THE HALF DECENT FOOTBALL MAGAZINE

Dear WSC
AFC Wimbledon fan Aled Thomas (Letters, WSC 267) bemoans people not knowing what to call his club. He would have enjoyed this exchange on Talksport on a recent Saturday when they decided to venture south of the Premier League, for a change. Ian Danter: “AFC Wimbledon could gain promotion to the Conference today.” Micky Quinn: “Is that the original club?” Danter (hesitantly): “Yes.” Quinn: “Do they still play at Plough Lane?” Why so knowledgeable?
Glyn Berrington, Brierley Hill

Dear WSC
As a parks referee I appreciated your two excellent articles on refereeing in WSC 267. I thought Nik Johnson was particularly insightful with his comments regarding the PR difficulties faced by refs at the highest level. One of the problems, it seems to me, is that Keith Hackett seems to speak for them, yet his column in a Sunday newspaper sometimes gives answers to readers’ questions that are directly contrary to the Laws of the Game. And requiring referees to telephone managers to apologise for high-profile mistakes makes me cringe. Do millionaire footballers, or indeed managers, never make mistakes? How frequently do they apologise to their fans?As for Graham “Three Card Trick” Poll, he made a priceless comment on Radio 5 Live: “Howard Webb is a promising referee but...” I can’t remember what he said after that as I was so incensed by the killer words “promising” and “but”. At the time Howard Webb had been chosen to ­referee in the World Cup following a rigorous selection procedure and entirely on merit. I think referees at all levels, and the game in general, would benefit if Nik Johnson’s sensible proposals were adopted and some people just kept quiet for a while.
Chris Raistrick, Middlesbrough

Dear WSC
What a great article in WSC 267 about Jim Riordan: The Spy Who Played For Spartak (or didn’t, as the case may be). I thought wow, that couldn’t happen here. And then I read the book review a few pages later, Swan Song: Confessions of A Lower League Legend. I quote: “Arguably the dictionary definition of a journeyman footballer, Swan’s stints at, among others, Leeds, Hull, Port Vale, Plymouth and West Brom...” West Brom? The nearest Swan got to playing for the mighty stripes was when he got sent off for Port Vale against Albion in the 1993 Division Three play-off final at Wembley. That hardly qualifies him to be even an honorary Baggie though of course he’s fondly remembered for his contribution to our success. From which we’ve never looked back of course. Or at least never sunk so low again.
Neil Reynolds, Bedworth

Dear WSC
While looking through the fixtures and attendance section on the Chatham Town website for this season, I noticed that the crowds for the home and away matches with Enfield Town were both the same – 203. This raises two issues. Firstly, has anyone else ever seen two identical crowds for corresponding home and away fixtures, elsewhere, ever, or do Chatham Town and Enfield Town hold some sort of weird world record? Secondly, should we all find something better to do with our time than perusing club websites and finding statistical oddities?
Mark Lindop, Gravesend

Dear WSC
In reply to Matt Ford’s question (Letters, WSC 267), does anybody wear genuine long sleeved shirts in the Premier League any more? I have yet to see Aaron Lennon take to the field in anything but a long sleeved shirt. Although he could just be wearing an XXL short sleeved shirt, I suppose (Tom Huddlestone hasn’t got much use for it at the moment).
Neil Burkett, Kettering

Dear WSC
I sympathise with Matt Ford’s consternation about the continuous references by commentators to short sleeves and gloves, but this issue may well be behind Sepp Blatter’s campaign for the “six and five” rule. Only having five foreigners in a team will massively reduce the opportunity for this type of comment. You see, he has our best interests at heart after all.
Nigel Power, Liverpool

Dear WSC
I read Ian Farrell’s report on Barça’s youth development (WSC 267) with great interest. The new “homegrown” rules will certainly impact greatly on the “big four” and future player recruitment; and Barça clearly believe in giving youth a chance, which is to be admired. However, Liverpool were not taking advantage of the disparities in employment law when signing Daniel Pacheco. Barça had indicated to Pacheco that he would be offered a deal by them and told him to wait until the end of the season. The contract offer was never made by Barça, who saw other young players as more important, and as such Liverpool signed Pacheco when his first contract had officially come to an end. Pacheco certainly looks a tremendously talented player when playing for Liverpool’s reserves, and this is one Juan Laporta cannot have any complaints about.
Nic Ross, Northampton

Dear WSC
Among the recent debates regarding MOTD2’s presentation of the weekend’s highlights, am I the only person to be consistently frustrated that the BBC sees fit to flash the “second half” caption across the screen during games? Surely it’s safe to assume that the practice of teams changing ends at half time is one of the less complicated aspects of the game, one which is grasped pretty much at everyone’s first experience of the sport. I would therefore presume that when faced with the sight of Fernando Torres suddenly racing towards his “own” goal, with Matthew Upson desperately tugging his shirt back in an attempt to prevent said Spaniard lashing one into his own net, past Robert Green who has miraculously swapped ends with Pepe Reina, the vast majority of viewers would draw the conclusion fairly quickly that half-time has been and gone.My conclusion is that the BBC clearly believes that the MOTD2 audience is now made up of lovers of extreme winter sports who have tuned in on the off-chance that some Icelandic madman will be attempting to ski off the roof of the Centenary Stand at Anfield.
Michael Revill, Bradford

Dear WSC
Is it just me or does anyone else think the design of the new England shirt bears more than a passing resemblance to the Allies’ kit in Escape To Victory? If you also take into account the new preposterously long shorts that have the aura of army issue underwear from the Second World War, then I think I have stumbled upon a whole new marketing strategy from Umbro, where supporters are not only encouraged to buy the replica shirt but also the replica flat cap, copies of the relaunched Daily Sketch and football rattle ringtones.
Mark Carroll, Chicksands

Dear WSC
It is surely time for a rethink of the rule whereby a referee must issue a red card for defenders who “deny a goalscoring opportunity” while in the same act handing back “a goalscoring opportunity” to the attacking team in the form of a penalty, from which a goal is usually scored. Surely a reasonable compromise is to allow the guilty player to remain on the pitch until after the penalty is taken. If the penalty is scored, the player should be allowed to stay on (perhaps with the punishment of a yellow card), while if the penalty is missed, the player might then be legitimately red-carded for denying a goalscoring opportunity.I appreciate this is a very late new year wish for 2009, but I only just remembered how much this rule irks me.
Barry Wood, Edinburgh

Dear WSC
Not unexpectedly, Liverpool FC made a big thing about not being required to play their Champions League second leg game against Chelsea on the 20th anniversary of Hillsborough out of respect to the families of the victims and I have no problem with that. But am I the only one to think they let themselves down badly on the night when the players displayed black armbands that appeared to be no more than shiny electrical insulating tape wound around the shirtsleeves a few times?With weeks, months, even years to prepare, shouldn’t it have been possible to have properly constructed cloth bands to pay their respects? I have noticed the insulating tape method employed by many clubs over the years and it always frustrates me to see the lack of thought and dignity it portrays.For crying out loud, the major kit manufactures have managed to produce all manner of paraphenalia in the past (undershirts with thumb holes, lycra undershorts, nose clips, sock numbers to name a few), so surely it shouldn’t be beyond them to supply some appropriate arm bands?
David Underwood, Upper Dummer

Dear WSC

If West Bromwich Albion have, as David Stubbs noted in his beautifully observed account of West Brom v Bolton (WSC 267), dropped “Throstles” as a nickname, it is a case of the club bowing to reality.Having grown up in an area contested by Albion and Wolves and visited The Hawthorns intermittently over (gulp) 40 years I have never heard a single Albion fan refer to his team as “The Throstles”. As an official nickname it always smacked of a corporate attempt to impose something deemed more elegant on unwilling supporters, who always referred to them as the “Baggies”. It may be inelegant, but it expresses something about the Albion. Their fans, in spite of a distinguished history (Chelsea only overtook their total of domestic trophies in 2005), do not generally take themselves over-seriously. It isn’t a fluke that both Adrian Chiles and Frank Skinner are Albion supporters. Each personifies an outlook that is essentially a good-humoured bafflement at the oddities of fate, rather than the ­bitterness and sense of entitlement often found elsewhere. Baggies” is certainly slightly comic – for the full effect you need to hear it in broad West Midland – but it expresses a humour and absence of self-regard that explains why a lot of us who support other clubs also have a warm regard for them.
Huw Richards, London E17

Dear WSC
I enjoyed the Match of the Month report, West Bromwich Albion v Bolton (WSC 267). David Stubbs was spot on in his observations on the contrasting philosophies of the two clubs. Sadly, most Premier League makeweights seem to follow Bolton’s line, that survival overrides any other consideration. This mindset could be interpreted as: “We’d rather finish 16th in the Premier League for the next ten years than actually win anything.”Of course the outpourings of a hysterical media don’t help. It’s at this point in the season that we hear repeatedly the mantra that relegation for a certain club would be “inconceivable” or “a disaster”. The implication seems to be that relegated clubs disappear into some black hole, deprived of the vast riches that membership of the elite entails, and never to be heard of again. It’s to the credit of clubs like West Brom, Reading and Sheffield United that they refuse to accept that this is the case.
Charlie Adamson, Huddersfield

Dear WSC
As a lifelong Derby resident and supporter of the Rams since the season before Brian Clough and Peter Taylor took charge, I broadly agree with Al Needham’s “Horrible History” article on the rivalry between the two cities and Derby County and Nottingham Forest football clubs (WSC 266). However I feel compelled to correct one glaring error in Al’s piece. He’s correct in that there was supporter outrage when Clough and Taylor left the club, a protest movement and a threatened player strike no less, but he is incorrect in stating that they were sacked. In an act of “We’re bigger than the club” brinkmanship (they probably were bigger than the club), they offered their resignations to chairman Sam Longson, and to their surprise Sam accepted. The Rams winning the league again in 1974-75 under Dave Mackay probably vindicated Sam in the early years after their departure but for Derby fans, seeing Clough and Taylor engineer Forest’s success in the late 1970s and early 1980s was extremely painful. Given the passage of time though, Sam was obviously right: no one is bigger than the club, Chelsea take note. Regarding the Judas players that Al mentions, the haemorrhage of Forest’s best players to Derby in the early 1970s resulted in the Forest board refusing to sanction Ian Storey-Moore’s move to the Baseball Ground in 1972. Clough was so confident he had got his man that Storey-Moore was paraded to the crowd as Derby’s latest signing before a home game, an act that resulted in an FA punishment for the Derby, and Moore subsequently signed for Manchester United. Another Forest player from the same era who initially eluded Clough was Henry Newton but Clough eventually got his man via Everton.As for the management situation today, all Rams fans are delighted to have Nigel Clough in charge. While Billy Davies has three things in common with Nigel’s dad, in that both men managed both clubs, both got the Rams promoted to the top division in English football and both engineered their departures from Derby, there was no significant supporter outrage when Billy left.
Andy Kitchen, Derby

Dear WSC
Another fine edition (WSC 267) but I’d like to make a couple of points. In the article on Stoke City there is some confusion about whom Stanley Matthews played for during the War. It was emphatically Blackpool, whom he helped to win the Northern War Cup in 1943, then turned Arsenal inside out in the Stamford Bridge match against the Southern Cup winners (4-3). And, in 1946, surely the major scandal was of George Mountford actually being ­preferred to Stan. In the Shot Archive panel on Inter, it is quite wrong to say that libero Armando Picchi joined in attacks. He was rigorously defensive. And there should be some allusion to the fact that Inter bought or tried to buy European referees.
Brian Glanville, London

Dear WSC
Paul Newell’s suggestion (Letters, WSC 267) throws up a bit of a horror scenario. There are plenty of fans in the UK that would love the return of “The Home Internationals” but to use this method for selecting a team for the 2012 Olympics enters dangerous ground. There are those in the FIFA Football Family (sic) that would like to use this type of round robin tournament for the four home nations to play off and to put just one team forward for every qualification tournament for European Championships and World Cups. This very real threat was discussed by the Scottish Parliament in March.On the same topic, Kato Davie’s view (WSC 267) in response to my original letter allows me to use the old cliched adage of “I thought I’d seen everything in football but...”. While there are many imperfections in the way football is run in this country, and certain traditions are being slowly eroded, the football gravy train for the blazered minority should be enough to prevent his suggestions coming to fruition. Perhaps he’s fresh out of a brainstorming session with the eternal fan of the home nations, Mr Jack Warner?
Martin Riddell, Edinburgh

Dear WSC
Kato Davie’s letter in WSC 267 highlights one side of the UK football team argument: one team would have a better chance at the big tournaments.Another point of view is that why should one nation state (ie the UK) have four football teams? No other country has this right – not Spain with its autonomous regions, nor Switzerland with its four official languages. And what would happen if South Ossetia could follow up its UDI from Georgia with its own team? Or the virtually independent (from Somalia) Somaliland?And the UK is not even consistent about this – what about the England and Wales cricket board? Or the All Ireland rugby team? I suspect that the real reason why the different Football Associations cling so fiercely to this allowance of four countries is that with only one FA, there would be a lot fewer jobs for their members, and thus fewer opportunities for junkets and jollies at FIFA events.Personally, I would find a chant of “UK all the way!” not as appealing as “Engerland!, Engerland!, Engerland!” – but I suspect it’s one I may have to get used to. Or instead of “Two World Wars and One World Cup” we’d have to settle for “We’re in more debt than you (insert name of country)”.
Matthew Durbin, Woking

Dear WSC
I find something elitist about Steve Browne’s attitude to the Premier league’s smaller clubs, like my own Middlesbrough. (Letters, WSC 267). He seems to be arguing certain clubs’ presence in the Premier League represents an “artificial” level due to the investment of a wealthy individual. He ignores history: local entrepreneurs have played a major developmental role with many clubs in the past. Some may not have emerged as “big clubs” without their input. Presumably the long periods Middlesbrough have spent in the top flight prior to Mr Gibson (most of the 1930s, 1950s, 1970s from memory) were somehow achieved by wholesome and organic methods?There is an elitism too about size – Middlesbrough has a relatively small catchment area. This will always place a ceiling on support levels. Is he suggesting that clubs with smaller catchments should not compete in the Premier League? Surely “viability” is an issue of financial management not fanbase? Virtually all Premier League clubs run at a loss; those losses are underpinned by an individual or institution somewhere down the line.There is elitism too about history. Formed in 1876, Middlesbrough are older than just about every club in the Premier League. Is our payment of the first four-figure transfer fee not history? The first £500,000 sale not history? Our Amateur Cup wins not history? Hardwick, Mannion, Clough, Souness, Juninho not a history?Middlesbrough never will be a big club like Man City. Better Gibson than Abramovich. Who does Steve Browne think will do more for wider regeneration and education within the community? Is Mr Browne a little defensive about City’s recent history of palpable under-achievement and financial mismanagement?
Ian Taylor, Leeds

Dear WSC
As I write I am watching Man City at Hamburg on the telly. One of the joys of watching European games is that they show the subtle differences in the way supporters and players behave between countries. Rarely though have I seen anything as downright silly as just now, when Hamburg scored and the PA system blasted out Coldplay’s Viva La Vida by way of celebration. Of course, playing any music in the ground is one of modern football’s perpetual irritants, but of all the songs they could choose, why the hell that one? And why do the crowd sing along?It took me back to Euro 2008, when the most surreal element of the whole tournament was the ritual playing of Seven Nation Army by the White Stripes as the teams walked out before every match. It made me cringe to hear the crowd singing along for no other reason than it was something to sing along to. They’d never get away with trying that sort of nonsense at Elland Road, I’ll tell you that for nowt. Am I the only one to get wound up by this? I really, really hope not.
Simon Brown, Nottingham

From WSC 268 June 2009

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