I am sitting here waiting for the call from the Football Association. Surely it will come. If Ed Smith can move on from this parish, where he has been writing a column on cricket, and other topics, for six years – an arriviste compared with my 22 years – and has now become chief selector for the England cricket team, then the FA must know where to turn in its hour of need.
It needs someone mature, and relatively sensible. Someone who has still got his 1950s boots, the ones with solid leather toecaps, strong enough to kick the shit out of any of those blazers from the backwoods who have buggered up English football since 1863, when it all began. See, I am also ace on football history.
I admit that Ed was a star cricketer at Cambridge, captain of Middlesex, played three Tests for England, whereas I, hmm, let me count the ways… I was quite astonishingly excellent aged 15 when I first turned out for Kingstown Rovers in the under-15 Carlisle league. We had dinky quartered shirts, very like Blackburn Rovers’ old strip, only in red and white. In my thirties I played for Wardington in the Banbury and District league. That was tough. Some of those village teams were such bullies. We had a weekend cottage in Wardington at the time and I think they took it out on me as a second homer – not fair.
In my forties I did score the winning goal for the Sunday Times against the Russian Embassy. We played on a pitch I never knew existed, behind Kensington Palace, very lush, reserved for foreign embassies. We had tea and buns afterwards and this smooth Russian chatted up one of the Sloaney Sunday Times secretaries. Got himself invited back to her place – not because he fancied her but because somehow, amazingly, he already knew her flatmate was in the Foreign Office.
For ten years, I had my own team on Hampstead Heath, Dartmouth United, being one of the dads who began it. We played every Sunday morning, all year round. We had proper goal posts, were registered as a proper club. In winter we were often down to five-a-side. In the summer it could be 15-a-side. No proper strip. We played skins against the rest – ie one side was topless. We were tough. Then aged 50 I hung up my boots – still able to play football but not able to recover from playing football.
Over to you, FA. You know my number. Did I not donate the 1970, number one issue of Rothman’s Football Yearbook to your library, when I discovered that you had it missing? I wrote in it “Kindly Donated by…” then signed it.
So what will I do when the call comes? Not sell Wembley Stadium for a start, certainly not for £600m. I’d want £2bn at least. The FA can easily turn it into a goldmine, do all the things the moustachioed American Shahid Khan plans. And more.
A proper museum for a start. That could earn £2m a year. I will donate my own football collection. It was going to Spurs for their new stadium, but they have just discovered a cache of their own archives when knocking down White Hart Lane.
Take on the Premiership, I’d do that. Long overdue. How on Earth did they let the Prem clubs break away in 1992 and hog all the top TV money? It means in England there are three bodies running football: the FA, the Prem and the Football League. Potty or what?
Naming rights for Wembley: I would have no qualms about selling them. I bet I could get £50m a year. Might have to be from an online betting firm, Arab airline or junk food
chain. Or perhaps Apple, Facebook or Trump. They need some good publicity.
Most football fans don’t care where the money comes from, how much players earn, what bastards all owners are, if their club is doing well. Wembley would be a home for winners. There you are, a new slogan.
Ed’s job is picking the England cricket team. When I take over the FA, I will let Gareth carry on. Seems a pleasant chap. I will be too busy, pulling all the strings, and the laces, putting on my 1950s boots in the home dressing room. When it’s empty.
This article appears in the 10 May 2018 issue of the New Statesman, Israel vs Iran