The Fiver | Big Phil Neville and a tenure that has only ever flirted with stability | Football


Given the team’s dismal form of late, news that Big Phil Neville is to step down as England Women’s manager when his contract expires next summer – and not therefore guide the team at the rearranged European Championship in 2022 – hardly comes as a surprise. This isn’t so much jumping-before-being-pushed as much as the-pusher-pointing-out-that-the-pushee-had-in-fact-agreed-to-jump-at-a-given-time-and-that-they’ll-be-held-to-that-even-though-the-entire-reason-for-that-particular-jumping-time-has-been-moved-back-a-year-and-the-pusher-could-quite-easily-put-the-jumping-time-back-a-year-if-they-really-wanted-to.

That apparently they don’t is testament to a tenure that has only ever flirted with stability. It began with Neville having to apologise for some sexist tweets and explain away the unavoidable sense that – given his coaching CV consisted of spells with the wildly successful Manchester United of David Moyes and the runaway train of trophy success that was Gary Neville’s Valencia, not to mention the triumphant England Under-21 side at Euro 2013 who definitely didn’t finish bottom of their group having scored once and lost all three games at the finals – his key qualification for the job was that he was A Famous England Men’s Footballer rather than an exceptional managerial talent.

And at first – some distinctly Brentian verbiage aside – he seemed to be steering things calmly out of the post-Sampson malaise. A first SheBelieves Cup success is not to be sniffed at and your view of the 2019 World Cup campaign may depend on your perspective, but a last-four exit against inarguably the best team in the world is a fair effort. If nothing else, his side added another memorable chapter to England’s Big Book of World Cup Semi-Final Heartbreak – inspirational-captain-misses-late-late-penalty-clanger was a very fine addition to the ever-expanding canon even if 2015’s added-time-own-goal-catastrophe will take some beating.

But plenty of managers have learned over the years that no one is too fussed about your odd pronouncements as long as you’re winning. However, offering “I have a vision that no one else has, I’ve got bravery that no other coach has, so thank your lucky stars” after a limp defeat against Norway that has extended your winless run to four games just makes you sound slightly unhinged. “I know if they go to the cinema – it’s the detail you need to be successful,” he said of his squad in 2018. “If they have an ice cream I know about it.” Which was all very well at the time, but when you’ve won three in 11 people start to wonder if keeping track of whether Millie Bright had been to see the latest Avengers or if Toni Duggan has had a hankering for a Raspberry Mivvi were really such vital metrics after all.

Perhaps most damagingly, describing a third-place play-off you’ve just lost as “a nonsense game” when half your squad are, quite rightly, extremely proud of the 2015 bronze medals they’ve got at home, is not the hottest of takes. So it’s no shock the FA is on the lookout for a new coach – perhaps this time the WSL would be a decent place to start the search.


“I was enjoying it, going back to the shop to get another lot and then filling the car up. Two of my pals who I go out for drinks with now and again were giving me dog’s abuse and WhatsApping me saying: ‘Have you delivered your fruit and veg yet?’ I ended up having to deliver two big boxes to my pals” – West Ham boss David Moyes on the days he spent recently, helping out during the pandemic as a delivery driver.

Yes, Moyesy. Photograph: Eddie Keogh/Reuters


“As a recovering former Grimsby Town fan I’m spoilt for choice for when it comes to disastrous matches (Fiver letters passim), but I’ll offer up Tranmere away on the last day of the 2003-04 season, when the Mariners needed a win to retain third-tier status. Getting lost on the way to the ground would prove a fairly accurate precursor to the day as a whole. Even when we took a 1-0 first-half lead, I was punched in the eye during our celebrations by my overexcited friend Mark. Our team rolled over abjectly after half-time, losing 2-1 to a team of 10 men with nothing to play for, and went down on goal difference. On the train home I got drunk alone on terrible lager and tried to cheer myself up by chatting to some other passengers, only to be utterly humiliated by their response. Relegation from the Football League six years later may have been worse in purely sporting terms, but at least on that occasion I didn’t end the day by vomiting into a drain” – Pete Green.

“Re: memorable games (Fiver letters passim). I travelled down to Plymouth in 1992 to watch Blackeye Rovers win 3-1, made glorious by a magical David Speedie hat-trick. That day I stood right at the front, behind the corner flag. The ball came my way and Colin Hendrie chased it down. Unbeknown to big Col, a Plymouth striker was bearing down on him at speed. I shouted ‘Man on Col!’ He checked over his shoulder, eyes widening and cleared his lines. As he ran upfield he pointed back in my direction and gave me the thumbs up. Some might call me a hero, they’d be correct” – Marten Allen.

“Re: Pescara’s new kit (yesterday’s News, Bits and Bobs). Has anyone else queried that this must be a six-year-old child of rare genius to come up with that drawing? I could barely keep the colours within the lines at that age. I suspect parental over-reach” – Paul Mills.

“They had Dion Dublin (yesterday’s last line) doing two properties on today’s Homes Under the Hammer, and he said the line for both. Yes, lockdown is going fine, why do you ask?” – Jim Hearson.

Your man, scoping out the upper floors.

Your man, scoping out the upper floors. Photograph: BBC/Lion Television

Send your letters to [email protected] And you can always tweet The Fiver via @guardian_sport. Today’s winner of our prizeless letter o’the day is … Pete Green.


Uefa suits say leagues must follow “objective, transparent and non-discriminatory” principles to decide which clubs should qualify for Europe if they cannot finish their seasons. In the event that a competition cannot be completed in full, Uefa wants a restart “with a different format in a manner which would still facilitate clubs to qualify on sporting merit”, whatever that means.

Speaking of which, the dog’s breakfast the SPFL made of its shall-we-abandon-the-season vote is sure to be sorted now that calls for an independent investigation into the debacle have reached parliament.

West Ham’s David Moyes – him again – has become the first manager to publicly question whether the Premier League will restart. “The deeper and deeper you look the harder you feel it is to get it up running again,” he sighed.

La Liga has a plan to get the season back under way … and it involves daily Covid-19 tests and biodegradable kit bags.

In Footballers Being Good Eggs news, Gareth Bale has given almost £1m to fight coronavirus in Spain and Wales.

In Footballers Being Bad Eggs news, Arsenal’s David Luiz, Alexandre Lacazette, Nicolas Pépé and Granit Xhaka are the latest to ignore coronavirus rules.

And the South Stand at Elland Road will be renamed the Norman Hunter South Stand in honour of the former Leeds defender, who died last week.


One of the greatest nights of one of the greats – an oral history of the night Ronaldo lit up Old Trafford.

The original.

The original. Photograph: Reuters Photographer/Reuters

Broadcast rights trump human rights in the Premier League’s Newcastle battleground, writes Jonathan Liew.

“The worst thing I’ve been through”: Paul Doyle discovers why Gabby Agbonlahor is raffling his most cherished Villa shirt for the NHS.

This week’s Classic YouTube features Dejan Savicevic, Enzo Francescoli and plenty more.

Oh, and if it’s your thing … you can follow Big Website on Big Social FaceSpace. And INSTACHAT, TOO!

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