Listening to the current England football manager, Roy Hodgson, speaking on the radio, he used a very curious expression while speaking about his team:

"We have to try to get back to putting the church back into the village"

I heard it on the radio, so I can't remember exactly what the context was. I think he was talking about managing disciplinary problems within the team. (But we all know how waffly football managers can be in their interviews.)

What does this metaphor mean, and how does it apply in these circumstances?


5 Answers 5


"You always want the church in the centre of the village" is not an English idiom or well-known phrase, but a borrowing from the Swedish "kyrkan mitt i byn".

Roy Hodgson, the manager of the England football team, is saying that the power must lie with him, and not with the players, as becomes clear when given in a fuller, earlier, context.

The phrase was also used when he was the manager of West Brom in April 2012. From PlanetSport.com:

Hodgson says that a manager should be the top dog at a club, and that players who misbehave or cause havoc should either be controlled or let go. He cites Manchester United’s Sir Alex Ferguson as an example of a gaffer who firmly keeps hold of the reins at all times.

The 64-year-old, who spent much of his early career at Swedish clubs, said: “It’s very difficult because, to use a Swedish expression, you always want the church in the centre of the village.

“In football terms, the church is the club itself which is often embodied in the manager, with Sir Alex Ferguson being the classic example.

“Once you get difficult players, backed up often by a sympathetic media who are happy to see the church get moved around, then it becomes very difficult.

“It should be that no player is bigger than his club. No player should really be a stronger person than the manager at the club.

“Once that happens you’re taking the power from where it should be, in the hands of someone who represents the club, the fans, the owners and the team.

“You’re giving it to someone who may have very personal, egotistical reasons for wanting to change things.”

Hodgson has been repeating this phrase during Euro 2012. The Guardian from 7th June 2012 says:

Talking to Gary Lineker on the BBC's Football Focus before the departure for Poland, Hodgson emphasised the need to restore optimism to the squad and surround the players with a positive atmosphere after a series of dispiriting performances in major tournaments. "We have to try to get back to putting the church back into the village," he said, leading to much Google searching and speculation that this must be a saying picked up during his employment in Sweden, Denmark, Finland, Switzerland or Italy. Such enigmatic remarks were not characteristic of his predecessors in a job that has been said to possess the capacity to relieve its incumbents of their sanity. If things go wrong those words will no doubt be presented as evidence for the prosecution.

And a commenter added:

That thing about the village church,
A Swedish expression - "kyrkan mitt i byn" meaning the church in the centre of the village ' and denoting the tried and trusted order of things.
Not that a Swede would ever say anything about putting it back there.

  • 1
    Yes, that's right: "We have to try to get back to putting the church back into the village" was the exact wording. I've altered it in my question.
    – Urbycoz
    Jun 12, 2012 at 9:45
  • 1
    +1 well great answer, great resource sited but you are wrong about Swedish. Jun 12, 2012 at 11:52
  • We all know what the dead centre of a village is. Jun 12, 2012 at 12:11
  • @BarrieEngland In the US we really don't have villages. What is in the dead centre of a village?
    – Mitch
    Jun 12, 2012 at 12:58
  • 3
    @Mitch: The cemetery. Jun 12, 2012 at 15:32

In the ancient Greek cities there was place in the middle of the city called Agora. All important buildings were built there that include temples. It represented the heart of the city. In other wording team is more important then any of the players put on its own.

  • The phrase could also mean "bring religion back into civic life", the sort of thing you hear from the Religious Right in the US.
    – tautophile
    May 27, 2018 at 3:41

The explanations posted so far are vague, so I feel compelled to reply.

This phrase is still (quite) frequently used in French "(re)mettre/garder l'église au milieu du village" which literally means "put back/place/keep the church in the middle of the village" and it exists in many other European languages too.

It can be used in different contexts but in general it means:

  • bring back / keep the focus on important, relevant, crucial things rather than paying (wasting) attention to what is conventional, convenient, popular, peripheral...
  • 1
    What was vague about Hugo's answer?
    – Mari-Lou A
    Mar 22, 2017 at 9:15

Roy Hodgson, maybe you can remember, was coach of the Swiss national football team. There, "to keep the church in the village" means "do not cause an uproar, do not offend anybody", "let's be at peace with everybody". I'm sure he picked the expression up while in Switzerland.

  • Gerhard, this would be a great answer if you cited a source.
    – Davo
    Oct 2, 2017 at 18:04

It is also a French expression. It means to respect the normal way of doing things. To respect the tradition. The village was built around the church, that's the normal.

  • Would be greatly helpful if you can add further reference that indicate that. Or if you at least include the French saying itself in the answer so others can do so. May 27, 2018 at 2:40

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