The substitutes’ bench at a football stadium should be exactly that – a rickety, splintered wooden structure, also housing an elderly physio with a smoker’s cough, that players will be only too keen to get away from. Yet several Premier League clubs, including Newcastle and Spurs, have comfortable seats for the substitutes that look like something from the executive class on an aeroplane. These players won’t feel motivated to leave their padded headrests with optional vibro-massage function in order to run around in the wind and rain. What next – soothing music piped in through headsets? Treat them mean to keep them keen, for God’s sake.
Glyn Teasdale, via email
Is Emile Mpenza trying to send out a message? Whenever he scores he doesn’t kiss the club badge (meaning: “I pledge undying loyalty to this club until a better offer comes along”) or point to his name on the back (meaning: “I’m still here in case you’d forgotten who I was during that barren six-month spell”), but points to the sponsor’s logo, which in Man City’s case is Thomas Cook. Does this simply mean “get me out of here”, or is he angling for a free package trip to Ayia Napa?
Chris Harrison, via email
We were very sorry to read that Huw Richards didn’t enjoy our reappraisal of Gary Sprake’s career (WSC 248), but we would point out that his review was an isolated one in this respect. However, we do acknowledge his faint praise that we did “prove our point” in an “honest appraisal” of Gary’s career. As for the use of contemporary match reports and interviews to prove our thesis, maybe he would have been more impressed if we had provided no evidence to reinforce our arguments or simply just made it all up. He makes a valid point that Sprake must have been a good keeper otherwise Don Revie would not have continually picked him for over ten years. Unfortunately for over 35 years the majority of commentators seemed to have chosen to ignore this obvious point and continually trotted out the same old cliche that Sprake was a liability, almost a comic figure in the Leeds goal. Thus, perhaps, the need for a long overdue revaluation of this stereotypical and inaccurate image. As for the ponderous writing, maybe we could refer Richards to the Welsh Books Council, who described the book as “something of a rarity among football books – it’s intelligently written and worth reading”. The real raison d’être of Mr Richards’ review, we suggest, comes out in his far from analytical conclusion that Leeds United under Don Revie “were indeed dirty, cheating bastards”. We believe the readers of WSC are far more objective and would recommend they read the book and come to their own judgment.
Tim Johnson and Stu Sprake, via email
Your article about Llansantffraid playing their home games in Oswestry (WSC 249) concentrated on the unusualness of a Welsh club’s home being in England. The presumption is that the current political border represents a boundary between the English and the Welsh. The reality is that the border does not faithfully delineate the limit of the westward expansion of the English into the territory of the British. Over the past 1,500 years, many boundary changes (not least by the invading French speakers of the 11th century) meant the political and linguistic borders ceased to be coincident. According to my grandfather, who was a Shropshire agricultural worker 100 years ago, Welshpool market was conducted in English while Oswestry market was conducted in Welsh, because those were the languages spoken by the farmers attending. In light of all this, it is less surprising that Oswestry should be the home of a “Welsh” club. Llansantffraid has more in common with Oswestry than Wimbledon has with Milton Keynes. Social history in a football magazine, now there’s something you don’t see every day.
David Hawkins, via email
Regarding James Lane’s imaginative take on the symbolism of lions on club badges (Letters, WSC 249), it seems obvious to a supporter of a non-lionised club, Derby County, that the Chelsea lion is simply looking back to see how far behind him his fellow lions have fallen. The Villa lion is too busy telling everyone it passes how it won a European Cup 25 years ago and really is a much bigger lion than people give it credit for, while the Boro lion looks like it’s about to palm a routine free-kick into its own net. The Millwall lion, however, appears to be more concerned with roaring at people and giving the impression it’s harder than it actually is. Of course, the England lions are reclining and looking directly at us, just as they might in the pages of OK! or Heat. The whole debate has inspired me to write to the powers-that-be at my beloved Derby County to suggest that the direction the ram is facing should indicate whether it is going to be a promotion or relegation season
Rob James, Matlock
Further to the letter in WSC 247 asking why managers feel the need to stand up and shout, I wonder when they began writing notes during games and showing tactical diagrams to substitutes as they’re about to go on? Bora Milutinovic, coach of the United States at the 1994 World Cup, was the first I recall seeing working away on a notepad during the match. But this was explained at the time by the fact that he didn’t speak fluent English and wanted to make sure he got his message across (Peter Reid could use the same excuse, of course). Now they’re all at it, holding a piece of paper under the sub’s nose as he’s about to go on, pointing to the pitch, then back to the diagram of stick men and noughts and crosses. It may be that some just write things like “get a goal plz”, but I bet that would work just as well as advice about running into channels or sitting in the hole.
Ian Beecham, via email
The article about Roman Abramovich’s interest in Israeli football in WSC 249 reminded me of the story of Peter Lorimer’s brief involvement with Judaism. Having been released by Leeds in the mid-1980s, Lorimer finished his playing career in Israel at a time when only Jewish players were allowed to play in their league – a rule that changed a few years later when there was a large influx of mostly non-Jewish players from the former Soviet Union. Lorimer apparently underwent a fairy swift conversion, complete with a new name. This would have been a major life change, you would have thought – but Lorimer soon moved back to Leeds, where he has worked as a media pundit ever since, as well joining as the club’s board. Did the religious conversion only last as long as his contract? Have any other players had to change religion for footballing purposes?
Peter Copping, via email
It’s amazing what you can learn from football. The points permutations in league tables help you hone basic maths and you can pick up knowledge about geography from international fixtures. Less obviously, football also offers a guide to cultural trends in children’s names. Specifically, there seems to be a lot of footballers from various parts of the former Yugoslavia called Elvis. All the ones I’ve noticed are in their twenties or early thirties now, which suggests that Elvis’s cultural impact in the region was mostly felt after his death in 1977 – or else the name had been prohibited previously by the Communist regime, who decided to relent in remorse after the King’s untimely passing. By way of comparison, in my extensive research on this topic on the internet over the past couple of weeks, I’ve come across hardly any footballing Elvises in western Europe or South America with just the one in the UK – Elvis Hammond of Leicester City (born in 1980). I think there may be a thesis in this if I can get the funding.
Darren Gill, via email
Peter Ryan’s memories of late Sunderland equalisers and 7-0 beatings of Newcastle at Old Trafford (Letters, WSC 249) are indeed the products of a seriously diminished memory. Peter’s gravest error is not to have missed the Mackems’ doubtlessly fortuitous leveller nor to have chronologically inverted Man Utd’s victories in the third and fourth rounds of the 1976-77 League Cup, but to have forgotten the gems scored by Micky Burns and Irving Nattrass in a deceptively narrow 7-2 defeat for Gordon Lee’s finest. Perhaps Peter should stick to shandies in future before venturing into the Theatre of Dreams.
Johnny Wright, Limours, France
From WSC 250 December 2007