The troubles of the Rugby Football Union must be viewed with schadenfreude at the Wembley offices of England’s Football Association. Long viewed as the “worst-governed sport in the country” – as Hugh Robertson, sports minister, put it – football is in danger of losing its crown to rugby.
Notebook has devised a crude test. Type the phrases “Football Association” and “dysfunctional” into the Factiva database and you get 283 mentions in UK newspapers and magazines. Staying with football for a moment, if you substitute “Fifa” it produces 204 mentions, though the world body must be catching up fast with each scandal and out-of-touch rambling by Sepp Blatter, its president.
Type in “RFU” and you get just 140 – but with every resignation, dwarf-throwing allegation, leak and personality clash that has emerged since England’s dismal performance at the Rugby World Cup in New Zealand, rugby is augmenting its reputation for incompetence.
English football will not give up its crown without a fight. The FA board structure, with five representatives each from the professional and amateur game, is a recipe for deadlock, stifling initiatives by the executive. In spite of the ever-increasing sums of money the top clubs have, fans complain of ticket price inflation, debts, insolvencies and underperformance by the national side.
Mr Robertson is threatening legislation to enforce change unless the Premier League, Football League and Football Association agree on reforms for the start of the 2012-13 season aimed at restoring the FA’s authority.
At the RFU, the management is accused of running a 21st century professional sport with the amateurism of a bygone age. It must now appoint a new chief executive with the professional and commercial skills to restore its reputation and serve the interests of players and supporters.
Many sporting bodies suffer from similar tensions. English cricket used to be run by blazered buffoons of the same genre who presided over chronic underperformance and a drinking culture among players. In recent times that has changed. The national team is ranked number one in test cricket and the professional game is better organised to serve its interests.
Perhaps that is the answer – a takeover of the RFU and the FA by the England and Wales Cricket Board.
Once a week only
Notebook is saddened by news that the 156-year-old Liverpool Daily Post, owned by Trinity Mirror, is to go weekly in January. Its sister paper Birmingham Post took the same step two years ago. The recession failed to kill off as many newspaper titles as feared, but a growing number of regional dailies are going weekly. Northcliffe has made the switch this year at four titles: the Lincolnshire Echo, Exeter Express and Echo, Scunthorpe Telegraph and Herald Express in Torquay.
The Liverpool Daily Post’s sales have been slipping for years. It sold fewer than 8,000 copies in June and only about 6,500 of those were at the full cover price. Going weekly is at least a better option than killing titles off. Liverpool also still has its evening Echo. Still, it is another indication of digital media biting into the print media’s audience.
Trinity Mirror has denied claims by the National Union of Journalists that the Western Mail, Wales’s main serious daily, is also in danger of going weekly. As the primary vehicle for covering public affairs, apart from the BBC, that would be a blow.
Alphorn players and bell ringers played in unison on Monday as a rebuilt version of the famous Swiss glockenspiel clock was unveiled in London’s Leicester Square.
The original 32ft-high glockenspiel was presented to the City of Westminster in 1985 by Switzerland and Liechtenstein as a token of friendship. It was removed in 2008 when the Swiss Centre, a modernist 14-storey showcase for Switzerland, was demolished. Its return was a condition of planning approval to redevelop the site.
The clock has been rebuilt by Smith of Derby, the family owned clockmaker, in collaboration with Swiss artists – a nice tribute to British engineering prowess. The bells have been retuned, wood figures restored and new music written. Wireless technology allows it to be controlled from Derby.