Hoddle faces self-appointed Grand Jury

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The Independent Online
IT WAS impossible to ignore the parallels between Glenn Hoddle and Bill Clinton yesterday, though the one question which attempted to link them was ruled out of order at the England football coach's press conference.

Both are national figures noted for their youth and charm, both are publicly religious yet also confessed adulterers, but each was trying to talk his way out of an own goal.

The charges against Hoddle are far less serious than those against the American president but the core questions - Is he truthful? Has he betrayed those close to him? - are much the same. Trust and veracity are at issue.

The setting for Hoddle's interrogation yesterday, an oak-panelled room at Bisham Abbey, the Elizabethan pile England use as a training base, had a Star Chamber feel to it. So did the inquisitors. The football press may make a motley grand jury but the mutual antipathy between them and Hoddle ensured yesterday's encounter was every bit as probing as the hearing Clinton had undergone in Washington.

Hoddle was ostensibly present to talk about England's prospects in the forthcoming qualifying campaign for the European Championships in 2000. However, the question of whether Rio Ferdinand is ready to play as a sweeper in Sweden next month had been overtaken by the consequences of Hoddle adding "author" to his CV.

The 40-year-old, whose team were a gallant failure at the recent World Cup, has written a book on the campaign which was last week serialised in The Sun. The new football season thus began with headlines such as "Drunk Gazza trashed my room", "Keegan talked absolute rubbish" and "I thought Alex's timing was crazy". As well as Paul Gascoigne, Kevin Keegan and Alex Ferguson, Hoddle also criticised the England players David Beckham, Teddy Sheringham and Chris Sutton, the former England coach Terry Venables and Ken Bates, his former chairman at Chelsea.

Apart from the Gazza headline, which he did not get the chance to approve due "to a broken fax machine", he said he was happy with the serialisation but said the book had to be read in context. Once people had had that chance they would not be upset by it.

To the press this begged the question why, if Hoddle merely wanted to outline his views to the public, the book needed to be serialised at all. It was suggested that an estimated pounds 250,000 fee provided the answer but Hoddle responded that it was a contractual requirement with the publishers and thus out of his hands.

Such was the tenor of the debate. Hoddle, under fire for 43 minutes, was a model of control and composure. Fresh from the training pitch, he sat calmly in his still sweaty kit, only betraying his nerves by the way his hands constantly toyed with a bottle of Ballygowan mineral water.

He never lost his cool, always sounded reasonable and appeared mystified by the fuss. It was only when the detail of his answers was studied that the inconsistencies and evasiveness were apparent. Again, very Clintonesque.

Alongside was his co-author David Davies, the Football Association's Alastair Campbell figure, now making the news as well as managing it. Though a former political journalist he, too, could not understand the fuss. The questioning came from a core of 15 specialist football writers, their chairs grouped around Hoddle like indians surrounding wagons in a cowboy movie. Behind them it was standing room only for the 60-odd feature writers, Sunday hacks, columnists, photographers and TV cameramen.

Hoddle's bottom line was that he had no regrets, had not considered resigning and had not lost the trust of his team. The only time he came close to anger was when it was suggested his promotion of Eileen Drewery, the faith healer he has been connected with since he was 17, might be related to his being a director of her private medical clinic. That he denied, stressing that the clinic was in the process of applying for charitable status.

He re-iterated his banishment of Sutton - the Blackburn striker who refused to play in an England reserves match; he justified his exposure of Gascoigne's drunken behaviour because the player had also gone into print; and he explained that he sometimes gave misleading team information to fool opponents.

"I wanted to put things on record, I wanted a memory of the situation," he said. "It helped me deal with the stresses and I've no regrets. There is nothing in the book that is confidential, about tactics or players' opinions. It's been blown way out of proportion. People haven't read the book. If I felt I needed to apologise to anyone I would have done that by now."

The book will be released on Thursday after pre-launch publicity unmatched since the last Oasis album. Hoddle yesterday put back a signing session scheduled in London that day to the following Tuesday.

Though several influential figures in the game have criticised Hoddle, his employers, the FA, have not only stood by him but even offered to extend his contract to include the 2002 World Cup finals. A sequel could thus be on the cards.

Hoddle on the defensive: Sport, page 23