A nation losing faith with Hoddle

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The Independent Online
ON VIRGIN Radio yesterday they were playing at frequent intervals the Eighties hit "Come On Eileen", by Dexy's Midnight Runners. It was not a selection made for aesthetic reasons.

The song is back in vogue as an ironic tribute to Eileen Drewery, the faith healer that the England coach, Glenn Hoddle, uses to little avail to help the national football team.

Virtually everything Hoddle touches is prone to ironic tribute at the moment. He is, for example, the bookmakers' favourite - odds on - to lose his job by the end of the season.

He is the champion of vitamin injections. But which vitamin pill distributor would wish to be associated with his prescriptive use of vitamins for the England side after the dire and lacklustre performance last Saturday?

Faith healing and vitamins: the mixture provoked a BBC reporter to ask Hoddle whether his media critics were "scared of things they don't understand". Hoddle gave a depressingly incisive response. "Perhaps they just want to have a go at me. Have you thought of that?"

Today, as England prepares to salvage the honour of the team, country and coach with a game in Luxembourg, Hoddle is facing attack from outside the media as well. Teletext viewers voted overwhelmingly in favour of him being sacked. And a new report, The Hoddle Muddle, denounces his advocacy of faith healing.

"When it was announced that Glenn Hoddle had recruited a faith healer to look after the players during the World Cup, a groan of agony went through the world of British sports medicine. Had the last bastion of common sense succumbed to mysticism and quackery?" Professor Edvard Ernst, professor of complementary medicine at the University of Exeter, asks in the British Journal of Sports Medicine.

Dr Mark Griffiths, a reader in psychology at Nottingham Trent University, says it is not Hoddle's personality that is the issue. "You have to be stubborn and obstinate to be the England manager," he said. He sees Hoddle as the scapegoat figure who fulfils a psychological need in the populace. He said: "Psychologically, people always like to attribute blame. They have to have a scapegoat. There are experiments which show that you can manipulate how people attribute blame.

"If England were winning their games Hoddle would not be receiving any of this flak. But now that we are not winning, people seize on the vitamins and the faith healing. There may be cultures in Brazil or Germany for them but not here."

Dr Griffiths predicted there was a risk of some players being blamed by association. "Darren Anderton has defended Hoddle and I suspect some of the flak will be deflected on to him."

The English football fan is psychologically speaking not very consistent. Twelve months ago, 10,000 travelling fans in Rome chanted Hoddle's name for two hours after England qualified for the World Cup.

Hoddle is resigned to the vicissitudes of his job and accompanying reputation. "I expected criticism," he said. "It goes with the job, it has been no different for anyone else. The previous managers had periods when they were written off ... It will be the same for the next two or three managers.

"There is always this period in this job, you have to come through it and I am determined to do so. The game is getting bigger and bigger and so is the coverage, it is just another obstacle to overcome for every manager, at club or international level."

Tonight at least England should win against Luxembourg, reckoned even by their own manager to be one of the worst footballing nations in Europe. So will that rescue Hoddle's reputation?

Unfortunately not. To show that when you're down the kicks even come from your nearest and dearest, here is a prediction from the England player Gareth Southgate: "There's not going to be a lot of credit for a good performance," he said, adding: "It's a slightly no-win situation."

t At least 19 England fans were deported from Belgium yesterday. They were on their way to Luxembourg for tonight's match when they were sent back to the UK.

Match preview, page 28