Don’t listen to the dressing-room snobs

I was watching Match of the Day and in charge, instead of Gary Lineker, was Colin Murray the chirpy, weedy, speccy, scruffy Ulsterman who does that Saturday-morning Radio 5 Fighting Talk prog where they all laugh so much you can't hear a thing. Normally I only ever watch a game itself, not the previews or half-time chunterings. Got enough banal observations of my own.

Murray made some critical remark about a player and Alan Hansen jumped on him, suggesting with a sneer that he should let Lee Dixon make any negative comments as he, Lee Dixon, had the authority as an ex-player, unlike someone like Colin Murray who had never played the game.

This "show us your medals" attitude is rife in the British professional game and could explain why we don't seem to breed the sort of managers the clubs have in Europe, who bring intellect and brightness and original thoughts to the game, such as José Mourinho, Arsène Wenger and André Villas-Boas, without having had much if any football experience. Very hard to imagine any of them managing to rise through our ranks from scratch. And through our dressing rooms. They would be laughed at, mocked, put down or ignored.

Most of our players are such Little Englanders, with no experience of playing abroad and being exposed to different cultures, and have become set in their ways. It's only in the past ten years they have realised that steak and chips before a game is not the best preparation, or ten pints after the perfect way to wind down.

If AV-B does get the push at Chelsea, the snobbism of the dressing room by the old lags will have played a part, undermining his authority, isolating him, proving - so they think - that you can't know about the game unless you have played it yourself. Might be OK in Europe, having long-haired, long-winded philosopher-managers, but not here. Being a top player doesn't mean you will be a top manager, otherwise Bobby Charlton would be manager of Man United. Yet it is accepted you must have played at some decent professional level to become a manager. That's how it has always worked here, so the wisdom goes. Which is bollocks.

I can think of two managers, both at Arsenal, who achieved greatness as manager yet never or hardly at all played professionally. First, George Allison, manager of Arsenal from 1934-47, during which time Arsenal won the First Division twice and the FA Cup. Guess what his real job was? He was a football journalist. Hard to imagine today that someone like Brian Glanville would be allowed to run a Prem club. Actually, not
a bad idea. He's awfully clever and knowledgeable about football.

All sorts

Allison came to London from the north-east in 1906, worked as a reporter, then during the war took up broadcasting, commentating on football and racing for the BBC. His first connection with Arsenal was editing their match programme. He then became a director and in 1934, when the great Herbert Chapman died, having caught a cold watching a game, Allison was in the right place to be offered the job.

Bertie Mee, manager 1966-76, achieved legendary status in 1971 when he led Arsenal to the double. His previous job? Physiotherapist. He had played a bit when young, joining Derby County in 1938, but never made an appearance, then had one season with Mansfield Town.

During the war, he became an army physio for six years. Afterwards, he went to Arsenal as a physio. His chance came in 1966 when the club sacked Billy Wright - an example of a star player, loaded with honours, who couldn't hack it as a manager. Mee himself didn't think he'd succeed, and had it in his contract that after a year he could go back to physio.

He died in 2001. I remember meeting him once on a station platform after an Arsenal game, waiting for their train back to London. He was on his own, ignored by the players, a small, podgy-faced, balding man, more like a clerk than a football manager. Wenger looks like a mad professor, AV-B an overexcited geography teacher, Mourinho a gigolo. Yup, it does take all sorts.

Hunter Davies is a journalist, broadcaster and profilic author perhaps best known for writing about the Beatles. He is an ardent Tottenham fan and writes a regular column on football for the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 09 January 2012 issue of the New Statesman, Forget Obama