"Always do right; that will gratify some people and astonish the rest". Mark Twain.
Well, that seems to be the code of conduct practiced by Brian Mawhinney, sometimes controversial, always sincere. Now a member of the House of Lords as Baron Mawhinney of Peterborough, the former educator and politician was Chairman of the Football League for eight years from 2000 to 2008 and helped to transform it.
Brought up in Belfast and educated at Queens University, where I had a few friends, he won a scholarship in Radiation Biology on graduation to University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, one of my favourite college towns. He met his future American wife there and taught at University of Iowa in Iowa City before teaching at University of London.
In a sport where leadership has been sorely lacking and at a time where many of its clubs were in crisis, through strong willed determination and political skills he helped steady the ship. As correspondent Patrick Barclay stated, "Football should have found Brian Mawhinney thirty years earlier".
He didn't enter politics until pursuaded to do so at the age of thirty and has had a varied and distinguished career. He helped the peace process in Ireland, Britain's entry into Europe and was an MP for 26 years from 1970-2005 including stints as Minister of State at the Northern Ireland Office, also at The Department of Health and Minister for Transport, Chairman of the Conservative Party and a member of John Major's cabinet.
So, dealing with such football rogues as Ken Bates, Sepp Blatter and Sir Dave Richards wasn't that difficult.
His long awaited autobiography is entertaining and amusing with a cast of characters that have seen the front and back pages of the nation's newspapers. He met some right tossers in his time and reminises about many of them. One of the first was introducing himself to Douglas Feaver the Bishop of Peterborough. "I'm the new MP for Peterborough he said. " "I never shake hands with members of the Lower House" (House of Commons) was the reply, as the preacher refused the outstretched hand and walked away.
Sitting next to Ken Bates at Millenium Stadium he made a comment about a referees decision to Dear Ken. ' You know nothing about f*****g football. You are a f*****g fenian". This despite Brian being a praticing protestant believer, and not a catholic.
During his career he said that he wrote about 400,000 letters and discussed everything from pot holes to postal delays, pensions to police, late buses to slow trains. He had countless meetings with locals, went to hundreds of weddings and christenings and garden parties.
Portsmouth, Leeds United, Plymouth Argyle, Notts County, Sheffield Wednesday, Crystal Palace, Accringron Stanley, Stockport County, Bradford City, Southend United, Southampton and Leicester City were just some of the clubs in debt and trouble. GOOD GOVERNENCE was his motto but Football League chairmen lived in another world. He is criticle in particular of Leicester City who managed to cancel £50 million in debt as if nothing ever happened, and carry on.
He was also involved in the farce of the England World Cup bid and its cast of characters, both domestic and foreign. PM Gordon Brown reneged on a £5 million government donation and many FIFA Executives lied about their votes. In fact over 50% of them have resigned in disgrace or been expelled since. RUSSIA had the votes for 2018 locked up a year or so before the vote in Zurich.
It cost over £3 million to complete the BID BOOK of 1,700 pages yet hardly anybody read it or bothered about it. It cost £1 million to entertain the visiting bid committee to no avail and each bidding city was forced to pay £300,000 just for the privilege.
Andy Anson the bid leader wasn't up to the job and in-fighting between Gerry Sutcliffe, Richard Caborn and others, the inadequacy of Lord Triesman and others made the FA a laughing stock. Sir Dave Richards he never trusted completely and of the club chairman he singled out the Bolton Wanderers chairman Phil Garside, who wanted a two tier Premier League with Rangers and Celtic included.
He met FIFA President Sepp Blatter a couple of times and was less than impressed by his attitude and wanting complete control of the game.
JUST A SIMPLE BELFAST BOY is available from Biteback Publishing and is good read on a rainy day, when England are playing Ireland on TV, or indeed anytime.