Sir Dave Richards is the current Chairman of the Premier League. He is also the vice-Chairman of the FA, which seems to everyone but himself to be more than a bit of a conflict of interests, as he has to simultaneously take decisions that affect all of English football, while running a league that is totally self-serving.
Putting a microphone in front of Dave Richards and asking him to make a comment about world football is a bit like putting Prince Philip in a room with anyone who isn’t white and British. You know something bad is about to happen, but it usually ends up worse than you thought.
Dave Richards was speaking at a conference on sports security in Qatar last week when he said "England gave the world football. It gave the best legacy anyone could give. We gave them the game, for 50 years we owned the game … We were the governance of the game. We wrote the rules, designed the pitches and everything else.
"Then, 50 years later, some guy came along and said: 'You're liars,' and they actually stole it. It was called FIFA. Fifty years later another gang came along called UEFA and stole a bit more."
When someone reminded him that China has a claim to inventing the game, Richards said: "It started in Sheffield 150 years ago. We started the game and wrote the rules and took it to the world. The Chinese may say they own it but the British own it and we gave it to the rest of the world."
Richards then went one step further; he also told his Qatari hosts they had their "heads in the sand" over alcohol at the 2022 World Cup.
"In our country and in Germany we have a culture. We call it 'we would like to go for a pint and that pint is a pint of beer'. It is our culture as much as your culture is not drinking. There has to be a happy medium. If you don't do something about it, you are starting to bury your head in the sand a little bit because it needs addressing. You might be better off saying 'don't come'.
"But a World Cup without England, Germany, the Dutch, Danes and Scandinavians – it's unthinkable."
Richards later apologised for his comments, saying that they were meant to be light-hearted.
Aside from making England and half of Northern Europe sound like nations of alcoholics, Dave Richards believes that FIFA ‘stole’ football from the English. Richards, like Sepp Blatter, evidently believes that football is something that can be owned by a person or organisation, which seems a stupid notion to me. But, even if football can be owned by someone, what right do England have to it?
England may have given the world football (or it could have been China), and it definitely organised it by codifying the rules and standardising the pitch and ball. The problem has always been that this has allowed English football to affect an air of superiority that has long since been proven to be nonsense. England didn’t even bother with the World Cup for the first 20 years of its existence, which sort of isolationist nonsense sums up English football’s general attitude to the global game. The attitude has always been that English football has nothing to learn from ‘Johnny Foreigner’, and, to be fair, it mostly hasn't.
Whereas the world has given us the magnificent Brazil teams of the 60’s and 70’s, total football and the Barcelona team of the present day as well as many more marvellous teams, players and tactics, England’s contribution to the world game has been the long-ball, the long-throw and the belief that having an overrated group of players technically inferior to their rivals playing antiquated tactics guarantees success. England managed to ignore the work done by Jimmy Hogan, who is recognised as the architect of the great Hungary team of the 50’s and Fred Pentland, who perfected a short-passing game at Athletic Bilbao and Atletico Madrid regarding their ideas with suspicion.
If Richards is looking as to who ‘stole’ football, he needs to look no further than his own organisation. The Premier League is the ‘greed is good’ league, which has taken football away from the fans who sustained it for years when the corporate partners the Premier League now panders to didn’t care. Ticket prices have soared so high that many fans just can’t afford to go anymore and the TV deal the Premier League signed may have brought the league and the clubs in it a cash windfall, but it has made football too expensive for many to watch, even at home. Under Richards’ stewardship, the teams with money to burn have ruled the Premier League. This has led many clubs to try and keep up with the leading pack by spending beyond their means and gambling the clubs future on future successes that cannot be guaranteed. There has also been the several cases of clubs looking to bridge the financial gap by selling to foreign owners, who were subsequently proven to be totally unsuitable people to own a club, yet passed the Premier Leagues checks.
As well as the near-financial implosions of Leeds United and Portsmouth on his watch, Richards may want to remember Sheffield Wednesday, one of the grand names of English football, and one of the founding members of the Premier League. Richards used to be their Chairman, and under his stewardship drove Wednesday to the brink of financial oblivion, before glad-handing and networking his way into a cushy job with the Premier League, jumping ship just before their relegation from the Premier League. It is only relatively recently that Wednesday have managed to steady the ship financially, and they currently lie in the third tier of English football, a shadow of their former selves.
Dave Richards’ quasi-colonial comments sum up the attitudes that still prevail in English football that have made England so unpopular on the world stage. Richards insulted the governing bodies of the sport both globally and continentally, insulted the hosts of both the conference he was at and the future hosts of the World Cup, telling them they should forget about their silly little religious traditions because their masters want a drink. Why would anyone vote for a country that allows such a moronic figure to run the Premier league, sit on the FA board and sit on the FA’s international committee to host a World Cup?
The irony of Richards’ comments on what he perceives to be the superiority of English football, came on a day that only a remarkable Chelsea comeback saved English football from having fewer teams in the Champions League, the world’s best club competition, than Cyprus.
Karma caught up with Richards that evening, as he fell into a water feature as he was going to a dinner at the Museum of Islamic Art and had to be pulled out by Bolton Wanderers Chairman Phil Gartside!