Sam Allardyce has been toppled by press subterfuge and entrapment. But the job of the press should be to report news, not make it.
If ever a personality captured the essence of the British footballing public, Big Sam is that man of the people. He looks as if he visits the chippy every Friday night (with mushy peas), debates formations whilst guzzling pork scratchings in the local, whilst his managerial advice never seemed to exceed the imperatives “Line it!” and “Man on!” He’s a lager bloke, the sort who’d give a real ale drinker a hard stare, or possibly a head-butt past 10.30pm.
Yet England’s leader of men had his chainmail pierced by a sharp sting this week, as an undercover Telegraph investigation coerced Allardyce into a worse mistake than his 1990’s moustache. Caught advising a “Middle Eastern consortium” on how to avoid FA regulations, and brokering a £400,000 deal to deliver a speech to the same company, the general consensus was that the biggest surprise emerging from the video was that he used a napkin. The narrative of Big Sam’s sticky fingers was born, the lout who got his chance and blew it.
Similar public glee arose from similar sting operations, noticeably cash for access schemes. The hard left scoffed at Malcolm Rifkind’s capitalistic opportunism before balking at Jack Straw’s identical role. To the agnostic, another classic case of political greed; entrapped and made to pay for their foibles – Dickensian justice in action. Or even the case of Sarah Ferguson, seemingly receiving her just deserts for supposed marital unfaithfulness, caught walking away with $40,000 in cash.
Scorned, demonised, and lambasted in the media, to all extents their careers ruined, Big Sam could be back in Mackem-land by the end of the year. Sir Malcolm Rifkind had to step down as Chairman of the Intelligence and Security Committee, whilst Jack Straw left the Parliamentary Labour Party (just in time for many). And for what? The case of Keith Vaz, Leicester’s Mr Big, is undoubtedly in the national interest, his repeated drug and escort usage a conflict of interest for the Chairman of the Home Affairs Select Committee. But surely the job of the press is to report the news, and not to make it.
Sam Allardyce believed he was doing a favour for his old friend, and essentially bragging in private. We’ve all done it, especially when guzzling white wine in the Big Sam manner (he can hold a few). I’ve claimed to know the Oasis drummer, stated I can complete the Centurion challenge, and said some deplorable things about the personal hygiene of Liverpool fans. Nevertheless, I’d expect not to be held morally accountable. Not to mention, in Allardyce’s case, no money was exchanged, no hands shaken on a deal, or even much wrongdoing. “Getting round FA rules” is by definition, avoiding any rule-breaking; he also rejects the suggestion of player bungs with the emphatic force he’d use to chase away a door-to-door salesman. In the case of Rifkind and Straw, the Parliamentary Standards Committee found there was no impropriety, criticising Channel 4 and the Daily Telegraph, for entrapment.
Consider the approach in any other walk of life. A private company decides to use a heady cocktail of subterfuge and wine (Sting on the Beach) to extract a tit-bit from a professional. They then use that to claim the person should not remain in their role, and must be fired. The reaction would be horror, anger at the sting operation. Just because the subjects are in the public eye, it does not amount to public interest.
Big Sam may be a figure of fun, the footballing equivalent of Ron Swanson, but he does not deserve the dole queue. Remember the tragic case of Jacintha Saldanha, driven to suicide by Australian DJs pretending to be the royal family, the wrongdoing of Channel 4 and the Daily Telegraph in the cash-for-access scandal, and consider Big Sam’s tall tales the corruption equivalent of every pub’s pirate DVD seller.
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