Vaughan Roberts asks (Letters, WSC 251) if any of the schoolboys who took part in ITV’s Penalty Prize competition went on to become pros after their appearance in the shootout before the 1974 FA Cup final. Well, at least one did. Stuart Beavon was already on Spurs’ books at the time he put five out of six spot-kicks past Gordon Banks, no less. He made only three first-team appearances for Spurs but became a fixture in Reading’s midfield, playing almost 500 games during the Eighties. His penalty-taking prowess remained intact and in March 1988 he returned to Wembley to put Reading into the lead from the spot as they beat Luton 4-1 in the Simod Cup final. However, Stuart’s most famous penalty was a deliberate miss. Before the FA launch a belated match-fixing inquiry, Stuart’s failure came in Channel 4’s football drama The Manageress. Gabriella Benson/Cherie Lunghi’s team were based at Elm Park and had to win their last game of their season to win promotion and, 1-0 up with a minute to go, conceded a penalty. The script, of course, required the actor keeper to save the spot-kick and Stuart was asked to take the penalty. Apparently, it took ten kicks before the director was satisfied. In Reading’s next game Beavon took a real penalty, which he missed, blaming his failure on becoming accustomed to missing through his TV appearance. That miss cost Reading a win and, nine days later, it also cost manager Ian Branfoot his job, surely the only manager to be sacked because of a TV series.
Alan Sedunary, via email
The last Match of the Day of 2007 contained a sentence by John Motson that I consider is worthy of further consideration. He said, of a penalty appeal: “It’s in a fairly innocuous part of the penalty area and I don’t think you can really expect the referee to give a penalty there.” It seems to me that the authorities need to define which sections of the box are to be considered innocuous. This will help defenders to know where they can safely clatter into attackers without fear of giving away a spot-kick. Perhaps these portions of the area could have the grass mown in a different way so we all know?
Tim Manns, via email
May I correct two points in Robbie Meredith’s article Borderline Decisions (WSC 251)? First, Darron Gibson’s decision to play for the Republic was not enabled by the Good Friday Agreement. It did not take an international agreement to tell people how they could identify themselves and, in any case, playing or not playing for the Republic doesn’t make anyone from Northern Ireland any more or less Irish than those who don’t play for the Republic. Even as regards citizenship (which, rather than identity, is FIFA’s qualifying criterion), the Good Friday Agreement changed nothing of substance: people from Northern Ireland were entitled to (Southern) Irish citizenship from birth before the Agreement and have been since. Second, it is not correct that FIFA ruled in November that anyone born anywhere on the island of Ireland could choose which country to play for. Rather, this was put forward as a suggestion for both the IFA and the FAI to consider. The key point that the IFA have thus far failed to make to FIFA is that, by virtue of the Republic’s extra-territorial citizenship law (perhaps unique), one FIFA member (the FAI) can select not only their own players, but those from that of a neighbouring FIFA member, too (the IFA). This, surely, is an unfair advantage, meriting the addition of other criteria such as birth, parentage and grandparentage?
Martin Moore, Belfast
Maybe Darron Gibson decided to play for the Republic of Ireland rather than his country of birth after taking advice from Neil Lennon. After all, who would want to play for a national team whose fans make death threats against your family because of your religion?
Jim Donoghue, via email
In reply to Jon Weaver of Braintree Town (WSC 251), who asks if his club’s record of winning ten out of ten penalty shootouts over the past 30-odd years can be challenged, the answer is yes. My club, Witton Albion of the Unibond Premier League, have an identical record of ten wins out of ten dating back to August 1977 (Middlewich Town in the Mid-Cheshire Senior Cup) and continuing right through to November 2007 (Colwyn Bay in the Unibond League Cup). We did once suffer defeat to Northwich Victoria in a pre-season friendly that went to penalties because it was nominally for a “Charity Shield” put up by a local paper, but we have never lost a shootout in a competition run by the FA or a recognised league. It’s probably the stuff that dreams are made of, but maybe one day Braintree and Witton will meet in the FA Cup or FA Trophy and do the decent thing and play out two draws so the title can be decided.
Ian Pickering, Knutsford
Slightly different to Braintree Town’s perfect penalty shootout record, my club, Southampton, used to have a pretty fearsome penalty record in matches. Nigel Quashie’s miss against QPR in January 2006 (a game that was also Theo Walcott’s last appearance for us) was Saints’ first miss in a match since Jim Magilton missed one almost nine years earlier, in April 1997. Seeing as most of our penalties before that were taken by Matt Le Tissier, who failed with just one penalty (it was saved) out of about 50, I wouldn’t be surprised if Southampton went through well over 15 years missing just two spot-kicks up until Quashie started off a more realistic run of us being average at absolutely everything. If anyone can dig up the accurate stats somewhere, it will give me something to feel good about as I watch the Saints become worse and worse.
Francesco Lopez, Brisbane, Australia
In response to Darren Gill (Letters, WSC 250) – sorry, your thesis on Yugoslavia’s footballing Elvises falls flat. Elvis as a common Yugoslav first name predates the King by many, many years. Parents weren’t honouring the man who helped invent rock and roll as much as sticking with tradition.
Mat Savelli, Oxford
As I watched Bournemouth’s players perform their morale-boosting pre-match huddle at rain-lashed Prenton Park in early December, I couldn’t help but wonder about the effectiveness of this particular ritual. I believe it was Celtic who instigated the huddle, but I wonder if any statistics exist as to whether it has had the desired effect and improved results for the team, or indeed the many clubs who have copycatted the Glasgow giants in this respect. Certainly, it doesn’t appear to be working for the Cherries, as a glance at the League One table would testify. Indeed, last time I saw Bournemouth at Tranmere, two seasons ago, they didn’t bother with this tiresome custom and were solidly mid-table. Food for thought, I would say.
Colin McPherson, Moreton
I have a question regarding the Italian ultra scene (as featured in WSC 251). If some ultras see themselves as fascists, surely they ought to be in favour of violent and authoritarian policing? This, after all, is how law enforcers would behave under a fascist administration (Italy hasn’t been far away from experiencing this recently – “post-fascists” were in Silvio Berlusconi’s coalition that was voted out of power in 2006). Or is the right-wing ultras’ main beef with the police that they aren’t violent enough?
Terry Keough, via email
No wonder this country is going to hell in a hand-cart. I have just listened to the Match of the Day commentary on Reading v Liverpool. When Steven Gerrard scored for Liverpool, the commentator, when reviewing the action replay, said: “You would put your mortgage on Steven Gerrard to score from there.” With advice like this from a trusted national institution such as the BBC, can it be any wonder than the nation’s economy is in the state it is? I find it hard to believe that the BBC’s own economics editor, Evan Davies, would sanction the use of a large loan, perhaps four to five times one’s salary, for gambling on a footballer to score a goal. Fortunately in this case Gerrard did score, but had he failed anyone idiotic enough to have put their mortgage on him scoring would now be homeless and have a massive debt to pay off. Anyone looking for the real reason for the current “credit crunch” should stop blaming Gordon Brown and instead look at the overuse of hyperbole in football.
Keith Gray, via email
Following recent letters concerning readers missing goals at matches due to unusual circumstances, this reminded me of a game I attended where the entire crowd – bar one – managed to miss 30 minutes of extra time. It was March 1988 and Cardiff City were at home to Welsh League side Ton Pentre in the semi-final of the now defunct South Wales Senior Cup. Cardiff didn’t take this competition very seriously and fielded a youthful side; consequently only a few hundred hardy souls turned up. When the referee blew the final whistle after 90 minutes of fine entertainment the score stood at 3-3; so both sides trooped off, the corner flags were taken in, and the crowd headed home, apart from a friend of mine who headed for the Ninian Park toilets. When the referee Viv Reed reached his changing room, he was either informed or realised himself that extra time should have been played; consequently, he had sheepishly to persuade both teams to come back out for an extra 30 minutes. When my friend emerged from the gents, he heard what sounded like 22 players contesting a cup tie. Sure enough, extra time was under way, so he, a handful of officials and the South Wales Echo reporter were the only people left to see the remainder of the game. For the record no further goals were scored, so the game went to a replay anyway.
Leighton Moses, via email
I enjoyed Harry Pearson’s review (WSC 251) of Barry Davies’s autobiography (and thanks for including a picture of him for me to throw things at). Long before the BBC inflicted him on the nation as a whole, we in the Midlands had to endure him on ATV’s Star Soccer, and notably his cry of “corner ball!” when a defender played the ball behind. I had never and have still not ever heard anyone else in football use that expression, an early indication that Davies lived in a little world of his own. I only wish I hadn’t been invited into it.
Glyn Berrington, Brierley Hill
As a reader of WSC for more years than I care to remember, I was not a happy bunny when I read your article on the My Football Club bid for Ebbsfleet. I joined the scheme six months ago and have watched the takeover progress with growing excitement and am not at all chuffed to be dismissed as someone wanting to play computer games with real players. Once you have paid and logged into the main site you will find a mass hive of activity; 20,000 people incredibly excited about the weeks to come and overwhelmingly keen to do their best by Ebbsfleet. For instance, a comment that training ground posts and balls were needed led to more than £1,000 being raised in one afternoon – one member negotiated discounts with Umbro while others paid up – and many more members were only sorry they logged in to find the target had already been reached. We have also got some side charity projects going. As due diligence progresses, other debates about increasing gates, working with the fans and how selection is going to work are all raging. The point of the 20,000 is to use different people’s abilities and expertise to do our best by the club. I understand some fans’ concerns and among 20,000 there will be some numptys, but already there is real commitment and passion among the majority – and Ebbsfleet fans can be comforted to know this is not a set-up that will take the money and run. Yes, there is the team selection part, but personally I will be listening closely to the coach and supporters who watch the team week in, week out. We will have filmed training sessions and feedback to work on. This is the sort of thing I thought WSC would be supportive of, fans really getting involved at grassroots level. Or would you rather Peter Ridsdale bought them?
Claire Perry, Portsmouth
From WSC 252 February 2008