The Peter Corrigan Column: Sven and the art of hysteria management

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Whatever happens as a result of England's first foray into the World Cup today, they have already registered a remarkable achievement by herding the country towards the starting gate of a major tournament without the usual stampede of expectation.

Whatever happens as a result of England's first foray into the World Cup today, they have already registered a remarkable achievement by herding the country towards the starting gate of a major tournament without the usual stampede of expectation.

Ireland managed to impose a similar control on the fantasies of their enthusiastic following before yesterday's opener against Cameroon – but they had to have a split in the camp of chasmic proportions in order to do so. Their great performance was all the sweeter.

England have managed it with just the aid of three or four sets of crutches. No one is suggesting that the most successful exercise in hysteria management in English football history is the result of any chicanery but if the England squad are totally sound in wind and limb this morning Lourdes had better be warned that they have got competition.

Injury scares are commonplace in football and most of the World Cup squads have suffered their scare – in the case of the French captain, Zinedine Zidane, it was more than a scare – but the collection of fitness crises that England were carrying a week ago was enough to dampen the spirits of the brightest optimists.

Their followers have been far more subdued than they normally are in the days leading up to a big 'un. I've found it very difficult to goad any of them into a rash bet and, indeed, the bookmakers have reported no rush of confident money being placed on an England triumph, although there has been plenty of World Cup betting.

Past experience on media road alerts me to expect the "phoney war" before the real stuff to yield the odd lurid story but the newspapers have been so busy keeping up with the medical reports there has scarcely been an article about football, never mind the normal run of perceived scandals. A few mildly questioning pieces on Sven Goran Eriksson's penchant for the long ball – a fascinating subject which I look forward to being developed – have tamely replaced the normally aggressive and challenging tone of the build-up.

Eriksson has appeared on our screens, but mainly in the guise of acting medical officer. If he hadn't been popping up in adverts for a supermarket or encouraging the nation to pour an Italian sauce over their pasta, we might have forgotten he was there. Before every other World Cup in living memory it has been the England manager who appeared in Henry V prancing-horse mode urging his army to advance "if not to heaven, then hand-in-hand to hell".

And to hell they have gone by various routes. It has been a torrid and unenviable experience for all of them.

But who has taken the lead role in the troop-rallying department? David Beckham at your service. His press conference on Thursday was a masterpiece of quiet reassurance. He spoke at length and quite eloquently about the approach to the tournament. No rabble-rousing, just a convincing and honest address and I have not met anyone who wasn't impressed by it.

It was the final piece in preparing the country for today's big test; neither raising nor lowering the hopes. If they win this morning, you can expect the usual gung-ho spirit to come flooding back. If they lose, then deep down they will already be braced. I did not think it was possible to put the country in that state of mind but it has been done.

Eriksson is either the most magical manager England have had or the luckiest. I cannot wait to find out.

Execution by commission

Let's be charitable and assume it was a coincidence that the decision to allow Wimbledon FC to move from south London to Milton Keynes was announced last week when every eye-ball in the country was focused on the Far East.

What was momentous news was buried beneath hourly reports on various pieces of English bone and gristle and the noisy bubbling of an Irish stew. However, I expect that when normality returns in a month or so this decision by the independent commission appointed by the Football Association will come under more intense scrutiny and I trust it will get the bird it deserves.

The commission was appointed after the request by Wimbledon's owners was twice rejected by the Football League. The FA didn't want it either but, for reasons I can't quite comprehend, passed the buck to a commission before which they gave evidence to back up their strong opposition to the move.

But the commission, comprised I am sure by learned and sincere men, shocked everyone by ruling in Wimbledon's favour because of "exceptional circumstances". From what I can gather, these were that Wimbledon would die otherwise. I have sad news for them. Wimbledon are dead – the commission just killed them.

The idea that you can uproot a club and place it in a different location and environment and still preserve the heartbeat that has sustained it since the club was formed in 1889 is ludicrously naïve.

Furthermore, having dealt the death blow to Wimbledon FC, they have fast-tracked a new club into the First Division, thereby wrecking every rule and moral guideline that has governed the progress of clubs since the game first took shape.

Having witnessed this extraordinary decision, the FA then denounced it as not in the best interests of the game and said that they were "greatly concerned that this decision should not in any way be seen as a precedent". That is precisely what it is and to dismiss it as a "one-off" is to demonstrate that their husbandry of the game is taking second fiddle to prancing around Japan looking important.

Wimbledon's chairman, Charles Koppel, one of a consortium made up largely of rich Norwegians who purchased Wimbledon two years or so, welcomed the news with the words: "This brings to a close 10 months of uncertainty and will allow the club to achieve an exciting and sustainable future."

Not quite; it will allow Koppel and his associates to achieve an exciting and sustainable future. It will allow Wimbledon to drop dead.

In Milton Keynes, the club will take possession of a new 28,000-seat stadium that will open in August as part of a £100m retail and commercial complex. In Wimbledon there will be nothing but sickened fans who are trying to mount a counter-attack against the removal of their club. Milton Keynes, they are told, is only 70 miles away – but these are the toughest 70 miles to travel outside an African jungle.

No doubt, some diehard fans will attempt to make the difficult journey to maintain their support but as a long-term prospect it is daunting.

Had Koppel and his colleagues not happened along, Wimbledon would have undoubtedly struggled and would have drifted down through the divisions. But they would have remained Wimbledon and might even have re-occupied their traditional home at Plough Lane, which was sold to a supermarket by their previous owner Sam Hammam but has not been developed.

Whether they like it or not, our football authorities are staring franchising full in the face. There was a suggestion a few years ago that Wimbledon would move to Dublin and put down the roots of a Premiership side in the Irish capital. The club would have died just the same but it would have been a far more interesting development to the game in these islands than the creation of a new retail outlet.

I'm not wholeheartedly in agreement with a franchise system but I believe it is an inevitable development of the Premiership's desire to maximise their income. If you look at it dispassionately, the dispersal of our major clubs throughout the land is not as cost-effective as it could be. Most of them grew up where the seeds dropped a century or so ago.

Certainly, the subject is deserving of more serious consideration than this meek surrendering to the appalling idea of a football club as the centrepiece of a shopping opportunity.

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