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Football in the dock
on 8 March 2003
Tom Bower has exposed what goes on behind the scenes in the less salubrious areas of football, greed, corruption, toothless football authorities and the pressing need for firm Government intervention are tackled by the author. As a fan of the great game, the issues that Bower has raised are of great concern and need addressing.
Banned directors in other arenas or former criminals are capable to, if not own a football club are able to play a part in a club's administration. The chapter on Terry Venables reign at Spurs is an illuminating read of a period most Spurs fans would see as one of their worst periods in recent history. That the abrupt and direct Alan Sugar comes out well in the chapters is apparent largely due to his frustration at Venables "wheeler dealing". A real eye-opener, particularly the brown envelopes behind the scenes of the Teddy Sherringham transfer from Nottingham Forest.
Likewise, the chapter on Ken Bates, chairman, owner, tyrant of Chelsea football club is also revealing. Bower writes about Bates spotty track record as a businessman. Few would be aware of Bates West Indian business almost leading to local insurrection or his relationship with less than savoury business associates.
The battle of egos of Premiership League executives is amazing, you get the impression some of them would mug their grannies to earn a few pennies more. The same executives not only negotiate mega TV deals, transfers via less than trustworthy agents but also rip off fans through high priced match tickets and merchandising. Rather than work for the benefit of the game, the self-interest of fighting their corner - for the benefit of their club - is well illustrated by Bower. What of the fans?
The football Task force led by David Mellor, was led up a series of blind alleys and football as an industry was left almost intact, with minor reforms promised. That the game has escaped reform as a major business, employer and entertainment industry in the UK defies belief, though with the political infighting within Government circles didn't help towards the tough action required.
With the collapse of ITV Digital last year, a great number of Nationwide football clubs have had to face the financial consequences. Ipswich, Leicester, Derby, Watford, York, Barnsley have either gone into or have been on the brink of Administration. Whilst ITV Digital was the cause of most of the problems, some were self-induced; it would be heartbreaking for fans that have helped to save their beloved club to find out that others have "profited" from their activities.
If the football authorities do not ban, bar or adequately punish those who take bungs, falsify accounts or sell the ground from clubs against FA rules, then the Government should act. Voluntary regulation didn't work in the City and now the FSA a much more powerful body acts on behalf of the Government to regulate the key players in the market. Football, needs a similarly powerful regulator, in particular to look after the interests of fans.
Lets hope that there is some action by football authorities, government and most importantly the fans to make sure that our game is clean of the charlatans that threaten to destroy the great game.
Whilst the book is written in the form of an investigative best seller, rather than an academic tome, the author has done football a huge favour. Bower quotes some (not all) of his sources, as a mild criticism without linked footnotes it is difficult to track whom said what, which detracts from reading the book, hence the award of 4 stars.