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English clubs are the envy of Europe, so why listen to MPs?

Eton Blue at the Chelsea Megastore

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With three teams in the Champions League semi-finals for the third year in succession and the national team enjoying a 100 per cent record in their World Cup qualifying games (matched only by Spain and Holland in Europe), it could be argued that English football has been doing pretty well of late.

Not to worry. The All Party Parliamentary Football Group will soon put a stop to that. Having spent a year hearing exactly what they wanted to hear and speaking to people who said exactly what they wanted them to say, a random collective of 150 parliamentary busybodies will announce their findings in London today.

There is good news and bad news.

he bad news is that the headline recommendation will be for adoption of that charter for mediocrity that is Sepp Blatter's six-plus-five plan.

The good news is that the All Party Parliamentary Football Group are self-appointed and have no standing, other than with gullible journalists. They will make a big fuss but, unlike a select committee, nobody is required to take notice.

There are many of these cosy little clubs in Westminster, discussing everything from Zimbabwe to dementia and jazz appreciation. The most popular is the All Party Parliamentary Beer Group. Go figure.

So the All Party Parliamentary Football Group are, in essence, a private forum of people who like football and wish to talk about it; a glorified pub gathering. Being politicians, however, they do not stop there and presumptively harbour ambitions to run the game instead.

This needs highlighting as today there will be a report published and an accompanying press launch and, unless scrutinised, it is possible some will misguidedly take these people and their thoughts seriously.

Puffed-up and pompous, the group self-importantly posted transcripts of their hearings online, which is where a particularly illuminating example of their process can be found.

n July 10, 2008, the panel interviewed Professor Christine Oughton, an expert in government, accountability and football rights (the one drawback being she is not directly involved in football or government and is unaccountable).

She was welcomed to the room by Alan Keen MP, the chairman, who said: 'I know the panel agree with and are familiar with your views.'

Really? So what was the point in speaking to her then? If the panel knew her views and endorsed them, where was the inquiry? This was a redundant exercise, like many of the interviews, because the All Party Parliamentary Football Group hand-picked targets who presented no challenge to their world view.

Both sides preached to the converted, the same old voices saying the same old things. The only chairman from the top two divisions who appeared was Kevin McCabe, of Sheffield United, so he could have another gripe about the Premier League and Carlos Tevez.

Lord Mawhinney, the Football League chairman whose rulebook has more holes than your grandad's string vest, is clearly a hero.

The group spoke to representatives of FC United but not Manchester United and Howard Wilkinson but not Arsene Wenger. It spoke to Greg Dyke, chairman of Brentford, but not a single person with experience of running a Premier League club for more than one season.

Never once did anyone question what calibre of person was judging football on behalf of the All Party Parliamentary Football Group; who were these self-appointed guardians of the game, sitting there damning its greed and governance, and advocating change that would destroy English club football, sending it and the national team back to the dark ages?

The chairman is Alan Keen, whose MP wife, Ann, claims the highest expenses in parliament (minus travel costs which disproportionately affect those outside the capital).

Combined expenses for Alan and Ann in 2007-08 were £313,714 and before that it was revealed that the pair claimed £175,000 from the taxpayer for a second home that they shared and was only 30 minutes away from their first home.

The Keens did not put in a receipt during this time, instead submitting two sets of A4 expenses each month, claiming £1,643.50 apiece through 2002-03 and £1,699 through 2003-04.

No doubt today we will also hear something of transparency in football. Strange then, that Alan Keen should vote against it in parliament and also against an investigation into the Iraq War.

Beside Keen is Clive Betts, Labour MP for Sheffield Attercliffe, who in September 2003 displayed his very individual take on standards of governance when he was discovered attempting to alter an immigration official's letter so that his Brazilian rent-boy escort, Jose Gasparo, could re-enter Britain illegally.

Betts also provided Gasparo with a Commons pass, claiming he was his researcher, a publicly funded post, and was suspended from the House of Commons for seven days.

Gasparo actually worked out of a gay brothel in Earls Court called Villa Gianni and stated that Betts had met him there, picked him out of a line-up of boys using a two-way mirror and paid him £70 for full sex.

Johann Hari, writing in The Independent on Sunday, described Villa Gianni as a 'sleazy, dangerous environment', which is coincidentally close to how the All Party Parliamentary Football Group views English football.

For such a collection of inquiring minds, stances on Iraq are an intriguing litmus test. According to theyworkforyou.com website, which tracks politicians' voting patterns, Mark Hendrick, Helen Southworth and Christine Russell voted very strongly for the Iraq War and then - well, stone me - very strongly against an investigation into it, when the justification was found to be bogus; Ian Lucas and Andy Reed were none too keen on transparency over that issue, either.

Still, leaving aside any charge of raging hypocrisy, there is the important fact that events have rather overtaken the All Party Parliamentary Football Group in their desire to turn football back to the good old days when any team could win the league and any fan could be crushed to death watching them do it.

The most damaging wealth gap in English football is not between the Premier League and the Football League, but between the elite four of Champions League clubs and the rest: and that is money provided by UEFA and their president, the politicians' friend, Michel Platini.

Also, if quotas of mediocre English players inevitably lead to a stronger England team - as will be suggested today - what happened at the 1974 World Cup, the 1976 European Championship finals and the 1978 World Cup, when England failed to qualify despite possessing a league stuffed with Englishmen?

Might it be that 40 top quality English players in good teams are preferable to 120 ordinary ones in a lousy league that nobody will want to watch?

Could it be that, if the strength of English clubs is weakened, we will lose the upper echelon of talent to the established order of major clubs in Europe and all that will remain is the dross?

Could it be that those staying home will be utterly over-priced by clubs desperate to meet the quota and stay competitive so that the days of players such as Ashley Young, Gabriel Agbonlahor and Gareth Barry remaining at Aston Villa will be over?

Could it be that the All Party Parliamentary Football Group should quietly bin their 12-month investigation and focus on running the country?

As, unlike the Premier League and English football, that does seem to be a tad up the creek right now.


Edited by coco
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I loved every line of that article until I saw it was written by the Mail.

I now have a sick feeling in the pit of my stomach which I can't shift. Could it be that I have enjoyed reading something written by a bunch of humourless, xenophobic reactionary women? God no....

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I loved every line of that article until I saw it was written by the Mail.

I now have a sick feeling in the pit of my stomach which I can't shift. Could it be that I have enjoyed reading something written by a bunch of humourless, xenophobic reactionary women? God no....

if it's any consolation, it was written by martin samuel who was at the times until very recently.

I'm not a fan anyway.

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