THE HALF DECENT FOOTBALL MAGAZINE

Dear WSC
On January 13, Paul Alcock officiated at the Northampton Town v Bury match. During the obligatory photo just prior to kick-off, home mascot Clarence the Dragon made as if to push Alcock à la Di Canio but actually made no contact. Alcock’s reaction was to spit out: “Oh very fucking funny! I haven’t heard that one for at least ten fucking minutes.” This in front of the two young mascots who immediately told their parents as they came off that the referee had sworn at Clarence. Unbelievably, Alcock actually reported the “incident” to the FA with the result that the club has been fined and Clarence handed a severe reprimand and cautioned as to his future conduct. Just what planet does this prissy little pipsqueak come from? Talk about double standards.
Peter Smith, Northampton

Dear WSC
I am mightily disturbed by Neil Wills slagging off brown football kit as distasteful (WSC 169). FC St Pauli’s club colours are white and brown and they have over the years played their way through an impressive number of shitty looking brown or brownish shirts (including a brown-purple-black combination) until the beginning of this season when they managed to introduce an unspectacular but certainly not distasteful brown and white striped shirt. I still bought the black away shirt, though. With skull and crossbones.
Christian Schmidt, via email

Dear WSC
To say, as Marcus Hesketh does, that “Sadly the Nottingham public have no great passion for football” is simply not true (Letters, WSC 169). And “Spare a thought for the eternally depressed Forest faithful” seems very cap-in-hand. Forest have the largest average attendance in the First Division this season (currently 20,117), a figure that actually does suggest the loyalty, passion and commitment which Mr Hesketh thinks is lacking. As an exiled Notts County fan, I make a round trip of over seven hours every other Saturday to see my team play at home, yet I ask no one to “spare a thought” for a team sailing as close to the wind financially as any other lower division side. I would suggest that the actions of supporters all over the country who do similar and more shows that the Nottingham/ Manchester/ Burnley/ Bristol/ Plymouth etc public do have ­passion in following their respective teams. To ask for such sympathy for a team who have had recent success and a loyal and (relatively) large fan base makes a mockery of those clubs genuinely struggling. If anyone deserves sympathy it is clubs such as Hull, and not Forest, Spurs or even Notts.
Martin Naylor, via email

Dear WSC
I would like to announce to the widest possible audience that Friday, February 9 was a very special day for English football. The copy of Jimmy Hill’s autobiography in Crewe library managed to complete a whole year with absolutely no­body taking it out of the library to read. I was on tenterhooks as the anniversary approached, as somebody could have spoiled the occasion by borrowing the book, but thankfully nobody did.
Tim Whelan, via email

Dear WSC
You were absolutely right in WSC 169 to make the connection between the vio­lent reception given to Liverpool supporters by Roma fans and the fatal ev­ents at the Heysel the following year. Liverpool fans weren’t the only ones to get the Roma treatment in 1984. In the second leg of the semi-final between Roma and Dun­dee United, all the United fans I know who were there said they had never been so frightened at a football match in their lives and just prayed that United, leading 2-0 from the first leg, would NOT win. Unfortunately, their prayers were answered. Dundee United have played in more than 100 European games and a semi-final of the European Cup should be a cherished memory. The glorious 2-0 win at Tannadice is in that category, despite the Italian club’s claim that United’s players had been on drugs. The return match is one that all “Arabs” like to forget and Roma’s gamesmanship over the two legs, including being fined for attempting to bribe the ref at the return leg, is still sickening. Over the years United have beaten, among others, Barcelona four times in four attempts. What a pity Roma did not also act like this truly great club and accept defeat with such dignity. I don’t understand how anyone can hate a football club but suffice to say no one in Liverpool cheered louder than me when Michael Owen scored his double in Rome.
Bob McPherson, via email

Dear WSC
As Ramzi Shammasm is so keen on facts, it’s a pity he didn’t check his (Letters, WSC 169), because he would know that Tottenham won two League Cups in the Seventies, 1971 and 1973. Ramzi questions Adam Powley’s description of Chel­sea’s four recent Cup wins as “distinctly limited”. On the face of it, this is a harsh assessment until you re­­­member that Chelsea are a self-proclaimed “European club playing in Eng­­land” (as I write this, Chelsea have just been knocked out of this season’s FA Cup and still haven’t won away in the League). No one knows Tottenham’s League record better than their own supporters, and with the players they’ve had in the past, including half-a-dozen Footballers of the Year, it should have been a lot better. (In the five years when English clubs were banned from Europe, they finished third three times.) However, there’s a tendency, fuelled by Sugar, Graham and certain piss-poor journalists, to look at Tottenham’s undeniably average returns of late (only two cups since 1990, the same as Liverpool) and pretend that it has always been that way. I’m happy to put our postwar record of 14 major trophies, and especially our European record, up against any English team, Liverpool and Manchester United excepted. And as for the Woolwich Nomads? Well, when I grew up in north London, they weren’t at the races. In over 30 years, before George Graham became their manager in 1986, they had a total of three winning seasons (1970, 1971 and 1979); since he left them six years ago, they’ve had one more. So what’s my point? Simply that football success comes and goes, and a club’s standing in the game is based on a lot more than what it won last year.
Terry Kealy, Bovingdon

Dear WSC
Piers Pennington’s downbeat article on the supposed “mysteries of the Didcot triangle” (WSC 169) should have extended a little further down the Thames Valley to include one club from that region that has shown a modicum of success in recent years, Wycombe Wanderers. The club is briefly (and patronisingly) mentioned as a potential “local rival” to Reading and, according to Piers, “offers some potential if anybody could work out where the place is or if anybody supports them enough to bother”. Well, 5,500 regulars at the club can not only find the ground, but even bother to deign the club with their presence for each home game. Average gates are in excess of those at Oxford and proportionally higher than Swindon and Reading when you consider the size of those towns in relation to High Wycombe. A non-League club less than ten years ago and without a wealthy financial backer, Wycombe have made shrewd choices of manager, developed a productive youth policy, are pushing for a play-off place this season and are, as we speak, in the draw for the quarter-finals of the FA Cup. It may sound like a bunch of wrongly incarcerated prisoners, but wouldn’t the “Thames Valley Four” be better descriptive of League football in this geography than the “Didcot Triangle”?
Dave Chapman, via email

Dear WSC
I heard with some astonishment on Radio 5 Live that Steve Bruce had “ruled himself out of the QPR manager’s job”. What a joke! On the basis of what he’s done so far he’d be lucky to ­manage a Conference side. Mr Bruce obviously thinks that his Man Utd connections and £10 million to spend on players ­guarantees him a living. Not so. I would observe to Mr Bruce as follows: get a job in the lower regions where a £250 a week player salary is the norm; get yourself qualified; get your nose fixed.
Mike Waring, via email

Dear WSC
Following on from Mr Tim Doyle’s observation (Letters, WSC 169) that the surnames of referees are usually prefixed by a deferential “Mr” (surely a harking back to the gentlemanly days of old, when presumably refs were respected the length and breadth of the country for the high quality decisions that they made, minute-in, minute-out), why is it that for years it has been thought worthwhile to point out where the referee hails from? This “naming and shaming” does now seem to have stopped, but I can’t see any reason why the information was thought important enough to divulge in the first place. Was the system put in place to allow a frisson of excitement to run through supporters watching games who have knowledge of the referee’s abode? Perhaps it was a handy service to let people know that in the event of any appalling errors of judgment they could track down the referee and provide an honest, objective assessment of his lack of ability. Who knows? It just has always seemed peculiar that while no one has a clue where players come from, unless they are “a local lad made good” or a previously unknown international, everyone knows most of the postal address of our leading referees.
Simon Smith, Reading (but previously Little Paxton)

Dear WSC
What have we to look forward to when ITV take over from Match Of The Day? For the answer, look no further than ITV’s coverage of the Worthington final between Birmingham and Liverpool. Two incidents in this game are relevant. 1) In the second half, Birmingham defender Johnson deliberately handles in his penalty area to keep the ball from Robbie Fowler but it is shielded from the ref. This is clearly shown on ITV’s coverage. No penalty is given. 2) In extra time, Liverpool defender Henchoz brings a Birmingham player down in the box when stretching to tackle him. No penalty is given. What is Andy Townsend’s expert analysis of the game? “The ref robbed Birmingham of the match there,” he said, referring to Henchoz’s ill-timed tackle. Andy neglected to mention the first incident. Personally, I can’t wait to listen to the likes of Townsend, Bob Wilson et al giving us further insight based on their uncanny understanding of the game. On the other hand I could just watch repeats of The Sweeney. Incidentally, the aforementioned Johnson of Birmingham was reported as complaining it was “disgraceful” that the penalties were taken at the end of the ground where the Liverpool fans were standing. Wonder if he thinks his handball was “disgraceful”.
Dave Hurst, via email

Dear WSC
I know that the subject of the new media-friendly FA Cup draw has been debated on these pages before, but I do feel there is one thing that I still need to get off my chest. Is it really necessary for ITV to spoil half of the fun by giving away all the team numbers before the draw takes place? Is it just me, or shouldn’t we be allowed a couple of glorious seconds to bask in the anonymity of each number? A short moment in time when all that stands between you and the next round is an easy-on-paper home tie against lowly No 17. Honestly, it’s like being told what’s in all your Christmas presents just before you unwrap them. If this practice is to continue, can Des maybe precede it with: “FA Cup draw team numbers coming up. For those of you that don’t want to know, look away now.” It is just me, isn’t it?
Andrew Brindle, Stockport

Dear WSC
No quarrels with Ronald Reng’s less than flattering comments about the quality of TV football coverage in Germany (WSC 169), and he should be grateful that, living in London, he doesn’t have to endure it week after week. However, there is one element which he glossed over. German commentators were traditonally dour and inclined to tell you exactly what you could see for yourself, but there were advantages to this, the best being that they had a habit of falling silent for minutes on end if there was nothing happening on the pitch. No chance of that these day, alas – the new generation of football reporters see themselves as media stars in their own right. In fact, they are now even able to talk complete gibberish for up to two hours without a match being played at all, culminating in a legendary performance in 1998 when two of them were required to bridge the gap when the goalposts were being replaced for a Champions League semi-final at the Bernabéu. Previously, breaking through the ranks meant basically working your way up from radio commentary. These days, however, the qualifications German TV stations seem to look out for include hosting daily chat shows (“My boyfriend never cleans the toilet; what should I do?”), being able to interview politicians and starlets alike, or even having a second career as a stand-up comedian. These new comentators seem to pop up everywhere, from being guests on chat shows to presenting commercials. And when they have to bother with football, they focus on the things the public supposedly wants – gossip, human interest angles and easily digestible quotes. German footballers, however, seem to be quite at ease with this – everyone wants to speak to them but nobody demands that they say anything of interest. Which leads to the situation, alluded to by Ronald Reng, that German players are much more used to dealing with the media than in England, while TV stations and sports magazines don’t usually manage to come up with anything even remotely resembling an analytical approach.
Peter Schimkat, Kassel, Germany

Dear WSC
Gary Newbon is an expert at wheedling into dugouts and slipping past police cordons for those post-match and mid-match interviews, but could someone please supply him with questions worthy of the interviewee? The man was again in top form following England’s unexpected triumph against Spain. Addressing Eriksson in a sort of patronising tone of voice he asked: “3-0 against Spain – that must be worth one of your glamorous smiles?” Sven looked back blankly, searching for the words “gibbering” and “idiot”, I suppose.
Keith Mowat, via email

Dear WSC

I wish people would stop going on about how Tottenham Hotspur are going to win the Cup simply because the year ends in a “one”. Honestly, it’s just sooooooooo 20th century.
Neil Andrews, Clapham Park

From WSC 170 April 2001. What was happening this month

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