Why Allardyce leaving could be a blessing in disguise

Just when you think the England men’s national football team could not sink any lower after June’s humiliating Euro 2016 defeat by Iceland they do. It has to be said in fairness that this time it is not the players that are to blame it is the now ex manager Sam Allardyce. Just sixty seven days – and one game – after being appointed on Tuesday Allardyce left his England post by “mutual consent”. The FA had no other option.

Allardyce’s reign came to an end as a result of a “sting” by British newspaper the Daily Telegraph. Allardyce met with two bogus businessmen who offered him £400,000 for being “a keynote speaker”. He also made plenty of controversial remarks criticising predecessor Roy Hodgson saying he’d send them (the England players) off to sleep. He criticised his own players for being physiologically weak, and his own employers the FA for wasting £870 million on redeveloping Wembley. In both those cases a lot of fans would probably agree with him but it’s not a very good thing to criticise your players and your bosses.

If that is all he said he might – might – have survived. But something else he said sealed his fate. He said that there are ways around the FA’s ban on third party ownership – that is the rule brought in by the FA in 2008 where individuals have a stake in the ownership of a player rather than him being owned wholly by his club. Whether you think the rule is a good idea or not is irrelevant. No one in any industry would survive being caught giving people advice on how to get around the rules of their own employers. Once that remark appeared in the Telegraph it was all over for Allardyce. 

Predictably this week’s events have been called a disaster for English football. It is certainly embarrassing. TV pundit Rio Ferdinand said the affair made English football look ludicrous. And yet long term this could be a blessing in disguise for English football as the FA made a dreadful mistake appointing Allardyce in the first place and by making a fool of himself in the press he has given the FA a chance to redeem themselves and get rid of him before his appointment could cause much damage.

An article in yesterday’s Sun by Neil Ashton showed why Allardyce was unqualified for the job. The article said even his own wife did not want Allardyce to take the job as she knew what he was like when he started guzzling pints of lager. Apparently he was famous for his boozing sessions that lasted until 3 am. Earlier this month he apparently had a monumental night out with his coaching staff Sammy Lee and Craig Shakespeare. The next day he turned up for work and a number of FA staff said his breath reeked of alcohol. How on earth is that guy fit to manage a school team never mind his national team? 

But although it was the UK press that brought Allardyce down they cannot be exempt from criticism either. They must have known about his boozing. Also the Ashton article yesterday mentioned Allardyce’s “skewed social views” and that “his comments about females have bordered on sexism”. So why did the press not expose them? They were quick enough – quite rightly – to slaughter Malky MacKay and José Mourinho for sexist behaviour but somehow they didn’t expose Allardyce’s remarks. Even Ashton admitted that they should have exposed him “Shame on us, if the truth be told”. Shows that football thinks that crimes against itself – ie corruption – are more serious than crimes against society – ie sexism (Allardyce was brought down during an ongoing Telegraph investigation into corruption – no UK paper has investigated into sexism in football). It is highly likely that Allardyce would have been brought down by some scandal anyway and had it come say a month before the World Cup in 2018 it would been a disaster. 

But it’s not just Allardyce that is a problem – its English football managers generally. Chelsea fan David Baddiel said in an article about Mourinho in the Radio Times in 2014 that today’s English managers – Allardyce, Steve Bruce, Alan Curbishley, Alan Pradew, Harry Redknapp – could have managed in 1954. That is not a compliment. It is very possible that there are hidden sexist views among those men – in fact Bruce questioned the rape conviction of Ched Evans – how would he know he wasn’t in court for his trial.

It is clear that most British managers are unfit for purpose – it is interesting that most of the Telegraph’s corruption allegations so far have been against British managers and assistant managers. If I were the FA I would not even consider appointing an English manager. There is a reason why the elite Premier League clubs avoid English managers. It is because they are stuck in the 1950s and they represent a horrible macho culture that really should have died long ago. The Allardyce scandal has given the FA a chance to atone for its mistake in appointing him and instead appoint a progressive foreign manager. It is interesting that according to the book “Soccernomics” by Simon Kuper and Stefan Szymanski (page 370) that Fabio Capello was the most successful England manager (in terms of win percentage) of all time and Sven Goran Eriksson was fourth both way ahead of Steve McLaren who was manager between the two foreigners (and therefore had the same players to choose from). England’s cricket and rugby teams have been improved by foreign coaches after disastrous 2015 World Cup campaigns under Englishmen. If the FA take heed of this and appoint a progressive foreign manager the Allardyce shambles could be a blessing in disguise.

Women are Strong, but not Strong Enough…

Like A Girl

queens_u_hockey_team_1917In 1898 a German doctor came to the conclusion that physical activity was damaging to a woman’s body.  Specifically stating that, “violent movements of the body can cause a shift in the position and a loosening of the uterus as well as prolapse and bleeding, with resulting sterility, thus defeating a woman’s true purpose in life, i.e., the bringing forth of strong children.” More recently, a basketball coach in 1967 expressed that women would never play the sport in the same way as men. The fear was that with too much excessive jumping, a woman would displace her uterus. While girls and women on the surface do not seem to encounter these same unfounded assumptions about their bodies, how far has sport truly come in terms of physical expectations?

Currently, many sports that boys and men have enjoyed for centuries are now available to girls and women.  While access has…

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Time sport paid for its own parties

The Paralympics ended last Sunday ending Brazil’s two year spell in the spotlight. The country had hosted the 2014 men’s World Cup and Rio hosted the recent Olympic and Paralympic games. Whether it was a good idea for Brazil to host the two biggest events in sport back to back only that country can answer. But it is interesting that the number of cities willing to host the Olympics is falling.

An example of this happened this week. The city of Rome withdrew it’s bid for the 2024 Olympics when newly elected mayor Virginia Raggi refused to support the bid. Rome is the third city to withdraw from the race to host the 2024 Olympics. In 2015 Boston withdrew its bid citing a lack of public support. In the same year the German city of Hamburg withdrew after 51.6% of the city’s voters rejected the bid in a referendum.

But it is not just the 2024 Summer Olympics that suffered from a lack of bidding cities. The 2022 Winter Olympics suffered from the same problem. Four out of six bidding cities ended up withdrawing (Lviv, Stockholm, Oslo and Krakow). The latter withdrew after the bid was rejected in a referendum – just like Hamburg – while Stockholm and Oslo withdrew because of public opposition. Lviv withdrew because of the Ukrainian crisis and intends to bid for 2026. For the 2022 games the International Olympic Committee (IOC) were left with only Beijing – the eventual winners – and Almaty in Kazakhstan.

But why are cities queueing up NOT to bid for the Olympics? The reason is fairly simple – cost and the building of new “white elephant” sporting facilities. The recent Rio Olympics cost $12 billion. The last Winter Olympics in Sochi cost an eye watering $31 billion. The 2004 Olympics in Athens cost €9 billion and is reckoned to be a factor in Greece going bankrupt. This is nothing new. Montreal finally paid for the 1976 Olympics in 2006! Most host cities – the exception being Los Angeles in 1984 – make a loss.

But why is that when the Olympics make a profit? The answer is fairly simple. The host city has to pay the costs of the games not the IOC. But of course the host city does not get any of the profits the IOC does. And after the disaster of 2004 cities are beginning to learn this. Twelve cities bid for the 2004 Olympics. After Rome’s withdrawal only three cities are still in the race for 2024 – Los Angeles , Paris and Budapest – and the Hungarian capital is considered very much the outsider in the race. It is clear that politicians and voters have rumbled the Olympics realising that a successful city gets 16 days of a sporting party and a debt hangover that lasts for years and even decades.

So what needs to happen? The answer is fairly obvious and applies to both the Olympics and the men’s football World Cup. If FIFA and the IOC want to have these big parties they should pay for them – and give half the profits to the host city/country. Since both FIFA and the IOC say they are non profit organisations why can’t they pay for their parties? They also need to moderate their demands. FIFA forced both South Africa and Brazil to change their laws to accommodate their sponsors. Meanwhile the IOC’s list of demands for Olympic host cities was leaked to Norwegian newspaper VG before Oslo withdrew its bid. The number of demands ran to 7000 pages and included such gems as meetings with the King and a VIP cocktail party! No wonder the Norwegians baulked – most countries would at this arrogant nonsense. No wonder the IOC could not get a democracy to bid for 2022 and had to choose between China and Kazakhstan. No wonder three cities have pulled out of the race for 2024.

It’s time that arrogant FIFA and IOC were chopped down to size. And the only way to do it is for Paris, Los Angeles and Budapest to withdraw from the race for 2024 leaving no bidders to host them. The West should announce that if FIFA and the IOC do not pay for the events and give the host city/country a share of the profits not only will Western countries not bid to host the Olympics or World Cup but they will not take part in them. That would be a disaster for FIFA and the IOC as it could mean that their sponsors – mainly Western companies – pull out and if they do the whole house of cards could collapse.

More and more voters and politicians realise that all they get from hosting the Olympics or the World Cup is a mountain of debt. Therefore they don’t want to host the biggest events in sport. Unless FIFA and the IOC realise that and start coughing up for their parties and giving the hosts a piece of their profits they might find out that only dictatorships like Russia, Qatar, China and Kazakhstan are willing to host them. And quite frankly if that becomes the case it serves them right.

On the toughest job in sport

So who has the toughest job in sport? Some would say it’s the England football manager Sam Allardyce, some would say it is Joe Maddon as he tries to lead the Chicago Cubs to their first World Series title in 108 years, some would say it is José Mourinho and Pep Guadiola as they try to restore Manchester to the pinnacle of English football. But at least these four men are all qualified to do their jobs. My nomination is a totally unique job in sport that you only get if you are not good at what you do.

The job is that of nightwatchman in cricket. For those who don’t know about cricket a nightwatchman is used when a wicket falls and there are only a few minutes left in the day’s play. Nobody in cricket really likes batting for a few minutes at the end of a day – you can only score a few runs at best and at worst you can get out. So a lot of teams don’t use good batsmen and instead use bowlers since most of them are not very good at batting and therefore they are expendable. If they get out it is disappointing but not a disaster as they are not very good. So in effect – totally unlike any other job inside or outside sport – you get the nightwatchman’s job because you are not good. The equivalent in baseball would be using a pitcher as a pinch hitter – which happens far more rarely than the use of a nightwatchman in cricket.

The nightwatchman job in cricket is a tough one because not only is it done by someone who is not a good batsman but the fielding side is inevitably buoyed up by capturing a wicket near the close of play. Also one of the unwritten rules of cricket is the nightwatchman – the not good batsman – has to take most of the strike as he is the one that is expendable – which is why he is out there in the first place. Then if he survives the night he has to go out again at the start of the next day’s play to face fired up fresh fast bowlers who are out for blood and want early wickets.

One member of the “nightwatchman’s union” sums up the role perfectly. Pat Pocock played 25 Tests for England between 1968 and 1985. His career Test batting average was 6.24 which is not good (as in baseball the lower the average the worse the player is.) But because his batting average was so poor – he was in the team as a bowler – he was considered perfect for the nightwatchman’s role. As David Tossell in his book “Grovel! – The Story and Legacy of the Summer of 1976” – put it (Page 119) the role was one that Pocock “frequently filled but rarely relished”.

Here’s what the man himself had to say about the nightwatchman’s role (ibid page 119) “Nightwatchman is the absolute arse end of cricket. Generally the bowlers have had their feet up all day and they are fresh; they know they only have to bowl five overs at you and have a new ball in their hands. It is a tail gunner’s job, the worst job in the world”.

Another nightwatchman story from 1976 appears in the same book (page 38) when batsman Dennis Amiss was hit on the skull by a ball from Michael Holding near the end of the first day of the MCC v West Indies game at Lord’s. Bowler Phil Carrick was sent in as nightwatchman while Amiss’s blood was still on the pitch. The other batsman Mike Brearley greeted Carrick with a line from a “Beyond the Fringe” sketch. “The time has come, Perkins, for a useless sacrifice”. And in fact that’s what nightwatchmen are most of the time. A useless sacrifice whose only purpose is to protect better batsmen from having to bat late in the day (hence the word “nightwatchman”). A truly horrible job.

But it’s not all doom and gloom. Sometimes the nightwatchman bats on well into the next day and makes a big important score. The four most famous nightwatchman innings for England are Harold Larwood’s 98 against Australia at Sydney in 1933 (he is more famous in that series for reducing Don Bradman to mere mortality with his controversial “Bodyline” bowling that nearly wrecked relations between the UK and Australia), Eddie Hemmings’ 93 in 1983 against Australia at Sydney in 1983 which helped saved the game, Jack Russell’s 94 against Sri Lanka at Lord’s in 1988 on his Test debut – ironically delayed because the selectors in their infinite (lack of) wisdom thought he could not bat! – and Alex Tudor’s 99 not out against New Zealand at Edgbaston where he was denied a century because his Surrey team mate Graham Thorpe scored so quickly England had reached their victory target before Tudor could complete his hundred.

But the most remarkable nightwatchman’s innings in Test cricket came from Australia’s Jason Gillespie in 2006. Sent in near the end of the first day’s play in the second Test against Bangladesh in Chittagong he was still batting on the fouth day when Australia declared on 581 for 4 with Gillespie on 201 not out. What makes that amazing is Gillespie is not a batsman but has a higher Test score than some of the best batsmen in history – among them famous Australia captains Ian Chappell and Steve Waugh and famous England captains Colin Cowdrey and Mike Atherton!

The Gillespie story proves one thing. Nightwatchman might be “the arse end of cricket” as Pat Pocock called it. I still say it’s the toughest job in sport. It must be the only one you get because you are not good and expendable – a “useless sacrifice”. But sometimes the useless sacrifice can have his day. As Jason Gillespie did in Chittagong on April 19 2006.