The checklist of things to look out for in the Football League in WSC 259 brought to my mind the imminent passing of one of the great grounds. Ninian Park is every-thing a stadium was supposed to be: old-style floodlights; a terrace the length of one side of the pitch; seagulls taking flight in panic at the surge of electricity up the pylons; a club shop with no new kit in stock before the start of the season. Some even put our relatively low attendances in recent years down to the rusty roof, crumbling concrete and general air of neglect. Terraced houses? I bet the locals were delighted to hear we were leaving. Imagine their disappointment as the new ground started going up just over the road. I’m well aware that all of the above are the very reasons some supporters use as excuses not to come, but it does sadden me that there will be a whole generation of fans who will grow up in all-seat stadiums. For better or worse, Ninian Park truly is the last of its kind. Whatever anyone’s feelings towards Cardiff City, anyone who has been attending football since pre-1992 will join me in acknowledging the approach of a landmark moment. But this being Cardiff, it would be remiss of me not to mention the prospect of a good old-fashioned pitch invasion. I’m sure I’m not alone in being secretly glad that Swansea got promoted last year, just to send the old place off in style.
Gareth Dix, via email
As a Luton Town supporter, if I had to take issue with Neil Rose (Point of no return, WSC 259), it is that he is not angry enough. On top of the 40 points (40 points!) and the fact that the wrongdoers at the club escaped virtually unpunished, we have also had to put up with being patronised by one of Mrs Thatcher’s former poodles in Lord Mawhinney. Having annoyed many with his condescending announcement that he felt “sorry for the fans”, he was still hypocritical enough to be “delighted that the community of Luton will continue to have a Football League club”. And yes, while it was true that the Times, the Guardian, the Independent and even the Daily Mail had thoughtful pieces on the Town’s plight, the BBC and others had next to nothing to say. This made every paper’s obsession with the summer’s tedious transfer (or non-transfer) shenanigans all the more irritating. Being a long-time subscriber I was especially piqued to find that both the cover and the editorial of WSC 259 were more or less devoted to the same nonsense.
Roy Williams, via email
It was Hull City’s long-awaited first day in the top tier of the English game – and Match of the Day totally let us down. Yes, I know we were given the lead game status – something which last happened in February 1989 when we lost 3‑2 to Liverpool in the FA Cup fifth round – and I know that will probably not happen again until we go to Old Trafford on November 1. My gripe is with the opening titles. There isn’t a single Hull City player on them. I was thinking of running a book on it among the Tigers fans I knock about with – would it be Deano recreating his Wembley volley? Ian Ashbee doing a supremely menacing stare at the camera? Nick Barmby playing keepy-up? Maybe even Phil Brown, in his club suit and tie, arms folded, “watching the action”? Nothing. The club badge appears momentarily towards the end, but that’s it. It can’t be because the BBC assume we’re going down and don’t want to have to make substantial alterations to next season’s titles, as this is their last series before they lose the Saturday night rights anyway. We thought we’d got the last of our raw television deals last season when ITV’s The Championship covered our game at West Bromwich Albion evidently expecting that the Baggies to walk it, only for us to win 2-1 and ruin their post-match interviews and prompt an urgent rewrite of Matt Smith’s script. Maybe I’ll Sky+ the programme and fast-forward through the titles from now on. We must make a stand – even if it doesn’t involve boycotting the actual programme, obviously.
Matthew Rudd, East Riding
I wonder if any of your readers can help me. I was in a packed train carriage from London to Truro recently when I overheard a man at the table opposite and back one who was talking his companions through his footballing career. He signed for Luton as a youth, then transferred to Cambridge United where he became captain of the their youth team and reserves, before breaking into the first team. His voice at this point lowered to a murmur – I could hear one of his companions abstractedly flicking the ring-pull on his can of lager – as he described the last night of his career. Playing against Colchester in a youth match, he had broken through into the penalty area and was about to pull the trigger when it all went black. He remembers being carried off on a stretcher by then Cambridge manager Big Ron Atkinson, among others. It went extra quiet at his table then and, just when he went on to add more details, the group of rugby lads at the rear of the carriage started singing Live And Let Die, drowning out his words. So my question is this: from the above meagre information, does anyone possibly know who this player is? He also mentioned playing alongside Alan Biley briefly at Cambridge. Alan, of course, had a particularly luxurious mullet the colour of sunlit morning straw, so this may be a good visual aid to trigger the memory of any Cambridge fans reading.
Ben Rowley, Uxbridge
I write re Aston Villa correspondent Brad Woodhouse’s pre-season supplement description (WSC 259) of Portsmouth as “unworthy Cup winners”. Six games, one goal conceded. I’m no maths boffin, but that looks like a pretty solid defence to me. If I could be bothered to look up the statistics, I’d wager that rarely, if ever, have a side shipped fewer goals en route to winning the competition in the modern era. While I don’t make a habit of telling people how to live, I’d suggest that when Brad has enjoyed the experience of seeing his side win the trophy – I believe that wait enters its 52nd year in January – perhaps he’d be more qualified to comment? In the meantime, I’d like to congratulate him on a fine vintage for his sour grapes.
Steve Morgan, Kingston
I’m all for holding those who run the game to account, but reading WSC 259, I began to wonder if a healthy scepticism of the ways of Murdoch is evolving in your pages into all-out bile. Firstly, Al Needham was allowed to forge a spurious link between the rise of Sky Sports and footballers’ semi-orgasmic goal celebrations, as if top-flight football was never broadcast before 1992 and its pre-Sky participants had Oxford don-like intellectual capacity. Then, in his otherwise excellent comparison of Sky and Setanta, Gavin Willacy claims TV football’s “price war has yet to start”, as Setanta “is available for a tenner a month via Virgin Media, while Sky Sports Mix will cost you £34”. Mr Willacy failed to mention three things: firstly, that Virgin Media, like Sky, requires a monthly subscription before you can even consider Setanta; secondly, that £34 is the price for a Sky subscription plus Sky Sports (rendering the tenner v £34 comparison false); and third, that you can get Sky Sports 1 alone, which broadcasts all the big Premier League and several Champions League games, for a tenner. Indeed, having lost the appetite for Bolton v West Ham on a Saturday teatime, I just swapped Setanta for it. Even more handily, Sky’s remote control features a mute button, so that I can keep Jamie Redknapp’s bilge to a minimum. Like your esteemed publication, I am committed to upholding the game’s founding values, but I think we are sufficiently armed in this struggle without seeking to venture into the realms of dishonesty.
Craig Cunningham, Glasgow
The influence Sir Alex Ferguson has on referees is legendary, particularly with respect to the amount of added time at the end of the game. However, it would appear that even SAF has surpassed himself according to Joyce Woolridge in her “likes” of last season for Man Utd in the 2008-09 guide in WSC 259: “Loved them all, even Chelsea for losing to Bolton.” I attended the game on the last Sunday of the season and was disappointed with a 1-1 draw. However, this has been compounded by the fact that three months later Bolton have now been awarded all three points. Are there any time limits on changing scorelines or is there a possibility still that Man Utd could win 2-1 at Upton Park in May 1995, thus depriving Blackburn of the title?
Tim Edwards, London SW15
From WSC 260 October 2008