Sam Allardyce Is the Tulisa of English Football
A requiem for Big Sam, in many parts.
Someone once told me I was a "classic self-saboteur". This was soon after I had moved to London. The summer before, I'd come down to intern at a magazine and secured a thin line of recurring freelance work there as a result – the dream for a hungry-for-it 21-year-old looking to break into the journalism game. But, one way or another, I fucked it up: got too cocky, got too sloppy, submitted work late and over word count, professional e-mails too jokey, too informal; I didn't recognise what I had was still, above all, an opportunity and not the real deal.
When they let me down they did it with a pulled punch – "we've stopped using freelancers now, a budget thing" – but I knew what was up. I'd fucked it. And nothing hurts in the same way as knowing you've fucked it. I thought of how I'd fucked it for months, years. I thought about how I'd fucked it when, aged 24 and eating plain pasta in my flat, entirely unemployed and staring down the barrel of having to move all the way back home, start over, start at nothing, I thought about how I'd fucked it and I cursed my dumb self. Nothing hurts like holding the hot coal of a memory like that in your hand. Nothing hurts like knowing the worst sleight ever done to you was done by you. Nothing hurts like having fucked it.
Sam Allardyce has fucked it.
On Tuesday night, Sam Allardyce was relieved of the England job by the association that gave it to him just 67 days before. He will maintain a 100 percent win record until the sun fizzles out of the sky. Sam Allardyce – or "England's Most Successful Manager", as I now insist he will be referred to as forever – was forced to leave the job he wanted most, the thing he wanted for all the world, because of a Telegraph sting into football corruption. Sam Allardyce's fatal mistake was that he was caught, sat in a curry house with a pint glass full of wine, telling a microrecorder all of his secrets.
Here, I am going to argue that this is the most Sam Allardyce thing that ever could have happened to Sam Allardyce. That Sam Allardyce could only ever die by his own sword. That the only monster powerful enough to slay Sam Allardyce was Sam Allardyce. I am going to lay the facts out in front of you like a spread. We are going to go through them carefully together. You are going to believe me.
Before the thinkpiece cycle roared awake, the Daily Mail was already on it: "The council house boy who was doomed by his insatiable greed," the headline goes. "How wheeler-dealer Allardyce enjoys the trappings of his £10m fortune - including a Bentley and 'Big Sam's villa' on the Costa Blanca."
You already know how this piece reads before you've read it: the DM had trawled through Big Sam's past and found a council house upbringing, failed businesses, burnt fingers, flirtations with bankruptcy; they had assessed his net worth and deemed him unworthy of it, dropped the word "tawdry" in there two entire times, questioned his choice of car – a Bentley, bought from, gasp, a charity auction – to his holiday home – in, gasp, Benidorm – and damned him with light praise for marrying his wife, Lynne, and staying with her for decades. The implication is that Sam Allardyce doesn't know how to spend money the right way, because he wasn't born into it. The implication is that Sam Allardyce still has a core of the muck he came from running through him, and that's what drove him to try and earn £400,000 from a fictitious company two journalists suggested he consult for. Shake this article and hear it echo, "Do we REALLY need to pay this man £3 million a year?" Shake this article and hear it sing, "He doesn't deserve that, surely. He doesn't know how to spend it."
There's a whole discourse about this – class and wealth and privilege – that we won't get into because Big Sam did get defrauded in a Christmas hamper scam.
In July, a man appeared in court in Essex charged with defrauding several West Ham players and the then-West Ham manager (one Samborino Allardici) out of somewhere near £50,000 with a Christmas hamper scam, which allegedly went like this: the accused rolled up to the West Ham training ground, put out a table of fancy crisps and chocolates, said he was taking orders for primo Christmas hampers then took everyone's card details and fucked off with them. No hampers arrived. Payments were allegedly taken. Andy Carroll got done for £10,500. Little Joey O'Brien got done for £750. Defender James Tomkins got rinsed for £30,000, somehow. And Sam Allardyce – The Boss, The Boss Man, Sammy Boss Bollocks – got done for £13,000. Which makes you wonder: how many Christmas hampers was Sam Allardyce planning on going through that year?
The accused, Stephen Ackerman, pleaded not guilty in March of this year, before denying six further counts of fraud in July. The judge then suspended the trial, which will re-start on the 24th of October,
A possible answer: Joey Barton wrote in his autobiography that Sam Allardyce once ate 11 fried eggs in one sitting. Eleven. Sam Allardyce. Eleven fried eggs. Eleven. ELEVEN.
E L E V E N
The reason Sam Allardyce didn't get the England job the first time round is essentially "Adventures in Sam Allardyce Having Fucked It: Part One". From his book:
I wanted to do a real knock-your-socks-off interview for the FA, so I put together a PowerPoint which looked at every single detail.
There was nothing missing. Nobody but nobody was going to beat it.
But then Brian Barwick, the chief executive, told me there were no PowerPoint facilities at the interview venue, so I had to print off hard copies for the panel.
So much for the progressive FA.
— Big Sam – My Autobiography by Big Sam, 2015
Essentially: if Big Sam had That Lad From Curry's Who Helps Him With His Printer with him, English football would have never had to endure Steve McClaren. They would have had to endure Big Sam Allardyce instead. Big Sam's Sliding Doors moment – and English football's itself – essentially pivoted on a Windows ME update someone forgot to install.
You're not processing it properly: Eleven fried eggs. Like: imagine eating one fried egg, now. Close your eyes and think of it. Fried egg. White toast. Yellow butter. Lovely fried egg. Now another, maybe. One more, at a push. Four fried eggs and you're overdoing it. Four fried eggs and you're feeling it: not in your stomach, but in the front part of your entire body, your gut, your paunch, it's growing tight, it's growing full. But now you have to eat seven more fried eggs. This is it. This is what kills you. On your gravestone they will just print, "HE ATE 11 FRIED EGGS," then underneath just, "WHAT CAN YOU DO? WHEN SOMEONE WANTS TO DIE, THEY WANT TO DIE."
Records state that Sam Allardyce has been known as "Big Sam" since the age of 16. Question: how big do you have to be to earn the title of "Big"? Science has yet to come up with an answer. Additional queries: how big do you have to be, in body and charisma, to earn it at the age of 16? You have to be Big. Monstrous. Huge. You have to be enormous.
How do you think Big Sam's eyes go when he cries? I think: large and puffy, like fleshy grapefruit halves, so inflated he can't see, eyes like slits, pink slits, and if you were to take your hand and dry those tears – shh, Sammy, it's OK – you would find the face beneath your fingers soft, so soft, so much softer than you could have ever thought or known. Sadly we will never know the truth of this, because Big Sam crying is like the opening of a rare fragrant orchid, like a dormant volcano emitting a burst of smoke. Big Sam hasn't cried since he was a child, until yesterday, until he took up a leather sofa cushion and just screamed into it, screamed and sobbed, and he won't cry again for another 60 years. Big Sam cries like ice ages happen.
My theory is that Sam Allardyce is Tulisa. Tulisa: set up by subtle undercover journalist manipulation, sold a fanciful lie, entrapped over a series of meetings into saying just the right thing to be crucified with, in just the wrong sort of accent. Big Sam: all of the above, except with a pint of wine on the go. Big Sam is Tulisa if Tulisa said "ey up" and was capable of eating a steak bake in two-and-a-half tactical bites. Big Sam is Tulisa if Tulisa hated pop-punk so much it became a squad joke. Big Sam is Tulisa after 11 fried eggs, 12 fried eggs. (I think my fear is that 11 fried eggs is not actually "Big Sam fried egg capacity", just the moment he decided it was best to stop, i.e. we do not know the true figure of fried eggs Sam Allardyce can possibly eat.) Big Sam and Tulisa have the exact same thing in common: what they did wasn't so unknown in the industry, it was just that they did it. Big Sam and Tulisa have the exact same thing in common: they were the ones who got caught.
If you look across the footballing world, not many have come out to lambast Big Sam for his alleged indiscretions: a couple of grey-looking men in FA-branded suits, maybe, a bombastic journalist or two, Alan Shearer. This could well be because Big Sam is a Proper Footballing Man and breaking rank to call him out on something could be like committing sporting seppuku: for all its glamour and steroid-pumped Sky coverage, football is still a relatively beef-free sport – most of the personal sniping goes on post-career, within the pages of an autobiography. The other reason for the silence could just be: everyone is skimming cream from the milk, everyone has An Arrangement, everyone has a Favoured Agent or Knows A Guy, and nobody wants to put the boot in on Big Sam in case eyes turn on them. In that case, again, Big Sam's fatal error was getting caught doing what everyone else is doing.
This is something bigger, though: this is the only way Big Sam could have lost the England job. Big Sam got the England job by being the most English manager currently available: a get-on-with-it attitude mixed with one-nil-will-do pragmatism and a what's-a-raumdeuter-and-can-Kevin-Nolan-play-it-? hyper-football cynicism. Big Sam is cutting edge enough – read about his days at Bolton and the sports science revolution he bought in there – but you also really get the impression he gives entire training sessions that start with, "Right, lads: today we're doing 'how to kick the fuck out of Robinho'." That makes him the perfect manager to lead the England team through three more tournaments worth of hope followed by failure. That he doesn't get to do it because he fucked it – that he boasted too loudly about bungs over a curry – is the absolute peak of Big Samism.
It's also the peak of modern English football. This is so English football: new manager, new hope, quiet rumblings of "no it'll actually be good this time" and "new generation coming through" and "scrappy 1-0 win" and "what squad selection headaches face Big Sam now" and "what to do with Rooney?" then, 67 days later, a hard reset and some acrimony. The next manager is either Pardew or Howe or Bruce. The current manager is human-cup-of-Horlick's Gareth Southgate. Look at that and know Big Sam was the best choice. Look at that and know Big Sam has been robbed. Look at that and know the real losers are Big Sam, who fucked it, and then English football for the next ten years.
Eleven eggs, man. Eleven.
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