Managing England: The Impossible Job

Cancel the barbecue and take the flags off the car: for any England fans still dreaming of World Cup glory, this brilliant but brutal reality check – tracing the outrageous misfortunes of the unlucky 13 who have coached the national side since 1966 – was like a wet flannel in the face.

All the dismal lowlights were there, from Maradona’s hand of God to the six times England crashed out of major competitions on penalties. But the drama off the field has, if anything, been even more turbulent – a roiling tale of dodgy deals and tabloid stings; of faith healers, fake sheiks and Ulrika-ka-ka-ka.

Rob Facey’s documentary also showed that the England manager’s fractious relationship with the press is far from a recent phenomenon: as early as 1970, the dream had soured and Sir Alf Ramsey found himself being skewered for his ‘dull, negative style’. Another gentleman knight of the realm, Sir Bobby Robson, fared even worse, with tabloid headlines screaming ‘Plonker!’ and ‘GO!’, while his replacement Graham Taylor suffered the ultimate indignity of being turned into a turnip.

The film fielded an impressive squad of talking heads, including five England managers alongside former footsoldiers Rio Ferdinand and Gary Lineker, who declared it was ‘small moments you’re not in control of that make or break your career’.

Whether Sam Allardyce was in control of events when he lost the job after just 67 days – and one match – is a moot point. But it’s clearly still an open wound, and he was unflinchingly honest about how, for a while afterwards, he just sat at home ‘staring into the abyss’. Asked him what he feels when he sees Gareth Southgate walking out with the team, he said simply: ‘Jealous.’

But perhaps the last word should go to the only non-Brits to have managed England. ‘You get to the World Cup and there’s that ghost, smothering you with its white tentacles…’ said Fabio Capello with typical Italian drama. Sven-GöranEriksson, on the other hand, took a more Swedish view of the problem: ‘It is not that easy to win the World Cup,’ he observed. ‘It is rather difficult.’

You have been warned.

TV extra:


Mortimer and Whitehouse: Gone Fishing

Despite getting second billing, Paul Whitehouse and Bob Mortimer are arguably the funnier halves of their respective comedy partnerships. This fishing trip, though, finds them in unusually reflective mood, discussing recent health scares (a triple bypass for Bob, three stents for Paul) alongside enjoyably low-key riffs on everything from trigonometry to corned beef. Framed by the restful fields and riverbanks of Norfolk, the result is like Detectorists with added bream.



I’m sorry to sound like a cobwebbed High Court judge, but of the 22 ‘celebrities’ listed at the start of this low-rent game show, I’d only heard of four (and host Iain Stirling wasn’t one of them). The format sees the ‘famous’ (in ITV2 Land, anyway) team competing against the public in a series of saucy party games. ‘Let’s meet the non-celebrities!’ announced Stirling at one point. Are you sure that’s a thread you should really be pulling on, Iain?

Published in Waitrose Weekend, June 21, 2018

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