Venables: the womanising drunken rat

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Venables, the man in charge of England's assault on the Spanish, was yesterday branded a drunken, womanising traitor and a managerial disaster.

Instead of leading his men into battle against the Spanish, there is evidence that he would rather swig rum and stay in bed all day with his wife. And, even worse, records show a tendency to deny his own attackers treatment for injuries and to surrender at the first sign of failure.

The revelations are sure to put a dampener on the euphoria being enjoyed by England fans in advance of today's Euro 96 quarter-final encounter with Spain at Wembley. With tickets sold out the news that Venables once ran away from the Spaniards will cast a shadow over an otherwise happy and peaceful competition.

But fans should not take the news too badly. The Venables in question - General Robert, not Terry - died 300 years ago and the defeat has long since been forgotten by most Englishmen.

The general was the last man bearing that name to lead the English into battle against the Spanish. His story was dusted off yesterday by Dr Rob Stradling, reader in history at the University of Wales in Cardiff. "There is an awful lot of dreadful anti-Spanish hysteria and jingoism in the media at the moment," he said. "So the English would do well to learn a lesson from history and not be over confident."

General Venables's miseries began in 1655 when Oliver Cromwell decided to take on the Spanish in the Caribbean. While negotiating peace with Spain, he secretly sent a fleet of more than 30 ships and 8,000 men to take Hispaniola - now Haiti and the Dominican Republic - from the Spanish.

In charge of land forces was Venables. But he failed to lead his men into battle against the Spanish garrison, preferring instead to spend each day in bed with his new wife. After twice being defeated by the Spanish at Santa Domingo, Venables sailed for Jamaica, leaving thousands of men to die. At the time, the island had only a tiny settlement unwanted by the Spanish. Venables took it unopposed, returning to England to claim a hollow victory.

"The London press chose to overlook the humiliation of Santa Domingo, but greeted the Jamaican farce as a 'great and wonderful victory'," said Dr Stradling. However, Cromwell was furious and had Venables locked up in the Tower of London for a month before being cashiered from the army.

"Even though I'm a Welshman, I want England to win, but it would be nice if the media would cut out the xenophobia," said Dr Stradling. "They could learn a thing or two about over confidence from General Venables. I hope his namesake can do better."

Evidence suggests those sentiments are echoed by the whole country. Four thousand spare tickets for today's game were snapped up within two hours of going on sale on Thursday. Only 2,000 of the sell-out 76,000 crowd are expected to be Spanish.

Leading article, page 13

Fantasy Statto, page 15

Sport, page 26

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