Commons clash over Hoddle

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THE ROW over the sacking of Glenn Hoddle as England football coach resurfaced in the House of Commons yesterday, when Tony Blair was accused of "poking his nose in".

During Prime Minister's Question Time, William Hague, the Opposition leader, asked Mr Blair who the next England coach should be. Mr Blair retorted that he could scarcely believe that the Tory leader was raising the point. "I am content to leave that, I think, to the FA," said Mr Blair.

Mr Hague went on to question why Mr Blair had become involved in the controversy, when on Monday he criticised Hoddle's reported comments about reincarnation and the disabled. "We all thought Glenn Hoddle's comments were outrageous and we all join in saying so," said Mr Hague. "But given what you just said, will you accept for future reference, and on reflection, that there is a limit to the number of things politicians should poke their noses into?"

Amid uproar, he went on: "Lecturing football associations on who they should sack is beyond that limit!"

Mr Blair replied: "I really cannot believe that you are raising this. You've already, by making the comment yourself, commented on the issue. I suggest you look at what I said."

Mr Blair said of Hoddle on Monday: "If he said what he is reported to have said, in the way he is reported to have said it, then I think that was very wrong." But he also said: "Let us hear his explanation first."

The Prime Minister's official spokesman said later that Mr Blair would have regrets if anything he had said had contributed to the FA's decision, but that he stood by his opinions.

Meanwhile Howard Wilkinson, England's caretaker manager, made his first appearance since his appointment, saying he was "very shocked" to find himself in the job. "My head's spinning. The last 24 hours have been very hectic and over the next seven days I can't see the pace dropping," he said.

Like the Prime Minister, however, he was careful to steer away from any subject which he thought was not strictly relevant to his immediate task - which, in Wilkinson's case, is beating France next Wednesday.