Simon Kelner: If Roy thinks it's all over, he can always read a book

Kelner's view


I don't know whether we are supposed to find it more remarkable that Roy Hodgson is a devotee of the novels of Martin Amis, or that Amis is a keen follower of football, but even in our flattened-out, pick-and-mix culture, it did seem a little peculiar to hear the man regarded as Britain's greatest novelist discussing Hodgson's predilection for the long-ball game.

Amis was on Radio 4's Today programme yesterday, ostensibly to promote his latest book, Lionel Asbo, a characteristically sardonic observation of the mores of celebrity-obsessed Britain, but found himself drawn into what's called – both on and off the pitch – a no-win situation.

He was interviewed before the England game with France, so his prediction of a resounding defeat for Hodgson's men was made to sound a little foolish when the clip was played the morning after. If only Amis had got on to Twitter, he'd be able to do all his self-promotion without having to meet James Naughtie in the middle of the afternoon at Ronnie Scott's Jazz Club. But perhaps he likes it that way.

In any case, Roy Hodgson may indeed be, as Naughtie suggested, the first England manager to have such a cultural hinterland, but we cannot be sure. Didn't Terry Venables have a passion for Prokofiev? And wasn't Steve McClaren a fan of Kafka? Was Sven a student of Ibsen? Oh well, maybe not.

Nevertheless, is the fact that the manager of our national football team appears to be not a total thicko really so noteworthy? A mature society doesn't seek to compartmentalise its culture, and Hodgson is certainly no flash-in-the-pan, I-quote-Nietzsche-so-it's-OK-if-I-behave-like-a-psychopath like Joey Barton, but a man of rounded interests who deserves not to be patronised. After all, we don't flinch when the high reaches down to the low.

Amis is not alone in the pantheon of modern British literature when it comes to a love of football. Sebastian Faulks and Julian Barnes, to name but two, would feel equally at home with the pathetic fallacy and the flat back four. In fact, I used to play in a football team in which Faulks and Robert Winder, another successful novelist, formed a very impressive central defensive unit; Faulks, as you might imagine, was very good in the air. (I digress, but it was after one game in a crowded pub that the following incident took place. Faulks was introduced to a mutual friend, who had the broadest of Scouse accents. "This is Neil, and he's an Evertonian," he was told. Afterwards, Faulks leaned over conspiratorially and asked: "Did he really go to Eton?")

It is safe to say that Hodgson is a fan of Faulks, too. In his book A Week in December, Faulks lists Hodgson, who was then manager of Fulham, among the acknowledgments. In his interview yesterday, Amis said that he found watching England difficult because "the emotions of religion and war come down on me".

Perhaps he shouldn't take it quite so seriously. It's only a game, Martin. He should follow the example of the England manager, who understands perfectly how to treat the twin impostors of triumph and disaster and, should things go wrong on Friday against Sweden, will be able to immerse himself in the consolations of literature.

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