Cometh the hour, cometh the man. If ever there was a moment when the world needed to see the arrogance, pomposity, insularity and, let’s face it, slapstick comedy stylings of the Premier League and the FA, then this week was surely it and Dave Richards, the chairman of the Premier League and vice-chairman of the Football Association, was the perfect man to deliver it. As the entire world of football know this evening, at a sports security conference in Qatar earlier today Richards humiliated English football, the Premier League, the FA (presuming that we can still reasonably describe these two organisations as separate) and, of course, himself with a rant that fell somewhere between Alan Partridge and Alf Garnett.
“England gave the world football. It gave the best legacy anyone could give. We gave them the game. For 50 years, we owned the game … We were the governance of the game. We wrote the rules, designed the pitches and everything else. Then, 50 years later, some guy came along and said: ‘You’re liars,’ and they actually stole it. It was called FIFA. Fifty years later, another gang came along called UEFA and stole a bit more.”
Consider that statement. Consider its historical inaccuracy, its assumption that the game was only developing in England. Curse that Ferenc Puskas for dumping Billy Wright on his backside at Wembley in 1953! Damn them for not allowing us perpetuate our dismal imperialism over them in perpetuity! They “stole” our game! And now, Dave Richards isn’t just reclaiming it for England. As far as he’s concerned, it’s his ball and he’s taking it home with him. Mind you, Richards couldn’t even get his historical revisionism right. “It started in Sheffield 150 years ago”, he said, apparently of the opinion that no form of the game existed prior to the formation of Sheffield FC and Hallam FC and the codification of the Sheffield rules during the late 1850s.
Having done with his flaccid attempt at historical revisionism, Richards then moved onto the possibility of the 2022 World Cup finals being alcohol-free, commenting that, “In our country and in Germany, we have a culture. We call it ‘we would like to go for a pint and that pint is a pint of beer’. It is our culture as much as your culture is not drinking. There has to be a happy medium”, to which one can only respond by saying, “Well, actually, no. Whether we think the decision to hand a World Cup finals was a dumb one or not, the issue of alcohol is a religious one for Muslim countries and it should be their decision over whether to allow people to drink alcohol during the tournament, just as it is the decision of people that might be considering whether to attend or not if the ability or otherwise to drink alcohol will influence that decision one way or the other.”
A Premier League spokesman, presumably sweating profusely and tugging at his collar, has stated that, “Sir Dave is attending the conference in a private and personal capacity and his comments in no way reflect the views of the Premier League”, whilst the FA, who might have believed that their reputation couldn’t sink any lower after their petulant attempt at point-scoring in the wake of losing the bid for the 2018 World Cup finals to Russia and their pathetic kowtowing to the Premier League (hands up anyone surprised by the fact that Richards is a member of the board of both), also had to release a statement, which noted that, “Sir Dave Richards is not representing the FA at this conference and his personal views are in no way shared or endorsed by the FA”, before adding that, “The FA greatly values its relationships with FIFA and UEFA, which it is working hard to strengthen.” Well, good luck with that. The world, yet again, is laughing at the FA this evening, and it is a sentiment that we can only endorse.
Richards has, of course apologised for his comments. The rules of PR demand this. But he has done so with the sort of weasel words that could easily be interpreted as an attempt to push the blame for the offence that his comments have caused onto those that will naturally and rightly be offended by them. He stated that his “comments on the heritage of the game were intended to be lighthearted”, before adding that, “I sincerely regret making them and any resulting negativity that may have been interpreted towards FIFA and UEFA.” It’s not good enough, and we all know this. This, however, is the future of professional football in England. Richards is answerable or accountable to no-one but his immediate superiors within the Premier League and the FA. He is probably currently the most powerful single individual in English football, and when he speaks in the way that he has done today on an international stage, regardless of whether he was “attending the conference in a private and personal capacity” or “representing the FA at this conference”, he drags all of our names through his fetid mud with him.
We’ll have a little more on Dave Richards tomorrow, on the subject of his rise to the top of football administration. For now, though, it is worth considering that we should only spend so much time chuckling at his falling into a swimming pool and having to be fished out by the Bolton Wanderers chairman Phil Gartside. We should bear in mind that Richards and people like him now control the destiny of professional football in England, and that unless the Department of Media, Culture and Sport’s Select Committee steps in and forces change upon these people, they will remain there in perpetuity, hiring and voting in their own, and spreading their own wretched version of cultural imperialism upon all of us, forever. And we will be left with two choices – to grin and bear it or walk away. If the future of English football is to be the continuing presence of this buffoon, the latter starts to look like a very appealing option indeed.
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