KEIR RADNEDGE in London: The 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.
Formal kick-off to the inevitable – deserved and very proper anniversary – was launched this morning in London at the Grand Connaught Rooms. The luxury hotel stands on the site of the Freemason’s Tavern where the founding meeting took place on October 26, 1863.
Dignitaries present included five England managers past and present (Roy Hodgson, Fabio Capello, Sven-Goran Eriksson, Terry Venables and Graham Taylor), 1966 World Cup-winning heroes such as Sir Bobby Charlton, George Cohen and Martin Peters plus all the various directors and officials of the English game.
The anniversary calendar features a line-up of events, including England internationals against Brazil and Scotland, the UEFA Congress and men’s and women’s UEFA Champions League Finals in May. A gala dinner is scheduled, back at the Grand Connaught Rooms, on October 26.
Pele will guest of honour at the inaugural England Football Awards next month and then at the international against Brazil.
FA chairman David Bernstein welcomed the guests and set out the FA’s central in the history of the game, saying: “Our 150th year will be a major opportunity for us to showcase our work to the whole country and the wider world.
“It is a terrific achievement for any organisation and I certainly hope it will capture the imagination in the way it has mine. From humble beginnings to today’s global spectacle, we can be proud of this country’s contribution to football.
“It is incredible to think how the game has developed from that very first meeting at the Freemason’s Tavern in October 1863. There is simple beauty to the universality of football, from Wembley to park pitches.
“Those founding fathers had real foresight to bring order and organisation to a game which continues to excite and entertain.”
Bernstein did not omit “the dark days” either as he paid tribute to the memories of victims of disasters such as Hillsborough and Bradford.
Videos messages were contributed by Prince William, the president of the FA, who described football as “part of the very fabric of our society,” from England captain Steven Gerrard, from David Beckham (“Stepping out for England, there’s no prouder moment in my career”) as well as international presidents Sepp Blatter (FIFA) and Michel Platini (UEFA).
Muamba on stage
‘Live’ guests on stage at the event, broadcast live by Sky, included Michael Owen, John Barnes, Fabrice Muamba, Sir Trevor Brooking (now FA director of development), World Cup Final referee Howard Webb and Germany’s Oliver Bierhoff and Lothar Matthaus.
Bierhoff called up his memories of Germany’s Euro 96 victory and the “incredible atmosphere” at the semi-final against England when “fortunately we had our German mentality.”
Current England manager Roy Hodgson, asked to look ahead to the 2014 World Cup rather than back, said: “First thing we have to do is qualify and then it will be important to give a very good account of ourselves and – who knows? – when you’re there you have a chance of winning.”
Fellow managers to provide video tributes were Sir Alex Ferguson (Man United), Jose Mourinho (Real Madrid), Pep Guardiola (Barcelona), Jurgen Klinsmann (United States) and Arsene Wenger (Arsenal).
Wenger said: “This is a good opportunity to thankEnglandfor creating the game because I think sometimes football in the world forgets that.”
** David Bernstein, on behalf of the FA, handed over a cheque for £150,000 to its new charity partner, the Teenage Cancer Trust.
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