I occasionally wondered what had become of Gerry Harrison (WSC 188), with his penchant for bad grammar and getting players’ names wrong. In the late 1970s and early 1980s we in the Anglia region were often subjected to “Kenny Samson” of Arsenal and Manchester City’s “Ray Ransome”. His treatment of the assault by a dog at Colchester which effectively ended the career of Brentford goalkeeper Chic Brodie (“What a tackle!”) was ill-advised to say the least, and he annoyed my dad, an English teacher, on a weekly basis by his use of the grammatically incorrect “off of”, as in “that’s a corner off of Micky Mills” or “the winger bounces off of Dave Stringer”. With his unfashionable hairstyle (even by Seventies standards) and his improbable choice of apparel, he was a role model for some of the less gifted commentators, such as Roger Tames and Tony Gubba, who were later foisted upon ill-prepared viewers. Cambridge or Southend, whence Anglia games often came when Norwich and Ipswich had got fed up with Gerry, were more or less his mark although contractual obligations presumably meant that ITV had to take him to the World Cup in 1974, where he was limited to commentating on Chile versus Australia, or something similar, during the group stages. My fondest Gerry memory came in 1980, the week after Justin Fashanu announced himself to the football world with his staggering volley against Liverpool. (Gerry would never have aspired to the Beeb’s Barry Davies’s lucid reaction to that goal – “Woah! WOOAAHH!!”). The following Saturday Norwich were at home again, this time against Wolves, who were two up at half-time. It was Gerry’s job to obtain, as the second half started, the thoughts on the state of play of the then Canaries boss John Bond before Bond returned to the dugout. Unfortunately Wolves scored their third (in a 4-0 eventual victory) within about ten seconds of the restart, with Gerry indelicately blurting out something along the lines of: “Well, you’re really up against it now, John... John... John?” The elegantly-coiffured and besuited Bond (if anything the antithesis of Gerry) had, as they say, taken his leave.
Alun Thomas, via email
I was laughing for at least five minutes after the reading the Five Minutes piece on the League of Wales (WSC 187). So the League of Wales is “at least comparable with top level of the Dr Martens and Rymans”? Prior to getting stuffed by European giants Skonto Riga, Barry Town had a serious warm up against Millwall. Four days later, the Lions visited my club, Dulwich Hamlet of the Ryman League First Division South, and beat us 2-0. Millwall manager Mark McGhee was quoted on their website as saying: “It was a far bigger test than against Barry Town.” Surely not! After all, we finished in the bottom third of the Ryman First Divison last season. Perhaps we should take a leaf out of Wimbledon’s book and move to, say, Llanelli, then get into Europe to show the Welsh how it’s done. It’s not been a hundred years since the Hamlet crossed the Channel and stuffed the likes of Ajax and Athletic Bilbao in friendlies – we have the pedigree.
Mishi Morath, Sydenham
Colin Peel’s article (Brum Scrum) in WSC 188 was a shocker. Round here we’ve got used to the “hilarious” degradation of our city by such cultured luminaries as Jim Davidson and Jeremy Clarkson over the years, but the jibes of your correspondent landed a few rabbit punches. Should impartial fans not be celebrating a bit of Premiership diversity? After all, anything which threatens to challenge the years of north-west/London domination and TV coverage must be welcomed? Well, apparently not as Mr Peel warms up some cliches from the mid-1980s, throws in a sprinkling of (obvious) predjudice and passes the results off as a balanced view of the Birmingham clubs. Overshadowing the entire piece with the idea that “trouble” is inevitable because it’s a local derby where there were fights in the 1970s and 1980s isn’t going to win you the Pulitzer prize, but doesn’t stop Peel from side-stepping the achievements the two clubs (particularly Birmingham) have made, by stating the laughably obvious. I believe there is potential for trouble on a small scale, as there would be if the north London/Manchester/Liverpool etc derbies hadn’t been played for so long. I do not believe that this is the main focus of the fixture. And why should we not “expect the football to be any good”? We know that Zidane and Figo won’t be on show, and that Robbie Savage enjoys the odd scrap, but if the best that Colin Peel can do is “predict” that teams without much cash and a bit of local rivalry are just going to kick lumps out of each other, he shouldn’t be writing for what is (usually) a forward thinking publication.
Dave Lodwig, via email
I find it impossible to share John Bourn’s nostalgia for the days of ITV’s regional football coverage (WSC 188). Rather than providing better exposure for your local team, they could, if you were unlucky, do the exact opposite. Whoever drew up those boundaries for the ITV regions in 1968 was probably drunk at the time, as they conform to no known laws of logic. The result of this was that growing up in Derbyshire and supporting Derby County, a local team just 15 miles to the south, I found that the ill-thought out boundary, that extended into the middle of the county, cut me off from my beloved Rams. Instead, in a village divided roughly between Derby and Notts Forest with a few Mansfield die-hards thrown in, we had to stomach being force-fed “local” coverage from Yorkshire TV, presented by men who seemed unaware that their programmes were broadcast further than three miles from Leeds city centre, so keen were they to remind us how wonderful it was to be from Yorkshire. Hardly “halcyon days” for me – just frustrating. Regional programmes around here have not improved since then, with the appalling Richard Whiteley of Yorkshire’s Calendar epitomising this Tyke imperialism, which applies all the way down to never, ever reporting Derbyshire or Notts cricket score before Yorkshire’s. With the Rams once again joining Forest in the Nationwide, I’m not exactly going to jump for joy if ITV once again foist the likes of Hull, Grimsby, Huddersfield and Bradford upon us innocent Derbyshire folk again.
Duncan Harris, Chesterfield
I believe the Roy Keane cover on WSC 188 to be the equivalent of the proverbial brown paper cover hiding, as it does, not top shelf porn but some sort of cross between The Economist and Property Week. With so many articles and letters referring to financial plight of the game, stadium moves and “big business” perhaps future issues should be printed on pink paper as the FT.
Paul Wilkinson, via email
Brendan Fatchett (former station manager of now defunct Teamtalk 252) says that with only two national radio stations left covering football, fans of smaller clubs will once again struggle to get reports and updates from the matches that matter to them (WSC 188). National radio has never concentrated its efforts at the smaller end of the market, that is the job of local radio. Brendan bemoans the failure of Teamtalk 252 to survive but if they concentrated on trying to cover lower leagues and non-league football I am not surprised. Fans of (for example) Bath City know that Bath FM give them updates every ten minutes from all City matches, home and away, so why would they prefer to listen to a national station where there team’s coverage will be tucked away with dozens of other similar teams?
Tim Manns, Programme Controller, Bath FM
For a while I’ve been baffled by the sympathetic coverage Peter Reid receives in the national press – Sunderland have been godawful for the best part of a year yet fan discontent was only mentioned in reports when it had grown too loud to ignore. Reid’s performance as a pundit on the BBC, however, does offer some clues as to how he gets away with it. At best all he’ll do is repeat what Alan Hansen has just said. Mostly, though, he banters relentlessly to cover up the fact that he’s got nothing to say. I’m told that his press conference performances are similar, full of chummy gags about whose spread bet has come up that day. Suitably charmed and still chuckling to themselves, the hacks then go away and write up the latest Sunderland defeat as though it had little or nothing to with the abilities of the manager. Of course, Reid isn’t alone in benefitting from journalists’ reluctance to speak ill of their friends – Terry Venables has spent 20 years cultivating the right friendships and Walter Smith got an astonishingly easy ride during his mostly feeble four years at Everton. If Reid goes soon, as seems likely, you can bet that we will hear a lot about how ungrateful Sunderland fans have been, and precious little insight offered into the real reasons for his departure. And then we’ll see his name linked to every new vacancy that comes up, because that’s what mates are for.
Paul Rogers, Durham
Should Robbie Williams ever need a double to stand in for him at public events while he’s away trying to “break” America, can I suggest Lee Hendrie, who also has bulging eyes and a cheeky demeanour, offset by a hint of desperation hidden just below the surface. Lee is hugely talented too, of course, which is where the similarities end.
Keith Forshaw, Stafford
Any fellow Manchester United fans who feel distinctly aggrieved at the butchering of the club crest over the last few years – by the plc deciding that “Football Club” no longer applies – should take a look at the back cover of the Jack and Bobby biography by Leo McKinstry. There will be seen a plainly fabricated “cigarette card” snap of Bobby, made to resemble a souvenir of the late 1960s/early 1970s with a distinctly late 1990s badge – thus removing any possibility that it could be authentic. Is this yet another example of the club interfering with books about its players?
Jonathan Williamson, Sheffield
I assume that the main reason Birmingham City v Aston Villa was not given the noon kick-off usually reserved these days for “problem” matches was that there was no recent history of encounters between the clubs, and so there were no stats available that might have convinced the authorities to stage it at a more appropriate time. (Ipswich v Norwich, in contrast, was played early on a Sunday afternoon so that spectators wouldn’t be able to come straight from the pub.) As Colin Peel pointed out in his article (WSC 188) the Birmingham derby has a long record of trouble, and, as the national TV audience will have witnessed, the most recent encounter was no different. True, the violence happened to involve Blues fans attacking Villa players rather than supporters, but had the second goal of the game been an equaliser for the visitors rather than a second for the home team (as indeed nearly happened but for Darius Vassell being flagged offside), I feel sure that we would have seen fans from both sides squaring up. I hope lessons have been learned for the return fixture.
Kevin O’Neill, via email
When the draw was made for the preliminary round of the Champions League, all the English newspapers reported that Man Utd would be facing either Zalaegerszeg or Croatia Zagreb, a team they had met previously in the same competition. In fact Zalaegerszeg’s opponents were NK Zagreb, the “other” team in the city who had just won the Croatian title for the first time. (I don’t know whether it was noticed but Zalaegerszeg have since been drawn against Croatia Zagreb in the first round of the UEFA Cup.) It’s bad enough that fans of NK Zagreb should have to watch their local rivals dominating the Croatian league, with help at times from the government, but it is quite an insult to be mistaken for that same team. I’m not aware of any paper correcting this error – maybe WSC could do it for them?
Milan Pesic, via email
I see that Wimbledon are aiming to have their temporary ground at Milton Keynes ready for the Boxing Day game with Watford. It’s possible to predict how this will game will be reported. There will be several thousand away fans there (some no doubt curious to see how their club’s former physio, Stuart Murdoch, is coping with management) and a similar number of locals lured by free tickets. Charles Koppel will speak of “a successful start to a new chapter in the club’s history”. Some newspaper columnists will fall in line and suggest it’s high time that real Wimbledon fans “saw sense” and dropped their opposition to the MK venture. Then, in the New Year, we will see gates once again down to a couple of thousand as the Premier League fans in Buckinghamshire find that First Division football, even if subsidised, isn’t to their liking. The club may not die for a while but it’s in an incurable condition.
Brian Gibbs, Kingston
If Millwall go ahead with their threatened signing of Dennis Wise, they will be employing someone whose criminal record would prevent him from watching matches at the New Den under the club’s membership scheme. Also, it doesn’t strike me as the best way to improve relations with a playing squad already disgruntled by the club’s pay policy (a falling out that may have contributed to at least two of this season’s defeats). If there’s a master plan, Theo, it’s been well hidden.
John Pritchard, via email
From WSC 189 November 2002. What was happening this month