The walls of the chairman's suite at Bolton's Reebok Stadium are lined with photographs of former players including, to his evident delight, Sam Allardyce, chin and chest stuck out in typically defiant fashion. It was the same pose he chose to strike while sitting there on Friday, just a couple of days after many of the media representatives present had averred that he was fighting for his job, if not his career.
That had seemed a reasonable conclusion in the light of Panorama's undercover investigation on Tuesday night into the murky world of football transfers. Two different agents had, after all, independently alleged that Bolton's manager would accept illegal payments either directly or to his son, Craig. Within 24 hours, however, both were mysteriously changing their tune and the feeling seemed to be that the football authorities might be hard pressed to make any charges stick.
Bolton - the club and the town - thought predictably little of them. In a full page of letters devoted to the controversy in the local Evening News, only one was remotely critical of Allardyce. The mood was of outrage at little old Wanderers being unfairly slaughtered once more by the snide metropolitan media, who show such little respect for their playing style.
Many clubs would have pulled up the drawbridge ahead of their weekend match. Bolton decided on a more open policy than their own legal eagles would have liked, wheeling out senior players Kevin Nolan and Gary Speed as well as the manager himself, to put out the same message. "Everyone at the football club, including all the players and staff, have been 100 per cent behind me, which is very encouraging," Allardyce said. Very encouraging for him, that is, though it made nonsense of the club's statement the previous day that they would conduct "a thorough and robust investigation into the programme".
Nor is it clear who will do the investigating. Bolton's chairman, Phil Gartside, was on a charity trek in the Himalayas last week and has not yet seen the programme, in which he was shown naming a price for midfielder Jay-Jay Okocha before assuring supporters he did not want to sell him. To the embarrassment of the Football Association, who will be investigating the Allardyces (though Craig is now beyond their jurisdiction), Gartside is also an FA board member, which raises the question once more of conflict of interest when Premier League clubs are so heavily represented at the highest levels of the sport's governing body.
"I've talked to the chairman and he's having a great time, which is fantastic," Allardyce said, though his next phrase was not the most felicitous: "He's said we're all in it together, and we always have been, so long may it continue." "The lads are 100 per cent behind the manager," the veteran Speed confirmed. "We've got great team spirit and I'm not just saying that because of the things that have gone on." His captain, Nolan, added: "I hope we'll all pull together and get the result we need on Monday against Portsmouth."
A genuine spirit of togetherness clearly does pervade the dressing-room, and the manager is smart enough to use an "us against the world" mentality to fire up his players before the game at Portsmouth - where he might just find the time for a chat with Harry Redknapp, who also made an appearance on Panorama. Understandably happier talking about actual football on Friday, Allardyce could not help smiling as he reflected - without once mentioning Arsène Wenger by name - on the delight of beating teams who then complain about Bolton's style, or lack of it. "When a fellow manager comes out and criticises you for the way you've played in beating them, you go home on a Sunday and pick the paper up with great satisfaction."
More seriously, he has admitted to a sense of hurt, and is uncomfortably aware that Queen's Park Rangers' new manager, John Gregory, one of the first of many people to offer messages of support last week, claims to have been kept out of football for three years by similar innuendo. Allardyce said: "Only I know what damage it does to me. Everybody thinks we've got skins like rhinos but we're only human beings. It's hurt me, yes. But I've not been tempted to walk away [from Bolton]. No matter what I did or said, I'd be running away, so that never entered my mind."
There is a sense, too, of a man wanting to say a lot more, who will do so at some stage. "Eventually, once the legal side have lifted the restraints on me, I can say the right things and put the whole thing in perspective. Other people then can look at how and why it's happened and draw the right conclusions. Sadly, at this moment I can't make those feelings clear, but I will put my side of it forward. The main thing now is me managing the football club and not hiding from my responsibilities.
"It's been outstanding from me and the family's point of view picking the phone up and having a mailbox full of messages. It's been a terrific help. I'd like to thank them all publicly because I won't get round to them all. In every walk of life, somebody's managed to get some message to me."
The next one will surely be from Soho Square, inviting a response to last Tuesday's accusations. FA officials are also asking the programme makers to make all their evidence and footage available, which would involve naming the manager who was due to collect a £100,000 bung but got cold feet at the last moment. Then there is the little matter of Lord Stevens' inquiry for the Premier League, which is reported to have uncovered more than 100 transfer deals requiring further investigation, many involving foreign players. Lord Stevens is due to present his findings privately this week, after which they will be revealed to clubchairmen - Mr Gartside included - on 2 October.Reuse content