THE HALF DECENT FOOTBALL MAGAZINE

Dear WSC
While I was not one of the 100,000 “strange folks” that travelled to Phoenix Park to welcome the Irish team home from the World Cup – the event had become less of a homecoming and more of a bad cabaret night – I do not agree with Paul Doyle that those that made the trip were basking in mediocrity (WSC 186). It’s true to say that our players, most of whom are very ordinary, might have gone further. It is also true to say almost every other country is thinking the same thing, from Italy and Spain feeling robbed, to Costa Rica missing a sitter in the last min­ute against the eventual third place side. The people who did go to the park may have done so for any number of reasons, the most obvious one being to thank the players for giving everything and entertaining us along the way. For many kids it was just the chance to see their heroes. (They may even have gone just to see Westlife.) Showing support for your team is what supporters do, and Irish fans have always appreciated it when a team has given their all. Just because Roy doesn’t like it doesn’t make it wrong.
Rónán Barrett, Dublin

Dear WSC
What does Mick McCarthy have to do to get any respect around here? Despite his team’s magnificent performances over the last two years, the Dunphy axis continues to bleat that McCarthy’s success is illusory. Meanwhile, Roy Keane’s spin doctors seek to portray the 2002 World Cup as a bittersweet tale of missed opportunities, inadequate preparation and poor man-management, in which the bovine manager is the chief villain. That you provide a platform to one of these jaded cynics, Paul Doyle (WSC 186) to further undermine McCarthy’s achievements is an outrageous disservice to an astute and courageous man, and cannot go unchallenged. Let us take the example of McCarthy’s allegedly poor man-management of Roy Keane. One could make an equally strong case that it was masterful. McCarthy knew that his captain wanted away and would inevitably explode when confront­ed about the post-walkout interviews – whereupon it would be one person’s word against another’s. Confron­ting Keane “in public” allowed the man­ager to sidestep this scenario, lance the boil he knew would burst at some point during the tournament, emphatically establish his authority and create the proverbial siege mentality within the squad. The insistence by the self-appointed modernisers that the Irish team abandon their obsession with “the craic” and the plucky underdog mindset is becoming tiresome. These distinctive characteristic are key ingredients of the team’s success. The unquenchable team spirit and almost mystical bond with the fans are products of informal sessions in the bar and shared folk memories of communal suffering. England may turn its back on these traditional aspects of the people’s game, Ireland would dispense with them at their peril. Even Keane has said that if he was manager of Ireland the organisation would be perfect, but no one would want to play for him. Doyle’s criticism that McCarthy and his team accepted defeat too willingly borders on the libellous. The players and the management were gutted after the Spanish shoot-out. However, their post-match statements were sensible and realistic assessments of the team’s prog­ress, not, as he suggests, predictable rationalisations for expected failure. Look to the England team for those.
David Long, via email

Dear WSC
Steven East (Letters, WSC 186) is mistaken in thinking that the Spain v Sweden match in the 1978 World Cup was played at Mar del Plata. It was in Buenos Aires. Brazil, also in that first round group, played all their group games at Mar del Plata, so it may have been one of their matches to which Steven refers. Ronnie Hellstrom of Sweden may well have found it difficut to spring into the air as he was wearing very big shorts (he was described by Jack Charlton as “looking like a long distance cyclist”) and the massive gloves, seemingly modelled on Mickey Mouse’s hands, that were just coming into fashion among international goalkeepers, though Shilton, Clem­ence & Co treated such developments with disdain.
Gary Cantillon, Daventry

Dear WSC

Watching the recent Superstars revival on the BBC’s Sport Relief gave me an idea that could wipe out the need for penalty shoot-outs altogether. If two teams are inseparable after two hours of football, why not make them they try their hand at a different sport instead? To add local flavour, the game in question could be at the discretion of the host nation, providing an added incentive for potential organisers and a fresh stock of cliches for journalists. So a World Cup in the US could raise the spectacle of Fernando Hierro and Pat­rick Viera squaring up on the gridiron pitch, while in France the teams could spend a relaxing afternoon playing boules. In South Africa it could be rugby and in Belgium pigeon racing.If Scotland ever got to host a major tournament then drawn games would have to be decided by means of the traditional pub argument, with the last person to point their finger accusingly before fal­ling over winning the match for their team.
Gordon Darroch, Glasgow

Dear WSC

You describe the England v Argentina game as “a great game, not because ‘we beat the Argies’, but because an England team played real football” (WSC 186) . To say this is to deny the reason why football has become the worlds No 1 sport. It is not because it is “The Beautiful Game”, rather because the soul of football is Us v Them. In that equation, Us is constant, Them is variable. Undeniably, some Thems matter more than others. The game against Argentina was great. Not just because England played “real” football against one of the world’s best teams, but also because we did it against Argentina. The same performance against Italy or Brazil would not have had the same emotional impact. Football does not need xenophobia, racism or hatred. But it must have fierce rivalry, otherwise it would be no better than rugby. God forbid.
Stewart Cumming, via email

Dear WSC

Loved the tear-stained central para­graphs of Gabriele Marcotti’s piece Glaring Myths (WSC 186). Particularly amusing was his take on bent or incompetent referees. “A wake-up call to all those who refuse to believe that a fix is impossible,” he bellows. Bracing ourselves against the stormy blast, we get “... don’t state as a fact that it could never happen.” First, Gabriele, I don’t think anyone ever would. Second, isn’t lecturing others against dogmatic statements while heading up your own points with TRUTH and MYTH in block caps just taking the piss a mite? Howsoever: we move on. “Neither should teams be subjected to referees from Guatemala or Benin.” Hurrah. And while you’re there, add Scotland to the list on the back of Hugh Dallas’s incomprehensible display in the Germany v US quarter-final. Note, in passing, the quiet dignity of the US at their undeserved defeat. But then they’re only the US. Spain, too, are doubtless on the Marcotti hit-list of refereeing third-world nations after Sr Nieto’s bizarre handling of Germany v Cameroon. Bent as nine pesetas, clearly. OPINION: If Christian Vieri had scored a tap-in and Italy had gone on to exercise their divine right to win the thing, we’d have heard nothing from Gabs about officials. Just an opinion. I wouldn’t have the brass neck to claim it was anything more.
Simon Bell, via email

Dear WSC

Watching old footage of footballers in the 1970s and 1980s, I can’t help but be struck by how different they look. It’s not just the famous hairdos and sideburns. Christ they all look thin! And they all seem to slouch. Was there a real problem with posture at the pinnacle of the British game? And the goal celebrations! They halfheartedly jump up in the air (slouching), with both arms and legs straight and land rather awkwardly with both feet together. Famously, Charlie George landed so awkwardly while doing this one time he fell on his back. Next time they show clips from some classic FA Cup encounter prior to the contemporary teams trying to muster something like interest on the BBC, marvel at just how weird everything really looks.
Andrew Bent, via email

Dear WSC

Living some four miles from the proposed new “stadium”, I have been following the relocation of Wimbledon with interest, although nothing will disrupt my lifelong loyalty to Reading FC. I endorse James McAuley and Bridget Nicholls’ views (Letters, WSC 186) but my additional point is that a half-­decent semi-professional outfit has not been able to take off in Milton Keynes despite its significant pool of potential players and spectators. Surely this undermines the business case for transplanting a club?  Most of those who watch football travel to London, Birmingham or the three local league clubs, using the excellent transport links that have made MK prosperous, and I cannot see a significant number changing their allegiances or following Wimbledon intermittently. Where should I send my invoice to Mr Koppel for this lucid consultancy advice?
Michael Baker, via email

Dear WSC

It’s a shame you didn’t combine the article on the rank TV coverage of the World Cup with Cris Freddi’s evaluation of England’s showing (WSC 186), as the two are, to my mind closely entwined. Let’s face it, most of the commentators and “analysers” know too much about which side their bread is buttered on to do something silly like pointing out that England are a defensive team with very little to recommend them to the neutral fan. Oops! Over to the other channel we go. Safer to say how well England have done and “we can go all the way”. Bland, brainless but safe. In this analysis, Gazza is merely the patsy who covers up for the real morons in charge by acting their part. Finally, it was impossible to hear exactly what Alan Hansen & Co were saying about Ronaldo for all the drool leaking onto the studio floor. England’s nearest equivalent – pace, skill, strength, goals – was the promising Vassell. Not a peep out of Hansen about his being drop­ped for the hapless Heskey.Then again, Vassell doesn’t play for the red outfit on Merseyside, does he? Should the Beeb have any vacancies, I’m sure many WSC readers are, like myself, available to provide unbelievably one-eyed analyses of football matches in exchange for equally unbelievable levels of remuneration. Independent expert coverage? Like western civilisation, it would be a great idea.
Dave Collett, Chesterfield 

Dear WSC
Rio Ferdinand’s agent Pini Zahavi is quoted by the BBC sports webpage as stating: “He is relieved that all this is over. It has been a big strain on him and he is happy that he can finally get on with his career. He is sad to be leaving Leeds and wishes them well, but this is a career move for him and he wants to join a bigger and better club.” Putting the idea of a team player’s career over the teams that he plays for is on one hand a bit bizarre and perhaps dangerously honest. Sure, he showed well during the World Cup but internationals in any sport are inordinately individual performances. Backs especially depend on those around them for success. Is Rio so much better than his team-mates that this is not the case? I think, more to the point, here in Cananda if a player for Toronto Maple Leafs moved to Detroit Red Wings “to join a bigger and better club” the knees of that player would not last past the next meeting of the two teams. Rio’s utter disloyalty at 23 and Manchester United’s rapacious desire – in the manner of the New York Yankees – to buy honours confirms they were meant for each other. I just hope they look back next May at their third place in 2001-02 from below and not above.
Alan McLeod, Canada


Dear WSC
We are regularly told that Manchester United are the richest club in the world. It is also well-known that people do not become rich by throwing money away. Given these facts, the one thing that strikes me over the whole Rio Ferdinand transfer saga is not talk of loyalty or who is to blame, but the fact that Man Utd have quite clearly dropped the baby on this one. They could have purchased Rio from West Ham for £18 million back in November 2000 (and even if Leeds’ bid had to be topped, we’re still only talking £20 million tops). I can’t imagine that any plc would be cock-a-hoop at throwing £10 million-plus down the pan. Leeds put in a firm offer, while Man Utd sat on their hands. To me, this signals a shocking lack of foresight by Alex Ferguson. Despite enquires about Ferdinand, back in November 2000 everything in the Manchester defence was relatively rosy. The grand irony is that Rio is now being bought at £30 million to patch up the problems of last season; if Man Utd had got him the first time around, there wouldn’t have been a problem. On the continent, teams are on a slippery financial slope. La­zio, among others, seem to have several multi-million pound players they can’t shift and one senses that it’s only a matter of time before a similar prob­­­lem hits these shores. That £10 million would have come in handy.
Kev Hamer, via email

Dear WSC

Does anyone watch Through The Keyhole? After hearing David Frost say “You'll kick yourselves, it’s Ben Challenger”, I didn’t think they could possibly go lower, but that was trumped a couple of days later when the featured “celebrity” house belonged to DAVID Holdsworth. I kid you not.
David Tindall, via email

Dear WSC

I knew he was talented (and I don’t just mean his dramatics!), but surely Rivaldo has now scaled new heights of footballing ability, as can be seen in your review of the England v Brazil quarter-final (WSC 186): “... and Rivaldo shoots straight at Seaman after an interchange with Rivaldo”. The ability to play a one- two with himself can only serve to add several million pounds to the price tag of the Brazilian.
Ian Oliver, via email

Dear WSC
Now that all the hullabaloo of the World Cup has died down, the only thing that still niggles after all this time is Robbie Keane’s “bow and arrow” goal celebration, described quite rightly as “terrible” in WSC 186. The set-up is fine. He takes a firm stance, steadies himself, eyes fixed on some imaginary distant target, then lets himself down completely by letting go with BOTH hands, the result of which would have the bow and arrow falling miserably to the floor. Perhaps he should revert to the much safer, if less imaginative, “rocking the baby” routine or at least watch some old Ro­bin Hood movies until he gets the hang of it.
Ian F Dall, Cunard “Caronia”

From WSC 187 September 2002. What was happening this month

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