mil­lion Wem­b­ley sale col­lapsed. The FA had planned to use the money for grass-roots foot­ball and, as it stands, only one in three pitches in Eng­land are of “rea­son­able” stan­dard.

The FA, which had al­ready warned it would take 25 years at the cur­rent rate of in­vest­ment to pro­vide even a ba­sic level of fa­cil­i­ties, is now des­per­ate for the Gov­ern­ment to de­liver on a pre-elec­tion £550 mil­lion prom­ise to im­prove pitches over the next decade.

The pan­demic has placed that pledge in se­ri­ous doubt. “We’re now in a fight for life,” said Kenny Saun­ders, of the Save Grass­roots cam­paign group.

Rev­enues from events at Wem­b­ley since March have been lost, as well as fu­ture book­ings, in­clud­ing con­certs planned for Au­gust and the NFL games that had been sched­uled in Oc­to­ber. The FA board is to meet again on Fri­day to

It is terrible for any or­gan­i­sa­tion to face the large-scale job cuts the Foot­ball As­so­ci­a­tion has an­nounced but, with the coro­n­avirus pan­demic, we know it will be a sad theme over the com­ing months across a host of in­dus­tries.

Still, it does al­ways jar when such losses are made in foot­ball, given the amount of money within the game and the rev­enues it can gen­er­ate, even if those have fallen off a cliff.

No foot­baller is to blame for what is go­ing on at the FA, where there will be 82 re­dun­dan­cies and a fur­ther 42 va­can­cies that will now not be filled, as well as other sav­ings in the big­gest cost-cut­ting drive in its 157-year his­tory. It is not about pay de­fer­rals or pay cuts or ob­scene amounts be­ing earned at the top end of the game, or cash be­ing leached away by agents or in ex­or­bi­tant trans­fer fees. This is not the prune-juice ef­fect of the Premier League, as Lord Sugar once put it.

But it does mean the FA needs to take a long, hard look at the way it op­er­ates and, if one par­tic­u­lar op­por­tu­nity comes along again, it has to seize it. It makes sense to sell Wem­b­ley. It made sense in 2018 and it does now if the FA is of­fered any­where near the £600 mil­lion deal it ef­fec­tively turned down back then. Four weeks be­fore the coro­n­avirus lock­down was an­nounced, Mark Bur­rows, the FA’s chief op­er­at­ing of­fi­cer, in­sisted there were “no re­grets” over the col­lapse of the sale. Of course, as Bur­rows re­vealed a spruced-up Wem­b­ley ahead of the Carabao Cup fi­nal – with yet more in­vest­ment, this time £9mil­lion – no one knew the scale of this pan­demic.

But as the FA an­nounces it is shed­ding around 15 per cent of its work­force, it is likely Bur­rows and the other ex­ec­u­tives may no longer feel the same.

As one se­nior FA fig­ure said of the of­fer made by Shahid Khan, the Amer­i­can bil­lion­aire and Ful­ham owner: “It’s like hav­ing an old coun­try house and some­one had of­fered to take over the main­te­nance, but still let you live there and you keep the rev­enue – which is a pretty at­trac­tive deal.”

Given that the new Wem­b­ley

It would have helped ... the FA would not have had to fret over lost con­cert and NFL in­come

was opened only in 2007, at a cost of £798mil­lion, it may seem odd to re­fer to it as a kind of crum­bling coun­try pile, but the anal­ogy holds true and the fact is this: if the op­por­tu­nity arises to sell the sta­dium, the FA should seize it.

It al­ways felt like a missed op­por­tu­nity, es­pe­cially as Mark Bulling­ham, the FA’s chief ex­ec­u­tive, warned por­ten­tously “we do not think we can af­ford to do all the things we did be­fore” in an­nounc­ing the cut­backs, which have fol­lowed an es­ti­mated loss of up to £300mil­lion over the next four years be­cause of coro­n­avirus. Even in the best sce­nario, the FA fears it will be £100mil­lion down.

The ar­gu­ment for sell­ing Wem­b­ley was that the money could be used to im­prove grass­roots fa­cil­i­ties and pitches that had been scan­dalously ne­glected by gov­ern­ment cuts. Now the FA is left cling­ing to the hope that this gov­ern­ment will con­tinue to com­mit to its prom­ise of pro­vid­ing £550 mil­lion. Let us hope its op­ti­mism is not mis­placed.

The sale of Wem­b­ley was an at­trac­tive deal, and who knows whether the FA will ever have a sim­i­lar of­fer. If it does, it must have the re­solve to see through what it knew was the right thing to do two years ago – worry less about the con­cerns of its 127-mem­ber coun­cil and agree a sale which will ben­e­fit the or­gan­i­sa­tion and, more im­por­tantly, ben­e­fit foot­ball.

Surely what this cur­rent cri­sis has shown, along with the cuts an­nounced yes­ter­day, is that the FA has to be bolder. It could have done this with Wem­b­ley – it did not need the coun­cil’s ap­proval and could have taken the de­ci­sion through its main board.

Given the ap­par­ent sym­bolic sen­si­tiv­ity of not own­ing a na­tional sta­dium – not some­thing that ap­pears to con­cern other na­tions – maybe this was ad­mirable, but it was also naive in that it meant Wem­b­ley be­came a ral­ly­ing point for dis­sent and an op­por­tu­nity for those dis­grun­tled from the shires to strike back at the FA.

“It’s like sell­ing the BBC and Buck­ing­ham Palace. It’s the her­itage of foot­ball,” said Sir Dave Richards, the for­mer FA Coun­cil mem­ber and for­mer Premier League chair­man, at the time. But the FA had owned Wem­b­ley for only a frac­tion of its his­tory and it was hardly be­ing evicted.

The money re­ceived would cer­tainly not have in­su­lated the FA from all the cuts. But it would have helped, it would not have had to fret about cru­cial lost in­come from other ar­eas such as con­certs, events and NFL matches. The FA would have been less de­pen­dent on Wem­b­ley, which has cost a for­tune in re­pay­ment, main­te­nance and ser­vic­ing of debt. It is not time for a blame game. The hu­man cost for the FA is ex­tremely sad. The not-for-profit or­gan­i­sa­tion has many com­mit­ted staff, who are pas­sion­ate about their work and foot­ball, and in gen­eral it feels like a body mov­ing in the right di­rec­tion and be­ing pro­gres­sive with the way it has con­ducted it­self in re­cent years.

Pulling the sale of Wem­b­ley also had an air of in­evitabil­ity about it when the ar­gu­ment be­came mired in who should pay for what when it comes to foot­ball.

Ul­ti­mately, though, it was a good idea and foot­ball has to be more about peo­ple than bricks and mor­tar. Cut­ting through the sym­bol­ism and emo­tion it made sense then and it still does now. It may well have helped. If it comes around again then, hope­fully, the FA will be bolder.

The an­nounce­ment by the Premier League, English Foot­ball League and Pro­fes­sional Foot­ballers’ As­so­ci­a­tion of a new coach place­ment scheme to in­crease the num­ber of black, Asian and mi­nor­ity eth­nic play­ers mov­ing into coach­ing is good news.

The aim is to help them find full-time coach­ing roles in the pro­fes­sional game with bur­saries on of­fer and a “23-month in­ten­sive work place­ment”. But the ques­tion is this: why are there only six places avail­able and why are the roles only in EFL clubs?

Surely it makes more sense – and would have a far greater im­pact – to have more places avail­able at ev­ery club, in­clud­ing the Premier League? In fact why not make it manda­tory for ev­ery club to em­ploy BAME coaches?

Missed op­por­tu­nity: Shahid Khan (right) made an un­suc­cess­ful £600 mil­lion of­fer to buy Wem­b­ley

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