When I started at The FA only five months ago, I said how delighted I was to become Chairman and that I was relishing the challenge. I also said that it was an honour to join The FA at such a pivotal point in the organisation’s recent history. In my first few months in charge there have already been a few pivotal moments for The FA.
This week we have another challenge – a perennial one it seems for football – as The FA’s governance will be debated in Parliament on Thursday.
Our governance needs changing. We do need to be more diverse, more open about decision-making and we do need to better represent those playing the game. But we are not sitting idly by. The FA has a set of proposals to improve our governance which we will ratify and then take to the Minister of Sport in order to get her approval. Change won’t be easy, but I am confident it will happen – and it will be substantial.
Delivering real change is my responsibility and I firmly believe this is critical for the future of the game. If the Government is not supportive of the changes when they are presented in the coming months, I will take personal responsibility for that. I will have failed. I will be accountable for that failure and would in due course step down from my role.
However, I don’t believe that The FA is failing football. That’s completely different. In fact I strongly dispute the motion put in front of Parliament that The FA is not meeting its duties as a governing body.
I do hope that those attending on Thursday make themselves aware of The FA’s duties and the great work we are actually doing. Our duties require us to promote, develop and invest in the game; and whilst I freely admit that our governance needs improvement, it doesn’t prevent us from supporting the game from top to bottom. In fact The FA is in good shape. It is investing record amounts into the grassroots game and changing the face of football in England.
Many people hear talk of an old-fashioned FA, but they don’t actually realise how it works or what it does. That’s a real shame. The FA is a not-for-profit organisation that invested over £65m into grassroots football last year alone – that’s more than any governing body in the world invests into a national sport.
Football at the grassroots is alive and kicking. Traditional eleven-a-side formats of the game may not be fitting into modern lifestyles so well, but we are adapting. 12 million people play football every year and flexible formats such as mini-soccer and walking football are growing at record pace.
Women’s football is also on the up. It is the third-most-popular team sport behind men’s cricket – for now, that is, as we have a plan in place to double our number of female players by 2020.
We also fund a massive facilities programme with £22m every year going into desperately-needed new playing facilities. We know other countries have better facilities than us, but we also know that this duty rarely falls to the football authorities in those countries.
Of course one of our primary duties is to deliver winning England teams. Like every English football fan I am desperate to achieve success with England – not just with the men’s senior team but with every one of our 24 men’s, women’s, youth and disability teams. We know England can and must do better, and at St. George’s Park we have a well-resourced and determined team striving to achieve our ambitions.
I hope Thursday’s debate genuinely reflects all the work of The FA and the positive impact football has in communities up and down England. I am also confident that when the time comes to present our changes to the Minister, she will agree that we are making positive and pro-active change.
I’m still very much relishing the challenge here at The FA. Whether it’s The Emirates FA Cup or The FA People’s Cup, we’re getting things done. Having started my football journey as a programme seller at Leicester City, it’s a pleasure to be leading The FA and really making a difference across football.