THE HALF DECENT FOOTBALL MAGAZINE

Dear WSC
Steve Hughes’ thoughts on curved roof design (Letters, WSC No 114) are so far wide of the mark as to be laughable. The curved roof at Huddersfield is anything but a fashion statement. Instead, it stems from the architects taking a fresh look at stadium design, and seeking to improve the view for the average punter. To put it simply, the roof is curved because the stands are curved. Before anyone replies attacking the new and dangerous fashion of ‘curved stands’, may I point out the reason for this design. The curved stands mean there are no seats in the far top corners of the ground, as there are no corners! This makes it impossible to sit further than 90 yards from the centre circle and thus gives the paying customer a better view of the game. The curved roof keeps the spectators dry without needing any of those irritating posts that tend to block the view of the game. If Steve Hughes really wants to see a football ground that looks like a supermarket, I suggest he looks at another of Britain’s new stadiums, not Huddersfield. Wolves, Middlesbrough, Chester, Scunthorpe and Walsall have all built grounds in Sainsbury’s style. They may be aesthetically pleasing to Mr Hughes, but they aren’t much good for watching football in.
Robin Stewart, Huddersfield

Dear WSC
I feel bound to say that Brian Hopwood’s comments about Skinner and Baddiel (Letters, WSC No 114) were spot on. People I know are split fifty-fifty between those who enjoyed the show and those, like me, who rejoiced in the news that it was to finish. The polarised reactions the show provoked made it all the more surprising to me that they should have received such an easy ride in the media over the past couple of years. Notwithstanding the fact that Frank Clark made himself look a bit silly in his outburst over the Jason Lee sketch, I’m sure there were plenty of people who were left feeling uncomfortable at the sight of a white man blacking up to get laughs – Jason Lee’s hairstyle wouldn’t seem that weird to anyone who lives, as I do, in an area with a large black population. I can see why it attracted an audience, up to a point – some of the sketches were funny, but that was because the subject matter itself was funny, not because of the way they presented it. For the most part Fantasy Football was mediocre tat passed off as satire, all the more annoying for the fact that much of the sloppiness seemed to be on purpose – with scripts knocked out in a half-arsed way because it was assumed that the audience would be too stupid, or too pissed, to care. That’s not to say that comedians should steer clear of football – the likes of Alan Davies, Arthur Smith and Jo Brand have all done funny stuff about the game – it’s just a shame that television has made such a lame attempt to take on the subject. And don’t get me started on Lee Hurst...
Paul Soderberg, London SW19

Dear WSC
Perhaps those people, like Brian Hopwood (Letters, WSC No 114) who see fit to criticize David Baddiel and Frank Skinner should think a bit harder about what they have done for English football fans. Whether you consider them funny or not (and most people I know think they are bloody hilarious), their BBC2 show gave football fans their first wide exposure on television’s football coverage, a genre previously dominated by ‘experts’. One could argue that its humour and laddish way of looking at the game has been a greater advertisement for being a typical football fan than anything seen in years, even more so, dare I say it, than WSC. Their ‘Three Lions’ song was taken up as the war cry of 70,000 England fans (plus many more in pubs and homes across the country) for a month during Euro ’96, and when they looked “utterly glum, possibly tearful” after we lost to Germany they showed natural disappointment, reflecting the mood of passionate fans across the country. Is that something to gloat over? Perhaps Brian preferred the comedy of Lee Hurst on ITV’s coverage, obviously brought in to counter the threat of Skinner and Baddiel. I certainly didn’t. The poor bloke was about as funny as a penalty shoot-out defeat.
James Clarke, Bexhill-on-Sea

Dear WSC
What do the last three editions of WSC have in common? Easy. They all contain letters having a dig at Newcastle fans. In June we were labelled “pathetic” for showing a tad too much emotion during the Championship run in. July saw us condemned for having the audacity to root for Gillingham when they stuffed our deadliest rivals in the play-offs. Then in August the hat-trick was complete when someone from hotbed Hertfordshire dug up the old chestnut, ‘Where were you when you were shit?’.  Maybe WSC should make Slag-a-Mag a monthly feature. Believe me, there’s plenty of untapped mileage – we’re definitely the fattest fans in the land, our beer farts are infamous the world over, and when it comes to uncool facial hair, it’s only the Galatasaray crew who’d provide us with any genuine competition.
Paranoid Dave Smith, London N16

Dear WSC
I spotted last month’s comedy letter straight off: the one by Will Ginster trotting out the bizarre theory initially trotted out in Footballing Smash Hits (90 Minutes to you and me) that Sunderland fans are the most loyal in the North East. The logic being, in this instance, that they took 5,000 fans to Watford for a midweek game last season. The fact that it was during Easter and they were top of the League doesn’t apparently come into this. The plain facts are that prior to their championship run in, Sunderland had not had a 20,000-plus home League gate since October 1992, when The Toon were the visitors. Additionally, the only time in the last 23 seasons that Sunderland’s home support exceeded Newcastle’s was in 1990-91 after the former’s bizarre promotion in the wake of the Swindon financial scandal. Will Ginster’s argument seems to be that the worse your team are playing, the more noble it is to support them. If that is the case I’m sure he enjoyed Watford’s fruitless relegation battle last season more than, say, the 1984 FA Cup Final, or finishing second to Liverpool in 1982-83. Consequently, Sunderland fans can look forward to occupying the Premiership moral high ground next season.
Ian Cusack, Newcastle

Dear WSC
Having just read the articles by Graham McColl and Ed Horton (WSC No 114) as I passed through ‘Winchmore Hill’ on my commute home from the City, I was left wondering both whether I was the focal point of their vitriol and bitterness regarding Euro ’96 and moreover, whether I had been at the same tournament as the one that they described.I was present, with three friends, at all six Wembley matches. I agree that ticket prices were excessive but it is totally incorrect to jaundice the views of those who were not fortunate enough to be at the games by summarily brandishing the majority of England’s supporters at Wembley as xenophobic ‘Essex boys made bad’ and ‘corporate’ scroungers.Having talked, laughed and drunk with many fellow ticket holders from all over the country throughout the tournament I would argue that the group I was with were more typical than the negative stereo-types described by McColl. Three out of four of us are season ticket holders at local clubs that we have supported since childhood (Enfield, Spurs and Arsenal). We bought our tickets for £240 nearly three years ago (which having just left college was a great financial sacrifice). At the matches we sang our hearts out, respected other players, supporters and their anthems and we went to the games primarily due to our love of football not to ‘jump on the band wagon’. If Ed Horton felt about football as I do as he claims he does, he would have been there like thousands of true football supporters were, enjoying the party in spite of the ridiculous cost.
Steve Mann, Enfield

Dear WSC
“Euro ’96 – how was it for you?” asked your front cover (WSC No 114). Fairly awful, at least according to your editorial, Colin Moneypenny and the regularly morose Ed Horton. Maybe they should have spent a little time in Birmingham. Admittedly, I appear to have been lucky in that whilst in London I was not treated like dirt and at no time did I feel threatened by (or even see) the hordes of no-gooders apparently lying in wait for us, but I can only offer my perspective, which is as valid as any. Yes, the tickets were expensive, but show me a Scot who didn’t think the tournament was worth the money. Allow me to share just three of the moments which made my first experience of following Scotland ‘abroad’ such a memorable occasion. Firstly there was the marvellous camaraderie between the Scots and the Dutch supporters, highlighted by the way they applauded both team buses into Villa Park. The atmosphere was so good outside the ground that I commented as entered the stadium that the result wouldn’t really matter. Mind you, we thought we’d get gubbed. The second spectacle was the handshakes between rival fans across the segregation fence after we thumped England 0-2. This brought mutual applause from both sets of fans, but went largely unnoticed by the press, whilst more unseemly events in Trafalgar Square made the evening news. With reporting like that, we’ll never get the game re-instated. Finally, to anyone who was there, I only need say “halftime at Wembley”. Without doubt, the best fifteen minutes I have ever spent inside a football ground. A quite magnificent party, air guitars by the dozen, made even better by the sight of 60,000 bemused Englishmen not having a clue what was going on.
Tom Simpson, Prestwick

Dear WSC
Jon Rea’s view of Nottingham’s role in Euro ’96 was curiously mean-spirited – curious until his bizarre suggestion that future tournaments should shift to the proposed new Derby County stadium made things a little clearer: I deduce that Rea is a bitter and jealous Sheep supporter. His ‘party nobody came to’ on the Trent Embankment was just a part of Nottingham’s celebrations. The city centre had two weeks of fireworks, dancers, street entertainment and music with everything you’d need for a summer festival – Turkey fans in Robin Hood hats, an Anglo-Croatian cultural exchange programme in schools, teenage girls in the Market Square fainting at the sight of Mark Goodier’s Radio One  Roadshow . . . And the citizens of Nottingham showed their fervent interest in the tournament in the most practical way possible, by reportedly stealing more Euro ’96 banners from local lamp-posts than in all the other host cities put together. Yes, crowds at the City Ground were as disappointing as many at Hillsborough, Elland Road or St James’ Park but only £35 and £45 tickets were available in the fortnight before the game (rumours were of 8,000 cheap tickets languishing in Istanbul travel agents), foreign supporters came in fewer numbers than expected, and the corporate classes were never going to flock to see Turkey v Croatia or Portugal v Croatia B. You can’t blame the people of Nottingham for the FA’s pricing policy. And bearing that policy in mind, Rea ignores the fact that many Nottingham supporters travelled to see specific games. If you have to pay £45 for a ticket, might Holland v Scotland an hour’s drive away not prove a better investment than Turkey v Croatia round the corner? Does Jon Rea really think that playing that game in some soulless potential stadium in an unbuilt industrial estate 10 miles up the A52 would add another 10,000 on the gate?
Michael Cook, Nottingham

Dear WSC
Whilst listening to Radio 5 Live’s commentary of Germany’s group game against the Czech Republic in Euro ’96, I was shocked, and quite frankly appalled, to hear Mark Lawrenson describe Andy Möller’s goal as a “worm burner”. Although realizing that grass and daisy cutting is an unavoidable consequence of such shots, I have been oblivious to the fact that far greater ecological damage is sometimes caused. Perhaps a FIFA working party could investigate this phenomenon with an eventual view to a world-wide ban of ‘worm burners’ from the modern game?
Anthony Pope, Brighton

Dear WSC
Your Euro ’96 issue pays fitting homage to Ron Atkinson and his bons mots. However you missed my personal favourite. It came during Scotland’s backs-to-the-wall showing against the Dutch. Alluding to the tournament’s chief cliché – the lack of quality free kicks – he watched as Gary McAllister stepped up to have a pop. “Let’s see how McAllister can do compared to some of these so-called Continentals,” said Big Ron, I swear. A knighthood beckons, surely,
Jon Sturgis, London SW1

Dear WSC
It’s a bit rough of Ed Horton to take time out from his erstwhile assault on the corporate profiteering that marred the European Championships (WSC No 114) in order to lump the Philosophy Football ‘Gramsci T-Shirt’ in with all the other ills of marketing that send him into such a frenzy. Philosophy Football can hardly be classed in the Coca-Cola/Umbro/Snickers league when it comes to profit-making achievement, and the accusation that we make money at the expense of fans actually flies in the face of what we are trying to do. We produce our natty items of intellectual sportswear with one simple aim, to raise funds to put into ventures promoting the positive culture of being a footie fan. To that end we raised over £30,000 to mount ‘Europe United – A Day for Everyone Who Loves Football’ a week prior to Euro ’96, a unique showcase of the writing, drama, fashion, poetry, music and humour a few seasons putting up with the wind and rain can drive you to. And we’re already working on ideas for a city-wide celebration of London football fan-culture in ’97, and a United Nations of Football Festival to coincide with World Cup ’98. Tiny pin-pricks in Ed’s nightmare commercial world of big bucks beating the hell out of Mr and Ms Ordinary Fan perhaps, but surely worth a bit of credit, eh? Oh, and the fact that my day-job is in marketing has nothing whatsoever to do with this paranoid response.
Mark Perryman, Philosophy Football, London N15

Dear WSC
Profit and loss, the recent bitter article by Ed Horton (WSC No 114) was the straw that broke my back. I’m tired of hearing the sob stories of how individuals couldn’t obtain tickets for matches in Euro ’96. What they mean is they weren’t committed or even organized. Believe me, it didn’t cost a mortgage to go to the games. I made a commitment in January 1994 to book tickets for 10 matches. I had no idea who was playing, although it was pretty obvious that England would be at Wembley. Moreover, I decided that I wanted to witness the tournament first-hand, paying by direct debit over a six-month period. Mr Horton pours out his heart (as have many others) about the price of tickets. Why? I paid £15 to see Scotland v England, Russia v Germany and the group games at Villa Park. Not bad when you consider it costs me the same to see Birmingham City v Southend! He continues to ramble about the price of buying a package of tickets. Tickets could be bought for individual group games. Therefore Mr Horton could have gone to any of the first stage games for the sum of £15. Maybe the difference was commitment. I, and thousands of others, are not wealthy, corporate beasts, but we were prepared to drink a few pints less, buy fewer CDs, etc over a two-year period because we wanted to see the best of Europe on our island.
Malcolm McHenry, Birmingham

Dear WSC
About the Danish fans in Sheffield going “Mmmmmm” (WSC No 114). The very average Danish midfielder, Brian Steen Nielsen, played for top Turkish club Fenerbahce a few years ago. A TV programme about his stay in Istanbul was broadcast last year. Before each game, the Fenerbahce fans would call out the name of each player who would run in their direction (at this point the fans would be going “Mmmm”), and swing his arm forwards very fast three times, with the fans shouting something like “Heeay . . .” each time. Since that TV programme, supporters of the top Danish clubs and the national team have made this part of the pre-match warm-up, with the players often repeating it after the match to thank the fans for their support. It sounds pretty strange, right? But the effect is as great as when the Rangers fans do the ‘Allah’ towards Brian Laudrup at Ibrox.
Jan R Hansen, Silkeborg, Denmark

Dear WSC

Mr Smith of Blackpool (Letters, WSC No 114) has surely missed a story given wide coverage up here. Rangers supremo David Murray was forced, as a result of pressures elsewhere in the club, to request that Basile ‘the last known Catholic’ Boli desist from crossing himself in public view at Ibrox. This can hardly be blamed on the “marginal looneys” – the requests presumably come from those with enough leverage to force such a ridiculous communique from the otherwise forward-thinking entrepreneur. If proof is needed that sad backward attitudes exist high up at Ibrox, then look no further than director Donald Findlay QC. The sideboarded one was recently quoted as saying: “If Celtic never won another game it would be a source of enormous rejoining to me . . . the 17th of March is my natural birthday. My official birthday is the 12th of July.” Such is the notion of wit in these circles that critics are mocked for lacking a sense of humour. It would be a source of great rejoicing to me if bigotry was indeed “yesterday’s news”. In the meantime, perhaps Mr Smith could be doing something more positive than writing letters to When Saturday Comes?
Alan B Montgomery, Kilmarnock

From WSC 115 September 1996. What was happening this month

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