Football: Cole blanks media despite captain's honour

ST ALBANS, United Kingdom (AFP) - England have named centurion Ashley Cole as captain for a friendly international against the Republic of Ireland; but the gesture came back to bite manager Roy Hodgson at a pre-match press conference as confusion reigned over exactly who would wear the armband.

Hodgson would normally have selected Cole's Chelsea teammate Frank Lampard to captain his side at Wembley, having appointed the midfielder vice-captain to the injured Steven Gerrard; but on this occasion he has opted to honour a long-held tradition of allowing players who are receiving their 100th cap to lead the team out instead.

It seems a simple enough process; but when left-back Cole - who is actually playing his 102nd game for England but who will receive a golden cap to commemorate passing 100 - refused to talk to media at the team's St Albans hotel north of London it led to comedy caper that only England could generate.

Lampard was chosen to take his place at the captain's table alongside his manager, leading to total confusion as reporters tried to work out whether Cole's role was simply ceremonial or official.

"I suppose it is odd in some ways in the sense that Ashley, as you all know in the press, is not the person who likes to stand in front of a large group of journalists and take on the responsibility of having to speak for the team," said Hodgson, who appeared exasperated by the furore.

"So as a result, he has never actually been considered for the captaincy despite the fact that he has played over 100 games. But on this occasion, and speaking with Frank Lampard, who is actually the captain in Gerrard's absence and also canvassing the rest of the squad we are all of one mind - that this man has been such a fantastic servant not only for Arsenal and Chelsea but but also for England, that as he receives his golden cap it would right on this occasion if he led the team out.

"So I suppose we have the interesting situation where Frank is here with me today as the nominal captain, but in this match Ashley Cole will lead us on to the field, and take part in the toss up at the start of the game and wear the armband." This match, staged to celebrate The FA's 150th anniversary, has extra significance because the Republic haven't played England since 1995 when a fixture at Lansdowne Road had to be abandoned because of crowd trouble.

So Football Association chairman David Bernstein has called on England supporters to show "total respect" to Irish fans, while Hodgson sent an open email, urging fans not to take part in provocative chanting that could mar the occasion.

"I hope the England fans - and the Irish fans for that matter - show a level of respect all of us would hope to see in a game of this type," reiterated Hodgson.

"People always allude to incidents a long way in the past when football was slightly different; we can't deny there have been some dark times but in recent years we've been blessed with very good and respectful support.

"In the past there have been problems between the two countries, we can't re-write history. But we are now playing football in different times.

"We expect them to behave in the correct manner and enjoy the football. I can't sit here and make bold statements but it would be a very good step along the way if they could do that.

"A lot of important steps have been taken and if this football match can prove the healing is underway then that's a great thing." England go into the match with only 17 fit players and with news that Manchester United striker Danny Welbeck is unlikely to pass a late fitness test - although he may be fit to face Brazil in Rio this weekend.

As a result, Liverpool's Daniel Sturridge stands by to make his first start for England alongside Wayne Rooney; and by then, hopefully, all the talk will be about football.

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