Football: On the verge of screaming

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The Independent Online
WHEN Sir Matt Busby was in charge at Manchester United and laying down a reputation as one of the greatest figures in the game, the public saw him as an urbane, avuncular figure, sucking on his pipe, seemingly unmoved by the cares of football management. It was, as he once admitted to a notable contemporary, Stan Cullis, of Wolves, a deception. 'There is plenty going on inside,' he said.

According to some of the famous players Busby sent out in United's colours, that deception was maintained in the dressing-room, where he was never heard to raise his voice, however critical the circumstances. Certainly he never took to firing off salvoes of crockery. Busby understood, as Sir Alf Ramsey and Jock Stein did, that anxious, excitable managers send out anxious, excitable teams.

This should be an improving lesson to all managers and coaches who fret so obviously in public that they are called to account by the Football Association.

A clue to the future lies, I think, in the growing and perhaps irreversible conviction of employers and the public that victory is of paramount importance. Precedent flatly contradicts the notion that vilification of football managers is a modern phenomenon (verbal barbs have been perforating their sensitive psyches for years), but recently there were two examples of what stress can bring about in the minds of even highly experienced practitioners.

On Monday most of the popular prints carried a photograph of Nottingham Forest's beleaguered manager, Brian Clough, furiously turning with two fingers raised in the general direction of a disgruntled supporter. If serious when insisting that it was a signal to his right-back, the No 2, then no wonder Forest are in trouble.

At Crystal Palace on Tuesday, the Liverpool manager, Graeme Souness, was ordered from the touchline by the referee, and will be reported for allegedly abusing a linesman. Earlier this season Souness received a five-match suspension from Uefa for a similar offence immediately following Liverpool's Cup-Winners' Cup tie with Moscow Spartak.

Now I have it on good authority that Crystal Palace supporters have not been best pleased with Souness since he spoke out against their team following a game at Anfield last year, and have taken to jeering him.

Nobody has ever been able to lay down a rule determining how much abuse a paid performer must take from the public. All the same it is a mark of class in a performer to take cheers and jeers in his stride. One of the more solid citizens in sport pointed this out years ago. Hoots and jeers were a part of the game, the man said, and everybody in the public eye had to learn to accept them.

These days most managers prefer to stand on the touchline, a trend started, I think, by Franz Beckenbauer when he was in charge of the West German national team. If this provides for a better view of proceedings while still being in position to berate and instruct, it also increases the temptation to sound off about wrongs that may only exist in the imagination.

The vexed issue of coaching from the touchline was addressed at recent meeting of the International Board, a body responsible for the laws of football. Next season it will experiment with a designated area from which coaches can issue instructions as long as they do not overstep the mark.

Probably the most famous touchline utterance was heard from Ramsey when Geoff Hurst sealed England's victory in the 1966 World Cup final. With helpers and substitutes leaping up around him, Ramsey spoke sharply to one of England's trainers, Harold Shepherdson, and tugged at his track suit. 'Sit down, Harold,' he said, 'I can't see what is going on.'

In Souness's case a more appropriate example was set by Liverpool's most famous manager, Bill Shankly. Infuriated when a goal against Cologne in the European Cup was ruled offside by an official from the Netherlands, he politely shouted, 'Excuse me linesman. Have you forgotten that these people overran your country 25 years ago?'