The Scotland supporters who found themselves under attack by a group of Ukraine fans on the evening prior to the recent Euro 2008 qualifier in Kiev have been praised for not retaliating but dispersing in as orderly a way as possible to avoid any escalation of the incident. Some Scots weren’t that lucky, however, about a dozen requiring hospital treatment for cuts, bruises and broken bones after the unprovoked assault by around 100 young Ukrainians in the city’s Independence Square. During the last 15 years or so, the self-styled Tartan Army has become legendary the world over for its self-deprecating humour and ability to make friends even in the most hostile of environments, as well as for swelling the coffers of local bar owners while simultaneously emptying towns and cities of supplies of beer and spirits. But in the wake of the Kiev incident, a small number of Scotland fans started to question whether being the touchy-feely, super furry animals of world football may have its downside. Indeed, it provoked an almost philosophical debate amongst Scotland fans on the streets of Kiev and later on internet forums; what would you do if we were attacked? Most who took part in this impromptu debate quite rightly condemned all violence and pointed out that Scotland fans’ hard-won reputation was at risk by even raising the spectre of the Tartan Army fighting back. A small minority put forward the thesis that Scotland have become too nice and that this translates – both on and off the field – as a soft touch. This in turn could invite trouble from determined hooligans who would attack safe in the knowledge that the Scots were unlikely to fight back. It’s unlikely, however, that this isolated event – even more shocking because it was just that – will give rise to a surge of disorder among Scots fans. Our sense of humour is unique (I still almost die laughing every time I hear people from Scotland complaining about terrible food on away trips) and can usually be relied on to defuse the odd potentially incendiary moment.In any case, which member of the Tartan Army is seriously going to risk not being able to attend the next World Cup we qualify for? (In the words of BA Robertson’s 1982 Scotland World Cup song, I Have a Dream.)
Colin McPherson, via email
I was delighted to hear the excellent Jimmy Armfield draw attention to an overlooked element of traditional football rivalry, while commentating on the Man Utd v Liverpool game for Radio Five, when he announced it was a rivalry “between two sets of fans, two cities and two airports”. With the 21st century expansion of budget air travel Jimmy is spot on here and has opened up a whole new concept – the Airport Derby.Previously mundane Premiership fixtures like Middlesbrough (Durham Tees Valley Airport) v Aston Villa (Birmingham International) would have added spice as the two teams battled it out. For what its worth, Boro are very much the underdogs here with their airport having a lot of catching-up to do; the hire-car reception desks are a considerable hike from the car park and the duty free shop is perfunctory at best, while the tarmac on the main runway hasn’t been resurfaced in years.And of course February 20, 2007, will be a special day for Jimmy’s very own Blackpool (Blackpool International – yes, International, would you believe) as they’ll be well up for it when Nottingham Forest (East Midlands) arrive at Bloomfield Road. Ryanair and Easyjet have a lot to answer for.
Johnny Phillips, Liverpool
Continuing the vexed issue of initials on the back of football shirts, as raised by Matthew Rudd (WSC 237), Aston Villa striker Luke Moore still sports “MOORE.L” on the reverse of his kit, even though brother Stefan departed to QPR in June 2005. Despite his many successes at Villa Park so far, unfortunately Martin O’Neill has yet to put a stop to this nonsense.
Dave Aust, Birmingham
After England’s defeat in Croatia, I am sure that much is going to be debated about the use of tactics, players, the wisdom of sticking to an alien formation even when your left-back/wing-back can barely run because of an ankle injury, etc. But perhaps we should also look at why the England manager should choose as his assistant a man who has no experience of managing the national team in competitive matches away from home.
James Castle, via email
Having witnessed yet another game decided by a free-kick that shouldn’t have been, I have come up with a radical solution to eradicate diving from the game. All debatable decisions will be looked at by an independent panel. If they decide a player dived, the game is automatically replayed with all expenses, including travelling for fans going to both games, charged to his club. The player in question must be named in the starting XI for the replay and carded before the game can start, with a further four-match suspension. If the result is already decided, then the player just receives a five-match ban and the goal is disallowed. For example, the opening goal in a 3-0 coming from a dive would result in a replay, but if it was only the third goal, then the result would just be amended to 2-0. I will admit that, at first, there would be a fixture backlog. But give it a few months and very few players would risk trying to con the referee and the only long-term significance would be Cristiano Ronaldo’s value plummeting. Drastic, I know, but nothing else seems to be working.
Simon Thorpe, Ipswich
Harry Redknapp, Sam Allardyce and Sir Alex Ferguson have all stopped talking to the BBC sports department because they didn’t like what was said about them in investigative programmes broadcast by the Beeb. So could someone please commission a show that is in some way critical of Neil Warnock so that he stops giving interviews too? Something about his post-football career as a chiropodist will do, even if it’s only an OAP complaining about a misdiagnosed ingrown toenail. It can be anything, really, just as long as it has the effect of putting him off appearing in front of the cameras. Even if Sheffield Utd go down this year, he’s going to get at least another six months of opportunities to whine, bleat and carp on national television in that unique, needling manner (“Heh, we don’t get penalties, us”; “Heh, I’ll be banned now, me...”) and I don’t think that we, as a nation, deserve to subjected to it any longer. Could Donal McIntyre go undercover as the Warnock’s home-help and produce a searing exposé of the grime under their sink? Perhaps the latest camp makeover presenter could subject Neil’s taste in clothes to such a devastating critique that he’s bundled out of the house by the scruff of the neck? Someone, please, do something.
Colin Kennedy, via email
So, a FIFA report has found that more than half the players who “required treatment” during games in the Germany World Cup were not, in fact, injured at all. Many of them lay prone to get the game stopped to their team’s advantage. Who’d have thought, eh?What I find remarkable is that there has barely been a mention of what is, in my opinion, the most logical solution. That being, if a player remains horizontal the physio is allowed on and – wait for it, this is the good bit – play continues, thus removing the main reason for their injury-feigning skulduggery. The only problem would be if player and physio are causing an obstruction (let’s face it, Newcastle’s rotund sponge-man Derek Wright could block the sun, never mind a goalmouth). However, this is only likely to be an issue if the player is prostrate in the penalty area. In these cases, or if the injured party is clearly in a David Busst-esque state of disrepair, the referee can use his discretion (I stop short of using the phrase “common sense” for obvious reasons) to halt proceedings. If the referee then decides that the player for whom he stopped the game was feigning injury he can show a yellow card, in the same way he can book a player he suspects of diving. Next month I shall be discussing FIFA’s latest findings that bears crap in the woods.
Andrew Rayne, via email
In an attempt to make the England v Macedonia match slightly more bearable, I turned the commentary down and listened to my local music radio station. They were playing Dire Straits and, before I knew it, I was off on a stream of consciousness that took me back to an old joke about Mark Knopfler being replaced by Chris Rea. The punchline being that they named the new group Dire Rea. I then started to wonder whether the same gag would work in a football context if you tried to merge the names of two teams. The best I could come up with was Arsenal and Preston North End. It may not be the best joke in the world, but Arse End certainly summed up the match I was watching.
Tim Manns, Southampton
When did Arsenal players stop dabbing ointment on the front of their shirts? For a few years they had obviously been told that the Vicks or whatever it was would help their breathing as they scurried around making passing triangles and chasing after Thierry when he’d scored. But it’s been abandoned now, although some lower-league players have since picked up the idea (just recently I saw a substitute in a Championship match daubing the front of his shirt with something from a jar before running on). Eventually, there will be just the one player left doing it, in the same way that Robbie Fowler gamely persevered with the plastic nose clip for a while after it had fallen out of general favour. Robbie evidently took the view that what he did with his nose was entirely his business, and quite right too.
Al Webster, via email
Speaking as a Birmingham City fan and frequent visitor to London, I think I may have identified a previously unknown piece of rhyming slang. Blaming bad results on poor referees, poor luck, injuries to injury-prone players, changing line-ups, lack of player-discipline etc shall henceforth be known as making “a Steve Bruce”.
Ken Jones, via email
A lot was made in the tabloid press before England’s Euro 2008 qualifier in Zagreb of the Croatia fans forming a “human swastika” during a friendly against Italy in June. Am I the only person to find a human swastika a bit of a contradiction in terms? Usually the forming of human chains, human peace symbols etc is reserved for more touchy-feely kind of activities. “We are one, we are united, we believe in brutal fascist repression” is certainly an unusual kind of message. Two possibilities: either the whole thing was an accident, a hundred or so blokes in caps standing in a purely coincidental humanitarian emblem of jackbooted totalitarianism; or people who get excited about swastikas aren’t very bright.
Chris Gayle, via email
I can sympathise with Gavin Duenas’s wish for a song that would persuade his fellow Derby County supporters to sit down while expressing their contempt for Nottingham Forest (WSC 237). At Sunderland even the catchy “Sit Doon if You Hate the Toon” has had limited success, though at least it gives us another chance to ridicule their accent.
Joan Dawson, Gateshead
My earliest football memories are stories about the game and its legendary players rather than matches watched, so it’s not surprising that I read the article on Charles Buchan in WSC 237 with great interest. One of my favourite storytellers was Ray Sonin. In the 1960s he had a Saturday afternoon radio show in Toronto, Calling All Britons. Most of what he did was corny, the sort of thing only my grandmother could enjoy, but when he got to the football results, I was transfixed. He’d start at the top of Division One in England and not stop, or even pause for breath, until he read the last result from Scotland. He had a knack for making the places and teams sound so exotic, as if Disneyland was really just a pale imitation of Wolverhampton. I’ll never forget it.
RA Paterson, Victoria, Canada
From WSC 238 December 2006. What was happening this month