A suitable cast for treatment

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The Independent Online
THE scene is a room in an elegant town house in London, the offices of the Football Association. It is simply, but richly, furnished, with an oval-shaped council table, crested upholstery on chairs, expensive carpeting and walls painted in restful colours. On a window ledge two floors above is a painted X marking the spot where managers of the England football team jumped, fell or were pushed.

At the head of the table sits Peter Swales, chairman of Manchester City and the FA's international committee. The other chairs are occupied by 11 committee members, the majority of whom qualify to receive the state retirement pension. At the opposite end to Swales stands a squat metal contraption with electric wires affixed. The seat, obviously hot, is unoccupied.

As the curtain rises, all wear a stern expression. The chairman raps briskly with the edge of a borrowed bus pass.

Swales: The meeting will come to order. Now, gentlemen, you've probably guessed why we are here. Possibly some of you have learned through the newspapers and television that our team is unlikely to figure in the World Cup finals next year, and, looking to the future, we are seeking a man to occupy that empty chair down there, the right man, the best possible man.

Graham Taylor is still with us, but unfortunately he does not appear to have the confidence of the press or Saint and Greavsie, a situation that from personal experience I can sympathise with. However, a change probably will be called for.

(A snore is heard. Swales frowns and the culprit receives a jab in the ribs.) Swales: As you probably know, gentlemen, the policy of this committee, which came into being when our predecessors foolishly surrendered the status of selectors, has been to hire a man to occupy that seat with the coveted title of England manager. I hold none of you guilty of dereliction, but in the past it appears somebody in our little family could then be relied upon to set about cutting the ground from under him.

Prior to Graham there was Bobby Robson, Ron Greenwood, briefly Joe Mercer, a man steeped in the great traditions of my club, Manchester City, Don Revie, Alf Ramsey and Walter Winterbottom. Fine men all of them, but none, in the judgement of some who went before us, the right man.

(There are murmurs of assent.) Swales: Now then, gentlemen, are we ready? There are pencils and pads in front of you. You understand what we want. I'd like each of you to write down the name of one man, the right man, the best man. We can't afford another disaster on the scale of that which confronts us now. And let us have one thing absolutely clear. No foreigners and that goes for the Scots, the Welsh and the Irish.

(Raising his hand, a committee member refers to the continuity of management operated in Germany, and favoured by the FA chairman, Bert Millichip.)

Another committee man: Come on, can you imagine where we would be now if Ramsey had brought along a successor. From what I've been told he barely gave committee men the time of day. They say he even expected the secretary of the Football Association to take notes and wickedly threatened to resign when pressure was brought on him to drop Nobby Stiles for fouling a Frenchman during the 1966 World Cup. All right, so Ramsey won the World Cup, but we don't want to go down that road again. (Two of the committee clap. The rest nod enthusiastically.)

Swales: Gentlemen, gentlemen, please. A bit of order. There are important decisions to be reached. Bert may have a point about the Germans. Won the World Cup three times . . . five time finalists . . . not bad, I must say. But I'm not entirely convinced. And do we want to take other people's ideas on board?

A pregnant silence falls, in which can be heard faint sounds, teeth gnawing on pencils, the scratch of laboured writing. Eleven slips are passed to Swales. Swales: Let's see, now . . . the right man . . . Paul Gascoigne, two votes . . . Jimmy Greaves, one vote . . . Danny Baker, one vote . . . Alan Sugar, one . . . (The curtain falls heavily.)