Like, I suspect, many other people, last night’s European Championship debacle saw me go through the four stages of optimism, frustration, grudging respect (for the sheer grit of holding on despite the gulf in skill) and despair.
Chatting in the lift up to my office this morning a colleague teased: ‘I’m sure you’ve got a cultural theory explanation for the state of English football’. As it happens I have.
As regular readers will know cultural theory argues for solutions which tap into the three main sources of human motivations: roughly speaking; hierarchical authority, communal solidarity and individual ambition. When only one of these forces is in play, any organisational dynamic or change strategy is prone to spectacular collapse. For example, genuine communes – which rely only on solidarity and shared values – tend quickly either to fall apart in acrimony (often over the unreliability of the cooking and washing up rotas) or start exhibiting hierarchical tendencies. The credit crunch was, in part, the result of a culture in banks which was entirely individualistic, lacking even minimal hierarchical supervision or wider sense of social responsibility.
Organisational cultures which exhibit only two out of three motivators are likely to be modest performers at best. The ethos of public service, in which there is lots of hierarchy and quite a lot of solidarity and social responsibility but limited scope for individuality, is one example.
If the problem requiring a solution is the terrible quality of football played by Englishmen, it is clear we are starting from a very unbalanced set of change drivers. Essentially, since the advent of satellite TV and the rush of money into the game, professional football has become dominated by the spirit of individual advancement with a deteriorating commitment to the interests of either clubs (and their fans) or country. Meanwhile the hierarchical force in football – the FA – has been incredibly slow to reform or drive improvement while still maintaining the capacity to mess things up, look foolish and, generally speaking, give football authorities a bad name.
Change requires a burst of solidaristic feeling in football and any hope that this will come about spontaneously in the hearts of the money men and millionaire footballers is hopelessly naïve. Based on one of the most successful consumer campaigns of recent times, we need a CAMRA for football; let’s call it COUNT the Campaign for an Outstanding National Team. This body would challenge commercial indifference and put lead in the pencil of the FA by pressing hard for changes at youth, club and national level.
Some early demands might include:
Removing FA endorsement from eleven-a-side, full-size-pitch games played by anyone under the age of 16
Developing new skills-based competitions and rankings for youth football from 5 to 15
Publicising a set of no-no phrases which any self-respecting youth team coach should avoid shouting including ‘get it up there’, ‘send it long’ and ‘just get rid of it’.
A strongly reinforced advisory limit on the number of overseas players in any Premiership team
High profile national awards for most skilful players (determined by number and proportion of completed passes) and most skilful manager. Plus embarassing annual ‘hoof it’ awards for clubs/managers with the worst records.
Given the poor quality of most commentary on football in the broadcast media and the desperation of England fans, a small clever think tank/campaign group could have a big impact by sticking to the strong simple message that everyone should get behind the principle of an England national brand and team that try to win on quality.
All I need now is a donation of a few hundred thousand from a player or the PFA and the fight back can begin.