Former FA managing director is loving life at Nottingham Forest
IT was hardly the biggest football splash of the summer – the almost anonymous departure from the spotlight of someone whose love of the game was born during his time as a ball boy for his local team and nurtured by a steady ascension as an administrator until, arguably, he occupied one of the most powerful roles in its governing body.
And in the end, uniquely, becoming a victim of that devotion to England’s national sport, he allowed himself to turn almost full circle and return to his roots.
Adrian Bevington will tell you how fortunate he has been. Dreams of a career in professional football never materialised but, now he would argue, short of sticking the ball in the net to win his beloved Middlesbrough a Wembley FA Cup final, he could never have had a happier association with the sport he lives, eats and breathes.
His is a remarkable story of a climb through the ranks, from his schoolboy thrill of becoming a ball boy for the Boro; joining the club’s media staff at a time when such appointments were a rarity in the game; and departing Teesside to take up a similar role with the Football Association, before finally ending up as the FA’s managing director.
“I have to pinch myself when I think of how far I went,” he says.
“Of course I neither dreamed nor had any inclination of how it would all end up. It really has been a fairy story – a schoolboy’s dream.”
So what persuaded him to walk away from such a hands-on position in football – one which took him as far as being part of a committee which actually selected the England manager?
It is a question which has remained unanswered... until now, when Bevington revealed a remarkable insight into the thoughts of a man who rose to football royalty, but never lost his envy for the game’s soldiers.
“I left the FA at the end of last year,” he said. “I had been watching Middlesbrough a lot last season anyway. It was becoming a real pleasure following them again, especially with my son getting interested as well.
“Once I left the FA, people at the club – such as the chairman Steve Gibson and others – included me in their boardroom entourage travelling to away matches. It was exciting being part of it all again.”
That involvement underscored Bevington’s desire to return to a hands on role and he didn’t take a lot of persuading to join the administrative staff at Nottingham Forest a week before the season started.
“I’ve been to every game bar one this season and just having a reason to be at matches again is a great feeling,” he said.
“Feeling the emotion of the team winning, losing, scoring and all the rest of it gives me a tremendous adrenaline rush which I had missed.
“I have no regrets leaving the FA. There was no bitterness, but I would say that nobody would be more pleased than me if Roy Hodgson can lead the team to the kind of success every England supporter wishes for.” And when he insists he firmly believes England’s international fortunes could change, Bevington cites the Championship as a vital nursery for many up and coming players.
“I think it could happen,” he said.“We are producing more skilful and talented players. There are many who have caught my eye playing in the Championship, players like Dele Alli I think will become a great player for Tottenham Hotspur.
“He has similar box-to-box qualities as Steven Gerrard. He can go past people and score a goal. He is a really talented footballer.You have to give a lot of credit for his success to the Football League and managers like Karl Robinson, the manager of MK Dons. There are a lot of impressive characters around.
“The coaching is better now. It’s certainly better than it was 30 years ago when people of my age were trying to come through.
“People have suggested that the new FA development facility at St George’s Park is making a difference, but my view is it is a building with football pitches and it’s what comes with it that counts. It is just one part of the jig-saw. “We’ve got to make sure the coaches are produced at the highest level and the players are not only technically correct but are also mentally very strong.”
Now Bevington has chosen to take a step back from hobnobbing it with the world’s influential football decision makers for one simple reason – he has put club before country.
He has forsaken the FA to take part in the everyday running of a football club. And he couldn’t be happier. “I chose to leave because I felt it was the natural decision to make,” he commented.
“I have been incredibly lucky to have been involved with the England team over the course of five World Cups and three European Championships.
“It was an amazing experience, but I was ready for something different – the one thing I missed all the time.
“Every year I was with England – and as much as I was privileged to travel around the world with the various teams, women’s, Under21s, seniors – I missed the ebb and flow of club football… massively. It killed me every week.
“I remembered how when a club team lost a game on a Saturday they were able to get together straight away to try and put it right on a Tuesday.
“With England the games came in short bursts.
“Look, I am incredibly proud to have reached a position like managing director of the FA.
“However, my greatest regret was during my time there we haven’t been successful on the pitch. I regard that as a big minus against 17 years of hard work and major effort.
“When we lost to Italy in the opening game of the World Cup in Brazil last summer, I was devastated. I’d spent three years planning our trip there. I had been to Brazil so many times, travelling around extensively trying to set everything up with key members of the FA like Roy Hodgson – who I loved working with.
“You knew when you lost that first game you were going to be up against the wall.You knew you had to win the next game or you were probably going to be out.
“For half-an-hour after that match I went outside and stood on my own, not wanting to even speak to anybody.
“Later discussing the game, somebody said … ‘This is football. You’ve just got to bounce back.’
“But it isn’t the same. I know the challenges of club football are very hard, but you don’t have to wait another four years to get the chance to put things right.
“Being truthful, I had known that World Cup would be my last with England, but this decided it. I knew I couldn’t do another one. I had to do something different.”
Bevington’s escape route was via Nottingham Forest, and straight away he knew he had found succour at the City Ground with a club struggling to recapture former glories.
“I’ve been fortunate to have many friends and contacts within the game,” he added.
“I love going into a boardroom and having a chat with people you may not have seen for months. I love that camaraderie that exists in English football.
“I love going to games and feeling something about them.
“My time with the FA and working with the England team has provided me with many happy memories, but this is what I want to do now.” Regular Football League Paper columnist Chris Dunlavy is away.