FA’s historic cuts threaten grass roots
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