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Spectator sport

Spectator Sport: Heroic failures

10 March 2012

1:00 PM

10 March 2012

1:00 PM

Good old Pearcey, I say. England’s excitable stand-in manager refreshingly ruled himself out of the full-time job after his back-of-a-fag-packet team just lost out to Holland last week, because, he said, he wasn’t good enough. His actual words were, ‘I don’t think I have the experience for the job… the full-time manager of England at this moment in time is probably somebody else, not me.’

Well, full marks for honesty, but you might say the evidence is too scant — there’s insufficent sample size. Kevin Keegan could say that he wasn’t good enough to be England coach with the real authority of a man who had not been good enough for quite a long time. As he put it after losing 1-0 to Germany in 2000, ‘I feel I fall short of what is required in this massive job. Although I knew things were going wrong I just couldn’t think of what to do to put it right.’

All very unusual, especially as men are broadly hardwired to say yes to most things, even if they have as much chance of succeeding as they have of jogging across the Sahara. It might have been helpful if for example the seemingly likeable, indeed rational, André Villas-Boas had said to Abramovich when Chelsea came calling, ‘You know Roman, that’s very flattering and the money’s good, but, hey, the Chelsea dressing room is so poisonous it makes a vipers’ nest look like Andy Pandy’s herb garden; the team are getting so old they’ll soon qualify for the winter fuel allowance, and the fans just want José. And also, Roman, I’m only 34, I might have picked up the Europa League and a few tinpot trophies with Porto last year, and of course when I was 21 I did manage the Virgin Islands — to two defeats 9-0 and 5-1 against Bermuda — which doesn’t look great on the CV, so I might just pass on this and get a bit more experience.’ But he didn’t, and hence the car crash of AVB’s last weeks.

It’s a rare move in other sports, too. Mike Campbell-Lamerton, the massive Scotland lock and Lions skipper, stood down from the side in New Zealand in 1966 because he didn’t think he was good enough; and England cricket captain Mike Denness dropped himself halfway through the Ashes tour of 1974-5, saying he shouldn’t have been in the side in the first place. Mind you, England were being battered by Lillee and Thomson, so Denness’s hari-kiri did have an upside. For him, anyway.

Politicians sometimes play this card, albeit far too rarely. The pleasingly loopy founder of Ukip, Lord Pearson of Rannoch, stood down as chairman in 2010 saying, ‘I am not much good at party politics, which I do not enjoy.’ And Alan Johnson, one of the best leaders Labour never had, told Kirsty Young on Desert Island Discs, ‘I don’t think I would have been good enough [to be Prime Minister] frankly. I don’t think I’ve got the capabilities.’ And sweet Estelle Morris quit as Education Secretary, saying ‘I just don’t think I’m as good at it as I was at my other job.’

As for the Olympics, sure, the traffic will be hell and the security nightmarish, and the surface-to-air missile firing competition might take a nasty turn — not to mention the fact that the IOC is an unlovable bunch of plutocrats — but by gosh aren’t Olympic sportspeople nice? Lovely Rebecca Adlington and all the swimmers are delightful, as are the cyclists and the athletes. Ellie Simmonds could not be more pleasant. They are all so excited about what lies in wait, yet seem grounded and real. And it’s not just the British — look at Vlasic, Chernova and Isinbayeva. Their excitement is infectious. How can you not feel good about London 2012?

Roger Alton is an executive editor at the Times.

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