Venables troubled by `treason' and Howey

Nick Duxbury reports on the England coach's loss of patience and a defender
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The Independent Online
England were losing it all ends up yesterday as Terry Venables delivered a stinging attack on the media's continued interest in his team's drinking habits and the defender Steve Howey disappeared from Euro 96 after falling into a bed of nettles.

The England coach, who had already had his fill of Hong Kong dentists' chairs and airline television screens, was yesterday confronted by newspapers reports of three players - Sheringham, Redknapp and Campbell - imbibing in an Essex nightclub after the hugely disappointing 1-1 draw with Switzerland.

His temper hardly helped by Howey's untimely twisted ankle, Venables accused some of England's critics of "treason" and destroying any advantage England have as tournament hosts.

"It's awful but we're getting hardened to it. We just don't understand why it's necessary to do what you're doing - some of you feel like traitors to us," Venables said at the team's headquarters at Bisham.

"They're turning the public against the players which can turn them against us in the stadium. We would like them to help us win the games which can take us through, but it seems everything is very negative against the players."

The three players were shopped by fans disgusted to see them out enjoying themselves straight after England's opening game letdown. The striker Teddy Sheringham had been substituted against Switzerland.

Venables, whose sole concern should be Saturday's opponents, Scotland, instead had to defend his decision to give the players two days off and to allow them a few drinks. "I'm not going to say to them that you can have a beer if you win but you can't if you lose," he said. "That's makes me like a very silly, little boy. We are trying to get them to stick their chests out and play like men so they have to be treated like men."

The trio were "aghast" when they saw the newspaper reports and told Venables that they had merely sat in a corner, had a couple of beers and gone home. "In Italy they drink wine with their meals, in Spain the same. What would we make of that?" Venables said. "We know we've got to be disciplined and they have been. I've got no complaints whatsoever."

Venables, who also had to contend with a surly Paul Gascoigne punting a camera crew's football into a lake, pointed out that other teams have allowed their players alcohol without it being questioned. "But suddenly it's us and it's a different attitude altogether," he said.

"I've told them you have to be very careful about what you do. But every time it comes round it's getting worse. And what is the aim in turning the public against the team?"

Howey's time in the public eye lasted four days. "I'm starting to believe in voodoo dolls," said the 24-year-old Newcastle central defender, who squeezed into the England 22 as understudy to Tony Adams after two months of injury problems.

Howey was trying to maintain his fitness with a solitary run through the woods on his club's training circuit in Durham on Sunday when his foot caught in a hole. He spent 15 minutes in a bed of nettles until a passing couple helped him home.

His torn ankle ligaments will take three to four weeks to heal, which leaves England dependent on Adams - only recently recovered from injury himself - and Gareth Southgate, with Sol Campbell possibly coming more into the frame. Tournament rules would allow a replacement only if Howey had fallen under a car or been hit by a discarded beer can.

Rules will also see England go out if they finish level on points and goal difference with Group A rivals Scotland, Switzerland and the Netherlands. Uefa, the governing body of European football, has elected to use respective qualifying records for the last three major championships - Euro 92, the 1994 World Cup and Euro 96 - to decide who will qualify for the quarter- finals.

It leaves England, who failed to win a place for the World Cup in America two years ago and as hosts were not been involved in the qualifying rounds for Euro 96, in bottom spot. It's enough to have Venables reaching for the bottle.