MARTIN SAMUEL COLUMN: FA's issue isn't the Blazer Brigade

MARTIN SAMUEL COLUMN: FA’s issue isn’t the Blazer Brigade. Baroness Sue Campbell could well come in to replace Greg Clarke as chair and whip a board into shape but take them away and there may be no sport at all

  • Baroness Sue Campbell is a contender to replace Greg Clarke as FA chair
  • Clarke resigned following a disastrous parliamentary appearance where he referenced ‘coloured’ footballers among a host of other offensive gaffes 
  • The ‘Blazer Brigade’ at the FA is not the problem; they have helped grassroots 

Advancing the case for Baroness Campbell to be the next chair of the Football Association, former sports minister Tracey Crouch colourfully spelled out her credentials. ‘She’d be effective, efficient and effing ferocious,’ she said. ‘She’d whip the blazers into shape in no time.’

Yet, at the centre of Sportsmail’s campaign to save grassroots sports, what do we find? Blazers, thousands of them.

Grassroots sport is what blazers do. Long before they get fitted for an FA jacket, years before they are wined and dined and qualify for tickets in the posh seats, blazers are ensuring your league is completed, your nets are up, all the thankless jobs that the rest of us can’t be bothered to do. 

Baroness Sue Campbell is seen as an early contender to be the new Football Association chair

Greg Clarke resigned from the role after a disastrous parliamentary appearance on Tuesday

You want to see your kid play football on Sunday, sure. You might even care enough to coach. But do you want to give up your Saturday to present prizes to other people’s children at an Under 14 tournament? Do you want to attend a fixtures meeting after work? Do you want to field another call about the dog’s mess on the local recreation ground, or the showers never working?

Blazers do. They take on all the menial chores without which grassroots sport would die overnight. Respect is due — and more than they are ever given.

A tiny Marcus Rashford is the picture whenever words are written about Fletcher Moss Rangers, but that club’s teams are entered into the East Manchester League and the Salford League and the Manchester County Sunday Cup, meaning there are men and women facilitating the football every week.

And one day a determined soul might rise through the many levels of the Manchester Football Association, through committees and endless administrative chores, to a position of the smallest influence. And they’ll be old, because it’s a long way up.

Many at the FA worked tirelessly at grassroots level to keep clubs like Fletcher Moss Rangers, who once had England and Manchester United striker Marcus Rashford (circled) in their ranks

Yet when they finally get a bit of gravy, for all those years of service, the reward is to be stereotyped as a blazer, decrepit and out of touch.

There is always an outcry, for instance, about the FA council and the independent schools’ place on it. This is invariably depicted as the epitome of arcane FA practice. Yet last week, another former sports minister, Richard Caborn, was angered that while state and municipal facilities went into lockdown, independent school sport continued across the country.

Why did this happen? Because it is so much part of the curriculum that matches are included in normal school timetables. Independent educators do a huge amount to keep their grassroots active.

And it wasn’t a blazer who left the FA in its present predicament, remember. It was the former chief executive officer of Cable & Wireless, the Lend Lease Corporation and O3b Networks.

So Baroness Campbell, or whoever gets the job, can whip into shape who she likes, but the FA’s problem isn’t blazers. Take them away and there is no sport at all.

HISTORY IS REPEATING FOR CONTE 

Antonio Conte cuts such a dynamic figure on the touchline that it is noticeable when that energy goes.

His second season at Chelsea, once he had fallen out with the hierarchy, looked very different from his first.

This campaign, at Inter Milan, may be heading in a similar direction.

Conte cut the gap between Inter and Juventus by 20 points last season, but that run ended in disgruntlement.

There is a sense of deja vu for Antonio Conte as Inter Milan unwind as it did for him at Chelsea

‘I don’t think the work of the players has been recognised, and I don’t think my work has been recognised,’ he said. ‘We received very little protection from the club.’

Far from maintaining that form, Inter now sit in seventh place with one win in all competitions since September. They are two points adrift at the bottom of their Champions League group, too. Familiar observations are now heard. Conte is not as animated as last season, Conte has less energy on the touchline.

‘I’d advise them to stay off the wine,’ was his frosty response to critics. Yet those who followed his career in England will note a pattern.

That of high commitment and emotional investment, followed by disillusionment. Will it end well? It didn’t at Stamford Bridge.

SOLSKJAER CAN’T BLAME FIXTURE PILE-UP IF HE KEEPS REFUSING TO SHUFFLE HIS PACK 

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s mood over fixture demands will not be improved by the news that Luke Shaw is out for a month with a hamstring injury.

Shaw was withdrawn in the 67th minute at Everton on Saturday, a game Solskjaer complained had been scheduled unreasonably early after a 4am return from Istanbul last week.

Yet Shaw has started every Premier League and Champions League match for United this season, the only player to do so.

Luke Shaw went off injured at Everton but Ole Gunnar Solskjaer can have few complaints

There was an opportunity to rest him at Newcastle, for instance, but Shaw played 90 minutes and new £15.4million signing Alex Telles remained on the bench.

Brandon Williams is also without  a game outside the EFL Cup. Shaw has been in good form and can play in a back three, as he did against Paris Saint-Germain, but United have options in that position, too.

Given the physical stress on players this season, rotation is important. It cannot be that a late flight from Turkey is significant, but 10 straight starts in the two most demanding competitions are not.

Ever the optimist, Rick Parry is apparently ready to strike a £125million bailout compromise with the Premier League for his EFL clubs. The initial offer was £50m for those in Leagues One and Two, which suggests Parry believes he can secure another £75m for the Championship.

Even if that were true, it represents half of the £250m Parry originally said was required. That figure appears to have been plucked from the air, much like this one. 

The Premier League is riven with division but the one thing most around the table agree on is that they don’t trust Parry. Liverpool and Manchester United are notable exceptions; maybe he could get it from them.

Rick Parry appears to have plucked a figure from the air as he targets a £125m EFL bailout 

Rajasthan Royals were the worst team in the Indian Premier League this year. Jofra Archer, however, was their star and voted most valuable player in the entire competition. He made Nasser Hussain’s team of the tournament, too. 

Archer’s numbers in the power play segment of the game were spectacular, some of the best recorded in any league. He had an economy rate of 4.34 and in addition took 10 wickets. He also struck early in many matches, claiming some of the IPL’s best batsmen, such as David Warner, Quinton de Kock, Jonny Bairstow and Shikhar Dhawan. Undoubtedly, he is a player. 

The challenge for England is finding the right way to use him. 

Mansfield had not won in 14 matches this season. Then they went to Sunderland in the FA Cup. The result? A 1-0 away victory. Good grief, what is happening up there? 

SMITH THINKS BIG… AND HATS OFF TO HIM 

A sharp intake of breath as Emiliano Martinez says that joining Aston Villa was a step up from Arsenal.

Obviously, he is speaking personally. Martinez was not going to be first choice at Arsenal this season, but is at Villa. Yet his words also tell a story about the positive transformation going on under Dean Smith.

Villa would go top if they won their game in hand on Leicester, although few are expecting it to end that way come May. Yet Smith has always been upbeat about Villa’s prospects, and so have the NSWE Group, run by joint-owners Nassef Sawiris and Wes Edens. They are not high profile but continue to support Smith in the transfer market and see the potential in their club.

Having avoided relegation by a whisker, Smith began this season talking about qualifying for Europe. It is easy to mock, but why shouldn’t a club of Villa’s size and history think bigger than mere survival?

Enthusiasm alone does not win matches, but Villa have put seven past Liverpool, three past Arsenal and won at Leicester already. This shows the importance of having self-worth. It is wonderful to see. Good luck to them.

Dean Smith (right) has transformed Aston Villa after narrowly avoiding relegation last season

In the fourth minute of injury time at Manchester City on Sunday, Ruben Dias went through the back of Mohamed Salah, and a foul was given. Salah put the ball down quickly and prepared to take it but, no, referee Craig Pawson had some housekeeping to do.

So back the ball came and everybody hung around, and by the time the free-kick was taken, a wall of blue shirts stood between Liverpool and the goal. The move went nowhere and the final whistle blew. That is why the self-pass free-kick is an idea whose time has come.  

Arsene Wenger’s proposal does not mess with good rules. Rather, he is addressing a significant flaw that should have been corrected decades ago.

Had Salah been able to self-pass after an infringement as players can in hockey and rugby, he could have put the ball down and been away. Any opposition player who attempted to play it within a five-yard radius would be disciplined with a yellow card, or the sin bin. Makes the game quicker, benefits the attacking team and nobody argues the decision with the referee, because getting instantly into defensive shape is the absolute priority.

The problem is that recent rule changes have had a negative impact on the game and the spectacle. This wouldn’t. This is a good one.

BAA-BAAS HAVEN’T A LEG TO STAND ON

The Barbarians players who cost the RFU £1million and a cancelled fixture by breaching Covid-19 regulations have been making their case for the defence. It is claimed they checked with an RFU official before leaving the hotel. 

One problem: director of medical services, Dr Simon Kemp, said they could go for walks in Hyde Park, play golf or visit a local cafe. The players instead went to a pub and a restaurant on consecutive nights. 

Their lawyers will argue against an RFU charge on the grounds they were given the impression the rules were flexible, but unless it can be proven they are so thick they cannot distinguish a pub from a cafe, a golf course or a 350-acre park with seven memorials, five fountains and a bandstand, they haven’t really got a leg to stand on. 

Barbarians players are claiming they checked with an RFU official before they were seen leaving their hotel and at a pub, breaching coronavirus restrictions 

Greg Clarke’s unfortunate description of homosexuality as a ‘life choice’ does rather place in sharp relief the shallowness of the Football Association’s desire for a player to come out as gay. 

It would be about them and how understanding and inclusive they could appear, not the needs of the individual. This is an organisation that even presumes to be represented in London’s annual Pride march. ‘Being gay — it’s your lifestyle choice’ — see how that plays out on the side of a float. 

To be fair to Mark Clattenburg, he called this. When the ‘T-shirt line’ became the start of the arm, he said it would change the way the game was refereed.

That is what happened with Patrick Bamford last weekend. In order to eradicate the infamous armpit offsides, it was decided the arm would start where the cuff of a short-sleeved shirt should be. The problem for Bamford was that, this season, the top part of his arm is in play, and can therefore be offside. It wouldn’t have been last season. 

Confused? Join the queue. Technology has complicated these calls beyond all reasoning.

 Leeds striker Patrick Bamford was called offside against Crystal Palace for his upper arm

Leicester lead the Premier League from Tottenham, while Real Sociedad lead Villarreal at the top of LaLiga and AC Milan — without a top four finish since 2013 — are holding off Sassuolo in Serie A.

Meanwhile, in Germany, it’s Bayern Munich first again having just won at Borussia Dortmund, in a match laughably dubbed Der Klassiker. Dortmund have now been victorious in just one league fixture between the two since November 19, 2016. 

Can’t think why the Bundesliga is such a hard sell abroad.

JIMMY’S GREAT, BUT IS HE INTIMIDATING? 

Jeff Thomson listed his top 10 fast bowlers and caused a stir by not including James Anderson, and his 600 Test wickets. 

‘When I talk great fast bowlers I talk fear,’ argued Thomson. ‘Nasty fasties. Anderson may be a decent swing bowler, but on the scare scale he wouldn’t have frightened me — and I was a tail-ender.’ 

Thomson has a point. Anderson lacks the pure intimidation factor of some on his list, such as Malcolm Marshall and Dennis Lillee. But the compiler is not above patriotic sentimentality.

If we’re talking fear, Glenn McGrath, but no Andy Roberts? Ask Imran Khan about Roberts. He described one delivery as the fastest and most terrifying he ever faced.

James Anderson (right) was not included in Jeff Thomson’s all-time list of top-10 fast bowlers

Many accused Steve Bruce of disloyalty the day he walked out on Sheffield Wednesday for Newcastle. 

Wednesday owner Dejphon Chansiri has now sacked Garry Monk, who started this season on minus 12 points through absolutely no fault of his own. Maybe those moralists understand why loyalty is such a rare commodity in football.  




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