Wednesday 13 December 2017

Robbo rapped in Sim's shady tales

Dion Fanning

The Global Ambassadorships of Manchester United don't provide diplomatic immunity. Bryan Robson may be recalled from the globe to face some harsh words at Old Trafford after last week's Dispatches investigation into football ownership.

Filming Robson talking shit in a bar hardly constitutes a scoop but the programme managed to make a point about the disregard many involved in football have for the football clubs that mean so much to so many. They also demonstrated the ineffectiveness of the English FA's regulations.

Robson was secretly filmed by undercover reporters dismissing the regulation that two clubs couldn't be owned by one person and then joking what would happen if the two sides met in the Cup which, given the sterility of the competition, might be something the organisers would go for.

Robson clearly wasn't a great global ambassador for Manchester United in this documentary. More importantly, however, he was diagnosed with cancer earlier this year so there may have been a case to be made for showing him some compassion, especially in the absence of anything resembling damning evidence.

After all, Robson was just a mule. He appeared to be guilty of something that many in football and, indeed the wider world, can be accused of. Robson was consultant for the Football Fund, the investment group whose practices were covered by the programme.

We live in a world of consultants and Robson could be forgiven for thinking he too could earn money for nothing. Robson's nothingness was profound and his biggest deceit was trying to pass himself off as a football guru.

Secret filming in itself always leads the viewer to think something nefarious is taking place, even if Robson was only captured uttering meaningless platitudes like football no longer being sport, but a business.

Robson may well be sacrificed and more importantly his reputation as one of the greatest players ever to play for Manchester United might be diminished for nothing. Because the men who dangle consultancies know there will always be another great former player with poor judgement to take the bait and the chance of something for nothing.

Dispatches also managed to snare a key character, Joe Sim, a man who is certainly a personal friend of Alex Ferguson although Sim and Sir Alex, or more precisely Sir Alex's lawyers, dispute how close this friendship really is.

"Sir Alex," Sim said, "loves a good party." There is nothing wrong with that and in fact this may lead to a welcome advance in football vernacular.

Perhaps managers will no longer be asked if they will enjoy "a good bottle of red" when they travel to Old Trafford. Thanks to Joe Sim, we can look forward to, say, Roy Hodgson being asked "Will you be partying with Sir Alex after the game?"

Sim did party with Sir Alex after a Manchester United game, an event recorded by the Dispatches team when their undercover reporter telephoned Joe in the restaurant and Joe handed the phone to Sir Alex who engaged in priceless small talk -- the smoking gun!

There was no gun, of course, but Sir Alex's lawyers did issue a denial, insisting that things weren't as portrayed or as imagined in Joe Sim's head.

Sir Alex remains at the top of his game and the programme gave a hint at his power while Sim hinted at his patronage. This was nothing we didn't know, but it was important if only because I imagine it's not something that Alex Ferguson enjoys being explained.

Football men have always been surrounded by shady men and shady men have always owned football clubs.

The men Dispatches uncovered are no worse than the local butchers and mill owners who enriched themselves at footballers' expense for many years.

But there seems to be an instinctive opposition to these shady men coming from places of which we know little. Football, as Robson might have said, is a global game now with a global network of shady characters.

Robson was the main man in the firing line and he is said to be taking legal advice.

United's ambassadorships don't offer immunity, but talking shit in a bar should certainly be viewed as speaking under privilege.

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