THE HALF DECENT FOOTBALL MAGAZINE

Dear WSC
Well, I’m really sorry to moan, especially as it was your 150th issue. But your Nick House (Football League Review, WSC 150) was watching a different Division Three to me last season. I’ll just say five things. Firstly, it was a tremendously exciting season. You wouldn’t think so to read this review. It culminated on the last day with first playing second for the championship. And it’s not often that happens. Secondly, how can Peterborough pos­­sibly be described as an enigma? One of the great certainties of Division Three football, and one of its great entertainments, is that Peterborough United consistently underachieve. It’s called the Barry Fry effect. Thirdly, there are some tremendous young players in this division, but you would need to be very blinkered indeed to name messrs Thomas, Breslan and Bastow among them. What about Martin Butler at Cambridge United, for good­ness sake! Fourthly, he must be a really cautious punter if he wouldn’t have bet on any of the top v bottom games. If he had done, he would have made himself a tidy profit. Finally, eventual champions Brentford merited just one mention in the entire article. This despite one of their most eventful seasons ever, with the Ron Noades saga, a host of talented youngsters and that exciting final game. By contrast, Exeter City were mentioned five times, Devon clubs in general 11 times. Hey – that Nick House couldn’t be a Torquay fan, could he? Simon Knott, via email

Dear WSC
I’m quite amazed by Nick Hornby’s comment (WSC 150) that he’s “yet to meet this mythical middle-class fan who doesn’t know the 1966 England captain but can tell you all about the current Man Utd team”. The world is full of them. Prime example being David Mellor, who once when presenting 6.06 made the staggering admission to one caller that he had “never heard of Bob McNab”. I know he’s an easy target, but I couldn’t resist. Sorry. Robin Pearson, Isleworth

Dear WSC
I’ve waited and waited, thinking someone would write in recalling the most famous Coronation Street football scene, but I suppose it will just have to be me. You remember when half the Street went off to Maine Road for a cup tie? City score (I know, the programme has nothing to do with reality) and as Annie Walker raises her arms in triumph, her rattle flies over the heads of the entire Scoreboard End and knocks off the helmet of a constable on the running track. Despite the absence of CCTV, she is immediately identified, ejected and taken to the cells.Husband Jack has to leave the pub and bail her out. Which is probably why all his millions went Blackburn Rovers’ way and not to us. But for this unfortunate incident, City could be sitting where Blackburn are... oops! Dave Miller, Manchester 

Dear WSC
Cris Freddi’s catalogue of ill fortune (WSC 150) would surely not be complete without reference to WBA’s game against Blackpool in the 1908-09 season. West Brom had a goal disallowed because the referee believed the ball had struck the bar, when in fact it had simply rebounded firmly from a tightly strung goal net. At the end of the season they narrowly missed promotion to the First Division on goal average – so narrowly, in fact, that one more goal would have seen them go up in place of Tottenham. Not that we’re still bitter about it. Harold Clarke, Dudley

Dear WSC
In his letter about the Donald Finlay affair (WSC No 150), Ian McLean mentions David Murray having taken a stance against sectarianism by getting rid of Findlay. This is interesting considering that Rangers refused to fly the Irish flag during last season’s UEFA Cup tie against Shelbourne. Apparently it is club pol­icy never to fly the Irish flag. When Murray kicks someone out of Rangers with­out their sectarian rantings making it into the press, then I might be prepared to believe that Rangers are serious about their fight against bigotry, and it is not just being done to keep the sponsors happy. Barry Worthington, Dublin

Dear WSC
As much as I hate being pedantic, I feel compelled to share a couple of points about WSC No 150. In Brief Encounters, Barry Leathem underestimates Orange boasts, as the song claims that the Billy Boys are up to their necks, rather than their knees, in Fenian blood. What Irish League game would be complete without an experimental, beer-sodden rendition of this bigoted old standard? I must also challenge a point in the Bluffer’s Guide to Stenhousemuir. Being probably the only Inverness Caley Thistle supporter in Belfast, one is usually on the defensive. Once again, I must defend our achievements, as both Ross County and ourselves have never been relegated in the Scottish League. John Morrow, Belfast

Dear WSC
Many of the mentions of the women’s World Cup that I have come across since returning home from the States have stuck safely to commenting on the statistics: the attendances, television ratings and profit of the largest all-female tournament in history. But it was not just the extensive coverage and hype surrounding this year’s World Cup that separated it from the previous two. Those with an interest in women’s football and any recollection of Sweden 95 must be happy with the way the game has progressed. For while I am almost pleased that the man in the street would not have been watching the performances of four years ago, I now feel that those who had a football-less summer really have missed out. Unfortunately, in Britain, women who want to play football (that is, “a man’s game”) are still something of a novelty and the coverage of the World Cup reflected this attitude. I am not ­suggesting that all that much more should have been written about this particular tournament for which none of the home nations qualified, but I do wonder, had they been present, would things really have been different? Would Match magazine really have passed up the opportunity of using such witty captions as “Nice one girls, now go and put the tea on” to accompany photographs of female footballers, as they did in their July 24th edition? Football is the most popular sport in this country and yet talented female athletes will not often choose it as their main sport. It is therefore left to countries where football is not a male-only sport, such as the US and China, this year’s two finalists, to dominate the sport. Add to this the passion that traditional footballing nations feel for the game and women’s football could become something even the British think is worth watching. Nat Sollohub, via email

Dear WSC
Mike Phipps (Letters, WSC 150) seems unusually agitated by my comments about Watford’s style of play. I fully and readily admit that Watford out-thought and outfought Bolton in the play-off final, but disagree that we were outclassed and outpassed. The opening goal was indeed one of the fin­est I’ve seen at Wembley, a true if-Beckham-would-have-scored-it. However, if you watch the video of the corner which precedes it, you’ll see your captain leading by example by throwing his elbow in the face of the goalkeeper. Maybe your facepaint was in your eyes, Mike. Being the best team to watch is not the same as being the hardest team to beat, or even the best in the league: it’s a qualitative assessment of playing style. Norway beat Brazil in France 98, but not because they played better football. It’s because few managers know how to counter Egil Olsen’s style. As we saw, your beloved GT is not one of them. Tired old cliches? At the end of the day, it’s not a popularity contest; if you want entertainment, go to the circus. Watford are a hard-working bunch of lads with no superstars, working together for the team, using the full width of the pitch and letting the ball do the talking. As for being ashamed of myself, feelings of self-disgust are usually confined to those who take furtive pleasure in something they know is wrong. Should I ever become a devotee of necrophilia or the long ball game, I shall be very ashamed indeed. Gary Parkinson, London

Dear WSC
Look, I’m sure I’m just being naive here. But all this power over the game Manchester United now have – where the hell has it come from? If the FA (or anyone else for that matter) were to treat United the same way they do everyone else, what would United do? Nothing. They can’t do a thing. They have a voice, one out of 20, in the running of the Premiership, but then so have Watford. So why is everyone so scar­ed of them whenever they want something? Because they’ll run off and form a super league? No! They wouldn’t go into that so lightly – it’ll take much more than a bit of even-handedness for them to leave English football. For years the game has continued to exist solely because there are a few (albeit very few indeed nowadays) principles of equality at its core. So much of this has already been eroded away by commerce. There’s no need for anyone to start throwing it out of the window. Rob Marriott, via email

Dear WSC
Peter Gutteridge was right to point out the historical precedent of today’s play-off system in the post-season Test Mat­ches of the 1890s (Letters, WSC 149). What he fails to mention, however, is that this “traditional method of settling promotion” was as heavily criticised then as it is now. The first series of matches in 1893 produced an outcry when the Second Div­ision champions Small Heath (Bir­m­­ingham City to you and me) lost, while the two clubs finishing below them in the table won and were therefore promoted toDivision One. Incidentally, the club who beat Small Heath were Manchester United’s first incarnation Newton Heath, who had finished the season rock bottom of the Division One. Jammy buggers in the 1890s as well. Efforts were made to scrap the system because it was considered unfair to clubs whose play throughout the season warranted promotion. As Peter notes, the system was then modified in 1895 to a four-club mini-league. But this was no more successful and the Football League finally abandoned it in 1898 after Stoke and Burnley had apparently colluded in their final game to produce a goalless draw which ensured both a First Division place. This brought an inglorious end to a system which even one of the Burnley directors thought was “clumsy” and led to “a perversion of the football values of the season’s play”. So, less a case of embracing tradition than failing to learn the mistakes of the past. P McIvor, Co Tyrone

From WSC 151 September 1999. What was happening this month

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