THE HALF DECENT FOOTBALL MAGAZINE

Dear WSC
Bruce Wilkinson (WSC 267) pointed out that ticket queues “seem a quaint ritual of a bygone age”. Waiting in a virtual internet queue bears no similarity to lining up outside the box office. I have my tickets for the FA Cup final, but I do not feel as if I earned them. Instead of getting up in the middle of the night, crossing London, losing half a day’s work, standing in the rain shuffling forward inch by inch while nervous that there are too many punters and too few tickets, I merely sat in my dressing-gown in front the PC. There is no one to talk to in the “virtual waiting room”. Your opportunity is allotted randomly. Suddenly it’s all over and you have what you came for. One should be happier as the process is simple and efficient and the desired result achieved, but somehow it feels like a hollow victory as it lacks the sense of accomplishment joy and triumph of the old-fashioned process. You can’t even wave the tickets in triumph above your head as they are sent by post.Obviously my complaining about the changes that actually improve my life marks me down as “old”. I am not asking to bring back rickets and polio and to repeal the Factory Acts but I do miss a modicum of discomfort and inconvenience. The old experience was akin to standing on the terraces or being subject to the over-zealous policing that used to mark us out as a tribe. Under the new regime the tickets are yours if your broadband speed is faster and your credit card more golden than the next, rather than if you have more commitment stamina and perseverance.Will the ultimate progress be when we treat football like theatre and opera by dressing-up smartly for the occasion and ordering our interval drinks? Or is that Club Wembley?
Patrick Sheehy, London

Dear WSC
Without differing from Cameron Carter’s thoughtful analysis of managerial behaviour (WSC 268), isn’t the really depressing thing the extent to which all of this is taken terribly seriously by our supposedly more intelligent newspapers? Almost every day we see huge amounts of space devoted to quotes from managerial press conferences, with the latest platitudes from Arsène Wenger et al treated as though they were communiques from Middle East peace talks.The reality is that they are what Daniel J Boorstin called “pseudo-events”, their sole purpose to serve the news cycle and in particular Sky Sports News’s need for gossip and soundbite. What are dignified as “mindgames” are mostly answers provided by men who would far rather be somewhere else – but are pretty much contractually required to go through all this – when asked questions along the broad lines of “Has Sir Alex Ferguson stopped beating your wife?”I’m not sure either we or the journalists, whom Cameron reckoned the only groups to benefit, really do get anything out of this. The writers would probably rather be somewhere else finding proper news. And we’d all as readers and football fans be better served if some of the acres of newsprint spent on quoting managers were instead devoted to, say, intelligent discussion of tactics, business analysis of the sort David Conn does so well in the Guardian or, perish the thought, coverage of the lower divisions or other sports.
Huw Richards, London E17

Dear WSC
In his article on Argentina (WSC 268), Joel Richards suggests the price of a standing area ticket will rise from £5 to around £6.35 after a price hike of 27 per cent. In a country where the minimum wage is about £225 this may well be an unpopular increase.In England, the cheapest ticket to see a Premier League club is similarly around 2.8 per cent of the monthly minimum wage. The minimum wage for age 18 to 21 is approximately £840 per month. In relative terms, the equivalent ticket price would be £23.50. The cheapest ticket this season at Old Trafford was £26. A 27 per cent increase would indeed be an unpopular move anywhere in the world. However, it represents similar value to a Premier League ticket (at some clubs) in England. If it did produce the desired effect on crowd issues in Argentina, I think most fans there would see it as well worth doing.
Ed Woodhouse, Hampshire

Dear WSC
Like Huw Richards (Letters, WSC 268) I have never heard an Albion fan call the team “The Throstles”. He suggests that nickname smacks of being imposed on West Bromwich Albion fans as a way of corporately cleansing them from the inelegance of “The Baggies”. The official story is that when a caged songthrush sang then the team won. (The songthrush belonged to the landlady of the White Hart Inn used as changing rooms for the club in its early days.) That story probably is a piece of corporate cleansing. The truth may be a bit more bizarre.During an early part of the 19th century residents of West Bromwich would let their donkeys graze on the local heath. The donkeys were an integral part of the local economy, and there were a lot of them. The wealth they helped provide for local people meant that they were highly valued. However, residents of other towns, like Oldbury and Smethwick, who saw themselves as more sophisticated, were wont to say that the sound of a donkey braying was as sweet to a resident of West Bromwich as a songthrush’s song. So a West Bromwich Throstle was actually a donkey and eventually the residents themselves. In an act of defiance people in West Bromwich took the insult and appropriated it to define themselves. (In the same way some Jewish and African-American people have appropriated insults and worn them as a badge of honour: “You can no longer insult me by calling me by that name if I call myself by the same name.”) That was fine when it was just within the Black Country but once Albion burst onto the national stage it became necessary for club directors (local businessmen with an eye to profit) to clean up the image, hence the story of the caged songthrush.The bigger mystery is where the name “Baggies” came from. I have not yet come across a convincing explanation.
David “Baggie” Hawkins, West Bromwich

Dear WSC
In reply to Mark Lindop’s question (Letters, WSC 268), there was another example of identical home and away attendances in the season just gone. On Boxing Day, my wife and I went along to watch Harrogate Town defeat Farsley Celtic 1-0 in the Conference North, swelling the crowd to a respectable 646.The return fixture on New Year’s Day attracted 647, but as the Farsley keeper had been a virtual spectator as Harrogate’s goal went in in the first match, the crowds were actually the same.
Tristan Browning, Reading

Dear WSC
Like most right-minded people I am naturally repulsed by sleeveless denim jackets but I couldn’t help but study the specimens being worn by the Hamburg fans in the Shot! photo feature in WSC 268.Looking at the badges I was a bit disconcerted by the Iron crosses on display but not as much as the “Gott Mit Uns” legend infamously associated with the Wehrmacht. Extensive research (ie two minutes of Googling) reveals that the full phrase on the badge of “Gott Mit Uns Und Wir Gegen Alle” seems to be associated with lots of German supporters clubs. Any WSC readers know the origin of the phrase in relation to football support in Germany? What does it actually mean? Ironic appropriation of a phrase associated with the Third Reich or something more sinister?
Simon Melville, London

Dear WSC
I had to respond to Matthew Durbin’s letter in WSC 268 about a UK football team. Mr Durbin states that “no other country has the right to four football teams” – well, granted, I don’t think there are many with four but Denmark is represented by two teams, Denmark and the Faroe Islands, the latter an autonomous province of Denmark, whilst Guadeloupe and Martinique, overseas departments of France, are members of Concacaf and take part in tournaments organised by that body. There are numerous other examples which highlight the inconsistencies in this regard, including the case of Greenland, part of the Kingdom of Denmark with far greater autonomy than the Faroes, yet which is denied FIFA membership. It used to be that having a league set-up and a football association was enough to have a national team, and as Scotland and England are the two oldest national teams in the world it seems only fair that we be allowed to keep them. Yet FIFA has now moved its own goal posts in insisting that only independent sovereign states be allowed membership – a rule it is happy to break when it suits but one which is designed to deny Gibraltar membership for risk of offending the Spanish.In short, it is a mess, but most supporters of the British home nations are opposed to “Team GB” as they are proud of their respective history-rich associations. Mr Durbin might like to be reminded, however, that whilst he is correct that only England has won the World Cup, the “two world wars” were won by the UK and her allies, and not by the English alone.
Matthew Preston, Didsbury

Dear WSC
Harry Pearson finds it hard to believe the rest of the country is laughing at the north-east’s “redoubtable crapness” in WSC 268. I would suggest that he should get out of the north-east a bit more and try being an exiled Mag working in London. The answer as to why the rest of the country and the south in particular should take delight in mocking the afflicted is actually in Harry’s article. The southern based media cannot get away from the idea that the three clubs, and Newcastle in particular, are big clubs. It therefore immediately follows in their Premier League addled brains that if they are big clubs the fans must expect them to be constantly challenging for and winning trophies. This is plainly nonsense. The only thing that makes Sunderland and Newcastle big clubs is the supporters. Everything else, particularly in the case of Newcastle, hence the mirth, is shambolic.Harry takes a certain pride in Boro supporters knowing their place in the scheme of things, although surely no one should be denied the right to dream, even if reality has the habit of punching them at regular intervals squarely between the eyes. Newcastle fans have had the temerity to dream. I would however point out that a humorous view of reality has never been far away. As a team that is about to enjoy, if that is the right word, the 40th anniversary of their last success. A long term popular chant at Newcastle has been: “Hello, hello we are the Geordie boys, Hello, hello you’ll know us by our noise, We’re gonna win fuck all again, We’re gonna win fuck all, We still follow United!” If that is optimism then it is of the gallows variety.
Graeme Price, Wimbledon

Dear WSC
I am willing to accept that it may not be the most significant issue surrounding the game currently, but it does irk me that on the captions for every game on Match of the Day the name of the commentator precedes the name of the referee. Surely, the names of these two individuals should be reversed to reflect their relative importance to the occasion. From next season onwards, I would like to see “Referee: Howard Webb, Commentator: Guy Mowbray” rather than vice versa.
John Clarke, Reading

Dear WSC
I have just read Barry Wood’s letter in WSC 268 concerning automatic red cards for “denying a goalscoring opportunity” and his suggestion that the offending player be allowed to stay on the pitch if the resultant penalty is scored. While I can see his logic I can think of several flaws in his argument. For instance, if the offending player is the goalkeeper, said keeper has a huge disincentive to make any effort to save the penalty. We could see an epidemic of keepers deliberately diving out of the way of the ball in order to stay on the pitch and avoid a suspension. Even worse, it is not impossible that the attacking side may deliberately miss the penalty in order to deprive the opposition of a goalkeeper for the remainder of the match, especially if the game is a lower league one where teams are less likely to have a substitute keeper. To take another example, if the player with the red card hanging over him is Cristiano Ronaldo or Wayne Rooney is Edwin van der Sar really going to make a titanic effort to save the penalty or are the opposition going to be too upset if, er, they just happen to “accidentally” sky it over the bar? In fact I can see all penalties awarded in this manner becoming Machiavellian calculations. The attacking side will weigh up whether they want a goal or the opposition to lose a man. The defending side will ponder whether it’s worth conceding a goal to keep a full complement on the pitch. Maybe I’m being overly cynical but I suspect not.
Ian Pickering, Knutsford

Dear WSC
Can Lee Dixon be given an award please for possibly being the 1,000th pundit to excuse Michael Owen’s inadequacy in front of goal on the grounds that he is not fully match fit? And can we find a date for when he last was truly match fit?I just think some recognition should go to the Owen-not-match-fit excuse for long service. A lifetime achievement award, for example. Or on those days when he is match fit could all the school children come out on holiday and the ladies wear flowers in their hair? Just so as we know.
Nick Garland, Salisbury

Dear WSC
In these computer driven days of FIFA 2009 and Championship Manager umpty whatever, my mind has wandered back to a more innocent and less high tech time in the late Seventies (I think). I can vaguely recall a football magazine which devoted a couple of pages each week to a computer generated league, providing results, scorers, league tables and even match reports. My memory is very hazy but I think the teams were based on regions such as the West Midlands, London, Merseyside, East Anglia etc. This all seemed rather space-age and exciting at the time, but I guess it was just some office junior making it all up, using a dice and Shoot! league ladders (just like I used to). Does anyone recall this series and have further details? Maybe you were the person feeding the data into the computer to generate the scores (or indeed just rolling the dice)?
Gary Perkins, Kenilworth

From WSC 269 July 2009

More...