Football: Manager's office where reporters feared to tread

NO AMOUNT of Football Association fog, of which there is an endless supply, can obscure the fact that media skills are up there with tactical acumen and motivational powers in the quest for a permanent coach of the England football team.

Evident from conversations between the FA's chief executive, David Davies, and a number of football writers, it is a jolting reminder of how much things have changed even since the time of such notable managers as Alf Ramsey, Jock Stein, Matt Busby, Bill Shankly, Stan Cullis and Bill Nicholson.

Some were more astute than others in dealing with the press and the then infant medium of television but all were quick to jump on betrayals of confidence, inaccuracy and scurrilous reporting.

Maybe things are healthier than they were, maybe not, but it must be difficult for the upcoming generation in this trade to believe that recalcitrant sportswriters were summoned for admonishment to Cullis's office at Molineux.

To give you some idea of the fearful respect in which Cullis was held, a colleague on the Daily Mirror who had driven me from the railway station to seek an interview with the autocratic manager of Wolverhampton Wanderers refused to get out of his car. "Things are going bad for Stan [Cullis was fired 48 hours later] and he is bound to be in a terrible mood," he said. "I just can't face him."

No sportswriter of that time took lightly the notion of offending Busby, who was a much harder man than his reputation suggests. Recalling his days as the Mirror's chief northern sports correspondent, my friend Frank McGhee recalls: "Matt was very generous to young football reporters but anyone who stepped out of line quickly learned that there was no future in getting on the wrong side of him."

Busby was a master of the vocal body swerve, using it to avoid answering questions that might embarrass him and the club.

"Tell me, Sir Matt, is there anything to the rumour that you are about to buy someone?" a reporter might ask.

"Well, son," Busby would reply, with much pausing between syllables, employing the old technique because the rumour was probably true. "This can be a difficult business and you have to stay in touch with what's going on. And how is the golf? Are you hitting it straight? That's the secret. Keeping it on the fairway."

By then Busby would be on the move, leaving a bewildered reporter in his wake.

One of the mistakes that led to Graham Taylor's downfall as England manager was to engage in debates with reporters before matches about selection and strategy. "Madness," I remember saying to Steve Coppell when this happened on the eve of a critical encounter against the Netherlands in Rotterdam that failed to qualify England for the 1994 World Cup finals.

It took me back to England's last match, against Poland in Katowice, before the 1966 finals. After announcing the surprise inclusion of Martin Peters, who had made only one previous representative appearance, Alf Ramsey was asked if he could explain the role set out for the West Ham midfielder. "No," he replied, already rising to leave the room.

More recently, I can remember Franz Beckenbauer, as manager of Germany, leaving intrusive questions unanswered, greeting them with a blank stare. One of Beckenbauer's predecessors, Helmut Schon, once spoke bleakly about the pressure brought to bear by newspaper articles. "It is more than enough at my time [Schon was in his 60th year] to prepare the team," he said. "I understand the needs of the press but it is becoming more and more difficult to cope with their demands."

No England manager has handled the press and television better than Terry Venables, who realised that success does not guarantee protection from factionally subjective criticism. "Whether because of alliances or spite, no matter what is achieved there will always be somebody up against you," he said.

One thing for sure is that managers from the past would not take kindly to today's interminable press conferences. Pointing to Tottenham Hotspur's dressing-room after a European Cup-Winners' Cup defeat in Bratislava their manager, Bill Nicholson, growled: "You're always telling them how good they are, now go and tell them how bad they were." Somehow, I think that way was better.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Technical Author / Multimedia Writer

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This recognized leader in providing software s...

Recruitment Genius: Clinical Lead / RGN

£40000 - £42000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: IT Sales Consultant

£35000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This IT support company has a n...

Recruitment Genius: Works Engineer

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A works engineer is required in a progressive ...

Day In a Page

Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea
Tunisia fears its Arab Spring could be reversed as the new regime becomes as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor

The Arab Spring reversed

Tunisian protesters fear that a new law will whitewash corrupt businessmen and officials, but they are finding that the new regime is becoming as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor
King Arthur: Legendary figure was real and lived most of his life in Strathclyde, academic claims

Academic claims King Arthur was real - and reveals where he lived

Dr Andrew Breeze says the legendary figure did exist – but was a general, not a king
Who is Oliver Bonas and how has he captured middle-class hearts?

Who is Oliver Bonas?

It's the first high-street store to pay its staff the living wage, and it saw out the recession in style
Earth has 'lost more than half its trees' since humans first started cutting them down

Axe-wielding Man fells half the world’s trees – leaving us just 422 each

However, the number of trees may be eight times higher than previously thought
60 years of Scalextric: Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones

60 years of Scalextric

Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones
Theme parks continue to draw in thrill-seekers despite the risks - so why are we so addicted?

Why are we addicted to theme parks?

Now that Banksy has unveiled his own dystopian version, Christopher Beanland considers the ups and downs of our endless quest for amusement
Tourism in Iran: The country will soon be opening up again after years of isolation

Iran is opening up again to tourists

After years of isolation, Iran is reopening its embassies abroad. Soon, there'll be the chance for the adventurous to holiday there
10 best PS4 games

10 best PS4 games

Can’t wait for the new round of blockbusters due out this autumn? We played through last year’s offering
Transfer window: Ten things we learnt

Ten things we learnt from the transfer window

Record-breaking spending shows FFP restraint no longer applies
Migrant crisis: UN official Philippe Douste-Blazy reveals the harrowing sights he encountered among refugees arriving on Lampedusa

‘Can we really just turn away?’

Dead bodies, men drowning, women miscarrying – a senior UN figure on the horrors he has witnessed among migrants arriving on Lampedusa, and urges politicians not to underestimate our caring nature
Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger as Isis ravages centuries of history

Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger...

... and not just because of Isis vandalism
Girl on a Plane: An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack

Girl on a Plane

An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack
Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

The author of 'The Day of the Jackal' has revealed he spied for MI6 while a foreign correspondent