LONDON – The feel-good factor lasted 24 hours.
The day after England had secured its place at Brazil 2014 with a 2-0 win over Poland, manager Roy Hodgson was accused by a tabloid red top of making “a race gaffe” after using the word “monkey” during his halftime talk to the team.
The Sun, whose front page carried the headline “Roy In Andros Monkey Gaffe,” informed us that “the term monkey is often used by racists to insult black people.”
The Daily Mirror called it “insensitive, perhaps, in the current highly charged racial climate in football.”
And who does much to create that climate . . .?
Hodgson had used the M-word in a 50-year-old joke about NASA rockets and feeding the monkey which the manager bizzarely used to tell Chris Smalling to get the ball to Andros Townsend more quickly. If Hodgson was guilty of anything, it was telling an ancient, unfunny gag instead of saying: “Chris, get the ball up to Andros more quickly.”
Thankfully, telling a poor joke (and I am the thief of bad gags) is not against the law, otherwise this correspondent would be doing life with no chance of parole.
The immediate association of monkey and black people is in itself a racist example of someone whose back-door whistle-blowing demeans the sterling work put in by anti-racist campaigners.
The player who was upset by the joke decided to leak it to the media rather than make an official complaint to the Football Association — or maybe even going public to explain why he was “offended” — which tells you how “offended” the player really felt.
It was sneaky and saw a thoroughly decent man associated with racism. And until the culprit is named and shamed the finger of suspicion can be pointed at two dozen innocent people.
As the preparations for the World Cup finals start, Hodgson knows he has a mole in his squad — and rest assured he knows who it is, even if for legal reasons I cannot name him. Hodgson’s next squad announcement for the friendly against Chile on Nov. 15 will be interesting.
The other players will also know who the snitch is and his underhand, devious revelation took the gloss off of the triumph of World Cup qualification. If the “offended” player thinks his identity will remain anonymous he is as naive as he is cowardly and brainless.
To associate a thoroughly honorable man like Hodgson with anything racist is ludicrous, but underlines the egg shells we now walk on. In U.K. law, a racist incident is any incident which is perceived to be racist by the victim or any other person.”
So it isn’t what you say, it is how it is taken and as we have seen, offense can be taken when none is intended.
Racism is abhorrent and should be punished accordingly. Telling a joke, funny or otherwise, with the word “monkey,” does not constitute racist behavior. The word is used in many slang terms or traditional phrases: a monkey is slang for £500, there is monkey business, “I don’t give a monkey’s,” or when it is cold, it is brass monkey weather — and many more.
Are these sayings to be placed on the banned list for fear of offending someone?
Townsend said no offense was meant or taken, but Kick It Out chairman Lord Herman Ouseley called on the F.A. to investigate it, implying that anyone who uses the word “monkey” in anything other than a zoo or jungle context may be guilty of a racial slur.
Incredibly, Hodgson was moved to clarify the situation, saying: “I don’t know what all this fuss is about. No offense was meant and none was taken.”
F.A. chairman Greg Dyke said: “Roy Hodgson is a man of the highest integrity who is doing a great job with the England team.”
The fact Hodgson felt he had to defend himself and that his employers publicly backed him almost gives credence to a ridiculous non-story.
Other non-stories we can look forward to in the coming months are: England’s World Cup hotel is not finished; hookers on street outside the unfinished hotel; their training headquarters is a shambles; bonuses row; England fans told to avoid favelas for fear of their lives; plus the old tried and trusted transport chaos.
We hear it before every major tournament and surprise, surprise, South Africa was not a muggers’ paradise and supporters did not come back from Poland and Ukraine in coffins, as former England international Sol Campbell had warned.
Let’s hope the players don’t get up to any monkey business.
IT WAS NOT until Steven Gerrard made it 2-0 against Poland in the 88th minute at Wembley that the worry beads could be put away. Having beaten a severely weakened Montenegro 4-1 four days earlier, a Poland equalizer would have sent England to the playoffs.
Poland wasted three gift-wrapped chances, but in the end England qualified unbeaten from a group that did not contain a European heavyweight. So, job done with impressive statistics if not performances until the two final displays that give cause for the most cautious optimism.
England knows it has not done itself justice at recent major finals and Roy Hodgson said for all his joy he is “not going to say something stupid” and that “England won’t be favorites, that’s for sure.”
True, not with hosts Brazil and Argentina leading the South American charge, plus reigning champion Spain, an improving Germany, the always competitive Italians and a Dutch team that qualified with nine wins and one draw.
Much will happen between now and May when the squad for Brazil is announced, but there are signs that England will be tough competitors next summer.
The hope is that goalkeeper Joe Hart can find his form of two years ago in front of an improving defense — no country that played 10 qualifiers conceded fewer goals than England’s four. In Ashley Cole and Leighton Baines, England has arguably the two best left-backs in the world.
It is the midfield and attack that brings the broadest smile to Hodgson’s face. Steven Gerrard will be 33 when the finals kick off, yet he remains the heart and inspiration of England.
Jack Wilshere, Theo Walker, Michael Carrick, James Milner and Frank Lampard will no doubt be on the plane along with strikers Wayne Rooney, Daniel Sturridge and Danny Welbeck.
The performances of Andros Townsend in his first two internationals have been an unexpected bonus while Everton’s Ross Barkley (19), Ravel Morrison (20) of West Ham, Arsenal’s Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain (20) and West Bromwich’s Saido Berahino (20) should put pressure on the old guard.
It is an exaggeration to say Hodgson is spoiled for choice, but the squad he has is better than the one he took over 17 months ago.
So far, so good.
Christopher Davies was a longtime Premier League correspondent for the London Daily Telegraph.