Belfast Telegraph

Roy can manage England ... and the football team

By Christina Patterson

I like him. I like his squashy red face and his big, bulbous nose and the fact that his wife is called Sheila. I like his passion for languages and his taste in books.

I hadn't, it's true, actually heard of him until Monday, but I'm beginning to think Roy Hodgson might be my hero.

He speaks fluent Norwegian, Swedish, German, Italian and Japanese. He speaks some Korean, Danish, Finnish and French.

He likes Milan Kundera and Ivan Klima and Stefan Zweig. And he is, apparently, going to be managing England.

Roy Hodgson sounds like a very good person to shake up the education system and revive social mobility and steer us through the crisis in the euro.

But when the front pages of newspapers say that someone is going to 'manage England', they don't actually mean that they're going to manage England. They mean that they're going to manage 11 members of a team who play a game that quite a lot of people like.

Football, it's clear to those of us who don't follow it, is much more like a religion than a sport. Like religion, it's usually fixed at birth.

If, for example, you support Manchester City, you'll be having a lovely week.

You'll be thinking that faith and loyalty and unwavering devotion aren't always rewarded in a life, but sometimes they are.

You'll be thinking, in other words, that a week that looked, apart from the big event at the beginning of it, as if it could be quite boring, and quite stressful, and quite wet, has turned out to be bloody brilliant.

People who aren't football fans, which is usually another way of saying women, don't have this. We don't get the chance to bond instantly with strangers, or speak to them in a language that only half the world understands.

We don't get to weep, or hug each other, in public, or have a kind of communion, with beer. We don't get to feel part of a massive global community.

People who aren't football fans don't understand blind faith. We don't know how you can look at a group of men you've never met, who have no connection to the place they're meant to be representing, and have no control over who they are, but still spend thousands of pounds watching them.

We can see that it would be quite comforting, when other things weren't always going well in your life, to feel that there was something else going on that was really important. And that this thing would mean that you were, at least in one sense, never alone. But we can also see that something that used to be about local loyalty is, like almost everything else in the world, now about markets and money. And that loyalty to a big budget isn't the same as loyalty to effort, or talent.

The Football Association has a very big budget, but it probably won't be spending quite as much on Roy Hodgson as it did on Fabio Capello. He is, after all, a man who doesn't make big claims.

He is, apparently, good at getting the most out of 'middling talent'. He will, apparently, try to 'lower expectations'.

He sounds, in fact, like just what England needs. And maybe England's football team, too.

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