Book of the Week

The Second Most Important Job in the Country By Niall Edworthy Virgin, pounds 15.99, hardback
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IN CASE you were wondering, the job to which the title refers is that of manager of the England football team. The first most important belongs to the occupant of No 10 Downing Street, but, if the England manager's responsibilities lie in areas of slightly smaller consequence than those of the Prime Minister, in other respects his position is unrivalled, particularly when it comes to savage vilification and personal abuse.

Edworthy has made that aspect of the position the focus of his story, in which the evolving relationship between successive managers and their attendant media is described in detail from Walter Winterbottom to the bedevilled Glenn Hoddle.

Winterbottom escaped the excesses that are commonplace today, in part because he had a selection committee to shelter behind, but also because football writers were different then, more restrained and with a voice of their own, which readers wanted to hear. But when Alf Ramsey acceded to the throne, shaping the future of the job by insisting that he alone would pick the team, and displaying undisguised disdain for the press, battle lines were drawn.

They have never been removed. And, make no mistake, the parties to this conflict knew what it was all about. "I regard journalism as an adversarial activity," Brian Glanville tells the author. And this is the doyen of football writers whose balanced views are well respected.

Glanville's opposition to Bobby Robson, a man he says he liked but regarded as "not very intelligent", was not lost on his readers, although it was hardly in the tone that inspired one tabloid to splash the headline "What a plonker!" at the height of the anti-Robson campaign in 1988. The vitriol aimed at Robson, of course, was easily surpassed as the next man stepped into the firing line. The amazing thing about Graham Taylor, immortalised as a root vegetable, is that his marbles were not lost for good.

Only Terry Venables, the clubbable jack-the-lad, really knew how to handle reporters. He had the knack of speaking a lot but saying little, unlike Hoddle, who said rather too much.

Mihir Bose is quoted as describing him as: "The first manager to realise that you could go into a press conference and shape the next day's reporting... by starting a row."

Jon Culley