THE HALF DECENT FOOTBALL MAGAZINE

Dear WSC
As a born cynic (and Northerner) this is very hard for me, but with regards to Colin Smith’s letter in WSC 245 I feel I must write in defence of the new Wembley. I wanted to hate it, I really did, but after attending the Blackpool v Yeovil play-off final I, or should I say we, as the friends I went with felt the same, just couldn’t find anything to complain about. OK, maybe that’s hyperbole – the empty ring of Club Wembley seats was a bit annoying on the eye, as was the over-exaggeration of the stewards when a nearby bloke pulled a cigarette, and not an Uzi, out of his pocket. But outrageously priced food and drink? I don’t know where Mr Smith got his hotdog from, but I paid £5 for the most edible burger I’ve ever had inside a football ground, and as for £3.50 a pint being extortionate even for London, I take it that he didn’t sample the delights of Soho after the match. It seems we’ve turned into a nation of whingers who will complain just for the sake of it – take the furore over the 2012 Olympic logo. For once, let’s just give credit where it’s due. Yes, it was vastly over time and even more over budget; yes, I’ll miss the internationals being played around the country; and an even bigger yes, I’ll miss falling out of a pub and being in my seat within ten minutes à la Cardiff. But the new Wembley is a fantastic stadium, unrecognisable from the eyesore it replaced. And things could be worse – I’m going to have to go to Deepdale and Turf Moor next season.
Jason Taylor, Hadfield

Dear WSC
I’m dead against the current trend for controversial foreign businessmen to buy up our best known and successful clubs, and Manchester City. If all Premier League teams are owned by foreigners, where are the next line of controversial young(ish) British chairmen going to come from? In just a few years’ time, we could be in a situation where a Ken Bates, or that bloke who bought Darlington, could not come through the ranks. They would be unable to gain the valuable experience they need, for instance, in dealing with offshore shell companies and attending stormy creditors’ meetings.
Mark Carroll, via email

Dear WSC
As a Man City fan I used to be smug about dodgy foreign owners of other clubs and Roman Abramovich buying the Premiership title two years running. But now, of course, I find that hapless, bumbling but usually likeable City have gone and sold out to a bloke who has been charged with fraud in his own country (albeit by a military junta) and has been named by Amnesty International in relation to human-rights abuses. We’ve had questionable chairmen: Peter Swales hung around far too long and Francis Lee promised more than he could deliver. But none has been the subject of scrutiny by human-rights organisations – not unless Amnesty turn their attention to the way Frannie earned some of those penalties in the 1970s. There also seems to be a complete split in the comments about Thaksin Shinawatra, with the press focusing on his past and the fans on his spending plans. This is perhaps understandable from the fans’ perspective, as they were the ones who had to sit through last season’s home games (there was a time in City’s history when a deep-lying centre-forward was a tactical revelation, rather than just referring to the claims on Corradi’s and Samaras’s CVs). If the deal does go through and we get a top manager (or Sven), will I still have the same qualms? What if we sign some decent players, start scoring goals, cease to be the last game on Match of the Day every week and storm up to fifth? Erm… dunno, ask me in October.
Mark Carroll, via email

Dear WSC
A slightly delayed response to the problems of European Cup ticketing allocation, but since my suggestion equally applies to World Cups and the European Championship, it is either even later or perhaps early for next time. The big, oh-so-important sponsors get the lion’s share of the tickets. They sponsor these events to the tune of squillions to raise their own profile and sell more of their tat. Football is being ruined by these scullions sloshing around at the top. The solution – if all football fans were to boycott McDonald’s, Coke, Mastercard, Sony, Vodafone, Ford and the rest they would stop sponsoring and no one would want tickets except for the fans. The downside to all of this is that Lampard and the rest would earn only around £1 million per year and touts would find it harder to find uninterested corporate-ticket holders to feed the black market. However, these are sacrifices I am prepared to live with.
Phil Horton, Birmingham

Dear WSC
I am writing to offer Colin Smith my wholehearted support for his sour grapes at Wembley. I too was distinctly underwhelmed by the experience and I’m sure it wasn’t just because I paid £60 for a very poor view of the Baggies’ defeat. Apart from the ease with which we got away afterwards by train – here I have to thank the Derby fans for kindly stopping back and allowing us a head start without the need for any public-address request for them so to do – it is hard to think of much that was positive. I went to both legs of the semi against Wolves, which had an absolutely fantastic atmosphere without the need for any hyped-up PA announcer’s interventions or manic music. The contrast with Wembley was stark. The 15,000 empty corporate seats act as a complete dampener (or “ring of indifference” as Adrian Chiles so descriptively named it) and this, together with the presence of vast numbers of people who never go to matches (thank you Jeremy Peace for allowing every Albion season-ticket holder to buy two tickets), meant a massive “Nul points” for atmosphere. Having spoken to several fans who went to events at the Millennium Stadium in the interregnum, I’m afraid it’s Wales 1 England 0 when it comes to stadium design and ticket allocation.
Amanda Hume, Sutton Coldfield

Dear WSC
Having been told recently by an Anglofied German bloke that Borussia Mönchengladbach “became a potential banana skin” to his Bayern Munich, I feel well enough motivated to take up arms against this well worn phrase. Assuming that “banana skin” is being used in its role as a cultural signifier of slapstick and pratfall, you’re only going to slip on a banana skin (i) if you’re a clown, or (ii) if you’re not paying attention and you’re extremely unlucky. At the very least then, can we get the “potential” part removed?  Isn’t the whole point of a banana skin, in this context, that without due care and attention, it has the potential to “slip you up”? The potential is explicit in the concept, which is predicated, so far as I understand it, on one team being presented as significantly superior to another; so much so that, should they fail to recognise that the possibility of defeat, however slim, does exist, their complacency could lead to embarrassment (like slipping on a banana skin does). However, by publicly announcing that you view your opponents as banana skins, you’re effectively acknowledging that the possibility of defeat exists, ensuring that they cease to be effective as banana skins, now you’re on the lookout for them. Unless you’re a clown, in which case the phrase applies whenever you fancy, even if you’re talking about West Ham playing Chelsea, which is, at least on one level, a contest between two teams from the same league.
Duncan Lindsay, Mönchengladbach

Dear WSC
Writing as a neutral, I think West Ham’s continued existence in the Premiership is a travesty of justice. The club broke the rules over the registration of two players and deserved to be docked a minimum of three points. This is how breaking the rules was dealt with in the past. The fine of £5.5m is trivial when set against Premiership survival. As it is West Ham stand to make well over £5.5m when and if they sell Carlos Tévez, making the fine seem even more laughable, although we do not know what they paid to legalise the transfer magically in the first place. The Premier League should reveal what really happened and how the transfer was suddenly above board. I’m no fan of Sheffield United and in terms of who deserved to stay up on points then it was just West Ham. But to me they look like rich cheats who deserve to go down because they broke the rules.
Paul Harley, via email

Dear WSC
It is difficult being a Walsall fan, living in the shadows of our more ­illustrious neighbours – Villa, Blues, Albion and dare I say it the Wolves. Our only previous championship title was back in 1959-60, winning Division Four in the days of Tony Richards and Colin Taylor. Unfortunately I was five and not present to witness the event. Imagine my unbridled joy, therefore, to be at the County Ground to see Dean Keates fire in a volley in the 90th minute to secure our first championship for 47 years and snatch it away from Hartlepool. I have seen the trophy presented, bought the T‑shirt and got the DVD highlights. Even more amazing was to win a championship after two years of “management” à la Paul Merson! However, Pete Green’s season review (WSC 245), while highlighting the amazing turnaround brought about by “Dickie Dosh”, awards the title to Hartlepool. Please tell me I wasn’t dreaming, that it really was true and that I can look forward to the delights of Leeds United visiting the Banks’s Stadium next season?
Mike Thomas, via email

Dear WSC

I read with interest your Season in Brief in WSC 245 on the old Yugoslavian First Division, 1990-91. Bizarrely, the eventual champions Red Star Belgrade kicked off with a short pre-season tour of Britain, playing non-League opposition including a bad-tempered match against Merthyr Tydfil, then of the Conference, in which they had two players sent off – which I suppose at least suggests they were trying. Few of the 1,405 people who turned up in the Penydarren Park sunshine could possibly have imagined they were watching that season’s European club champions as their “star‑studded” side struggled to a 1-1 draw. Sadly the days of such glamorous friendlies are long gone for Merthyr, who this ­pre‑season will have to make do with a Cardiff City XI as the top attraction.
Leighton Moses, via email

Dear WSC
Your editorial in WSC 245 on the shortcomings of UEFA’s organisation of the Champions League final described the words of William Gaillard (“What other fans steal tickets... from the hands of children?”) as “hysterical” but did not actually dispute their veracity. Many neutrals of an open-minded and perfectly liberal bent, myself included, are getting a little tired of hearing the case for the defence of our loveable Scouse friends. Their past sufferings are not in dispute, but they in no way excuses their present failings, nor their perceived immunity from criticism. Some 40,000 Liverpool fans, the vast majority ticketless, travelled to Athens. A minority, but still a huge number, decided to attempt to attend the game regardless of how this impacted on their fellow fans, the security services and the people of Athens. As Gaillard himself intimated, he did not make the same accusation to Milan because their fans did not behave in this pitiful manner. We’re all only too aware of the damage being done by “commercial partners” etc, and undoubtedly the ticketing situation for the Athens final was as lame as the fiasco to which the new Wembley is subjecting us. But I’d rather hoped WSC could find it appropriate to mention the fact that without Liverpool’s thugs, thieves and fake ticket printers, this would not have been news. Football people cannot continue to keep giving them the benefit of the doubt because UEFA and the South Yorkshire police have been known to be incompetent in the past.
Dave Lodwig, Birmingham

* Though we placed the majority of the blame elsewhere, we were careful to refer to those who “conned their way in through bluff or with forgeries” in the first paragraph.

Dear WSC
Although I’m with Pete Green on rather spending a night out at home in Sheffield than in either Boston or Wrexham (with no offence to either my home town or the very friendly Wrexham fans I met on the last day of the season respectively), unfortunately I don’t agree that Steve Evans got his “just desserts”. While, in the words of a Northern Soul classic, United are “Right back where we started from” (though I don’t recall Maxine Nightingale’s verse about a divided support, opprobrium from all and sundry, vastly increased debts and the possible demise of the club), Evans is still in football employment. He is managing in the Conference again – not bad for someone who has only succeeded by spending money the club didn’t have and even then with a ­thoughtful coach stood next to him. Yes, Steve, you are the only manager in the Blue Square Premier who has won the title, but you were cheating at the time, so it doesn’t really count, does it?
Johnny Chapman, via email

Dear WSC
I know WSC articles are usually a good mix of humour and cynicism, but don’t you think that sometimes the latter quality gets a little – well, forced? Simon Tyers’ review of the FA Cup final was a good case in point. Surely no one misses the final build-up from those pre-Sky days, when coverage started at sunrise and everyone was catatonic with boredom by midday? As for the commentary during the match, surely this was an honest reaction to the predictably turgid, embarrassing display by the namby-pamby millionaires of Chelsea and Man Utd? The only regrettable thing was that not one pundit was prepared to confront any of the players, for their disgraceful inability to actually play something resembling football.
Scott Moncrieff, via email

Dear WSC
The Diary entry in WSC 245 on the Scottish Cup final between Celtic and Dunfermline says that “midfielder Stephen Kenny becomes the first player to win the trophy with three different clubs”. Not quite – Mr Kenny is the impressive and articulate manager of Dunfermline. It was Celtic defender Stephen Pressley who achieved the unique treble.
John McGrath, via email

Dear WSC
In response to Ian Plenderleith’s letter in WSC 245, it was Terry Nicholl who was the Crewe forward listed as “Nipple” in the Lincoln City programme. Terry was a young hopeful who went the same way as most in the pre-Dario Gradi days, ie faded into obscurity. Amazingly, on Crewe’s next visit to Sincil Bank in January 1973, the Alex fielded not only the aforementioned Terry, but also new signing ­centre-half Phil Nicholls, thereby doubling the opportunity for breast-related gaffes (or boobs if you prefer) from the City programme editor, though I have no record of whether he obliged.
Philip Raiswell, Bedford

From WSC 246 August 2007

 

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