SPORTING VERNACULAR No 10 COACH

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The Independent Online
As in sport, so in language, there are no winners without losers. If "coach" is the rising star, its defeated adversary is "manager". There is a cruel Darwinian logic governing the sporting lexicon: managers are a dying breed, while coaches are multiplying like rabbits.

The life of the word "coach" in Britain falls into two distinct periods. Before and After Venables. In the managerial golden age of 1966, no one would ever think of calling Sir Alf Ramsey "coach". He was manager as God. A coach was something the England team travelled to Wembley in. The team had a coach or coaches on the field, too, and worthy men they were, running on with buckets and sponges. But the manager - the generalissimo, the maestro - was there to supervise tactics, strategy, formation, destiny.

Even Graham Taylor was still a manager. Then Terry Venables took over and "manager" was out and "coach" was in. Maybe it had something to do with potential legal complications. "Coach" had the virtue of deniability: if it all blew up, Venables, like some Mission Impossible agent, could be thrown to the sharks or the Sugars - hey, he was never really England manager anyway! Maybe it was modernisation. Taylor was the Stakhanovite, with his emphasis on sheer industry and productivity; Venables would give creativity and flair a chance. There was never any question of Glenn Hoddle becoming manager - he went straight in as coach. Coaches are taking over. Managers are not sexy.

The word is an American re- import. There is a justification for this evolution. A coach is more hands-on, he does not fear getting his boots dirty. A coach wears a tracksuit not a suit and tie. Coach is classless.

Personally, I regret the passing of "manager", with its connotations of Ramseyian wisdom and vision and dignity. There is an element of nostalgia in this. But there is another drawback to the Americanism. In the television soap opera Cheers, "Coach" was an amiable, ageing imbecile.

Andy Martin

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