The greatest England tournament song of all time is without question Three Lions. None of this faux-nostalgic bollocks about World in Motion – that was shite. OK, if you’re going for the so-bad-it’s-good angle, I concede it is brilliant. John Barnes mundanely juggling a ball with a backdrop of dour, grey council flats? Lyrical garbage about love and expressing yourself in a football song? Droning vocals that sound like they’d rather be anywhere but a recording studio? Check all of those.
Maybe that was just the time. They 1980s had been a largely depressing and tragic time for English football. Anyway, I digress slightly; fast forward to 1996. Britpop kicking off; crushing disappointment of Euro ‘92 and USA ‘94 no-shows replaced by bristling energy; I even scored for the under-11s. Mad, crazy times. As with all iconic periods, there is a soundtrack, and nothing beats that slow crescendo chant of ‘Football’s Coming Home’.
Terry Venables brought together a lively, talented bunch of players to whom the public could relate as much as the song. McManaman flying down the wing without a care in the world, Stuart Pearce’s fist-pumping, vein-bursting, shirt-bulging, eardrum-splitting roar, Shearer bullying defences and Gazza’s unquantifiable genius. Wembley – before we realised it was actually a shocking stadium – saw the Netherlands destroyed just a year after most of their side had won the Champions League. Ah, wonderful.
Venables was a likable chap to most people. He earned respect on the continent at Barcelona in the mid-80s, and had a personable character. As a manager he was simple and uncomplicated; in the words of Mike Bassett he played “four four fucking two”, and attacked for all his life was worth. Among his predecessors were some of English football’s most respected and revered coaches, whose legacy he continued in his style.
Pints of Wine, Tuxedos and Five Shits A Day
Over here at the Soapbox, we’re quite adept at time travel, so at this point we’re jumping forward to the present day. While one could easily picture ‘El Tel’ with a loose bow tie slung over his shoulder and a martini in hand as he leaned casually against a grand piano, it would be quite the leap to see him slumped against a sofa with a pint of wine in front of him. Yes, I’m re-treading well-worn ground on this one, but it’s necessary.
Could you see Sam Allardyce in a tuxedo smoothly serenading his audience with classic numbers? Could you see him without a pint of beer, yet alone wine, in his hand? Quite. One reputable football quarterly magazine once wrote an introduction about him imagining him dropping the kids off at the pool five times a day. No seriously, they did.
The image of the former England manager – and his subsequent reputation – could hardly be more different. Everton have of course recently sacked their short-term manager after an eighth-placed finish and a dreary campaign. The reaction was predictably sneering towards one of the less cultured names in management.
Sure, he walked away with a total of ₤9 million for six months’ work. No, he didn’t set the world alight, or anything close to it. But what the hell did people expect? You bring in Big Sam, you get Big Sam. Allegedly the brief was to “avoid relegation”. Whether that was true or not, the fact was they were in a parlous state after Ronald Koeman’s disastrous reign. What they needed in the short term was to stabilise, which they did. Fans can be fickle though, and once they are given their demands of safety, they demand more style too.
It’s right that supporters hold managers accountable, but how about focusing the ire on the decision makers upstairs on this one? If I was offered a multi-million pound contract with a massive payoff for early dismissal, I wouldn’t turn it down. Why should Allardyce?
The Blame Game
Everton’s board and managing directors have a huge amount to answer for having splashed over ₤140 million last summer and left their sponsorship deals far behind their rivals, not to mention the payoff to their outgoing manager. It is genuinely not meant as a sign of disrespect to Allardyce, but he is not a manager who takes a mid-table side and turns them into European contenders. He works with systems, analysis, and science. He does not have the most mercurial personal skills or continental footballing education.
Snobs who have laughed at how incompetent he is, how he is a dinosaur that should be trodden underfoot forever, should wake up. To the modern-day twitterati, success is all about titles. Erm, actually chaps, football is lot more than that. Bolton Wanderers made it into Europe. BOLTON WANDERERS. They even beat Zenit St. Petersburg.
Meagre teams with meagre resources were invariably kept up. In most cases, they were guided to promotion or converted from struggling clubs to promotion contenders. He had to deal with Owen Oyston before there was a well-coordinated fan protest movement for Christ’s sake. While Arsène Wenger rightly receives adulation for his innovative approaches and influence on English football, it is worth remembering that Allardyce was also one of the first managers to introduce sports science and technology to preparation in English football. When playing out in the old NASL, he saw the levels of detail that American sports teams used, and was a keen promoter of such measures on his return.
So next time you want to lazily cling on to the ‘hilarious’ memes or tweets that ridicule his uncouth appearance or manner, or worse still attempt to airbrush his achievements from existence, think again. Not everyone is Jürgen Klopp or Pep Guardiola, and nor is that a bad thing.