The other day Sam Allardyce was photographed with Sir Alex Ferguson at a Manchester United Champions League match at Old Trafford. It was clearly the first step in some sort of Allardyce rehabilitation programme. Now, I was never a great fan of his appointment as England manager: anyone who calls themselves ‘Big’ should probably not be allowed anywhere near a once-great English institution. What we have now — Gareth Southgate on a trial, or, one day I hope, Eddie Howe of Bournemouth — is preferable. Nonetheless, the manner of Allardyce’s execution by the FA is troubling.
Entrapment has a long and honourable tradition in investigative journalism — in exposing wrongdoers and villains, sex offenders, criminals, arms dealers. I have done it myself (catching a corrupt immigration official who was trading visas for sex with vulnerable asylum seekers). But there is a nasty downside too, and that comes when investigators use entrapment to create a largely phoney offence and then expose it. After a while this seems to have become the default setting for the News of the World’s one-time star reporter, Mazher Mahmood.
The sting which trapped Allardyce was run by the investigations team from a posher newspaper. In the course of a couple of dinners at a Manchester Chinese restaurant, fuelled by what looks like pints of Chardonnay, he asked for 400 grand to do some speaking in the Far East. He also told journalists, who claimed they were from a major far-eastern sports agency, that it wasn’t that hard to get round the rules on third-party ownership of players. His speaking demand was, I think, largely to put them off, and it was constantly made clear by Allardyce that he would have to run it by the FA. As for the other part of the charge sheet, even I know how you can get round rules on third-party ownership and I don’t begin to understand them. It’s not a hanging offence.
Within hours of the report being published, Allardyce was sacked. Investigative journalism has a fine tradition: the sinking of the former England manager did not form part of that.
And nor did the FA cover itself in glory, either, moving too fast and too soon, like frightened rabbits, scared of social media and anxious that more revelations would follow. (There weren’t any). Now, it might be the best thing for England that Allardyce is no longer in charge, but justice was not done at all.
How moved were you by that vibrant Test match in Chittagong? Thrilling, wildly unpredictable, mesmerising in its twists and turns, metaphorically and literally, with some extraordinary spin bowling. I wish Bangladesh had won: it would have been marvellous for this developing Test-playing nation. But what troubled me was that such a wonderful piece of sport was played out in front of such a meagre crowd. If Bangladesh, where cricket is without rival in its claim to be the national sport, cannot muster a decent crowd, what hope has the Test format got? Can it be that it is now in its death throes?
Certainly not for England and Australia matches, and in the summer there were record crowds at Lord’s for the Pakistan Test. But elsewhere? It will be interesting to see whether the forthcoming series between Australia and South Africa shows signs of interest in Test cricket dwindling in one of the sport’s greatest strongholds. Even the upcoming five-match series for England in India won’t pull in many full houses. But we mustn’t let Test cricket dwindle in Bangladesh, as it has in the West Indies and Zimbabwe.
It’s a long time since the Rio Olympics, so why there was such a gap between the Games and the recent celebratory parades beats me. After all, there is only so much time you can remember what a taekwondo bronze medallist looks like.