Just wide of the post

<strong>FA Confidential - Sex, Drugs and Penalties: the Inside Story of English Football</strong>

The English boarding-school system is a bizarre phenomenon: a supposed bastion of social and academic privilege in which bourgeois parents pay vast sums in order to allow total strangers to abuse their children. One of its victims was David Davies, the child of a family of shopkeepers in St Pancras, whose father had died when he was an infant. Beaten and bullied by the masters at the Royal Masonic School in Bushey, Herts, the young Davies sought refuge in football.

At 18, he bought a season ticket to the 1966 World Cup, guaranteeing him a ticket to all England's matches at Wembley, up to and including the World Cup Final. His book begins with him going alone to the games in that glorious, if soggy summer. He envies the other young lads, walking up Wembley Way with their dads. Neither then, nor now, does he notice that he has not even gone with a mate. Football for David Davies is, at heart, a very private ritual, deeply entwined with his longing for a father figure, a role model, an ideal of masculinity. When England win the World Cup and the trophy is lifted by that ultimate golden boy Bobby Moore, it is, one feels, the defining emotional experience of his life.

It was surely no accident that after beginning his career as a journalist and TV presenter, Davies ended up with a 12-year stint at the Football Association itself, first as its director of communications, and then as executive director. In the years between 1994 and 2006, he had a Royal Box seat as English football was transformed from a small, parochial business, whose clubs were mostly run by local businessmen, into a multinational phenomenon, its fans and players as polyglot as the billionaires who controlled the Premiership teams.

Along the way, Davies saw Gazza's many meltdowns and occasional grand acts of redemption. He watched David Beckham's growth from moody young sprig to goldenballed megastar. He was handholder-in-chief to a succession of England managers. His first, Terry Venables, seemed to make as many appearances in courtrooms as he did at Wembley. The next, Glenn Hoddle, came a cropper by giving an interview in which his attempts to explain the law of karma - football men are not known for their grasp of theological subtleties - made him appear to say that the handicapped were paying for sins committed in a past life. Kevin Keegan, as is his wont, appeared in a blaze of glory and quit with a self-pitying whimper. And as for Sven-Göran Eriksson, who could possibly have foretold that this apparently sophisticated Swede, whose England career began so triumphantly - Germany 1, England 5: it still seems too good to be true - would end his days as an overpaid, shag-happy flop, his team mired in dismal mediocrity, while their pampered, retail-addicted Wags hoovered designer titbits from the stores of Baden-Baden?

Given material like that to work with, it's not surprising that Davies has no shortage of anecdotes: he's excellent on the backstage minutiae of international football. Occasionally, too, he makes astute observations of character. Eriksson, Davies notes, was essentially a small-town Swede who was surprised, and almost disbelieving, about the extent of his success.

Sadly, though, Davies is too kind, and too deeply invested in the game, to give the critical overview that would make this book a valuable document. Although there are chapters on hooliganism and the building of the new Wembley, he and his ghost Henry Winter rarely step back from the particulars to consider the astonishing changes in football as a sport, a business and a social phenomenon, to set his story in a wider context. This is a pity, because every so often there are flashes of the deeper, more committed book that Davies might have had in him.

His descriptions of the decrepit, Dickensian FA "part museum, part asylum" that greeted him on his arrival in 1994 are superb. One really feels the blazer-wearing complacency of the assorted buffers and mediocrities who ran English football, and the sheer insanity of their working practices. An organisation responsible for a game played on Saturdays was closed all weekend. All mail was read by the chief executive, Graham Kelly, before being passed on to the employees to whom it had been sent. "Shambles" would be too kind a word.

Later, Davies became caught up in the bizarre case of his PA, Faria Alam. Having had an affair, which she initially denied, with Eriksson and another with the then FA chief executive Mark Palios, she then fabricated a bogus charge of sexual harassment against Davies himself. He was eventually exonerated by an employment tribunal, but only after months of stress. His anger at this injustice finally rouses Davies, who rightly hits back at both Alam and the self-protecting bureaucrats at the FA who refused to give him the support he justifiably felt he was due. In the 12 years he had served the Football Association, the game had changed beyond recognition, but one thing remained the same: David Davies's bosses still wouldn't treat him like a son.

This article first appeared in the 10 November 2008 issue of the New Statesman, Change has come