After hearing for the umpteenth time that 2001 is Tottenham’s year for the Cup (based on the well known logic that they always net the trophy when the year ends in “one”), it occurred to me that it is now ten years since Nottingham Forest let Brian Clough down royally in an inept Cup final display. If Tottenham fans think they’ve had a rough time in the ten years since, they should spare a thought for the eternally depressed Forest faithful who have seen their team slump from being a regular top-ten inhabitant in the top division, to being a penniless First Division club with nothing to look forward to apart from the semi-realistic possibility of Derby County joining us in the First. Sadly, the Nottingham public have no great passion for football and one can’t help wondering if the current situation would be different if we had the kind of committed support that the likes of Newcastle, Sunderland and Manchester City can claim.
Marcus Hesketh, via email
The most annoying thing about the appointment of Sven-Goran Eriksson is the way in which those who favour his appointment have sought to take the moral high ground by branding those who oppose it as xenophobic. Granted, opposing the appointment of a foreign national as England manager puts you in some pretty undesirable company – not just the Jeff Powells but the even more loathsome Dougie Brimson, who was given space on a website to state that “the boys who booed John Barnes in the 1980s” wouldn’t like it (which is the best argument in favour of Eriksson that I’ve heard yet). But opposition to a foreign manager, which ran at two-thirds in one poll I saw, covers a wide spectrum of supporters: from genuine xenophobes to those who merely think, on principle, that an England team should be the product of English talent, a France team of French talent, and so on. With the utmost respect to foreign talent in general and Eriksson in particular, that’s the essence of international football. By all means adopt ideas from abroad, but appointing non-national managers is tantamount to admission that you’re second-rate. Although I don’t agree with it, I can accept the argument that England should have the best manager available regardless of nationality. What I can’t accept is what Simon Kuper said as part of your end-of-2000 survey in WSC 167, hailing “the appointment of a foreigner – any foreigner”. Does that mean Ranieri over Peter Taylor, Gross over Curbishley? If there’s such a thing as xenophilia, Kuper’s suffering from it.
Brian Spurrell, Erith
Following Mark Lawrenson’s comments about Sunderland’s league position and the poor standard of the Premier League can I assume that he is mightily relieved that he won’t have to present and comment on such sub-standard entertainment on Saturday nights for much longer?
Colin Smith, Tunbridge Wells
You rightly conclude in the editorial in WSC 168 that the spectre of Hillsborough will haunt any debate on the reintroduction of safe terracing. However, it is bad for fans’ interests for the debate to become driven (as it already is) by emotional arguments. A key point made by Kate Hoey and the pro-terracing campaign group SAFE was that people will continue to stand at Premiership grounds whatever the regulations are and that where stands have been designed for sitting, this may place unacceptable stress on a stadium’s structure. In which case, the provision of standing areas may actually be safer. The terrible events of Hillsborough happened because safety issues were ignored for years by football authorities and politicians. The depressing haste with which Chris Smith, the Premier League and parts of the media rejected Hoey’s proposal for a pilot scheme suggests that technical evidence is being ignored for political and commercial reasons and that fans’ safety does not remain a priority issue.
Alexander Kasterine, via email
I would like to respond to a few comments made in your editorial regarding the issue of standing areas at football stadiums (WSC 168). While giving the campaign SAFE (Standing areas for Eastlands) a fair hearing, your arguments against standing were vague and inaccurate. You refer to the disaster at Ibrox (as the forgotten disaster) yet Ibrox was not directly attributed to terracing and could easily have been from a seated area. If there is a forgotten disaster, then surely this is at Bradford, because the fire was in a seated area. The report at Bradford stated that fewer people would have died had it been on a terrace. So why was there not a call to ban seated areas? Obviously the answer is that seated areas were made safer by banning wooden stands and seats. Similarly, after Ibrox, exiting stairways were made safer at many stadiums. At the time of Hillsborough, the technology was not available to make terracing safer (though capacities were reduced, fences and pens pulled down, resulting in hardly any incidents between 1989-95) but now technology does exist, so why not investigate it? You stated that the difference in capacities between standing and seating would not be that significant to warrant clubs building such areas – yet the German stadiums have such interchangeable areas that disproves this statement. Borussia Dortmund has Europe’s largest standing area, a two-tiered stand catering for two capacities of 25,000 standing and 13,000 seated. Hamburg has 8,000 and 4,000 capacity stands. And there are more. Yes, clubs may find the cost expensive in the short term, but there are also eight new stadiums being built by clubs in the top two divisions not to mention the alleged rebuilding of Wembley too. There will be no extra costs here at all. You then added that such areas could become a haven for hooligans and troublemakers. Where is the evidence to back this claim up? We would expect to see entry into standing areas be strictly limited to mostly season ticket holders and a small number to membership cardholders. Any anti-social behaviour would see the culprits removed from the area and access denied for future games – as happens now. CCTV and efficient stewarding would ensure this is enforced. Standing areas would be positioned well away from visiting supporters too. Finally, to describe us a “terracists” could been seen as witty but may also give the (false) impression that we are extremists (spell check “terracists” and you get terrorists). This unhelpful description may prevent others from joining a respectable campaign.
Leafing through my treasured back copies of WSC, in order to maintain the will to live on my recent sick bed, without even opening WSC 31 (September 1989) I was stunned to realise just how fast fashions change. The back page ridiculed a couple of (presumably French) players in voluminous shirts and shorts with the subtitle “Caen you believe it?” Barely more than a decade later, it’s hard to imagine they ever looked that outlandish. Once the Italians went baggy, everybody got on the case, and by USA 94 everybody was in a kit in which Stanley Matthews wouldn’t have caused Her Majesty to blush at Wembley in 1953. Flip WSC 31 over, and there’s Gary Lineker playing cricket in the thong that England wore at the time, without attracting so much as a titter. Kits are already a bit trimmer than in the still recent days when Eric Cantona’s flesh was covered completely in a BO-inducing crimplene-like substance. So, just as we swore (in our shoulder pads and Flock Of Seagulls gravy boat quiffs) that platforms hidden by huge flares would never come back, how long will it be before footballers are back in the Daisy Duke spray-on T-shirt and hot pants combinations of most of the Eighties? In other words, when will I write to you again and remind you about this letter?
David Davies (no, not that one), Manchester
Harry Pearson’s excellent and accurate article about David Coleman in WSC 168 reminded me of one of my pet hates relating to all commentators – namely the tendency to use a player’s surname without a prefix but always to throw in “Mr” when mentioning the referee’s name. Do John Motson and Barry Davies refer to the head of the BBC as “Dyke” while calling the doorman “Mister so-and-so”? Surely not – I’m not implying the doorman is not worthy of courtesy but I’m sure they recognise that, as a man at the peak of his profession, their boss deserves at least the same respect as is shown to all other employees. So in that case why should somebody like Roy Keane, who is regarded as a dedicated professional at the peak of his earning power, be referred to by commentators as plain old “Keane” while wasters like Andy D’Urso and Paul Durkin are referred to as “Mr D’Urso” and “Mr Durkin”. Every time I hear this terrible brown-nosing it makes me livid. I appreciate that it would be pretty tedious, not to mention old fashioned, to always hear the players referred to with a prefix, so the simple solution is surely to drop them for the refs as well – or is it just that the refs are the only people who show the commentators a modicum of respect after the game?
Tim Doyle, Liverpool
An interesting article by Adam Powley on the problems recently endured by Spurs fans (WSC 168) was unfortunately marred when he allowed petty club jealousies to get in the way of the facts. Thus he suggests that Spurs were well placed going into the Nineties to take advantage of the forthcoming boom, whereas “Chelsea [have] adopted a high risk, high spending strategy to achieve success with distinctly limited results”. In the last seven seasons, Chelsea have won the FA Cup twice, League Cup, Cup-Winners Cup, European Super Cup, Charity Shield, plus they lost an FA Cup final and reached the ECWC semis twice more. Oh, and don’t forget four top-six finishes on the trot. No, you’re right. That is distinctly limited compared to, let’s see now, two FA Cup wins, one League Cup and two European trophies, which is what Spurs actually won during the entire 1970s and 1980s. Still, why let the facts get in the way, eh?
Ramzi Shammasm, Harpenden
Re: G Forces, WSC 168. Let me see if I’ve got this right. UEFA, the governing body of football for the whole of Europe and one of the most powerful institutions in sport, is being held to ransom by 14 clubs. How, exactly? What can these clubs do if UEFA refuses to give in? Couldn’t UEFA simply blacklist them, refuse to allow any of their players to play in other competitions, and effectively ostracise the clubs from playing anybody else until they toed the line again? Or aren’t football associations run by power-hungry executives any more? And what if UEFA did cave in and allowed the 14 clubs to set up a league of their own? Would they all be declared champions at season’s end? If not, then quite a few of them are going to wait a decade or more before they win the league. This would be better than what they’ve got now? Wearily, I would suggest we leave the G14 to play with a ball of their own and clear off to watch something more interesting. Or am I just growing old?
David Wangerin, via email
In response to Nigel Downs (Letters, WSC 168), Paul Sturrock is more than likely the joint holder of the furthest managerial move within the UK, as back in the late 1980s Plymouth Argyle boss Dave Smith moved to Scotland to become the manager at Sturrock’s old neighbours, Dundee. I can’t remember how long the Argyle legend stayed in his home town, but on his departure from the club he returned to the south west and still lives here to this day. The supposed reason for the distance travelled by Sturrock is, amazingly, that Argyle were one of the closest clubs to offer him an interview. Either that or he was fooled by the Scottish sounding suffix as he has claimed to know next to nothing about the English Third Division and the mighty Pilgrims, and must obviously have paid little attention in geography class.
Steven East, Plymouth
“Bangor never won the Welsh Cup again, despite reaching the final four more times, the last in 1985” (WSC 168). Cripes, I must have been dreaming when I saw the Mighty Blues beat Connah’s Quay Nomads on penalties at the Racecourse in Wrexham in the 1998 Welsh Cup final. I must have still been pissed last May, when I saw them thrash the mighty Cwmbran (soon to be Cardiff City Reserves?) in the 2000 final. No Napoli heroics though, as we lost 7-0 at home to Halmstad of Sweden in the UEFA Cup “biding our time until the big clubs get knocked out of the Champions League” preliminary round. Ah well, back to the league, relegation battle and a PAYE tax demand. Who wants the good old days, eh?
Dylan Llewelyn, via email
From WSC 169 March 2001. What was happening this month