Hoddle on the defensive as his support runs out

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The Independent Online
GLENN HODDLE faces his own day of reckoning today with an announcement about whether he will be sacked as England manager over disputed comments that disabled people are being punished for sins committed in previous lives.

After a day of confusion, claim, counter-claim and high- profile denials, Hoddle is due to meet the Football Association (FA) this morning to put his side of the story. Already he has refused to resign, while Tony Blair has lined up behind growing numbers demanding he should go.

The high-level coterie of five FA members who will make the final decision were yesterday conferring over the phone.

Meanwhile, the man at the centre of the storm launched his counter-offensive on television. Interviewed by Trevor McDonald for ITN, he denied that he had ever made the controversial comments.

"The only reason people are saying I should resign is that they are saying I have come out and said that people disabled and handicapped have been paying for their sins, and I have never, ever said that," said Hoddle.

"I did not say them things and at the end of the day I want to put that on record because it has hurt people," he added. "That is the last thing I want to do, and the most important thing is to tell people that and that is more important than any football job."

This went significantly further than other comments since the row blew up on Saturday after an interview published in The Times.

Hoddle was reported as saying: "You and I have been physically given two hands and two legs and half-decent brains. Some people have not been born like that for a reason. The karma is working from another lifetime. I have nothing to hide about that. It is not only people with disabilities. What you sow, you have to reap."

Previously, Hoddle had only said that his comments had been "misconstrued, misunderstood and misinterpreted" by the reporter.

Peter Stothard, editor of The Times, last night hit back, saying the paper stood by its story. "The remarks made by Glenn Hoddle to our reporter, Matt Dickinson, are clearly recorded in his notebook and they reflect comments made by Glenn Hoddle in other circumstances. I am amazed and appalled at Mr Hoddle's attempts at a denial."

The Prime Minister told ITV's This Morning programme that if Hoddle's views had been correctly recorded then it "would be very difficult for him to stay".

David Davies, acting chief executive of the FA, said that no announcement on Hoddle's future would be made until this morning at the earliest. He said that a definitive statement would be made at lunchtime.

Hoddle's fate will be decided by five members of the FA's International Committee. The situation was not helped for the FA, or for Hoddle, by the recent departure of its chairman and chief executive over an unauthorised pounds 3m loan to the Welsh FA. They were two of Hoddle's staunchest supporters.

The final decision could also be affected by the manoeuvring going on for the top job at the FA. Geoff Thompson, the acting chairman from Chesterfield, will lead the panel. He will by joined by Noel White, the committee chairman from Liverpool; David Davies; David Richards, the Sheffield Wednesday chairman; and David Sheepshanks, chairman of Ipswich.

The fact that the FA has started to take a pro-active stance on sport for the disabled is bound to be a factor in their thinking. If they need any encouragement, the universal condemnation from groups representing disabled people will provide it.

Neil Betteridge, projectsmanager for the Royal Association for Disability and Rehabilitation, was typically blunt. He said Hoddle was not fit to be the national coach. "Our view is that we don't believe it is acceptable for someone in his position to make remarks that are so grossly offensive to disabled people," he said.

One voice of support came from Eileen Drewery, the spiritual "healer" said by Hoddle to have given him many of his controversial views. Ms Drewery, whose husband is disabled, said she believed Hoddle had been treated "worse than Saddam Hussein".