Lauded by British media for guiding his team to the World Cup finals one minute, England manager Roy Hodgson was forced to defend himself against a racism slur the next after he used an old joke as a tactical pointer during Tuesday’s win over Poland.
Praise has been heaped on the affable Hodgson for his team’s performances, but yesterday’s headlines, rather than basking in thoughts of Brazil, soured the mood of euphoria.
Hodgson was reported to have used the “feed the monkey” punchline from an old NASA joke when instructing rightback Chris Smalling to pass the ball to livewire midfielder Andros Townsend.
The joke in question came about during the early days of space travel when NASA sent monkeys into space before manned missions. A bored astronaut, tired of the monkey being given all the tasks by mission control asks “When do I get to do something,” and was told “In 15, minutes — feed the monkey.”
Hodgson used the joke to emphasize that getting the ball early to Tottenham Hotspur dangerman Townsend, England’s most effective player in the first half, was their priority.
However, it was apparently lost on some of his players who were reportedly “offended,” according to British newspapers, leading Hodgson to apologize.
“I would like to apologize if any offence has been caused by what I said at halftime,” the 66-year-old was quoted as saying in British media yesterday. “There was absolutely no intention on my part to say anything inappropriate.”
“I made this clear straight away to Andros in the dressing room. I also spoke to Andros again on Wednesday. He has assured me and the FA he did not take any offense, and understood the point I was making in the manner I intended.”
Townsend, who is of Cypriot and Jamaican descent, said yesterday that he was not offended by the joke.
Writing on Twitter, Townsend said: “I don’t know what all this fuss is about. No offence was meant and none was taken! It’s not even news worthy!”
Others too were quick to support Hodgson.
Former England forward Stan Collymore, now a radio pundit and prominent anti-racism campaigner, said no one should have taken offense and those criticizing Hodgson should instead target the real problem.
“Racism is hard enough to keep on the agenda as it is without making everyone think a legitimate space tale should be cause for offence,” he said on Twitter.
Wayne Rooney, who scored England’s opener in Tuesday’s 2-0 win, also tweeted: “Seen the story on roy this morning. He done nothing wrong. This is ridiculous.”
However, the executive director of European anti-racism organizations FARE, Piara Power, said that the England manager should have chosen his words more carefully.
“Hodgson used very silly term within a diverse team environment,” Power said on Twitter. “He should know better.”