The widespread outrage over the front page of The Sun (2/5/2012), which ‘poked fun’ at the new England manager Roy Hodgson’s mispronunciation of his Rs emanated from those within and outside of football. Only a day after The Sun’s proprietor Rupert Murdoch was described by MPs as “not a fit person” to run a major company, the headline was ample evidence (were further evidence needed) that the Labour endorsed part of the report into phone hacking is correct. The headline does however, point to wider themes regarding the Murdoch press’ self-righteous assumptions over its level of influence in all aspects of British culture and an editorial stance that can only be described as anti-intellectual and xenophobic.
It was not Roy Hodgson, but the straight talking, media friendly Tottenham manager, Harry Redknapp who was The Sun’s (among a number of newspapers) first and only choice for the role. Following Hodgson’s appointment The Sun spoke of him being "sensationally spurned" in favour of Hodgson. But this time round the FA’s admirable objectivity and due process meant it was not ‘The Sun Wot (sic) Influenced It’.
The BBC’s Mark Lawrenson and other football pundit’s surprise that Redknapp was not even interviewed notwithstanding, The Sun’s annoyance was clear for all to see. Who actually manages or coaches the England team is important to many, but undue influence because of large circulation figures over the Football Association does not unduly affect, or harm, people’s lives. Influence over government is another matter, but this point has received significant coverage elsewhere.
What concerns this football fan (and here I have to declare an interest as a West Bromwich Albion supporter) is the pervasive anti-intellectualism and xenophobia within almost all aspects of ‘popular’ culture in Britain, which is, if not wholly driven, then (no doubt unintentionally) perpetuated by various branches of the press.
At the risk of straying into issues of class, which considering Rupert Murdoch’s anti-establishmentism may also be a factor in this case, the late Jade Goody provides a pertinent example. Goody famously thought Cambridge was in London and racially abused the Indian actress Shilpa Shetty, and yet she was scarcely absent from the pages of the tabloids, even before her tragic, and very public, death from cervical cancer in 2009.
It should go without saying I am not, in making the following analogy, implying Harry Redknapp (a man I admire as an expert in his field) is in any way racist. However, a comparison of Redknapp and Hodgson proves, if not conclusive, illuminating.
Henry Winter’s statement in the The Daily Telegraph that Roy Hodgson is a "broadsheet man in a tabloid world", was as astute as it was obvious to anyone who has followed Hodgson’s career. Hodgson, who has developed an international reputation having played and managed in a number of countries, speaks fluent Norwegian, Swedish, German and Italian, as well as some Danish, French and the notoriously difficult Finnish. He is also a fan of the authors Sebastian Faulks, John Updike, Philip Roth and Saul Bellow. Hodgson has even likened his international career to the Russian expressionist artist Wassily Kandinsky, stating: "It [my career] has gone sideways, backwards, and then upwards again."
Redknapp, the The Sun’s archetypal English ‘everyman’, writes a regular column for the tabloid, and it must therefore be regarded as highly ironic that Redknapp while being cross-examined in a recent court case stated: "I write like a two-year-old and I can't spell". The case also heard Redknapp (via a recording) also state: "I can't work a computer, I don't know what an email is, I have never sent a fax and I've never even sent a text message”. He does however, according to Hodgson, know how to leave a voicemail.
It is of course as abhorrent to mock a person’s poor literary and IT skills as it is their speech impediments. To maintain the comparison: As broad as Hodgson’s horizons have been, Redknapp’s, despite a three-year spell as player-assistant manager of North American Soccer League side Seattle Sounders between 1976 to 1979, have remained comparatively narrow in recent years. The tabloid press’ editorial suspicion of intellectuals’ and foreigners’, in the guise of ‘comedy’ – witness not only the ‘Bwing on the Euwos!’ headline but The Sun’s ‘Germans Wurst at Penalties’ and The Daily Mirror’s barrel scraping ‘Achtung! Surrender’ – or in this case the mocking of a well-travelled, multi-lingual, thoughtful and cultured man, does not simply appeal to similar suspicions within its readership, it feeds them.
The tabloid mania that the next England manager ‘had’ to be English reflects, in a world of increasing political extremes based upon issues of race and immigration, the wider social issues that face the multi-cultural United Kingdom today. Implicitly, in the regretful absence of representative numbers of black managers, this meant a white Englishman.
The Sun’s obvious disappointment that Hodgson "wasn't the nation's choice”, demonstrates the inherent arrogance within the Murdoch empire’s assumption that it speaks for us all, and consequently it has the right to dictate the terms and personnel of our political and cultural future. As if to confirm that Hodgson represents the wrong kind of Englishman, and The Sun’s position as one of this country’s most significant sources of xenophobia, the paper continued: “... we can't blame him for not being 'Arry". Quite.