Who made the biggest blunder on the second weekend of the Premier League season? Rob Styles gave a dodgy penalty for Chelsea against Liverpool, but was this the worst example of a paid professional making a basic error that affected the outcome of a game? What about Jens Lehmann’s rubber wrists against Blackburn? Tony Warner at Fulham flapped at a daisy-cutter, while in the same game Clint Dempsey missed a gaping net from six yards out, a goal even Styles could have scored. Yet these players weren’t endlessly lambasted by the pundits and will not be forced (by their professional body at least) to sit out a game or two until they’ve learned their lesson. This strikes me as a double standard that fans and managers alike should be ashamed of. Either that or Carlos Tévez should be made to sit in the naughty chair at next week’s game for missing a simple far-post header in the derby game
Mark Lewsey, Glasgow
After the latest refereeing debacles, it really is time FIFA swallowed their bureaucratic pride and introduced technology into the game to clarify contentious decisions. After all, it’s what the fans want and what the game needs. Mistakes are both annoying and can have long-term consequences. Rob Styles awarded Chelsea a dubious penalty at Anfield, robbing Liverpool of a three-point advantage over title rivals. On the same weekend, assistant referee Ian Gosling denied Fulham a goal and a point that could ultimately prove the difference between survival and relegation come the end of the season. The fourth official, rather than patrolling the touchline to berate feisty managers for stepping outside their technical areas, would be deployed to greater effect if given a TV screen whereby the benefit of a video replay can be relayed to the man in the middle. FIFA claim this approach would slow the game down, but considering the delays caused by players surrounding referees to contest a decision, FIFA’s argument makes as much sense as their offside rule. If football’s governing body genuinely want to see the game move forward, they must be prepared to introduce systems that work.
Richard Oldale, via email
I was leafing through one of your glossy competitor publications (I know, I’m sorry), when out popped an advert for the Nike football that will be used in the Premier League. As well as all the usual blah about lightweight materials, the advert made the quite astonishing claim that the football “features an asymmetric design”. Now call me old-fashioned, but I would have thought symmetry would be the preferred option for anything expected to bounce or roll evenly.
So, that’ll be Bolton for the title, then.
Andrew Okey, via email
I feel sorry for Garw Athletic being penalised through the negligence of a League official (Letters, WSC 248). Though not on the same scale, my home-town club regularly suffered a different kind of penalty – despite being relocated to Surrey, they affiliated to the Middlesex FA to stay true to their roots. Unfortunately, unlike most county FAs, the Middlesex FA used the draconian measure of handing players’ bans for a set number of weeks rather than matches. As far as points penalties go, Garw’s is only the half of it – literally. Back in 1991‑92, Welshpool Town won their league without knowing that a recent recruit was still serving a suspension handed out while playing for an English team. Welshpool were docked 66 points – three points for each of the 22 games game the player took part in, regardless of the outcome – and, instead of being crowned champions, Welshpool finished bottom with a single point to their name. Finally, am I the only one who finds it intriguing that the two League teams who tried to use the “administration loophole” last season have ended up with bigger penalties than if they’d shrugged their shoulders and accepted a ten-point deduction in the first place?
Eddie Hutchinson, via email
I noted with interest that Wimbledon Independent Supporters Association and the Football Supporters’ Federation have lifted their call for a boycott on away fans travelling to Milton Keynes, now that Franchise FC have finally returned the 1988 FA Cup to Merton Council. As an Ipswich fan with young children and living exiled in Buckinghamshire, I do not get many chances to see them play. Therefore I was relieved to be able to make the short trip for the Carling Cup fixture with my conscience eased.
However, it got me thinking. Is an away-fan boycott really the most effective way to see the Franchise drummed out of existence (surely still every right-minded fan’s wish)? As we discovered to our cost on the night, they look like having a tidy side this year, but they will play marooned in a white elephant of a stadium that must now rival Darlington for its overkill. Nice seats but no soul – actually quite a fitting venue. A reduced number of away fans would surely hand the home team an advantage and help in progression in the cups and league, so I believe the best strategy would be to attend and roar on your team. There can still be no excuse for adding to their revenue by paying for overpriced food and drink (there’s an Asda next door) or £5 a shot for parking (Ikea aren’t stopping football traffic yet). Tractor boys with hot dogs, you should be ashamed of yourselves.
Matthew Grapes, via email
With the close season finished, many interesting questions have been posed, namely about overpriced players, the Tévez move from West Ham, or the panic-buying of average players. However, while looking at another magazine’s “exclusive” season preview, I noticed a couple of questions that to my knowledge hadn’t been asked. How is it that, in a league awash with money, three clubs have to share the same lion? Villa, Boro and Chelsea all seem to have an identical creature on their badge – surely there are other lions available to act as models? Whatever happened to the lion resting on the letters CFC – was it another silent victim of the Abramovich revolution? Also, you have to admire the simplicity of the “drawn by a ten-year-old competition winner from a local junior school” feel of the Fulham and Arsenal badges. It seems now that only Wigan have the archetypal badge of yesteryear, all complicated and difficult to copy. Unfortunately my own team chose to add the phrase “The Rising Phoenix” to our badge just around the time that we seem to have settled in the Blue Square Premier League.
Andrew Hailstone, Bangkok, Thailand
I just love the unbridled optimism of your season-preview correspondents (WSC 247). If everything goes to plan, there will be about 70 teams in the play-offs, about 20 in mid-table and nobody will get relegated. Brilliant!
Malcolm Shuttleworth, via email
Kevin Clarke’s suggestion (WSC 247) that one relegated side each year should be “managed” (ahem) by Bryan Robson, to balance up the fiscal advantage gained from their top-flight sojourn, is indeed a splendid one. It does, however, obviously leave the other two with the benefit of a slightly uneven playing field. A simple solution to this apparent dilemma would appear to be at hand, though, assuming that the services of Mr G Roeder and Mr B Vogts can be procured. Although in the case of the latter, I would suggest a doubling of the unfortunate employers’ parachute payment, to reflect the greater handicap imposed, and as compensation for the mayhem that is certain to ensue.
Andrew Cowe, via email
I have to disagree with your Manchester City correspondent Steve Parish (WSC 247). For me there were three “worst moments” in a particularly unpleasant season: Ben Thatcher’s attack on Pedro Mendes; Joey Barton’s lunge on the same player; and Michael Ball driving his studs into Cristiano Ronaldo. Surely missing a penalty, even against United, is nothing compared to seeing your team turn into a bunch of violent thugs? Three different City players produced the top flight’s three ugliest challenges, all unpunished by the referee but castigated by the TV pundits – although, strangely, nobody had a bad word for Stuart “hard but fair” Pearce. I for one am pleased that three of these four men are no longer at Manchester City.
Ged Cassell, via email
I feel like I must leap to the defence of Argentina’s “overrated generation” (WSC 247). Anyone who has followed Italian football for the last ten years will tell you that Javier Zanetti and Hernán Crespo have been among the most consistent performers in that era of Serie A and from a personal point of view, as someone who has followed the progress of Inter for many years, I would say if anything Zanetti is one of football’s most underrated players – a full-back and midfielder of the highest quality, and consistent to the end where for many seasons Inter were anything but. Each of the players referred to as “overrated” have won silverware at club level (although, granted, they really should have won the Copa América and should have got much further at the last World Cup) and Roberto Ayala has arguably been one of the best centre-backs in La Liga, if not the world, for the last decade. I think if any international side deserves the label Rodrigo Orihuela gives, I would put forward England’s similarly feted generation of the likes of David Beckham, Ashley Cole, Frank Lampard and Rio Ferdinand, who struggle against teams such as Macedonia and Andorra.
Chris Plume, Southampton
There is another disastrous impact of the European Commission’s intervention in TV football in addition to those identified by John Willis (WSC 247). Setanta now pitches a Premier League match against Sky’s Championship match on Saturday evening; all the pubs near me on the first day of the season chose Villa v Liverpool rather than my team, Wolves, against Watford. If this, as likely, becomes commonplace, how long will it be before the advertisers realise how few viewers there are left for Championship matches when reduced to home watchers alone? The potential resulting withdrawal of advertising will make these matches even less attractive to Sky. The likely outcome will be even less revenue to non-Premier League clubs and another ratchetting up of the gap between the top flight and the rest. Well done the EC.
Julian Bird, Northallerton
I was already going to give you an update on Toronto’s foray into the MLS, when WSC 247 arrived with the coverage of Beckham’s arrival. Presumably David never watched the Galaxy play, as they are truly awful – they are one of the few teams not to beat us, Toronto FC, during our current record goalless run. The MLS standard is OK (although I speak as a Tranmere supporter) and the Toronto crowd is splendidly European in its approach to the opposition and the officials. And Danny Dichio is our crowd favourite. But what I really wanted to share with you was a quote from our coach, Mo Johnston, which proved that footballese is alive and well in North America (with a slight twist): “There’s a challenge for certain guys in the locker room. If you don’t step up to the plate, there is no home run for you at the end of the rainbow.” Clear as mud, then.
Andrew Wright, via email
I recently holidayed in Cyprus and took in the first leg of the UEFA Cup tie between Omonia Nicosia and CSKA Sofia. Stood with the local fans I was surprised to find, three minutes before kick off, two flags started to unfurl. One stretched the full length of one side of the ground and the other the full width of one end. Obviously when you’re in the middle of a packed ground you just have to go with the flow and wait for the flag to move. The game had kicked off when the flag moved on and blinking from the bright sunlight I rapidly realised that I’d missed something special. It seems Brazilian striker Aparecido Claudinei (known as Nei) scored one of the quickest goals in UEFA Cup history when his lob after 16 seconds caught everyone unaware – and two sides of the ground were underneath giant flags and missed the wonder strike. Have other readers had any unusual reasons for missing a goal – and I don’t mean pie-shop and toilet visits?
Howard Borrell, Chesterfield
During the first half of Liverpool’s home Champions League qualifier, Toulouse were awarded a corner that was crisply delivered to the edge of the six-yard box. A Toulouse player glanced a header wide while being adequately, if not exactly expertly, covered by Peter Crouch. Clive Tyldesley commented that it was a reasonable chance and praised Crouch’s defensive adequacy. From a replay he spotted an unmarked Toulouse player lurking towards the back post, sparking the following exchange.
Tyldesley: “If the first Toulouse player had let that ball go their second player would have had a clear header on goal. That has once again shown up the deficiencies of the zonal marking system employed by Rafa Benítez.”
Jim Beglin: “I’ve never liked that system. In my day we used to man-mark players, you’d get your man and you’d stick to him.”
In the second half, Liverpool were awarded a corner that was also crisply delivered to the edge of the six-yard box. Sami Hyypia successfully evaded the attention of his man-to-man marker, who floundered around about four yards in front of him, thus providing less-than-adequate defensive cover. Hyypia duly nodded the ball into the net from the free header, sparking another exchange.
CT: “That’s the trouble with man-marking at set pieces, you end up with numerous singular points of weakness where one individual mistake could cost you a goal.”
JB: “Yes, tactics certainly have evolved considerably since my playing days.”
This may not be a verbatim transcript from the commentary, but I think I’ve captured the general gist.
Steve Whitehead, Ellesmere Port
From WSC 248 October 2007