England bonded by resentment

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The Independent Online
''Wing-back'', "in the hole", ''stepping out", ''pressing''; as the national game grows in importance and self-importance it spawns an ever- growing language of its own. To this lexicon can now be added ''collective responsibility''.

David Platt, the England captain, was repeating the phrase like a mantra at Bisham Abbey yesterday while Radio Five Live were so taken with it they invited listeners to suggest other problems England's footballers could take collective responsibility for - the Yorkshire water drought was one suggestion, on the premise that they had drunk the county dry.

Very droll, but this sort of thing demonstrates the impact the alleged airborne television-smashing incident has had on England's image and, though Terry Venables is partly justified in accusing the media of exaggerating matters, there would have been no story if the players had behaved themselves.

However, for the next few weeks Venables and his players are more interested in winning the tournament than winning friends, and the tale of the broken tellys may be just what El Telly needed. Nothing builds team spirit better than a sense of collective resentment. Among Alex Ferguson's many gifts is that of persuading his teams that the world is against them and, with the help of the media, Venables has now done the same thing. There is, he admitted, ''an extra edge about them''.

Gareth Southgate, one of the squad's newer and more thoughtful members, agreed. "Far from damaging our chances the affair has pulled the boys together and introduced a stronger sense of cameraderie," he said. "We have been surprised at the coverage but it has possibly been a good thing in helping the bonding process. It is an experience everyone has learned from. Everybody realises what went on was unacceptable. The important thing now is to have everything sorted out so we can get on with the games."

There was no chance of the affair being forgotten yesterday and Venables decided he was better off going on the offensive, criticising both the airline, Cathay Pacific, and the media. "They are very, very angry about lots of things," Venables said of his players. "We're in a high-profile situation.We've got to accept criticism. But not what has gone on, calling them spineless and things like that.

"It's gone incredibly out of proportion. The public's seen such a lop- sided view from people who think they know everything that I think I should say something on behalf of the players. Cathay Pacific? You seem to want to take their word straight away. Have you any proof, any pictures? Let me see them. If you have I might say: 'Yeah. you're right, I'm wrong'. Show me the pictures, because I haven't any proof otherwise.

"There was a very little problem upstairs [on the plane]. It's been made to sound like a party up there. They were playing cards all night. You believe them [Cathay], but you won't believe us. Did Cathay get it wrong? I think so.''

Venables indicated that he knew what had happened and that the matter would be dealt with internally. Latest theories centre on two possibilities, deliberate vandalism involving a screwdriver or airline knife [''it would not even cut the chicken,'' said Venables, dismissing the latter suggestion], or accidental damage during some horseplay.

The decision to take collective responsibility came from the players. "We got together on Sunday night and had a long chat about it," said Platt, who Venables confirmed as captain.

The senior players took the initiative, then the whole squad agreed. Venables was told of the decision at a team meeting. "Today's mood was excellent," the coach said. Three players sat out training yesterday: Gary Neville (thigh strain), Tony Adams (knee - but not the problem which required an operation in January), and Les Ferdinand (groin). Steve Howey resumed training after his blood poisoning infection. All are expected to be fit for Saturday's match with Switzerland when, at last, England will be judged by their performance on the pitch, not off it.

Robbie Fowler's solicitor, Kevin Dooley, said last night that the Liverpool striker is to take legal action against a Sunday newspaper which has made allegations about his involvement in the incidents on the Cathay Pacific flight.