Does anyone else have deep misgivings about the development of recent years that expects players to put the ball out of play whenever a team-mate or opponent is injured, rather than relying on the referee to stop the game? What could once have been construed as a sporting gesture has been ruined and abused by dishonest players feigning injury and the resulting gesturing of their team-mates, pressuring their opponents to put the ball out of play. It is easy to finger Villarreal as prime proponents of this form of cheating, but there are many other Champions League and Premiership teams who take advantage of the current understanding to break up play and unsettle their opponents. Unless a player has suffered a head or other serious injury requiring immediate treatment, then the game should be allowed to continue until the next stoppage in play. If the team-mates of an “injured” player wish to put the ball out of play so that he can leave the pitch or receive treatment, fine – but they shouldn’t expect their opponents to give them the ball straight back from the resulting throw-in. Give the control back to the referee who, in the absence of a foul, can decide whether to stop the game or let it continue, using a drop ball to restart play if necessary. There are few more irritating sights in football than a team building an attack only to be confronted by their opponents waving and gesturing towards their team-mate sitting on his backside in the other penalty area, causing play to come to an unnecessary halt.
Steve Townsend, Barton-le-Clay
Am I alone in thinking that Steve Bruce looks like a middle-aged woman? I admit that the impression is dispelled in close up when you see the old centre- half’s broken nose. From a distance away, however, his blow-dried hair and pudgy, rounded face is distinctly reminiscent of the sort of dinner lady who’d clamp down hard on anyone trying to get an extra helping of custard. Imagine him in a pinny, go on. See?
Brian Hopwood, via email
FC United of Manchester have been the second-best supported non-League team in the country during 2005-06 (only Exeter City in the Conference have drawn bigger gates). This is a great response to those who sneered that attendances would dwindle to double figures once the novelty had worn off. In fact FCUM’s crowds are on the up – 4,328 saw their January 2 match with Winsford Utd in the North West Counties League Division 2. AFC Wimbledon fans, it’s true, can look ahead realistically to league matches with MK Dons in the near future, while FCUM fans know they can’t expect to see fixtures at Old Trafford. None the less, both clubs’ success is testimony to what can be achieved by football supporters who are well organised and refuse to be taken for granted. I hope both will get wider media coverage in 2006 and that fans of other clubs beset by ownership issues will be inspired by their example.
Carl Hawkins, via email
In response to Phil Brown’s comments about shots beating goalkeepers (WSC 226), he claims that a shot can only beat a keeper if it goes in. Surely if the keeper attempts to save the shot and fails (whether or not it goes wide is irrelevant) then the shot beats the keeper. Mr Brown points out that otherwise a shot that ends up on the roof or hitting the corner flag could be said to have beaten the keeper. But would the keeper have attempted to save either of those efforts? Nope.
Giles Milton, London
When did football people first start using the expression “mullered” to describe a comprehensive defeat (“we were absolutely mullered in the second half”)? I’ve never heard anyone in the real world use this term, but a sure sign of its growing popularity among football folk is the fact that it now used often by the über football man Chris Kamara in his various Sky TV appearances. My dictionary says that a muller is “a stone used for grinding materials such as artists’ pigments”, which suggests to me that an artistically inclined manager may have introduced it into football. Could Micky Adams be a secret dauber? Is Sam Allardyce at his happiest in a smock smeared with gouache?
Simon Dundas, via email
This may be heresy, but should football fans be listened to? I’ve just seen the Birmingham v West Ham result – an away win for the Hammers taking them to ninth place in the Premiership with just over a third of their season gone. I recall the club’s fans wanting Alan Pardew sacked as manager around this time last year. Newcastle’s fans are on their usual soapbox of wanting to get rid of their manager, despite giving the latest man in the job no time in which to deliver the league, European Cup and the moon on a stick.Arsenal fans wondered who the hell Arsène Wenger was when he arrived and didn’t like it. They wanted a big name. If given the chance to say what they want, most fans of most clubs will pray for some “dream” appointment of some favourite ex-player combo – despite the fact that said combo are unable to manage their collective way out of a paper bag. How many of those have we seen come and go? Yet what do we hear every time a vacancy comes up? For goodness’ sake, I’ve even heard Kevin Keegan’s name mentioned in connection with the up-and-coming Newcastle vacancy.Chairmen might be bad – but the fans are hardly any better.
Patrick Brannigan, Hertford
I would like to commend the Daily Mail for an article on December 10 for condemning in advance the singing of anti-German songs about the Second World War at the World Cup. And just to make sure no one misunderstood the message, it helpfully printed the words of one and told you what tune to sing them to.
Peter Gutteridge, Nottingham
Jason White’s letter (WSC 227) concerning his son’s chances of breaking into professional football being thwarted by the influx of foreign imports really struck a nerve with me. The team I support, Arsenal, have been heavily criticised over the past few seasons for playing too many foreigners and not giving quality English youngsters a chance. Surely, though, if these young players are of sufficient quality then why aren’t they being snapped up in their droves by teams on the continent? European clubs must be falling over themselves in the rush to sign these young talented lads so cruelly ignored by teams over here?It’s not the case, though, is it? Please can we stop the tedious whingeing about foreign players playing here and spend our energies wondering why no one on the continent is encouraging young English players to travel in the opposite direction.
Ian F Dall, Durham
I am a Charlton Athletic season-ticket holder but recently had the opportunity to attend a match between two lesser clubs contesting some Mickey Mouse trophy – Chelsea versus Liverpool in the Champions League. We rightly decry the idiots who shout racist abuse and various sanctions have been levied across Europe for just that. Why, then, is it acceptable for Chelsea fans to chant “freak” at Peter Crouch every time he touches the ball? I propose the FA seek to impose, with immediate effect, some sort of means-tested fine, say £200 million.
Jeremy Barker, via email
It seems easy to calculate the number of “real” fans a club has by looking at the attendance figures they post (Numbers Game, WSC 227). A “real” fan is, conventionally, someone who pays to get in and participates in the spectacle by their cheering, booing or silence.But not all fans can go or do go to all matches, so the number of “real” fans is higher than the club’s average gate. Some clubs are increasing their power of calculating this number. For instance, to watch Reading as a home fan you need a membership card. In 18 months the club has issued more than 30,000 cards, while attendances average 17-18,000.As Adam Powley discusses in WSC 227, it is more difficult to estimate what we call the “virtual” fan; the man, woman or child who never appears in the stadium but watches on Sky and buys the replica kits, calendars and duvet covers. Clearly these people are of value to the clubs and their commercial partners and the bigger the number the better. Peter Kenyon claims that Chelsea’s fan base has risen 300 per cent in the past 12 months to 2.9 million. Four years ago my company worked on a major project estimating the “virtual” fan base of most UK clubs. The results of that study would bear out Kenyon’s claim, which Adam Powley thought “at best a trifle exaggerated”. Football, in a way, has become the new rock’n’roll and affections and support for major clubs can resemble the large shifts in popularity we used to see for top groups over a period of a few years. These people may, in a football purist sense, be “virtual” fans, but they are spending real money. Daniel Levy’s claim that Spurs are the fourth best supported club in the country may sound ludicrous, but is not that far short of the truth. In our study they were sixth. Manchester United and Liverpool were the clear leaders at four to five million each, Arsenal third and Spurs were not far behind Leeds and Newcastle. Just as Chelsea have risen no doubt Leeds have fallen in the last few years. On a “virtual” fan basis, London clubs did perhaps surprisingly well with West Ham and Chelsea also in the top eight places. Then again, there are many fewer clubs in the London area than its population would justify. Estimating accurately the total fan base (both “real” and “virtual”) for major clubs is neither that difficult nor that expensive and it would not be surprising to see such information published more freely in the next few years.
Roger Titford, via email
Although many Brazilian footballers are known by unusual names, either nicknames or variations on their first name, at first glance there seems to be nothing particularly odd about Couto, the midfielder with Belgian first-division club Lierse SK. Nothing, that is, until you discover that his full name is Creedence Clearwater Couto. I’ve heard of players from South America and eastern Europe whose first name is Elvis, but I’ve not come across one named after a famous rock band before. Given that there seem to be Brazilians in every European league these days, have fans in, say, Macedonia or Cyprus had a chance to make up chants about Roxy Music Oliveira or Simple Minds Da Silva? I’m sure someone will know.
Simon Cogan, via email
It is not often I am heartened by an article when its subject matter causes such acute pain, but thank you Paul Doyle (WSC 226) for helping me (and no doubt quite a few other Republic Of Ireland sufferers) to seek closure on the whole Brian Kerr fiasco. And Paul is not unreasonable in his conclusion that we deserve a coach who is up to international standard, considering our current footballing aspirations. Unlike the fair-minded Mr D, I am one of those who began shaking his head forlornly at the moment of Kerr’s appointment, subsequently making a hobby of casting dismissive glances at anyone who dared plead: “Ah, shur, give the man a chance, at least.” Bar the Republic’s exceptionally stout performance in Paris, I have managed to bask unhindered in “what-did-I-tell-ye”s. Ironically, our national sport of Gaelic Games is at present guarding with ferocity its amateur status. Yet, from local parish level to All-Ireland council it is run with a professional mindset that makes the FAI look like a blokey cigar club. The GAA county boards of Clare, Kilkenny, Meath or Cork might want to hire as manager a chap with whom they will have a rapport, but here’s the thing: he has to be damn good and get results. On the other hand, Kerr’s appointment (as Mick McCarthy’s before him did) depended almost exclusively on his ability to get on with the chronically underqualified and overpopulated FAI boardroom rather than any ambition on their part to secure the services of a manager who had a track record of coaching adult professionals at a reasonably high competitive level. Paul Doyle mentioned the matter of our abject capitulation to the Swiss in 2003, but what I remember is earlier in that group and Gary Doherty’s poxy last-minute winner against Albania in Dublin. What hurt most was looking around at my fellow countrymen cheering, when they should have been preparing a book of apology for Tirana city hall. Listening to people say “three points is three points” and “rather a lucky manager than a good manager” was enough for me to realise that we will always get the national-team coach that we deserve.
Martin Kelleher, Cork, Rep of Ireland
Reading through Cameron Carter’s TV Watch in WSC 227 I can’t have been the only one annoyed by what can only be described as a sloppy piece of research. In this article, Alan Shearer’s trousers were described as “shiny grey, like an employee of the Trumpton biscuit factory”. Please point out to Mr Carter that the biscuit factory was in Chigley, not Trumpton.
David Gorton, via email
From WSC 228 February 2006. What was happening this month