The title of ‘most repugnant man in world football’ isn’t hotly contested. Anyone remotely aware of FIFA Vice-President Jack Warner knows that he’d have got to keep any trophy years ago, and that he’d keep it anyway, even if he was supposed to give it back. To sum up his football administration career, he’s a ticket tout and swindler – an arrogant, ignorant, thuggish, loutish, borderline racist, dictatorial, political failure. His elevated position isn’t due to any good football administration – colleagues in football in his native Trinidad and Tobago (T&T) were rid of him years ago, after a massive to-do over World Cup tickets (soon to be his forte).
He just happens to support FIFA president Joseph S. Blatter, support which has been exceptionally effective in keeping Blatter in the manner to which he is accustomed. Because of that support he is a FIFA vice-president, with one of 24 votes on who gets to stage the 2018 FIFA World Cup, and because it might need this vote English football must be nice to Jack Warner. Unfortunately, this is a task that would have been beyond a combination of Mother Teresa and Mahatma Gandhi on a good day. Warner’s love of power and money means that no lie or scam is beneath him, as T&T’s 2006 World Cup team, the ‘Soca Warriors’, who more than did themselves justice at the tournament, despite losing to Sven Goran-Eriksson’s England, are finding out.
That’s an article in itself. He owes them a shed load of money, and he’s not coughing up, but it’s handbags I want to concentrate on here. Warner has been in the English press over the last two months because of his shifting attitudes towards bags. He’s a man who could say “Good morning” to you each day of the week and it would mean seven different things, and he told last month’s ‘Leaders in Football’ Conference how disappointed he was not to receive some sort of ‘goody-bag’ from England’s World Cup bid team (E2018), having been showered with one by the Australian campaign on entry into the conference hall. So, naturally, after Geoff Thompson, the former FA Chairman, presented Warner’s wife with a Mulberry handbag at a dinner event during the conference Warner handed it back a month later, claiming that media publicity surrounding the gift caused him “untold embarrassment” – not an emotion for which he’s previously been noted – and “tainted” his wife’s character.
Until this affair, criticism of Warner, at least to the extent that he deserves, had been left to such as investigative journalist Andrew Jennings and, memorably, Roy Keane, who last year called him a “clown” and declared that, “if he’s vice-president of FIFA, God help everybody”. Refreshingly, though, everyone joined in after Warner’s rambling contribution to the conference, hundreds of words of utter garbage which included, but was not limited to, criticisms of E2018’s lack of goody-bags, David Beckham and the Queen – not necessarily in that order. The absurdity of one of the voters in the election for the World Cup hosts giving specific advice to one of the candidates on its campaign strategy was somewhat overlooked. But his combination of arrogance, ignorance and hypocrisy got thorough exposure.
Possibly the best, and certainly the most vitriolic, piece came from the Daily Express and its chief sports writer John Dillon. Dillon happily detailed Warner’s past as an industrial-scale ticket tout and his present as withholder of up to £17m from the ‘Soca Warriors’. “Corrupt” and “racist” were two of Dillon’s opening dozen words. And Warner was “arrogant”, “poisonous”, “swindling” before the article’s end. The piece was titled, “Poisonous Shark Shaming Football”, so it would have been no surprise if threats of legal action followed from these self same poisonous sharks.
Instead, however, Warner wrote to the Express’s editor Peter Hill and sports editor Bill Bradshaw, complaining about the “remarkable piece smearing and debasing me”. He accused the paper of calling him “the dirtiest of names” and insulting “my family”. Dillon had referred to Warner’s son Darayan, reporting that he was allegedly “fined $1m by FIFA over the (World Cup ticket) scam which involved the family travel company”. That, however, was it. Less insult than accurate summary of allegations. Warner wrote that there “was cause for legal action” but failed to specify what that cause was. Anyway, he wrote, “there will be better fora than those of the courts to deal with your nasty broadside”.
Warner didn’t mean a rendez-vous down a dark alley, as we’ll discover. But the tone was noted by Bradshaw in his response: “Even the veiled threats are so thinly disguised as to be crystal clear to anyone with half an eye for menace”, and Bradshaw was this intimidated: “We stand by every word in John Dillon’s column”. More recently, Warner wrote to FA Chairman Lord Triesmann to say that he was returning the gift to his wife, a £230 Mulberry handbag, after the errant publicity the FA received for distributing such gifts to wives of the 24 FIFA Executive Committee members voting on the 2018 World Cup hosts. The letter may be seen as something of a work of fiction but, occasionally, a work of art, describing his time at the bureaucrat-heavy ‘Leaders in Football’ conference as “a privilege and an honour to be among friends with whom I have shared many moments experiencing the beautiful game.”
How privileged and honoured they felt was probably an entirely different matter. Although Warner also noted “that the president of the Mexican Football Federation had travelled from Mexico, in his words, “just to hear his president”” – i.e. Warner himself. “I was so impressed”, he gushed, “that I felt the need to enrich the football experience of football officials in my own region…and my dear wife Maureen…to witness the quality of discourse I anticipated”. What dear Maureen thought of Mick McCarthy and Howard Wilkinson discussing “the changing role of football Management” isn’t recorded.
As for who paid for this mass-enrichment, Warner “reluctantly conceded” to let the FA do it. However, “I paid for our air travel.” And fair play to him for that. He often has, using the services of a travel company called Simpaul, which was a family-run business, a Warner family-run business. This modesty in the face of such generosity continued: “Despite being offered a number of social courtesies,” Warner added, “(we) only acquiesced to a birthday dinner for my wife”. It was at this dinner that Maureen received the handbag.
This was no big deal, even when the BBC “learned” that all Mrs ExComs were getting one (it was Warner’s apparent assumption that the bag was a birthday gift just for his wife). They cost a not-so-grand total of £5,520 and were well within both the FIFA guidelines on such gifts, and the bounds of general etiquette. Yet the acceptance of “what we felt was a kind gesture” led to the afore-mentioned “untold embarrassment” for Warner and dear Maureen’s “tainted” character. Apparently. The Warners were only part of the BBC’s story because dear Maureen was the first recipient and because repugnant Jack made such a fuss about “bags” only a fortnight previously.
By this time, however, Jack had other media scores to settle. And in his letter to Lord Triesman, he devoted his most pompous arrogant rhetoric to the FA for their “deafening silence” as the English media set about him. “Nobody has sought to correct this betrayal,” he noted, correctly. So, and you NEED to be sitting down to read this bit, there was a failure to…”remove any doubt or question…among my few peers where honour is valued and character is cherished.” If there’s a sentence containing a consecutive list of more inappropriate words than that, I’d love to see it. “This malaise of my wife and I have been allowed to fester”, he continued. The bag was now “a symbol of derision, betrayal and embarrassment for me and my family”. Still, “The experience has taught me something about the English media houses which chose to publish this insult”, he declared.
Quite what, though, isn’t clear: “It speaks about their credibility, their commitment to truth”, and that, “the world at this juncture needs institutions of truth that would help build a better place for posterity. If one refuses to be part of the solution, then one will continually be a part of the problem; the choice is surely not mine.” Eh? The sad thing is that this self-important bag of wind IS important in the football world. And it IS surely too much to ask the nations competing to host the 2018 World Cup to tell Jack that he can stick his vote where the sun doesn’t shine. But three cheers for the English media and their recent willingness to call a petty, small-time criminal thug a petty small-time criminal thug. The man is, remember, a ticket tout, swindler, arrogant, ignorant, thuggish, loutish, borderline racist, dictatorial, political failure. And no opportunity to say so should ever be turned down.