THE HALF DECENT FOOTBALL MAGAZINE

Dear WSC
Dave Boyle’s article Count Me Out (WSC 207) prompted me to finally come clean about my rather bizarre obsession with shirt numbers. While players wearing 77 seems rather farcical, what gets my goat are squad numbers that bear no relation to the owner’s position. Why does Mark­us Babbel wear No 11 even though he’s a defender? What is Liverpool striker Milan Baros doing wearing No 5? Even during a game of Championship Man­ager I can’t get away from it: the other day I discovered that Barcelona had signed Alessandro Nesta and given him No 1. Unbelievable. But what I really need to get off my chest is a somewhat strange habit of mine. For some reason I can’t walk past a replica shirt-wearer in the high street without running round to see whether they have a name and number on the back. I’ve been doing this for quite a while now, so you can imagine my delight when my wife picked up the habit too. We now have a rudimentary scoring system, whereby teams receive one point for a fan wearing a “plain” shirt and two for someone with a named and numbered-up top. I was hoping that someone might come forward and reassure me that I’m not the only one out there looking at supporters’ backs, but I’ll understand if you all want to remain anonymous about it.
Joe Newman, Brighton

Dear WSC
Can you please stop referring to Pete Winkelman (Asda’s front man at Franchise FC) as a “music promoter”, as you did twice in WSC 207? As part of the live music industry I will freely admit that we have more than our fair share of shysters, liars and conmen, but no one who would stoop quite so low as to carry out Winkelman’s actions of the past few years. In my dealings with him he dabbled in recording studios, record labels and management. To my knowledge all of these endeavours were about as successful as Franchise FC’s imitation of a football team this season. Perhaps he thinks by calling himself a “music promoter” people will assume he can attract major concerts to the MK stadium if it ever gets built. Milli Vanilli would seem to be the obvious choice.
Scott Thomas,Wimbledon (a Cardiff fan)

Dear WSC
Any article about shirt numbers (WSC 207) would not be complete without a mention of Watford’s Steve Palmer who, by starting at Nos 1 and 9 in the last two games of 1997-98, completed a full house of wearing 1 to 14 in one season. He was only in goal for about 30 seconds before swapping places with Alec Chamberlain (wearing No 4). Jason Lee gave up his No 9 shirt for the last game of the season at Fulham; No 4 was obviously lucky for Jason as he scored the goal that won the Division Two championship.
Andrew Chappell, Watford

Dear WSC
At half-time in the Man Utd v Arsenal FA Cup semi-final, Gary Lineker and BBC pundits pondered whether the build-up to one United free-kicks was really just an innocent mistake or actually a cynical ploy. It involved Ryan Giggs and Paul Scholes “accidentally” running into each other, thus confusing the Arsenal defence, before Scholes retained his composure remarkably quickly and whipped in one of the most dangerous balls of the match. In my opinion, the 1983 European Cup-Winners Cup, a defining win in Alex Ferguson’s career, gives the answer to whether or not this was staged. In the quarter-final second leg against Bayern Munich, with 13 minutes to go, Fergie’s Aberdeen team were 2-1 down at home on the night – and on aggregate – and what followed was a carbon copy of what Scholes and Giggs tried against Arsenal. Gordon Strachan and John McMaster collided while going to take a free-kick. Their deliberate trick disorientated Bayern, Strachan cunningly played in the cross and an unmarked Alex McLeish headed home the equaliser. A minute later, Aberdeen went on to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat and proceeded towards that famous victory over Real Madrid in the final. So there you go, Gary. Alex and pals aren’t so innocent after all.
Arindam Rej, Hull

Dear WSC
Further to Jon Driscoll’s article in WSC 207, I feel I know the reason for the increase in annoying DJs at football: the mobile phone. Gone are the days when the announ-cer could keep busy reading out requests for dads to meet their sons at Gate Z. Now we’re all on the end of a phone wherever we are, these people now have to write their own scripts. Lead-encased football grounds are clearly the answer.
Darren Fletcher, Peterborough

Dear WSC
I would have had more sympathy with Jon Driscoll’s tirade against intrusive stadium DJs (WSC 207) were it not for the fact that his own club, Middlesbrough, are one of the key perpetrators of that nauseating trend of playing music after a goal has been scored. All the more nauseating when said “music” comes from unlamented 1980s jazz funsters, Pigbag. Nonetheless, the practice does afford some entertaining possibilities for away fans, too – is there any sound more crushingly pathetic than the jolly toots of Tom Hark as the Wolves players trudge back to the centre circle after a last-minute consolation goal in a 5-1 home drubbing? Or a sound more gleeful than the away fans mimicking the home team’s goal music when their own team scores, as my beloved Birmingham City did three times at The Riverside recently? Admittedly, the fact that Boro scored five of their own slightly took the gloss off our sarcastic serenades, and ensured the royalty cheques will still be rolling in for Pigbag for some time to come.
Lucy McKeever, via email

Dear WSC
I was greatly gladdened by Philip Corn­wall’s article on defenders in WSC 207. It’s a long time since Michel Platini made a call for tackling to be banned to a mixture of disbelief and disapproval. Over subsequent international tournaments commentators and pundits have pooh-poohed any suggestion that skilful players be protected any more and sound almost pleased when some poor unfortunate has legalised violence meted out to them. Does “It’s a man’s game” mean we should take pleasure in seeing brute force take preference over skill? It’s been a long time coming and we’ve still got a long wait until the aggressive “clogger” mentality finally disappears at the roots of the game. I can’t see what’s wrong with football becoming more like the non-contact sport of basketball. One of the best players I ever saw was the teen­age Martyn Busby. He really shone in an exciting QPR team in the early 1970s. He seemed to get better with every game, but only weeks into the season his growing stature and influence were ended by a typically thuggish tackle that almost literally took his leg off. He was never the same player when he eventually got over that terrible injury. Unfortunately his story isn’t that unusual. What was even more common was seeing flair players having to cope with unsophisticated, sometimes violent de­fenders rather than just using the ball and their brains. Thinking, ball-playing defenders aren’t such a rarity. I think the point was very well made that the laws of the game have determined the style of play. Much has changed for the worse over the past few decades as far as football is concerned but the change in emphasis away from brute force towards skill isn’t one of them. If you want to see blood and guts go and watch the egg chasers or look at the TV news. I’d rather watch skill without the brutality.
Colin Yates, via email

Dear WSC
Re: Dave Boyle’s consternation at Benni McCarthy’s No 77 (WSC 207). Not to excuse it, but a probable explanation is that 1977 is his birth year. Other odd ones recently were Ivan Zamorano’s 1+8 at Internazionale when Ronaldo took the No 9 and a Turkish player a few years ago whose number was 70-something, as he was advertising the frequency of a local radio station.
Richard Horsman, Glasgow

Dear WSC
As an avid reader of your magazine, I was surprised by a glaring error in your squad numbers article. Surely people with as much knowledge as yourselves realise that Figo doesn’t wear the No 7 for Real Madrid? Raúl would have been more accurate; Figo, of course, wears No 10.
Georgina Nash, via email

Dear WSC
I completely agree with Jon Driscoll’s observations on the modern-day annoyance that is matchday DJs (Noise Annoys, WSC 207). My own side, Cork City, have had a local sports presenter bringing his own brand of American style razzmatazz to Turners Cross for the past season and a half. The side are now annoyingly referr-ed to as “Coooorrrrkkkk Ciiiitttttyyyy” and the team line-up is read out with witty one-liners about the players to show how matey he is with them all (bet they can’t stand him either). He also plays Always Look on the Bright Side of Life after our home defeats, just to show that the game was only a bit of fun and we shouldn’t get too down about it. Even though an end-of-season survey run by the club last year showed that his actions were the worst thing about going to City games, he still remains. All this despite the fact that stadium regulations state that unnecessary noise is strictly forbidden within the ground.
Adrian Stack, Castlemartyr, Ireland

Dear WSC
Sat in the pub watching the Derby v West Ham game we witnessed another dubious offside decision. This led to some debate and we think we may have cracked the problem. The law was originally introduced to stop a lone forward loitering around the goal waiting for a long ball. So let’s go back to simply preventing that. Under our new guidance a player would only be offside if he was “miles” offside. If there was any doubt, whether this was the width of a player or ten yards after a perfectly (or imperfectly) timed run, he would be deemed to be onside. Miles offside is not an exact distance that can be measured. However, it is something that can be easily identified. Even by the most inept linesman.
Ian James, via email

Dear WSC
Adam Brown’s tale of concern regarding a potential takeover of Manchester United (WSC 207) left me with very mixed feelings. While no football fan wants to see any club controlled by someone who does not have a passion for both the game and the specific club at the centre of their agenda (balanced by some business sense, Mr Ridsdale), those clubs who choose to seek money from the stock market should bear in mind the potential consequences. Ownership of a publicly quoted company can easily change hands, and this is one of the prices to pay for access to this source of finance. United’s reason for flotation in 1991 was to fund ground and other facility improvements. It also allowed them to spend more on transfer fees and wages. While United fans may not have had a hand in the flotation, how many would happily see the money raised by this event returned from whence it came, along with the players it bankrolled and the “footballing epoch” which has followed? The same can, of course, apply to clubs who benefit from a wealthy benefactor or two. Any club which seeks to expand beyond basic means of gate revenue, merchandising and local commercial activities (ie money “invested” by fans) must accept the extent to which they are giving up governance rights in exchange for money. If that means a more med­iocre, lower-profile existence, then that is a choice for clubs to make and fans should use their undoubted influence at this point. Of course, fans in general do not have ultimate control over these decisions – some are doubly unfortunate and suffer from both “misguided” ownership and poor on-the-field performances.If there is a takeover at United (now seemingly less likely), I sincerely hope that the new owners act in the best interests of the club and its supporters. But those clubs which seek the benefits, both financial and footballing, of being a plc should be wary of complaining about the risks that come with it.
Mark Shadrack, via email

Dear WSC
I was relieved to read Jon Driscoll’s article (WSC 207) on the nuisance of stadium tannoys. I, too, am not keen to sing along, particularly as I believe that insidious forces may well be powering the increasing PA presence. Here is my theory. Many of the people whose need for power leads them to find it within significant institutions – such as football – tend to be social inadequates who are incapable of relating to others, except from positions of control. Having secured positions high in a club’s hierarchy, they soon discover that financial and administrative control does not satisfy; they also require emotional control of the football experience. Further, the sight and sound of thousands of supporters unifying in spontaneous expression frightens them – not only because strong passions are expressed, but also because this oneness with others, and with the experience, indicates a degree of ownership of the event on the part of the supporters. Hence, the drowning-out of fans by PAs. The “direction” of their expression by music before kick-off, after goals, etcetera is an attempt by corporate entities to control the experience and so lead fans away from (a) the realisation that we supporters are the event, and (b) any suggestion that perhaps our emotional power should be reflected in organisational spheres. This theory is probably backed up by some psychological study in some clever book, somewhere.
Luke H Bartlett, via email

Dear WSC
The article on shirt numbers reminded me of Julian Watts at Luton Town wearing the No 40 shirt. 40 Watts. Good, eh?
Steven Whitehead, via email

From WSC 208 June 2004. What was happening this month

More...