It was late evening when the phone rang in my sweaty Mexican hotel room in Guadalajara on the eve of the 1986 World Cup semi-finals.

“It’s me,” chirped a familiar voice. “Big Ron (Atkinson). “I’m doing West Germany v France tomorrow, what are YOU doing?”

The then Manchester United manager and ITV summariser knew perfectly well what I was SUPPOSED to be doing – sitting alongside him in the commentary box!

But ITV had decided now that in my first finals for television I wasn’t really ready for this and replaced me for the live semi with the more experienced Martin Tyler, who’d been covering World Cups since they started and tournaments in general since the Charge of the Light Brigade’s Battle of Balaclava sponsored by the Hatton Garden bullion robbers (only teasing, Martin, everyone knows there was no TV signal from Crimea in those days).

Of course, preferring Sky’s now long-established and highly-respected number one to me made perfect sense. At the time, though, I was devastated to be “hooked” and was hiding in my room consoling myself with sandwiches covered in the Marmite spread I’d surreptitiously smuggled out in my luggage (“he’s brought loads of it!” wrote a bewildered Jimmy Greaves in his Sunday newspaper column, and, indeed, I had!).

So let’s cheer Brackers up, Ron thought, and his unconventional telephone greeting, which made me laugh, was just his way of saying “come on, chin up!”

Ron majored on man-management and I wonder sometimes how much England might have benefitted from a motivational leader of his ilk for important fixtures – the likes of Brian Clough, Martin O’Neill and Harry Redknapp at their peak were in the same mould – someone with a strong personality and dynamic presence. As regular readers know, I’m not Jose Mourinho’s biggest fan – who could possibly compete with the man himself for that particular claim? – but he’s clearly another potential game changer not afraid to make key decisions.

Hopefully, Gareth Southgate, with a side seemingly capable of making an impact, will step up to the plate. No need to rant and rave, but we don’t want him sheltering wimpishly under a brolly like Steve McLaren (especially in Russia where goodness knows what’s concealed in the tip) or sitting impassively on the bench like dear old Sven, who probably regarded tournament preparation as he did his girlfriends – a squad of 23 assembled in the same hotel with another five on standby. Actually, he seemed happier sitting on the fence than the bench, desperate to please everyone – even in the anthems for England’s match with his native Sweden when he appeared to be singing “God Save Our Dancing Queen.”

Germany and Brazil head the World Cup contenders, of course, along with Spain, marshalled by Liverpool’s nemesis and serial tough guy Sergio Ramos (never late for a challenge – just early for the next one). Fearless and battle-hardened, rumour has it Ramos returned to the dressing room after one game with a leg slashed to ribbons, battered and bruised from top to toes.

“Got this from my tackle by the corner flag,” he said, “but I’ve no idea whose it is.”