THE HALF DECENT FOOTBALL MAGAZINE

Dear WSC
Re the letter regarding Paolo Di Canio’s favourite referee and his apparent total lack of a sense of humour (WSC 170). I hate to further tarnish the man’s reputation, but he recently refereed the Brighton v Hull game at Withdean. Sitting in our seats prior to the game, we were informed that, due to a mysterious technical problem, no music would be played in the ground before kick-off. Prob­­ably down to our somewhat ropey PA system, we thought, or the local residents complaining again. But no, for it was later revealed that Mr Alcock, tucked away in his dressing room, found the music to be objectionable and demanded it be turned off. Unable to isolate the ref’s room from the speaker system, the club was faced with the choice of silencing the airwaves or having the game called off, as our be­loved referee refused to start the match unless he had a bit of quiet.Perhaps he needs peace to get himself in the right frame of mind to put in his usual outstanding refereeing performance.
Vicki Lank, Via email

Dear WSC
If Cris Freddi (WSC 170) believes that William Ralph Dean was “hugely overrated” with his pitiful record of only 18 goals in 16 internationals, then I would be interested to hear his opinion of “St Michael Owen”, the saviour of English football.
Richard Gordon, via email

Dear WSC
As a lover of conspiracy theories I was intrigued to find the following on the official UEFA website the other night: “FC Kaiserslautern booked their place in Friday’s UEFA Cup semi-final draw... with a 2-0 aggregate success, the same scorline as Liverpool FC, 2-0 home victors against FC Porto.” Nothing particularly controversial there you might think, except for the fact that this appeared on the website whilst there were still 15 minutes left to play at Anfield. It kind of spoilt the fun knowing that there were to be no further goals. Perhaps some kind tabloid journalist would be kind enough to steal the document showing all the coming Champions League results so I can pick the games worth watching.
Gordon Thrower, Via email

Dear WSC
With the media’s new found interest in Steve Gerrard’s growing pains and general body development, I sincerely hope that this does not herald regular prog­ress reports on the Liverpool midfielder’s journey through puberty. It’s only a matter of time before one of the tabloids gets the scoop Testicles finally drop for Gerrard. Cup campaigns, intenational call ups and adolescence. Who says footballers don’t earn their money?
Anthony Pope, Brighton

Dear WSC
In your article Ground Trip (WSC 170) you state that of Wigan’s JJB Stadium “only two sides of the ground are in use for football”. This is untrue – all four sides of the ground are in use for both football and the other sport. Originally when the ground opened only three sides were in use due to the capacity being restricted until major roadworks had been completed at the nearby Saddle Junction.
Mike Lynch, Via email

Dear WSC
In response to Dave Hurst in WSC 170. Irrespective of the penalty incidents in the Worthington Cup final the reason Michael Johnson thought it was “disgraceful” that the penalties were taken at the Liverpool end was because this was a‑‑decision that was made by the local police. The reason given was that they wouldn’t be able to control the Birmingham fans for fear of a pitch invasion if the penalties had been taken at the Blues end. After all there were only about 1,500 police on duty that day– a third of the entire South Wales Constabulary, apparently.
Paul Disco, via email

Dear WSC
Further to various letters on the subject of programmes printing the referee’s home town (Letters, WSC 170). I can remember back in the middle Seventies there was a guy whose voice was heard on the East terrace at The Dell at every home match. We actually used to hold a sweep on when his first cry of “Yooou Black Bastaaaaaard”, would go up. It had nothing to do with anyone’s race, thankfully, but was a reference to the man in black and was always an indicator that the poor wretch with the whistle had given one too many decisions against the Saints. Anyway, one week our anonymous friend must have invested in a programme because when the time came (usually within the first 20 minutes),the triumphant shout was adjusted to “Yooou Hemel Hempstead Bastaaaaaaaaaard!!!”. Oh how we laughed.
Tim Manns, Compton Dundon

Dear WSC
Your Wycombe-supporting correspondent Dave Chapman (Letters, WSC 170) seems keen to join an argument that doesn’t concern his club – the Didcot Triangle. Put simply, Wycombe isn’t a place you can get to easily from Didcot Station, unlike Oxford, Swindon or Reading; nor does it have any of the intertwined football history that makes the Didcot Triangle more than just a geographic expression. Reading and Swindon have a keen and well-matched rivalry that goes back to the dawn of the professional Southern League in 1894. Oxford had a tradition of successful amateur football, providing the FA Cup winners of 1874 (The University) and FA Amateur Cup winners (Oxford City and Pegasus) when that trophy meant something. For professional football the people of Oxford often travelled to Elm Park in a stream of Tappins coaches. This was the order of things, with the Biscuitmen slightly in the ascendant of the Railwaymen, until 1962 and Accrington Stanley’s moment of madness. They foolishly resigned their Football League status in mid-season and failed to get the deed rescinded. Oxford United were the fortunate beneficiaries in the subsequent election process. Within two years they were challenging Reading and Swindon in hotly contested and well-supported Third Division matches. The Tappins coaches ceased to come south, Reading’s gates fell and by the end of the 1960s Oxford and Swindon had gone off together to the Second Division. Reading, desperate to follow, took the wrong turning into the Fourth. Through the Goring Gap Reading could hear the banging and shouting of this stormy new relationship for a decade before all three were reunited in Division Three. Then in 1982-83 Swindon went off slumming it; Reading were left alone in the division with Oxford for the first time and Oxford (or chairman Maxwell) basically tried to kill and eat the Reading in the famously unappetising dish called “Thames Valley Royals”. Successfully repulsed, the three teams continued as rivals, inspiring each other to successes in the 1980s. Like many other close rivals, their fortunes have tended to go up and down together ever since. Swindon, Oxford and Reading are (or were, pre-Mad Stad) clubs of similar stature but from places of quite different character and this also adds to the spice. What part Wycombe, a smaller and lesser place as Chapman admits, can hope to play in this triangle is not obvious. Swindon, for instance, is over 60 miles away. Reading and Wycombe are clearly developing some kind of feeling for each other – the recent sixth League meeting between the two was the first to finish with 22 players on the pitch! But it doesn’t have the same power of history behind it.
Roger Titford, Hungerford

Dear WSC
At the risk of sounding like a smart aleck, I have to tell Cris Freddi that Matthias Sindelar almost certainly did not gas himself (WSC 170). His death was in all likelihood an accident. I’m aware that the suicide/murder theories will never cease to crop up because they make good stories, but they really belong on the last page of WSC. Contrary to popular belief, the police looked long and hard into the circumstances that led to Sindelar’s death and their report seems almost watertight. In addition, there is considerable circumstantial evidence to corroborate their findings (eg similar occurrences in Sindelar’s neighbourhood and complaints from neighbours about problems with the smoke outlets), while the suicide/murder theories have too many gaping holes and fail to account for the facts we have. As happens so often, what has led people to believe Sindelar killed himself can be traced to a work of art, in this case a poem by Friedrich Torberg. Evidently, Torberg felt that the best way to point out the tragedy surrounding the life of Sindelar would be to suggest there was foul play involved when he died. Still, I have always felt that the idea that the great man died because of a stupid accident that could have been prevented is a lot more tragic than what fiction later came up with.
Uli Hesse-Lichtenberger, Witten, Germany

Dear WSC
I thought the anger was long past, but reading your piece on the Irish youth policy (WSC 170) brought the irritation bubbling back to the surface. A picture of Robbie Keane at the 1999 World Youth Cup did not help. Briefly recapping, Robbie had already been in the Republic’s full squad by the time the Youth Cup hove into view. You imagine English club managers’ enthusiasm, when they discover that this tournament is to take place over February and March and, depending on success, might take their players away for over a month at the height of the English season. Wol­ves protest that Keane (Robbie) is already a part of the senior set-up, their protests are duly ignored and off to Africa it is. Strangely, some Premier League managers who protested similarly had their complaints listened to. Funny, that.Robbie comes back, knackered, but ready to contribute to yet another futile promotion push by Wolves. This, of course, cannot be allowed to happen because the FAI decide that he is a full international after all and they want to take him away for two more games to play in their European Championship qualifiers. Dave Hannigan accuses managers of myopia, I call it a marked reluctance to have the piss taken in this manner. After lighting up our season, he failed to score again for Wolves that season after coming back from Nigeria. What made it worse in this case was seeing Mick McCarthy swanning into Molineux at the height of the row, parking in the players’ car park and generally behaving as if he owned the place. I’d have been hard pressed to even let him near the ground. Even now I find it difficult not to mutter under my breath when he comes on TV to rehash his impersonation of Ron Manager. I’ll just go and have a lie down, shall I?
Paul Quinton, Wolverhampton

Dear WSC
Dave Hurst (Letters, WSC 170) painted a nightmare scenario of an inept MOTD replacement on ITV later this year. However, readers should be aware that a highlights programme of spectacular blandness has been pumped out by the BBC for many years already. Step forward BBC1 Scotland’s Sportscene. A visit home over the Christmas holidays gave me the chance to see it at its woeful best. Picture two bar stools, with obligatory podgy ex-player shuffling around uncomfortably, faced by an anonymous host, set in a small corner of Habitat’s warehouse. Cue the tinny, instantly forgettable music. Occasionally throw in some ideas you’ve nicked from Sky Sports, eg Subbuteo players showing formations, then mysteriously ditch it after a couple of weeks. But all this surface tackiness can be endured – after all programmes are ab­out the game itself, the suspense of what is going to happen next and, in the SPL’s case, whether Henrik Larsson will get two or three goals in this game. However even this “saving grace” is removed as cheerfully the host intones pre-highlights: “And this game had a sting in the tail for Dundee.” Or: “You’ve got to pay attention right to the end of this one.” Having dispelled a good deal of the suspense with these wise words, the viewer continues to watch, comforted by the thought perhaps that at least they don’t know the English scores – as the highlights of three or four are shown at the end of the featured Scottish game. Not for long, though, as midway through the highlights of the Scottish game (without even the hint of a “look away now”) some more gems of cliched journalism appear on screen: “Coming up... Man Utd leave it late... hat-trick joy for Phillips... Shear class at St James’...” Is the art of avoiding the score really gone forever? So no matter how bad things may or may not get with the passing of MOTD, spare a thought for those viewers in Scotland who’ve been staring at the TV sporting abyss every Saturday night for years.
Keith Mowat, Via email

Dear WSC
I read the article Naming Rites in WSC 170 with interest and amusement. However, the author neglected to mention one of the most frequent canards of all – the inevitable references (until this season, obviously) to the journey down “Wembley Way” on FA Cup final day. In fact, Wembley Way is a nondescript little street about a quarter of a mile from the stadium. The famous approach, with its marvellous view of the hallowed twin towers and its charming kebab stands, is called Olympic Way – at least according to my London A-Z.
John Paines, Via e-mail

Dear WSC
I would not normally intrude on the public grief of Chelsea and Tottenham supporters, but Terry Kealy’s diligent attention to the “facts” (Letters, WSC 170) requires some riposte from an Arsenal supporter, so why not me? Even if we stick to Terry’s bizarre formula of “postwar major trophies” (and clearly he means war No 2) Arsenal mus­ter 15, which in this part of north London is one more than 14. Of course, the 15 includes six titles to Tottenham’s one, but why confuse quality with quantity? I say bizarre because Terry’s memory goes back far enough to recall Arsenal’s south London origins. Yet although Arsenal moved to Highbury in 1913, before war No 1, Terry is reluctant to extend the meaning of “postwar major trophies” to include 1918-39 in the reckoning. I wonder why? If this piece of historical fal­sification wasn’t enough, Terry shows that Stalin has at last met his match, by excluding trophies Arsenal won under George Graham from the modern day reckoning, whilst counting those before (as long as they weren’t before 1945) and after!! What is the point of all this? If it is that a club’s standing is based on “a lot more than what it won last year” than I agree, but twisting dates in this way undermines the merit of the point. What next – a West Ham supporter claiming that in fact they have been the most successful London team if you exclude years that end in one, and only count years that end in four and five? And only start counting from the Algerian war of independence?
Mus Ibrahim, Via email

From WSC 171 May 2001. What was happening this month

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