The Football Association (FA) started its 150th anniversary celebrations with a glamorous reception in London on Wednesday, as it looks to repair damaged relationships with FIFA and UEFA.
The original laws of soccer were drafted in England in 1863, but the game’s birthplace seemed alarmingly alienated from the modern sport when it received just two votes in the bidding process for the 2018 World Cup.
However, FA chairman David Bernstein has since worked tirelessly to restore the organization’s standing and he claimed a coup by securing the right for Wembley Stadium to host this season’s Champions League final in May.
The goodwill towards English soccer was highlighted at London’s Grand Connaught Rooms, which hosted Wednesday’s launch ceremony.
It was chosen as the venue because it stands on the site of the Freemason’s Tavern, where solicitor Ebenezer Morley first met with colleagues to write down the original 13 rules of soccer and form the first Football Association.
Guests including former England manager Fabio Capello, and France greats Marcel Desailly and Patrick Vieira were among a 400-strong audience, along with Bobby Charlton and members of England’s 1966 World Cup-winning team.
There were also video messages from Prince William, former England captain David Beckham, former Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho — current Real Madrid manager — and Manchester United manager Alex Ferguson, as well as UEFA president Michel Platini and his FIFA counterpart Sepp Blatter.
The focus was on the FA’s grassroots work as a not-for-profit organization that pumps ￡100 million (US$160.16 million) a year into the game, backed by 400,000 volunteers, 300,000 coaches and 27,000 referees.
“I’m hoping one of the things that come from this is a real perception from the wider world of the work that the FA does, what the FA really is about,” Bernstein said.
“I just don’t think really the FA has had a fair deal. There is such an emphasis on the high-profile issues; one-off issues and disciplinary things, but today we’ve heard from so many people on the great work the FA does. It really is a fantastic organization,” he added.