Whatever else happens this season, one thing’s for sure – a lot of clubs are going to find themselves looking for a new manager at some time during the next nine months. They all know what they want: a hard but well-loved leader of men who can turn a club used to decades of trophyless mediocrity into a giant of the game. They want a manager who, by the time he regretfully hands over the reins of power to his successor, will have won just about everything there is to win and made his name, and that of his club, synonymous with success. They want, in short, someone who can do for their club what Matt Busby did for Manchester United. But how do you find such a man? I say: don’t bother reading the application form, just check the name on top of it. Think of the great managers in English football history: Matt Busby, Bill Shankly, Bob Paisley, Don Revie, Alf Ramsey. Notice how similar their names are? The forename shortened to a monosyllable, the surname comprising two syllables, the last ending in ‘ee’. The lesson is clear – get a manager whose name follows this simple pattern. But make sure you follow the pattern exactly, or you will find yourself repeating Celtic’s traumas with Liam Brady and then Lou Macari. That extra syllable makes all the difference. So, who out of the current crop of Premiership players is destined for great things in the dugout, rather than on the pitch? The one who springs to my mind, at least, is Les Sealey. If he ever does decide to go for a career in management, I’d advise his first employers to put him on a ten-year poacherproof contract. And if I was David Batty, I’d start insisting that everyone call me ‘Dave’ right now. A pity that it’s probably too late for Peter Beardsley to start doing the same. Or are there any clubs who have been ruined by being placed in the hands of some incompetent egomaniac who happened to have a name out of the ‘Blank Blankee’ mould? I can’t think of any. Anyway, if there are, I bet plenty more have suffered irreparable damage under the ‘leadership’ of people with names like, for example, ‘Graham Ball’ or ‘Alan Taylor’.
Brian Whitby (but my friends call me ‘Bri’, honestly), Buochs, Switzerland
I’m adamant that I’m never again going to sit through 90 minutes as bad as those I was subjected to this weekend. I’ve said this before, of course, but somehow I always seem to get drawn back; the hype, recommendations from people whose opinion I value, etc. And then I sit uncomfortably for 105 minutes (including half-time and the foul tea that comes with it) and watch aimless, brainless hoofs upfield, atrocious, inept tackling, the poorest defending anywhere outside of Maine Road, shameful diving followed by acting so bad it would make Hugh Grant look talented by comparison, misplaced passes by the dozen and refereeing decisions which fly in the face of the rule book. Any fleeting moments of skill are usually the result of the opposition wasting possession and any goals are due more to the defence’s aversion to closing a man down than anything else. On top of which everyone on the pitch is a foreigner. Honestly, I don’t know why I pay my license fee. This time I mean it – I will never watch the Italian football on Channel Four again. I suppose the foul half-time tea is may fault, though.
Rob Mullins, Elm Park
As a Stoke City supporter, my pleasure at learning that our former player Graham Potter had been selected for the England Under-21 turned to resentment the more I thought about it. Last season he showed excellent form at Stoke, though his later performances had declined somewhat, and it was something of a surprise that he should be signed by a Premiership side, even if only Southampton. As far as I am aware, Potter has not made Southampton’s starting line up this season, so how can he suddenly be England under-21 material? If he is as good as that, then why was he not selected last season whilst a Stoke player? It seems to me to be yet another classic case of favouritism towards the Premiership. Do any other readers have similar examples of such blatant prejudice?
John Goodwin, Newcastle-under-Lyme
Why does the Football League persist with the almost criminal pointlessness of playing the first two rounds of their Coca Cola Cup over two legs? Last night’s second-leg tie between Wrexham and Huddersfield was completely over after only ten minutes with Huddersfield 1-0 up and 4-0 ahead on aggregate. The game became merely a public training session for which we had paid at least £8, making me wish that the two captains could have followed their cricketing counterparts and shaken hands on the result at half time to save us all further punishment. But aside from the two-leg system existing to lure the eternal optimist to attend an already hopeless fixture in the hope of a miracle, only to be trapped inside a ground and forced to watch a half-hearted impersonation of a football match, why is it there? I assume the answers are as follows: The Football League would not want to lose the big clubs too early in the competition since sponsors would not look too kindly on semi-finals without plenty of marketable big-name players; the smaller clubs might win a big pay day and some giant killing glory by drawing one of the big clubs. As usual, money is at the heart of the matter, and yet the current system does not seem to make sense. In the first round, without the big clubs, the first leg rarely draws a large crowd because supporters are in effect only paying to watch the first half of the game. But if one side wins by three or more goals then the second half of the fixture will attract even fewer fans. Where is the financial sense in that? And now the European qualified sides are being excused from the second round so that the big pay day of which the club chairmen dream is even less likely. Also, although the sponsors may be keen on the idea of having Manchester United versus another glamour side at their final, it seems perverse not to see that if every tie followed the one-off nature of the FA Cup then they could boost crowds, increase interest AND create the sort of cup glory and romance that is still (with the greatest respect to York City et al) the preserve of the FA Cup. Even the organizers of the ultimate Mickey Mouse Cup have altered the terms of the Autoglass Trophy to a purely knockout affair starting after Christmas, so when will the Football League come to their senses and put an end to the sort of misery that I and thousands of others went through at Wrexham?
Robert Wardle, Whitchurch
OK, I’ve had a whole week to get over it, but it’s no good. Last Wednesday I watched Juventus v Manchester Utd in the Champions League. Three words, however, spoilt my viewing pleasure no end. Brian Bloody Moore! This is the bloke who is reputed to earn £15,000 per match (or did I dream that?). That’s as much, if not more, than Alan Shearer. Did I really, honestly, clearly hear Brian Moore remark that Alen Boksic didn’t, and I quote, “pull up many trees for Croatia during this summer’s Euro 96 tournament”! Brian, am I being a bit dim? What the f*** are you talking about? And another thing, Brian, whilst I’m on the subject. Poborsky. Plays for Man Utd. Czech. International, dodgy hair. Got him? It might be news to you, but his given name is not Little. As in “Little Poborsky storms forward again,” or “Little Poborsky comes forward like a train”. His name is Karel (not a huge improvement, I know). Not Little. OK? And this time, Brian didn’t have the almost forgivable excuse of Big Ron sweating next to him in the commentary position. Mr Atkinson is far too busy taking his clothes off for Loaded and getting Coventry City relegated to be bothered with ITV this season. Mind you, the way things are going he might need the extra work. I really don’t like Brian Moore, you know.
Jerry Stott (Letters, WSC No 116) is a forgetful old ninny: he forgot to include any truth or sense in his rant about Big Fat Gordon Strachan. Coventry brought Strachan to benefit from his playing ability and potential to be a manager. He has already proved his worth on and off the field. I doubt whether players like Gary McAllister and Eoin Jess would have joined the club had it not been for Strachan. The emotive language in Stott’s description of the events at Stamford Bridge was straight from one of the Sun’s ‘Soccer Thugs on Rampage’ stories with fans breaking down advertising hoardings and frantic stewards risking life and limb to keep the peace. Why didn’t he just say that one bloke ran onto the pitch but was stopped from damaging the referee, and Coventry’s meagre points tally, by the swift and brave intervention of Mr Strachan who shepherded the fan back to his seat? He could even have added some drama to the story by saying that the fan also caused an advertising hoarding to topple over, inadvertently, in his efforts to get onto the pitch. And frantic stewards? The indifference shown by the good people of the misleadingly named All Purpose Security ( I asked them if they did car alarms or window locks, they said no) was immense. I met with friends after the game, all Chelsea fans, who said they couldn’t believe how well-behaved the Coventry fans were in the circumstances. Stott them claimed that Ogrizovic and McAllister only protested because of Strachan. This man’s view of the truth is scary. The reason McAllister, Ogrizovic, the rest of the Coventry players, Ron Atkinson and the Coventry fans were so incensed was the appaling piece of inept refereeing by Paul Danson and his assistant. The idea that had Strachan remained sitting calmly in his seat everyone would have reacted simply with a heavy sigh is ludicrous. I wasn’t at Coventry’s game against West Brom reserves, as Mr Stott must have been to comment so confidently on what took place there, so I can’t decry or defend what Strachan did. I’m just at a loss to understand what Jerry Stott has against Gordon Strachan and how he fails to understand that the reason everyone got upset was because Petrescu got away with a deliberate hand ball, which stopped a Coventry attack and led to a Chelsea goal.
Graham Dutton’s suggestion (WSC No 116) that Scunthorpe United run out to Lou Reed’s Metal Machine Music left me wondering what happened to the fine anthem which used to accompany the lads in red as they emerged at the Old Showground some twenty years ago. I can remember the chirpily sung chorus of “Scunthorpe United, Scunthorpe United/ We’re the greatest in the land” being ignored by even the most optimistic of home fans in the face of what was undoubtedly one of the most consistently under-performing line-ups of the Seventies. My family used to go when our home team, Lincoln City, were playing away, just to make us appreciate what we had at Sincil Bank. But we weren’t totally without compassion. Towards the end of one particularly sorry afternoon, with Scunthorpe 5-1 down to Hartlepool, the announcer thanked the 1,500 or so of us who’d bothered to turn up. It was all too much for my Mum, who burst into tears. I’d better stop now, I can feel a whole book coming on . . .
Ian Plenderleith, Zurich, Switzerland
Another year and another questionnaire. Why does everyone assume that all supporters only support one club? Every year I decide to fill one of these in the first thing I have to do is decide which club is to become my subject. I (and I suspect I’m not the only person this applies to) have my childhood club that I watch whenever they’re in town, play at home at Christmas, have a good cup run (Colchester United) and I also go to watch a team that is local to where I live at present (and sometimes have a good cup run – Brentford). Then there’s the team I watch when I have little money (Hendon have never had a good cup run).Before anyone asks, when Brentford met Colchester in the cup a couple of years back I simply did not attend. I’m sorry if you think this is sacrilege but I’m pretty sure the same thing applies to 50,000 people who sit on the arses at Old Trafford week in week out. I also get three times as pissed off as anyone dedicated to just one club. Brentford’s insertion of seats where I used to stand really pissed me off this season. Along with Colchester’s assistant manager revealing a liking for Enoch Powell in a recent programme, and, if that was not enough, arriving at Hendon’s ground to discover a certain David Speedie in the team nearly made me turn around and go home. The season may be just a couple of months old, but I’ve already lost count of the number of letters of complaint I’ve written. Still, up the Bees, U’s, Greens . . .
Keith Chapman, London NW2
So Ed Horton’s a grumpy old lefty who doesn’t like Man Utd much and Geoffrey Brough (Letters, WSC No 117) is a real 80s man and admires loads of wonga which always equates to “success”, naturally. I must admit I have found myself marvelling at EH’s doom-laden view of the world, however, he does make some very pertinent points in Self Supporting (WSC No 116), which jealous small-minded old Fulham-loving me found hit to the heart of the matter. I must admit I find it hard to admire someone who doesn’t give a toss about me. In the same way I find it hard to care about Man Utd (in particular, but that’s to do with their personnel), Newcastle etc when I know very well that they couldn’t care about Fulham or any of the other struggling clubs. The ever-widening gap has made a tremendous difference to many small club supporters’ views on our wealthier counterparts. To reduce Ed Horton’s thoughtful and honest analysis to just jealousy and small-mindedness was to miss the point by a mile. Simply put, fifteen years ago those clubs doing so well in Europe just didn’t seem that far away, now they are well over the horizon and disappearing into space leaving the rest of us so far behind as to seemingly have no hope of catching up – at last not on footballing merit. No doubt Geoffrey will tell me that the market must prevail and so, if it must, I’ll take my old curmudgeonly self away and try to find a life. While I’m doing that I sincerely hope Geoffrey enjoys his satellite helpings of Super-Franchise-Britsoc from the Soulless Synthetic Stadium with authentic crowd noise effects. It’s not jealousy, Geoffrey, it’s a genuine sadness at what’s happening to the game in the 1990s. As to being jealous of Chief Execs of privatised utilities – as the great Kenneth Connor used to say in Carry On films, “purr-lease”. Come on Geoff, who couldn’t run a nationwide utility with no competitors at a large profit? A lampshade, perhaps?
Phil Baston, Chippenham
As you may be aware, block tickets to the 1998 World Cup go on sale in France on November 1st. These Pass Frances give you access to five or six games at the same venue (basically the qualifying rounds and a second round game at the same venue if there is one). Because of the way the competition is being organized (each team plays its group matches in three different venues) this gives you the option of seeing ten teams in the World Cup for a reasonable price (roughly £8.50 to £18.50 a match) depending on venue and seat category.Since non French residents are supposed to buy tickets through their respective FAs, I rang the FA here to see if they had any plans to sell these passes. Funnily enough, they hadn’t heard of them and had no plans to sell tickets until after the qualifying competition ends.Hence, if you want a two-week holiday in France in 1998 watching five or six games for a reasonable price it’s best to know someone in France and get them to buy the tickets for you, as by the time our FA get around to selling them (if they do) they probably won’t be available. Then again, after Euro 96 ticket experiences, is this surprising?
I was on the train the other day when I overheard a group of Londoners talking loudly about football. They all had red and white and black, scarves and hats, and when one of them made a snide remark about Man City, naturally I assumed they were United fans. However, when I got got closer and heard both“I wonder what those fishy scum in Grimsby think of that” and “the recent goings-on in Lincoln Cathedral have been a thorn in the side of the Church of England” it dawned on me that I was in the presence of a new phenomenon in the capital: Cockney Imps, Johnny-come-lately Lincoln City supporters who were born within the sound of the Kray Twins’ doorbell, but have suddenly become interested in all things Sincil Bankish. No doubt soon we’ll be hearing that Diego Maradona has foresworn the nose candy in favour of signing up with Sir John Beck’s red, white and black army, and the whole media circus will be travelling up the A46 for a story. It’s a mad bastard of a world, right enough.
Jonathon Bygrave, Hammersmith
From WSC 117 November 1996. What was happening this month