Football On My Mind: Hodgson Speaks To Fans – How Dare He?

Football On My Mind is an occasional series of articles about current events in the game, not just about Spurs. Endlessly curious, it’s called On My Mind because it is, always.

Last week England manager Roy Hodgson committed what appears to be a cardinal sin in contemporary football. He gave an honest answer to a question from a fan.

Hodgson has been accused of being at the very least naive and at worst of crass stupidity. He’s since apologised but it’s not entirely clear for what exactly. Certainly Rio Ferdinand should have been the first to know that he was not selected for the forthcoming England squad. Any leader worth their salt knows that honesty and trust are powerful motivators, whether the organisation be a charity like the one I manage, a private company or a football team. While the defender’s omission is hardly a surprise, least of all to him I suspect, this apparent breach of duty will reverberate through the rest of the squad. I doubt it will have any immediate noticeable effect but they won’t forget when times are tough and their manager calls for trust in his methods.

In many ways Hodgson presents as a man out of time, a relic even, although this serves to mask a comprehensive understanding of the modern game. It’s hard to imagine him as a young man. He was born an avuncular uncle figure. There’s a comfortable stability in his  old-fashioned values of hard work, footballers doing their best and an integrity born of working with players and an endless fascination with the game itself. Most of the time this continuity with the past is reassuring in a time of rapid change and short attention spans and it’s not as if he bangs on about the good old days all the time as many younger pundits choose to do. Roy will never be a trendy uncle, perish the thought that he will lose his charm, but he looks forward as well as back and his broad-minded approach to innovation probably held back his career in England. 

The old days were never as good as many would have you believe. Hodgson’s apparent wish that John Terry should be found not guilty by a court or the FA smacks of the unwritten football code of silence, what happens on the pitch stays on the pitch, superseding the imperative to counter racism in all its guises.  However, communicating with the supporters is a fundamental element of that old-school attitude and there’s nothing wrong with that whatsoever. Hodgson wants to talk football and does not think he is above the fans, whereas many professionals treat us with barely concealed contempt. The yawning gap between fans and the clubs to which they have devoted a large part of their lives has created a growing sense of alienation that is destined to cause irrevocable harm to the game as a whole unless it is challenged.

These days the them and us attitude prevails. Many Premier League clubs do their utmost to control the contact between their staff and the fans. We faithfully turn up and the only communication is one-way via our bank accounts. Perish the thought that we may wish to interact in any other way. Even in the media, the pundits, paid handsomely to talk, barely disguise their contempt for the task of communicating. And all this is accepted by the producers and directors who tolerate vapid platitudes or, in the case of Mark Lawrenson during Euro 2012, apparent disdain for football itself.

The England manager does something about it, in his own small way. He’s on the tube, not a limo or even a cab, knowing he will be recognised. When he is, he’s happy to talk openly about the game he loves, knowing that fans share that passion. He’s not different because of his status, he’s the same as us. Passionate after all these years about the game we love.

So he talks and ends up all over the back pages because in return for his openness, someone calls the tabloids. No doubt they are boasting to their mates about it and they have trousered a few hundred quid in return.

Hodgson will never be as straightforward again with the public and it’s a reminder to everyone else in the business to keep mouthing the dull platitudes. Keep to themselves any real opinions, anything of any vague interest or that may be marginally different from what anyone else is saying. Perhaps I’m the one who is now being naive in believing there is any such thing as a private conversation any longer.

Uncle Roy was young once. He used to play for Tonbridge Angels, now in the Conference South. I went to see them 10 days ago. My wife’s nephew was mascot. After the game, all the players gathered in the club lounge and happily posed for pictures, chatted to supporters and signed autographs. As the match finished, the away team fans huddled behind the goal. Nothing sinister here – they had been joined by Sutton’s manager who talked to them about the club’s current problems. He gave them bad news, they gave him a round of applause.

This contact is why more fans are turning their backs on the big clubs. It’s not the same in the Premier League but it is possible to work much harder to close the gap between fans and clubs. Hodgson was naive but like any relationship, it works both ways. Perhaps we get the game we deserve.

8 comments

  1. essexian76

    I constantly hear about the good ol’ days when players and fans interacted with each other,how so and so used to get the bus home blah, blah-but time again it’s the fans who create the divide by their behaviour and antagonism toward players.
    Bentley, while sitting in a restaurant minding his own business get’s subject to foul and unsolicited abuse for no good reason other than his fame, but he’s considered fair game by many. After meeting him at a Hyde Park concert, you couldn’t have met a more approachable and affable bloke.
    It’s we the fans who’ve caused this divide far more than the other way around with many on blogs and in person spouting small minded, petty abuse by those who are just plain jealous of their good fortune. It’s little wonder they’re so guarded and isolated to the paying public.

    • Alan

      Interesting view. While the clubs have done their utmost to put us off watching football in person, it is a two-way process as I said in the article. Fans seem angrier these days – the players get it because they are paid so much and are so distant from us. Many players seem to glory in this superiority. Most are decent blokes who got lucky that their talent is worth so much. I don’t subscribe to the feeling that this allows us to abuse players – this incident with Bentley, Spurs fans i take it? Horrible.

      Regards, Al

  2. Pete

    I think the reality is that the big clubs in England are turning their backs on what we would call ‘real fans’. They have been for a long time but the economic realities required to compete at the highest level, especially the Champions League, means that clubs are desperate for income now and are doing little to keep families or groups of friends who are finding the cost of season tickets (or any tickets) increasingly demanding. Much better a celebrity or corporate guest now than a 20 times a year for 20 years fan at a sensible ticket price.
    It’s quite possible to do an interview with a newspaper and say something interesting without upsetting your club or teammates but very few players or managers can be bothered. I stopped buying the Spurs programme some while ago, not just on cost but because I could virtually write most of the programme notes and interviews myself in advance – ‘Wigan’s a difficult place to get a result’ etc. It’s all part of a culture that’s disrespectful to fans, that seems them purely as a source of revenue and people to be kept at a distance.
    The day is approaching when I’ll be priced out of White Hart Lane and I will need to find somewhere else to go on a Saturday afternoon / Sunday afternoon etc (another example where the real supporter is put at the convenience of the armchair viewer). Lots of people seem to be enjoying non league football as an alternative and it seems a nicer place to be but I know my heart won’t be fully in it. I’ll need to find something else.
    I’ll miss football and the ritual of going to matches. Going to football has been a huge part of my identity. It’s sustained me when, at times, everyday life has been overwhelming. But once I’m gone, I won’t be coming back. I won’t miss thugs driving round in supercars sticking the proverbial two fingers up. I won’t miss players feigning injury and diving, Modrics and Berbatovs behaving like brats because they want more fame and money despite signing contracts the likes of you and I can only dream about. If I’m being honest, there’s not much to miss beyond the 90 mins on the pitch.
    The Olympics and Paralympics taught me many things this summer but the main lesson is that there are lots of sports out there that will welcome people with open arms, where sportsmanship matters and fans do too. I don’t think football took any notice. It never does. It’s too busy counting its money.

    • essexian76

      @Pete..Keep the faith mate-but by and large we’ve got the game we deserve-can you think of any chairman (Man City and Chelsea apart) who actually wants to spend silly money on players and their salaries? of course not..It’s us fans who demand success and pressurise clubs into spending money they can’t raise through the gates-which in turn means other revenue sources have to be tapped? viscous circle, I agree, but it’s all of our own doing isn’t it?

    • Alan

      Eloquent passion, Pete, thank you for contributing. It worries me deeply that many people, long-time fans, feel the same way. I know someone who said the same – that’s it, season ticket too much. Loves the club, never going to go again.

      Regards, Al

  3. Ashley Collie

    Well said by all above. My question is, can he cheer us fans by somehow inspiring his millionaire (loaners) to complete passes, keep possession, get shots on target, and show us something other than the general national dreck we’ve been given since maybe Venables’ brief time?

  4. Pingback: Kyle Walker: Victim of a Culture of Unrealistic Expectations « TOTTENHAM ON MY MIND

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