Anyone with a soul who was at Pride Park to see Derby’s match against Middlesbrough must now be convinced that any efforts to “improve” refereeing should be firmly resisted. We had a wronged hero, Paulo Wanchope, sent off for showing the degree of commitment that would have earned him a red card in a kick-boxing match. We had a villain, that’s you Andy Townsend, who matched the provoked Paulo kick for kick but was only shown a yellow card. We had the biggest attendance at Pride Park incandescent with righteous indignation. We had a goal from prodigal son No 1, Dean Sturridge, who had excused himself from our previous match. He was booed when he took the pitch and left to a standing ovation. For most of the match our ten men were hanging on heroically against their 11. We had our hopes dashed when Middlesbrough equalised. But injustice was righted in the nick of time by prodigal son No 2, Jonathan Hunt, whom we thought would never be seen again after lengthy loans to lowly First Division clubs. Yet he turned up in the six-yard box to sweep the ball past Schwarzer. And finally we had the scapegoat, referee Mr Harris from Oxford, whose random decisions and wayward card waving wove a plot worthy of a Walt Disney film. Consistency from referees? Who needs it?
Peter Gutteridge, Derby
The return of Pierre van Hooijdonk to Nottingham Forest has done little to halt the procession of journalists and TV pundits who insist on telling me about “player power” and that “contracts don’t mean anything these days”. We are held to believe that post-Bosman era footballers are able to demand massive salaries, bonuses and signing-on fees from helpless club chairmen whose knees start to knock whenever they see Eric Hall’s car pulling up outside. Then, if they don’t like the weather or something, a player simply has to phone his agent and within 48 hours he’ll be stepping out at the Nou Camp. The events of this season don’t tend to support this view. Pierre’s petulant strike has failed to yield a reward so he remains at the City Ground trying to repair his reputation. Forest, however, have regained the services of a top-class striker who almost single-handedly won them promotion last season. So when they get their original £4.5 million (but probably more) back upon his inevitable transfer, I’d say that Forest were still the winners. Transfers involving Dwight Yorke and Dion Dublin were supposed to have been engineered by the players, with their employers cast as helpless victims. Yet Villa received £12 million for a player who had given around eight years service to them, whilst Coventry made almost £4 million profit on a near 30-year-old who basically made them another £10 million by keeping them in the top division for the past two seasons. After over a hundred years of ripping off professional footballers it is only fair that the clubs now have to negotiate on a more even playing field when it comes to players’ contracts and careers. Anyone who thinks that big-name players are calling the shots on transfers in modern football need only speak to Duncan Ferguson.
Darren Rogers, Huyton
To enlighten James Kerr (Letters, WSC No 142) further, providing I remember this correctly, I can tell you that I shared a class with Garth Crooks at the University of North London in 1993 as part of a Social Sciences Degree. It was something to do with business communications and one of the assessed components involved giving a presentation on student housing in London which of course Garth had to do as well. I resisted the impulse to rush for his autograph but can remember looking disparagingly at fellow class-mates who chased him down the corridor after one class.
Graham Jennings, Croydon
I’m sick of ITV’s attitude to presenting the classified football results on Saturdays. Last year they moved them around all over the place. Now they are banning them altogether. Their network chief planner David Liddiment told the press last year that if anyone objected to his banning the football results they could write to him and he would rethink. I and several of may pals wrote. We succeeded. Now he is up to his old tricks again. I urge all football fans to write to him and demand that we get the classifieds back. David Liddiment is at: 200 Gray’s Inn Road, London WC1X 8XZ.
T Paul, London N8
As a football fan I’m prone to lament the way the modern game is going. But as someone who makes their living from history, I’m no more supportive of romantic visions of the past than Phill Gatenby (Letters, WSC No 143). However, to claim that Murdoch is simply carrying on a football tradition is a misreading of the sport’s history. Brewers and other businesses may have injected money into clubs and made money from the custom of fans but, like most middle-class Victorian and Edwardian figures, they also shared a strong sense of community spirit. Owning a club was a way of supporting your town, putting it on the map and contributing to a wider popular civic pride. Some individuals may have won trade and fame this way but this did not diminish their more “worthy” motives. Then, as now, few clubs made serious money and the typical club director was more familiar with dipping into his pockets than financially benefiting from his position. The football authorities forbade any director from holding a salaried position at his club, while dividends were strictly limited. Well-paid chief executives and fortune-creating share issues are very much a recent development. In the days of the maximum wage, players were very much working-class figures who lived in the same communities as their fans. The culture of the terraces, which shaped the image of the game, was that of the workers. Fans may not have owned clubs and usually had their support taken for granted but the game was very much rooted in their communities in a way that today’s overtly commercial game is not. Murdoch’s aspirations are possibly the pinnacle of a trend that has seen people make large amounts money directly from football in a way that was unknown in the game’s history. The rights and wrongs of that are a different matter but, like multi-millionaire players, all-seater stadiums and rampant merchandising, it is certainly not part of football’s heritage. The game, like society, has changed.
Martin Johnes, Cardiff
The media’s manipulation of football for commercial purposes is becoming more sinister as each week of the season passes. Call me paranoid but here are three examples. Sky TV, Rodney Marsh et al, backed up by News International, spend three weeks destroying Kenny Dalglish at Newcastle. Why – compare dour Kenny to rent-a-quote Mr Sexy Football’s ability to produce one-liners for the back page. The season moves on. Roy Evans, this was your life – three weeks spent pressurising Liverpool to the point where Roy’s position became untenable. Saturday 5th December 1998 (Dalglish gone, Evans gone, Hodgson gone), time to try and destabilise Arsenal. Unbelievably, Rodney, George and the boys are questioning Arsène Wenger’s position! The man has just won the double and they are still fourth in the League despite being involved in Champions League and Worthington Cup games. So where is the link? MUFC are a potential addition to the Murdoch stable. All of a sudden their main competitors are targeted by the media arm of the empire in an attempt to destabilise the opposition. Next season – all teams not from Old Trafford to play with their arms tied behind their backs! If I was a Manchester Utd fan I would welcome Murdoch as a kindred spirit. Arsenal bring in a top football coach to further their ability to play football. MUFC need a top charlatan to hone their skills of gamesmanship. I have seen the future – the future is bleak.
Brian Reynolds, via email
Richard Maguire (War of the Worlds, WSC No 143) cites South Africa’s “world class stadiums” as one of the strengths of the country’s bid to host the 2006 World Cup. The problem with relying on rugby venues for the bid is that any incentive to provide large metropolitan areas like Cape Town and Durban with proper “soccer” facilities will be lost. In Cape Town, for example, the city’s four Premier Soccer League clubs lead a strangely nomadic existence, but play most of their games at the dilapidated Athlone Stadium where the notorious Cape winds whistle across a pitch open at both ends and down one side. Encouraging World Cup games to be played in the more salubrious environment of the Newlands rugby ground may strengthen the bid but could also consign local football, and the people who play and watch it, to several more years of second class citizenship in the “new” sporting South Africa.Whether ordinary South Africans would actually get to see “their” World Cup is also problematic. The vast majority of “soccer” fans are black, working class and simply won’t be able to afford to watch a global spectacular with tickets priced at European levels. Unless admission to Bafana Bafana against Italy in 2006 can be made affordable for local fans, the only people who will see it live are likely to be foreigners and wealthy (mainly white) South Africans who don’t know Lucas Radebe from Nelson Mandela. While I agree that Africa’s turn must come, much more effort is needed if Africans are to enjoy their own World Cup and the benefits it can bring in a country where minority sports remain privileged at the expense of football.
Bill Dixon, Cape Town, South Africa
Richard Mason did well to articulate his views on media intervention in Italian football (Out with a Bang,WSC No 143). However, with regards to the expulsion of Fiorentina from this year’s UEFA Cup, I can’t help but feel that he has come to all the wrong conclusions. While the Grasshoppers players were very quick to feel threatened by the firecracker, and I don’t doubt that it was a traumatic experience, the article chooses to ignore that the Fiorentina players were in just as much danger from the fans, if not more so. I am certain that the Salernitana ultra who launched the firecracker would have been just as happy to see it injure a Fiorentina player as he was to see Fiorentina expelled from the UEFA Cup. So we come to the crux of the matter, that is, who to pin the blame on. I admit that Fiorentina do seem to be the obvious scapegoats, being the “home” side and therefore “responsible” for the behaviour of the fans during the fixture. It seems a bit much, though, to expect Fiorentina to monitor and control every single fan who enters the stadium, when it is not even theirs.
There is only one person who can be blamed for the non-completion of this tie, and that is the man who came to the ground with the sole intent of getting Fiorentina thrown out of the competition. Sadly, with the help of UEFA, it is he who came away from this fixture with a win.
Re Mr Dennis’s response (Letters, WSC No 143) to my article in the previous issue. I wasn’t criticising Stoke City for taking what they could get, but rather the city council for the one-eyed manner in which the money was dished out. If the cash came from the EU, it was taxpayers’ money, and the Urban Regeneration Scheme is in the hands of the council. I haven’t got a problem with the Football Trust putting up £3.25 million for a new ground, my problem is that the council steered £3 million of public money in the direction of City and nowt towards the Vale. The money hasn’t been used to develop the Britannia Stadium as a “community asset”, it’s been used to replace an old football ground with a new football ground, and the council insults its electorate by suggesting otherwise. I don’t want Port Vale to share City’s new home, I want us to be able to tap into the same cash cow that provided so generously for City they needed it. Traditional fan base? All six of Vale’s past home grounds have been within two kilometres of Burslem town square, as the crow flies. I’d call over 120 years based within such a small area a “traditional” heartland. Vale have already got a half-decent ground, so why leave it, share with our bigger neighbours and risk losing our identity? The Britannia Stadium, over six kilometres from Vale Park, is deep in Stoke’s heartland, which is as it should be. For a supporter so keen to embrace the benefits of that infamous opener-up of markets, the EU, Mr Dennis is also quick to support the hindrance of free enterprise when it comes to the closure of the Vale shop. Why not have more than one shop that sells sports goods in Burslem? It might create a bit of competition and bring down prices. Could it be anything to do with the fact that the pre-existing shop a “stone’s throw away” is the licensed seller of Stoke City branded goods? The Vale shop which Mr Dennis saw was no mirage. It is, since the enforced closure of the shop in the Market Square, the only official club shop (the other was still lying empty last time I looked), and is not the one-room lock-up run by supporters to which I referred. That shop has long since closed down. Next time he drives past, Mr Dennis should drop into the shop and sign the petition calling on the council to give Port Vale equal treatment to our local rivals.
Ron Rushton, Port Vale-on-Trent
With mixed emotions I am able to supplement the recent cornucopia of Coronation Street football references. My recollections predate Ian Cusack’s reminiscences in WSC No 143 because I remember a County player called Eddie Duncan who appeared in a short Street stint in the early 1970s. The highlight of his storyline was a Gazza-like Friday night in which he ends up legless. After being nursed/detoxed by none other than Bet Lynch, he recovers in time to score a Saturday afternoon hat-trick and returns to much acclaim in a jubilant Rovers Return led by arch-fan Stan Ogden. However, his romantic aspirations towards la Lynch are brought to a summary end when County sell him to Torquay. It really does worry me that I still possess all this information, but I am relieved that I cannot add further to the Encyclopaedia of Weatherfield Football Trivia as I stopped watching the Street in protest at Duncan’s Plainmoor transfer.
William Rankin, Watford
From WSC 144 February 1999. What was happening this month