Above is a link to all the England managers since Walter Winterbottom. I would dare say that after Walter’s seventeen year spell, it all went downhill. But I speak only in terms of the manager’s name. How could you follow that? It says everything about the hardened image of footballers who turned out in the frozen wastes of Northern England on a bitterly cold day in February to play hard and fair on a concrete pitch.
They’d have a stomach full of beer from the night before, a thumping head and a crazed urge to reach half-time for a couple of Capstan Full Strength.
Indeed, Sir Walter was a native of Oldham which sits high up, close to the Yorkshire border and the notorious Saddleworth moor.
It is windswept and desperate but as usual, in these sort of places, the warmth comes from the friendly but sardonic character of the natives. You can imagine young Walter being taken out by his dad for the first time:
“Pint of bitter lad. That’ll do thee good.” Three hours and five pints later and little Wally is desperate to go home. “Last pint of the night son. Go on get it down yer, it’ll do thee good.” Then the usual stop at the chippy for the full fish supper. A symphony of greasy batter oozing out of an old newspaper. “Now come on lad, get it down yer, it’ll do thee good.” As they turn into their street facing the icy blasts of a North-Easterly, Wally cannot stop himself. Back comes his fish supper. “Go on lad, get it all back up, it’ll do thee good.” Of course the reference to “good” was a step into building a true northern character, capable of drinking gallons of ale and throwing down all of nature’s finest by-products; flour, bacon fat, suet and lard. “We had a fine night tonight,” Mr Winterbottom would announce to his wife. “It’s done ‘im a lot of good. Where’s the cheese sandwiches?”
In comparison, the quietly spoken cerebral Sir Alf went against that grain of working class refinement. His game was calculated on a system. It was a very good system which worked spectacularly and famously. But it was a system and systems can be met with counter systems. (Those damned West Germans.)
I will admit there have been many “Northerners” who have taken on the poisoned chalice of the England job since old Wally, God rest his soul. But football was changing with the times. Don Revie, a hugely successful purveyor of the “hard but unfair” school of thought had a disastrous spell in charge. All the dominance of Leeds United paled into the distance as he produced a team that was impotent, at best mediocre. It was an undignified end to a successful club career. The poor man developed motor neurone disease and passed away in 1989.
Bobby Robson is perhaps the most outstanding England manager. He got us to two world cups losing out to “The Hand of God” and that infamous penalty shoot out in Italy. Sir Bobby was from County Durham but he came with a pedigree from Ipswich, just like Sir Alf. By the time he was appointed in 1982, football had changed. Footballers tended not to go and get tanked up the night before a match.
Since then, England managers have been lucky to survive more than two major tournaments. The playing style has tended to be cautious and feeble. The fear of giving the ball away, detracting from any sense of derring-do to initiate any form of courageous assault on the opposition’s goal.
Footballers in general are getting a bit more concerned about the numbers game; pass completion, assists, tackles won or the kilometers-per-game ratio. The pass completion thing makes me laugh. It’s produced a nation of crabs. The direction of modern English football is sideways. Yawn.
Let us fast forward to the present and the record of Sam Allardyce. Big Sam has been the most successful England manager ever. He has a hundred per-cent record. Will he go down in history? Not for his win record because his shady dealings have shown him to be part of the corrupt sordid little sub-culture which all professional sports attract.
Sam only managed one game. It was awful. Adam Lalana scrambled a weedy little attempt in injury time to inflict a defeat on that mighty bastion of world football that is Slovakia. It was, if there could ever be, a toned down version of the usual England ineptness. It was toned down in the way that a sloth may decide to have a PJ and duvet day. On the scoring of that decisive goal, Allardyce waved his hands about victoriously. Reading between the lines, it was probably more to do with sheer relief.
But it was the first and last game of his England career. With his rugged demeanour and fruity northern accent, Big Sam could easily pass for a contemporary of the young Walter. Imagine him in his cloth cap talking about day trips on a chara to Blackpool with crates of beer and toilet stops at the roadside.
But this is now. It’s all flash suits, wristwatches, talking the talk and driving a huge phallus.
Like so many before him, he loved the idea of being Sam the man; always ready for a little deal here and there. Greed breeds stupidity.
Then what of Glen Hoddle, the fair weather pussyfooting former Tottenham midfielder? In the “Hand of God” game he sort of went missing amongst the uncompromising studs of the Argentine defence. Yet when the villain Maradonna was bearing down for his second goal, he was being chased by Peter Reid. Reid gave up at the very end. But then he missed the first three months of the following season due to the hairline fracture of the shin he’d sustained during the game.
Hoddle’s England management came to an end after his proclamation that disabled people had done bad things in a previous life. That’s not even greedy. It’s just stupid.
So who’s next for the England hot seat? I’m not holding my breath. I love football. It is one of my passions, along with music and cooking. I still want to see football thrive. It has given me great memories. It grips and holds me. And that is why I spend all this time on my heartfelt critique.
Thank-you for reading.