John Sturgis

Glenn Hoddle and the birth of cancel culture

The former England manager said something silly – and with that, he was sacked

  • From Spectator Life
Hoddle at the Lancaster Gate hotel (Getty Images)

Most England managers lose their jobs over bad results: Roy Hodgson was sacked after being humiliated by Iceland, Graham Taylor for losing a must-win qualifier against Holland, Kevin Keegan quit after a bitter home defeat to Germany. There have been exceptions, though: Sam Allardyce went for bragging to an undercover reporter how he could do certain favours for a hefty fee, Fabio Capello after a row with the FA over John Terry’s captaincy when accused of racism, Don Revie defected to take UAE oil money. 

The episode seems to have foretold an imminent shift in our culture

But Glenn Hoddle remains unique among England managers – possibly among any football manager anywhere ever  – for having been sacked over a theological issue. This strange episode unfolded 25 years ago. Since his playing days, Hoddle had stood apart as a born-again Christian when the norm for footballers remained the George Best booze-and-birds lifestyle. But his religious beliefs didn’t excite much wider interest until he took over the England team. And then they did, particularly because – as well as the usual coaching staff – Hoddle began introducing to squad sessions… a faith healer. 

He had known Eileen Drewery since he was 17 and credited her with having once helped him make a miraculous recovery from injury. And he believed she could help his players by performing other miracles. The sudden presence at England training of this quasi-religious figure saw the tabloids nickname his team ‘The Hod Squad’. 

In his first and only major tournament, the World Cup in France in 1998, Hoddle took some bold decisions: dropping Gazza, the modern George Best, on the eve of the tournament after he was seen out drinking and eating kebabs, then deciding mid-tournament that he would give Michael Owen a starting role despite him being just 18. Owen performed explosively and the team looked genuinely exciting in their knock-out tie before David Beckham’s moment of petulance saw him sent off and the more robust Argentina reined England in.

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Written by
John Sturgis

John Sturgis is a freelance journalist who has worked across Fleet Street for almost 30 years as both reporter and news editor

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