ROY Hodgson was forced to issue an apology last night after becoming embroiled in a bizarre row over a joke he reportedly made about a space monkey and England winger Andros Townsend.
It is understood that Hodgson told the joke at half-time of England’s 2-0 win against Poland, with the intention of encouraging right-back Chris Smalling to play the ball more frequently to Townsend.
It has been reported that at least one player was shocked by the remark because he thought it could be perceived to carry racist connotations.
Hodgson, it is understood, has been mortified by that interpretation and regards it is a big misunderstanding. The England manager issued a statement last night to apologise for any offence that had been caused.
He also stressed that he had spoken personally with Townsend and that the Tottenham Hotspur winger understood the context of the remark.
“I would like to apologise if any offence has been caused by what I said at half-time,” Hodgson said. “There was absolutely no intention on my part to say anything inappropriate. I made this clear straight away to Andros in the dressing room.
“I also spoke to Andros again on Wednesday. He has assured me and the FA he did not take any offence, and understood the point I was making in the manner I intended.”
The supposed joke is one that was popular at American space agency Nasa.
“Nasa decided they’d finally send a man up in a capsule after sending only monkeys in the earlier missions,” the joke goes.
“They fire the man and the monkey into space. The intercom crackles, 'Monkey, fire the retros’. A little later, 'Monkey, check the solid fuel supply’.
“Later still, 'Monkey, check the life support systems for the man’. The astronaut takes umbrage and radios Nasa, 'When do I get to do something?’
“Nasa replies, 'In 15 minutes – feed the monkey’.”
It is understood that Hodgson had used the joke to try to emphasise to the England team that Townsend, who scored in the 4-1 win against Montenegro on Friday, could be critical to the victory.
Townsend produced a man-of-the-match performance on his debut against Montenegro on Friday and was again excellent against Poland as England clinched their place in the World Cup finals. Hodgson had lavished praise on the impact of Townsend yesterday.
The Football Association did not respond last night to Hodgson’s half-time comments beyond being made aware of the manager’s statement.
Stan Collymore, the former England striker, went on Twitter last night to say that it would be ridiculous for anyone to take offence at what Hodgson said. “Someone leaked it and i bet 100 per cent confident that no player was offended, not one,” Collymore wrote.
“If they are, do explain why. Racism is hard enough to keep on the agenda as it is without making everyone think a legitimate space tale should be a cause for offence.”
Even so, news of the 'joke’ is threatening to overshadow Hodgson’s achievement.
English football has been hit by a series of race rows in recent seasons, most famously when John Terry lost the England captaincy following allegations that he abused Anton Ferdinand. Terry was cleared in court but was ultimately banned by the FA for four matches.