Have any other readers noticed that clubs and players seem to be under increasing pressure to pay money for successful outcomes to fixtures? On The Premiership, September 28, Jon Champion at Man City v Liverpool observed that “Michael Owen can’t buy a goal from open play at the moment”. A bit later, during Charlton v Man Utd, Clive Tyldesley told us: “Charlton can’t buy a home win this season.” I know football is a money-dominated sport, but this is ridiculous. However, what I really want to know is how does the system work? Is there a sliding scale of charges, so that Owen could afford to buy a goal against the generous Man City defence, but not against West Brom’s tight back four the previous week? Are “six-pointers” decided by bids in a sealed envelope, which may explain why Sunderland beat Villa, but Bolton v Southampton was a draw? And do teams expected to win easily not bother buying that week? This would certainly account for Chelsea’s home crash to West Ham. To take it further, do supermarket-style special offers and other assorted gimmickry apply? For instance, was Owen’s hat-trick part of a “buy two, get one free” arrangement? Did Charlton, who led at half-time but eventually lost, buy a past-its-sell-by-date home win for half price? And is there a loyalty card system for frequent win buying? Arsenal must be well sorted if there is. It would be bad enough if this was limited to the top flight, but it’s even happening in the Nationwide. Ronnie Moore, explaining my team Rotherham’s unexpectedly good start, cautioned that: “This time last season Grimsby were top of the league, but their manager couldn’t buy a win after that.” So, as a Miller, can I please urge whoever is in charge of our points purchasing department to keep up the good work and carrying on signing the cheques.
Steve Ducker, via email
Jonathan Pearce on 6.06: “Hopefully, that result at Old Trafford will take some of the flak off Graham Taylor’s shoulders.” You know the problem – you wash your hair on Saturday and the flak’s back by Sunday.
Chris Front, Redcar
I’ m sure I won’t have been the only Ipswich fan to have been more than miffed at the omission from your A-Z of footballers (T is for Trevor, WSC 189) of Seventies Town striker Trevor Whymark. This gangling forward, who is constantly featured in articles about “unlikely players to have won an England cap” for his appearance as a sub against Luxembourg in 1977, is still revered at Portman Road, and was voted 19th in a poll of the greatest Ipswich Town players of all time. Trevor’s exploits have never received the credit they deserved: the man once scored four goals against Lazio in the UEFA Cup, and received an inscribed gift from Roma fans in gratitude for his feat. Even more importantly for Town fans he netted a hat-trick in a 5-0 drubbing of Norwich in 1977. And this by a man from Norfolk. Tragically for Trevor, he missed what would have been the crowning moment of his career when he was injured for the 1978 FA Cup final against Arsenal. This did not however prevent him being named man of the match by the guest of honour, one Margaret Thatcher, then leader of the opposition. The teams had been printed in the programme at least a month before the game, and the soon to be Prime Minister had failed to realise that number ten for Ipswich that day was not Whymark but the not so well remembered David Geddis. Geddis does, however, hold a place in Suffolk hearts for the driven cross that Willie Young so admirably failed to deal with for the winning goal.
Graham de Max, via email
Stewart Cumming’s comment (Letters, WSC 187) that without fierce rivalry football “would be no better than rugby” can’t be allowed to pass unchallenged. To suggest that there are not rivalries in rugby to match those of football is plain daft: what about Bath v Gloucester, England v Wales, Lions v Springboks, Wallabies v All Blacks? What makes rugby different is that rivalries do not spill over into intolerance and (off-field) violence. Northern hemisphere rugby has been able to maintain a world-class annual tournament based on local rivalry – the Six Nations Championship. British football had to drop its home nations tournament because the rivalry became “silly”. With the Lions, British Isles rugby is able to produce a truly world beating team every few years that transcends the annual home rivalry. Being selected to play for the Lions is the pinnacle of players’ careers, allowing them to play in a team that is globally respected for being a true competitor and providing exciting entertainment. Moreover, Lions’ supporters are welcomed and applauded, which gives us a chance to show the sporting world that we can get on with ourselves and others. Such a concept is routinely dismissed by British football seemingly because “fierce rivalry” is an end in itself – we seem more interested in baiting the opposition fans than in our team winning, and winning well.
Vince McAleer, Malvern
In the build up to Slovakia v England Gary Lineker opined that the last two England managers, Venables and Hoddle, have both resigned for non-footballing reasons and suggested that we don’t want to go for the hat-trick with Sven. Does this mean that I only dreamt the whole Keegan debacle and, if so, can I now expect to wake up, step out of the shower and find Pamela Barnes-Ewing waiting for me?
Tim Manns, Somerset
I was glad to hear from a kindred spirit (Milan Pesic, Letters, WSC 189) asking you to correct the cumulative errors of the nation’s press, when he made comments about fans of NK Zagreb being mistaken for their rivals in the UK press. This sort of thing happens to my team on a regular basis. Indeed, I needed to look no further than the previous page to find Duncan Harris, complaining about living in Derbyshire but being force-fed on Yorkshire TV, claim that his village divided roughly between Derby and Notts Forest fans. This “foreign” coverage has so confused Mr Harris to the extent that he remains ignorant of the fact that there are TWO teams just down the road in Nottingham (as opposed to a single, merged team). I’m sure that, in the past, some of your readers will have sniggered at, and mocked, blustering Notts (County) fans for correcting their use of the phrase “Notts Forest”. Of course, we are simply being overly pedantic, aren’t we? Notts is a convenient abbreviation for Nottingham after all. True, it is convenient, but it simply is not correct. “Nott’m” is the more accurate abbreviation in written English, if perhaps not in spoken English. The term Notts Forest is as jarring to our ears in much the same way that, say, Arsenal Hotspur might be to Arsenal and Tottenham fans.
Craig Hatfield, Cambridge
In his article Direct Action (WSC 189) Matthew Hall claims Oceania has only been represented at the World Cup finals twice, 1974 (Australia) and 1982 (New Zealand). While the years are correct, Australia was not actually a member of Oceania in 1974 and qualified as a member of the Asia confederation. Oceania’s only ever participation at a World Cup finals was in 1982 when New Zealand qualified and lost 5-2 to Scotland, 3-0 to USSR and 4-0 to Brazil. Incidentally, NZ’s two goals were two more than Australia ever managed at the World Cup finals, not that we point that out too much.
Dave Webster, via email
I can’t have been the only one to notice John Motson’s puzzlement about the venue during England’s game against Slovakia. At one point he mused (approximate quote): “The crowd here in Bratislava really provide some fervent support. That must be why the national FA prefer to stage games here rather than in Prague.” Now, I actually quite like Motty, but you can’t accuse him of being affected by the winds of change, can you? Have a quick butcher’s at an atlas, John. Come to think of it, I don’t know why England’s games are being played at Villa Park and St Mary’s, when Galatasaray’s ground is such a cauldron. Surely we’d get better support there.
Tristan Browning, Reading
If Barney Ronay (WSC 189) had done his homework, he would have discovered that Peter Taylor’s CV actually took him to Gillingham in between the Under-21 job and Leicester. This may have provided a meaningful conclusion to the “Is he any good?” debate. Taylor joined the Gills as manager following the acrimonious departure of Tony Pulis and the First Division play-off disappointment of the 1998-99 season. The team he inherited was a good quality Second Division side, who played in the Pulis up-and-at-them-style. He transformed us into a one-touch, entertaining footballing side and won us promotion at the play-off finals a year later. This was the coach that made David Beckham England captain, took an unchanged Brighton team up last season and had success as the Under-21 coach, and that is just the point. Taylor is an excellent coach. Give him the right quality players for the level he’s working at and he will do well. Taylor the manager bought Akinbiyi (never prolific, just lightning quick) and Junior Lewis – three times – and hasn’t done it when he has had to build a team (Leicester, Southend, Dover). It strikes me that if he were in Italy or Spain he would be considered a resounding success – after all, Del Bosque isn’t charged with buying Real Madrid’s next striker, he just coaches a world class team bought for him (and rather well it would seem). It is only the UK that must have a manager that does it all if he is to be considered any good. Which is why there were no obvious answers to the England manager’s position after Keegan’s exit in the first place! Like Ray Harford, Brian Kidd and Ray Wilkins before him, Peter Taylor coaches, and he is very good at it. Just don’t give him a bad team and money to spend.
Matt Mason, via email
Despite the country’s appetite for crime series (Morse, Frost etc) we have not learned to apply the basic rule of these shows when we judge our footballers. We are always urged to look beyond the obvious person if we want to find the real culprit. For the third time the real culprit in an England failure has managed to pass he buck to someone else. David Beckham had to put up with public vilification in every newspaper and at every Premiership ground after his dismissal against Argentina. When Beckham got sent off the score was 2-2. If the “real” guilty party had put away an easy chance to make it 3-1 we would have been “home and hosed” by half-time. But nobody remembers this. They just remember the girlie kick and the tall Danish referee. In the recent World Cup, it was the turn of David Seaman to take the flak for defeat against Brazil. We have seen him flapping in vain at Ronaldinho’s free kick a thousand times and from every angle. But we do not see much footage of our mystery man “bottling out” of a tackle, against the same Ronaldinho, which led to the equalising goal, on the stroke of half-time. If we had got to the break ahead I think we would all now be celebrating one of the most boring 45 minutes English football has ever witnessed. This week the same player was instrumental in David Seaman getting publicly humiliated, for the second time this year. As the Macedonian corner sailed over Seaman the guilty party was to be seen covering the back post. With a piece of quick thinking he spotted his chance for a hat-trick of miscarriages of justice. He simply lowered his ginger head and allowed the ball to go in. The next day the media is not full of stories of the defender who failed to do his job at the corner. The “ginger pimpernel” has once again merged into the background. Paul Scholes – how do you sleep at night?
Ken Dunne, via email
Porthmadog should indeed be ashamed of themselves for spurning Denbigh Town’s hospitality (On the Web, WSC 189). There can be few greater affronts to the celebration of common humanity which football ought to provide than an untouched buffet table. One imagines a team of enthusiastic volunteers arriving at the crack of dawn to offer their assistance with making fish paste sandwiches, covering half a grapefruit in foil and threading cubes of cheese and pineapple onto cocktail sticks. But then, much, much later, as the shadows lengthen and the sandwich edges curl gently upwards, comes the dawning realisation: they’ve gone straight home. The day is spoiled as surely as the side of the cheese exposed to the pineapple. What goes around comes around, though, as Hereford United once found to their cost. In the 1988-89 season Hereford, on something of a roll in the old Fourth Division having not had to seek re-election since 1983, travelled to modest Bethesda Athletic for a Welsh Cup tie. The Bulls duly prevailed and skipped town without so much as a token nibble of Bethesda’s home made quiche. Step forward a year and Man Utd visit Edgar Street for the fourth round of the FA Cup, Clayton Blackmore scoring to eliminate the home side. It turned out though that there was little need to have ironed a cloth for the boardroom table. Man Utd swiftly returned to their coach and swept off into the January darkness. As Ron Parrott’s Hereford United: The League Years notes: “It would have been hypocritical had Hereford complained about the mountain of untouched sandwiches the club provided.” Some observers might see here evidence of a long running hostility towards finger food on Alex Ferguson’s part, a hostility which must surely have rubbed off on his players then and now. Could it be that the undoing of Ireland’s World Cup campaign this year can be traced back to a plate of egg mayonnaise on white sliced in Hereford?
Ben Moore, Brockley
The North Koreans go to watch England play Macedonia. Alan Smith gets sent off. The North Koreans go to watch Boro play Leeds. Alan Smith gets sent off. Sad to think that Pak Do Ik and co will go back to Pyongyang with the misguided impression that the lad is a petulant thug.
Tony Christie, via email
From WSC 190 December 2002. What was happening this month