The Peter Corrigan Column

Manager for all season? It's time the game opened a non-sacking window
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The Independent Football

There may be fingers even now twitching on the trigger, but to have almost completed the first third of the season with the same 20 Premiership managers who started it is a minor miracle.

The men themselves may not be the same, some of them shot through with nerves and frustration, but they and their dreams live on under a display of board-room patience the like of which we've rarely ever seen, and never in the pressures of recent years. What has happened to the ruthless chairmen to whom failure is a personal affront, and who seek to purge their own part in it by offering the manager as sacrifice?

By this time last year, Southampton and Newcastle United had already shed the men who had led them into the season. The electric current under a few hot-seats may have been upped in strength but they are still occupied by the same bums, and I mean that strictly in the anatomical sense.

It's stretching it only a little too far to compare it to death row in America; the cells of the condemned are never empty, but the stays of execution are getting longer and longer.

As the Premiership picture stands frozen in this weekend truce caused by international priorities, the clubs should take some pride from this show of stability, unplanned as it may be. If only the experience had the power to persuade them to consider the permanent introduction of a non-sacking zone, perhaps lasting all season.

We have become accustomed to transfers not being allowed until the January window. If booting out the manager also became a banned activity until the end of the campaign it could have a positive effect on clubs and their handling of the lean days.

The knowledge that they were all in it together could promote a unity of purpose and remove much of the panic and distrust from the equation. Already, the past three months has seen a dramatic transformation. Only seven weeks ago we were bracing ourselves for the most boring season of all time. Goals were being scored at an historically low rate, matches suffered from too much caution-control and clean sheets were the overriding ambition of most teams.

Attendances were down, admission prices were up and televised games lacked appeal. Compared with the thrill of England's Ashes success, football looked distinctly pale and uninteresting. Only from Stamford Bridge came the throb of excitement. Chelsea's start was six games, six wins, 12 goals for and none against, and few were prepared to argue against the prognosis that the title race was over before it had hardly started.

One theory is that Chelsea's overwhelming start has been a factor in staying the hand of any potential manager-assassin. So dominant have they been that the moguls at every other club have had to reassess their approach.

By the same token, the rise and rise of Wigan from humble resources could have the opposite effect. Chairmen could start to bully managers with the question: we can't afford to be Chelsea, but what's stopping us being a Wigan?

John Barnwell, chief executive of the League Managers' Assoc-iation, says that September and October are traditionally dangerous months for managers, but that clubs are realising that sacking managers doesn't always achieve what they had hoped.

We have to acknowledge a few narrow escapes. The shadow of Newcastle's chairman, Freddie Shepherd, did hover threateningly over Graeme Souness until he turned the team's fortunes around. The fact that three clubs from that notorious killing-field, the Midlands, are in the bottom four would normally have meant curtains for someone. And Portsmouth's Alain Perrin, the 9-4 favourite with the bookies, may still be looking over his shoulder.

The biggest chairman of them all, in the titular sense, emerged from the shadows of the Football Association last week to set an example to everyone. Geoff Thompson doesn't have a lot to say on any subject, but he provided a rousing endorsement of Sven Goran Eriksson's qualities as a manager.

Anyone with a sense of caution would have waited until after yesterday's game against Argentina before hailing the manager as a "remarkable success". Perhaps that's the real reason for the absence of carnage; Sven's been hiring out his bullet-proof vest.

An absolutely golden expression

Coyness does not suit a game as earthy as football. I'm all for culling the cursing seen if not heard on the lips of footballers on television, but we've had an extraordinary media reaction to Sir Alex Ferguson's use of the expression "absolute bollocks".

Sky's studio man Richard Keys, who needs all the expressive words he can find, actually apologised to viewers, and most newspapers put asterisks between the "b" and the "s".

If they had consulted their dictionaries they would have found that, apart from another usage, the word is coarse but acceptable slang for expressing contempt.

I am not sure which is its best superlative. It can be emphatically preceded by "total", "complete" or "absolute". Fergie chose the third of these, a particular favourite of mine, to dismiss certain newspaper stories suggesting that he was on the brink of the sack prior to United's welcome 1-0 victory over Chelsea last Sunday. Some speculation on his position might have been justified, but there was one back page in particular that dressed it as sensational fact on the flimsiest of supporting evidence.

Far from censoring Fergie's statement, I would like to nominate it as Comment of the Year. Absolutely.

Magical spells and whispers off

One hesitates to kick a team when they are struggling, but Portsmouth fans have been reminded that their famous old ground, Fratton Park, reads backwards as Krap, nott arf.

This is one of many sporting pearls contained in a new book, You Absolutely Couldn't Make It Up (John Blake, £7.99) by Jack Crossley. Jack is the world's most avid newspaper reader and has a talent for spotting the most bizarre but true stories - such as the report from Royal Ascot when the England-Switzerland match was shown live on a giant screen.

"There was an authentic Eliza Doolittle moment when one serene symphony in pink lost her poise and bellowed: 'C'mon Becks, move your arse'."

Another tells how the BBC commentator John Motson cost bookmakers thousands of pounds. They had offered odds on which of his footballing clichés he would use first during the Euro 2004 match between England and Portugal. Many chose "These are anxious moments". Motson obliged when the game was only 69 seconds old.

The gloves worn by Henry Cooper when he fought Muhammad Ali in 1966 were auctioned in 2004 for £19,000. "That's more than I got for the bleeding fight," said Henry.

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