Monday 25 February ~
Fulham may be going down this season but anyone who doesn’t support one of their relegation rivals has a good reason for hoping they stay up. It’s their manager, Roy Hodgson. Partly it’s simply the way he talks. As a letter in the last issue of WSC pointed out, his antiquated speech patterns and accent make him sound like a supporting character in an 1950s Ealing comedy – similar in fact to a previous Fulham manager, Alec Stock, who formed the model for Paul Whitehouse’s Ron Manager. But more importantly it’s also what he says or rather, doesn’t say. He’s a rarity among English football managers in that he seems able to behave like an adult.
Fulham lost to a late and a very contentious goal on Saturday that could yet prove to be a pivotal moment in their season. Hodgson was upset. But he didn’t berate the referee or seek “clarification” by visiting the official’s dressing room afterwards, which are two of the various ways in which current managers habitually respond to adversity. At Wigan last season Paul Jewell went through a period when he reacted to every final whistle by marching on to the pitch while jabbing the air with his index finger. One of Hodgson’s predecessors at Fulham, Chris Coleman, was another post-match pitch invader, having previously paced the touchline declaring various officials' decisions to have been a “fackin jorke” – something to which Coventry fans will soon become accustomed. Neil Warnock, the doyen of ranting managers, appears to detect refereeing ineptitude behind every goal his team concede.
Managers have multiple temptations placed before them these days with post-match TV and radio interviews as well as press conferences all providing opportunities to sound off. And they will of course get wound up during a match, just as players and spectators do. But their post-match belligerence has always been in part a tactical manoeuvre – a way of deflecting blame for a poor performance and in some cases of maintaining team spirit after a defeat. Fines and touchline bans are routinely imposed but they’re unlikely to have a reforming effect on repeat offenders. Sir Alex Ferguson may have unwittingly presented an alternative option for fellow managers after the Manchester derby when he was so angry that left Old Trafford without saying anything to the press at all. In football’s perpetual culture of complaint, the occasional flounce is better than one more fuming diatribe.