I am glad that Leeds’ 15-point deduction has been upheld, but not because I am “too busy taking pleasure from their fall from grace to give it a moment’s thought” as claimed by Neil Rose in WSC 256. I actually like Leeds, having watched them frequently in the Revie days when they were the object of much opprobrium from the London press despite producing great football, and so I understand why Leeds fans think everybody is against them. Yes, the number of points deducted is arbitrary, but I think everyone agrees that it is wrong for a club to climb the table by spending other people’s money and then being allowed to write off their debts yet not suffer in terms of league position. But that is precisely what Ken Bates tried to do. He was ready to put Leeds into administration at any time, but waited until the club were effectively relegated anyway and then did it instantly, knowing that the automatic ten-point deduction would make no difference to their season. It’s not often I hear myself saying this, but I think the League were perfectly right in their reaction. What they in effect said was: “Yes, you get the automatic points deduction but, as it hasn’t made any difference to you, we will take it off you next season as well and we will take another five off you for trying to manipulate the rules.” If Ken had put the club into administration a week earlier than he did, I suspect this wouldn’t have happened. And you are not “better off going into administration in the Premier League (nine points docked) than in the Football League (ten)”. Nine points in a 38-game season means you have to make up the difference at a rate of 0.237 points per game, while ten points in a 46-game season is a comparatively trivial handicap of only 0.217. It would have been nothing to Leeds if Ken Bates hadn’t made it worse by trying to play the rules.
Mick Blakeman, Wolverhampton
It is partly because he is emphatically bald, but Ray Wilkins generally conveys an air of statesmanlike calm and assurance in his television appearances these days. So much so that his petulance during the 1986 World Cup, when he was sent off in England’s game v Morocco for hurling the ball at the referee, has always seemed like a momentary aberration. However, I recall another incident from around this time which no one I know seems to have seen. In a televised game, Ray rushes over to a ballboy whom he feels is taking too long in retrieving the ball, and is heard to yell “Gimme that fackin’ bawl!” before taking a quick throw. This can’t have been in a highlights match because the expletive-laden outburst would surely have been edited out. So it must have been a live game, at a time when there weren’t many shown. Can it have been an appearance for Manchester United at a Wembley final? Ray may yet be able to turn this incident to his advantage. He often crops up as a guest on football phone-in shows these days, so he could do promotional work for the programmes by eyeballing the viewer and saying “Gimme a fackin’ cawl!” before each advertising break. He could devise a keypad-punching gesture to go with it. This could be the “That’s what I’m saying!” of 2009, but such is my respect for Ray that I’m prepared to offer it to him for free.
Rod Kiniston, Stirling
If anyone could tell me how to explain the new offside “rule” using the time-honoured teaching aids, I’d be very grateful. I’m finding that when the salt pot slots the pea through the defensive line of sauce bottles, the pepper pot declines to chase its haphazard roll, therefore becoming onside for that phase of play. I’ve tried switching the condiments around, but the mustard appears no keener to play along.
Steve Whitehead, Ellesmere Port
I’m writing in reply to David Harrison’s letter in WSC 72 (February 1993). Sorry it’s taken 15 years. I’ve had quite a lot going on. Or, rather, I haven’t… In his letter, David described how he had recently got his first touch of a match ball as a spectator – after attending nearly 1,000 games. At the time, I was still waiting for my first touch (discounting my official duties as a ballboy at Watford in 1974-75) and my wait continued another 15 years. But finally, at Blackpool on May 4 this year, I broke my duck. It may be no coincidence that – for me, too – the moment arrived just short of my 1,000th game. Back in 1993 David did a calculation involving the number of times a ball goes into the crowd and the number of spectators at the games he had witnessed. He worked out that his first touch had been late in arriving – and his next touch was due in 1999. It turns out he was wrong. He’s still waiting for his second touch. (It probably didn’t help that I shoved him out of the way to get my glorious first touch at Bloomfield Road.) All of which suggests that touching the ball once every 1,000 games could be the norm. I wonder whether WSC’s readership could be surveyed to provide empirical proof. At the very least it would give David, a Watford fan, something to take his mind off the football in front of him while he waits another 14 years from now for his second touch.
Olly Wicken, Notting Hill
I manage an FA-affiliated under-nines team that comes under the auspices of Surrey County FA. Following the return to Wembley, I thought it would be great for the kids to go to see England. To try to obtain tickets for an FA-affiliated club or school, you have to enter the ballot on the official website. I have applied for tickets for every England game at Wembley without even a sniff of a stub. Before the Swiss game, I decided to contact the FA just to find out if I was wasting my broadband. The response was extremely disappointing. The ballot is exactly that, ie you have the same chance each time regardless of whether you are an FA-affiliated club or if you have applied the last five hundred times. Being in IT, I suggested it wouldn’t hurt the FA’s budget too much to have a system that counts the amount of times clubs apply, offer tickets to those who have applied the most then move their count back to zero whether they take the opportunity or not. I had given up on the ballot method, but being told tickets were easily available for the USA game, I tried to buy them through normal purchase methods. An operator told me I could buy five tickets, but no more. My frustration is compounded by the consistently high number of empty seats at Wembley, due to debenture holders who can’t be bothered to attend anything other than premium matches. Wembley should have ensured these tickets would be made available if the debenture holders did not take their allocation. Alas, they appear to have been satisfied by meeting their key objective of selling the debentures for £10,000 a time. The FA should take a leaf out of the Rugby Football Union’s book and distribute tickets via the club network, reducing the likelihood of tickets falling into touts’ hands. The system ensures every ticket is traceable to the club and if found guilty of selling on tickets their allocation is removed for two years. The future generation’s interest in the national team is in danger of being lost due to the governing body not recognising its responsibility to them.
Jonathan Stemp, Woking
The prize for tacky, tasteless stunt of the season must go to that “friendly family club” Norwich City. Ticket sales for a post-season pop concert at Carrow Road were not going well. Then, 36 hours after the final game, it was announced that fans’ favourite Darren Huckerby had been released. Cue distraught young fans for whom Huckerby has been their hero all their supporting lives, and older ones angry that the 4,200 who had travelled to Hillsborough for a meaningless end-of-season game were deprived of the opportunity of saying goodbye in time-honoured tradition. Then, hope springs out of despair as the club announces “Your Chance to Say Farewell”. Out of the goodness of their hearts they’ve arranged a “special tribute” just for us at the end-of-season concert, and Hucks will be there. Shell out 25 quid for a ticket and you too can be part of it. Yuk.
C Dennis, Norfolk
Further to the letter in WSC 256 about Barnsley’s Simon Davey being a television pundit on a game involving a relegation rival, I was surprised to see Brian Little turning up in Setanta’s coverage of the Conference play-offs. As manager of the team who finished bottom of the League, it’s natural that he’s interested in watching some of Wrexham’s opponents for next season. However, he was also being asked which of them is best equipped to do well in League Two. On the basis of his recent experiences, is Little a good person to make that judgment? No one would dispute that Wrexham’s recent decline was prompted by ownership wrangles that began a long time before Little took over last November. At that point, the team were bottom, but they subsequently spent only one week higher than 23rd place, winning seven of the 32 league games under Little. If I were him I would be happy just to be in a job and would have removed myself from the media spotlight until I had something worthwhile to talk about. Unless, of course, Little is expecting to be out of work soon and so is getting in some practice for spending the whole of next season as a Setanta pundit.
Graham Sherlock, Uttoxeter
I was flicking idly through the Daily Telegraph online when I came across a report of Inter’s alleged tap-up of Alex Hleb. The report contained the following excuse by international agent Vincenzo Morabito, an associate of the named agent Claudio Vigorelli: “It’s true that Hleb saw Vigorelli and they went out from the Melia Felix [hotel], but it’s not true that they went to talk to Inter Milan. They went for an ice-cream. We are sorry that Mr Wenger took it badly and complained, because we have a good relationship with him.”At first this explanation looks endearingly simple-minded, but then you can hear the mocking laughter behind it and sense that Morabito has immersed himself too deeply in the Godfather trilogy. I hope the Inter people don’t put a horse’s head in Arsène Wenger’s bed, because no twinkle-toed Belarusian international is worth that amount of bother. I know it’s wrong to perpetuate the stereo-type of all Italians being gangsters, but Morabito started it.
Will Musker, Droitwich
While watching the final Match of the Day of the season, I spotted that there seemed to be some form of clothing mix‑up among the coaching staff of Wigan, as Steve Bruce emerged from the JJB Stadium tunnel in a Latics training T‑shirt bearing the ironed-on initials “AC”, even though Eric Black next to him had his chest correctly labelled. The club website shows they have a physio called Alex Cribley, so maybe Bruce had grabbed that shirt from the pile in haste and Mr Cribley was forced to wear the “SB” shirt instead. Or maybe Bruce thought he might not have so much attention focused on his reaction to Man United’s expected domination of the game if he were to adopt a disguise – albeit an especially poor disguise. Why do managers and coaches have their initials on their club gear anyway? I’m pretty sure that even the most lame-brained of professional footballers know who their boss, coach and physio are, as well as the wider world and the media. It intrigues me that Birmingham City’s Alex McLeish doesn’t have “AM” on his top, but “AMc”. I think the red hair and accent are already enough to remind people of his proud Scottishness, but maybe this is just an insurance in case he starts to recede or loses his voice.
Matthew Rudd, East Riding
With reference to John Rooney’s letter about Tranmere Rovers physio Les Parry (WSC 256), there was also a chant for “Uncle” Don Hanks, the pensioner who was physio of Ashford Town (Middlesex) during their Combined Counties League days in the 1990s. The chant was basically the words “Donnie Hanks” sung to the tune of Boney M’s “Hooray, Hooray, It’s A Holi-Holiday”, with the line “When the players lunge he gets the sponge” thrown in for good measure. After Don passed away, the Deep Heat was handed to Ashford stalwart Pat Munns, and for a while the chant was reworked to mention “Patty Munns”, but Pat’s built like a bouncer and we don’t use the chant much in case he lobs the sponge in our direction.
Eddie Hutchinson, Ashford, Middlesex
Dave Wiggins (Letters, WSC 256) is wrong to assign blame to Tony Gubba for effectively giving away the result of 1987 Arsenal v Spurs League Cup semi-final. The guilty party was actually Reg Gutteridge, ITV’s boxing commentator. I have hated him ever since.
Mark Haddad, Woking
From WSC 257 July 2008