You could see in his eyes how much it hurt. The Stade de France a fortnight ago, and in the press seats an old friend, a fellow long-time traveller on the ghost train of collaborators. He had desperately desired an England triumph for more than purely patriotic reasons, and appeared as deflated as the England rugby players below. Instead of an additional two chapters from his man reflecting on post-World Cup glory, there would be a post-mortem. He would not have been alone in his despair that night, as potential book sales plummeted.
In the opiate-like haze of victory, everybody is prepared to laugh at coaching cock-ups, managerial mishaps and players' aberrations. Reflections on how it all came right on the night, how character overcame adversity, guarantees sales.
Dealing with defeat is considerably more complex. No matter how much it is the consequence of misfortune, and Brian Ashton's men could offer that in mitigation, potential readers demand recrimination, the whinge after the wake, the miss 'n' tell. From that invariably ensues accusations of treachery.
Lawrence Dallaglio and Mike Catt had been straight out of the blocks, leading the dash to query Ashton's capabilities. England's head coach could be forgiven for thinking it curious that, having witnessed his team emerge from ignominy to the Rugby World Cup final (which, lest some forget, was an ambition that appearedfutile under his predecessor, Andy Robinson) and comewithin a few points of the Queen's sword being placed on both shoulders, he instead found himself the recipient of a blade between them.
Intriguingly, despite such observations that he had led a campaign which Dallaglio likened to Monty Python's Life of Brian, while Catt accused him of "betraying his coaching ideas held for 27 years", the reaction has actually been a galvanising of support for Ashton from many, including influential figures such as Dean Richards. In fairness, Catt has attempted to correct impressions. The centre appeared on radio and TV to declare that he had not expected such "negativity" as the serialisation of his book had produced. Oh, and that actually, England should build a team around the World Cup coach. Not quite the impression the newspaper headline gave.
What these "authors" have learned this week is that the benefits of book publication and newspaper serialisation can swell the contents of their walletsand offer an unopposed platform for their views – but can also setthem up as obliging targets,as Duncan Fletcher can now readily attest himself.
The former England cricket coach had dwelt a while before offering his own slant on Freddie Flintoff's not so Yabba-Dabba-Do time on tour last winter. Yet he has suffered the same fate as the rugby pair. All have professed candour, and for their sins all they have received is a collective scolding (rugby now wants to make telling tales out of school immediately after a major tournament virtually a treasonable offence).
"Why is the Freddie Flintoff stuff so important?" Fletcher reportedly questioned the Daily Mail's cricket correspondent, apparently without irony, having filleted the erstwhile England captain in his auto-biography over his alcohol consumption, and pondered, albeit belatedly, whether he had been right to retain him as captain. "I wouldn't have bothered including it if I'd known it would cause such a fuss."
Oh dear. Provoking a fuss is what the publishing game is all about, Duncan; one in which we, on our side of the divide, separate not so much the wheat from the chaff as the bloody twist of the blade from the benign. Those of us who have embarked on such projects will have understood that frisson of excitement Fletcher's collaborator would have experienced when the England head coach so readily respondedto the words "Freddie" and "Flintoff", particularly when placed in close proximity to the words "Botham", "Boycott", "drink" and "pedalo".
One rather imagines Fletcherregrets certain references now. Yet, what would we have made of a book that glossed over, or ignored, Flintoff's shortcomings? On tour, Fletcher had necessarily engaged in damage limitation over Flintoff's excesses. Indeed, so troubled was he by what the media wrote, having been, in his words, "targeted" by it, he confesses that he could not find it within himself to deal as he perhaps should have done with "the national hero". That should not preclude him now from detailing the behaviour of a man who was at various times England captain and vice-captain.
Many yearn for those Brylcreemed, Corinthian days when the doomed team went down with such concepts as truth and honesty. This was regarded like sunken treasure: as potentially valuable as it was, it should be left on the seabed, out of respect for those involved. Today, the public expect more. Explanations are demanded for defeat and the guilty named.
One could be quite wrong, but the suspicion is that the England all-rounder, currently in the United States recuperating from a fourth ankle operation, would privately not dispute much of what Fletcher has written about him. He is "philosophical" about it, we are told. Frankly, if Fletcher's testimony bears a semblance of truth, he was fortunate to be granted the latitude he was. But does that not also tell us much about Fletcherhimself? What even Friends of Freddie cannot dispute is that in detailing Flintoff's weak-nesses Fletcher has highlighted his own failings. In cutting loose at Flintoff and others, the Zimbabwean has left his wicket totally unguarded to one specificdelivery: the charge that he lacked strong management.
In the world of elite sport, in which only hard, dictatorial types are believed (even if often erroneously) to flourish, that is a remarkable confession. A rather more grave admission, you may think, than revealing all about an England icon being drunk in charge of a pedalo.
Plans to have Team GB at Olympics will turn into political football
Here's one to get you thinking during a lull at Christmas lunch. Who scored the winning goal in the 2004 Olympic football final? The answer doesn't immediately come to mind? Only if you were an avid enthusiast of Olympic history or an aficionado of international football would you recall that it was Carlos Tevez, then a 20-year-old, whose goal in the 1-0 defeat of Paraguay ensured Argentina captured Olympic gold. Wonder whatever happened to him...
This glorified Under-23 tournament (with some senior involvement) would not have been on too many people's "must-watch" lists back then. In that same team was Gabriel Heinze, who had signed for Manchester United. Sir Alex Ferguson was not happy. He had not seen him train yet, and would have to wait even longer.
Already it is possible to contemplate the potential for a political fall-out between the FA, Premier League, Uefa, Fifa and the BOA if plans for a GB team to contest the football tournament at the London Olympics proceed. Just to remind ourselves, that would be less than four weeks after the 2012 European Championships, and during the domestic football season. Nevertheless, the BOA's chief executive, Simon Clegg, asserted this week that it would be "unbelievable" if GB did not have a team in the 2012 Games.
Curiously, his words have not led to rejoicing in Glasgow, Cardiff or Belfast. All the home associations bar the English FA are opposed to such amalgamation, on the grounds that involvement with a British team could threaten their status within Fifa and Uefa, despite the assurances of the former's president, Sepp Blatter, that it would be acceptedas a one-off. Could they possiblybe saying that it is not safe to trust politicians, even sporting ones? Surely not.
Will anyone care if Team GB compete or not? Probably not. But it may be worth it just to witness the poor coach who accepts a truly impossible job – trying to assemble a politically and geographically correct squad with a chance of securing gold.Reuse content