Feature

Allardyce’s exit as bad as it gets

Sam Allardyce's sacking represents everything England supporters have come to expect from their national team.

Sam Allardyce

Sam Allardyce after his appointment as England manager. Source: AFP

“Only in England” muttered the elderly gentleman next to me as I picked up my round of English papers on Tuesday morning.

Here in Leicester, where the mood remains ebullient about all things football - not least after their Champions League win over Porto later that night - the grey dim clouds of the Three Lions are never far away.

People across England use the stock-standard phrase that they “don’t care” about the national team but it’s just a defence mechanism. Like a jilted lover, they care. The pain of underperformance runs so deep.

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That emotion has now given way to pure and total embarrassment. It has been a shocking few months. Probably the worst since the Graham Taylor debacle in 1993.



A disastrous European Championships in France, which led to Roy Hodgson’s inevitable sacking, somehow drove The Football Association to look at Sam Allardyce - an even more retrograde option if such a thing were possible.

As I wrote upon his appointment, Allardyce is a charming fellow. I still think he has a kindly heart; his players and staff won’t hear a bad word against him.

But his penchant for getting mixed up in taking the icing off the football cake has again proven his downfall.

Within 67 days, having managed just one game, Allardyce was sacked for negotiating a bogus $600,000 (£400,000) pay day for assisting with transfers (the investors he thought he was talking to turned out to be reporters with video cameras).

Ironically, previous allegations about “bungs” were seen to have deeply tarnished his brand but not to the point that he was unemployable.

As often happens, productive subsequent stints (at West Ham and then Sunderland) seemed to erase all those questions and restore his reputation.

But a leopard doesn’t change his spots easily. Even at 61, with his "dream job" secured, the ex-Bolton manager couldn't resist a backhander. Sad, really.

Yet the move to sack Allardyce is already proving highly divisive. Sifting through the dozens of comments made on The World Game's social media accounts, I was struck by how many wanted to defend him. And maybe they have a point.

London’s Daily Telegraph, who set up the sting operation, played a high-stakes game and won. They’ll be celebrating hard on Fleet Street today.  But there is something deeply unsettling about the manner of these “scoops”.

I’m not convinced it is actual journalism. It’s more about setting booby traps and waiting for someone to fall into the hole. FFA chief executive David Gallop told me recently it was akin to "corridor tripping". Right on.

FA chief executive Martin Glenn speaks about the decision to end Sam Allardyce's tenure as @England manager: pic.twitter.com/eOmyxweEs0 — The FA (@FA) September 27, 2016
In the end, it will only serve to sever the level of trust between the media and the sport they intend to cover.

Rest assured, the English press will howl mercilessly about the lack of access they are granted at future tournaments. But if you worked for the FA’s press office, how could you trust any of the tabloids?

True investigative journalism is a magnificent craft, one that is a fundamental part of an honest, thriving democracy.

When I think of the extraordinary work being done by, say Kate Mcllymont (Sydney Morning Herald), Sarah Ferguson (ABC) or Adele Ferguson (The Age), we owe them all a collective debt of gratitude.

But the dark arts of deception should be seldom used by journalists. The Telegraph may argue they have done England a service by pre-emptively outing Big Sam and his hustling ways. Maybe - but the press can't always be detective, judge, jury and executioner at once.

Either way, one can only hope this closes the dirtiest of dirty chapter for the Three Lions. They certainly get the opportunity to start afresh - and they should, ideally, with a far better manager - but it’s another reason for the public to maintain their distrust.

Only in England indeed.


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4 min read
Published 28 September 2016 at 3:19pm
By Sebastian Hassett