Sunday 23 October 2016

So Big Sam will never become Sir Big Sam

Published 02/10/2016 | 02:30

Cartoon by Jim Cogan
Cartoon by Jim Cogan

I never really thought he would get the knighthood anyway, to be fair. But Sam Allardyce is out there now with Big Ron, in that hellish place in which football men languish, those who have transgressed, or who have been found out in the act of transgressing. Which, in a culture teeming with transgressors of many kinds, may be regarded as most unfortunate.

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There is something quite poignant about his performance in that Daily Telegraph "sting" video, engaging in what might be regarded in the more forgiving language of business as an exercise in consultancy.

If you leave to one side his advice to these "businessmen" on how to circumvent the rules of the Football Association which was paying him £3m a year, he was talking about going to Singapore and Hong Kong to address "investors" who wanted to buy players.

As he outlined his role in that regard, he envisaged himself as a "keynote speaker" - he said it three times, "keynote speaker". It sounded like something he had heard in another setting, maybe in relation to some "statesman" who now travels the world receiving unconscionable amounts of money for whatever form of disgraceful bullshit he is purveying. And perhaps to emphasise that unlike such men, he will put in a shift, Big Sam insisted that he would not just deliver his keynote address and then "it's right, bang you're off, that's the end of that, done that, I'm off" - he would stay around and stand at the bar and "have a few social drinks".

Indeed, the fact that as he outlined this vision, he was having a few social drinks in a pint pot, may have brought to his mind a nostalgic vision of how far he'd come from the days when, according to legend, as manager of Limerick he would carry a bucket around the pubs to raise a few bob.

Big Sam, unlike many of the men who now make easy money out of sport, has known hardship. Or at least he has a race memory of it, of a time when footballers were paid 20 quid a week and there were 70,000 people at the game, so someone was making an awful lot of easy money - most likely the sort of men who meet in hotels to share their visions of how best they can move forward from making easy money, to making money for nothing at all.

And because of that race memory, Big Sam and many other football men tend to have a dysfunctional relationship with money - in this they are a bit like comedians, with the same fanatical commitment to squeezing every last farthing out of the game, the same preternatural fear that some day they'll make a wrong move and it will all be gone, maybe something as simple as sitting down with the wrong bunch of lads in some fancy restaurant.

But they are not the worst, the football men. There is a great international network of people in sport in general, they call themselves administrators, they are presidents of this council or that committee, they "head up" various "bodies" and associations and corporations, they in fact are the worst of men because they do so little that might be stacked up against all the sleaze on which they gorge.

In football too there is this irredeemably depraved ruling class , but there is just more of everything, more easy money in it, more money which is beyond easy, and thus there are more men meeting in hotels, talking telephone numbers, arranging for six-figure payments to be made for keynote addresses and the like.

And there are the accursed agents, the bogey-men even for top traders like Alex Ferguson, who sometimes seemed to think that an 18-year-old player would be better off negotiating terms and conditions with him directly.

But for the football man who has heard the rattle of coins in a bucket on a Saturday night in Limerick, there are more maddening aspects of the modern game than that. There are TV pundits who make millions a year, which would not be a problem in the slightest, if they were good.

But they are not good, they are bad.

There are the bang-average footballers on 50k a week "netto", while some great player of the 1970s gets thrown the odd 200 quid for doing a bit of match-day "hospitality", augmenting his disability payments by schmoozing with the local David Brents, telling anecdotes about other "characters" of that storied era who are now suffering from Alzheimer's disease.

So if you're Big Sam, you might feel that if men in Mayfair hotels are shelling out monstrous amounts of money in exchange for little more than your keynote address - and maybe your keynote telephone number thrown in - you should probably be taking it off them. Just for spite.

But I will miss Big Sam mainly because I think he would have been the worst England manager of them all. He was already embittered by whatever kind of success he had achieved. Now the man who argued that the British managers were denied the top jobs - though Hodgson at Liverpool and Moyes at United did almost destroy the two greatest clubs in England - would have had nobody else to blame.

Thanks to what he bitterly calls his "entrapment", he has been spared that indignity.

Sunday Independent

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