Dirt dispensed, dignity dispensed with - More Sports - Sport - The Independent

Dirt dispensed, dignity dispensed with

'Kevin Keegan is so exhaustively frank in his interviews he will have nothing left with which to surprise us if he hits the bookstalls when his reign is over'

Dishing the dirt about what sportsmen get up to when out of the public gaze should be the prerogative of harlots and newspapermen. There is something inherently unsavoury when the sportsmen themselves get involved in the dissemination of the tittle-tattle; especially when they do so from a position of privilege.

Dishing the dirt about what sportsmen get up to when out of the public gaze should be the prerogative of harlots and newspapermen. There is something inherently unsavoury when the sportsmen themselves get involved in the dissemination of the tittle-tattle; especially when they do so from a position of privilege.

The latest leader to take us on a guided tour behind the scenes is the former Ryder Cup captain Mark James whose new book Into the Bear Pit (Virgin Publishing, £16.99) was serialised in the Daily Mail last week and kept us hugely entertained. Accusations that Nick Faldo tried to undermine Europe's Ryder Cup bid last year blended with tales of a flare-up between Colin Montgomerie and David Feherty over the latter's description of the former as Mrs Doubtfire. It's all knockabout stuff and we would not be human if we didn't revel in it.

But I'm not sure that the dignity of the game or the sanctity of the relationships among our top players are preserved in this unseemly rush to spill the beans and then give the tin a kick. It is also getting to be a habit.

There was little wrong with the traditional sporting memoir wherein a famous player looked back on a distinguished career and provided some interesting insights. For the best part of a century, our better-known stars earned a few extra quid towards their retirement with ghosted autobiographies which could be found on the F for forgettable shelf in your local library.

While many of them caused a stir at the time of publication for some revelation about a past controversy or a confession of a minor misdeed, they merely added a brief contribution to our knowledge of what goes on backstage. Since those concerned had passed from view it didn't really matter.

We have progressed into more explicit times, however, and the recollections have become more dramatic and the views more bold. With newspapers prepared to pay well to serialise the meatier stuff, there has been a sharp rise in confessional zeal; so much so that you wonder how some of them found the time and energy to play.

But even that is acceptable in these enlightened times. What is much less welcome is the recent trend for managers and coaches to surrender secrets and frank thoughts to a ghost-writer even before the dust has settled on the events. Curmudgeonly swipes in all directions might ease the weight on their egos but it scarcely encourages faith, loyalty and confidence among those who occupy the front lines of sport.

Glenn Hoddle was not the first England manager to publish a diary of a major championship, but he was the first to reveal incidents and conversations that should have remained private or, at least, been allowed to gather a layer or two of dust.

A few weeks ago, David Lloyd, the former coach of the England cricket team, published his account of England's recent travails and the serialisation in a national tabloid produced a few embarrassing revelations of the natures and character of our top cricketers.

Now comes the offering of James who, in fairness, took a slight critical battering following our Ryder Cup defeat in the United States last September and there is certainly no harm in him mounting a defence of his tactics. But he has gone much further.

There are a number of reasons to have serious misgivings about the wisdom of allowing managers and coaches the freedom to embarrass and compromise current players. There's nothing amiss with expressing views and opinions - that's how some of us scrape a living - and where would sport be without its heated debates andarguments?

But we will shortly reach the point, if we have not reached italready, when top-level relationships in sport are going to be restrained by the threat of almost certain betrayal of any confidences exchanged.

There was a time when our sporting authorities were very strict on what could and could not be said by those within the game. As a grizzled old ghost-writer, I have some experience of that strictness. After the World Cup of 1966, I had the pleasure of writing a book with Martin Peters, one of the most talented and certainly the most versatile of England's stars. By no means a vindictive man, Martin wanted to have his say about a player with another team who he felt was, to coin a phrase from memory, a pernicious little tyrant.

Peters was playing with West Ham at that time and we had to submit the manuscript to the manager, Ron Greenwood, for approval. Ron went white when he read that particular chapter. "You can't print this, it'll cause an uproar," he said. We were less than upset by that prospect but West Ham insisted on removing theoffending words and the world will never know.

Compared to these latest outpourings, Peters' words were nothing but an honest opinion based on personal experience and betrayed neither secret nor trust. I have not discussed the matter with him since but perhaps he is happy that his views went unrecorded because bad feeling was bound to have resulted.

The vigilance applied then seems to have softened to the stage where the criticism received by players from the press and fans is nothing compared to the public slagging off they get from those appointed to high office. There is another aspect to the situation and that is the nation's right to more immediate opinions and information concerning our teams.

It did not help Hoddle's cause that his collaborator was David Davies, then the Football Association's public relations officer. That they should be at the centre of a supposedly high-power operation to improve the reputation of English football while garnering the little tit-bits from which they would later attempt to create a best seller was wholly unsatisfactory.

Are we now to regard every national coach and manager as merely doing research for a book instead of getting on with their jobs? At least, we are not likely to have that problem with the present England coach. Kevin Keegan is so exhaustively comprehensive and frank in his interviews he will have nothing left with which to surprise us if he hits the bookstalls when his reign is over.

In his account of last year's Ryder Cup, James has some very interesting things to say, particularly about the tactics for which he was criticised.

Leaving out Andrew Coltart, Jean van de Velde and Jarmo Sandelin until the last day was seen by most of us as the error that lost the cup. James provides a plausible explanation that would have been far more illuminating at the time. Any calm consideration of that was ruined by the attention given to his attack on Faldo, which did not become the European captain. Faldo's lack of the companionable graces is not news but he was the finest British golfer of his generation and his contribution to our Ryder Cup cause through the years did not deserve the dismissal that James sought to give it.

Neither would the dredging up of a joke against Montgomerie have helped that player's gearing up for the forthcoming majors. He's one of our finest world-class practitioners of any sport and rates the respect of his peers. Even we who specialise in criticism know when to put in the barbs.

The message to all those charged with the immensely difficult job of gaining us glory on the world stage should be made clear. If you have anything to say that you think we ought to know then tell us at the press conference. Don't keep it back so that you can sell it to us at a later date.

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