If FE were football, how would it have fared? Which teams looked like Arsenal, and which resembled Hartlepool United? As a new season kicks off, Colin Flint and Michael Austin assess the performance of the key players in the FE League since incorporation. The top mark is 10 - not that anyone gets near it. And out of the sector's top clubs, no fewer than five have had to call in the receivers
Further Education Funding Council
MADE a very bright start, with a high level of support. Showed some dazzling footwork early on, and was particularly impressive in their PR, with the charismatic Bill Stubbs a class act. Looked capable of winning the League and the Cup. But tactical and technical errors began to appear more and more often in their game, and were exploited by some of their own players as well as by the opposition. The funding methodology looked a world-beater at first but the rules became too difficult to understand. Franchising, initially highly attractive, was always doomed for relegation. Things got tougher after the redoubtable Sir William took a voluntary early bath and a poor showing in the PAC Cup sealed their fate. Likely to be missed.
Department for Education and Employment
Consistently disappointing. Has sometimes appeared confused about exactly which game it was playing and whose side it was on, consequently infuriating players and managers alike. Talks a good game, but invariably falls back on traditional approaches - wouldn't sign anyone without good A-levels. David Blunkett quite fancied himself, having played briefly earlier in his career, and later seriously interfered with Sheffield Wednesday, but never quite got the ball in the net. The Baroness, elegant midfielder, has been transferred: James ("bites yer legs") Paice has long since disappeared. Estelle Morris, now in the manager's seat, may turn things round, and is expected to listen to players. Showing commendable tactical awareness.
Regrettably still a Third Division outfit full of cloggers. Particularly adept at scoring own goals. Goes through managers almost as fast as Manchester City, having sacked three in recent years. Has a good one now, but they're not taking any notice of him. A very loyal fan base, and high aspirations, but the cloggers and hard men (and women) invariably dominate over their creative players. Has found it very difficult to adapt to the modern game, and their tactics remain essentially rooted in the 1970s. Red Robbo is reputed to be one of their keenest supporters. They were showing some improvement over the last season, but reverted to type more recently with demands for higher salaries and a longer close season.
Colleges Employers Forum
The bully boy of the League. Flashy in style and thought it was headed for the Super League. Put itself about, trod on lots of toes, tripped up its imagined competitors and ended up by kicking itself into touch. Badly managed with expensive tastes and a penchant for dodgy deals. Only interested in macho managerialism, and rubbished the honest hard-working ball carriers as out of date or tactically naive. Split the supporters like nothing else before or since, but most observers were glad to see it go into involuntary liquidation.
Association for Colleges
Not a lot to be said about AFC - got sent off before they'd made much impact. A bit too cerebral in the way they played the game,and not hard enough: all vision and fancy footwork but not enough delivery in the final third. Really did take their eyes off the ball, and got thoroughly done over by a team from the CEF and the APC, playing in the manly managerialist style. May have been before its time, but had to call in the receivers in 1997. The Accrington Stanley of the FE League.
Association of Colleges
This outfit ought to be at or near the top every season, and has no serious competition. Has massive resources from its high entry fees and some fans begin to wonder what it does with its money. Has failed to hit the target or impose its authority. Another that talks a good game - but is anyone listening? Its whole board got voted off not long ago, and a new one elected, but with no discernible effect. Ponderous, slow on the turn, hesitant in front of goal, has shown no incisive running or clever footwork and is permanently off the pace. Will need to rethink its tactics, its strategies and its structure.
Training and Enterprise Councils
A team of very mixed abilities. Some members were hopelessly short of pace, evidently did not know what a goal was, still less where it was to be found, misread the team plan, and were ordered off the field with enormous debts to a chorus of derision. Others were quick to see and exploit openings, good at distribution and very much on target. The team was very expensive to assemble and contained too many who were more interested in their own performance than in contributing to the team ethic. A string of poor results condemned them first to the drop, and then the chop.
Association of Principals of Colleges
Formerly a major club, it displayed tactical naivety when the roles changed, and became uncertain as to its role. Hopeless at defending its own position, and unable to score any goals. Could have been a contender, but failed to pick up the captain's armband, and ended up as a spectator. It was a relief to most of its former supporters when it hung up its boots.
Further Education Development Agency
A team of two halves. Took a long time to get into the game: the tackling had no bite, they dribbled into unpromising positions, and soon no-one was watching. Hovered dangerously at the foot of the table, but a change of chairman and captain, both of whom knew a ball from a balls-up, brought about a transformation. The team gained confidence and purpose and started to get some good results. Have recently changed strip and are now known as LSDA (Learning and Skills Development Agency). Enjoys playing under floodlights.
Learning and Skills Council
The unknown quantity. Has picked up a few ageing stars from other outfits, such as the FEFC, and has gone for one of those managers that no-one knows anything about. Very big budget, and intends to be tactically innovative. Is expected to play a very hard game and get a lot of people sent off. Not giving much away about its plans at this stage. Ought to do well, but will have to prove itself, and hasn't yet prompted much enthusiasm.
Life has got harder for most, but the majority go on entertaining the crowds, whether they draw 30,000 or 2,000. A few have gone out of business and more are likely to follow. All have some excellent and hard-working players, most have a few who ought to take up another sport. All but a very few wish they could be left alone to get on with their jobs and not be messed about with quite so much. Too many changes to the rules, too much interference, inspectors and auditors crawling over everything with all the sensitivity of a bunch of Millwall supporters.
FE, like football, isn't what it was. And it isn't necessarily better either.
Colin Flint is principal of Solihull College. Michael Austin is retiring principal of Accrington and Rossendale College