A Brief History Of A Very English Job

As Roy Hodgson prepares to take charge of his first game as England manager, Philip Cornwall wonders if he knows what he's in for, by looking at those who came before...

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Oslo is bathed in sunshine, but there's a slight chill running up the spine. Nineteen years ago next week England gave arguably their worst performance in my lifetime and it will be impossible to avoid the memories.

England came here without me for a goalless friendly two years later but in June 1993, Graham Taylor endured a 2-0 defeat that set a benchmark Steve McClaren could not match. The sense that this was a unique level of shambolic was palpable from the knot of away supporters even before the world saw what was happening in the infamous Channel 4 documentary. A year after being lampooned as a turnip when England lost to the Swedes, now the back page of the Sun placed the national manager on top of what the headline proclaimed was 'NORSE MANURE'.

Roy Hodgson, about to take charge of his first game, will be aware of much of his new job's painful history. But it is worth asking whether the former West Brom manager, who has worked abroad for so much of his career - and in 1993 was busy qualifying Switzerland for USA 94 - is completely au fait with the full catalogue of deceit, disaster and derangement that have bedevilled the post in the four-and-a-half decades since Alf Ramsey earned his knighthood in the role by winning the 1966 World Cup.

Two nights before Fabio Capello resigned I caught the last half-hour of This Is Spinal Tap, the fake rockumentary only marginally less plausible than the entirely genuine Taylor programme and that oddly also offers an insight into the nature of the England job. Spinal Tap's drummers have all died, of ailments including spontaneous combustion, a bizarre gardening accident, and choking to death on the vomit of person or persons unknown. When the Italian left it struck me that the national manager's position is similarly cursed - and that Taylor in some ways got off lightly.

Since Sir Alf was sacked in April 1974 and the FA had to seek a third post-war holder of the position, there have been ten full-time England managers. Ron Greenwood held the job for four years and left it aged 61 for retirement, as prearranged, after an unbeaten World Cup in 1982. Of the other nine, only two - Taylor and McClaren, after failing to qualify in 1993 and 2007, respectively - departed for what could be considered football's version of natural causes.

McClaren's faults were suddenly and conclusively exposed three months into his reign; life for Taylor deteriorated more slowly until Euro 92 defeat in Stockholm set a tone that would be lowered for his remaining 17 months. They both had to endure the worst the back pages could throw at them but they survived until the results were conclusively against them. That may be their only achievement with England but they pulled it off. Unlike...

Revie reviled
Ramsey's first permanent successor succumbed to paranoia. The man who turned Leeds from a rundown, trophyless Second Division club into European powers was hired in July 1974, two months after Ramsey's protracted dismissal following failure to qualify for the World Cup in West Germany. Perhaps Revie was not helped by a run of seven games with only one defeat enjoyed as caretaker by Joe Mercer, a 1968 title-winning manager with Manchester City; it was certainly a problem that Brian Clough - as examined in The Damned Utd - was far from alone in reviling everything that Revie's Leeds represented.

Hiring Revie was like appointing Dirty Harry as police chief to some, but England did not become thugs. Instead, they became losers; arguably unlucky losers but losers nonetheless.

By spring 1977 he had missed out on European Championship qualifying to the eventual 1976 winners, Czechoslovakia, and was now unlikely to reach the World Cup in Argentina. Convinced that just because a lot of people were against him that everyone was, Revie jumped, forsaking England for a job in the United Arab Emirates, negotiating a deal while ostensibly on a scouting mission, having sent the team off on a South American tour without him.

The affair led to a court-room battle over an FA-imposed ban and, though he won his case, he never worked in England again. There was a permanent stain on Revie's reputation, one not forgiven even in death: unlike other managers with similar club achievements, outside Elland Road the only silence that greeted his parting in 1989 was one of lack of any official interest.

With hindsight you can argue that Revie, like Ramsey in 1973 against a Poland side who would reach what amounted to a World Cup semi-final, was unlucky with draws and even the rules. Czechoslovakia, who in previous decades had twice been World Cup finalists, were at another peak, then Ramsey's failure to qualify for 1974 opened up the possibility of Revie's side being drawn against Italy for 1978. Had the modern penchant for head-to-head records been in vogue, though, then rather than insurmountable goal difference the chance of outweighing a 2-0 defeat in Rome would have been there. England did win 2-0 at Wembley, under Greenwood, and today one more goal could have been enough on the night, the chance perhaps sufficient to convince Revie to stick it out.

As it was, England missed out on the final 16-team World Cup on goal difference to a team who would finish fourth and contained the genesis of the 1982 champions. Revie, though, knowing that some people were out to get him, including the sizable Clough lobby, had chosen to act before they could.

Incidentally, the story of Revie's UAE deal was broken by the Daily Mail's Jeff Powell; it is odd that Powell has accused others of treachery by employing a foreign manager without mentioning that the one manager to betray the country by deserting his post mid-battle was - as he well knows and to the benefit of his career - an Englishman.

Breaking Bobby
West Ham's general manager Greenwood, after a spell as caretaker, was named Revie's full-time successor. He could not overcome Italy's advantage for Argentina 78 but qualified for the 1980 European Championship, England's first qualification success since Euro 68. After a hairier ride he made it to the 1982 World Cup, which he announced would be his farewell. The 60-year-old, whose team were unbeaten in Spain, left of his own choosing after just under five years. His successor, Bobby Robson, had nearly twice as long in the role but was hounded out of it, mauled by the dogs of Fleet Street.

For those who know Robson only as the genial knight treated so shabbily by Newcastle - your favourite footballing uncle - the depth of the mauling handed out may come as a shock. As the man himself put it when a journalist asked about the pressure of the job: "Pressure? What pressure? You people provide the pressure. If you didn't exist, my job would be twice as easy and twice as pleasurable." Bear in mind he was speaking five years before he finally left the job.

In between failure to reach the 1984 European Championship against a rising Denmark side and a disastrous 1988 finals when a well-fancied team suffered a freakish, morale-sapping defeat to the Republic of Ireland before humiliation against Holland and Soviet Union, Robson was undone at the 1986 World Cup by Maradona's sleight of hand and foot. The FA persevered with him but the press had lost all patience after Euro 88: the Sun led with 'In the name of Allah go!' in response to a frustrating friendly in Saudi Arabia, and the pressure only grew.

By the time of the 1990 World Cup, Robson was being stonewalled by the FA. Convinced his contract would not be renewed and against the backdrop of stories about his private life, a couple of weeks before the finals he announced he had found work at PSV Eindhoven (even England managers were not so well-paid then that they could afford to put their feet up).

The same media that wanted him out now condemned him for looking after himself. Whether England would have reached the semi-finals of Italia 90 had he not been demob happy we will never know, but the man the press had vilified would become a footballing saint - and few in the media would ever acknowledge their role in his downfall.

Tel tales
In 1990 Taylor took Robson's place and found him far too hard an act to follow. Though Taylor's two campaigns were fraught he lasted till World Cup qualification failure was confirmed, which it is how it should be. But had Robson not jumped for fear of unemployment then the future knight might have had the chance to build on that blessed month in Italy.

The other running story in 1993, alongside Taylor's unravelling, was the saga of Terry Venables' defenestration from Spurs by a future reality TV host and member of the House of Lords, two years after the pair had saved the club from possible closure at the hands of their bankers. Until the case reached court most people were against the then plain old Alan Sugar; public opinion shifted a degree with the emergence of evidence of how Venables had acted when he had stepped out of the dugout and into the boardroom, but battle lines in the media largely coincided with who was or was not a friend of Tel.

Despite the cloud over his head, the FA appointed the former Barcelona and QPR man. But even in his appointment there was a recognition of the malaise; he was emphatically coach, not manager, a title that can carry financial responsibilities. Fans were glad he was out of the boardroom, but in the media there remained plenty of allies, notably at the Mail and the Sun, and anyone not in that category was cast as an enemy, justly or not.

Back on the training pitch for two years of friendlies running up to Euro 96, Venables won over the players and had the sort of coverage in some papers that Harry Redknapp has enjoyed. But Venables had been lucky to get the job and as far as the FA were concerned he had to prove himself in competitive games, in the finals; those were the terms on which he had been hired.

The court cases were dragging on, too. The coach who wanted to be a businessman decided that he did not 'do auditions' and early in 1996 announced he would be leaving the job after the tournament; at a time when politicians regularly stood down to spend more time with their families, the wags said he was doing so to spend more time with his lawyers.

Nothing Venables did in football again would touch what he sacrificed with his resignation.

Ramsey reached the semi-finals of Euro 68; since then England have reached the last four of tournaments only twice - within six years - each time knowing a new manager would have to build on the achievement. In Venables' case, it was a player who had once served Robson...

Part Two will be here on Thursday.

Philip Cornwall

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