Tuesday’s final whistle must have been the greatest moment of Roy Hodgson’s managerial career. I know he has taken Switzerland to a World Cup, but this was different, it was his own country. The pressure he must have felt under to qualify, as someone who was born in England, must have been immense. You could feel the sense of relief when Steven Gerrard’s goal went in to make it 2-0.
I’ve said in the past I’d rather watch Coronation Street or Downton Abbey than England, but both games were really exciting and personally I can’t see why we can’t have more of that.
I was really pleased Roy changed tack and played Andros Townsend because we needed someone to stretch the opposition, so Wayne Rooney would get more of the ball in the areas in which he is dangerous. While I know James Milner is a good player, no way would he have been able to do what Andros did.
But then came Thursday morning. I was doing TalkSPORT and little did I imagine we’d be wake up to Roy being the front-page headline on one of the tabloids, embroiled in a race storm. We even interviewed the guy who wrote it. Roy must have been distraught at such an accusation. I found it disappointing to say the least. It just seems whenever we have something good to talk about, someone puts a spoke in the wheel.
I’m sure you all know by now about the joke Roy used to illustrate the need to get the ball to Andros quicker, and that he meant nothing by it. The word “monkey” is tainted by the abuse black players received in the past, but it is part of the language. I don’t see Roy’s use of it being any worse than the phrase “you’ve got the monkey off your back,” which you might use when a player scores after a long period without a goal.
Language is a sensitive issue, but there are ways of dealing with someone innocently causing offence. Years ago, when I was managing Sheffield United, I told one of our lads in a game to “pick up the coloured centre-half” at set pieces, never giving it a thought. Later, after the game, one of our black players came to see me and said “Gaffer, you can’t call a black lad ‘coloured’. It is an insult. We are black and should be called black.” It was news to me, and I told him that, but I have never used the word since. Surely that is how the player who was left unhappy by Roy’s remark should have dealt with it. If he didn’t want to speak to Roy he could have had a word with one of his staff, like Gary Neville or Ray Lewington, instead of a red-top tabloid.
I had another incident to do with language with the Football Association after I had said my team had defended like “fairies in the garden”. A young lady from the FA’s compliance unit wrote to me saying some people had complained I was being homophobic and would I cease to use the word “fairies”. I was furious. I wrote back and said obviously I was a lot older than she was, but when I was young if I didn’t make a tackle my Dad would say I was like “the fairies who lived at the bottom of the garden”. I found it offensive I had been accused of something I had not said. That is how I saw the allegations against Roy. I felt just as strongly for him.
Then the bandwagon-jumpers, like Peter Herbert from the Society of Black Lawyers, dived in to get a bit of publicity. It is ridiculous. People see slights everywhere. I was annoyed last week at Sol Campbell complaining Greg Dyke’s commission had no black voices on board. I thought it was a well-balanced panel, especially including people like Dario Gradi. I’ve heard the FA have approached black people in the game, but for one reason or another they have not been able to accept, now if they do get a black person on board it will look as if they are reacting to criticism, which will be infuriating for them.
Anyway, the main thing is we have qualified for the World Cup, now we have to start saving as you need a second mortgage to go to Brazil to watch them.
Andros Townsend was one of my players at Leeds, but not for long. When I arrived I was impressed with what I saw of him in training and rang Harry Redknapp, then manager of Spurs who had loaned him to us. I told Harry I was going to make Andros a key player in my team. Harry was delighted as he wanted Andros to get games.
Then Andros told me he wanted to leave as he was homesick for London. I asked him to play on the Saturday for me, at Portsmouth, as we had planned the team around him, then he could go. The next day was a day off; during it I heard he had been talking to Birmingham. The following day I asked someone to fetch Andros. They came back and told me he had cleared his locker and gone. That Saturday he played for Birmingham.
I saw him next at QPR and I thought he had matured beyond all recognition and was the best player on the pitch most games I saw. Now I think he can go from strength to strength. He is so positive running at people. I do enjoy watching him. He lifts the crowd and he does like a shot, Tottenham fans talk about him cutting inside and blasting balls over, but sometimes they go in, just like at Wembley.