Football: England's Townsend says coach Hodgson's monkey joke is a compliment

England's manager Roy Hodgson (right) shakes hands with his player Andros Townsend at the end of the World Cup Group H qualification football match between England and Poland at Wembley stadium on Tuesday, Oct 15, 2013. Townsend says the comment
England's manager Roy Hodgson (right) shakes hands with his player Andros Townsend at the end of the World Cup Group H qualification football match between England and Poland at Wembley stadium on Tuesday, Oct 15, 2013. Townsend says the comment from Hodgson that prompted a racism row should be viewed as a compliment. -- FILE PHOTO: AP

LONDON (AFP) - Andros Townsend says the comment from England football manager Roy Hodgson that prompted a racism row should be viewed as a compliment.

Hodgson came under fire after press reports broke that he had told a racially offensive joke at half-time during England's 2-0 win over Poland at Wembley on Tuesday that clinched World Cup qualification.

The manager's aim was to get his side to pass the ball to the in-form Townsend more often and the Tottenham Hotspur winger told the BBC on Friday: "The manager just told the players to give the ball to me, so that's a compliment.

"Everyone should be focusing on England qualifying for Brazil - not on negative silly news."

The joke concerns a monkey and an astronaut going into space - animals were sent on flights before manned missions - with the punchline being the astronaut's only task is to "feed the monkey".

Although there is no racist overtone to the joke, 'monkey' can also be an insulting way of describing black men such as Townsend, who scored on his England debut in a 4-1 win against Montenegro last Friday.

Hodgson apologised but was furious his remark had been leaked to the press.

"Joy is short-lived in this job. The players are as angry about this as I am," he told Friday's Daily Mail.

"We have just had a successful period and, although I wouldn't suggest we intend to rest on our laurels, I think we have earned the right to enjoy the fruit of our labours. Instead, we get this."

Football Association chairman Greg Dyke pledged his full support for Hodgson, saying the governing body was satisfied there was no racist intent in his comments and praised him as "a man of the highest integrity".

But Peter Herbert, head of the Society of Black Lawyers and the new Race for Sport campaign group, wrote to Dyke on Friday demanding Hodgson be sent on a "race appreciation" course.

"To announce that the matter is 'closed' without any action being taken against the England manager is unacceptable and wholly inconsistent with your policies on equality and diversity," Herbert wrote.

"The 'innocent remark' made out of ignorance is sadly a common feature of football.

"We are using the appropriate complaints procedure to urge the FA to provide mandatory 'race appreciation' training and 'cultural capital and cultural intelligence' training to Roy Hodgson and all football managers in the UK."

Arsenal boss Arsene Wenger sympathised with Hodgson's position on Friday, saying he wished all managers' comments to players did not go beyond the dressing room.

"Sometimes you can say words that are not politically correct, that can happen to any manager," Wenger said.

"We can go a bit overboard at half-time because it's an emotional situation and there's a lot of desire and effort in there, but basically it all has to remain in the dressing room," the Frenchman added.