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Spectator sport

Spectator Sport: Unsung heroes

4 May 2012

11:00 PM

4 May 2012

11:00 PM

Well, that went well. The selection of the England football manager has been carried out with enough pomp, secrecy and puffs of smoke to make the election of a pope look as simple as buying a packet of fags. The workings of the almighty may be mysterious, but it’s kids’ stuff compared to what goes on between the ears of FA chairman David Bernstein. Quite why the straightforward and correct appointment of Roy Hodgson became so byzantine is hard to see. But we are where we are and a jolly good thing too.

Myself, I was never convinced Harry Redknapp was the bolt-on for the job assumed by the London-based sports press, in the chunterings of the radio phone-ins, and among England twitterati like Jack Wilshere, Wayne Rooney and Rio Ferdinand. Come to think of it, with support like that you could see Harry was doomed. There’s nothing the FA would want more than being told what to do by pampered superstars of, er, proven international achievement like Rio and Wayne.

The press and the public like Harry because he gives good quote, is charismatic, often surprising, and produces nice football teams. He’s also a geezer, good and proper. Though whether he is so adored in say Penrith or Penzance I am less sure. Or indeed on the four-man Team England selection committee, where sits Sir Trevor Brooking. They were together at West Ham in the 1970s, where Brooking was famously well-educated, restrained, almost teetotal and dedicated to training. Harry, it is fair to say, less so.

Roy is different. He gives balanced quote, is thoughtful and enjoys his books. He’s very much not a geezer. He was an adviser to Sebastian Faulks about the football scenes in his novel A Week in December. After a long chat about, among other things, the spat between Julian Barnes and Martin Amis, Hodgson took Faulks down to the training ground. One of the first people they saw was the American striker Clint Dempsey. ‘Hey Clint,’ said Hodgson. ‘You read books. Come and say hello to Sebastian Faulks.’ Make that man England manager.

Rooney and Terry may be not big into Roy. Roy is big into Milan Kundera and Philip Roth. That probably won’t lead to lively banter around the Krakow hotel fire but isn’t a more thoughtful England a good thing? We’re told he’ll lose the dressing room because he’ll want his players to train for more time than it takes to drive a chromed Ferrari from Cheshire to the new FA academy at Burton. Is that so bad? Hodgson has taken West Brom (yes, West Brom for heaven’s sake!) to the top half of the toughest league in Europe. He speaks five languages, and led Switzerland to the last 16 of a World Cup. But will the England job work out for such a talented, funny, intelligent man? Probably not. Already there are jokes about how he’ll cope with ‘Gewwarwd, Wooney, Tewwy and Wio’. The people have decided. As soon as there’s a bump in the road, he won’t be the right man for the job, because he’ll never be ’Arry.

And so to another unsung football hero: Rickie Lambert, newly promoted Southampton’s striker. Well, he’s sung about on the terraces at St Mary’s, but not yet the Premier League. Of all the reasons to look forward to next season, nothing will beat his first goal. Nobody could fail to be won over by his post-promotion TV interview, young son on arm, anticipating playing at Anfield, the ground of his dreams. At 30, he’s finally getting a crack at the big time — thanks largely to his own 31 goals this season. Until last year’s promotion, he hadn’t played above League One. Lambert for England, I say. There couldn’t be a greater contrast between the relationship of Lambert and his gaffer, Nigel Adkins, and that of Carlos Tevez and Roberto Mancini.

Roger Alton is an executive editor at the Times.

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