Roy Hodgson got himself into a little bit of trouble this week. On Wednesday afternoon on the London Underground he was engaging with some England fans, when one asked whether Rio Ferdinand would be in the next England squad, to be named the next day.
“I don’t think so”, said Hodgson.
Needless to say, the story got out, and took on a life of its own, and a ‘Chinese whisper’ effect turned his solitary sentence into a full debriefing of why the Manchester United defender’s international career was over. Tweeted, retweeted, and picked up by the national newspapers, whose journalism has become so lazy now that recycling twitter rumours effectively halves their workload, filling their publications with unverifiable, unsubstantiated nonsense for people to graze on every day during their commute.
If you’re actually interested in football, Thursday’s England squad announcement was set to be interesting enough on its own – a first call up for Fraser Forster of Celtic, and Ryan Shawcross of Stoke City, who had previously flirted with a Wales call up are intriuging in their own right. Perhaps even more interesting than that was the number of recently called up young players whom Hodgson has released to play for Stuart Pearce’s under-21 side, heeding a long cry from those concerned about the poor development of talent in England that talented youth footballers have to be given a chance to play together through the different age groupings to best harness their talent, much as Spain have done in the last decade. But of course, we are far more interested in gossip, and scandal.
Roy Hodgson was of course, forced to apologise publically, for the most egregious error in judgement of engaging with the general populace regarding something they care about and answering a question truthfully.
This short and relatively insignificant episode provides us with a horribly apt snapshot of public life in modern Britain. Trial by media and forced public apologies are becoming our equivalent of that old medieval punishment: put a sinner in the stocks, and throw rotten fruit. Nowadays we just flagellate them, berate them, humiliate them in front of us for our pleasure, particularly if they dare to say a single word that hasn’t been siphoned through a layer of public relations officers, doused in platitudes and presented to us to lap up like a familiar bland, stodgy bowl of porridge.
But think about this. Roy Hodgson concluded his statement with another apology – an apology to England fans that meet him on future on the tube and try and engage him in conversation. From now on, he won’t be willing to discuss football matters for fear of public rebuke and breach of his confidentiality.
All our schadenfreude over seeing our public figures get their hands slapped has accomplished is making them more and more reserved, more controlled, more stage managed, more inaccessible for the common man to ever have meaningful contact with. Commentators, journalists and fans alike lament the passing of the ‘good old days’ in football, when the players were all local, and all drank with the fans in the bars after the games. Can you imagine the inevitable result in the age of Twitter? We have encroached on their privacy so much and set such unreachably high moral standards for our stars that they are now completely withdrawn from us, locked in their gated communities, while we peer hopelessly on from the outside just hoping that they haven’t drawn the curtains.
The next time Roy Hodgson has to visit Lancaster Gate, don’t expect to bump into him on the Central line, doused in sweat and holding on to a handrail for balance alongside his fellow man. I suspect the lesson Uncle Woy has learned from this incident is next time he’ll get his chauffeur to drive him wherever he needs to be, out of the grasp of the public that his football team is supposed to represent.