England's women expect... a wife-beater to stay in decent obscurity

Click to follow
He had a clean shot at an open goal, but Glenn Hoddle, the England coach, failed spectacularly, according to thousands of fans of the beautiful game.

His inclusion of Paul Gascoigne - talented footballer, alleged wife-beater and champion "oik" - in the England squad for its World Cup qualifying match in Georgia next week has unleashed widespread outrage.

Angry women's groups attacked Hoddle for putting football before the safety of women, accusing him of condoning domestic violence, and almost two-thirds of callers in a BBC Radio Five Live poll said Hoddle was wrong, although he had the support of the Football Association.

Gascoigne's wife, Sheryl, was pictured last month heavily bruised with her arm in a sling, after a reported contretemps with her drunken spouse.

Sandra Horley, of the women's rights group Refuge, said the footballer was a national hero and role model. "Sending him to represent England overseas can only give the impression that wife-beating is acceptable in the UK."

With the nation reported to be in moral freefall and its schools apparently overrun by violent pupils, Hoddle, a well-known Christian, had the chance this week to make a difference, his critics argue.

Excluding Gazza from the national squad would have signalled public rejection of the worst excesses of the troubled star's behaviour, professionally and personally. "Forget moral guidance and contracts for good behaviour, not picking Gazza for England would have had a bigger impact," said one disillusioned teacher.

This is an England team, after all, which is still riding high on the euphoria of the European Championships last June. Then, the valiant efforts of the players - including Gazza - won the hearts and minds of everyone.

But instead of grasping the opportunity presented to him, Hoddle stands accused of endorsing Yob Culture and canonising Gazza. This peroxide-enhanced role model joins a recovering alcoholic (Tony Adams) and a reformed drug addict and gambler (Paul Merson) to represent their country.

Sport, page 32