When Ian Watmore sprang his shock resignation on the Football Association on March 22, fingers pointed for the source of his frustration at the Premier League chairman, Sir David Richards.
Richards protested it wasn’t him, that he had had only “rough and tumble” with Watmore – a somewhat strange way to describe the way issues are discussed in the FA boardroom. The board itself declared that Watmore had not left due to “personality clashes with one individual,” an unblushing closing of ranks.
Whatever did happen in Watmore’s encounters with the famously blunt Richards, the two men’s journeys to the FA top table could hardly have been more different. Watmore, a Cambridge graduate, has risen through senior executive roles at the consultants Accenture, then in the civil service including heading the Downing Street Delivery Unit.
Richards ran his own engineering company in Sheffield for years and joined the board of Sheffield Wednesday in October 1989, just six months after the Hillsborough Disaster for which the club itself admitted negligence. Ten years later, having made alliances in the Premier League, particularly with Ken Bates, then Chelsea’s chairman, Richards became the temporary Premier League chairman when the independent chairman, Sir John Quinton, resigned.
Richards, prominently backed by Bates, was then voted in as the permanent, part-time chairman, on an initial salary of £177,000, in February 2000. Wednesday were stuck at the bottom of the Premier League, heading for certain relegation, with debts of £20m from which they have never recovered. Richards’ own business was in financial difficulties and in July 2001 went into administrative receivership.
While his company folded and Wednesday sank, Richards himself rose through the thicket of football administration. He became a main board member at the FA, where he represents the Premier League, an inherent conflict of interest widely recognised as a block to progress in football governance, but about which the game’s authorities will do nothing. He is the chairman of the international committee, was for years chair of the Football Foundation, sits on several other committees and is the chair of the European Professional Leagues lobby group.
That is a dazzling collection of hats to be worn round football’s corridors of power, for the man who left Sheffield Wednesday on the brink of relegation. And after the latest outbreak of dysfunction at the FA, Richards remains installed at the top table, while the highly qualified Watmore is the man lost to the game.