THE HALF DECENT FOOTBALL MAGAZINE

Dear WSC
Continuing on the debate about those heartbroken fans of Newcastle, one has to ask where these ‘devoted’ supporters were a few years ago. Commentators frequently reminisce about the dark old days of Newcastle when the club was on the verge of bankruptcy on gates just above 10,000. There is the same fickle element at Middlesbrough – at Ayresome Park back in 1993, matches attracted around 8,000. Now they’d expect 28,000 for a League match against Wimbledon!  I can only have limited sympathy for the Toon Army, and even less for the tens of thousands of supporters on the season ticket waiting list. If they’d bought one in 1990, they would have one by now.  If would seem that Newcastle’s chums Sunderland are the only ‘North East giant’ with fans of any loyalty: they brought 5,000 to Watford this year – and that was on a wet Tuesday night!
Will Ginster, Chesham

Dear WSC
As Ian Plenderleith pointed out in his guide to Germany’s Euro ’96 fortunes (WSC No 113), German TV commentary leaves a lot to be desired. The national TV station ZDF provided some useful insights into English dressing room humour during coverage of the England v Holland game. Thank you Thomas Wark for letting us know that Stuart Pearce is known as ‘Psycho’ due to his love of psychedelic music...
Eddie Miles

Dear WSC
The powers that be at Chesterfield are indeed mad if they think the proposed move to a new stadium is an improvement (WSC No 113). I say this without having seen the proposed design because Craig Thomas describes it as having “a curved roof design . . . like Huddersfield”. Surely the natural order of things is that football grounds should be large, imposing, not particularly attractive structures with straight roof designs. Curved designs will go in and out of fashion, straightness is uncompromisingly functional. Like brick built supermarkets which try to blend into the landscape, these curved roof stadia are pretending to be something they are not. Call me a totalitarian if you like but long live the ugly perpendicular roof.
Steve Hughes, Hoylake

Dear WSC
Your statement “Rangers are poised to sign another Catholic, this time Fernando Couto . . .” (WSC No 113) cannot go unchallenged. Other anoraks better qualified than I am will no doubt give you the exact numbers of Roman Catholics who have played Rangers in the past – Basile Boli and John Spencer (yes, him) being only two recent examples. Nevertheless, since the media got itself into a lather over Maurice Johnston’s signing we have had to put up with more shite talked about Rangers bigotry, sectarianism etc than ever. As a supporter and season ticket holder I do not know and do not care about the religious affiliations of my players. What I do know is that a team which has players like Paul Gascoigne, Trevor Steven, Brian Laudrup, Alexei Mikhalichenko and Erik Bo Andersen can hardly be held up as an example of Presbyterian purity. All of these players may be Catholic, none may be Catholic – I don’t know and neither do you. No doubt you think I’m being oversensitive or humourless, but we’re never going to get away from the sectarianism unless people start to get their facts straight, and start to recognize that this is yesterday’s news.
S Smith, Blackpool

Dear WSCFor the first time since 1898 there will be no away supporters allowed into the respective Sunderland-Newcastle Utd derby matches next season thanks to a joint decision by the two clubs. Here we are in 1996 not being able to do something generations of North East fans have done for the last ninety eight years. Football going forward? ‘The People’s Game’? No longer it seems. In these post Taylor Report days of restrictive capacity stadia with demand often exceeding supply at many clubs (not least here in the North East), just when will sizable amounts of away followers be able to attend matches again? Of course we can always pay £15 to see the big games on Sky TV, or some gigantic screen in the future which the authorities seem to think the fans will tolerate. I think they have a surprise coming.
Tom Lynn, Sunderland

Dear WSC
I was intrigued to read the letter in WSC No 113 regarding the role of safety officers. Prior to Manchester City's last Premier League match for, hopefully, one season, the club announced that in order to create a carnival atmosphere, flags would be allowed into the stadium. Then, on the eve of the match, the club’s safety officer, Jack Richards, banned the huge Italian-style flag (probably the biggest in England) which had been bought from proceeds of the defunct fanzine Blue Print. The reason given was that it was “an obvious fire risk”. He then asked for flags requiring large poles not to be brought, as these could be used as jousting sticks!On the day of the match there were plenty of small flags all around the stadium and it came as no surprise to discover they were identical – and available exclusively from the club souvenir shop and sellers around the ground. Surely if flags are permitted for one match then they are safe for all matches? If not, once again, profit and greed is being prioritized over crowd safety and supporters are put at risk by officials who never seem to learn lessons from the past.
Phill Gatenby, Manchester

Dear WSC
Well, football went home. And didn’t it make a change to see the Queen (aka Mrs E Saxe-Coburg Gotha) smiling once again. At least she made it to the final to support the winning team. Why did the press ignore her snub of the FA’s invitation to attend the opening ceremony? The excuse of a Derby which she’d been to every year since before there was a Labour Government in power, taking precedence over the country’s greatest sporting occasion in thirty years, is hardly a valid one. In protest the English should drop the national anthem from all sporting events. The band never plays the second verse, containing the line “. . . rebellious Scots to crush” in any case. ‘God Save the Queen’ is the National Anthem of the Union. The Scots have ‘Flower of Scotland’. The Welsh sing ‘Land of my Fathers’. The nine Catholics in the Northern Ireland team keep schtum when they play the National Anthem. The English should have their own anthem. I can’t see the powers that be going for ‘Football’s Coming Home’, but Blake’s ‘Jerusalem’ is as good as anything on the market.Please don’t print my name and address as it will ruin my chances of a knighthood.
George Shaw, London N1

Dear WSC
Dominick Weir’s superficial review of my novel The Football Factory says there is no difference between the characters, so they must all be John King. He’ll be glad to know that I am now adjusting to my lives as a six-year-old boy, a middle-aged Christian mother, an anti-fascist pensioner, a socialist fanzine editor, a wannabe Rodney Marsh warehouse worker, a travelling England fan – and presumably the lead character himself. The money’s good though. The aim of the book was to look at violence in our culture and the hypocrisy and voyeurism of a society that has made such a big issue over so-called football hooligans when it commits far greater crimes in the name of oil, social spending cuts and so on. By concentrating on Tom Johnson’s language and ignoring the other issues raised, Weir has presented a partial view. No-one’s asked to like the main character, yet his criticism of the book centres on his criticism of Johnson. It’s easy to sneer at a ‘disenfranchised yob niche’, but do we really lack the honesty to look at violence in a social context? Weir’s conservative reaction shows that he has no grasp of the way language is used in The Football Factory. Like the worst kind of fundamentalist, he lacks the imagination to move beyond his own self-righteousness and read between the lines. His attitude is more fitting to a Tory Party law and order debate than the pages of When Saturday Comes. The alternate chapters which Weir says he doesn’t understand offer alternatives, and the characters show parallel experiences. It’s not that difficult. The comparison with Richard Allen is interesting. I don’t imagine Weir’s knowledge of Allen goes much further than the recent TV documentary as he even gets the titles of the two books he quoted wrong, which makes it unlikely he has bothered to consult, let alone read, them. It’s an easy comparison – you know the logic, skinhead equals ‘football hooligan’ . . . violence means exploitation, hang ‘em all . . . etc. If he doesn’t like the style and/or content of The Football Factory, then that’s his opinion and fair dues, but he should at least have enough nous to see that the book comes from a totally different direction to Skinhead and Suedehead. Even Joe Hawkins could have worked that one out.
John King, London SW11
* Uh oh – looks like John hasn’t had a bad review before

Dear WSC
Gareth Davies’ account of Bobby Charlton’s only ‘proper’ booking (WSC No 113) resembles the current Labour Party in being half right. Yes, it did occur in the 1972 FA Cup clash with Stoke, but the disallowed goal, for which Charlton instigated an impromptu forum with the referee was not from a direct free kick.As I recall, Willie Morgan struck a weakly-hit cross from the right which prompted Bobby, the perfectionist, to cry out “I don’t believe it!” pre-empting the catchphrase of another lovable baldie. The referee, in need of a hearing aid rather than the usual spectacles, wrongly assumed that Bobby had deliberately cried out “Leave it” to con the Stoke stopper into error. Ungentlemanly conduct from Sir Bobby Charlton? Pah! You’ll be accusing him of trafficking in Cup Final tickets next.
Tony Kinsella, Swinton

Dear WSC
Imagine my surprise, nay, disgust on hearing the the five English clubs to have qualified for Europe will be exempt from the League Cup Second Round, a decision based on the old ‘too many games’ chestnut. In the time it takes to say ‘Man Utd 0, York City 3’, the League has removed one of the prime reasons for lower division clubs’ entering the competition: the guarantee of a top side, with the possibility of one of the big boys, in the Second Round. Last season my team York City prevented the Mancs from reaching the next phase so ought to receive a bye as well. Through to Round 5 would be nice.
James Richardson, York

Dear WSC
Watching Euro ’96 I was put in mind of that hoary old staple of Yuletide TV – Clash of the Titans, the one where the Greek gods, played by assorted British thesps, look down from the heavens and interfere with the lives of various mortals, played by third-rate American actors. I see the history of international soccer in a similar vein, as a sort of celestial Subbuteo match, in which God is always flicking for the Germans. Of course, to make it interesting and give His opponents a chance, He has to put the old omnipotence on the back burner for the duration of the tournament, which explains the odd aberration (England 66, Italy 82, Bulgaria 94).  I can’t help thinking He bows to temptation occasionally though, and hits the omnipotence button to get out of trouble (France 82, and, of course, England 90 and 96).Obviously there could be more rational explanations for German superiority. Their own strengths: good technique, superior organization, high team spirit and thorough preparation; or their opponent’s weaknesses: in England’s case, sitting back on a lead, one lapse into schoolboy defending and an inability to finish. However, I prefer to believe that, despite rumours to the contrary, God is indeed a German.
Colin Stringer, Brentwood

Dear WSC
Was it just me or did anyone else watching England’s semi-final defeat cheer up considerably when the cameras panned across to Skinner and Baddiel in the posh seats, looking utterly glum, possibly tearful? It’s the funniest they’ve done yet. I bet Jason Lee enjoyed it as well. Way to go, ‘Lads’.
Brian Hopwood, Beeston

Dear WSC
Oliver Cox’s letter (WSC No 113) suggests Man City are too good for Division One partly because they humiliated Leicester 5-0 last year in the FA Cup. As one of the 2,500 Leicester fans at that game, can I point out that: 1. It was the worst we played all season, bar none. 2. I suspect it’s written into the Leicester players’ contracts that they must have one nightmare game a season (7-1 at Newcastle, 7-1 at Sheff Wed) so that us fans don’t start getting ideas above our station.We’ll soon see whether Man City are too good for Div One – I don’t think they’ll find it easy as there are some competent sides who will have their own ideas about winning it (even Mr McGoo's mob at Molineux). As for Leicester, we’re coming back to the Premier with a better team, an excellent manager the promise of some transfer money, and we’ll try to make it less of a fleeting visit than two years ago...
Brian Austick, Otley

Dear WSC
While wandering away from Wembley after the Euro ’96 final, two thoughts about the Golden Goal struck me. Firstly, while the four sets of extra time without a Golden Goal were seen to damage the whole concept, that was as nothing compared to the, frankly, crap nature of the one goal that was scored. Tony Gubba has long held that particular strikes have been “a goal fit to win any match”; this was a goal that would leave a sour taste in the mouth if it caused defeat in a Sunday league game. The idea that such a disappointing piece of football could again be the end, absolutely, of a major championships is surely too ridiculous. It would have been much more controversial (and therefore much more interesting) if the fourth official had had to decide, on the basis of artistic merit, whether Bierhoff’s effort should have been enough for the referee to have to call time. Absolutely not, had I been in his boots. Secondly, what do those people who leave five minutes early to avoid the rush do?
Doug Stone, Peckham

From WSC 114 August 1996. What was happening this month

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