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Op-Ed \ John Haydon

Hoddle’s words were not surprising, but made sacking him easy.

By John Haydon
Special to SoccerTimes

(Friday, February 5, 1999) -- Glenn Hoddle, coach of England's national soccer team (considered by many Britons a job of importance just below that of the prime minister), committed the ultimate sin this week: he spoke his mind. That's a dangerous thing in this age, when it's wise to always have a lawyer, adjoined at the hip.

Hoddle ranted on in an interview with The Times of London about his religious views -- not a great idea in England that's never had a Bible Belt -- and he paid the price. He was fired.

Hoddle's religious notions are pretty common knowledge to his countrymen. The tabloid press had a field day, when Hoddle, a born-again Christian, brought his faith healer Eileen Drewery, into training camp just prior the World Cup. But in the Times interview Hoddle expanded on his ideas of reincarnation, reportedly saying that the disabled were "paying for the sins of an earlier life."

Like a number of sports personalities in recent years, such as Jimmy the Greek, Marge Schott, Al Campanis, Fuzzy Zoeller and Reggie White, Hoddle found out that free speech is costly in these unforgiving times.

The truth is, the knives were already out for Hoddle. England has played poorly since the World Cup, and is in danger of failing to qualify for the European Championship.

Hoddle is not my favorite coach. Give me Terry Venables or Kevin Keegan any day. I thought Hoddle should have moved on when he cashed in on a book immediately after the World Cup, revealing personal details about his players.

England midfielder Paul Ince, rightfully worried out loud, whether the players future private chats with the coach might someday come out in a book. Hoddle should have gracefully gone then, because player morale had been affected and it showed on the field.

But this week's mob attack on Hoddle, with even Prime Minister Tony Blair sticking a knife in to finish the coach off, left a bad taste in my mouth. If you're going to fire a coach, fire them for there job performance, not for their religious musings.

Nobody wanted to listen to Hoddle's explanation. He said his words had been misconstrued and he apologized. Sadly, saying sorry is no longer enough in today's world.

John Haydon is soccer columnist for the Washington Times and can be e-mailed at haydon@twtmail.com.

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