Farry Kept Good Company - but Too Often Delivered Bad News

Daily Mail (London), March 1, 1999 | Go to article overview

Farry Kept Good Company - but Too Often Delivered Bad News


Byline: RODDY THOMSON

RODDY THOMSON on the former market gardener who rose to high office, upheld traditional values through an old-fashioned structure, planted seeds of success for a new Hampden and fell foul of changing times

CAREER obituaries can sometimes be even more unpleasant to write than analyses of the paradox-ridden lives of the great and the worthy - to begin with, they have a nasty habit of minimising the subject's scope for remarkable comeback.

Jim Farry's imminent passing as the keeper of constitutional power in Scottish football need not preclude the former landscape gardener digging himself out of his Park Gardens hole with the role of dignitary-in-the-wings on some larger stage.

The presence of world football's big shots Sepp Blatter and Lennart Johansson around the Scottish Football Association's 125th anniversary in October attending a League Cup semi-final at Celtic Park, of all places - testifies to his ability to keep the company of leaders, if not to be one.

Yet, as the game contemplates the full weight of a judicial verdict on his role in the delayed transfer of Jorge Cadete to Celtic - a kind of Montezuma's revenge act by the outgoing Fergus McCann - Farry's many faults should not be allowed to obscure his Hampden legacy.

Here was a man who rose, as the legend runs, from a pen-pusher's background to the seat of authority before his pedantic application of the many rules and regulations at his disposal saw him fall foul of the times and discover the painful ergonomics of his chair.

Farryspeak became a byword for 'No' in the many futile battles the House-on-the-Hill mandarin waged against uncontrollable external forces, such as television, symptomatic of the violent swing in power and wealth towards cross-continental club football.

That swing, a veritable mishmash of mini-revolutions, the consequences of which Farry never fully anticipated in his dedication to the letter of football law, seemed forever to leave him wrong-footed on matters as diverse as UEFA's Article 14 - TV - not to mention the death of Diana, Princess of Wales.

On many occasions, he was candidly voicing what a sizeable minority privately held to be true - certainly in his opposition to the call for a Scotland game to be cancelled due to Diana's passing - and, if his style grated, his opinions invariably had some substance.

If his attempt to buck the moral majority saw the legs pulled from underneath him a m i d t h e e m o t i o n a l whirlpool preceding Diana's funeral, his failure to comprehend the unstoppable march o f broadcasting power over the people's game was a more damning strategic weakness.

Invested with the position of SFA leader - and his predecessor, the 'Ayatollah' Ernie Walker knew how to run roughshod over the narrow committee structures Farry so often used in his excuses - he never quite foresaw the changes he was there to assimilate and harness.

The most brutal illustration of his often visionless approach to the contagion of decline throughout the last decade was the decision to place Walker, a powerful FIFA committee grandee, at the head of a much-vaunted 'Think Tank' which continues to muse over large expenses.

Experience is valuable, but to ask your predecessor to answer the questions which have so vexed you and to still be awaiting anything more than statements of principle three years later is not the action of a leader with a feel for the tides. …

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Farry Kept Good Company - but Too Often Delivered Bad News
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