View from the top: David Davies, former executive director, the Football Assocation

David Davies was the man who built the FA's modern press function. He spills the beans in a new book and spoke to PRWeek's Alex Black

David Davies
David Davies

David Davies, as confirmed by the spiel for his new tell-all book FA Confidential, is the only senior
official to have left the Football Ass-ociation in the past decade at a time of his choosing.

The job of England football manager may well be the ‘second hardest job in the country’, but the positions that make up the higher echelons of the FA are subject to a comparable level of scrutiny.

Ignored when the team wins, lambasted when it loses, the national team’s administrators need the thickest of skins and the quickest of wits if they are to survive any length of time.

But Davies survived despite being embroiled in one of the FA’s most high-profile scandals of recent times (more of which later).

This is not the only thing that makes Davies unusual. He actually joined as a PR man, creating the FA’s first comms director role, and working his way up to the org-anisation’s executive director job.

This remarkable journey inspired him to write a tale of ‘sex, scandal and mismanagement ’concerning life inside the FA.

He has now left Soho Square. But what are his views on the imminent departure of FA chief executive Brian Barwick? Is Barwick a victim of the new, and for the first time independent, FA chairman Lord Triesman’s restructuring of the top tier of the organisation?

‘On a personal level I feel sorry for Brian, who I think has made a contribution to the FA. I was contacted by TalkSport when he announced his departure, and admit I wasn’t shocked.’

But when asked who should replace Barwick, Davies is convinced the FA needs to ask itself whether it should have a CEO at all in the modern game.

‘FIFA and UEFA have an elected executive chairman with his or her own staff,’ he says. ‘I think the logic of that position is very difficult to argue against, but I don’t think the FA is ready or radical enough to do that yet. I say yet on purpose.’

Davies joined the FA in a World Cup year (1994), but not one in which the England team would feature, after the failure of Graham Taylor’s team to qualify.

That meant he had time to take stock of the organisation. One thing that struck him immediately was that despite attracting more press coverage than ‘everything apart from the Government and the monarchy’, the FA’s press function was woeful.

Terry Venables became England manager just before Davies joined, famously complaining that when it came to players, his ‘cupboard was bare’.

‘At least he had a cupboard,’ jokes Davies. ‘When I joined, the FA was a nine to five, Monday to Friday organisation. Comms was low down the list of priorities.’ So he set about installing a modern-day press office.

What followed was a 12-year rollercoas-ter ride in which he outlasted five England managers and four FA chief executives.

His move to the FA was a classic ‘journalism to PR’ route. He spent more than 20 years at the BBC, getting his big break by moving to Manchester in 1972. He covered ‘politics, crime, sport and God’ and became the BBC’s ‘de facto George Best correspondent’.

A self-confessed ‘London Red’, he fulfilled childhood dreams by covering not only Manchester United, but their City rivals and Liverpool too. He travelled the world and met Bill Shankly, Dennis Law, Sir Matt Busby and every famous footballer based in the North West between the early 1970s and the early 1980s. It was, he admits, a dream job.

But in 1994, when the FA job came up, he decided it was too good to miss.

Davies is a jovial character. A grin is never far from his mouth and a twinkle never far from his eye. Compared with his predecessors, football hacks describe Davies as having more of a ‘theatrical streak’ in his willingness to get in front of the microphones in a crisis and ‘front’ a PR response. But there is a steeliness just below the surface.

Matt Dickinson, chief sports correspondent at The Times, credits Davies with running a ‘very good press function’ and says he was always ‘as helpful as he could be,’ whether he was comms director or executive director. ‘David wouldn’t give you any bullshit,’ says Dickinson.

Daily Telegraph football correspondent Henry Winter adds: ‘He was incredibly acc-essible as comms director, and even when he took on the very different role of executive director he still took calls throughout the FA’s many crises.’

While Dickinson accepts ‘the FA is a difficult organisation to administer’, he agrees with Davies’ own admissions that he made mistakes during his time there.

Perhaps the highest profile of these was Davies’ decision to ghost-write Glenn Hoddle: My 1998 World Cup Story. When England crashed out in the second round of France ’98, the press accused Hoddle of focusing on the book rather than the team, and bet-raying dressing room secrets.

‘Writing that book was wrong,’ admits Davies, ‘but the idea that we suddenly released it with no warning is rubbish.’

What he failed to realise was that the FA was at the whim of the team’s performance. ‘We were naïve,’ he admits.

Although the England team provided him with enough headaches, one of his most difficult periods at the FA came six years after the Hoddle debacle.

In the summer of 2004, stories appeared in the press revealing the affairs that Davies’ PA Faria Alam had with the then FA chief exec-utive Mark Palios and England manager Sven-Goran Eriksson. Worse was to come. Alam accused Davies of sexual harassment. Davies was flabbergasted by the betrayal. But the accusations were thrown out by the employment tribunal and Alam’s evidence was ‘shredded’.

A year later told bosses of his intention to leave after the 2006 World Cup ‘come what may’.

It is not a decision he regrets. His aim at the time was pursue a number of different avenues, one of which was writing a book.

It was a footballing event that convinced him to write it – the 2008 European Championships. ‘On that miserable night at Wembley when we didn’t beat Croatia, I decided to write the book,’ he recalls.

The book (written under his byline, with help from Winter, who also ghost-wrote Steven Gerrard’s autobiography) is selling well. The initial print run of 16,000 has been snapped up by bookstores, and a reprint has been rushed through for Christmas.

He has not ruled out writing another book, but ambassador roles with Coutts Bank and law firm Wiggin, media work and the football advisory business Alexander Ross, which he founded with Ipswich Town FC chairman David Sheepshanks, keep him too busy to take much time out.

There is also his latest project: the Hero Global Fund, an Emirates Bank-funded scheme to develop young footballers launched at the beginning of November. Two years after leaving the FA, Davies still wields considerable clout in football circles. His partners in the enterprise are ex-Scotland player and BBC pundit Alan Hansen, and former top referee David Ellery. The fund is also working with Hoddle’s football academy in Spain.

The launch coincided with Trevor Brooking’s explosive interview last month, in which the FA’s director of football development accused the organisation of neglecting the development of young players and leaving him powerless to do anything about it.

Davies’ publicity radar started to bleep, and he was quoted in The Times as saying it was ‘a classic example of the failures in the structure of football in this country’. Within days of launching a football development fund, he had positioned himself as an expert on football dev-elopment in one of the UK’s biggest broadsheets.

All of which sums up Davies rather aptly – an administrator with an eye for a story and a contacts book bigger than an FA rulebook. And a man with plenty of stories to tell.

FA Confidential: Sex, Drugs and Penalties. The Inside Story of English Football is published by Simon & Schuster

Career highlights

2008 Launches Hero Global Fund to help develop young footballers

2008 Publishes FA Confidential

2006 Retires from the FA

2005 Accused of sexual harassment by his former PA Faria Alam. Accusations thrown out by tribunal

1994 Joins the FA

1990 Becomes the BBC’s England football team correspondent

1988 Joins BBC Pebble Mill presenting a sports show

1983 Becomes BBC political correspondent

1972 Moves to the BBC’s Manchester office, eventually securing a slot on Grandstand

1970 Takes up a trainee position with the Belfast Telegraph on £902 pounds

on taking the top comms role...

In an edited extract from his book, Davies recalls how he quickly realised he was in for a bumpy ride
‘When the FA advertised for a new press officer, Manchester City’s Peter Swales and Aston Villa’s Doug Ellis thought of me.

I put on my best suit and went to see the FA chairman, Sir Bert Millichip. ‘Sir Bert, I don’t believe you need a press officer,’ I told him. ‘You need a director of communications. I would be interested in the position if you were interested in making the job more substantial.’

The appointment panel was made up of the four leading men in the FA. Bert [and two others] I knew. But it was Graham Kelly, the chief executive, whom I realised quickly was going to be an awkward customer. ‘Do you want to build a proper communications team?’

I asked Graham during each of my interviews. Graham was clearly ambivalent... He thought I was too expensive. The FA offered me slightly more than my BBC salary, and even when I accepted, Graham tried to recruit someone else for less. Two weeks later I discovered he had offered the job to Ray Stubbs, a colleague at the BBC and a close friend of mine.’

Copyright, Simon & Schuster

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