Hours after the Triesman affair broke, a German colleague emailed me saying “bye bye England”.

It was an understandable response.

But I am not so sure the bid is quite as fatally damaged as many people think. Nor am I convinced that the Triesman affair has done as much damage to 2018 as Tony Banks’ maladroit intervention in the 2006 bid.

Banks and his handling of that bid meant that whatever little chance England had for hosting 2006, and it was never much given UEFA’s opposition, vanished.

The Triesman legacy is more complicated.

His fall to be sure had a touch of Shakespearean drama about it.

What made it more fascinating was that it was played out against a backdrop of real and significant football matches taking place at Wembley.

You begin to appreciate this if you wind the clock back to Wembley and the Cup Final, the biggest day in the FA’s calendar.

The first news of the drama to come emerged just as Chelsea and Portsmouth were due to kick off. As the second half began, Triesman did not appear. The result was FA officials were in a tizzy. The seat next to Prince William, occupied by tradition by the FA chairman was vacant. In a Cup Final which is nothing if it is not honouring tradition, this looked like a huge gaff.

Of course, at that time no-one knew the much more serious Triesman gaff that was causing this problem. Triesman did finally reappear and what is interesting here is that given all his political experience even as the blow fell he did not understand what he had done. He tried and failed to stop the Mail on Sunday and even after that felt he could survive.

It required much work that Saturday evening by Sir Keith Mills, who is on the advisory board, to get Triesman to accept that he had to resign from the 2018 board. Interesting to note how well Lord Coe who is on the main board and Mills divided their responsibility on this damage limitation exercise.

While Mills worked on Triesman, Coe tackled FIFA talking on Sunday to Jerome Valcke the general secretary and then yesterday to Sepp Blatter the FIFA President.

Nevertheless the next day, as Oxford and York City players gathered at Wembley for their conference play-off match and the FA board had its emergency meeting at lunch time, Triesman was still trying to persuade the board he could carry on as chairman. He assured the board there had been no sexual impropriety. But once Triesman had left the room the rest of his colleagues quickly decided he had to go. The FA led by Coe and Mills could draw comfort that they had resolved the issue in one news cycle.

However, from this it does not follow that Triesman has not left a legacy on which England can build. Yes, he was found out. Coming in as politician who felt he could run football he was shown to be out of depth in this world so very different to Westminster and Whitehall. But that applies more to football in this country. Abroad Triesman built alliances and that too at the highest level.

Two weeks ago I interviewed Sepp Blatter. He was full of praise for the England bid and when I asked him what advice he would give Lord Triesman this is what he said: “I think he is clever enough and the English are gentlemen when he is present. I think he gives a good personal image of the English bid.”

Blatter may have been over egging the pudding but Blatter would not have had the same view of the FA back in 2002. Then Adam Crozier, the FA chief executive, publicly called for Blatter’s removal following allegations of financial irregularities and worked to defeat Blatter at that year’s FIFA Presidential elections.

Triesman also worked hard to establish very good relations with Michel Platini

All this could not be more in contrast with the way Banks behaved.

Let us go back to UEFA Congress in Luxemboroug in the summer of 2000, just weeks before the FIFA meeting in Zurich to decide the 2006 bid. UEFA’s Lennart Johansson was convinced England had entered a gentlemen’s agreement not to oppose Germany. England denied it and nobody more vociferously than Banks (pictured with Sir Bobby Charlton).

Banks was sure he understood the football politicians. He had been boasting how he knew these football politicians so well he felt he was joined “at the hip” to them.

It all came undone when he addressed the UEFA Congress. He did so in his best House of Commons hectoring style. He said Germany did not command the worldwide support. Only England could defeat South Africa, Europe must ditch Germany.

The football political world may be just as bitchy as any Westminster conclave, but it essentially the politics of a golf club and publicly football politicians hide their intentions behind such flowery phrases as “football family” and “for the good of the game”. Banks had broken the codes of football behaviour and his speech went down badly.

Soon after the speech I saw Geoff Thompson. He was standing for UEFA elections which were due to take place the next day. No Englishman had got elected to the UEFA executive for some years. Thompson was convinced Banks had torpedoed his chances and walked away sadly to rescue his election. I do not know what he did to work the room but the next day he was elected. But Thompson and UEFA neither forgot nor forgave what Banks had done.

And when I criticised him, Banks turned on me, much to the amusement of Franz Beckenbauer, the leader of the German bid.

Or take another Triesman fan, Paul Elliott, who is on the 2018 board. Triesman recruited feeling that a country that boasts of its diversity should have a black member on the bid board. When I spoke to Elliott days before the storm broke he could not praise Triesman highly enough.

“Lord Triesman understands diversity, he understands inclusivity. I see him very similar to the way I saw David Pleat (Elliot’s Lurton manager in the 80s) at that time. And they have a genuine empathy and understanding of the most sensitive issues and I think that’s consistent in his vision about inclusivity and about diversity. If we come on to the bid now, that inclusion and diversity is a very, potent part of our bid. Because in this country, we have got over 50 different nations with a population of 10,000 or more people. So what we can do in this World Cup bid, we can provide every player, supporter, coach, a home from home welcome and that message is wonderfully, beautifully exemplified by what Lord Triesman stands for.”

It is hard to see all blown away because Triesman has imploded.

But his departure means the bid can put right some of his grave mistakes which concerned domestic football politics.

He needlessly went out of his way to antagonise Geoff Thompson (pictured). Geoffrey, as people abroad call him, is not everyone’s cup of tea. Mocked at home, he is liked and respected abroad. He may have the look of a 1960s trade union leader, but he is an insider in world football, the only English insider. Keeping him out of the bid, then upsetting him in the way he was turned out of his FA chairmanship and then bringing him back but grudgingly was not clever man management. It was as if London 2012 bid had frozen out Craig Reedie, a British IOC member.

Remember, he and Coe were never the best of friends, but in the bid they found a way of working together as you have to.

Also Triesman failed to appreciate that the Premier League is the biggest beast in English football and you do not cross paths with them without good reason. Triesman did and made enemies of Richard Scudamore the chief executive.

For the bid to go ahead, 2018 has to borrow from the London 2012 book.

The success of that bid was due to three men. Seb Coe, that favourite son of Juan Antonio Samaranch, sparkled star dust on the bid. Keith Mills, starting off as a novice in Olympic politics, quickly worked it out. Then in Singapore, Tony Blair worked his magic, meeting 40 IOC members and neatly outflanking Chirac and the French.

Thompson will be our inside man. But who will be the other two? David Dein knows the corridors of football and in Zurich in December David Cameron wearing his Aston Villa shirt may do a Blair.

If 2018 can work out a trio to match that of 2012, then all is still not lost.

And hard as it is to see it now, Triesman in defeat and disgrace may even be able to claim he played a part in the eventual victory.


Share |
Categories: Football | No Comments »



Latest Tweets

Follow me on twitter

Home | About | Books | History | BroadcastingJournalismPublic Speaking | Contact | Website development by Pedalo