Welsh wails, exit lines and safe hands

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The Independent Online
SURRENDERING your pride and joy to the care of a third party inevitably requires a difficult and delicate selection process whether you are choosing child minders or football managers - although this comparison is slightly flawed after last week's judicial ruling that child minders are henceforth allowed to smack their charges across the ear-hole. Despite the immense benefits that could accrue to the game, football managers are not permitted this licence.

Other qualities, therefore, have been uppermost in the minds of Wolverhampton Wanderers over the past few days as they searched for the right man to transport their team to the dream land of their millionaire president, Sir Jack Hayward. It was a situation familiar to the Rugby Football Union as they hunted for an adequate replacement for the retiring England manager, Geoff Cooke.

No doubt, they and others on similar quests will be looking askance at the bizarre comings and goings at the Football Association of Wales, the only country whose management selection committee is on 24-hour stand-by.

John Toshack's decision to dispense with Wales after only one game and 48 days in charge will forever rank as one of the game's oddities but it is not out of context in an area of football that is traditionally volatile and certainly fits in with the fiasco that followed the FAW's decision that they needed to part with Terry Yorath after his team failed narrowly to qualify for the forthcoming World Cup finals.

I am sure that such a low dissatisfaction threshold is due to the phenomenal success enjoyed by the Republic of Ireland in the eight years since they appointed Jack Charlton as manager. Now, every country of comparative size wants one.

But Charlton's arrival owed more to luck than any flash of genius. Bob Paisley was clear favourite for the job and had three times as many votes in the first poll but didn't have an outright majority over all the other candidates. In the horse-trading that followed, Charlton picked up enough support to win on the third vote.

When this was brought up at his first press conference in Dublin, Charlton lost his temper and threatened to pack it in there and then, thereby setting a standard even Toshack couldn't have matched by quitting before his first game which, incidentally, the Irish lost 1-0 to Wales. The rest, as they say, is history still in the making.

It has taken only one match for memories to dim of the mess that the Football Association got itself in between the departure of Graham Taylor and the arrival of Terry Venables, who was the first target Wales had in mind to replace Yorath. Venables would have accepted Wales had England ruled him out (not an impossibility at one time) and the euphoria we saw at Wembley the other week might have belonged to Ninian Park. It is unlikely, because Wales were weakened and Norway were a different proposition to Denmark, but who knows? The FAW may by now have been hailed as men of vision and be preening themselves like their counterparts across the Irish Sea.

By the time they got to Toshack, however, they were relying on the success of a unique situation in big-time management. We will never know if he could have simultaneously guided Real Sociedad and Wales to their respective desired destinations over the next two years but he was game enough to try for very little reward. The chance of a positive connection with his homeland after 10 years' exile was his chief motivation.

What Toshack hadn't realised before someone kindly appraised him of the fact when he was here for the Norway game was that if he hadn't taken the job Yorath was likely to have been reinstated. Worse than that, Yorath's case for unfair dismissal is being disputed by the FAW and will drag on for months yet, so the controversy over his friend's dismissal will not leave Toshack's side.

The knowledge made him far more uncomfortable than the poor performance by his new team in his first match. Also, after 10 years' working with foreign players, he was less than impressed with their discipline and an approach to international duty that did not include going to bed early with a copy of Football Monthly. In the circumstances, his decision was by no means dishonourable.

When they examine this whole episode, as they must, the FAW will realise that their first mistake was to try to replace Yorath for no pressing reason, and through ignoring the old saying 'if it ain't broken, don't mend it' they have badly dented their image at home and abroad. Furthermore, for having his hopes kept alive in case the FAW needed him to fall back on, Yorath should receive generous compensation for BBA - Being Buggered About - and their dispute should be resolved before it causes any more damage.

At least, they've acted quickly and sensibly following Toshack's resignation. The appointment of Mike Smith will stabilise the position and put the team's fortunes in a safe pair of hands. He was a successful manager for them in the Seventies and there is every confidence in his ability to replenish the team's morale and restore them as a force in the game. But if and when he takes them to the European Championship finals in 1996, I trust there won't be a long queue to take the credit.

WHEN Snitton Lane won Cheltenham's fifth race at 33-1 on Thursday, a bookmaker raised a saluting arm above the crush and shouted to a colleague: 'That's the beauty of Cheltenham. You've got to be patient but you'll always get the punters in the end.'

Later, I heard a man in the lavatory queue say to his friend: 'Yes, I know there are inconveniences but at least you can be sure the IRA won't bomb the place.'

These are purely subjective views about the great Festival but its appeal never wavers despite the fact that it is hardly a punter's paradise. The National Association for the Protection of Punters do not promise there will ever be such a place but their AGM on Tuesday - at the House of Commons, Committee Room 5 at 7.30pm if you're passing - will once more hear of their fight for consumer protection andproper grievance procedures for those who bet.

Betting shops seem to think that fast food and fruit machines in betting shops is service enough. Bigger bookmakers still believe that free gifts are the secret, despite the fact that Ladbrokes are quietly killing off their Diamond Club which set out to reward punters with prizes for losing and received a large raspberry.

Undeterred, William Hill chose Cheltenham week to launch Accolade, which gives a point for every pounds 20 staked by telephone. Their glossy brochure offers all kinds of gifts, including parachute lessons. By my calculations you will need to stake pounds 45,000 to qualify. Rip-cords are probably extra.

THE lack of tickets for Twickenham yesterday caused many opportunties for entrepreneurs catering for those who wanted to make a big occasion of the game. One of my local restaurants in Wales offered a five-course lunch and a 50-inch screen. In England, no doubt, they would have preferred a 50-course lunch and a five-inch screen.