Why do they need so many different bodies to run one simple little game? Asks Hunter Davies
If you were starting from now, beginning it all from scratch, you wouldn't do it this way. That's the situation in so many walks of human life, where nonsenses have become built in (which we all accept), yet rubbish (making us feel cleverer than the folks who went before us). Such as railways, television, A-levels, football. Especially football.
It's stupid, we all know that, not to say mad, that one sport has three ruling bodies, with two of them at loggerheads, resulting in the FA's Adam Crozier being dumped. How did we get into this mess? Please concentrate. It is important, if you want truly to understand the world's most popular game.
The Football Association came first. In 1863, some old public school boys, Oxbridge types, got together at the Freemasons Tavern in London to try and codify the various forms of football then being played. They cut out handling the ball (which meant that others went off to play rugby) and hacking, or at least its worst forms (which meant that brute violence was eliminated). From then on, more or less, the rules of football, as we now know it, were formed.
It didn't happen instantly. In Sheffield, and in Scotland, other bodies continued for a while with their variations of the rules, but in 1872 the FA had a really brilliant idea - the FA Cup. Seems so obvious now, a knock-out cup, but it was a novel idea, dreamt up by Charles Alcock, secretary of the FA, who remembered the competitions for Cock House when he had been at Harrow. The FA Cup was such an enormous success that the power and omnipotence of the FA was established and all the newly formed football clubs bowed to its wisdom.
These new football clubs were mainly in the north and Midlands, where football fever swept the urban masses in the 1880s, stimulated by half-days off on Saturdays, a few bob in their pockets and new, cheap forms of transport. But when these new clubs started under-the-counter payments to buy up the best talent, most of it from Scotland, the public-school amateurs at the FA were appalled - except Charles Alcock. He personally preferred the amateur code, chaps doing manly things for healthy, non-monetary reasons, but he saw the way things were going. It was thanks to him that, in 1885, the FA finally gave in and sanctioned professional football, thus securing the FA's power over all football, both amateur and professional.
The next big stage came in 1888 - and it's strange that Alcock never thought of it, when, to us now, it seems so obvious. Until then, there were no leagues. Teams played either endless friendlies, or cup games. It was a Scotsman, William McGregor, an official with Aston Villa, who created the world's first Football League in 1888 (won by Preston North End). The Football League was formed, to run the league.
We thus had two football bodies, which was how it went on for the next 100 years or so. The FA ruled the sport. The FL ruled the Football League clubs. There were tensions, rows, but they managed to run football between them till 1992, when the Premier League was born. This was a direct result of the arrival of Sky TV, with the top-division clubs breaking away, wanting the main share of the TV money and bugger the lesser clubs.
Ten years on, it's happened again. Another split seems imminent. Personality clashes have provided the spark, but, basically, it's all to do with money, the Premier League being upset that the FA is making big bucks from football, via TV and sponsorship, out of the players whose wages they, the Premier League, are paying. Hence this idea of a Professional Game Board, taking some powers away from the FA.
The eventual result could be, oh no, god save us, a fourth body, overseeing our simple little game. So what would I do?
Well, I wouldn't start from here. Would you?