by Alex Dimond
On Saturday Sam Allardyce enjoyed the perfect start to his Blackburn managerial career, enjoying a 3-0 win over fellow strugglers Stoke City.
For many, the result itself was the story of the weekend — marking as it did the return to form of a side that had begun to look dead and buried under Paul Ince.
For others, however, it was Allardyce’s post-match actions that were the most intriguing. Ever since a 2006 Panorama documentary — one that suggested “Big Sam” and his son, Craig, had accepted bungs as part of transfer dealings while at Bolton Wanderers — Allardyce had resolutely refused to talk to the BBC.
On Saturday, however, Allardyce was more than happy to speak to the BBC’s John Murray at great length after his side’s “near perfect” win.
The Panorama documentary — which also incurred the wrath of Harry Redknapp — included recorded conversations with player agents who revealed that Allardyce had taken backhanders as part of the transfer of many Bolton players — with the signing of Egyptian goalkeeper Ali Al-Habsi under particular scrutiny.
In another part of the documentary, Craig Allardyce was recorded boasting to an undercover reporter about the influence he held with his father, and how together they were in a position to profit financially from Bolton’s transfer activity.
Understandably, the fallout from the airing of the program was huge. Allardyce immediately refuted all the allegations, and threatened legal action. And, in a beautifully theatrical act, he refused to speak to the BBC again in his lifetime.
As a result, Bolton post-match Match of the Day interviews were taken by Allardyce’s assistant Ricky Sbragia (now doing very well as Sunderland caretaker manager), while Allardyce happily kept giving good material to Sky and ITV.
This practice continued for the reminder of his Bolton career, and also his short-lived and unsuccessful stint at Newcastle United.
Even since then, Allardyce has been more than willing to offer his expert punditry to any media outlet that would have him — except the BBC — in a thinly-veiled attempt to keep his name in the running for any job opening.
He has been a regular on Sky Sports, and has appeared so frequently in the British tabloids offering his opinion on other Premiership clubs that Jose Mourinho could quite legitimately call him a voyeur — if he was still in the country.
When Ince was sacked at Ewood Park, Allardyce’s media-whoring seemed to have worked perfectly — he was immediately installed amongst the favourites for the job. He had kept himself in the media spotlight — and kept his BBC boycott going to boot.
As events transpired, within a week Allardyce would be at the helm at Ewood Park, and by Saturday evening he was enjoying his first success with his new club.
So what a surprise it was, then, to see new Rovers manager on our TV screens after the match, seemingly more than happy to speak to the BBC on Match of the Day. Did this signal the end of hostilities between the two sides?
Having never actually initiated libel proceedings against the BBC, Allardyce’s appearance can only lead to a limited number of conclusions — none of them reflecting particularly well on the former Notts County boss.
The first conclusion is arguably the most obvious. Perhaps Allardyce had just been away from football so long that he forget about his boycott — and was so used to speaking to every media organization within site that he did not look for the BBC logos.
The second is more in keeping with the recent conduct of the man. Perhaps the 54-year-old had an overwhelming desire to get his face back in front of a Saturday evening TV audience, a desire that went above and beyond his moral opposition to their documentary.
The third possibility is perhaps the most revealing — maybe his appearance was a tacit admission that the BBC might have been right all long. The lack of a libel case only adds weight to such a possibility—although undoubtedly the man would never publicly make such an admission.
Unfortunately for Allardyce, none of the three potential reasons make him look good — indeed they actually make his past actions look petty, deceitful, attention-seeking, and downright misleading.
In fairness to Allardyce, as no FA sanctions were brought as a result of the Panorama investigation, perhaps he believes he has already made his point. But why then claim in the first place that he would never speak to the BBC in his lifetime, and why choose the first successful game in charge of a new club to start talking to the nation’s biggest broadcaster?
Once considered a potential England manager, the Panorama show and his recent conduct arguably show beyond doubt that while Allardyce has a creditable managerial record, he does not have the class or integrity to ever be given the highest job in the land.
But if he keeps Blackburn up this season, Rovers fans are not likely to care that much about their manager’s integrity.
And if that keeps his name in the media — you imagine it might not bother Allardyce that much either.