So Roy did it. England are off to Brazil for the World Cup finals and Roy Hodgson, the manager, has proved his critics wrong – for now.
At Fulham, where I’m a season-ticket holder, we got used to calling him “Super Roy” as he led our team away from relegation, to the higher reaches of the Premiership and on a never-to-be-forgotten Europa League run. Fulham 4 Juventus 1, after Fulham had conceded a goal after a minute, is firmly etched in the memory, as is beating Hamburg in the semi-final (we tend to gloss over the final, the wretched 2-1 defeat to Atletico Madrid).
None of us knew how the cerebral, taciturn Roy managed it. But achieve it he did, and that’s all that mattered. One thing is for sure: Hodgson is no racist. At Fulham, we saw him encourage and support a number of black players, and in everything he said and in all his actions, he always came across as the most socially aware of managers.
Therefore, his “feed the monkey” gaffe, made in relation to the black winger Andros Townsend, cannot be what it seems. It’s not, because the player he was telling to “feed” Townsend, was Chris Smalling, another black player that Hodgson nurtured at Fulham.
It’s not, either, because the line was a punch-line from a ponderously long joke involving Nasa sending an astronaut into space with two monkeys on board (it goes on for ages). In short, the monkeys end up piloting the space ship and the astronaut tells Nasa his role is, “I know, I know – feed the monkeys and don’t touch anything!”
What’s typical of the well-read Hodgson is that he should be using a line from a joke about a space rocket, two monkeys and an astronaut during a half-time team talk at Wembley in a crucial World Cup qualifier. It’s certainly different from the Sir Alex Ferguson “hair-dryer” technique or the chucking of tea cups across the dressing room. Nor is it Henry V at Agincourt.
But it had the desired result. Down at Craven Cottage, Fulham’s ground, we got used to the strange ways of the enigmatic Hodgson. Now it’s the turn of England’s followers to remain patient. In Roy, weird jokes and all, they must trust.