By now Gary Johnson should have exposed his naked backside in a shop window in Bristol. Johnson promised to do so if Liam Fontaine scored this season, which Fontaine duly did against Wolves. However, despite talking about it in the press, as well as devoting a section of his post-match press conferences to discussing it, at the time of writing we still can’t be sure that Johnson has actually gone ahead and done so.
Not that we should feel too cheated. It’s the talk that really matters. The headline-grabbing bet or pledge is now a guaranteed publicity magnet for an ambitious Football League manager. It’s not just bets, either: any kind of gimmick will do. Martin Allen famously swam naked in a river to make good a promise to his Brentford players. In March last year, Russell Slade gave his half-time team-talk in the centre circle to a Grimsby team 4‑0 down at Lincoln (they lost 5-0).
Fanning the flames of this kind of stunt is the recent trend for papers to flesh out their lower-league coverage with a little wackiness. So the Sun duly did a number on “soccer’s cheekiest bet”, also referencing a TV tie-in feature on Murdoch stablemate Soccer AM. In fact the backside story first aired in local newspapers the Bristol Evening Post and Western Daily Press in August. Like a provincial play taking its run to the West End, it was finally taken up by the nationals last month as a bit of human interest to pad out the Championship reports. Even in City’s subsequent defeat to Charlton it was still a hot topic, so much so that it’s tempting to wonder whether the bet might yet come back to haunt Johnson as a distraction from the real business. “This result is too raw to talk about my bum at present,” the Sun quoted him on November 7 as saying, improbably, after defeat at The Valley.
Partly this is a case of the tail wagging the dog. Somewhere in one of the text books generated by the vogue for managerial courses and badges, there will be man-management section that nods towards the high-profile bet or wager. Headlines about a leaked quirky motivational method generate their own kind of celebrity and it can’t hurt to convince your players that you’re a little bit larger than life. Ian Holloway has built a secondary career out of exactly this. As Fontaine gushed after his goal: “I reckon there’ll be a bit of banter in training along the lines of ‘When are you going to get your backside out then gaffer?’ And if he goes through with it, fair play to him.”
So everybody’s happy: newspapers, players, ambitious managers. Everybody, perhaps, except the unsuspecting window-shoppers of Bristol.
From WSC 251 January 2008