As the Mark Sampson story moved from alleged racism and bullying to implications of fraternisation between coach and player(s) at Bristol, the FA took yet another hit.
Smoke, so where's the fire?
With both independent enquires over Eni Aluko’s complaints of racism and bullying seen as “a farce” by the player in question, the feeling was very much that the football association was most likely trying to cover their own back and sweep what they could under the rug. Whether you believe the process was flawed or not – key witnesses not talked to for one reason and another – the adage about smoke without fire kept springing to mind.
If there truly was no story, if Sampson was as innocent as he claimed then why, oh why, did the FA dig into their piggy bank and pay Aluko £80,000 – four times the amount an England central contract is worth. (For those unfamiliar with the women’s game, for any female footballer £80,000 is a staggering amount, even those at the very top end of pro’ deals in Europe.)
The pay-off came with a degree of confidentially clause which, in true FA blundering fashion, left the door open for the striker to go public should the story come out elsewhere. The details of that specific case still dripping through the dusty sheets of an FA inquest and into the public domain.
The initial story a short one that was given limited column space but like a dog with a bone, Daniel Taylor (Chief football writer for The Guardian) has been championing the story, with or without an axe to grind, keeping it alive and bringing forth as much info’ as possible. Himself and Dan Roan (BBC Sports Editor) two the public wouldn’t expect to go to on a women’s football story, but those with suitable authority to cover and dig.
When the news broke yesterday (Tuesday) afternoon that Sampson was leaving his job – the first wave of interpretation that he was going willingly, the second, edified comment that it was a straight-forward firing – social media was, as the kids say, “lit.” Pitchforks raised, Aluko to blame, the media and their agenda had seen a good man fired, the FA was a sham ect.
Despite the clarification that Aluko’s claims were still unfounded – despite the issue having picked up steam with more evidence brought forward, not just from Drew Spence but that at least two of Jill Scott, Izzy Christiansen and Jo Potter can further supply evidence. People still rattled their chains, the media of course, weren’t happy and the pressure had finally told with the FA, boo, boo all of them!! It was a witch hunt, Sampson had been hung out to dry, a report from two years ago, piffle!
Once more, the facts haven’t been laid bare, reading between the lines necessary to understand what exactly would be meant for a coach to cross the lines – but not illegally.
A line which hasn’t sat right in any event, no one implied that Sampson had broken the law, if he had this would certainly not be the first time of hearing about it, so why did Martin Glenn feel the need for that specificity? Has what Sampson has done be enough to suggest the law had been broken? If so only a sexual relationship with a player of questionable age could be interpreted, the law grey around the area of player/coach relationships, with a loophole existing. That isn’t to suggest that Sampson has crossed a line when it comes to age, but he was still, in a position of power, given trust and for him to have breached said trust with one or more players is certainly on the table.
Despite how Aluko’s whistleblowing has drawn fire from across the country, keyboard warriors with little to no interest in women’s football still accusing her of playing the race card when she didn’t get what she wanted. It seems more that likely that now this is coming to the fore more and more people who’ve been around Sampson either at Bristol (when it was still Bristol Academy before coming under the Bristol City moniker) or during his time with England are likely to come out of the woodwork, as always, so much more to a story than people realise.
It’s Wednesday and here we are, with PMs, journalists and fans alike calling for the FA to take a long-hard look at itself. Whatever has happened, the FA have not handled the situation with any degree of tact or finesse.
Attempting to cover-up the Aluko story and shield Sampson as the public discontent grew, quotes from Jodie Taylor and Steph Houghton thrown about, Sampson tying himself in knots with contradictions. But now, having just “uncovered” a report that they commissioned years ago – after Sampson was given the England job, not before. We had it, but hadn’t read it the paraphrase from Glenn, Sampson not having been deemed to be a safeguarding threat, however, the Welshman still required training and teaching as to how to conduct himself. Alarm bells ignored.
For those in women’s football, the rumours had been circulating from his time at Bristol and whilst a rumour is just that (not hard evidence), there is no denying people were aware that there was a very real he had overstepped the mark more than once.
It’s unfathomable that the level of his indiscretion wasn’t known at the FA – and there exists the very real possibility that the higher ups knew and attempted to sweep the Aluko claims under the rug as to not have everything involving Sampson come out (but that is just one possibility).
The FA has shown its own incompetence time and again with how they’ve handled everything in relation to women’s football recently and change is being called for. Henry Winter (Chief Football Writer for The Times) has said there needs to be change, the organisation needs to become more transparent and open, Damian Collins (Chair of the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport select committee) has said the FA needs an independent review. But the likelihood of any meaningful change seems unlikely.
The mess left behind
From top to bottom there are failings at the FA, the culture of a boys club, something deeply ingrained in the organisation, favours and undoubtedly nepotism all rife. Football is still one of the biggest money spinners in the world, with money comes power and whether people seek positions of power for their own gains or if it naturally corrupts, the world over we’ve seen football governing bodies rot and decay under their own sleaze.
This isn’t about finding the problem few and cutting them out as you would a rotten tooth, it’s about the very structures, bad foundations underneath a house if you will. There is no easy fix beyond tearing the whole thing down, surveying the lot and starting again, from scratch and constant checks that every wall and nail is up to grade.
As it is, the country is completely disillusioned with the FA, women’s football is facing its own Irma and it’s unlikely that the rubble will be cleared away anytime soon.