Sports Comment: Unspoken battle of words and wits

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The Independent Online
David Lloyd announced last week that he will quit as England's cricket coach after the World Cup this summer and 24 hours later revealed that he will thereupon take up a three-year deal to appear on Sky TV. This is a very good move for any sporting personality who wants to duck out of the public gaze while he tries on a media career for size. And, if he is successful, Lloyd would not be the first to discover that when it comes to making a living out of our major games it is better, and safer, to be outside the tent pissing in than inside the tent bailing out.

Indeed, there may well come a day when we will recruit our national team managers and coaches from those who have tried and failed to hack it in the media rather than the other way around. Not that Lloyd leaves office under a cloud, although it has to be acknowledged that the skies over his three years in office were not always blue, even if the air was at times. He has, however, constructed a sound organisation and would have been prepared to continue the good work had his employers indicated that they wanted him to carry on when his contract expired at the end of the season.

No such undertaking having been received from the England and Wales Cricket Board, Lloyd decided to opt for the security of television punditry. Were England to win the World Cup, no doubt he would have kept the job, but at the age of 52 a chap likes to feel that his livelihood depends on more than a winning gamble.

At least his demure departure saves us from the tumult that normally accompanies a man's removal from one of our sporting thrones. It was all achieved amicably, even in a gentlemanly way; although had Lloyd borne a closer resemblance to the cricketing world's image of how a gentleman deports himself he might have found more support from his superiors. His talents were more agreeably homespun and his impassioned patriotism and humorous frankness will endear him far more to his new employers.

Ironically, "Bumble", as he is affectionately known, will collect a Sky salary worth more than half as much again than the pounds 80,000 he earned as England coach, and the relief of a burden lifted will be an extra bonus.

Soon, he will have the further pleasure of speaking his mind without fear of upsetting anyone; by which, I mean, he can upset them but he needn't worry about it.

Such is the free world of the media man or, to be more accurate, the media men represented by those like Lloyd who are adding a new extension to a more active sporting career. They are a burgeoning bunch who bring to the coverage of sport a note of authority and expert insight that often helps the fan to unravel the mysteries of the action. Unfortunately, some tend to add a few knots of their own; one or two get constricted by cliches and others are loath to offer more than the mildest criticism.

With the number of sports channels proliferating, wiseacreing has become a growth area, but a very competitive one because of the endless supply of keen recruits. There is no doubt that they enhance the service that the media brings to sport but sometimes it is difficult to avoid the feeling that they're not the least comfortable with the rest of us.

Perhaps, we should dispense with the word media as an umbrella term because there are times when our friends use it disparagingly in the tone of voice they'd use to say murderers, or mafia or Martians. They may, of course, absorb this attitude from their television colleagues, many of whom have never quite been at peace with the journalistic content of their work.

If they called us press and themselves media it might lead to a less fraught relationship. They would still live off what we stir up but wouldn't feel so implicated.

The division of the two main branches of the media is already complete in the minds of many. Players and officials who flock to a camera or a microphone will shy at the sight of a pen and notebook. The back of an envelope is out of the question. Only last week my colleague Tim Glover spent a long while trying to set up an interview with the management consultant who applies some motivational assistance to the England rugby team. The man said he is refusing all newspaper interviews because in a recent article the Guardian referred to him as rugby's version of Eileen Drewery. The camera is a far more controllable beast than a writer's imagination, as harmless as it might seem.

The impact the press can have was highlighted by a BBC TV documentary on Wednesday night which was entitled The Lions' Den and examined the difficulties of managing the England team. In terms of tackling a subject vigorously, this was a considerable improvement on Alan Hansen's tame, non-aggression pact of a documentary on highly paid soccer stars the week previously and Channel 4's Hoddle-grovel on Tuesday.

Football writers and past England managers indulged in an entertaining snarling session which left the impression that England's football woes were the result of press persecution of managers and not, as is blindingly obvious, the cause of it. The basic problem is that England's football has rarely been up it and we prefer to tear each other apart than admit to it.

I don't expect the sight of Kevin Keegan and the press blowing kisses to each other to last but, as a former member of the rat-pack, I can assure you that it wouldn't take a genius to sort out a better relationship on a permanent basis.

The Welsh version of Saving Private Ryan is a frustrating drama that doesn't win many Oscars from the fans. The story, briefly, is that whenever the Welsh team faces a D-Day match, Ryan Giggs produces an "Excused Boots" chitty. They always seem to be saving him for the next match.

There is no suggestion that the injury keeping Giggs out of Wales' European Championship game against Switzerland on Wednesday is not genuine, but even if it wasn't that serious the Manchester United star would have every justification for not risking it with a clutch of vital club games coming.

It has to be asked why a date so near to the climax of the season could not have been avoided given the past experiences of the Welsh, who've been suffering the loss of their best players to club calls since the days of Billy Meredith more than 100 years ago. All Wales can hope is that Giggs is fit and available for their next crucial match, against Denmark on 9 June.

Here we encounter another cause of Welsh anger, because last week Uefa refused to allow them to transfer the fixture from Anfield to Ninian Park. But the Welsh FA don't deserve much sympathy over this. They asked Uefa to transfer the match to Anfield in the first place because they submitted that no ground in Wales was suitable although, I suspect, the extra income to be made from Anfield was the uppermost reason.

Suddenly, after beating Belarus at a highly charged,14,000 capacity Ninian Park, the Welsh realised that they can qualify and would stand more chance of beating the Danes in Cardiff. The Danes, not being daft, objected to the venue being moved and Uefa, after hearing a Welsh deputation praising a ground they had previously rated unsuitable, agreed. The moral is that home advantage is too precious to be surrendered for money.

We hope the Welsh don't pay too heavy a price for learning it.

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