Football: New cross to bear for adopted patriot

At the club where Ramsey made his name, Hoddle's old sidekick has a few regrets. By Nick Townsend
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YOU CAN almost hear the gnashing molars of Sean Connery and his Scottish Nationalist ilk who harbour profound suspicions about a compatriot who nurtures such passion for the England football team, a man who once contended that, "I couldn't be more proud [of an England victory] if I was born in the Home Counties."

The fact that he continues to do so after the FA have had the temerity to give him a discharge - albeit an honourable one - from his duties would no doubt be regarded as traitorous in the extreme in some quarters, north of the border.

But John Gorman is not one for removing his allegiance for his adopted nation, even if the treatment of his kindred spirit and England coach, Glenn Hoddle, might have persuaded many to do so.

Nearly 13 weeks after Hoddle's dismissal, Gorman's support for the progress of an England team which they manoeuvred to the World Cup finals and thence within an errant penalty kick to the semi-finals, remains stubbornly intact.

Today, as Ipswich first-team coach, he will be at St Andrew's where his men confront Birmingham, having moved from under the cross of St George to a job with a quite different cross to bear, that of aiding George Burley in his quest for automatic promotion of the Suffolk club where Alf Ramsey first made an impact on the game.

If there is any residue of emotion at the sequence of events that concluded with Hoddle's departure, and his own a few days later, it is not so much bitterness as sadness. "The day of the Poland game was the hardest," recalls Gorman. "I just wanted to get it over with. The worst thing was that we [Ipswich] didn't have a game that Saturday." England, it will be remembered, won Kevin Keegan's first game as head coach 3-1. "I always felt England would win, but then I'll always be convinced that we would have beaten Poland if Glenn had been in charge. I felt that although we'd had a bad start to the qualifying games, we'd always bounce back. However, that doesn't take anything away from Kevin and the job he's done. He will be good. There's no question of that, because he's got a great attitude and players will respect him."

Gorman, who turns 50 in August, could at least observe Wednesday night's friendly in Hungary with a greater degree of detachment. That team was, inevitably, considerably more of Keegan's own making, although even then there is no concealing the Scot's fascination when he is told the starting eleven. Rio Ferdinand's inclusion is of particular interest. "I'm glad he's got his chance because Rio was obviously very much in our plans, as was Keiron Dyer and Richard Wright [both of Ipswich], funnily enough. If Keiron had been match-fit I think he would have been in the squad."

It is still seen by many as somewhat perverse that the FA should have asked Gorman to remain during the friendly with France, a match overseen by the FA's technical director, Howard Wilkinson, who, not surprisingly, deployed a 4-4-2 strategy, while Hoddle always advocated three at the back. "I found it difficult to get my mind around the fact that we had been there together and Glenn had been given the sack," he says. "I assumed that if Glenn went I'd go out the door with him. It was a bit of a shock, to be honest, when I didn't. On reflection, I think the right thing would have been to go at the same time. But I loved the job, and the people at the FA respected me and I respected them. They wanted me to stay on and help Howard and, although I was determined to be professional about it, I couldn't offer him much because my views were different."

Gorman refuses to criticise the FA. "They treated me very well," he says. "It's just a shame that Glenn had to leave the job. Everybody quickly forgets how well the team played, even in that Czech Republic friendly, which was our last game together."

The zenith of their tenure will always remain that climactic France 98 quarter-final. "Despite all their quality Argentina couldn't make that extra man count, even with extra time and our tired legs. It should have made the difference, but it didn't because we had a spirit that was unbelievable. Everyone talks about the spirit being much better now." He pauses, before shooting a look of defiance through those intense dark eyes: "All I can say is that the spirit then was fantastic."

Virtually from that moment, when the England coach admitted that there had been no penalty-taking practice, Hoddle's critics sought to discredit him like a nail file persistently scratching out dirt from under the finger nails. "We lost on penalties and got criticised for it, which is acceptable, but even if you practise penalties 20 times every hour, it doesn't mean to say you're going to score on the night."

We talk in the solitude of the Portman Road players' room, where, next Sunday, after the concluding fixture against Sheffield United, celebrations will either be raucous or subdued, depending upon results. If Ipswich have to progress via the play-offs, Gorman has the benefit of having passed along that route before. Successfully, with Swindon, where he was the player-manager Hoddle's No 2, when they were promoted to the Premiership, although under his managership they were relegated the following season. "Glenn reminded me recently that if we do have to do it through the play- offs, that experience will stand me in good stead," says Gorman, who was a Carlisle player when they were promoted to the old First Division 25 years ago.

Gorman, originally from West Lothian but now domiciled in Berkshire, understands the capricious nature of football. And life. His wife Myra has been having treatment for breast cancer and that places even the Hoddle brouhaha and his own football future in its correct perspective. However, he has no doubts that Hoddle will re-emerge a successful coach, but in his own time. "He's got such a love of the game and it would be such a waste if he didn't. If you've got character, you come back again. If you accept you're a loser, you won't."