FA chairman Greg Dyke poses with the executive's controversial report on the future of the England national team, which has angered Football League clubs. Photo: Getty Images
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Football League clubs are in open revolt against the B team plans of the executives who represent them

The continued endorsement of Premier League B teams being given access to Football League competitions has led to an open rebellion by teams and their owners against the executives who are supposed to represent their interests.

In the luxury resort of Vilamoura on Portugal’s Algarve, important discussions about the future of English football are taking place. It’s the Football League Owners and Executives Conference, the objective of which, according to a letter from Football League chief executive Shaun Harvey, is to “increase engagement with clubs”.

Harvey also includes in his letter the caveat that: “The emphasis will be on the future, not the past.” The observation that those who do not learn from their history are doomed to repeat it is brought immediately to mind.

One way in which Harvey no doubt helps the future can be focused on is by discussion of the proposal to allow B teams from the elite clubs of the Premier League to enter the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy, the cup competition for lower league clubs. This proposal dangles unspecified “financial benefits” in front of lower league clubs to encourage then to accept something that has already been widely rejected in a different form – the parachuting of top club B teams into competition with traditional clubs.

The suggestion represents something of a rearguard action after the furore sparked by the FA Commission’s report on the future of the England team, which suggested that B teams from the top sides should be allowed to compete in the Football League. As the many thousands of fans who have opposed that plan pointed out, the idea undermines one of the basic principles of the English game: that a club's position is based on merit. The fans, of course, were not asked for their views – we’re just expected to pay to watch the games we don’t want to be staged. But it’s not just fans who are opposed to the plans.

The Football League clubs themselves are also in open rebellion, with Peterborough United’s Darren Macanthony, Portsmouth CEO Mark Caitlin and Bradford City’s Mark Lawn particularly vociferous in their opposition. All of which presents a problem for Football League chairman Greg Clarke, because while almost all the clubs he is supposed to represent oppose the B team plans, and while the Football League itself has said the original FA Commission proposals “may not contain a solution that is acceptable at the current time”, the embarrassing detail that remains is that Greg Clarke was one of the members of the Commission who signed off the proposal.

It’s not the first time Clarke has incurred the ire of the clubs he is supposed to represent. At last year’s meeting, he had to face down the prospect of a no-confidence vote from clubs angry at the way he had negotiated a solidarity payments package with the Premier League, about his failure to secure sponsorship for the League, and for putting himself in the frame for the job of FA Chairman – eventually given to Greg Dyke – without informing the League.

On that occasion, Ken Bates, then the chairman of Leeds United, moved a motion to dismiss any concerns and move on – with only a handful of clubs opposing. This year, it seems, former Leeds United executive Shaun Harvey will try to get Clarke out of trouble, repackaging the B team league proposal as a B team cup proposal. And showing, in the process, that despite the protestations of the football authorities that they are listening to the furious fan criticisms of the whole B team principle, they are in fact not listening at all.

The fact that they are not listening is no surprise. Harvey once set out his philosophy as ‘players play, managers manage, and supporters support”. With the conference in Vilamoura also due to discuss ownership structures, it’s also interesting to remember that Harvey has presided over three administrations, two at Bradford City and one at Leeds. He was at Leeds for years when the ultimate owners of the club were not publically known – which equips him well to be the chief executive of the organisation responsible for the Owners and Directors Test. Leeds fan Amitai Winehouse has written an interesting portrait of Harvey for the fanzine STAND, while Harvey’s approach to supporter criticism was examined in some depth by David Conn in the Guardian.

One of the major problems with the way English football is run is that those who take the key decisions are in those positions for a variety of reasons – none of which include being accountable to any constituency other than people like them. So they often define the interests of ‘their’ clubs as their own personal interests, and those interests often include seeing how far they can rise within the governance structure of a sport that likes to project a professional image, but which too often conducts itself in an amateur fashion, with a nod here, a wink there and a favour thrown in when it can make a difference.

That is not to say that there are no good people involved at this level, or that every idea those who run the game come up with is bad – although you do have to look a bit harder for the good ones. It’s the system itself that’s the problem, a system that promotes patronage and discourages the more open and collegiate processes that are increasingly expected.

If English football was serious about looking to the future, it would address this. 

Martin Cloake is a writer and editor based in London. You can follow him on Twitter at @MartinCloake.

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"We repealed, then forgot": the long shadow of Section 28 homophobia

Why are deeply conservative views about the "promotion" of homosexuality still being reiterated to Scottish school pupils? 

Grim stories of LGBTI children being bullied in school are all too common. But one which emerged over the weekend garnered particular attention - because of the echoes of the infamous Section 28, nearly two decades after it was scrapped.

A 16-year-old pupil of a West Lothian school, who does not wish to be named, told Pink News that staff asked him to remove his small rainbow pride badge because, though they had "no problem" with his sexuality, it was not appropriate to "promote it" in school. It's a blast from the past - the rules against "promoting" homosexuality were repealed in 2000 in Scotland, but the long legacy of Section 28 seems hard to shake off. 

The local authority responsible said in a statement that non-school related badges are not permitted on uniforms, and says it is "committed to equal rights for LGBT people". 

The small badge depicted a rainbow-striped heart, which the pupil said he had brought back from the Edinburgh Pride march the previous weekend. He reportedly "no longer feels comfortable going to school", and said homophobia from staff members felt "much more scar[y] than when I encountered the same from other pupils". 

At a time when four Scottish party leaders are gay, and the new Westminster parliament included a record number of LGBTQ MPs, the political world is making progress in promoting equality. But education, it seems, has not kept up. According to research from LGBT rights campaigners Stonewall, 40 per cent of LGBT pupils across the UK reported being taught nothing about LGBT issues at school. Among trans students, 44 per cent said school staff didn’t know what "trans" even means.

The need for teacher training and curriculum reform is at the top of campaigners' agendas. "We're disappointed but not surprised by this example," says Jordan Daly, the co-founder of Time for Inclusive Education [TIE]. His grassroots campaign focuses on making politicians and wider society aware of the reality LGBTI school students in Scotland face. "We're in schools on a monthly basis, so we know this is by no means an isolated incident." 

Studies have repeatedly shown a startling level of self-harm and mental illness reported by LGBTI school students. Trans students are particularly at risk. In 2015, Daly and colleagues began a tour of schools. Shocking stories included one in which a teacher singled out a trans pupils for ridicule in front of the class. More commonly, though, staff told them the same story: we just don't know what we're allowed to say about gay relationships. 

This is the point, according to Daly - retraining, or rather the lack of it. For some of those teachers trained during the 1980s and 1990s, when Section 28 prevented local authorities from "promoting homosexuality", confusion still reigns about what they can and cannot teach - or even mention in front of their pupils. 

The infamous clause was specific in its homophobia: the "acceptability of homosexuality as a pretended family relationship" could not be mentioned in schools. But it's been 17 years since the clause was repealed in Scotland - indeed, it was one of the very first acts of the new Scottish Parliament (the rest of the UK followed suit three years later). Why are we still hearing this archaic language? 

"We repealed, we clapped and cheered, and then we just forgot," Daly says. After the bitter campaign in Scotland, in which an alliance of churches led by millionaire businessman Brian Souter poured money into "Keeping the Clause", the government was pleased with its victory, which seemed to establish Holyrood as a progressive political space early on in the life of the parliament. But without updating the curriculum or retraining teaching staff, Daly argues, it left a "massive vacuum" of uncertainty. 

The Stonewall research suggests a similar confusion is likely across the UK. Daly doesn't believe the situation in Scotland is notably worse than in England, and disputes the oft-cited allegation that the issue is somehow worse in Scotland's denominational schools. Homophobia may be "wrapped up in the language of religious belief" in certain schools, he says, but it's "just as much of a problem elsewhere. The TIE campaign doesn't have different strategies for different schools." 

After initial disappointments - their thousands-strong petition to change the curriculum was thrown out by parliament in 2016 - the campaign has won the support of leaders such as Nicola Sturgeon and Kezia Dugdale, and recently, the backing of a majority of MSPs. The Scottish government has set up a working group, and promised a national strategy. 

But for Daly, who himself struggled at a young age with his sexuality and society's failure to accept it, the matter remains an urgent one.  At just 21, he can reel off countless painful stories of young LGBTI students - some of which end in tragedy. One of the saddest elements of the story from St Kentigern's is that the pupil claimed his school was the safest place he had to express his identity, because he was not out at home. Perhaps for a gay pupil in ten years time, that will be a guarantee. 

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