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Football is ready for the first openly gay player, says FA comms director Adrian Bevington

Football is prepared for the game's first high-profile player to 'come out', the FA's group director of comms tells John Owens.

Adrian Bevington: FA comms chief

Adrian Bevington: FA comms chief

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In the sharp light of a winter's morning, an empty Wembley Stadium is a strangely unsettling place. Where there should be fans, noise and colour, there is calm, silence and 90,000 empty seats. And where there should be football talent worth - or valued at - many millions of pounds on the pitch, there are just two men busy keeping the immaculate surface immaculate.

Despite having an office at Wembley, it seems that for Adrian Bevington the moment of serenity is almost equally unfamiliar. 'Eat lunch here? I don't have time for lunch,' he laughs.

In addition to his role as group comms director at The Football Association, he has also broken out of the PR mould to be MD of the FA's Club England. It was created in 2010 and is responsible for running England national football teams at all levels.

To put that into perspective, he was one of four people involved in deciding that Roy Hodgson was the man for the top England job after Fabio Capello's departure.

The lack of a leak - many had Harry Redknapp nailed-on for the role - remains a source of pride in what he describes as 'an incredibly demanding period'.

The FA often finds itself at the heart of wider social debates. Not long ago, Rio and Anton Ferdinand - the latter of whom claimed he was racially abused by John Terry - criticised the FA-backed 'Kick It Out' campaign for not doing enough to combat racism.

Bevington will not go into specifics but says that work on racism 'can never stop'. He adds: 'It's very different in our stadiums now than it was in the 1980s, but that doesn't negate the fact there have been high-profile incidents. We need to fight against all forms of discrimination.'

This includes homophobia. There are no openly gay players in the Premier League, and few in the many leagues below it.

Bevington says 'clear plans are in place' for that 'landmark moment' and adds that he does not think he is being naive in his belief that the sport is 'ready for that'.

He points to England's performances at the 2010 World Cup in South Africa as a turning point for the FA.

'The team suffered a great deal of criticism, on and off the pitch. So we made a conscious decision that the negative connotations of being isolated as a team (England's training camp base was in a remote area of the country hundreds of miles from fans) and not embracing the tournament would not be repeated. We decided we would be at the heart of future tournaments and engaged in CSR work, as well as with the public.'

Footballers should always be known primarily for their football, says Bevington, but there is a need to 'push boundaries' when it comes using big-name players to help with wider causes.

In this context, it is telling that the 41-year-old lists the England squad's visit to Auschwitz during last year's Euro 2012 in Poland as one of the 'most rewarding' experiences in his working life.

'It was something incredibly powerful from an educational viewpoint,' he adds.

Bevington gets most animated when talking about football beyond the big names and big pay cheques.

This is even more evident when it comes to his wider remit at the FA.

When mentioning the FA's England Awards, it is not Player of the Year winner Steven Gerrard he mentions, but blind player David Clarke, who collected a lifetime achievement award.

The FA marks its 150th anniversary this year with an array of activities. Central to messaging will be its grassroots operation, when one main focus will be the promotion of women's football.

The Middlesbrough FC fan is keen to put football in the same context as the Olympics. Last year was the 'year of the volunteer', says Bevington. 'We have to communicate that we have 400,000 volunteers in the country involved with football. It is a part of the social fabric of this country.'

Edelman's deputy of corporate Nick Barron has high praise for his former boss at the FA.

As well as noting a penchant for expensive travel bags, Barron praises Bevington's 'good judgement on the big issues'.

'He is a very fair-minded guy as a boss, with a good sense of humour and great ability to keep his cool,' says Barron. 'Adrian always wanted to be more than a PR man and has managed to pull it off.'

Barron fails to mention a thick skin, but this is no doubt an important prerequisite.

It is while enthusing about the FA's forward-looking digital plans and work in guiding England players on how to handle Twitter that it emerges Bevington has been the target of vitriol himself.

He knows only too well the dangers of Twitter - he shut his account down after abuse was extended to his family.

But it is telling that he is still enthusiastic about the social media platform.

To him, it represents another way of linking the seemingly untouchable world of elite football to its fan base, and gives the FA another means of connection.

'We need to ensure we're getting those messages out there, communicating not just with media but directly with the public, and this allows that,' he says.

Wembley is estimated to have cost nearly £800m, money Bevington is keen to point out will be recouped.

But looking out over the empty seats, he knows as well as anyone that it is worthless without what is missing - the fans, the noise and the colour.

CV

2011: Group director of comms, The Football Association

2010: Club England MD, The Football Association

1997: Media relations officer, rising to director of comms, The Football Association

1995: Senior publications officer, Middlesbrough Football Club

1989: Freelance writer (Shoot; Match; 90 Minutes; Middlesbrough FC)

1987: Trainee reporter, C&P News, ICI Wilton

TIPS FROM THE TOP

What was your biggest career break?

Being selected for a two-year placement as a trainee reporter with ICI's C&P News, joining Middlesbrough FC's PR department and reading an ad for a role as FA media relations officer in the Media Guardian in 1997. A life-changing moment.

Have you had a notable mentor?

I have not had a mentor, but there are a number of trusted people to whom I speak as sounding boards when I want advice.

What advice would you give people climbing the career ladder?

Take every opportunity that comes your way. Don't wait to be asked, show initiative and offer to take things on. Stay true to your instincts, maintain your integrity and don't knowingly mislead the media.

What qualities do you look for in new recruits?

Hunger. Vibrancy. Determination. People who want to go the extra mile for the love of the job.

This article was first published on prweek.com


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