Dear WSC
In Nigel Harris’s excellent Fools Gold (WSC 241), he mentions that South Wales Police officers are approachable and highly regarded. This got me thinking about when Cardiff City were the visitors to Preston a couple of seasons back. As my friends and I were sat drinking in our usual pre-match pub, a jolly officer from the aforementioned constabulary approached us and informed us that they would be letting a group of Cardiff City “fans” into the pub and that we should drink up and leave or they wouldn’t be responsible for the consequences. The SWP officers then proceeded to welcome these fans into the establishment and chuckled along as they went round taunting everyone else in the bar with racist anti-English insults. Though I agree that no set of supporters should ever be banned from seeing their team, Cardiff City’s cause is not helped when the body employed to control their unruly fans’ behaviour is seen very much to encourage what they do. South Wales Police may be “highly regarded”, but not in Preston.
Bobby Dilworth, via email

Dear WSC
Gavin Duenas is absolutely right to assert that football shouldn’t be forcing itself on any nation (Letters, WSC 241). But the distress he imagines might come about “if the USA took charge of FIFA” is lost on me. “Franchising”? No doubt he’s heard of MK Dons. “Media soap opera”? A phrase commonly associated with national-team managers and World Cups. “Rampant capitalism and commercialism?” Hmm, it’s the rest of the world that puts names of corporations on playing strips, the rest of the world that surrounds the playing field with advertising hoardings (some of which, I see, are now even animated and give me headaches). So what is there to fear? Megaloman­iac club owners? Outrageous ticket prices? Kick-off times to suit television? Pumped-up PA announcers? Perhaps Gavin could write in again and let us know.
Glenn Lauffer, via email

Dear WSC
It was heartening to see Al Needham taking the opportunity for a fine piece of cultural cross-referencing by bringing up Porridge in his account of a recent visit to Leeds (Match of the Month, WSC 241). However, I should like to point out that, although he was the Elland Road turf digger, Nasty Norris was neither ginger nor a pill pusher – I think Al has confused his character with that of ’Orrible ’Arris. Incidentally, the latter was played by Ronald Lacey, who also portrayed Likely Lad Terry Collier’s brother-in-law in the series that included “No Hiding Place”, the greatest football-related sitcom episode of them all.
Richard Nash, via email

Dear WSC

Lee Sharpe is advertising a hair-loss product at the moment (“Worried about thinning hair? I was until I discovered...”) in which he is captioned as a “footballer, TV presenter and star of Celebrity Love Island”. At some point soon, his post-football career will become the thing he’s famous for and “footballer” will slide down his resumé behind the reality-show stuff. Lee seems intent on keeping himself in the limelight, but his partial reinvention made me wonder which players of the Premiership era have slipped the furthest from national prominence. Jason McAteer is the one who springs immediately to mind – from advertising shampoo and lager on TV (not at the same time) during the “Spice Boys” era to winding down his career at Tranmere. But at least he is still in football in his mid-thirties. Are there other celebrity footballers of recent times who have disappeared from public view completely? What, for instance, has happened to former football pundit John Scales?
Graham Kaye, via email

Dear WSC

Motty at England v Spain. “Just in case you’re wondering why none of the Spaniards were singing there, it’s one of the few national anthems in the world without any words.” Priceless...
Glyn Berrington, via email

Dear WSC

David Senior’s quest for the most unpopular celebrity at a football match (Letters, WSC 241) also took me back to the Eighties. While I can appreciate that Ted Rogers would have rightly had a fairly unpleasant welcome from Chelsea fans, I can better it. West Brom v Liverpool 1986, and who should wander on to the pitch for a pre-match smile and wave at the lovely ­working‑class people than the Secretary of State for Employment, Norman Fowler MP. I was in the Liverpool end that day and I think it’s fair to say that a lot of people got an awful lot off their chests. I watched the colour drain from Fowler’s face as he scuttled from the pitch, seemingly on the brink of tears. At the time we all wondered who could have dreamt up such a thoughtless publicity stunt. But, with 20 years of hindsight, can I say to whoever it was: “Thanks – it was great.”
Mark Folan, via email

Dear WSC

The recent fuss over the China Under‑23 team’s prolonged punch-up with QPR set me thinking of an earlier trip to the UK by a Chinese side. A match with West Brom in the summer of 1979 was broadcast in its entirety on the BBC in the days when very little live football was allowed to be shown. This was part of a reciprocal visit by the Chinese, West Brom having played in Beijing earlier in the year when they were filmed for a documentary also shown by the Beeb. The most famous moment of that trip, as recorded in various books of football quotations, was when Albion midfielder John Trewick declined to join a sightseeing trip to the Great Wall of China, saying: “Seen one wall, seen ’em all.” But I can also recall to this day Ron Atkinson’s pained cries from the dugout of “Give it to Bomber, give it to Bomber!” – a plea to pass the ball to permed veteran Tony Brown as his side surged forward. As this was the first ever trip to China by a UK football team, I’d like think that this expression and others like it were solemnly noted down and entered the glossary of Chinese footballing terms. So the commotion in the QPR match this year might have been triggered by Chinese coaching staff on the sidelines offering observations like “I fancy the big lad from here” and “he couldn’t head a bus queue”.
John Dolineux, via email

Dear WSC

While watching a recent Liverpool game, I was reminded of Jermaine Pennant’s stats last year for Brum. He put in the most crosses, but had the fewest number of assists, which suggests he was just mindlessly lumping balls into the area with little or no result. I started to wonder what would happen if the expectations placed on some players were transferred to others. Glenn Hoddle once claimed Andy Cole needed five chances with which to score. But how many strikers have a strike rate as good as that? Bernardo Corradi, Emile Heskey and Kevin Lisbie all prove a near non-existent strike rate doesn’t ­represent career-ending failure. Imagine if that ratio was applied to all positions. If managers were happy that their shot stoppers only saved one in five shots, Massimo Taibi might still be at Man Utd. If it was OK that a defender only successfully marked his man 20 per cent of the time, Titus Bramble and Christian Dailly could be regarded as top-notch defenders. If midfielders only successfully tackled 20 per cent of the time... no, hold on, that’s Paul Scholes, isn’t it?
Andrew Hailstone, Bangkok

Dear WSC

I feel that Bolton have managed to plumb new depths this season. Not in their shots-on-goal-to-points ratio, although I find their elevated league position inexplicable given the meagre number of goal efforts they manage per game. Nor is it Sam Allardyce’s new wardrobe, as thankfully we have been largely spared his unique fashion sense due to his self-imposed exile from interviews with the BBC. Their area of innovation is within the realm of the nauseating US tradition of musically prompting “spontaneous” goal celebrations from the crowd. Bolton not only feel the need to play the James Brown classic I Feel Good each time they score, but have also roped in someone to run along the touchline carrying an unfeasibly large flag emblazoned with the song’s title, just in case anyone was unsure of the words. Incidentally, continuing with this tradition at the December 30 home match against Portsmouth, less than a week after the sad demise of the Godfather of Soul, may have been in even worse taste than some of Sam’s shirts, especially given the sentiments of the lyrics.
Steve Whitehead, via email

Dear WSC

The FC United article in WSC 241 was thought-provoking, but I have to take issue with a few points. Yes, the average crowd is down a little from 2005‑06, but that fails to take into account the fact that there have been more midweek games than last season, and also that last year’s average home attendance was boosted by a 6,000 crowd on the final day. I would say the figures have ­flattened out to a realistic average. I was more than concerned with the mention of a “hooligan” problem. Of course there will incidents when crowds of 1,000-1,500 people converge on one area, but on the whole the incidents, most of which have involved people with no connection to FC United, have been minor. Some see MUFC top of the league and say that the fight against the Glazers has failed and that as a result FC United have failed. This is too simplistic a viewpoint. The Glazer takeover was simply the final straw for many, who were tired of attending overpriced matches, being treated like a customer as opposed to a fan and seeing big clubs ignoring their local communities in favour of chasing Far Eastern or US cash. FC United offer football at affordable prices, aimed at bringing children into watching live football away from the glitz of Sky. Also remember the club is owned and run by the members on a one member, one vote basis under Industrial and Provident Society rules. This may or may not be the way forward for football in the future, but trust me, around 2,500 people are having fun finding out.
Steven Wood, via email

Dear WSC

Although as a Sunderland fan I can’t explain Keith Webster’s shoe-waving experience at St James’ Park (Letters, WSC 241), I may be able to shed some light on the mystery. For the past few Tyne-Wear derbies, it has become traditional for our witty black-and-white neighbours to brandish bunches of keys in our direction at every available opportunity. That’s right, keys. This apparently refers to the Wearside habit of pronouncing “whose” as “whees”; repeating the phrase “whees keys are these?” is considered cutting-edge satire on Tyneside. Leaving aside the fact that the people offering this comment on local dialect are unable to pronounce the word “town” correctly, surely they could come up with much more wounding insults considering the Premiership performances of Sunderland AFC over the past few years? Then again, these are the people who have put up with Freddie Shepherd for God knows how long; this must have some effect on your sense of perspective. I suggest Keith Webster carries out an in-depth investigation into Coventry dialects, with particular reference to any words rhyming with “shoes”. You never know.
Adrian Finn, via email

Dear WSC

I enjoyed the recent article about Venezuelan football (Letter From, WSC 241), although it neglects to mention the striker Fernando de Ornelas, who plied his trade (ahem) in the UK at Crystal Palace, Celtic and my team, QPR. His one home game for the Rs was particularly memorable, coming on against Oldham in the 82nd minute and getting booked for his troubles barely a minute later. Not sure if this is a record for the fastest booking by a QPR player – I’m sure Mark Dennis, Karl Ready, Rufus Brevett and the like might have something to say about it.
Paul Frangi, via email

Dear WSC

While watching Man Utd v Portsmouth in the FA Cup fourth round, I noticed Gary Neville had his initial on the back of his shirt (see Letters, WSC 237 etc), whereas all the other players’ shirts just sported their surnames. This is despite the fact his brother left Old Trafford some time ago. A scan around the pitch confirmed players such as Ferdinand and Cole had no initial, so the fact there is a Neville elsewhere in the Premiership cannot be the reason for Gary’s ­extravagance. This raises two possibilities – either his name is actually spelt Gneville and the G is silent (like gnocchi), or there is another Neville at Old Trafford who Fergie is waiting to unleash in the event of a close run-in to the season.
Neil Burkett, Kettering

Dear WSC

I would like to thank a couple of Premiership managers for helping to promote the memory of certain popular culture figures of yesteryear. Interviewed on Sky after his team’s draw with Portsmouth in mid January, Neil Warnock was exasperated by his side’s “Wacky Races defending”. Talking to the BBC minutes later, however, he changed this to “Comedy Bandbox defending”, evidently feeling that he needed to adapt the reference for a different, presumably older, audience.  When Comedy Bandbox was taken off the air in the 1960s, Neil would have been at school, no doubt already bridling with fury at the inconsistent ­decision-making of those in charge. Meanwhile, music-hall aficionados will have been delighted to hear Paul Jewell complain of Wigan having conceded “Fred Karno goals” during their 4‑0 defeat at Chelsea. The aforementioned Mr Karno, an acrobat-turned-entrepreneur whose travelling comedy shows helped make stars out of Charlie Chaplin and Stan Laurel, has been dead for nearly 70 years, but his name is alive in the mind of one stout, rubicund Liverpudlian. I assume Paul Jewell was being figurative and that Fitz Hall and co did not, in fact, perform perfectly timed double-takes and pratfalls while the goals were flying in.
Rob Tunstead, via email

Dear WSC

It was refreshing to hear someone, namely Phil Ball, say something pleasant about David Beckham for once (Farewell Madrid, WSC 241).Rather than throw a fit, as countless others have done, after falling foul of their manager, Beckham stayed focused and quiet, and eventually won his place back. Most of today’s ­high‑earners would have thrown their toys out of the playpen. As for going to America, I think he made a good choice. Who in his right mind would return to a place where half the male population over the age of ten is prone to slag him and his family off the minute they set foot outside their front door? Britain is a country, unfortunately, where some people still consider it clever and somehow patriotic to boo certain individuals for errors, perceived or real, committed more than eight months ago. After the first month, the tirade against Cristiano Ronaldo simply became tedious and juvenile. If I had Beckham’s skill and money, I’d go to America too, if for no more reason than to give my ­family a bit of peace and quiet.
Nick Archer, via email

Dear WSC

Having attended the Millwall v Man City game at The Den in the “old” Second Division, I read Matthew Little’s letter (WSC 241) with some interest. I would be keen to borrow his highlights video to see if it includes the pitch invasion after Millwall scored, in which Nicky Weaver was punched; the pitch invasion when the home fans thought a second goal had been scored (disallowed for offside); the racist chanting through the game, the racist abuse at and spitting on our (black) full-backs as they took throw ins; and the running battle in the streets afterwards between local police and the home fans, the away fans having been locked in for their own safety. Maybe it does, maybe it doesn’t. None of this is to say that Millwall haven’t made great strides forwards since then, but Shaun Goater is not commenting on today, but on then, and as a first-hand observer (or “f%$&ing northern monkey”, as I recall) that is what it was like.
Alex Sargent, via email

Dear WSC

At the beginning of February, a friend and I attended the England v Poland Under-19s match at Bournemouth’s Fitness First stadium. I am pleased to say that England recorded a resounding 4-1 victory, the game was played in the right spirit and altogether was a great advertisement for youth football. I am, however, unhappy to report a number of crowd disturbances that took part during the half-time interval. An unidentified man managed to get on to the pitch, where he incited large sections of the crowd to participate in the Mexican wave. A ghastlier sight I haven’t seen at a match in years. While I am fully in support of concessional tickets for children (and there were many present), do we have to pander to the perception that kids won’t enjoy themselves at football unless organised idiocy is on the menu? Surely a good game is enough? And if we are to be subjected to half-time “entertainment”, what’s wrong with the usual mascots/dizzy men/young children taking penalties? Or the way Exeter City made schoolboys run around the pitch for a copy of Championship Manager? In fact, the best half-time entertainment I saw was at Exeter, when the Royal Marines unarmed combat display team beat seven bells out of each other – far better than the actual game.
Alex Callaghan, via email

From WSC 242 April 2007. What was happening this month

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