I’m surprised that your editorial on Premiership managers working with tight budgets (WSC 208) failed to give a nod to Sam Allardyce, a man whose middle name really ought to be Prudence. The dismissive media shorthand is that Bolton play with a “band of foreign mercenaries”. The truth is that, under Allardyce, we’ve been hoping for the best while budgeting for the worst: signing out-of-contract players on short-term contracts so that all but the most basic monetary commitments could be jettisoned in the event of relegation. Sam’s realism has not just prevented financial overstretch, it’s revived the careers of malcontent players, brought sexy football to Lancashire and given us our best run in over 40 years. Yes, Megson and Curbishley deserve applause, but so too does Big Sam. Credit please.
Caleb Smith, via email
OK, I give up. For the past two or three years every time a Champions League game has turned up on ITV, I have tried to work out what the words are of the operatic-sounding theme song that both introduces it and permeates every break. I know it must be something to do with sponsorship because the crescendo with which it ends is unmistakably the word “lasagne”, but is it something to do with a particular brand of lasagne, or a particular flavour, or is it just that there is somewhere a Lasagne Marketing Association whose object is simply to extol the virtues of all forms of lasagne? Can you or your other readers please enlighten me?
Mick Blakeman, via email
Al Needham states in his piece on Big Ron (WSC 208) that “no one bats an eyelid when a black player manages to play 90 minutes in Grimsby on a Wednesday night in January”. Given the Mariners play their midweek fixtures on a Tuesday, and seem to have going back to the 1920s according to the quick Excel spreadsheet I have cobbled together, I would bat an eyelid if I saw any players, (in) black and white, giving it all for the duration of a game on a Wednesday night. Of course, if Al has observed something in the past few seasons that backs up this claim maybe he could share it with us. It could have contributed to some of the jaded performances that have seen Town succumb to two desperate back-to-back relegations.
Simon Wilson, Rodley
It was a shame Al Needham had to spoil an otherwise balanced article on Ron Atkinson’s racist language (WSC 208) with a little bigotry of his own: against that most put-upon of minorities, Guardian readers. Al blithely states that we are all poncey middle-class newcomers to the game who doubtless watch the match on TV and glean some kind of voyeuristic pleasure from working-class “characters” such as Big Ron.Surely Al realises that, woolly-minded liberal supporters of any underdog going that we undoubtedly all are, Guardian readers are actually the sort of people who have been turning up week in, week out, whatever the weather or results, to support our benighted local teams all these years while the readers of Mr Murdoch’s papers (including that bastion of anti-racism, the Sun) are the ones sitting slack-jawed in front of yet another Premiership highlights show. Al: I’ve been a Guardian reader for 15 years and a Wycombe Wanderers supporter for 25. I’ve never held a conversation around a water cooler or had the slightest interest in car adverts. Sorry if I don’t fit your comfortably narrow world view. I guess we’re all individuals after all.
Ronan Munro, Kidlington
Did you know that the Premiership isn’t just thinking of following rugby and cricket’s example by using a video ref? They are already doing it, judging by events at Leicester v Portsmouth on May 8. Technology came into its own when Shaka Hislop had to deal with a high bouncing back pass that was hurtling across his area. He stretched to retrieve it on its way out of the left-hand side of his area, at about shoulder height. The assistant referee must have quickly buzzed up to his mate in the stands with the bank of monitors, who checked whether the ball had gone out of the area with Shaka grimly hanging on to it. The infringement confirmed, the assistant flagged to Graham Poll, the free-kick was given, and a booking administered to Hislop. There was no way, of course, that the assistant could have given the decision on his own, with him being stationed level with play on his touchline, 15 yards away from the parallel line of the penalty area. To see that the ball was definitely outside that line you would need to be in line with it. It’s physically impossible to be sure that a ball is inside, on, or outside a line when stood parallel with it, 15 yards away, isn’t it? So, it stands to reason then – video refs are with us already. That’s the only explanation. A professional assistant referee wouldn’t just guess and favour the home team, would they? Also, I have a great idea for a feature – “Goals I have prevented”, written by the screaming woman at Highbury whose voice smashes glasses all over the world whenever an opposition player draws their foot back to shoot.
Tim James, via email
So it’s play-off time again. And another opportunity for the Football League to go its own way, with its quirky rules for settling tied games. FIFA have themselves come up with all kinds of weird and wonderful solutions in the past (mostly weird), but the one solution that almost everyone accepts in world football is the away goals rule. I seem to recall the League adopting this when play-offs were first tried, but only after extra time. Then they dropped the idea altogether. And this year, not for the first time, a team that would have qualified on away goals – Sunderland – are eliminated in a shoot-out instead. A much better solution? I don’t think so. I’m just surprised that so little was made of this after the Palace v Sunderland second leg. Or am I alone in my opinion?
Glyn Davies, Lancaster
Further to the article and letters about football and rap, I notice that the recent backlash against our own David Beckham has already spread to the US hip hop community. As Al Needham noted back in WSC 204, Jay-Z’s last album included the lyric “I kick game just like David Beckham”. In a significant change of tone the current single from Jay-Z’s new album contains the repeated chorus: “If you’re having girl problems/I feel bad for you son/ I got 99 problems but a bitch ain’t one.” Presumably Mr Z is no longer returning David’s text messages, either. It just goes to show how quickly these showbiz friends will turn against you.
Ken Harrison, via email
The play-off weekend in Cardiff was a fantastic experience, as usual: plenty of bars and decent eateries; police and stewards who know their job and did it well; bouncers who know how to deal with football fans and who have respect from the local constabulary; no extortionate prices. Unusually, I heard a fair n umber of complaints. They were all on the same topic. Next year will see the last Cardiff play-off weekend. From 2006, the season’s finale will be back at Wembley. Is there a single fan in the country who’s pleased at that prospect? If the FA want to move England back to the hellhole in north-west London, that’s fine by me – but surely the rest of us don’t have to put up with the Wembley nightmare should our club reach a play-off final? We can stop it. Write to your club; write to the Football League; write to your MP. Of course, we won’t do it. We’re football fans – we can’t be arsed.
Steve Lavery, Stanmore
From WSC 209 July 2004. What was happening this month