What with Scotland outplaying England over two legs in the recent Euro 2000 play-off and Sunderland returning with nothing after playing Liverpool off the park a few days later, I have come to the conclusion that professional football is a mockery of a game. As a Liverpool fan, I was delighted with the result of the game at the Stadium of Light but as a football fan I would generally prefer to see the best sides winning. With this in mind, I propose a minor change in the rules of professional football. I think that we should lobby FIFA to rid football of goals. At the end of many a game, the best team on the day has failed to get what they rightly deserve just because they have failed to score, which is blatantly unfair. What we should do is replace the “goals system” with a system similar to the one on TV’s Ready, Steady, Cook! programme. If one section of the crowd was replaced by a section of neutral fans, this wouldn’t be too hard to implement. Simply issue them with cards depicting a footballing equivalent of “Green Peppers” and “Red Tomatoes” (meat pies and cold cups of tea, for example) and get the ref to ask them at the end of the game which team they would prefer to win. OK, so Man Utd wouldn’t fare too well as most neutrals enjoy watching them lose, but no system is without its flaws and would this be a bad thing anyway? FIFA has always strived to find a way of ensuring fair play and the best teams winning but up to now have only come up with rubbish like two referees. I think my system may be just what they are looking for.
Phil Griffiths, via email
In WSC 155, Joyce Woolridge’s “Hope for 2000” is that a club will adopt a female mascot – preferably one without 36GG breasts. Might I invite her to take a trip to Norwich City to see icon in action Camilla Canary? Camilla emerged a season or two ago to cheer up Captain Canary during a particularly dismal City run, but her independent status was compromised by the Captain last season in a good old- fashioned one-kneed proposal. At least, we think that’s what it was. Never one to be chained by a trifles such as commitment in a relationship, Camilla now seems to spend most of her time cavorting with Splat the Cat (connection to Norwich City unknown) whilst her cuckolded fiancé runs around like a headless, erm, canary. This may not sound like big stuff to some readers, but we have to take our entertainment where we can.
Phil Charnley, Norwich
It was perhaps rather ironic that Portsmouth – a club looking to their chairman to buy them success – should see out the 20th century against Blackburn Rovers. As you’d expect, Blackburn won the game. And, at the time of writing, Pompey languish in 22nd place, with just two wins in 21 games. Life has been pretty downbeat on the south coast since Alan Ball and new Serbian owner Milan Mandaric declared their undying love for each other under a welter of club shop tat back in June. Seasoned Fratton onlookers warned of the need to batten down the hatches when it was announced Ball would have cash to splash on a team to get us out of the First Division. This, after all, was the man who once trumpeted Exeter winger Martin Phillips as the first £10 million player. That Ball picked up him for us for £50,000 might seem like an astute bit of business, unless you’ve seen him play. The vast majority of Ball’s 12 signings since Mandaric’s arrival look ill-equipped for a relegation scrap. Having given Ball more than enough rope to hang himself, though, Mandaric certainly seems a reasonable man. Ball’s departure was handled admirably, and has not been followed by a knee-jerk appointment. Plans for a new ground and retail development on the British Rail goods yard abutting Fratton Park should be rubber-stamped by city council planners over the next couple of months. OK, nothing much appears to have changed on the pitch, but as I watched Blackburn beat us, I couldn’t help feeling rather relieved we weren’t them. I want success as desperately as the next fan. But I want it done in the right spirit, not by throwing money at any obstacle that threatens progress. So far at least, Mandaric looks to be headed in the right direction. All he needs to do now is get the team to go with him.
Steve Morgan, Kingston
I have seen far too much cynical play to agree with Shane Roberts (Letters, WSC 155) that the professional foul has been virtually eradicated. Shirt-pulling, diving, obstruction, miraculous recoveries at the sight of a stretcher – it’s all cheating, and it’s spoiling my enjoyment of the game. At Pride Park in November, I saw referee Mike Reed obligingly book Stefan Schnoor at the (illegal) request of Philip Neville and David Beckham. In Derby’s next home match, we saw Kewell’s despicable dive over Carbonari’s challenge that cost us a penalty and the match. These events happen because the players involved assume that they will probably escape unpunished. Players will test the boundaries, getting away with as much as possible until someone puts their foot down. Referees need to use more common sense. We need shrewd, down-to-earth professionals who know the tricks and who won’t get fooled, not jobsworths with rule books. Refereeing decisions should be decided in the context of the game, not simply to the letter of the law. If the responsibility for professional foul play lies with the players, then why have a referee at all? The players’ responsibility is to play well and win, and it is up to the referee to make sure that this happens fairly. The best way to reduce the amount of cynical play and “save the game” is to punish more players who deceive the referee at the time but are caught on camera. Perhaps some referees could even admit that they had been conned. Retrospective cards, bans, fines, PFA finger-pointing, whatever. Anyone who saw Kewell’s dive would have to say he was cheating, and I don’t think he should be allowed to get away with it. After all, it may influence who gets the championship and who gets relegated. Perhaps Derby shouldn’t be the only club to have a player deported this season.
Daniel Wild, Derby
I read with interest your article about Leyton Orient’s community scheme way back in WSC 148, as every Saturday morning throughout the season they turn up on the common at the back of my flat in Hackney. The apprentices who run the scheme do a fantastic job with the local street urchins of our gloomy borough. However, in their wisdom Hackney Council have decided to plant a “millennium” wood – a circle of trees – right in the middle of the only area big enough to set out a decent sized pitch. Unfortunately, these trees were not mere saplings which could be snapped down in the night by some callous local (me) but were planted fully grown with assistance from a JCB. So, nice one Hackney and hard luck the Os. You try and do something good and look at the help you get.
Paul Crampin, via email
How noble of John Tandy to defend that most misunderstood character, Graeme Souness (Football Myths, WSC 155). Souness did not destroy Liverpool, but he was certainly the biggest factor in speeding up our decline. Yes, he seemed the right man for the job at the time but within a year many realised he wasn’t up to it, despite the 1992 FA Cup win. He should have been sacked on the spot for his dealings with the Sun . That was his biggest mistake and from then it was all downhill. Souness did not bring on some of the most exciting young talent the club has ever had. It was Dalglish who brought Steve Heighway back from America to sort out Liverpool’s youth system and Heighway is the man who should take all the credit for developing young players like Fowler, McManaman and Redknapp (a Dalglish buy from Bournemouth) and since then Owen, Carragher, Gerrard and Thompson. To suggest Souness had a hand in any of these current players’ success would be stretching it, as most made their debuts three or four years after his departure. Yes, Souness bought Rob Jones and Mark Wright, but he also bought Piechnik, Bjornebye, James, Ruddock and Dicks. Plus he was unable to get the best out of Hutchison and Burrows, both Dalglish buys who flourished elsewhere. The appointment of Roy Evans was a mistake but his record was much better than Souness’s and he found out how to play to Steve McManaman’s strengths, something Souness never did. And if Souness was so good why do I hear few Southampton, Torino and Benfica fans singing his praises? This is the man who bought a player on the say-so of somebody claiming to be George Weah. Whether Houllier will return us to the promised land is another matter, but we definitely look more likely to succeed with the current boss than we did under poor, misunderstood Souness.
Chris Wright, Bootle
I would imagine that after recent revelations and a substantial period of “lying low”, Jeffrey Archer will need the services of an excellent spin doctor. John Tandy, in the light of his article on Graeme Souness’s tenure at Anfield (WSC 155), would appear to be ideally suited to the job.
John Gledhill, via email
From WSC 156 February 2000. What was happening this month