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'Hope and expectation is always the thing that kills an England manager and he’s got to produce this time around'

Michael Calvin talks about the pressures on an England manager on this week’s episode of Behind the Lines.

Image: PA

THE ENGLAND FOOTBALL team attracts an, erm, unique kind of media pressure, perhaps best summed up by the 2002 World Cup tale of a tear-soaked David Seaman emerging from the dressing room after defeat to Ronaldinho and Brazil to be met by a journalist literally booing him. 

Most England managers are eventually worn down by the intensity and callousness of the media glare upon them. The deriding of Graham Taylor is probably the most memorable, with one tabloid newspaper mocking Taylor up as a turnip on their front page after England failed to qualify for the ’94 World Cup through defeat to England. “Swedes 2 Turnips 1″ was the pithy headline which led to the front-page photoshop. 

As Michael Calvin puts it in his new book, “Taylor flew too close to The Sun.” 

That book is titled Whose Game is it Anyway? Football, Life, Love and Loss, and Michael is this week’s guest on Behind the Lines

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Among the topics we cover is how England managers are treated, and Taylor is the subject of an entire chapter. Taylor was the son of a journalist but had his England reign mercilessly mocked by the press, and, remarkably, was invited to the retirement party for the sub-editor who dreamed up the initial Turnip headline. He declined. 

The Sun‘s then-editor Kelvin MacKenzie said the turnip gag was “a bit of fun.” 

“Later in his career, he was a very good commentator for the BBC, so you’d see him in press boxes”, says Michael of Taylor. “There were no airs or graces to him, he would take his turn in getting the teas at half-time and so on. There is a chapter in the book based around his funeral, and it gave me the chance to assess how brutally he was treated. It was really brutal. I write in the book that I feel MacKenzie was one of the most malign influences in British journalism in my lifetime.

“The England job spat him out, but it doesn’t mean he is a bad man.” 

Another to be spat out by the England job was Sam Allardyce, who lasted jut 76 days and a single game before making way in the fallout to a Telegraph sting operation. A slightly loose-lipped Allardyce was secretly recorded by a journalist discussing investment opportunities in football, but was cleared of any potential wrongdoing by a subsequent police investigation. Nonetheless, the frenzy of the reaction saw Allardyce lose his job. 

“It’s something you don’t want to experience, for sure, ever,’ Allardyce tells Calvin in the book. “It doesn’t matter whether the story is true or not: you are guilty. Showing I wasn’t guilty was very difficult, a long hard road.

“Without going into it too deeply, the lack of support or a bit of faith from the FA particularly at the beginning really made it worse. Had there been a cooling-off period, waiting to see what the real evidence was, it would have been clear that I didn’t break any rules. But, in the public eye I was portrayed as an absolute fraudster, almost. The papers picked up on that. The politicians jumped on the back of it. Yet when my case was proven, where were they?’” 

Allardyce was replaced by Gareth Southgate, who led England through a relatively benign path to the World Cup semi-finals, and now takes them to a European Championships they will largely host. 

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“To a degree he was a victim of his own personality and a victim of perception”, Michael says of Allardyce on the podcast. “There was a sense of, ‘Sam Allardyce as England manager? Why are we inviting a below-the-stairs man to do the job?’

“The England manager’s job, I don’t necessarily think its impossible, and the media is changing. It will be interesting to see how things go at the Euros.

The one thing [Gareth Southgate] did do, and it was great PR, but when we used to cover England under Capello, Hodgson, it was Camp Paranoia. It was an unpleasant place to be. Gareth worked that out and because he had a younger group and had come through with them in a developmental sense, he was able to say, ‘Let’s try something different here. Let’s welcome people in.’

“That was a gesture of faith and trust on his part. And there’s a self-interest here: a journalist isn’t going to crap on his own doorstep by abusing that access. I think it’s quite a subtle way of doing it. He got really good press, Gareth. I like him, I like his attitude.

“Hope and expectation is always the thing that kills an England manager, and he’s got to produce this time around. There is a hackneyed phrase, and it’s been overused in the past, but there is a golden generation of English talent coming through.”

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About the author:

Gavin Cooney

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