THE HALF DECENT FOOTBALL MAGAZINE

Dear WSC
There’s something that’s puzzling me about this year’s title race. In every previous season when Manchester United have been trailing by a stack of points Alex Ferguson has talked about the opposition “doing a Devon Loch”. This season he hasn’t mentioned that unfortunate horse once, though. It’s almost as if he’s lost all enthusiasm for racing.
Chris Front, Redcar

Dear WSC
A new media mystery has arisen: namely the issue of why, on Saturday afternoons, goals by Bradford City are always credited by the Ceefax vidiprinter page to “Bradford PA”. Has the innocent soul who updates the page just seen the name somewhere and not realised that it refers to a different club? Or have Park Avenue actually replaced Bryan Robson’s side in Division One by virtue of their far healthier financial position? We deserve an explanation.
Pete Green, Birmingham

Dear WSC
After reading the Diary section of WSC 206 I was surprised to see that Stuart Ripley was Southampton’s caretaker manager for the home game against Everton. No wonder we were so bad in that first half. Luckily Steve Wigley was on hand to take over at half time and sort things out so in the second half we played like a team that actually knew each other, and got a draw.
Tony Whatley, via email

Dear WSC
My team, Everton, will play 44 competitive matches this season – ignoring injury time but including two doses of extra time this represents 67 hours of football. Barring the teams involved in Europe, this is probably about average for most teams in the Premiership and, given squad rotations, most individual players will play nowhere near that amount of time. Am I the only person who gets fed up of managers smugly praising their team’s “effort” and ”commitment” after another inept performance? Gérard Hou­l­lier remains the worst culprit as he justifies another dismal defeat by commenting on how the “boys” have “given everything”. However, lately Micky Ad­ams, Kevin Keegan and Steve Mc­Laren seem to have joined the trend. I get the impression that they feel entitled to plaudits for selecting players who actually try even if they are useless.By all means, I can understand players taking a breather in training, but as most of them will be playing competitively for no more than about 50 hours each season, I assume that effort and com­mitment on the pitch will be an absolute given. The moment a team stops producing it is the moment that the manager should be out the door. Next time the staff that I manage cock up another straightforward task, I’ll be sure to tell my boss that it’s no problem because they were trying really, really hard...
Tim Doyle, via email

Dear WSC
The Bigger Picture (WSC 206), showing Leeds United’s squad with the 1968 League Cup, served as a fascinating re­minder of those heady days when the club would celebrate winning a major trophy by the wearing of lipstick. It was interesting too to note Big Jack Charl­ton’s reluctance to take part in the ceremonial lipstick-wearing. How gratifying, in lean­er times for Leeds, to see that at least one of today’s generation of players, in the shape of Alan Smith, still wears lipstick to remind Leeds fans of better days.
Alan Hayes, via email

Dear WSC
And so it begins again, the phenomenon which annually terrorises the Third Division – The Great Carlisle Revival. For most of the year Carlisle nestle comfortably in a relegation berth, only to abruptly haul themselves out come spring and plunge some other unfortunate into the Conference. It was more dramatic when only one team went down. The bottom half of the table relaxed and thought they could faff around all season – before discovering, sometimes too late, that they couldn’t. Even today, though, “one from 23” makes a more comforting equation than “two from 24”. Then a band of wild Cumbrians suddenly appears from over the horizon, closing fast. And the dread­ed words “Jimmy Glass” are spoken in the land and every team, from Darlington to Bristol, shudders. (Although in York, we also remember who went down that year instead and laugh.)
Andrew Traynor, York

Dear WSC
Art of Bounds in WSC 206 included an intriguing picture of a wall in Manchester showing a late 1960s Spurs line-up in the old style formation. It is intriguing because the line-up in question never played for Spurs. Martin Chivers arrived in January 1968, and Dave Mackay left that summer. Chivers played the remaining 18 league games and Mackay was in and out. However, Cyril Knowles (not named on the wall) was ever-present that season so must have been in the line-up for every competitive match that Chiv­ers and Mackay played together. The nearest I can find to the pictured line up is the close season tour game in Greece against Pan­athinaikos when ten of the 11 played, the only difference being Want replacing Kin­near.  It is also interesting to see “Mackay, England, Mullery” rather than the more usual mantra-like “ Mullery, England, Mackay”, though it is not impossible, I suppose. Finally, although Greaves start­ed at Spurs as No 10 to John White’s No 8, the death of the latter saw Jimmy shift to No 8 and Venables was at No 10. Again, it is not impossible that the numbers might have been transversed at some time, but unlikely. So unless there was some unrecorded testimonial game, the painter of the wall appears to have been a Mancunian who was on holiday in Cyprus, mistook the slim and blonde Tony Want for Joe Kinnear(!) and managed to transpose several of the players from their usual positions. Either that, or Cyril Knowles was asked to name his best 11, excluding himself. I suppose it is too much to hope that the original artist read the article...
Andrew Roberts, Wellington

Dear WSC
Turning to Jim Heath’s Art of Bounds (WSC 206), I experienced a sense of glee upon seeing the “Magpies Rule OK” photo that accompanied the article. It was a false dawn. The caption read: “New­castle fans lay claim to supremacy”. I remember seeing this very same daubing many, many times in my youth – at Meadow Lane. Alas the graffiti’s now gone, but the wall is still there on Ire­monger Road (named af­ter the legendary Notts goalkeeper, Albert Ire­mon­ger) which runs from the Spion Kop end of the ground, down behind the Main Stand. It isn’t my wish to promote acts of vandalism, you understand, but, although there are signs of change coming through, Notts fans have existed in a culure of neglect. From the boardroom down to the local newspaper, who prefer to report on Forest reserves than the Notts first team. Or the local radio station, who in the recent past have decided that Forest home and Forest away is all their listeners wish to hear of a Saturday afternoon. Under such circumstances we can get justifiably paranoid, so to have a little bit of “glory”‑dangled in front of our eyes, only to see it disallowed is, well... no, you’re probably right. It was just a visiting Newcastle fan all along.
Craig Hatfield, Cambridge

Dear WSC
The recent controversy over the Thierry Henry free-kick against Aston Villa has set me thinking about how much football can learn from rugby league. At a play-the-ball (when a tackled player passes the ball backwards between his legs) all the opposing players except two have to retire ten metres. They have to get back in good time too, otherwise they concede a pen­alty. There is therefore no reason to as­sume that footballers should have difficulty in getting back quickly. My solution, at any free-kick, would be to give the side that concedes it about ten seconds to get back (at a yard a second that should give any donkey, including those playing for Leeds United, plenty time) and yellow card any player who fails to do so. The team that has gained the free-kick can then decide whether to take it immediately or wait longer. Should a team fail to pull back for any subsequent free-kick, book the captain as well. It won’t happen of course, unless Sir Alex figures out how his “defence” would cope.
Brian Mettrick, via email

Dear WSC
On Five Live radio commentary recently, has anybody noticed: a) the similarity of Alan Green’s laughter to the cartoon canine Muttley from the “Wacky Races ”? b) the total inability of Chris Waddle to pronounce the word “penalty” correctly? Maybe an adverse reaction to his blazing the ball over the bar in the 1990 World Cup shoot-out? c) the annoying increase in the use of the term “reaction save” by commentators? I mean, what the heck is a “reaction save”? Surely, EVERY save by a keeper is a reaction, unless there is some weak distinction between this and a situation where the ball merely hits a static goalkeeper? And a recent development of this was the use of the expression “instinctive reaction save”. Is not any re­action by a keeper by its very nature “in­stinctive”?
Mike Fenton, Ross-on-Wye

Dear WSC
Jim Heath’s article on football graffiti (WSC 206) brought back memories. His comments about away fans spraying mes- sages on “strategic” areas of rival towns reminded me of holidays in Scar­borough and Great Yarmouth in the 1970s. One wall in Scarborough bore the legends “Doncaster Rovers – Pride of Eng­land” and “Barnsley Blades”. Did this represent a Barnsley section of the Sheffield United supporters club, or a group of Barnsley fans who wielded the steel city’s famous produce? This has never been answered as far as I know. Great Yar­mouth proved to be more of an “interface” resort with graffiti from all over England. I recall the words “Clock End” in red spray-paint being prefixed by “We Took The” in sky blue, with “MCFC” next to it. Influenced by this activity one cross-border British Rail train had “Airdrie FC” scrawled on its toilet wall in biro. Braver still was the “AFC” in the toilet at East End Park in Dunfermiline, circa August 1978. Only in chalk mind.
Peter Smith, Glasgow

Dear WSC
Jeffrey Prest (Letters WSC 206) may be interested to know that there is still a far-flung corner of the Earth from which commentaries are delivered down a crackling phone line – Darlington. When George Reynolds built his 27,000-capacity Ar­ena, he forgot to put in a few things, such as a press box. Instead, journalists are accommodated in one of the stadium’s luxurious executive suites. However, when I turned up to commentate on Macclesfield Town’s game at the Reynolds Arena shortly before Christ­mas, I discovered that there were only three radio broadcast points in the entire stadium – and that the station I work for had not been reserved one. Nev­er mind, I thought. I had a sophisticated piece of back-up equipment which could transmit clear-as-a-ball sound quality down an ordinary telephone line. Unfortunately, it packed up after 25 minutes, so I had to do the rest of the commentary down my mobile phone. Every time my co-commentator wanted to chip in, he had to tap me on the shoulder, and I would pass the phone to him. When he had finished, he would hand it back. (I won’t even begin to describe how we managed to conduct a post-match interview with Macclesfield’s manager John Askey.) Yet even though the commentary must have sounded like something from a UEFA Cup tie in Bulgaria circa 1982, the station did not receive any complaints. So maybe Jeffrey is on to something here. I’m just glad I’m not on a pay-as-you-go contract.
Mike Whalley, Manchester

Dear WSC
LDV Trophy, southern final, Colchester v Southend: price of programme – £3. “What a rip off!” I thought, only to be pleasantly surprised by a superb souvenir issue. LDV Trophy final: price of programme – £5. Seventy-six pages in cumbersome A4 format. Thirty-three full-page ads, including such totalitarian outfits as the Inland Revenue, the Prison Service (“valuing diversity”) and Keith Prowse hospitality. Hell’s teeth – there was one ad comprising a full-page pic of Clive Thomas! The rest was generally banal bullshit and there were two pages of uncaptioned photos. The final was a great day out, even though we lost. Tickets were cheap, Car­diff was welcoming and the Mil­lennium Stadium put on a great show. Why does some greedy spiv have to spoil things?
Keith Downing, Southend

Dear WSC
Recently I was having lunch near where I live in San Sebastian and there were four elderly nuns across the way, similarly engaged upon the act of eating. I couldn’t help but overhear the Mother Sup­erior (she looked like the boss) say at one point: “But the point is that De Pedro is the only one in the side who can cross the ball. Without him, Kovacevic has nothing to get on the end of.” And so it went on. No touches of irony, rather a deadly serious analysis of Real Sociedad’s ills. Is this some kind of first? Could this happen in the UK? What would St Peter have to say?
Phil Ball, San Sebastian, Spain

From WSC 207 May 2004. What was happening this month

More...