Ken Jones: The danger of big egos fuelled by little knowledge

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The Independent Football

Some years ago, the tenant in this toy shop had the happy experience of learning at first hand how a cornered fox feels when the hunt has closed in and the hounds are circling, snapping, leaping and yelping just outside the lair.

Some years ago, the tenant in this toy shop had the happy experience of learning at first hand how a cornered fox feels when the hunt has closed in and the hounds are circling, snapping, leaping and yelping just outside the lair.

It was during a World Cup, not long after some comments had appeared here regarding inhabitants of commentary and press boxes who, without any significant games-playing experience, can perch on a cloud and confidently inform listeners and readers that the coach is a mug and should seek alternative employment.

These experts – which is how they saw themselves – were furious. They closed in at the bar in some hotel or other, yapping that they could too tell a dud when they saw one, even if the hounded coach had the respect of his peers and it might be all that the game's greatest minds could to improve the team's performance.

In sport today it does seem that a little learning is a dangerous thing. Thinking back, I remember the former West Ham and England manager saying that an assumption of expertise in football roughly coincides with the last time a ball was kicked even if only in the school playground.

This is borne out by calls made to relentlessly fatuous radio programmes presented by people who are as illogical as the callers themselves. Thus, Sir Alex Ferguson, after guiding Manchester United through the most successful period in its history, has fallen victim to arrogance. Peter Reid has lost the plot at Sunderland and should at least clear out the coaches working under him. Presumably on the basis of recent home results and rotational selection, Arsène Wenger in the eyes of some Arsenal fans no longer knows his backside from his elbow.

The complaint of West Ham's manager, Glenn Roeder, that most of the pressure he feels is media-inspired was ridiculed by the opinionated BBC Radio football commentator Alan Green and indeed on these pages by my colleague Mike Rowbottom. But Roeder may have a point. On radio this week, the Brentford chairman, Ron Noades, who at least took some trouble to expand his knowledge of the game, if not greatly, touched on the problem of people on the outside assuming they know more than people on the inside.

An interesting experience personally was to be briefly in the employ of a Canadian roustabout, Joe Peters who had been many things in his life, deckhand, lumberjack, crop-spraying pilot and professional gambler before making a sizeable fortune in real-estate. His eyes always on a fast buck, seeing possibilities in the launch of professional soccer in North America more than 30 years ago, he bought the Toronto Falcons (not his wisest move) and hired me as a temporary consultant. The only consultation that registered in Peters's mind was my conclusion that the game wasn't going anywhere on the only continent cool to it. "That isn't what the experts are telling us," one of his business advisors remarked. "Experts," Peters snapped. "I've had it with experts. Ex is something in the past and a spurt is a spray that never made it."

Time was when broadcast and print journalists were guaranteed to get an earful. From the late Stan Cullis, of Wolverhampton Wanderers, who was in the habit of admonishing reporters in his office at Molineux. From the great Celtic manager Jock Stein who answered Friday press calls to his office at Parkhead by reading out the team. "We are, Simpson, Gemmill..." From Matt Busby who quietly brought malcontents into line.

The surprise selection of Martin Peters for England's last warm-up game before the 1966 World Cup prompted a question from Frank McGhee late of this life and the Daily Mirror. "Can you explain Peters's role?" asked McGhee, who was friendly with the England manager. "No, Frank," Ramsey replied, rising to leave the room.

Shortly before England lost to the Netherlands in 1994, failing to qualify for that year's World Cup finals, Graham Taylor was foolishly lured into a debate about selection and tactics with football writers firm in the belief that they knew as much about the game as he did.

Vilified and brought down by this rough old trade, Taylor has accepted an invitation to be guest of honour at a Football Writers' Association dinner in January. If Taylor was asked whether all is now forgiven it would come as no surprise to hear him say, "I do not care to answer that question."

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