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Chris Goreham: Club football will always be priority in England

FA chairman Greg Dyke. Picture: Nick Potts/PA Wire. FA chairman Greg Dyke. Picture: Nick Potts/PA Wire.

Thursday, June 26, 2014
6:30 AM

At some point this week the big cheeses at FA Headquarters will start patting themselves on the back.

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It’s only a matter of time before someone notices the message scrawled on the whiteboard behind the desk which Greg Dyke now sits at. Written in the immediate aftermath of England’s uninspiring performance at the 2010 World Cup, it says “Be as good as Spain”. If matching the Spanish was the ambition four years ago then well done everybody, it is mission accomplished.

The fact that Iniesta and Xavi nipped just in front of Henderson and Jagielka in the queue to check their bags out of the World Cup underlines how dangerous it is to covet the success of others. It’s about a decade since Norwich City went big with their ambitions of following ‘The Charlton model’. At the time The Addicks were an established mid-table Premier League club whose fans used to ring national radio phone-ins complaining that Alan Curbishley had taken them as far as he could and that they needed to ‘push on’ from being constantly 10th in the top flight.

The Canaries wanted a bit of that action and so pursued Charlton to the extent that we’ll be playing at The Valley again next season having also been there in League One. It’s no good trying to copy others, footballing success has to be an organic 
process, built from within.

Which takes us back to the plush offices occupied by those ultimately held accountable every four years when England find a new and more ignominious way to crash out of a World Cup. It feels like a particularly big bolder that needs pushing back up the hill this time especially with the knowledge that it is likely to come tumbling back down very quickly in Russia in 2018.

In fairness the Football Association had tried to anticipate the need to shut the cage door before their three lions bolted and mauled the World Cup dreams of their own nation for another four years. The creation of the taskforce aimed at improving the fortunes of our national team has underlined the magnitude of the 
challenge ahead.

Greg Dyke recruited some of the finest 
football minds this country has to offer including Roy Hodgson, Rio Ferdinand and Dario Gradi as well as Danny Mills (inset), Sprowston High School’s biggest soccer success story, unless you include local radio commentators. No, thought not.

Together these brave men put forward a proposal last month which they said would lead to more English footballers getting more competitive games at a younger age, the conclusion of which would mean a wider pool of talent for the England national team to have at its disposal.

You can’t argue with the logic but many supporters had no problem at all arguing with the idea of allowing Premier League B teams to join the lower divisions of the Football League. The howls of derision were nearly as loud as the bright orange fancy dress preferred by sections of Holland’s support in Brazil.

The fact remains that while we’d all dearly love England to win the World Cup most of us are not interested in compromising the fabric of a thriving domestic game, steeped in tradition to get there. Ask Cambridge United or Luton Town fans on their return to the Football League next season whether they would rather be playing Mansfield and Chesterfield or Manchester United Reserves and Chelsea’s youth team. The answer would be overwhelmingly in favour of the former. We may envy other countries’ national teams but not many of them can boast the sort of intense competition and passionate interest that we have beyond England’s top two divisions.

Is it worth jeopardising that for a slightly better chance of winning in Russia or the heat of Qatar? It’s like asking the whole country to stop eating fish and chips on the understanding that, if things all go to plan, there’s a possibility they might have a better chance of getting a month’s supply of caviar in four years. No-one is going to agree to that. When the flags and wall charts come down in a week or two we’ll be back to worrying about our club sides again. They keep us going for 100 weeks out of every 104 while England only really get our undivided attention for the duration of one major tournament every two summers.

The England team is not the priority of any football fan that I know so why should we expect anything other than what we’ve just seen in Brazil?

England’s only success, in 1966, was achieved when they followed ‘The Charlton model’ but it’s far too late to call Jack and Bobby out of retirement.


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