Allardyce: brought down by good journalism not entrapment

I'm as gutted as anyone to see the manager of England - a man who I wanted to see in the job - lose the role after 67 days and just one game in charge.

Sam Allardyce never seemed to get the credit he deserved during his long club management career, and this summer Portugal showed that a pragmatic approach to football could bring success, so it seemed like he was to be given his chance.

But that chance has gone. Disappeared in a puff of greed.

I have noticed that some, not least 'Big Sam' himself, are pointing fingers at the journalism that took him down. They are calling it entrapment and claiming that journalists were out to make him look bad.

Poppycock, balderdash and buffoonery. The investigation by the Daily Telegraph has uncovered serious wrong-doing across the sport and the journalists and newspaper must be applauded for its tenacity.

I have been deeply critical of undercover 'entrapment-style' journalism in the past. The Fake Sheikh, Mazher Mahmood, was an appalling example of journalistic entrapment. His method was to get C list celebs in a room, offer them oodles of cash and then enquire if they knew where he could get drugs and could they help him get some.

Of course, not wanting to lose the cash or the opportunity to star in films, they mostly said 'yes' and then found themselves splashed all over the front pages of now defunct News of The World.

But, if there is a genuine need for investigation and the 'sting' is only part of a wider journalistic strategy, there is a place for this style of journalism.

So does the Daily Telegraph investigation pass my test?

Well, anyone who hasn't had their head in the sand for the past few years knows that there is a problem with corruption and dubious practice in football - the downfall of Sepp Blatter and Michel Platini are clear evidence of this.

Allardyce has previously been implicated in dubious practice as part of a BBC Panorama investigation into dealings with his son, Craig - a football agent. No charges were brought but the 2007 Stevens report into football corruption stated:
″The inquiry remains concerned at the conflict of interest that it believes existed between Craig Allardyce, his father Sam Allardyce – the then manager at Bolton – and the club itself."
Whether the sting is part of a wider journalism strategy or not is less clear. The follow-up revelations today that eight Premier League managers have taken 'bungs' was also filmed undercover in 'sting' style.

I feel this too is justified. The Daily Telegraph investigations team - the same one that did such a great job on MPs expenses - is not targeting an individual in the manner of Mahmood but conducting an institution-wide inquiry into corporation, amoral activity and greed within football.

Big Sam is no starry-eyed, 20-something C lister. He is one of the most experienced football managers in the game, was on a massive £3m salary, and at the peak of his profession.

In short, he had no business doing another job at all, let alone one which may have enabled people to circumvent rules established to protect the game.

It is not that long since the sting was turned on tabloid journalists with great effect by Chris Atkins as part of the excellent film Starsuckers. In that he exposed wrongdoing within journalism by dangling carrots such as confidential medical information in front of journalists.

Not long after that Nick Davies and the Guardian exposed the level of corruption and criminality within journalism with the hacking scandal which sent many senior journalists to jail.

The Sting should never be a fishing trip where you hope to uncover a juicy titbit but, as a targeted tactic of an undercover investigation, it is vital in this age of super-injunctions and secrecy.

All power to the Daily Telegraph I say.

Aaarghh. Dog owners!

I’m not one to rant. Really, I’m not.

But I have to get something off my chest. What is it with dog owners in this world of ours?

As a runner you spend a goodly amount of time outside so you come into contact with this most selfish of species on a regular basis and O to the M. to the flipping G does it open your eyes.

I was out for a nice run – a planned interval session in a beautifully maintained bridleway. It should have been idyllic, but as I turned a corner I heard a bark, a growl and then saw a black labrador hurtling towards me at top speed.

It’s owner haplessly begged her dog to ‘heel’ and ‘calm down’ but it was having none of it and snapped at my heels with its hackles raised. Having three children I can be fairly authoritative at times and bellowed “Hey. Stop that!”.

Not my best constructed sentence but I was jammin’ in a crisis situation. The dog paused in its fury and a few seconds later its owner managed to bring it under control.

No-one was hurt in the making of this rant. However, I suggested to the dog’s owner – who seemed perfectly pleasant and I am sure is kind to kittens, gives to charity and would never vote Brexit – that if she was unable to control her dog, perhaps she shouldn’t have it off the lead?

Her response? “He would never actually hurt anyone.”

I jogged on trying not to react as my heart rate slowed from hummingbird levels and my buttocks unclenched from their rock-like state.

But I have two questions:
  1. Is that the point? Does it matter that I wasn’t injured, just scared witless for a measly 30 seconds? I would argue that no, it does not.
  2. What if I had been with my children? I can guarantee that one of them would have tried to flee in terror, and how would the dog have reacted then?
I have been bitten twice by dogs while out running. On the first occasion the owner was deeply apologetic and no longer allowed their dog to roam free in their garden (it escaped as I ran past), on the second the owner said it ‘wasn’t really biting me but it didn’t have hands so how else was it going to hold on during its game’?

I have also been a journalist for 20 years – mostly in local newspapers and I have covered a fair few dog attacks. The owners’ responses always escalate in the same manner:
  1.          He/she would never bite anyone
  2.          I don’t know how that happened, he/she is not usually a biter
  3.          He/she only bites when she/he’s scared
  4.          I can usually control him/her
  5.          I can’t believe my gorgeous Rex savaged that child.
Dogs are beautiful, loyal creatures. Dog owners need to accept that they are responsible for the dog’s behaviour at all times and not just make excuses when their pets threaten people.

Rant over. For now - you have been warned.

The danger of entering events in a state of drunken euphoria

It is with a growing sense of trepidation that I await the coming of a triathlon this weekend.

The Half X is Set in the glorious Lake District it features a 1.9km swim in Windermere, followed by a quad-burning 90km bike ascending 2,800m (9186 ft) over the big three Lakeland passes, Kirkstone via the 'Struggle', Wrynose and Hardnott, in both directions and concluded with a 21km run around the stunning Fairfield Horseshoe ascending over 800 m (2,600ft).

Organisers claim it to be the steepest and most gruelling 'Half Iron' Bike section anywhere in the world. 

I entered after a few glasses of wine following a half-decent performance at Abingdon Marathon last year. I was, in my mind, invincible having thought I had finally broken the cycle of being a lazy bloke claiming to be an athlete.

But now my trepidation is not around the horrific physical challenge of the event but the mental challenge in knowing that once again I have failed to live up to a promise I have made myself.

You see, I pulled out of the event two weeks ago. I finally accepted that I am probably not fit enough to complete the event, or if I do, will seriously putting my body through the mill.

I am not a good swimmer – cramp has laid me low for too many years – but I am also a very average cyclist even when comfortable on the flat roads of Oxfordshire. Some friends from Oxford Tri scoped the route and, despite being among the strongest cyclists in the club, came back with horrific reports of their struggle up The Struggle and its pals.

I'm a decent runner and the trot around the horseshoes was appealing but realistically, after completing that bike course, my quads are likely to be as useful as a chocolate fireguard.

So I bottled it. I realised six months ago I needed to put in some mega training with reps of Blowing Stone and maybe a trip over the Cleeve Hill in Gloucestershire. But, as is the norm with me, I didn’t follow through with my plan.

So my trepidation is that I must look myself in the mirror and face the reality that after 10 years of triathlon I have barely improved and failed to challenge myself significantly.

Where’s that wine….

Running: Changing body shape in the facial region

Had a lovely run in the sun this morning - it was just too good not to get out there and get off road for a while.

As I ran through a village near my home I ran past a woman I have seen regularly for the past two years. In 2014 she trudged along with pained grimace, last year she jogged with a determined frown, and this morning I saw her running with a smile wider than a Cheshire Cat.

It was as uplifting as I finished my run as the sun had been when I set off.

Great reminder that while running is great for changing body shapes, the most important physical change is the massive smile it can bring to your face.