Nicholas Foulkes: The tell-tale brolly that betrayed the England boss

On why staying dry just ain't playing the game...


Poor Steve McClaren: even if anyone manages to eclipse his impressively brief tenure of some 16 months, the moniker "Wally with a Brolly" will remain. What McClaren failed to understand is that as well being a football manager, one has to appear to be a football manager. Sheltering under his polychromatic umbrella, sipping what looked dangerously like a large skinny latte but might have been warming soup, some of the photographs of McClaren show a man gazing off into the middle distance; giving the air of a bored businessman parent, his body on the touchline of a school match, but his mind on something engrossing like a spreadsheet or a bank balance.

The umbrella was the problem; while he may have been offering helpful suggestions to this team, they were drowned by the unvoiced message being broadcast by his brolly – risk averse, detached and aloof. By contrast, his Croatian counterpart, Slaven Bilic, revelled in sharing his players' predicament, scampering about ferally, protected only, if at all, by a beanie hat. I was out in the downpour and I know how miserable it was; yet Bilic gave an impression of animation as well as physical and emotional identification with his lads.

In the Peninsular War, during the fighting around Bayonne, Wellington noticed a great many umbrellas being used by officers. He sent one of his ADCs to let them know that "Lord Wellington does not approve of the use of umbrellas during the enemy's firing, and will not allow the 'gentlemen's sons' to make themselves ridiculous in the eyes of the army". Wellington went on to describe the deployment of umbrellas on the battlefield as "not only ridiculous but unmilitary". As it is in battle, so it is in football; umbrellas have no place.

I would argue that it is not so much England's defeat, but rather his own umbrella that cost McClaren his job. It demonstrated a fundamental misunderstanding of the nature of modern football. Part pantomime, part bravura display of athleticism, part gladiatorial combat, it is 100 per cent drama, and sheltering beneath a large umbrella sipping a warm, possibly milky, drink is not the stuff of epic drama. However, either consciously or intrinsically, Bilic understood that rain heightens the effect.

In fact a heavy downpour is as much a cinematic ploy for heightening the drama of a situation as is, say, pulling a gun. Take the rain-drenched lovers' kiss: from Peppard and Hepburn in Breakfast at Tiffany's to Grant and MacDowell in Four Weddings and a Funeral, it is almost a convention of romantic comedy that the protagonists' lips meet under diluvian circumstances. Would Four Weddings have been so successful had Hugh Grant fumbled for his umbrella, Pakamac and galoshes before chasing after Andie MacDowell?

As ever, Hollywood understands. Would the poster for The Shawshank Redemption have had the same impact if it had featured a man sipping a cuppa under an umbrella? Would Singin' in the Rain have been remembered if it had been called "Cowering Beneath a Brolly"? Why, there was even a far-fetched thriller called Hard Rain which enjoyably mixed a heist with a downpour to give full rein (excuse the pun) to the dramatic potential of a flooded town, complete with powerboat chases and submerged houses.

How McClaren must be wishing that he had spent a little time before the match reviewing the DVD of Hard Rain; he might have made a more dynamic pitch-side impression. Perhaps we might even have won the match. If not, at least we would not have lost the battle of the managers. As it was, the be-beanied Bilic totally outmanoeuvred the British manager. Wellington would have been ashamed.

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