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Published on December 10th, 2014 | by Bill

DNO- Football Association search for English Football’s DNA tags up problems in its marrow

It was a low-key launch at their national training centre by the Football Association’s standards.  “England DNA”- “the start point for the creation of a world-class approach of elite player development leading to winning England teams”.

Few would question a need to modernise England’s coaching system after a dismal World Cup. One could even stomach the majority of the eleven page document being written in C-grade business-speak jargon of a “golden thread” of joined up thinking, an “evolving philosophy” that had the Football Cliché’s Twitter site going into overload.

The D.N.A link however tags up contradictions within the FA which run to its very marrow. If there is such a thing as an English Football D.N.A it exists far from the Wembley Stadium replica pitches and conference rooms of the document’s launch site in the Burton countryside. It lives in the grass-roots organisers and players, its school and street football, the supporters of the teams which prop up the league ladder and its proud old clubs likes Hitchin Town and Hereford United, all neglected by the Football Association.

You see, the FA were right to be careful in avoiding calling their latest  master-plan a “blueprint” to avoid comparisons with its 1991 “Blueprint for the Future of Football” a self-proclaimed “landmark” in the history of the sport. That Blueprint, writ large by the likes of Saatchi and Saatchi and KPMG paved the way for the Premier League and what David Conn called “the complete takeover of football by business, by people that wanted to make money”.

The 1991 FA Blueprint spoke explicitly of the “hard choices” of football’s “offer”, that the “response of most sectors” was to “move upmarket so as to follow the affluent middle class consumer in his or her aspirations” and that the FA “strongly” suggested there was “a message in this for football”.

The 1991 master-plan, leaning heavily on the property market based economics of the day, declared that the FA expected “the economy to continue growing at a sustained if not spectacular rate” and that “the appreciation of house prices has created a basic wealth holding for a significant section of the population which will continue to bolster confidence in spending”

English football fans now living with the indebtedness of both serious house price and ticket price inflation will be forgiven for cursing the Football Association for that one. The DNA link is curious too as Sir Francis Crick, co-discoverer of the DNA molecule, was a son of Northampton, the English manufacturing town which produced the first ever football Supporters’ Trust in 1992. Its representative descendants, the Football Supporters’ Federation and Supporters Direct with combined membership of a million weren’t consulted by the FA in the original 2014 England Commission proposals for B-Teams and a League 3, eventually roundly rejected.

The FA’s search for English football’s DNA is both a denial and acceptance of the issues at its core. Indeed, the England Commission itself highlights the FA’s failure in providing for the sport at grass-roots level and its impotence in facing up the Premier League and the Elite Player Performance Plan which sees young talent spirited away to top-level talent farms. Meanwhile, fans of clubs like 150 year-old Hitchin (one of the oldest in the world) march to save their historic stadia from the property speculators the Blueprint foresaw and encouraged, while Hereford supporters see their side bought by a convicted truck thief and demoted, in large part due to the F.A’s governance failures.

With Greg Dyke’s organisation’s reputation at an all-time low after the World Cup bidding and £16000 watch gift scandals it may be that reconnecting with its true DNA can save the Football Association from an in-built death gene.

Groups like Stand Against Modern Football have called for a supporters’ delegate to be placed on the FA board, partly to improve transparency but also to save the home of botches, watches and scotch from itself. They point to the 1991 Blueprint’s stated aim to “better involve authentic supporter representatives in consultative and decision making capacities in the game”. Something clearly forgotten by the England Commission of this year and lost amidst the calls for memory stick wrist bands and blindingly obvious tactical noise which occupies the brains of the FA, preventing them from engaging with football’s real lifeblood.

Tom Reed

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