And so another Proper Football Man bites the dust, as Tim Sherwood walks away from Aston Villa and back into a 1970s episode of the Sweeney involving a stolen Ford Capri, smoking in bed and a fight in an abandoned warehouse full of empty cardboard boxes.
Timothy was the original inspiration for my PFM idea, back when Jamie Redknapp was pushing him on live TV to get the Spurs job. We were invited to believe Timbo was deserving of that gig because he was a “proper football man” as though we would all know what that meant, and as though this in itself was an all-encompassing qualification for one of football’s big jobs.
Since then, I’ve worked PFM (via the weekly Footy on TV column) into a whole concept which embraces, not just football, but everything else about life. Fiercely anti-intellectual, it is slightly xenophobic, a little paranoid it is being done down, it over-rates itself, it can be a bit nasty and it laughs over-loudly in the face of anything, or anyone, sensitive or nuanced. And that’s just for starters.
Sherwood is great fun for the Premier League soap opera, but we shouldn’t weep for him too long because he will be coming to a sofa on our TV very soon as a pundit, I’m sure. He will do his geezer gurn for the camera, squeeze a leg and be vaunted as a prince amongst men who was done down by a foreign owner, rubbish foreign players and faceless men who bought all them players he didn’t want. And he’ll also, according to the Birmingham Mail, trouser £2 million as pay-off. That is money for nothing, even if it is not chicks for free…though, for all I know, it may well be that too. Yet you can be sure that he will be painted as a victim in some quarters and talked of, fundamentally incorrectly, on every level, as ‘a good young English manager’.
And many of us will look on, slack-jawed in disbelief. Both self-referential and self-pitying (he claimed he was making himself ill in order to manage Villa) he gives the press ‘boys’ some good quotes. A lot of them like him and looking like you’ve woken up in a shopping trolley after night with Reidy on the shoe polish, turps and Brut 33 smoothies, makes for good press photos.
But let’s be honest. Tim isn’t any good, except as a comedy character. Let’s get this right, if Tim was foreign, he’d get kicked from pillar to post by the English media as a ridiculously under-qualified man who made a fool of himself on a weekly basis. I mean, they do that to Manuel Pellegrini and he’s actually won things and is top of the league.
Yet the PFM paranoia that the British manager is being discriminated against goes on, completely against the facts, facts which we highlighted here on the site last week. The British manager is not being discriminated against. He has had and he continues to have, lots of opportunities at all levels, high and low and everywhere in between. The leagues are stuffed full of British managers.
For some reason, by and large, the punditocracy can rarely bring itself, except in extremis, to say a British manager is doing a poor job. Those who are part of the PFM group-think, prefer a ceaseless pretence that bad results are due to the foreign owner, the foreign players, the player recruitment committee, or basically anyone who isn’t the manager.
Rarely a week goes by without some august British ex-player or manager bemoaning the lot of the indigenous manager. In their universe, the honest Brit is being elbowed out of management by the man who the owners see as a sexy foreign. That word, ‘sexy’ is actually used, perhaps revealing more of what the speaker thinks, than those they are critiquing. Clubs are forever, in that awful Glenn Hoddle phrase ‘going foreign’, as though foreign is all the same thing. Everything not British is essentially interchangeable to the PFM.
It’s a bizarre hypnosis, and the people who promote and publish this guff really need to take a hard look at themselves. Weirdly, it isn’t just one or two oddballs, it is probably the majority of British media at one time or another, so it must be judged as playing to the masses.
Even this weekend, if you watched Sunday Supplement you’d have seen John Richardson (Ricco, to ‘the boys’) going on about how ridiculous it was that Tim was under pressure and that he hadn’t even bought any of the rubbish players. Other less blinkered contributors pointed out that there’s no excusing losing so many games and, oh, he had almost certainly wanted quite a lot of the summer signings, especially the English ones. You know, those English ones who are also playing rubbish under Sherwood. He didn’t seem convinced.
It seems as though there is a strain of opinion which wants to always excuse the sh*t Brit and always sees the non-British involvement in our football as some sort of invasion or denial of their human rights. While there’s obviously an audience for this xenophobic garbage, it’s time that they were held to account for this total nonsense.
I’m sure I’m not alone in thinking of football as a global culture, largely because it is. Thus it is a many-hued palette from which to paint. It matters not the birthplace of the participants, only what they bring to our enjoyment. Right?
No. not right. The wide xenophobic streak which runs through our culture can barely contain itself in seeing discrimination at every turn and it reacts very negatively when this is pointed out to them, perhaps by saying how much they admire at least one foreign manager or player. Yeah, Bergkamp, he was good.
It needs saying loud and proud that many of us don’t care about nationality of player, nor of managers, not because we’re all frilly-pantied liberal bed wetters, but because we gain nothing by being like that. We don’t think Brits ‘deserve more time’ than a foreign, any more than we think the term ‘good young English manager’ should be applied to anyone who is already 46. We look first at what the man brings, not where he’s from. We’re not bothered if our clubs are managed by someone who, in a classic PFM term, ‘knows the club, inside out’ because we know those are meaningless words which bear no scrutiny, but which are trotted as though it is insider-only wisdom.
Sherwood did a poor job, not because he’s British, not because of foreign owners, not because of foreign players, but primarily because he’s Sherwood, and, let us never forget, Sherwood is a proper football man.