In his anxiety to demolish the “myth” that it is more difficult to play away than at home, Cameron Carter (WSC 174) runs the risk of perpetuating a bigger one. He describes the Doncaster Rovers team of 1946-47, which won 18 of their 21 League games in Division Three North, as “a very young team, just back from the Second World War, who knew hardly anything about each other”. It is true that the players had returned from the war, but this magnificent team was far from being a bunch of callow youngsters thrown together in a hurry. The average age, for example, was 27, and the oldest, skipper Bob MacFarlane (34), was one of four players who had represented the club before the war. True, the likes of Clarrie Jordan (42 goals in 41 games) and Paul Todd (24 in 40) had no Football League experience, but they were in their mid-twenties and had taken part in some of the highly competitive football going on in the latter years of the war. The team was a classic combination of youth leavened with a heavy dose of experience. As well as the aforementioned 18 away wins, the team took 72 points from 42 matches (105 points had three for a win been available) and won the title by some distance. As Cameron would say – analyse that!
John Coyle, via email
You’re right, Philip Cornwall (Letters, WSC 174). Michael Owen is as Welsh as Prince Charles. So let’s make a deal then Philip – you can have Owen, but only if your fellow countrymen stop trying to claim back Ryan Giggs as an answer to England’s left-sided problem position. Giggs was born in Cardiff to Welsh parents but moved to live around Manchester when he was very young – hence the playing for England Schools. He can’t play for Wales unless Uncle Alex gives him permission. He couldn’t play for England even if he wanted to. That, mind you, is a different point altogether.
Dylan Llewelyn, “Wales-shire”
It would appear you have been conned. I refer to Leagues on the Line (WSC 174) and the transparent mischief making penned by Jonathan Baker, the so-called Newcastle United supporter. At the risk of boring readers with the several factual inaccuracies of Baker’s piece, I’ll start with the reference to Newcastle United fanzines being filled with tales of ex-hardcore Mags walking away from the club this coming season. This quite simply is not true. Newcastle United has two printed fanzines – True Faith and The Mag. Being someone who is part of the team that produces True Faith, I can say quite categorically there has not been a single article in any of last season’s seven issues which has expressed anything like that sentiment. I recollect only one such article in The Mag. As someone who it appears lives in the north west rather than the north east and not among the 85 per cent of season ticket holders living within 15 miles of St James’ Park, I’d suggest Baker has no foundation in laying claim to any supporter exodus from NUFC. There has been no information in the local media to this end. The most damning facet to Baker’s credibility is his attitude towards his supposed fellow Newcastle United supporters. His is an attitude of contempt and ridicule. References to the “self-styled Toon Army” and “the most loyal fans in the world” reveal someone, doubtless a supporter of another club, who has gagged on the relentless hype of modern foot-ball rather than someone who has a real grudge against Geordies per se. Baker talks also about the “decline of a great sporting institution”. Few would question the received wisdom that the Newcastle United board of directors are dolts but for those of us that have been going along to SJP since the 1970s, they are, believe it or not, better than the fools who occupied their positions for decades before, and Baker should know that. Finally, on the off-chance that Baker is correct about some mass desertion, then I say good riddance. There should now be space in the ground to get some youngsters in and our club can set about rivalling Sunderland’s efforts at boosting attendances via their admirable free ticket policies for schoolchildren.
Michael Martin, Newcastle
I write to take issue with the letter from Leslie B (Letters, WSC 174) regarding the arrest of Jude Stirling “for allegedly assaulting a home fan who had made racist remarks”. I am not aware that anyone connected with the club (Luton Town) has made any allegation concerning “a racially motivated chant”. This is a case of a young man, a teenager in fact, responding to some alleged racial abuse made to him by one individual. Whether that response was justified is a matter for the magistrates to decide. That the “race card” (whatever this may be) was not “played” by the Luton management team until a day later is probably due to the fact that Stirling was not charged until the early hours of the following morning. Perhaps it would be fairer to say that the management did not comment until the earliest possible opportunity and were, in all probability, hoping that Stirling would be let off with a caution (see comments by George Berry on page 27 of WSC 174) and that the “alleged” racist would be the one facing the charge. As for Jude Stirling having “thrown his career away”, he has now had his contract extended by two years. The management seem to be backing him. OK, perhaps Stirling did react inappropriately, if that is what happened, but perhaps we should wait for the full facts to emerge before making judgments.
Steven Whitehead, via email
In reply to Ray Dexter’s letter in WSC 174 which asked if anyone could shed light on the varying noises made by football supporters around the world, the answer is yes. The “aaaaaaay” sound Ray reports in English grounds, is in fact a very elongated “yes” (or more accurately “yeaaaahh”). If you stop to think about the noise you make when your team scores, your mouth naturally defaults to the “y” shape as the ball hits the net. Similarly, the noise a crowd makes when a near-certain goal is miraculously saved at the last second is more like “yyeroooaaaaah”, a sound comprised of the positivity of a goal-bound shot, coupled with the disappointment of an intervening fingertip or outstretched leg (or Thierry Henry trying to flick the ball into the top corner instead of giving it a good larruping from a distance of three yards). Ray’s observation that in Scotland this sound is more like “aiiiiiiiiiyy” is a reflection on the Scottish accent – particularly in Glasgow, which has a more nasal tone anyway. Add the feverish excitement of an Old Firm game and your “high-pitched” goal sound is explained. In contrast, our Latin cousins tend to exclaim “Gol!” when their team scores, which is obviously a deeper sound. Anyone who watches too much Saturday evening ITV will have seen the footage of an Italian wedding when one of the guests starts bellowing “Gol!” during the ceremony after the transistor radio he is covertly listening to conveys some good news for his side. What someone should study is where all this behaviour is learned from. I can never remember tak-ing a conscious decision as an eight-year-old to start shouting “yeaaaahhh” when my team scores as opposed to any other noise such as “wick-ed” or “goal!”. If you ever study footage of the Mexico 86 World Cup you can quite clearly hear Jimmy Hill getting all native by screaming “goal” to greet all three of Gary Lineker’s goals against Poland.
Simon Jarvis, Lewisham
I thought I could add a Portuguese perspective to Ray Dexter’s letter in WSC 174 regarding the relative sounds made by football crowds across Europe. I attended several games in Lisbon while living there in the late Nineties, and I always found it striking that the Portuguese fans shouted and chanted at a pitch that was quite unnatural to myself as a northern European. I am a regular on the Kop at Wrexham and I dare say I have caused a headache to many a casual bystander from the volume of shouting that emanates from my 6ft frame during the 90 minutes. But, try as I might, I could not hit the notes chanted by Benfica’s lovely “No Name Boys” or the supporters of their marvellous Seleção Nacional. They were permanently set at a level much lower and deeper than we sing on the Kop and I hear elsewhere in England and Wales. Are we really made so differently? Is this yet another reason for fighting European integration, before the European Commission set a standard on crowd chanting which only suits the crafty Germans? I’m no physician or musicologist, so it’s a relief that Ray has spotted this phenomenon, since now I will not feel quite so sheepish (pun intended) bringing it up in the company of my intelligent Wrexham-supporting friends.
Robert Wardle, Bristol
It’s been niggling at the back of my mind for a few months now, and last night I had a moment of (probably substance induced) clarity – I like Kevin Keegan. Am I the only one? And why do so many contributors to this excellent publication make a point of “dissing” him? I know it’s not exactly current, but there’s a Keegan comment in almost every issue. Worryingly, most of the criticism is not at his lack of a super-technical tactical ability, seemingly so important in the modern game, but snobbish sneers at his lack of eloquence. OK, so Keegan has rants and wears his heart on his sleeve. But that’s why I like him – all the people I meet at football matches have heart-on-sleeve rants, and well structured prose is not often featured. I’m not a supporter of any of Keegan’s former clubs, and I’ve never met the guy. I do think that both Newcastle and Fulham played very exciting football under him. Ultimately, he wasn’t up to the England job, he said it himself, but football would be poorer without Keegan and the like, so can we all be nice girls and boys and stop the tabloid-type cheap and lazy jibes?
Mark Danks, Lichfield
In his otherwise excellent article (What Kate Did Right, WSC 174) John Williams is wrong to suggest that a new national stadium could host hockey matches. Hockey is no longer a game played on grass. International matches and games between the top club sides have to be played on water-based astroturf pitches. Quite apart from the fact that laying an astroturf pitch on top of a grass pitch (or vice versa) would do neither surface any good, English hockey has its own national stadium. Admittedly, it’s in the north (as far as the London press is concerned) at Silbury Boulevard, Milton Keynes.
Deryck Hall, Birmingham
Mike George’s letter in WSC 174, in which he stated that Maidstone United are now “trying to pass themselves off as the genuine article”, made me wonder if I’d been hallucinating the past few years I’d spent watching and reporting on the Stones. I don’t dispute his version of events surrounding the collapse of the Stones in 1992, nor that the idea of moving a Kent side to Newcastle was an idiotic insult to our intelligence. But to contend, as he seems to, that the supporters should just have given up and let the club die is bizarre for someone who used to be such a fan. Around 200 die-hard fans have stuck with the club, watching it in the amateur Kent County League in sometimes ludicrous venues, such as the Gravesend leisure centre where kiddies’ knock-arounds interrupted games, the ski slope at Eynsford or the school playing field outside Ashford. When you follow a club through this, then you can call yourself a true football supporter. Would fans of more successful sides have done the same had it happened to them? It has taken the Stones nine long years just to get back into the Kent League and we now, finally, have the chance to climb back up the pyramid in semi-professional football. It has taken thousands of hours of work from unpaid volunteers to undo just part of the damage done to this club by Jim Thompson and others. No one man is bigger than any football club and the Stones should be applauded for fighting to prove this. We are all Maidstone United supporters and we follow the club with the same devotion now that we did before 1992.
Fred Atkins, The Maidstone News
Having followed Cheltenham Town since 1963 I have to reply to Roger Lytollis’s comment in his review of the Third Division that “any romance was long gone” (WSC 174). Promotion from the Dr Martens League, winning at Wembley the following year, next season promotion to the Third Division followed by two near misses for the play-offs. Large investment in the ground and administration; gates from 600-700 to 3,700 average; working within a tight budget; still several players from the Dr Martens days; players in their mid-thirties playing at a level they thought they had left behind. We did manage to have quite a lot of serious injuries last year as well as defeating Brighton and Cardiff. At least we didn’t resort to play-acting to get players sent off. “Unromantic” Steve Cotterill? I’m sure he has his moments, but hopefully not in the dugout.
Trevor Wallis, Cheltenham
Roger Lytollis’s despair at the shortcomings of his club, Carlisle, should not have led him to denigrate the achievements of Blackpool (Third Division Review, WSC 174) who are not, in fact, a “miserably ordinary” side. I strongly doubt that Roger saw us play more than a couple of times and then only during the early part of the season. On the whole, however, Blackpool played some very entertaining football in a highly competitive division. If it looked different from the opposite end, I can only sympathise: following Carlisle over the past few seasons is not something you’d wish on anyone.
Dave Roebuck, Lytham
I was pleased to see that Sky covered this year’s Copa América but remain deeply puzzled by some of their choices as studio pundits. For the first match I saw, Bolivia v Uruguay, we were treated to the expert views of Tony Cottee and Chris Coleman. Cottee, the presenter told us, had once played against a Bolivian, Jaime Moreno of Middlesbrough. There was no other reason offered for Cottee’s presence in the studio, where both he and Coleman struggled to say anything of interest. Later guests such as Ray Houghton and Bobby Gould did little better, though Gould did attempt to discuss tactics (anyone who’s heard him expound on this subject before will know why I say “attempt”). Even though the staging of the tournament was in doubt to the last minute, Sky announced their plans to televise it months before. So why did they seem to select experts on the basis of who happened to be available at short notice? They’d have been better off inviting in the minicab drivers who brought their guests to the studio. Although, now I think about it, that may be the basis on which Alan Mullery got his regular Saturday gig on Sky Sports One during the Premiership season.
Barry Thornton, Tooting
From WSC 175 September 2001. What was happening this month