Sports Think Tank - From Club to Country: A Twenty-Year Journey in Football

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From Club to Country: A Twenty-Year Journey in Football


Charlie Macey 26 June 2014

The Lord Marshall Memorial lecture, the final lecture of Birkbeck College's Business Week saw the former Chairman of the Football Association provide a unique insight into his long career in football. David Bernstein was at the centre of Francis Lee's takeover of Manchester City FC in 1994, staying through the highs and lows of relegations and a new stadium before becoming the head of football's oldest national governing body – albeit a national governing body in charge of over 800,000 volunteers. In a sport that is so emotionally charged and embedded within British culture, Bernstein stated that he had learnt the following lessons about sports governance: football clubs heavily rely on investors in the twenty-first century; fans provide the best form of oversight; and that money is king.

Mr Bernstein referred heavily to the All-Party Parliamentary Group's inquiry into football governance, highlighting, in particular the following conclusions:

  • The FA is an NGB full of weakness and in need of future reform
  • The exclusivity of the FA Council needs to be reviewed
  • The governing structure needs to be made far more representative
  • The FA is responsible for the game, not the Premier League
  • The FA should recommend board structures at all levels of the national game

With this in mind, he felt the 'failure' of the national team could be attributed to the connection between performance and governance. In his view, this wasn't the fault of the professional game per se, although a significant barrier to making the necessary governance changes was that the Premier League had an income of over £3 billion, whilst the FA had relatively modest and inferior revenue of £300 million. This in itself, reflected why the 'twentieth century governance structure needed revising.'

So what can be done to transform the FA into a modern, independent structure? Mr Bernstein remained pessimistic of any internal reform happening in the near future, especially as the Premier League continued to 'take advantage of the structural weaknesses' within the games governance. He renewed calls for outside intervention but acknowledged Parliament declining interest in an extremely complex situation. In the wake of national disappointment in Brazil, he hoped policy makers would reassess their interest in the coming weeks.