Premature Rejection: The Fourth Estate And Roy Hodgson
Once the announcement had been made, they acted with admirable speed. It took just two days from an announcement appearing on the Football Association’s website on Sunday afternoon for an interview to be held and, this afternoon, a press conference to follow confirming that Roy Hodgson is the new manager of the England national football team. This, however, is already a manager without a honeymoon period. The press started drawing their knives before the decision had even been formalised and, of course, long before a ball is kicked in his name by his team.
This decision, it was clear, had already been made. The job was not going to the man that the football press wanted, and the man chosen above him now seems likely to reap the full force of their ire.
Chief of the cheerleaders against him has been Martin Samuel of The Daily Mail. Samuel has managed no less than three articles of various states of caterwauling over the last forty-eight hours or so, a degree of saturation coverage which can only lead the reader towards perception that he may, perhaps, be taking all of this a little bit too personally. On Monday, he was complaining that – and it’s worth remembering before reading any of the following that the FA later confirmed that they hadn’t considered anyone else for the position at all – “Ensconced neatly in the mediocrity of mid-table, Hodgson is approachable in a way that Redknapp is not” and, without any apparent trace of irony, that “The pity for Hodgson is that, as at Liverpool, he may be rejected in the minds of many before the job has even begun.”
By Monday evening, Samuel was on the defensive. In an article disingenuously entitled, “Out to get them? No, we don’t hound managers, we just want results”, a barely coherent rant which demonstrated more or less the exact opposite of its headline. “Truth is”, he wrote, “there is no collusion, no cabal, no convergence of interests”, a statement rather undermined by the application of bizarre conspiracy theories such as claiming that the FA put in place “unquantifiable justifications” to ensure Hodgson’s appointment, claiming that “the support for Redknapp was nuanced, not knee-jerk” as the sound of knee jerking became increasingly audible in background and claiming that “The FA were too lily-livered from the start” because “The approach for Redknapp should have been made the same month that Capello quit as England manager” and accusingly asking his readership, “Do YOU know what football writers like most?” before answering what we might have presumed to have been a rhetorical question by immediately answering, “A winning team.”
The comments section below the article suggested, however, that Samuel was not particularly in tune with the public mood at all. Of the one hundred and nine comments below it, the overwhelming majority from readers was coruscating in its criticism, with one reader asking, “How on earth you have the nerve to say that the press don’t hound out managers?”, another saying that Samuel was, “clearly livid that their summer jolly around the table with ‘arry telling Bobby Moore stories from within the inner chambers of the England team setup has just been cancelled”, and another still arguing that, “So this idea that Roy Hodgson can, or will, be hounded from the England job by a vengeful, embittered, southern-based press, stung that the FA have overlooked their chosen one, Harry Redknapp, really is beyond stupidity.” Once the appointment had been confirmed, Samuel was back on the offensive, implying that “a deafening silence on Twitter ” was the sound of footballers being “at least ambivalent about his appointment”, claiming (with reference to the current England squad) that, “he will never have had a collection of talent like that, not even at Inter Milan” and that “there really is no point taking the England job without a sense of ambition.”
Hodgson has, over the last twenty-four hours, received further tastes of what he can expect for as long as he remains in the job. At the press conference confirming his appointment yesterday, one hack chose this moment as appropriate to attempt to embarrass him by asking him about his time playing in Apartheid-era South Africa during the 1970s. It should, of course, go without saying that having made such a career decision would – or should – hardly be the moral high point of anybody’s professional life. However, to assume that the journalist asking the question was doing so out of genuine concern over the issue would, considering the timbre of the press coverage of the previous forty-eight hours, seem to be misguided. The question felt like one asked out of pure vindictiveness, a deliberate curve ball thrown in to embarrass him. He fielded the question as well as could reasonably be expected and it seems likely that any “controversy” over this forty year old story – which was no great secret even before the events of the last couple of days – will turn out to be little more than a storm in a tea cup.
The final act of derision to be thrown in his direction – for now – came courtesy of The Sun, whose front page decided that the best way to welcome the new England manager into his job by mocking his speech impediment – the excessive or incorrect pronunciation of the letter “R”, or rhotacism – with its headline. We shouldn’t expect any better from this particular rag, of course, but what the decision to run with this, of all of the headlines that they could have chosen, speaks volumes about the attitude of the press towards this appointment and what we can expect from them in the future. Even those amongst us that have doubted the press obsession with Harry Redknapp in the past will have looked upon the hatchet jobs of the last couple of days and drawn the conclusion that a majority of press utterances on the subject have not been calm and collected assessments of Roy Hodgson’s chances of succeeding as the manager of the England national team at all. The swivel-eyed blatherings of the last couple of days have only served to reinforce the belief that there are some – perhaps many – in the media who are mostly angry about their tame Premier League manager not getting the job, above any other considerations.
Redknapp, all bluster, bravado and jocularity, fitted the narrative with which much of the press likes to daub the national team, and even though he was apparently not considered for the job his presence hung around this afternoon’s press conference and will continue to do so. The press has written its narrative for Hodgson’s time in charge, asking the unanswerable question of what might have happened had Harry been in charge, and putting us all on warning of the unfunny and vaguely insulting “jokes” that will be thrown at Hodgson when England continue their near half-century old tradition of occasionally flattering to deceive before falling flat on their faces. Over the last few days, however, it has felt as if the press are not as in tune in with public opinion as they would seek to claim. It is impossible to judge where the the feelings of supporters exactly lays on the matter, but it doesn’t seem unreasonable to suggest that, far from being the unanimously elected “people’s choice”, Redknapp wasn’t as universally popular a candidate for the job as some in the press tried to convince us he was. They will probably win in the fullness of time, if for no other reason that England managers always fail in the end. Over the last couple of days, however, they have demonstrated the extent to which they seek to mould public opinion rather than, as they so frequently claim, merely reflect it. It is a lesson that all football supporters would do well to remember when they claim to be the true voices of us all this summer and beyond.
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