I attended the York v Colchester FA Cup second round replay. Ah, the magic of the FA Cup: went for a traditional pre-match pie and when the kiosk opened I was third in the queue. The first man ordered two meat pies. The second man ordered one meat pie. The response came back: “Sorry love, we’ve sold out.” I laughed so hard I lost my place in the queue. You don’t get that kind of comedy at Old Trafford.
Alex Gage, via email
Chris Taylor’s argument (WSC 179) that the League Cup should go was pretty unconvincing. Apparently, it’s “so worthless it keeps changing its name” – maybe it’s because so many companies have been proud to have their name associated with it that it’s had so many sponsors? He also asked how seriously we should take a competition in which Sylvain Wiltord scores a hat-trick. As seriously as the over-rated Premiership then Chris, as it was in that very competition that M Wiltord banged in three against West Ham back in March. Chris’s article reveals Chelsea loyalties – it surely can’t be a coincidence that he’s so hostile to the League Cup and sup-ports a team which went over 25 years without even reaching the final while being on more than one occasion being embarrassed by a lower division outfit ?
Nigel Grant, via email
So Cris Freddi thinks that one of the worst events of 2001 was Rushden and Diamonds “buying a place in the League” (WSC 179). I am intrigued to know just why he believes this is so morally different from Manchester United, Liverpool, Arsenal, Leeds etc spending huge sums to ensure their places in the Champions League and permanent positions at the top of the Premiership or, indeed, Fulham obtaining entry into this division. But I suppose Rushden come from a small, unfashionable place and should know better.
Doug Kemp, via email
I am a little alarmed by the rewriting of history achieved by Ernst Bouwes in his analysis of Jon Dahl Tomasson’s Newcastle career (WSC 179). The lad wasn’t unlucky really, he was simply spineless. Most Newcastle fans’ first sight of Tomasson was him tucking away a neat goal to beat PSV Eindhoven in a Dublin pre-season tournament. Sadly, between that game and the big kick-off Les Ferdinand was sold and Shearer suffered his horrendous ankle injury, piling more pressure on Tomasson than he was able to cope with. In the first League game against Sheffield Wed, Tino Asprilla put Newcastle ahead after three minutes. It should have been our second goal as Pressman had smothered Tomasson’s weak effort after 20 seconds. Having run the full length of their half without a defender near him, our debutant lost his nerve and scuffed a bobbler to the big lad in nets. The Dane was never the same for Newcastle again. Never mind the absence of quality strike partners or the unfamiliar roles he was asked to play, the truth is that he was frightened by the pace and power of our domestic game. Three goals in 23 League games tells its own story. Not useless, just soft. Still, one is left to wonder just what he could have achieved if that first chance had gone in. Mind you, his replacement, Andreas Andersson, was rubbish. Calamitously so.
Ian Cusack, Newcastle-upon-Tyne
I feel I must leap to the defence of John Docherty, cruelly described as “charmless” and “best forgotten” (Five Minute Bradford, WSC 179). My own brief encounter with JD showed him in an entirely different light. It was the winter of 1973 and I was turning out for the school Third XI against our local rivals Clement Danes. The First XI game had been cancelled due to heavy snow and we got news that their football master was to referee our game. Ths turned out to be Docherty, who was at the time still a player with Brentford. He proceeded to show boundless enthusiasm for the task, encouraging all players on both sides, despite the fact that a) the game took place in a driving blizzard and b) we were all completely useless. Come to think of it, very similar circumstances to those he probably encountered at Bradford some 20 years later. Mind you, our centre-forward had a bit more skill than Steve Torpey.
Robin Pearson, Isleworth
I tuned into the Manchester United v Boavista match on ITV, on the basis that it had more potential comedy value than the sitcom on BBC, to find that Peter Drury’s comments are becoming more and more inane. Try this one for size. During the usual Champions League fanfare at the beginning of the match he came out with the line: “Manchester won’t be fooled by the customary handshake and the checkerboard shirts – Boavista are no polite sophisticates.” Thanks for that info Mr Drury. Some managers may otherwise be lulled into a false sense of security by the colour of an opposing team’s shirt. And I’ll remember never to try to discuss philosophy or the relative strengths of Bach in comparison to Mozart with any of the Boavista players in the future.
Matt Nash, via email
I was among the 3,000 or so West Ham fans at Old Trafford on December 8. It appears to me that everything about the game was illustrative of United’s problems. It also provided all the evidence – if any were needed – of why they are so disliked, and I mean disliked over and above the widespread and understandable envy that supporters of less successful teams feel for their “betters”.
United fans – and I know and spoke to many – shared Ferguson’s view that the referee was to blame. It was the pitch last time, if I remember. This time, Ferguson actually went on record as saying Durkin used to be a good referee but was now not a good referee. Any League inquiry or reprimand, I wonder? And what can you say about Roy Keane? His hectoring, aggressive, bullying “defence” of new-boy O’Shea (booked for a tackle from behind on Defoe) rightly earned him a yellow card. A little while later, a badly timed Keane lunge upended Defoe which, even with Durkin just feet away, went unpunished. Another place, another time, another player and it would have meant red. I was prepared to give Keane the benefit of the doubt when Joe Cole fell rather too easily in the area as if poleaxed in the second half (although the TV replay suggested his elbow had connected with or was at least near Cole’s face). What we didn’t see from our end, minutes from the final whistle, was the assault by Keane on Repka. It was blatant thuggery that, yet again, went unpunished. That WAS bad refereeing. But what do the United fans say? “It’s as if the ref has a yellow card with Keane’s name on it before the game started.” They echo Fergie’s one-eyed, arrogant view. And that’s the nub of it. No one is allowed to challenge their supremacy: no referee, no team, no media organisation, no pundit, nobody. Poor team selection, bad tactics, naff substitutions and an offensive, ungracious demeanour summed up United’s Saturday and, in microcosm, the whole Ferguson era and their current problems. He is and they are a disgrace under pressure. Sure, they have to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageously self-congratulatory crowing I-told-you-so tabloidism but, let’s face it, it goes with the territory. Being “up there to be shot at” did not become a cliche by mistake. We know it is the currency, he and they have lived high on it now for more than a decade. They have also feasted on the idea that everyone hates them because they are so successful and huge and powerful and impregnable. It has engendered a fierce and powerful unity. But when the façade begins to crumble, if you are not careful, all that is left is “everyone hates us” – a situation that breeds the sort of suspicion and paranoia that will mask the real deficiencies.
David Hardy, Stroud
Watching the Canvey Island v Northampton FA Cup second round tie on TV, I recalled that Keith Welch, in goal for the defeated League side, used to sport a full beard during his days at Bristol City. This got me thinking. I could not recall any current professional footballers in Britain with full “David Bellamy/ Uncle Albert” beards – I’m not counting pretentious goatee or designer stubble efforts, of course. If the era of facial hair is definitely over, then Alan Cork’s unkempt vagrant look in the 1993 Steel City FA Cup semi-final will presumably never be surpassed.
Dr Richard Brown, via email
Having read the cases for and against the League Cup (WSC 179) I feel I must side with Craig Ellyard and support its existence. As an Oldham Athletic supporter, I am sadly unlikely ever again to witness 30,000 fans of a similar persuasion at a match, as I did at our appearance in the final against Nottingham Forest. Interestingly, we took far more supporters to this fixture than went to the supposedly more glamorous FA cup semi-final at the same venue against some outfit called Manchester United. Support wasn’t exactly lacking in the earlier rounds that year either as some of the 1,000 or so Oldham fans locked out at The Dell will testify. Oh, and now we’ve reached the Northern semi-finals of the LDV, I might even begin to take that seriously.
Paul Whitehead, via email
Just wondering if you could explain something of an anomaly in WSC 179? The article regarding Mark Wright’s comments on referees was prefaced with “alleged”, whereas when the Diary makes mention of Darren Moore’s abuse at the hands of a supposed majority of Rotherham fans no such wording was included. Why is it that Wright was afforded a defence of sorts whereas the Millers were assumed to be guilty of racial abuse? We may not be the most racially aware club in the league as Rotherham does have a large Asian population who appear to be indifferent to the Millers’ fortunes. Having said that, it’s no different to the population of the town as a whole, but we did have the first Asian professional player, Chris Dolby, who played for the Millers before going to Bradford where the press decided to jump on the story as it appeared more newsworthy than if he was playing for little old Rotherham. He is now back at Rotherham working in the Football In The Community Scheme. I just hope it’s not stereotyping of “typical northern clubs” in the wake of the riots this summer. Incidentally, Rotherham were cleared of any wrongdoing, unlike Mark Wright, and Darren, just in case you’re reading this, don’t worry about signing for the Millers – we can remember what you were like when you used to play for Doncaster.
Phil Kyte, via email
Can I extend my thanks to Wimbledon’s wantaway owner Charles Koppel for proving yet again that Dons fans are right to hold him in the utmost contempt? In December, at Koppel’s suggestion, our Danish winger David Nielsen was sent on loan to Norwich. It is the first time I can recall that a player has been loaned to a team that his club were due to play the following week. Nielsen duly scored in the Dons’ 2-1 defeat. Charles Koppel may not have seen the debacle unfold in person but I can assure him that Wimbledon fans have now been provided with yet more cause for wanting him out of our club at the earliest possible moment.
David Taylor, Morden
At last someone has explained the PFA dispute in rational terms (John Harding, WSC 179). I followed the dispute through the press, TV and radio and while I would agree that the PFA “won the publicity battle hands down”, I’m not so sure about the aftermath. (Almost the first question asked of Richard Scudamore by Radio 5 was “You’ve won, haven’t you?”) Was the dispute just about money? Bizarrely, at times it appeared to be about the union’s right to exist. One of the more dispiriting aspects of the dispute was the ignorance not just from club chairmen, which was expected, but from some players. I recall listening to a Radio 5 phone-in with Gordon Taylor, David Moyes and David James. While Taylor clearly knew what he was talking about and Moyes spoke of the benefits the union had brought him, David James was embarrassingly clueless about what the role of his union is, what the dispute was about and whether he would vote yes or no in the ballot. With friends like these it’s no wonder certain Premiership chairmen could attempt to rubbish Gordon Taylor and the PFA.
John Weir, Edinburgh
In Phil Ball’s contribution to the Best and Worst of 2001 review (WSC 179) he describes Barcelona’s second half mauling of Liverpool as a cause for “some serious reflection as to the state of the English game”. I wonder if somewhere in Spain a similar writer is penning a similar response following the thrashing Deportivo recently received in Leverkusen? If you add to that Bayern Munich defeating both Real Madrid and Valencia on the way to last season’s Champions League title, then this surely means that the Bundesliga is Europe’s finest? But hang on! Both Liverpool and Arsenal have eliminated German opposition in this season’s competition so, therefore, the Premiership must be the best? But Barcelona beat Liverpool, so...? Perhaps one detects a tiny problem with a sense of perspective these days? Phil Ball certainly does because, in a remarkable about-turn, he uses those exact words as he points out to us that David Beckham is over-rated “because of one game against Greece”. The poor lad can’t seem to decide whether or not you can make a judgement on one game. Phil appears to have joined the ranks of the media cynics who believe their sour opinions on our nation’s football teams are astute and informed, while the rest of us are just clapping morons still wearing T-shirts with “5-1” on the front. I think it needs pointing out that a lot of us are just happy that for the first time in a decade or so we have a national team and four club sides who are genuinely competitive at the highest level.
Darren Rogers, Huyton
From WSC 180 February 2002. What was happening this month