I’ve heard some daft excuses for losing matches but Trevor Francis has surpassed even Manchester United’s grey shirts fiasco at Southampton with his moaning over Birmingham’s play-off penalty shoot-out at Preston. Perhaps the poor dear would like to consider the following points. At any ground other than Deepdale there would have been spectators behind both goals, and if the penalties hadn’t been at the Preston end they would have been at the Birmingham end. Therefore, by his logic, that would be unfair on the Preston players. If Birmingham were a better team than Preston they would have finished above them in the league table, therefore the second leg of their play-off and the penalty shoot-out would have taken place at their own ground. They only finished fifth over 46 league games so they were lucky to have any chance of promotion in the first place. If his players are unnerved by taking penalties in front of opposition fans what chance would they stand of surviving in the Premiership? In a ground filled with paying spectators it makes sense for the deciding moments to take place at the end where most of them will have the best view. Who cares whether the referee or police changed their mind about which end the penalties should be taken? The notion that the whole match should be replayed because of that is absolutely ludicrous. If I was a Birmingham fan I would be embarrassed that the manager could come out with such a lame excuse for defeat instead of accepting that his team was simply not good enough.
Richard Watts, Sydenham
It’s interesting to reflect on WSC’s calender supplement, “A Day In The Life Of”, issued last autumn. I didn’t realise that the paths followed by particular characters were interchangeable. In the original, it is the Teen Idol who “marries Billie”, while the Celeb Fan “takes up rugby”. With the wedding bit out of the way, are we likely to see Michael Owen join the British Lions tour this summer?
Ian Janes, Tredegar
Did anybody else’s heart sink when Clive Tyldesley smugly reminded us during the Leeds v Valencia Champions League semi-final that “it’s only three months until Premiership highlights on ITV”? I was quite enjoying the game until then.
Robin Pearson, Isleworth
I thought I should write to clear up a small error that crept into your normally excellent diary section last month. In your entry for Thursday April 26 you noted that “Kevin Phillips, barracked by Sunderland fans during the recent match with Newcastle, is said to have asked for a transfer”. The source of this information was, I presume, that normally excellent provider of football transfer rumour, the Daily Mail, which used the “barracking” to justify a rather dishonest “Kevin Phillips asks for a transfer story” (which the club and player both denied immediately). This was picked up by several other papers and eventually by your diary section – a sure example of modern football journalists going back to original sources if ever there was one. So what actually happened at the game? Well, from what I saw and heard that day, I have two theories. 1) In an attempt to make the game pass off without any trouble, the police arranged for Newcastle’s visiting fans to be bussed in. These buses were diverted and their occupants rendered unconcious, their clothes removed, and placed on 3,000 Sunderland fans who were then put in the visiting fan end and made to sing anti-Sunderland and anti-Kevin Phillips chants. Or 2) The fans who barracked Kevin Phillips at the Sunderland v Newcastle game were in fact Newcastle fans, extracting revenge for many years of Sunderland’s Alan Shearer baiting. I leave the decision up to you. Then again, I already did that didn’t I, and you believed the Daily Mail.
Barry Unwin, via email
Good to see a feature on the South Pacific (Goal Islands, WSC 172), a neglected and cliche-prone region, even by Third World standards. However, I am tempted to put a more cynical interpretation on Oceania’s World Cup qualifying system. A trip to Australia for a tournament is a pretty good deal for the average Pacific Islander, I imagine, and it may well be enough to keep the status quo in place when their support is next required. Qualifying for the 1998 World Cup used a preliminary competition, which eliminated the very weakest teams before the relatively big guns became involved. If the aim is to develop the game in the region, double-figure defeats aren’t going to help much, and neither is playing all the games in Australia. The Australian defender who admired the American Samoans “lining up with two guys up front” was either very naive or very patronising – they would have been playing just like they would in any other game. Something like a Polynesian Cup or Pacific Island Championships yes, but this sort of event is just an embarrassment to the game and I’m sure even FIFA realise that.
David Eveleigh, via email
The articles on the Oceania World Cup group (WSC 172) brought back some memories, in particular Australia’s 22-0 win over Tonga. During the 1998 World Cup qualifiers, I was working in Tonga and playing football (or “soka” as it is known there) in the local league. Apart from playing in a few fairly irregular fixtures and refereeing the odd game, one of my staff was married to the president of the football association, so I got to hob-nob with visiting celebrities, including the infamous Charlie Dempsey. During the qualifiers, Tonga got beaten 6-0 at home by the Solomon Islands. Before the return leg in Honiara, the local football association sacked the national coach. A few days later I was approached by a member of the national committee to take over. Not having any formal qualifications or experience, being a very average player and having a full-time job, I had to decline this kind offer. The committee then offered the position to the owner of a local pizza restaurant. His only qualification? He was Italian.
Bill Pennington, via email
Chesterfield were found guilty of two charges – undeclared gate receipts and the second contract for Luke Beckett. Ed Parkinson (Lax Deduction, WSC 172) states: “The League’s decision to deduct nine points and fine the club £20,000 would in most circumstances have been a severe penalty.” He then seems to argue that because this makes us “proven cheats” then by some twisted logic we should be found guilty of all the things the FA (twice) cleared us of. Or is he contradicting himself and arguing that the punishment for the things we were guilty of was not a “severe penalty” after all? Exactly what is he accusing us of? He says that we have “chaotic finances”. Well, they are now but at the time Beckett was signed it was thought that Chesterfield were £1 million in the black, and we “have assembled a team which had built up a big lead at the top of the division”. Well, excuse us! The fact is that whatever happened off the pitch last season has led to the club coming within days of being wound up for good (or worse, groundsharing with Mansfield) and going into administration with the threat of extinction ever present. Hardly the “gloating of successful cheats”.
Paul Button, Chesterfield
Re-reading some old issues of WSC, I came across John Wadmore’s article about Portsmouth in issue 15 where he comments that: “The farce surrounding the Fratton End would impress even the great masters of the art like Feydeau, Rix (Brian, not Graham)...” How could he have been so prescient as to know, way back in May 1988, that one day Rix (Graham, not Brian) would be occupying the hallowed Fratton managerial dugout?
John Bourn, Gateshead
I feel I must respond to your article Security Blanket (WSC 172) and in particular at the way it appears to suggest that the list of “incidents” on the National Criminal Intelligence Service has a high number of cases involving supporters of my team, Rotherham United. As far as I can see, there are three “incidents” out of 83 which have a Rotherham connection during the season 1999-2000. Of these, one is a pre-season friendly when fans of Sheffield Wednesday went on the rampage in the town centre – no suggestion that any Rotherham fans were involved. A second is described as an attack in the town centre on six fans wearing Rotherham shirts (ie not instigated by them). The third “incident” was certainly unsavoury, in the Third Division championship decider against Swansea on the final day of the season. While I have no desire to play down any involvement by so-called Rotherham supporters, the sheer importance of the game meant that Swansea supporters turned up in huge numbers. Given their reputation in recent seasons for causing trouble, especially when playing Cardiff, trouble could have been predicted, and was thus likely to attract troublemakers from far and wide. With all First Division games being played on the Sunday, most other local fans had a free Saturday. Indeed it is well known locally that much of the trouble was caused by a notorious contingent of Sheffield United fans who delight in the name of the BBC (Blades Business Crew). I have been a follower of the Millers for almost 40 years, and even during the worst excesses of football hooliganism during the 1970s, I’m pleased to say we never had a reputation for causing trouble. During the season just passed, I attended 43 out of 46 games and witnessed trouble at just one (at Reading). I understand there was also an incident at Wigan. High profile games at Millmoor against the likes of Millwall and Stoke were extremely well policed by the South Yorkshire force. Now that we have moved up to the First Division we will have a much greater number of visiting fans and high profile games. To be singled out as one of five sets of supporters to beware of is neither fair nor wanted. How many nutters will have read it and made a mental note that Rotherham is the place to come to for a “rumble”? Given the fact that our name cropped up only three times (as against ten for Wolves, eight for Leicester, six for Manchester City and Sheffield Wednesday and five for Man Utd and Birmingham) I really don’t understand why we were singled out. Your reporting was not only unfair, but irresponsible. Millmoor has never been known as a trouble spot. I hope this letter will put the record straight and keep it that way.
John Ward, St Albans
Conspiracy theories seem to be the in thing lately and I have my own to propound. Namely that Peter Drury is either the father of Owen Hargreaves or he is systematically trying to coerce the English nation, the English tabloids and the English coaching staff into giving Bayern’s Welsh/Canadian/English midfield dynamo a full England cap. At the start of the Champions League semi-final second leg between Bayern and Real Madrid he made a point of telling us that Mr Hargreaves still has the choice to play for Wales or England. And that he had yet to make his mind up in spite of playing an England Under-21 game. Peter Drury then spent the rest of the entire game dribbling over his every move, regarding him as an equal to Effenberg and almost pleading with Sven-Goran to jolly well get his act together quickly and get this lad on board. Peter, I support Wrexham FC and Wales. I have to accept that football glory will never shine on my underdog life. But please, Wales need all the help they can get. We should by rights have Michael Owen... don’t force Mr Hargreaves away from us.
Alun Rogers, Derby
While I agree with the general arguments regarding shirt sponsorship given in the editorial page of WSC 172, I was sorry to see repeated the myth that Barcelona are too noble to allow vulgar advertising to besmirch their shirts. In fact, just one glance at the current Barcelona shirt will show that it prominently features the logo of a huge American sportswear manufacturer. Presumably the club authorities are well aware what an effective advertisement for the company’s products this is, and made sure said company paid a considerable amount of money for the privilege of supplying FC Barcelona with their kit. Surely, if the people at Barcelona were so high-minded, they would have been able to find somewhere in Catalonia a company capable of running up a set of blue and red shirts. Another point I have to make about shirt advertising is that fans in the UK have it good, in that at least their replica shirts carry only one sponsor. In order to express my pride in the team I support, FC Lucerne, I am expected to wear a shirt carrying not one but three advertisements: a clothing company on the front, a type of cheese on the back and the local casino on both sleeves. The club crest appears to be sewn on as an afterthought. Here, football shirts have almost sunk to the depths of cycling shirts and Formula One cars, in which whatever colour and design they originally may have had has been completely buried under a jarring mass of logos.
Brian Whitby, Alpnach, Switzerland
There’s something fundamentally wrong with following a 30-minute golden goal period with the present format of penalty shoot-outs. At present (eg the European Cup final), the 90 minutes normal time is followed by a “sudden death” golden goal period. The “sudden death” format is then put aside while each team has five penalties – and then the “sudden death” element is restored once again for the remaining penalties. If the golden goal period is to be followed by penalties then, surely, the “sudden death” element should continue from the first penalty, ie you can decide the game in only two penalties if one team misses their first. It seems daft, in the current system, to imply that the first team to score in the golden goal period is the winner, but the first team to miss in the penalty shoot-out is not necessarily the loser. If it seems unfair to have the shoot-out all over in two kicks then keep it as it is – but abandon the golden goal.
Jonathan Williamson, Sheffield
From WSC 173 July 2001. What was happening this month