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The England job - and journalistic integrity

Filed: Thursday, 3rd May 2012
By: Staff Writer No.2

Every morning the first stop for many of us is a look-see at Cockney Hammer’s daily press review on the KUMB General Discussion forum. CH spends an inordinate amount of his life ploughing through the bowels of the tabloid press so that the likes of you and I don’t have to.

When reading the daily digest, what leaps out most of the time is the amount of space filler masquerading as news stories. To an extent that’s fair enough I suppose – the fact that there’s nothing happening doesn’t stop your editor demanding a few hundred words of commentary about it, which is why you get so many speculative stories during quiet spells linking players with clubs they’ve never heard of ("Falkirk boss says "I’d love to sign Messi"” etc)

However, some of the recent commentary amongst the journalistic fraternity relating to the potential appointment of Roy Hodgson to the England manager’s job has, once more, highlighted one of the less savoury aspects of football journalism, that being the rather cynical and manipulative use of the press as a mouthpiece by some people within the game.

Before I carry on I should point out that the point of this article is not to comment on whether the England job has gone to the right man. For what it’s worth I think it has, but that’s by and large irrelevant. This is more a look at the role of some of the press in the whole process.

I think that it’s fair to say that our former boss Henry 'Harry' Redknapp is not without friends amongst the ladies and gentlemen of the so-called 'fourth estate'. It’s easy to see why. A happy go lucky character always ready with a sound-bite or a quotable quote that will fill up a few column inches, he’s bound to be quite popular when there’s a gap to fill.

However, this relationship works both ways. How many times have you read an interview with Mr Redknapp in which he praises Player X to the skies: "he’s a fine player but as far as I’m aware he’s not for sale". A less subtle method of letting Player X and his agent that you’re interested it would be hard to imagine, and there is no shortage of tame journalists ready and happy to ask Redknapp’s opinion about Player X as soon as he asks them to.

This sort of press manipulation is nothing new – the symbiotic relationship between some managers and journalists is as old as the hills but seemingly has always been considered acceptable in what they used to call Fleet Street. Take, for example, the constant stream of misinformation printed on the subject of the Tevez affair by Oliver Holt who never quite thought the fact that he was Neil 'Premiership Manager' Warnock’s (no doubt well-paid) ghost writer was important enough to mention.

Take Ian McGarry, who waltzes into print at the drop of a hat in disgust at "vile" chants sung by West Ham supporters humorously suggesting that ten men couldn’t carry a certain Chelsea midfielder - but who never has the space to mention that said midfielder paid him a fortune to write his 'auto' biography.

Going back further, one might muse on the fact that cautions given to David Pleat for kerb-crawling only became public knowledge many months after they had been issued. I’m sure it was total coincidence that the revelations came to light just as Terry Venables happened to be looking for work.

With that sort of history it was little surprise then that, when the England job came up for grabs, the Redknapp Fan Club went straight to work. "The next manager must be English" was the general tenor of the red top (pun intended) clamour. "Look what a mess of things those untrustworthy foreigners made of things" was the undercurrent (presumably Steve McClaren’s comedy accent rendered him Dutch for the purposes of this exercise). "Why, Harry Redknapp’s English isn’t he? Spurs are doing well so give him the job".

For his own part Redknapp, rather predictably, went into false modesty non-denial overdrive. "Who wouldn’t want to manage their country, but I’m concentrating on Spurs for now..." Like Mr Redknapp’s use of the press to court 'Player X', subtle it wasn’t.

However, the FA, rather unsportingly, seemed more concerned with the need to set up a long-term framework for the future of the national side than with ensuring that tabloid journalists had a steady stream of easy quotes. They had a think about it and came to the conclusion that, since international football is, by and large, a different kettle of fish from the game as played in the Premier League, it would be nice to have an England boss who could coach a team to adapt to the different needs of the game at international level.

Someone, perhaps, with experience of coaching at international tournament level might be useful. Certainly someone with both tactical nous and the ability to convey that through to the players. When you think about it in those terms, Roy Hodgson would seem to tick the boxes.

Now the public persona of Mr Hodgson couldn’t be more different from that of Mr Redknapp. You couldn’t imagine Roy, for example, claiming that he didn’t know whether he should "pick Dani or f*** him". In short, Mr Hodgson doesn’t come over as being the most charismatic of individuals – though I’m sure he’s as charming as they come in private.

This, of course is bad news for the press. No more nice fat headlines with humorous quotes. Why, some of them might even have to discuss the finer points of international football tactics as opposed to the relative benefits of various root vegetables or rain protection devices.

'Henry’s' stance in TV interviews as the news of Hodgson’s impending appointment broke was to try to maintain as much dignity as he could muster whilst trotting out the "concentrating on Spurs" line. However (and I may be wrong here admittedly) to me his face bore all the air of someone who was shocked to discover that the job was being given to someone else without him having at least been interviewed.

The last time I saw anyone in football look that shocked in an interview was when Steve Gerrard gave a press conference to lie through his teeth as to the reasons why he wouldn’t be joining Chelsea.

On the announcement that the FA had given the press corps the slip, they soon mobilised in support of their preferred option. "The FA have gone for the cheap option", they wailed. This is undoubtedly true – Spurs are not known for their philanthropy at the best of times and no doubt, if there had been a few bob to be made out of a potential Redknapp move to International football they’d have cried crocodile tears all the way to the bank, whilst, no doubt, telling whichever hapless club they were in the process of nicking their next manager from that the boss they were sending a car over for was worth only tuppence.

Of course, the financial argument totally ignores the fact that it might just be that the cheap option happens to be the best one.

However, what really caught the eye was the unpleasant angle of spin placed on the whole appointment. A short-lived Hodgson playing spell in apartheid-era South Africa was dredged up to suggest an air of racism though what the same correspondent thought about Redknapp’s dubious one-liner about Samassi Abou eating missionaries for some reason wasn’t thought to be relevant.

Sir Trevor announces Roy Hodgson's appointment at Tuesday's press conference

Then there was the whispering witch-hunt against Sir Trevor Brooking. Sir Trev’s image as a fence-sitter is a bit of a fallacy to anyone who actually listens to what he actually says (rather than the way he says it). Not that it would have overly bothered Brooking but it is rumoured that Tony Blair constantly blocked attempts to give him a knighthood when he was head of Sport England after Blair was made to look a bit silly in a discussion on the selling off of publicly-owned playing fields.

Brooking was one of four men on the panel responsible for the appointment of Hodgson – and rightly so given his title of FA Director of Football Development. However, Redknapp’s tame press pack have been calling foul, citing the fact that Brooking and Redknapp are only just about on polite nodding terms (Redknapp’s role in the departure of Billy Bonds from the Boleyn being just one of the reasons given for this apparent mutual antipathy). The implied argument is that it’s Brooking’s fault that Redknapp didn’t get the job and it’s personal.

Whether or not Redknapp has directly prompted such speculation from his pals is unclear but he’s certainly not been complaining about it. Meanwhile, the irony of Brooking’s integrity being questioned by or on behalf of someone with so many skeletons lurking in cupboards is presumably lost on those responsible.

Having failed to discredit the appointment, the lower regions of the press have now resorted to a new low. A front page headline ridiculing Hodgson’s speech impediment is, apparently, the best that they can now do. Having had their card marked by the FA, the Sun sought to justify its position by saying Jonathon Ross said it was ok. So that’s ok then.

Now there are circumstances where the sort of speech problem suffered by Mr Hodgson can genuinely be funny. Michael Palin as Pontius Pilate in 'Life of Brian' and the episode of Only Fools & Horses featuring Phil Pope singing 'Crying' both had me in tears of laughter the first time I saw them. However, as far as I’m aware, John Sullivan had no hidden agenda against people who couldn’t pronounce their 'Rs' and, since much of the late writer's comedy came from real life experiences, it is quite possible that he encountered such a pub singer on his travels.

On the other hand, if you’re happy to have a dig at someone's speech impediment just because they got the job your mate wanted, maybe it’s time to admit defeat and move on. Alternatively, I look forward to seeing all sorts of "twitch" references within the next load of Spurs match reports. Unfortunately, 'Carry On...' actor Jack Douglas passed away some time ago (and his comedy twitch wasn’t genuine anyway) so there may be difficulty in finding someone famous to justify such references, but I’m sure that shouldn’t be a barrier to today’s tabloids.

Unless, of course, there’s a reason you wouldn’t want to upset your mate...

Time will tell whether or not Hodgson was the right appointment, but having the press on his back from the start would already appear to be a distraction. His initial press conference concentrated less on what his plans were for the role and more on why exactly it was he isn’t Harry Redknapp.

Unfortunately, until the press acknowledge that that may actually be no bad thing I fear we’ll be lumbered with "Woy" headlines for quite some time.

Please note that the opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of, nor should be attributed to, KUMB.com.

Your Comments

by Hammermatt
09:08AM 7th May 2012
''Superb article - great read - thanks very much :)''

by Kasper
03:04AM 6th May 2012
''I'd like to agree Jon but he hasn't picked in-form plyers in every case. Rio Ferdinand had hardly played last season, and did get picked on reputation.

Michael Carrick had a very average season for Manchester United and was awful in the friendly against Mexico three weeks ago, yet got picked. Joe Cole has been picked on reputation too. He hardly kicked a ball in the last three months of the season.

One player who was superb this season, and who wasn't picked even though he was the man in form, was Scott Parker. But of course, he doesn't have a reputation yet. He is a ball-winner and was rated as the top tackler in the Premier League last season. And yet we choose a lot of pretty-boy players who stood and stared at Wembley as Mexico rang rings around us.

Yes, we won 3-1 that day. And the only way we have a chance is to do what we did then. Bang it up to the 6ft 8in centre forward. That's all we know.

Capello may well be a good leader. He has hedged his bets on experience though, not form. He's no fool. Get my point!''

by Keith Holland
06:41PM 3rd May 2012
''Fine piece. Football Writer no 2 should be promoted IMO.''

by Saintjoe
04:39PM 3rd May 2012
''Saint here, great article which many fans all over the country will agree with. Big match tonight, good luck.''

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