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

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What's to be done about racial inequality?

David Cameron's words on equal opportunities are to be welcomed - now for some action, says Sunder Katwala.

David Cameron made the strongest, clearest and most high profile statement about ethnic inequalities and the need to tackle discrimination ever yet offered by a British Prime Minister in his leader’s speech to the Conservative Party conference in Manchester.
“Picture this. You’ve graduated with a good degree. You send out your CV far and wide. But you get rejection after rejection. What’s wrong? It’s not the qualifications or the previous experience. It’s just two words at the top: first name, surname. Do you know that in our country today: even if they have exactly the same qualifications, people with white-sounding names are nearly twice as likely to get call backs for jobs than people with ethnic-sounding names? … That, in 21st century Britain, is disgraceful. We can talk all we want about opportunity, but it’s meaningless unless people are really judged equally”, said Cameron.
While the proof of the pudding will be in the eating, this was a powerfully argued Prime Ministerial intervention – and a particularly well-timed one, for three reasons.

Firstly, the Prime Minister was able to root his case in an all-but-universally accepted appeal for equal opportunities. It will always prove more difficult in practice to put political energy and resources behind efforts to remedy discrimination against a minority of the population unless a convincing fairness case is made that values cherished across our whole society are at stake. Cameron’s argument, that any party which tells itself that it is the party of the ‘fair chance’ and ‘the equal shot’ must have a response when there is such clear evidence of discrimination, should prove persuasive to a Conservative Party that has not seen race inequalities as its natural territory. Cameron argued that the same principles should animate responses to discrimination when it comes to race, gender and social class. Put like that, wanting job interviews to be fair – by eradicating conscious and unconscious patterns of bias wherever possible – would strike most Britons as offering as clear a case of the values of fair play as wanting the best baker to win the Great British Bake-Off on television.
Secondly, Cameron’s intervention comes at a potential "tipping point" moment for fair opportunities across ethnic groups. Traditionally, ethnic discrimination has been discussed primarily through the lens of its impact on the most marginalised. Certainly, persistent gaps in the criminal justice system, mental health provision and unemployment rates remain stark for some minority groups. What has been less noticed is the emergence of a much more complex pattern of opportunity and disadvantage – not least as a consequence of significant ethnic minority progress.

Most strikingly of all, in educational outcomes, historic attainment gaps between ethnic minorities and their white British peers have disappeared over the last decade. In the aggregate, ethnic minorities get better GCSE results on average. Ethnic minority Britons are more likely, not less likely, to be university graduates than their fellow citizens. 

As a result of that progress, Cameron’s intervention comes at a moment of significant potential – but significant risk too. Britain’s ethnic minorities are the youngest and fastest-growing sections of British society. If that educational progress translates into economic success, it will make a significant contribution to the "Great British Take-Off" that the Prime Minister envisions. But if that does not happen, with educational convergence combined with current ‘ethnic penalties’ in employment and income persisting, then that potential could well curdle into frustration that the British promise of equal opportunities is not being kept.  Cameron also mirrored his own language in committing himself to both a ‘fight against extremism’ and a ‘fight against discrimination’: while those are distinct challenges and causes, actively pursuing both tracks simultaneously has the potential, at least, depolarise some debates about responses to extremism  - and so to help deepen the broad social coalitions we need for a more cohesive society too.

Thirdly, Cameron’s challenge could mark an important deepening in the political competition between the major parties on race issues. Many have been struck by the increase in political attention on the centre-right to race issues over the last five to ten years. The focus has been on the politics of representation. By increasing the number of non-white Conservative MPs from two to seventeen since 2005, Cameron has sent a powerful signal that Labour’s traditional claim to be ‘the party of ethnic minorities’ would now be contested. Cameron was again able to celebrate in Manchester several ways in which his Cabinet and Parliamentary benches demonstrate many successful journeys of migrant and minority integration in British society. That might perhaps help to ease the fears, about integration being impossible in an era of higher immigration, which the Home Secretary had articulated the previous day.

So symbolism can matter. But facial diversity is not enough. The politics of ethnic minority opportunity needs to be about more than visits to gurdwaras, diversity nights at the party conference fringes and unveiling statues of Mahatma Gandhi in Parliament Square. Jeremy Corbyn’s first speech as Labour leader did include one brief celebratory reference to Britain’s ethnic diversity – “as I travelled the country during the leadership campaign it was wonderful to see the diversity of all the people in our country” – and to Labour bringing in more black, Asian and ethnic minority members - but it did not include any substantial content on discrimination. Tim Farron acknowledged during his leadership campaign that the Liberal Democrats have struggled to get to the starting-line on race and diversity at all. The opposition parties too will no doubt now be challenged to match not just the Prime Minister’s rhetorical commitment to challenging inequalities but also to propose how it could be done in practice.

Non-white Britons expect substance, not just symbolism from all of the parties on race inequalites.  Survation’s large survey of ethnic minority voters for British Future showed the Conservatives winning more ethnic minority support than ever before – but just 29 per cent of non-white respondents were confident that the Conservatives are committed to treating people of every ethnic background equally, while 54 per cent said this of Labour. Respondents were twice as likely to say that the Conservatives needto do more to reach out – and the Prime Minister would seem to be committed to showing that he has got that message.  Moreover, there is evidence that ethnic inclusion could be important in broadening a party’s appeal to other younger, urban and more liberal white voters too – which is why it made sense for this issue to form part of a broader attempt by David Cameron to colonise the broad centre of British politics in his Manchester speech.

But the case for caution is that there has been limited policy attention to ethnic inequalities under the last two governments. Restaurateur Iqbal Wahhab decided to give up his role chairing an ethnic minority taskforce for successive governments, unconvinced there was a political commitment to do much more than convene a talking shop. Lib Dem equalities minister Lynne Featherstone did push the CV discrimination issue – but many Conservatives were sceptical. Cameron’s new commitment may face similar challenges from those whose instinct is to worry that more attention to discrimination or bias in the jobs market will mean more red tape for business.

Labour had a separate race inequalities manifesto in 2015, outside of its main election manifesto, while the Conservative manifesto did not contain significant commitments to racial inequality. The mid-campaign launch in Croydon of a series of race equality pledges showed an increasing awareness of the growing importance of ethnic minority votes - though the fact that they all involved aiming for increases of 20 per cent by 2020 gave them a slightly back-of-the-envelope feel. 

Prime Ministerial commitments have an important agenda-setting function. A generation ago the Stephen Lawrence case opened the eyes of middle England to racist violence and police failures, particularly through the Daily Mail’s persistent challenging of those injustices. A Conservative Prime Minister’s words could similarly make a big difference in the mainstreaming of the issue of inequalities of opportunity. What action should follow words? Between now and next year’s party conference season, that must will now be the test for this Conservative government – and for their political opponents too. 

Sunder Katwala is director of British Future and former general secretary of the Fabian Society.