THE HALF DECENT FOOTBALL MAGAZINE

Dear WSC,
Mickey Parker’s point in WSC No 107 that most football songs require the player’s name to contain four syllables may well be connected to the fact that most popular music is in 4/4 time. (Tom Jones’ Delilah, of course, is a notable waltz-like exception, but what self-respecting footy fans would have any truck with that kind of a limping rhythm?) What concerns me is the rather worrying notion that a player’s whole popularity – and hence his career – can depend on the singability of his name.
This first struck me at Wembley last season when Paul Tait’s winning goal (OK, it was the Auto Windscreen Shield) was greeted with a rousing chorus of ‘Super, Super Kev, Super Kevin Francis . . .’.Last season at Birmingham we had a player called José Dominguez who used to run around a lot, then fall over and lose the ball. The crowd loved him, and I’m sure it had a lot to do with the pleasure to be had from a rousing chorus of ‘José, José, José, José’. On the other hand, Jonathan Hunt became the first Blues player to score a hat-trick in ten years and there was never a hint of a hum in his general direction. Some players can get away with just having an extra superfluous syllable thrown in (‘Stevie Claridge, there’s only one Stevie Claridge’), but others simply can’t: the unsingable Alberto Tarantini managed a mere 24 games for us in the seventies. I suggest that any rhythmically challenged player at the start of their career should seriously consider sitting down with their agent and coming up with suitable alternative names that will guarantee their popularity with the crowd. Pop stars have been doing it for years, and if Savo Milosevic doesn’t do something soon, it’ll end in tears. In the meantime, perhaps WSC readers could write in with suggestions for a suitable song that incorporates the words ‘Jonathan’ and ‘Hunt’. Then again, perhaps not.
John Tandy, Birmingham

Dear WSC,
The recent BBC series Kicking and Screaming concluded with a look at how football had cleaned up its act since the ‘bad old days’ of hooliganism and squalid stadia. Myself and Bernie Kingsley of the Tottenham Independent Supporters’ Association (TISA) were interviewed for this programme, as Spurs during the Scholar era provided obvious subject matter.  About three hours of material was filmed with us. We talked about Scholar’s lack of consultation, boardroom arrogance, failed business ventures, the desirability of the club being quoted on the stock exchange and Scholar’s accusations of political manipulation against TISA. We knew most of interview would not be used, but the discussions we’d had seemed to indicate this would be a series well worth watching. More than a year after our interview, we received a letter telling us that our contributions had been dropped. We were a little disappointed but not unduly concerned. After all, plenty of other supporters shared our views and, as a working journalist myself, I am used to material being cut or dropped.  But few supporters were featured when the programme was screened. Rogan Taylor made an eloquent and thoughtful contribution and a Coventry fan made brief comments about Jimmy Hill’s disastrous all-seater experiment. The longest contribution came from a Forest fan who had been a hooligan in the 70s and 80s and had served time for an assault on another supporter. He gave an insight into the nature of the widespread violence of the time and said he had “no regrets”. David Dein and Irving Scholar made extensive contributions, trumpeting the benefits of ‘their’ business revolution. Scholar made the extraordinary assertion that Tottenham Hotspur plc’s business ventures had all been successful. Those of us who remember Stumps, Martex, the Hummel fiasco and proposed partnerships with Robert Maxwell have a very different impression. Doubtless the programme makers will dismiss this as sour grapes because I didn’t make the final cut. In fact, I couldn’t care less about whether I was on the programme. What does annoy me is that the main voice of supporters was of an ex-hooligan with no regrets. During the last ten years, fans all over the country have put forward a huge number of ideas about current developments, engaging in often complex practical, economic and political arguments. It appears that television programme makers are unable to deal with this. It would be interesting to see what else ended up on the cutting room floor when Kicking and Screaming was being put together. It seems it’s going to be a long time before the depth and diversity of opinion among football supporters is really reflected in the media.
Martin Cloake, London

Dear WSC,
I must respond to the outrageous assertion of Alan Gibson (Letters, WSC No 107) that it’s the responsibility of the huddled masses of the Scottish Premier League to improve and sustain Glasgow Rangers. History lesson first. At the end of this season it will be ten years since the so-called Souness revolution. That season, 1985-86, saw Aberdeen in the European Cup Quarter-Finals, a year later Dundee Utd reached the UEFA Cup Final. The subsequent lowering of the Scottish standard in Europe has coincided with increased TV cash and sponsorship. Crowds may have fluctuated recently, but the fan is paying considerably more and in the boardrooms the ‘fart’ element has been replaced largely with business people who were assumed to ‘know their stuff’. Alan Gibson blames others, but fails to acknowledge how little Rangers themselves have done to improve the game in Scotland. Their contribution, apart from tutting about ‘the tail wagging the dog’, is the unlamented 1992 super league. Scotland is a world centre for daft ideas, but that one never won an argument. The current league is a slog in which durability is the key component. All sides suffer from suspensions and injuries, so the club with the deepest pockets and the largest pool is always going to have the best chance. Is anyone making a connection here? Rangers tend to look to their imports for success in Europe, and in a way that says it all. Last season they signed Basile Boli, a player used to being part of a sweeper system, for almost £3 million and forced him to play in a flat back four with the incompatible Richard Gough. This season they spent half as much on Petric, yet changed to accommodate him, while Laudrup, who is excellent, is now less the cutting edge of a European challenge and more the main hope for continued Scottish dominance. Here’s another history lesson which shows what’s possible. In Spring 1984 I saw Rangers beat Ajax 4-0 in a friendly. It wasn’t entirely meaningless, as Ajax were on a learning curve and within three years won the Cup Winners’ Cup and now, eleven years later can win the European Cup, beating Milan three times in the process. In the same period and with the aforementioned financial advances, Rangers have won nothing, and indeed one can count only two European adventures worthy of the name. The question Rangers should be asking is: are they willing to take the limited risk, for them, of a barren season in Scotland in order to use their resources to bring about a change in philosophy and playing style that might make the likes of Juventus worry? For as it stands at the moment, no self-respecting European league would have them.
Ross Templeman, Larbert

Dear WSC,
Panic over. There is no need for the FA to appoint a Technical Director, I have the answer. The reason for the demise of our teams in Europe is plain and simple. Sports programme theme tunes. Tenuous, I hear you cry, but the evidence is overwhelming. I cite the case of Midweek Sports Special, complete with rousing intro, which invariably preceded a comfortable Euro victory or a stirring League Cup tie. Now? A poofy Champions League tune signifies dismal performances and the League Cup is openly regarded as a nuisance by the game’s ‘élite’.  Look, also, at the plight of the Scottish game at domestic level. Typically poor fare follows the rhythmless dirges which accompany the opening titles to Scotsport and Sportscene. Gone are the days of Arthur Montford and Archie McPherson, both complemented by an opening fanfare. Look at the other side of the fence. Fantasy Football League ensured its success by adopting the 1970 World Cup tune, Back Home. Moreover, Match of the Day soldiers on with its classic intro. Premiership football? FA Cup? Fantastic. If television moguls really want to be able to claim they’ve revived football, they know what to do.
Tom Simpson, Prestwick

Dear WSC,
You don’t know me but I’d just like to say sorry for all the hassle I’ve caused lately. Luckily there doesn’t seem to have been any real harm done. Keep up the good work. (Am I the first person to notice that Jackie Charlton has an incredibly long neck?)
 Jean-Marc Bosman, Liège
* Yes.

Dear WSC,
Mickey Parker (Letters, WSC No 107) bemoans the lack of songs for use with the three-syllabled manager. On the contrary, there are several managers whose names are aptly suited to songs such as, ‘Are you watching, are you watching . . .’ or ‘We hate . . . I said we hate . . .’Ermmm, Mark McGhee for example. Unfortunately, ‘He’s fat, he’s round, he’s taking Wolves down’ suffers from the one syllable in ‘Wolves’ rather than the three in Mark McGhee.
Richard Olsen, Leicester

Dear WSC,
At a time when Czech football is enjoying greater success than it has for years, it is good to see it get a mention in your magazine (WSC No 106).
I was, however, a little disappointed with the lack of coverage of Slavia, where the beer is still plentiful, the sausages are fine and it is possible to buy a Barry Town badge. To dismiss the side with a single, glib comment comparing them to Man City is a little unfair. As for Dukla Prague, their pitch was recently badly damaged by continued attacks from wild boar. Someone in the club, though, had the bright idea of putting human hair on the field to scare them off. This has worked a treat. There were even reports of a club secretary having her locks chopped off to save the grass.
R Livings, Prague, Czech Republic

Dear WSC,
I suppose I shouldn’t be too surprised by the intrinsic inverted snobbery of Ken Sproat’s article on Newcastle Rugby Football Club. Rob Andrew, articulate, educated and the darling of millions for his heroic at-the-death drop goal against Australia, is employed by Sir John to turn a struggling Second Division team into the best rugby club in Britian and reverse the trend of young players going to southern clubs. And in doing so helps make Newcastle United a sporting club, like Real Madrid, Barcelona, Milan and Steaua Bucharest (the latter two, incidentally, are both rugby teams as well). Ken Sproat’s bleat against this is that he doesn’t much like rugby union and doesn’t much want to see any of his money going towards Toon rugby team. It may be a surprise to know that there are Newcastle United fans who used to spend a lot of money following the lads around in the dark days of McKeag who also both love playing and watching ‘rugger’. I can remember those days of total poverty of ideas and ambition when we signed peititons and campaigned for Johnnie Hall to save our beloved club. Now he’s here, we’ve currently got the best football team in Britain, the best manager and a chairman who wants to make us one of the biggest clubs in Europe; hardly surprising for a region which produces so many talented sportspeople. But there is no pleasing some people.
Stephen Wood, Edinburgh

Dear WSC,
As you may know, some scientists have always argued that the universe may have a limit to its expansion and that once it reaches this limit it will begin to run backwards. The news that Leeds are about to buy back Lee Chapman, now a sprightly 36, suggests to me that we may have reached that point. Leeds will win the League again in four years time and football followers will enjoy nearly three decades of laughing at Man Utd’s attempts to land the title. Or am I going mad?
Alan Beddow, Pontefract

Dear WSC,
I have just read the article by Boyd Hilton about George Graham (WSC No 107) in which he justifies George’s taking of the gilded lily of £450,000 by claiming it was for helping Rune Hauge set up a series of British transfers, not just the ones involving Arsenal. This argument strikes me as a tad spurious on two counts.
1) Just suppose you were a dour-faced Scot managing a sleeping Northern giant. Also suppose that you decided to buy a big, blond Danish keeper to help you win that elusive Premier League Championship. Now, you happen to know that the manager of your arch Southern rivals, a dour faced Scot whose team also play in red, has useful contacts with certain European agents, and you manage to successfully conclude the deal through one of his contacts.
Your team wins the Premiership, helped by your new signing in goal, and in the process consigns your Southern rivals to the dustbins of history as a bunch of boring journeymen. In this unlikely scenario, I don’t think you’d expect fans of the Southern team to be leaping up and down in joy at their manager’s help, however small, in aiding their rival’s Championship win, much less celebrating his windfall in helping the agent. 2) If the money George Graham received had nothing to do with Arsenal, why did he pay it back? Whilst I must admit a certain feeling of sympathy towards George Graham (and no, I’m not an Arsenal fan, nor a Tax Inspector) as I don’t think he’s the only person in football to be involved in Arthur Daley-type dealings, he did make one fundamental error. He was caught.
Tony Blatchford, Coleford

Dear WSC,
I couldn’t help but notice that UEFA chief Lennart Johansson has a flagpole growing out of his head (WSC No 107, page 35). I think he has done remarkably well to overcome such a potentially debilitating handicap and urge you to think twice before lampooning him again. Satire has its place, of course, but in mocking an elderly person who through no fault of his own will never be able to wear a hat in comfort you have surely gone too far. Harrumph.
Chris Austen, Scunthorpe

From WSC 108 February 1996. What was happening this month

More...