THE HALF DECENT FOOTBALL MAGAZINE

Dear WSC
Once again I feel compelled to respond to points raised by Ashley Manning in his response (WSC 226) to my earlier letter (WSC 225). Ashley is aggrieved that I am “pouring scorn” on initiatives such as family days – I am not, in my original draft I included the comment “quite rightly” in relation to the reduced entrance fees paid by the preponderance of children at Loftus Road games I attended. This comment was subsequently edited out. Ashley appears to think that I am laying sole blame for the two dismal games I witnessed (one goal, many yellows and at least one red card) at Fulham’s door. Again, this is not the case. As Ashley rightly points out, Birmingham City have not played with Brazilian flair in recent years and at present would not look out of place in the Conference. It does, however, take two to tango. I am certain that Craven Cottage is packed regularly for more attractive derby games, but I hope for all Cottagers’ sake that Fayed keeps the players interested otherwise these local derbies will be shared with QPR, or even Brentford in coming years. I can only reiterate the sentiments of my previous letter in that “there is no real malice in my choice [of Fulham as most disliked team of 2004-5], and it is in all likelihood a reflection of dislike for Momo Fayed and a lack of characters in the Premiership”. Next year I’ll be more careful where I go to get cold, wet and bored (by my own team as well as the opposition), and in any case David O’Leary’s recent antics at St Andrew’s have gone a long way to reclaiming Villa’s rightful top spot...
Ken Jones, via email

Dear WSC
I was intrigued to see Michael Ricketts feature as a Strange Case in WSC 226. What was interesting was the writer’s belief that Ricketts had suddenly rediscovered his form since arriving at Cardiff on loan, and was back to his earlier predatory best. Sadly, that is not the case. Although he has scored four times since signing, each of his goals has come in the first five minutes of a game, after which he has done very little else. Of course, it’s fine when he does score, but if he doesn’t, we get 90 minutes of the “bad old” Ricketts – doing precious little and contributing even less. It doesn’t help that we have a very small squad at present – unless he’s injured, he’s going to play – and he knows it. That said, his arrival has coincided with our recent rise up the table, so he must be doing something right. But to claim he’s returned to something like the form that led to an England call-up is a bit premature.
Andrew Turton, The Thin Blue Line

Dear WSC
Further to your report on Anti-Racism Week in WSC 226, praise should go to Kim Milton Nielsen for taking the issue seriously and dismissing Anderlecht’s Nenad Jestrovic against Liverpool in the Champions League for racially abusing Momo Sissoko.
What is so worrying was the reaction on television. Amazingly, the ITV commentators could not work out why the sending-off at Anfield occurred, indeed David Pleat insisted it was a bad decision and that Jestrovic was unlucky. Perhaps he can’t lip read, or perhaps racial abuse is just an accepted part of the game in the minds of those who should be standing up against it? There is little point in targeting fans with anti-racist campaigns if the abuse of players by others players is condoned by those equipped to speak out against it.
Gillian Hodge, Brighton

Dear WSC
Can any WSC readers shed light on a mystery that has been puzzling me for some time? A couple of years ago, in a blaze of publicity, the post of Chant Laureate was created, whereby a poet would create various rhymes and ditties aimed at improving the atmosphere at football grounds around the country. The winner was chosen by Stuart Hall and Chris Moyles, among others, representing polar opposites of the literary spectrum. If memory serves, they chose a hugely academic Birmingham City fan, who wrote a lengthy eulogy to Aston Villa – a clever tactic, but it was almost Shakespearian in its verbosity; far too pompous and highbrow for adoption by the masses. While deleting some pornography off my computer last week, I stumbled across my own entry for this competition and suddenly realised I had heard absolutely nothing whatsoever from our supposed national cheerleader since his election. Since the post was for a 12-month period, I can only assume that a contract extension was not offered, and from this I deduce that the whole Chant Laureate concept died a completely unnoticed death at some point. Not that I’m bitter or anything, but I would have been fascinated to see/hear/be vaguely aware of at least some end product of this generally laudable concept.Does anybody have any idea what became of the Chant Laureate and whether any material was ever written, or (probably less likely) heard at any matches? God knows, we could do with some help at the Riverside these days – if it wasn’t for the flatulence, you could believe you were deaf at times.
Neil Cumins, East Kilbride

Dear WSC
The editorial in WSC 226 was, like your editorials usually are, crisp, pertinent and persuasive, full of points that prompted agreement. Yes, of course, there are particularly entrenched and stereotyped views on Germany pervading the mindset of many of the British media, and yes, of course, these stereotypes are at best unhelpful in contributing to the insular and xenophobic outlooks of some England fans. But who appears in the last paragraph to undo the good work of the previous seven? None other than the likely hooligans in their “XXXL England tops”. So it’s not racism or misplaced wartime nostalgia or tabloid stirring that we need to blame. It’s fat blokes. And there was me thinking that Jonathan Woodgate’s glorious Real Madrid howler was the season’s most spectacular own goal. Next time, please, don’t undermine your laudable attack on unthinking stereotypes by so crassly lapsing into one of your own.
Andy Medhurst, via email

Dear WSC

I write in response to David Howes’ letter in WSC 226 regarding FIFA re-examining its plans to limit the number of overseas players turning out in the domestic leagues. While I understand that this will have an impact on players from “emerging” countries who ply their trade in advanced leagues (thus improving their ability), I would ask in response how this will affect young English players coming through the current academy/centre of excellence system? I have a son who is presently at an academy and, like many other kids of his age, he dreams of becoming a professional footballer. By letting the number of players coming into our leagues from other countries go unchecked, this will block the system for up-and-coming young players who will never make it to the first team. You only have to watch Sky’s Football Icon to hear Chelsea saying that if they produce one player a year from their academy they will be achieving great things – this shows just how difficult it is for anyone to make the breakthrough into professional football. This then impacts directly on our national team, as fewer and fewer talented youngsters come through the system or even play for the first team at the club they are attached to and so are denied much needed experience. I am not against players from other countries playing in England – after all, some of the most exciting players to grace the Premiership have been foreign. However, shouldn’t we as a nation be more concerned with developing an England team that can, at some time in the future, win the World Cup again? This will not happen if the system blocks talent coming through the ranks in order that we make sure Ghana, the Ivory Coast or whoever improve enough to play at a World Cup.
Jason White, via email

Dear WSC

Now that the correspondence is definitely closed on Joe Jordan’s handball vs Wales, can I now bring up the awfulness of the Dave Phillips penalty incident?
Alan Campbell, via email

*Maybe.

Dear WSC

In WSC 225 there was a review about art and football taken from the new WSC book, The Half Decent Football Book. The painting Gassed, by John Singer Sargent from the First World War, is featured. The article mentions that “some critics have claimed that the artist is making an analogy between modern warfare and sport”, and that Gassed “could be the first ever anti-football painting”. I don’t agree with this and have never seen anything “anti-football” in this painting. True, the connection between sport and modern warfare has been made, with armies facing each other like two opposing teams (if ever a war concentrated on defence then the First World War was it), but I see no “anti-ness” at all. I think that Gassed is more a comment on the enduring spirit of men under duress. The men keep playing football despite the relative closeness of the tragic line of wounded men, because they must keep their spirits up.  A more cynical interpretation of Gassed is that it is a statement about how blasé towards human suffering the war has made people become, and how unmoved the players are as they continue to play football while the line of blinded men trudges near by. An example of anti-football art (or at least that which targets the “integrity” of football players) can be seen in a Punch cartoon from October 21, 1914. Titled The Greater Game, it shows Mr Punch in a stadium standing by a footballer who is holding a ball. Mr Punch is holding a newspaper (on which is printed “Hard fighting at the front”) and looking sternly at the footballer who gazes pensively in the distance. The caption reads: “Mr Punch (to Professional Association Player), ‘No doubt you can make money in this field, my friend, but there’s only one field to-day where you can get honour’.” Underneath this caption, in brackets is the following: “(The Council of the Football Association apparently proposes to carry out the full programme of the Cup Competition, just as if the country did not need the services of all its athletes for the serious business of War.)” What these examples illustrate is how important football had become by the early 20th century, and how useful as a symbol, or as a propaganda statement.
Stacy Chambless, via email

Dear WSC
Further to the diary entry for October 29 in WSC 226 – I thought I had watched Southend United extend their lead at the top of Division Three (sorry, League One) through a hat-trick from Freddy Eastwood at Bristol City that day. Still, I don’t suppose this is as newsworthy as Mr Trundle’s merchandising deal. Sorry to be pedantic, but it’s a long time since the Shrimpers have been top of Division Three (oops, there I go again).
Richard Cunningham, Devoran

Dear WSC

Here are a couple of contributions to your “phrases that should be banned” thread. Any variation on “Team A have to press forward so they may leave gaps at the back” – yes, we understand that. And “The back of the net” – the net is the net. The goal has a back, but the net doesn’t.
David Hood, Bewdley

Dear WSC
I think the main problem with standing at football grounds (Stand To Reason, WSC 226) is the lack of consistency applied by stewards and the police. If it is to be permitted then it should be permitted across the whole ground. As a Bedfordshire-based Stockport County part owner (I have my £1 share!), I have been to watch them play at Luton, frequently obtaining tickets for the away end. All visiting fans know how disgraceful the Oak Road stand is and, to be fair to them, so do the club, hence their efforts to move to a new ground. The biggest problem is that the seat reach is so short that anyone over 5ft 5in needs to be double-jointed. The need to regain circulation forces one to stand, at which time stewards leap forward to make you sit again. All well and good if the fans over to the corner of the main stand, on our right, weren’t standing unchecked, screaming abuse at us and being ignored by the home stewards.
Lawrence G Cross, via email

Dear WSC

Could somebody explain why TV always gets it wrong whenever football features in a drama show? Some years ago STV made a programme about a fictitious Glasgow United, for whom Tommy Docherty played a very timid manager! The football sequences were filmed at Partick Thistle’s Firhill and included a training session where both teams wore full strips and there was a referee and linesmen, also in full kit. A recent episode of Heartbeat (I was bedridden and couldn’t reach the remote) featured a football match and everything about it was crap. To start with, the training sessions were carried out in full strip, then in the match itself a penalty was given for a perfectly good tackle. Come to think of it, that bit was quite realistic. The crowning glory came when our hero took the spot-kick. Every other outfield player lined up along the edge of the penalty area – didn’t they have the D in those days? – and when he scored both sides applauded... If ITV want a consultant, then I am available.
Tim Manns, Compton Dundon

Dear WSC

I write regarding Season in Brief, 1888-89, in WSC 225. You show “Accrington S” in your league table. Not so. The founder members of the League were Accrington FC (“th’ Owd Reds”). Please may I have my gold medal for pedantry?
Glyn Berrington, Brierley Hill.

From WSC 227 January 2006. What was happening this month

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