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Keir RadnedgeThe Football Association, historic founder of the game which enchants, entertains, angers and infuriates billions around the world every minute of every day is 150 years old this year.

That is a remarkable feat in itself in an era when entire industries come and go within the space of five years, never mind 50 or 150. Also, it has endured all that time and is still English-controlled, not the ‘brand product’ or plaything of some American business conglomerate or Russian oligarch or Gulf sheikh.

Formal kick-off to the inevitable – deserved and very proper – anniversary was undertaken this week at the Grand Connaught Rooms on the site of the Freemason’s Tavern where the founders met on October 26, 1863.

Old rivalries, old victories and – in a spirit of fair play – old defeats as well, were all honoured. Hence Germany’s Oliver Bierhoff and Lothar Matthaus were among guests called up for ‘live’ interviews.

Matthaus spoke politely and optimistically about England’s World Cup prospects in Brazil in 2014 while Bierhoff recalled Germany’s Euro 96 victory and the “incredible atmosphere” at the semi-final against England when “fortunately we had our German mentality.”

The tone was something of a contrast to the grilling FA chairman David Bernstein had been given by John Humphrys on BBC Radio’s Today programme a few hours earlier.

Bernstein was assailed with the problems of Premier League ticket prices, sky-high players’ wages, racism and every other manifestation within football of what FIFA president Sepp Blatter is pleased to designate “the little devils of our society.”

Later Sports Minister Hugh Robertson was lured by reporters into casting a cloud over the party atmosphere by repeating his concerns at the slow pace of FA governance reform and the oddity of the chairman having to be replaced during the anniversary year because he had topped 70.

The conundrum here is not so much the accident of timing but the fact that the attempt to bend the rules was voted down by a governing FA Council containing several over-influential over-70s.

Age and term limits are among those unresolved details being kicked around in the closing stages of the FIFA reform work. Blatter, now 75, is opposed to age limits but has repeated his insistence that he will step down at 79 at the end of his current, fourth term in 2015. He will still be younger than exco members such as South Americans Nicolas Leoz and Julio Grondona.

To be fair, age and term limits are the least of Robertson’s concerns about the FA. His overriding interest is how to create an effective executive authority to leverage the warring dynamic between the amateur and professional games.

This is a challenge which has defeated administrators for most of the FA’s existence so the prospects of a solution now remain equally non-existent . . . whoever is in the chair, however old he may be.

By Keir Radnedge

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