Big Game Hunting

By Paul Hinks

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A reflection on the demise of Sam Allardyce as England manager

The slaying of Cecil the Lion in Zimbabwe on or around the 1st July 2015 brought dismay and outrage around the world. Cecil the Lion had been tracked and killed by an American trophy hunter. Wounded initially by a bow and arrow just outside the boundary and protection of a national park, Cecil’s fate was unfortunately a formality. A tragic tale.

There was a strong negative response to the killing of Cecil – an easy target, seen by many as a completely unnecessary act. The debate around the ethics of big-game trophy hunting was well and truly set alight. In some sad way, Cecil’s demise and legacy may have brought some good.

The Guardian captured the sentiment well:

The outrage associated with Cecil reflects a shift in values that could be used to mount public support not just for lions, but also for wildlife conservation more generally. “This is a moment,” the researchers write, “not to be squandered, and one which might have the potential to herald a significant shift in society’s interaction with nature.”

Hyenas turn on Big Sam

Change of context, and fast forward to 27th September 2016.  Newly appointed England Manager Sam Allardyce is 67 days in to the job.

Big Sam had previously achieved relative success at less fashionable clubs such as Bolton Wanderers and West Ham Utd, using scientific and creative methods.

Sam had delivered results that exceeded the expectations of most followers – now Sam had landed his dream job. He was the manager of the England Football team – the perennial underperformers.

Then disaster struck. With one victory to his name, and 67 days into his tenure, Sam’s fate was also sealed. As the BBC reported, Sam had made a catastrophic error of judgement:

Sam Allardyce has left his post as England manager by mutual agreement with the Football Association after one match and 67 days in charge.

It follows a newspaper investigation claiming he offered advice on how to “get around” rules on player transfers. Allardyce, 61, is also alleged to have used his role to negotiate a deal worth £400,000 to represent a Far East firm.

Perhaps like Cecil, Sam was an easy target

Sam was the victim of an elaborate journalistic sting where Sam unwittingly compromised his position by ‘speaking off the record’ – suggesting he had knowledge of how FA rules on player ownership could be circumvented. Sam was captured on film using hidden cameras speaking openly of ways to sidestep the FA’s rules and governance. A breach of trust and a betrayal of confidence by Sam in his new employers. In brief summary – a serious error of judgement on Sam’s behalf.

In any senior leadership position there is simply no such thing as ‘off the record’. Communication of any type, with anyone, in any context must be viewed as if it’s going to be broadcast everywhere and anywhere. Sam had been trapped, the game was over – or in his words “entrapment won”.

Ethics and Public Interest

The English press has a history of targeting those who are in the ‘hot seat’ of English football. They may claim they’re just doing their job and operating in the public’s interest – but evidence suggests the press will display dogged tenacity and traits similar to Hyenas in hunting their prey to get their prized story. For them, the England manager is fair game.

Like Cecil, perhaps Sam was an easy target for those who had personal agendas to satisfy. In some ironic way Sam’s demise may promote further reflection and reform within The FA, foster change and deliver some longer term benefit?

The FA’s judgement and risk assessment have been proven to be miles apart in their appointment of Sam in the first instance. Surely this needs to be addressed moving forward?  The FA are the gatekeepers to the global game. They have been seriously embarrassed; the reputation of the English game itself has been tarnished and damaged. The FA need to take steps to prevent the re-occurrence of similar events in the future.

The England Manager is the symbolic leader of English football, and ambassador to the values endorsed by the English Football Association. Uncompromising integrity and verifiable strong leadership must become mandatory criteria for the selection of future England Managers.

Sure the Hyenas eyed their prey, snared Sam and displaced another England Manager. We must now hope that the FA reflect on the situation and adapt, and learn from the experience so that some kind of benefit can be delivered out of a truly sad situation.

 Acknowledgement

Acknowledgement to Tudor and Susan for their valuable thoughts, discussion and contribution.

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