During his career Bobby Charlton did get a proper booking as opposed to one meted out by a FIFA official in the stand (Six of the Best,WSC No 112). It happened during the FA Cup Quarter-Final against Stoke City at Old Trafford in March 1972. As I recall, he hammered a direct free kick into the net but had the ‘goal’ disallowed because the kick had been taken too quickly. Charlton refused to retake the kick and was booked for dissent. The match ended 1-1 and Stoke won the replay 2-1. If you print this letter I might write again to tell you about the time I pinched Nobby Stiles’ backside after the Man Utd v Middlesbrough Third Round Cup tie in 1971. He played only five more games for United after this and I’ve been feeling guilty about a possible connection for more than 25 years...
Managers across the country who face the sack if they hit a losing streak or fail to win a trophy, must look upon Terry Dolan’s position at Hull City with incredulity.Dolan and assistant Lee have just been given extended contracts, despite having taken the Tigers from the First to the Third Division in five years. This is part of chairman Martin Fish’s master plan for the club which has so angered supporters, myself included.Following a season that has seen relegation, many dismal performances, the sale of Dean Windass and Alan Fettis for well below their real value, and a winding-up appearance before the High Court, we fans needed something to give us hope. Fish promised a big announcement. We waited and waited – but the reality was a squib so damp it was positively drowning. There would be no new investment – two approaches made to take over the club, or even join a restructured board, were rejected – but a new East Stand is to be built. However, as the club has no money, the business sector will be asked to contribute! Fish pie in the sky, no less . . . Of course, the new contracts for Dolan and Lee can only deter potential board members from investing in the club, knowing that to get rid of the present management team would cost a small fortune. Yet Martin Fish is truly bewildered that the fans are not enthused about his plans: this, if nothing else, shows the yawning chasm that has developed between the supporters and the executive of Hull City. I will probably renew my season pass but I can’t think of many rational reasons for so doing. Even the diehards are going to find it difficult to drag themselves to Boothferry Park if Fish’s faith in Dolan doesn’t bear fruit. There’s an awful, nagging suspicion among supporters that the only way the current regime will take us out of the Third is into the Vauxhall Conference.
Andy Mills, Leeds
On behalf of the Rugby League Supporters Association I would like to thank your magazine for the subliminal recommendation you gave your readers to support Rugby League during the football free months of summer (Mind Over Matters, WSC No 112). Although it is true to say that slimline runts like Steve Prescott and Jason Robinson have been letting the side down on the flab front, it is beyond doubt that a small but significant percentage of RL players are not under-endowed in the beer gut department (most of them end up at Whitehaven). Hopefully, Rugby League fans will recognize humour when they see it; those that don’t are probably regular viewers of Birds of a Feather.
Michael Wray, RLSA, Birkenhead
The article Northern Exposure (WSC No 112) has finally confirmed the niggling suspicion that I’ve been harbouring over the year that anyone who supports Leeds United cannot be entirely rational. This confirmation duly arrived in the form of Dave Cohen’s private fantasy about football supporters – that they will apparently choose sociological factors (crude ones at that; North=poor, South=rich) above football based factors.As a consequence of this thesis, Cohen alleges, the North of England stood firmly behind Leeds United in the 1970 Cup final against posh bastards Chelsea and thus “tuned into the national psyche.”Alas – only a Leeds fan could possibly be guilty of such a sad example of self-deception. Correct me if I’m wrong, all of you who lived North of Newark but not actually within the borough of Leeds, but did you or did you not all hate Leeds? All the kids in my playground (Grimsby – sort of Northern. Poor, of course) wanted Chelsea to win. It would have been the same in Scunthorpe, Huddersfield, Carlisle, Bradford . . . you name it. Why? Because Chelsea were a much more interesting side, with lots of gum-chewing mavericks and character you always wanted to be during the kick-abouts. And despite the presence of Harris, they were a much less cynical, win-at-all costs side than Leeds. Simple as that, Dave. Maybe a further dubious sociological explanation of this might be that all those Northerners rooting for Chelsea were simply displaying the sort of wannabee social-mobility syndrome (pre-Major) that used to attract Northerners to the capital. But I doubt it. We just hated Leeds. Simple as that, Dave.
Phil Ball, San Sebastian
Ken Bates’ usefulness to Chelsea may be over, as Mike Ticher hopes (WSC No 112). But so may Chelsea’s to Matthew Harding. The day before Bates’ announcement that Harding would not be his automatic successor after all, tucked away in the business pages was a story on Harding’s plans to buy a major American motor insurer. That sort of investment will clearly be larger-scale than building a new hotel behind the Bovril gate, or even waiting for Andy Myers to become the new Baresi. Although Harding clearly is a genuine fan, his millions are an investment. And, like all sensible tycoons, he will transfer them if one better arises. Look no further up the billionaires’ league table than Reading, owned by publisher John Madjeski, or even Richard Thompson, lately of QPR. Also, remember that whether Bates, Harding or Chiang Kai Shek owns Chelsea, it will still cost at least £20 to watch a game casually next season . . .
Paul Emmick, Belfast
In contrast to Neil Jones’ letter (WSC No 112) I should just like to say how much I enjoyed the sight of disconsolate Newcastle fans on the Easter Monday Match of the Day. They looked exactly like I felt when my team got relegated to the old Division Three back in 1987. We lost out in the play-offs to Gillingham, who brought a surprisingly large number of fans with Geordie accents to the second leg at our place when we won 4-3, but went down on the away goals rule. Fortunately I’ve cheered up since then. (A packet of Sugar Puffs to the first person to guess whom I support.)
Carl Barwick, London SW17
If Joe Ferrari (Letters, WSC No 112) is looking for saturation coverage by the police at all football matches, can I suggest that he switches his allegiance to AFC Bournemouth? Down at Dean Court, ever since the infamous ‘Leeds weekender’, every match has been treated like a full scale terrorist alert by our boys in blue. Whereas most seaside clubs are now able to arrange games on Bank Holidays without any trouble, Dorset Constabulary retain a firm grip on our fixture list. Last year’s final home game was moved from a Bank Holiday to the previous Tuesday because Dorset Police were afraid of the hordes of travelling Shrewsbury fans, with their violent reputation, hell bent on wrecking the town. And it’s not just those sunny Bank Holidays which put the fear of God into the police, but Christmas time, too. This season’s home game with Swansea (yes, Swansea) was moved to prevent pagan Swansea fans foregoing the home delights of Christmas in favour of some South Coast seaside shenanigans. It appears that Dorset Police treat the club as both a training ground, and a cash cow. They use AFC Bournemouth as a means of giving their younger officers ‘much needed match experience’, and also to generate revenue which the club must pay for. One wonders if this is not a method of providing the rest of the community with an extra ‘bobby’ on the beat. Perhaps the day isn’t too far off when the local police force will be sponsored by the football club! You don’t know when you’re well off, Joe.
Rob Trent, Southampton
As a Man City fan, I am now bracing myself to share the new experience of the Nationwide League. That we have been relegated is depressing but fair: over the course of the season we had every chance to stay up and have avoided them all of them. What bothers me is the drop is so precipitous. Although we were hopeless for the first two months, City are too good for the First Division now. More than that, I simply do not believe that any of the sides going for a play-off spot (or Derby for that matter) can hold a candle to City.We humiliated Leicester 5-0 earlier this year and City have definitely improved since then. More significantly for football as a whole, because the gap between the divisions is so large this season will see the Premiership suffer a decrease in quality as inferior teams are promoted and superior ones relegated. Since the Premiership is now under threat, perhaps some action will be taken to change the way football is financed. Extra slices of the satellite cake should be devoted to the lower leagues so that progression is a little more even. Otherwise we are going to face the prospect that all promoted teams are relegated after one season in the Premiership. If financing is not to be restructured (and, let’s face it, it’s not) then how about an enlarged play-offs, with both promotion and relegation clubs involved? Or how about the issuing of Get Out Of Nationwide Free cards to managers with squeaky voices? Either would do me.
Oliver Cox, West Didsbury
I write following Mr Ferrari’s letter in WSC No 112. He is absolutely right when he talks of attending matches in the 80s and finding himself accompanied by a regiment of police officers. He is, however, mistaken in blaming club chairmen for their absence from many of today’s games. In the world of spectator safety and match policing, where two are gathered together to discuss such matters, talk will be of pre-Taylor ‘we did’ and post-Taylor ‘we do things differently now’. The Taylor Report was a watershed in the history of the game. There is a theme running through it which has been disguised by the more visible changes such as seating and the removal of cages, namely that the responsibility for the safety of spectators lies with the club and not with the police. To meet these responsibilities, clubs must now employ safety stewards who are trained in first aid and fire safety. Clubs work with police, fire service, local authorities, ambulance, Football Licensing Authority and uncle Tom Cobleigh and all to ensure spectator safety and that if there is an incident it can be handled safely. In North Yorkshire this Department co-ordinates the activities and interests of all of those parties. We then visit the club to check that all the requirements of the Certificate are being complied with. All of this I know is rather dull compared with the 90 minutes of the game. It is also expensive and time consuming, but it has to be done. The police are gradually reducing their involvement in football. They still accept that they need a presence at any place where several thousand are gathered (Manchester City and, I think, Villa, have been looking at police-free matches). The police, however , will continue to attend at those clubs where the stewards are not up to scratch. A well-trained steward is nearly as good as a police officer for specific duties carried out inside the ground. When you can get 10 such stewards for one officer, safety inside the ground is enhanced. That is why there are fewer ‘old Bill’ at matches these days.
David Sayer, Principal Trading Standards Officer (Safety), North Yorkshire
At the risk of being dubbed a pedant, I really think that something must be done about the increasing tendency for sports journalists to dub any waist-high shot as a ‘volley’, regardless of the number of times that the ball has bounced previously. Alan Mullery’s Goal of the Season for Fulham was a volley; Eric’s winner in the Cup Final was not, but the journalists would have us believe that it was. A small point, but as annoying as a Gary Newbon touchline interjection.
Jonathan Williamson, Sheffield
The mass media, that instrument of capitalist conspiracy, has grossly misrepresented events at the Goldstone Ground on Brighton’s last home game of the season. The heroic proletarians who re-appropriated the means of (football) production by invading the pitch and smashing the goalposts were not protesting about the asset-stripping abuses of the Archer-Bellotti regime, outrageous as they are. No, the said activists are far too sophisticated to imagine that the ruling classes will ever listen – a sophistication demonstrated by the total absence of any serious constructive protests at previous home games. The truth is that these noble class warriors were enacting a tragi-ironic echo of the goalpost demolition by Scottish fans at Wembley in 1977, in advance of the England v Scotland clash at Euro ’96. The hidden message being that nothing similar should occur this time and, instead, the English and Scottish fans should unite in a serene protest against exploitative ticket prices. On the other hand, perhaps the Goldstone miscreants consisted of a large number of boys who enjoy smashing things up – and hadn’t been to a single Albion game all season. This would certainly explain the crowd size: 10,000, twice as much as at recent home games.
Andrew Fisher, Brighton
From WSC 113 July 1996. What was happening this month