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James Lawton: New man should not have to call for public support


Roy Hodgson has always been a good and dignified football man and if any reassurance was required it came plentifully enough at his unveiling as the England manager yesterday.

There were no false moves, no mad declarations and he was particularly adroit in dealing with a question that went back 40-odd years to his days as a young jobbing professional in a South Africa still under the yolk of apartheid. Like many English players of rather high profile, including, Johnny Haynes and Rodney Marsh and Johnny "Budgie" Byrne, Hodgson, he explained, was playing football where he could rather than supporting an "evil regime".

There's no doubt about it. England has a safe hand on the rudder, a man who is not likely to mistake a football tournament for the outbreak of the third world war.

None of this, however, was quite enough to dispel the fug of complacency sent up by the Football Association chairman, David Bernstein, when he announced his unshakeable conviction that his organisation had not only made a splendid appointment but the only one possible.

What it was, plainly, was a piece of pragmatism that included the fact that if signing Hodgson was sweet, and relatively cheap, simplicity, negotiating with Harry Redknapp and his Tottenham Hotspur chairman, Daniel Levy, would have been an entirely different matter, and not least in the area of cost.

Nor did it address the rather important point that if the appointment of Hodgson was sound, going to Redknapp would have created another possibility. It was that while the FA would not have acquired a manager so willing to immerse himself at every level of the England operation, they would have been investing in the one English manager who in recent years has consistently produced a body of exciting football.

Hodgson is unlikely to let England down. Redknapp, on the other hand, might just have reached out for the rarest achievement in all the years of watching the national team sliding away from the once-in-a-lifetime level reached by Sir Alf Ramsey. He might have understood the psyche of the English player sufficiently well – after the long journey that started in the playing company of the young Bobby Moore – to produce the kind of excitement generated by his Tottenham team in the past few years.

Certainly this was not the candidacy of a token English football man. It was the claim of someone with a touch that might have turned to gold. Such a possibility, though, was certainly not recognised by the FA yesterday. Hodgson was the outstanding candidate, said Bernstein. They looked at his record, concluded he was the untouchable choice, and were then delighted by their own good judgment in leaving their approach so near to the end of the Premier League season that West Bromwich Albion chairman, Jeremy Peace, with no financial levies to claim on an unfulfilled contract, merely asked that the manager supervise the last two league games.

Meanwhile, Hodgson was repeating his belief in the need for a strong show of public support. It was vital that the football public throw their weight into the project. This, frankly, is worrying. Public support, as we saw as long ago as 1966, can never be anticipated as a constant companion. It wasn't when Moore and Bobby Charlton and Gordon Banks were booed off after an opening draw against Uruguay at Wembley, and no matter that the South Americans had the reputation of being fiendish masters of defence.

You shape the public with consistent evidence of superior effort and dedication, some inkling or two that you are committed to the task. Wayne Rooney was dismissive of those England supporters who protested at the quality of his side's performance against Algeria in the last World Cup.

His indignation was befuddling, but not so far behind is this reaching out by the new man for the acclamation of the crowd, which of course will still include those discriminating souls who feel it a duty to boo Ashley Cole every time he touches the ball for England at Wembley.

It would be agreeable to think that some of Cole's recent performances might have carried him to a new level of respect – and that Hodgson will win new degrees of support and patience from the supporters in whom he is now investing such importance.

Unfortunately, reality imposes a different likelihood. Already it is suggested by a statement from the chairman of the England fans that Hodgson's appointment is not expected to provoke widespread dancing along Wembley Way. Why would it?

Good football man that he is, Roy Hodgson shouldn't need telling that the terrace is really the last place to look for support – and this is especially so in the job for which, we are told so blithely, he was the only candidate.