New FA chairman David Bernstein had bitter fall-out with Mike Ashley

One of the great qualities of David Bernstein, the man soon to be confirmed as chairman of the Football Association, is his emollient nature.

New FA chairman David Bernstein had bitter fall-out with Mike Ashley "Not a table thumper," as one person described him yesterday. The FA board held this in high regard since consensus is often something it has in short supply.

But one major player in English football might disagree with that description of Bernstein's attributes: Newcastle United's owner, Mike Ashley. In 2007 Bernstein criticised Ashley's attempts to sack the board of the Blacks Leisure group, of which Bernstein is chairman. Ashley was acting from his position as owner of Sports Direct, a minority shareholder in Blacks, and he never went through with his coup. But their relationship was explosive. In June 2007, shortly after his Newcastle acquisition, Ashley met Bernstein at the Landmark Hotel to discuss the sale of one of the Blacks subsidiary brands. Bernstein said the meeting was "entirely amicable". But his perception of Ashley's mood appears to have been quite wrong.

Legal letters from Freshfields – the firm Chris Mort, Newcastle's first chairman under Ashley, worked for – ensued. One of them detailed the threat to oust the board, with a four‑hour ultimatum attached. It was the last straw for the normally complaisant Bernstein. Ashley was being, in Bernstein's words, "heavyweight, disruptive, bullying and upsetting to employees", and accused of "a major issue of corporate governance".

The progressives who want corporate-governance reform at the FA might draw courage from that. But although a Sports Direct spokesman did not return Digger's call yesterday to see whether the past three years had changed Ashley's view, there can be no guarantees Newcastle will support him.

Older is not always better

One area where the 67-year-old Bernstein might seek to effect change at the FA is in the 70-year-old age limit imposed on those who hold official positions on the FA's committees. He effectively admitted as much yesterday when he said: "We'll see about that in three years." But if he scraps the upper age limit to enable himself to serve a longer term, those who have been deposed from FA positions will return from the grave like extras in Michael Jackson's Thriller. The cap has served well in chopping back some of the FA's deadwood, and would stimulate debate about replacing the likes of the 69-year-old John Ward or the 67-year-old Sir Dave Richards with non-executive directors. Bernstein wants to turn the FA into a meritocracy. Which is good, of course. But it would be a retrograde step to do away with a tool that could usefully introduce long-overdue reform.

FA head has a famous fan

Bernstein, having had his appointment welcomed by the sports minister, Hugh Robertson, can be guaranteed cross-party support – for now at least. The shadow culture secretary, Ivan Lewis, has long been an admirer. Lewis, who describes himself as having been a Manchester City fan for "43 very, very tough years" speaks highly of Bernstein, whom he knows well. "He's one of the few chairmen in football who when he left the fans were devastated," said Lewis. Which is all too true.

Olympics' long legacy

The Olympic Park Legacy Company meets Tottenham Hotspur and West Ham United today to discuss progress in the bidding process to occupy the Stratford stadium after the 2012 Games. There was a time when today's meeting might have led to the crunch, with one of the two being discarded in favour of a preferred bidder. But the timetable has now changed, with a decision deferred possibly until April next year.

Fanshare gunned down

Earlier this year the Arsenal Supporters' Trust said it enjoyed the support of "all of the club's major shareholders" when it launched the innovative Fanshare scheme, enabling fans to purchase small stakes in the club. Yet on Tuesday Alisher Usmanov, holder of 26.9% of the club's equity, stated he wants more shares. That will push up the price, making it harder for fans to invest. Indeed, market data shows that since the Fanshare launch the club's share price has risen 10% – or by £1,000 a share. Fan he may be, but Usmanov is clearly no supporter of the Fanshare scheme.

Powered by article was written by Matt Scott, for The Guardian on Thursday 23rd December 2010 00.06 Europe/London © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010

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