Saturday, 6 February 2016


The appointment of Pep Guardiola was presented in the press as being not only a coup for Manchester City, but also for English football as a whole. Yes, doesn't your heart just swell with pride to live in a land where an institution owned by foreign oil barons can afford to pay the lifetime earnings of a small town to secure the services of a man who has been only marginally less successful than Jupp Heynckes? I know mine does.

Lovers of schoolboy sarcasm fear not, for there is more to come....

During the course of my researches this week I chanced upon the information that the two models of Selecta vending machines found on British railway station are named the Santa Fe and the St Tropez. And let’s face it, nothing quite says ‘sensual Mediterranean lifestyle’ like scoffing a boost bar at Heworth Interchange on a January afternoon.

I was eating a boost bar at Heworth Interchange on my way to watch Sunderland RCA play Bristol Manor Farm in the FA Vase. The day was bitterly cold, with a wind that defied meteorological laws by blowing in all directions at once.  When I got back to Park Lane metro after the final whistle I felt like someone had ironed my face.

RCA performed gallantly, but were eventually defeated 3-2 by a very good Manor Farm side featuring the game’s outstanding player, strapping centre-forward, Dean Stamp whose deftness and control would likely have caused Barry Davies to descend to his throatiest sob: ‘And you have to say, he has a very delicate touch for such a big man’.

Bristol Manor Farm are currently top of the Western League. After the game NL chairman Mike Amos wrote this in a blog post on the Northern League website:

‘Like us, the [Western League] and its clubs have been summoned to a meeting with the FA in February – the common ground that we’re geographically peripheral. As with us, the FA didn’t even have the courtesy to say what it was about.

Like us they view that as extraordinary arrogance. Like us they regard what’s likely to happen as a fait accompli diaphanously dressed up as consultation.’

Ah, the FA. As Brian Glanville might say, to think of them is to be reminded of the words of the Italian poet Giosue Carducci : ‘The farce of the infinitely small, the busy little farce of ponderous clowns.’

The fear must be that the Football Association is going to make promotion up the league pyramid compulsory. Aside from appeasing an assortment of whingers from across the Pennines who think that NL clubs’ recent domination of the Vase is somehow ‘unfair’, it is hard to see what benefits this change will bring.

Discussing it with an official of an NL club before Christmas I was told, ‘In the Northern Premier League, with a midweek games away at Colwyn Bay and the like, the problem isn’t the travel costs – you could scrabble around and find the extra £10,000 or so for that. No, the trouble is the players. They’d need to take days off work to get to these places and a lot of them can’t. You’d likely lose half your team the minute you won the title.’

Clubs that don’t want that sort of turmoil, will, of course, be able to avoid it simply by not finishing top - a situation which might see the NL season ending with the equivalent of the slow bicycle race. Perhaps, if that should happen the FA will take a leaf out of boxing’s book and withhold the purses of teams that aren't sufficiently aggressive.

As to why the FA act in so high-handed a manner, I can only assume it is psychological. It is an undeniable truth that shit rolls downhill. The owner of a swanky restaurant, who fawns over his wealthy and demanding clientele all day, returns home and eases his frustration by kicking the dog.

The FA are in charge of ensuring that football at all levels in England is well run. Yet the notion that they would exercise even a modicum of control over the venal Premier League is now so laughable it would get a chortle out of a stone trough. Better to hope that, like Monty Python’s Mr Creosote, greed will one day so overcome the Premiership’s egregious and self-aggrandizing leaders they explode, spraying their simpering acolytes with blood and offal.

No, the FA can only bow and scrape before the rich, yet once released from their company it is quite a different creature, big and masterful. When I wrote The Far Corner the best example of this was ticket pricing. The blazers of Lancaster Gate insisted on minimum prices of admission for early round FA Cup ties, even when this was higher than price for league matches. Yet while they could force clubs to charge more for admission, they were - apparently -powerless to make them charge less. Like figures from satire, they are people of great courage so long as there is nothing whatsoever to fear.

More recently, the FA compelled the Northern League to suspend its ‘secret shopper’ initiative apparently on the grounds that the prospect of the small cash award for receiving the highest marks over the course of the season left it open to corruption. This from an organization whose bigwigs abased themselves before the notorious Jack Warner to secure his vote for their doomed World Cup bid.

I’d laugh, if I wasn’t so nauseated.

To return to the issue of promotion. The league pyramid was originally established for one grand purpose – to make the England national team, which stands at its apex, stronger.

Yes, really.

Compulsory promotion must therefore be another step towards this great aim. So, in the summer as you watch Roy Hodgson’s team lose to the first half-decent side they meet, remember this: as far as the FA is concerned our nation’s defeat is directly related to Marske United refusing to step up a division this season.





  1. Well said Harry. If you set them a project where they had to wreck the game they'd probably balls it up and all would be well. Perhaps not.

    All the best,


  2. My club (Runcorn Linnets) contribute more than its fair share to the "assortment of whingers" of which you write. Indeed after our recent midweek trip to the GER Stadium, it is a brave man who speaks of Marske United round these parts in anything other than hushed tones.

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