So Lord David Triesman and Richard Scudamore are at loggerheads again. Among Triesman’s mannered, patiently-explained expose of FIFA Executive Committee members…er… ‘activities’ (an unexpectedly fascinating piece of live television, thank you BBC) was, supposedly, another dig at the Premier League chief executive, which was, supposedly, “simply wrong in this instance.” But careful reading of what both said about the Premier League’s support for England’s 2018 World Cup bid reveals that, actually, they aren’t at loggerheads at all, whatever loggerheads may be.  

First, the good Lord (as in “Good Lord, not b****y Triesman again!”). He was speaking to what some people in the game reportedly regard as an increasingly pesky parliamentary select committee inquiry on ‘football governance.’ (if so, more power to said committee – literally, if possible). During their ‘special’  session on England’s failed 2018 World Cup bid, Lord Triesman addressed the issue of support for the bid from the Premier and Football Leagues, whose facilities would host matches and training sessions and provide team bases throughout the tournament. He said: “It took a long time to get the Premier League on board. The point was made to me very early on that I could have them on board very quickly if I’d concede that the 39th game was a great idea, they’d be on board immediately.” 

“That was seriously a negotiating point, was it?” asked a faintly amused Damian Collins, a Conservative MP who has proved one of the committee’s more inquiring minds. Lord Triesman added: “That was put to me directly by Richard Scudamore. My view of the 39th game is my view of the 39th game, I‘m afraid. If I was asked the same question today, I’d produce the same answer today.” Scudamore’s response was: “I’m afraid David’s recollection of the facts and the chronology was simply wrong in this instance. I was, along with my organisation and our member clubs always in full support of England’s bid for the 2018 World Cup. It was discussed at numerous club meetings and that support was never made conditional on the International Round concept, or anything else for that matter. “In fact, the league and its clubs had moved on from the idea of an international round some time before the FA started structuring the 2018 Bid Company and associated positions.” 

Now, to use a favoured Scoo-ism, “let’s break this down” (which, alongside, “it’s interesting you say that” is a sure sign that Scudamore is about to apply his widely-acknowledged skills as an “operator” to whatever he’s about to say next). Scudamore states that he, the league and the clubs were always in full support of England’s bid. And, yes, there’s no evidence that Scudamore, any member club or the “organisation” (whatever that is, after the member clubs are accounted for) were at any stage against the bid. But the ‘support’ to which Scudamore refers is rather different from what Lord Triesman called being “on board.” The first wave of tangible support offered by the Premier League (including putting the bid ‘on’ Premier League ground advertising ‘boards’) came in November 2009.  

This was two years after the FA announced its intention to bid for the tournament, and six months after the bid’s first official presentation. Given that the bid process, from the first FA announcement to Blatter saying “and the winner is… Russia”, took three years, this was “a long time.” Scudamore states that Premier League support for the bid was not dependent on FA support for the “39th game.” Triesman didn’t say it was. And, of course, it wasn’t. The Premier League supported the bid. The FA didn’t support the “39th game.” 

Scudamore’s “chronology” refers to the “structuring” of the “2018 Bid Company.” The “39th game” started turning to coal under layers of opposition throughout football not long after the idea reached the public domain in February 2008. The Bid Company, England 2018/2022 Bidding Nation Ltd, didn’t get down to the nitty-gritty until late 2009. But Triesman’s only reference to chronology was the phrase “early on,” which, given that his time as FA Chairman began in early 2008, not long after the bid began, rather ties in with the genesis of the “39th game.” In his evidence, Triesman made not the slightest allusion to any Bid Company, or its structuring, or its associated positions.  

So, what the hell was Scudamore on about? Well, it’s an old story, I’m afraid. Triesman failed to toe the “Premier League is wonderful” line, so SOMEthing had to be punted to discredit his words. Especially as while the media were heading for their various one o’clock platforms, Triesman dared to claim that not everyone loved the Premier League unconditionally. He said: “I had a conversation with President Lula (of Brazil)…in which, alongside telling me how much he admired football here… he said it would be desirable if we stopped hovering up all (their) youngsters, so that the most talented ones were never seen playing in Brazil. “And that was a view I heard around (the world)…people did respond to us by (admiring the Premier League) for being successful but at some considerable cost to them.” 

Triesman could not get away unscathed with that near-treason. He had to be labelled an unreliable witness. And Scudamore’s tried and trusted method was wheeled out again, deny accusations that were never made and ‘deal’ with spurious issues that were never raised.  Politics students may recognise this tactic as originating from the 1970s ‘Watergate’ crisis, when the Nixon administration’s evasive responses to (ultimately justified) newspaper scrutiny were labelled “non-denial denials” – a phrase attributed to Washington Post editor Ben Bradlee. 

Don’t get me wrong, Scudamore is no Nixon. And, yesterday he probably needn’t have bothered, anyway. The main story was FIFA ExCo members’ self-interests, not the Premier League’s. But Scudamore will surely want to “break things down” again; probably (hopefully?) when the select committee report tells the Premier League to, literally, mind its own business, and let the FA run the game. Expect a “non-denial denial” overload, should that day ever come.

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