THE HALF DECENT FOOTBALL MAGAZINE

Dear WSC
In response to my letter published in WSC 275, Mark Brennan Scott accepts that we send someone to each of the weekend’s Premier League games, to commentate live, but not unreasonably asks whether Match of the Day commentators ever “re-record bits they are unhappy with”. Not exactly, but the beauty of an edit rather than a live game is there is scope for tweaking both the sound and visuals by transmission time. Every now and then, a commentator will, for example, misidentify a goalscorer and then correct themselves, in which case we have been known to remove take one in the edit. I’ve found a copy of a letter I had published in WSC 240 in which I said: “If a commentator gets something wrong at the time we may even spare him his blushes at 10pm by removing the odd word.” That remains the case, but most of the time the commentator’s natural reaction works best. If it takes a couple of replays before they identify a deflection or suspicion of handball, that will nearly always feel more authentic than trying to look too clever after the event. In shortening a game for transmission, we may occasionally “pull up” a replay or remove a few words, but would almost never re-record any section of a commentary unless there’s been a technical problem. Furthermore, in all cases the commentators go home after the post-match interviews and a producer back at base edits the pictures and sound recorded at the time. In early days of the Premier League, only two or three games had multi-camera coverage and commentators present, so there were occasional attempts to add a commentary to single-camera round-up games, for example, for Goal of the Month. However, not every commentator was a convincing thespian and one or two “Le Tissier’s capable of beating three men from here and curling one into the top corner. Oh my word, he has...” moments did slip through. With multi-camera coverage and a commentator at every game, that no longer happens.
Incidentally, call us old-fashioned but there was a degree of pride in this office in MOTD’s recent use of “crashed against the timber” as cited in Steve Whitehead’s letter. Better that – or maybe “hapless custodian” – than some unpleasant modern notion like “bragging rights”.
Paul Armstrong, Programme Editor, BBC Match of the Day

Dear WSC
We’re all spoilt these days, aren’t we? There seems to have been a deluge of recent correspondence taking issue with some aspect of MOTD. This has set me thinking about coverage in the 1970s, when I first started watching. Then we had two games per week (not necessarily the real “matches of the day”) and no opportunity to see goals from the other games. Contrast this with now, when we can watch every goal from the first four divisions as well as an extra MOTD on Sundays. Also, I was lucky to catch a glimpse of Newport’s (home only) goals once every three weeks on the local news. Now I can watch highlights of every County game in the Blue Square South for free, on the club website. Sorry to be so damn positive but I’ll put up with a bit of dodgy punditry/commentary in exchange for these wonders of the modern age.
Ade Thomas, Exeter

Dear WSC
I would be more inclined to support Robin Pearson’s campaign (Letters, WSC 276) to relocate lost MOTD footage from the 1960s if I thought that they would be used rather than simply stored for posterity. I am sure that there are many fans like myself who fondly remember when the not-so-glamorous teams we supported occasionally featured as one of the only two matches shown on the BBC’s Saturday night football programme. I cannot understand why, like so much other TV footage from the 1960s and 70s, these games are not available to actually watch, rather than just gather dust.
Rob Trent, Southampton

Dear WSC
I wanted to express my regret that the home fans’ custom of applauding the away team’s goalkeeper seems to be dwindling. I started going to football in the late 1980s and regardless of the subsequent mockery/abuse that would be heaped onto the goalkeeper they would nearly always be applauded by the fans behind the goal as they approached. I am reminded of this because last week Brad Friedel got a smattering of applause by the home fans at the Emirates, which as an Arsenal fan warmed the cockles to think that these niceties still exist. But it was certainly a rarity in my experience – at least in the Premier League. I think the trend is possibly still plausible as goalkeepers are frequently the least obnoxious players on the pitch. In the age of the incessant abuse and sarcasm hurled it would be nice if this tradition could be continued. I would be interested to know if anyone feels the same way, or if indeed I am talking rubbish and it is still prevalent.
Russell Walker, London

Dear WSC
During the recent ITV4 broadcast of Coventry City’s FA Cup replay with Portsmouth, I made the of mistake of actually listening to the commentary for a second or two and overheard Clive Tyldesley claiming to have been in Seoul on the day that Papa Bouba Diop scored to give Ivory Coast an opening win over holders France in the 2002 World Cup. Have I missed some kind of Ivorian-Senegalese coup or pact? Or are ITV now keen to rewrite World Cup history alongside that of the European Cup? Or is this just typical of Tyldesley?
Richard Nash, Downton


Dear WSC
The sportsdirect@StJames’Park debacle has got me thinking, who were the first League team to name their ground after a sponsor? I can offer Brentford’s Griffin Park as a possible answer to my own question, built in 1904 and named after the Griffin in the Fuller’s brewery logo, the Edwardian equivalent of Arsenal calling their ground the swoosh dome. I know there are a great deal of stands and grounds named after owners but I hope there are some more interesting stories of corporate backslapping out there?
Lou Boyd, Brentford

Dear WSC
The poor level of football punditry has given me an idea for a reality TV show. Lasting six weeks and titled You Are The Ref or something similar, it would feature three of the most opinionated commentators (let’s say Andy Gray, Alan Green and Alan Brazil). They would be trained by Howard Webb before taking charge of a televised Sunday League game. On the matchday panel would be three Class 1 referees, with viewers free to text or email their comments on the new officials. Of course, video replays would be used to highlight every mistake. Hopefully by the end, our opinionated trio might know something about refereeing. Such a programme probably won’t be made, but it’s nice to think that it might.
Paul Caulfield, London

Dear WSC
Wigan, Wolves and Burnley – that’s who I want to get relegated this year. If whoever is responsible at these clubs stops playing Tom Hark or whatever it’s called every bloody time they score a goal then I might think about changing my mind. It’s ruining my weekends. And don’t get me started on the PA announcer at Arsenal either.
Keith Chapman, Leyton

Dear WSC
When Trevor Jones (Letters, WSC 276) claims Tranmere are the only English club to have a Viking name, he makes the (understandable) mistake of overlooking York City FC. Originally called Eboracum, York was renamed Jorvik (“boar town” or thereabouts) when it was the capital of the sixth century Viking kingdom in northern England. Though the kingdom collapsed swifter than our League status, we seemed to like their name so much we kept it. Or perhaps the Vikings told us to and warned that they’d be back later to check. The Vikings were the Roy Keanes of the Dark Ages, you did what they said. If only the football club had thought Viking when coming up with a nickname. They might have come up with the Wild Boars or the Bloodaxes. Anything more fearsome than the flipping Minster Men. There again, I think we can safely claim to be the only English club with moniker and badge derived from a 13th century Gothic cathedral.
Andrew Traynor, York


Dear WSC
While I enjoyed Matt Withers’s article on the rivalry between my club Witton Albion and our neighbours Northwich Victoria in WSC 276, it did contain some glaring errors (of fact, not opinion) that need correcting. Firstly Vics played Charlton in the first round of this season’s FA Cup, not the second round as stated. In the second round they played Lincoln City who, unlike Charlton, seemed interested. More worryingly, Matt doesn’t seem to know the name of his team’s ground. It’s the Victoria Stadium, not Victoria Park. Most jarring though was the quote: “You’re either Northwich-ite or Witton-ite. And that’s the way it is.” In over 40 years of following the town’s football fortunes I have never heard either of those strange words uttered once. Supporters describe themselves as either Northwichers (stress on the second syllable for extra authenticity) or Wittoners. Perhaps the next time a Vics fan writes to you, you could run it past me first to make sure they don’t embarrass themselves. That’s what good neighbours are for.
Ian Pickering, Northwich

*Apologies for getting the ground wrong. Matt Withers would like to point out that he is a Crewe supporter – and has heard “Northwich-ite” used by a Northwich fan.

Dear WSC
The article on USA’s victory over England in 1950 in WSC 276 forced me to recall yet another embarrassing result for English sport, the final Test in South Africa on January 16. I had tuned in to Test Match Special to listen to Geoffrey Boycott talk about rain when Jonathan Agnew mentioned that 60 years ago England had lost 10-1 to the USA in the World Cup, although he did say that he thought he could be wrong and that listeners should get in touch. It seems to be a very popular (if unsourced) piece of trivia about said game that a newspaper in England believed the telegram giving the result as 0-1 was a typing error, and so printed news of a 10-1 victory for England. Usually I find it best to ignore people wanting me to “get in touch”, a phrase I increasingly associate with GMTV or even The Football League Show. On this occasion, however, I could not resist the idea of sending an email. Further to this I know that Michael Vaughan is like myself a Wednesdayite and if I asked his opinion on the appointment of Alan Irvine I felt sure that I would be mentioned on air. It had been raining for about half an hour and they were clearly running out of things to say. What could be better than having a stunted email conversation with one of England’s finest captains on national radio? Unfortunately I could find no contact details for TMS at all, having tried the BBC cricket page, their homepage, iPlayer page, podcast page and even Wikipedia. After half an hour’s frantic searching I was forced to give up the hunt and leave the house. This story unfortunately ends here, unless a fellow WSC reader could inform me whether Aggers still believes that England conceded ten goals against the US, as my 15 minutes of TMS fame have been cruelly stolen from me.
Ben Bebbington, Birmingham

Dear WSC
I wholeheartedly agree with the sentiments of Jonathan Wilson in his excellent article (The Joy of Nets, WSC 276). He also happens to be a fellow Sunderland supporter. I used to enjoy the varieties of stanchions and nettings at various grounds around the country, especially when I started to travel to away games as a student. I don’t know if the professional game authorities have entered into some kind of contract with a manufacturing company to supply all the goal frames we see now around the country – which to me resemble glorified hockey goals. But I am convinced that the present framework was largely responsible for the “goal” that wasn’t at Ashton Gate earlier in the season. And while harking back to times past, can we have a campaign to rid grounds of these infuriatingly distracting electronic adverts that plague the perimeters at most big grounds? These are totally off-putting and I would be interested in research showing whether these companies and organisations that advertise see any discernible increase in revenue compared with their expenditure.
Tony Potts, Washington

Dear WSC
In my five years as a WSC reader, never before have I been able to relate to an article so much as I did with Jonathan Wilson’s (The Joy of Nets, WSC 276). I like to call myself a connoisseur of the goal net. I have been obsessed with nets for many years, judging my favourite strikes with particular attention to a strict list of net-related criteria. I consider the tautness, depth, colour, square partition size, stanchion thickness, ground tethering... I could go on. But my fascination with nets is that no two are the same. From the old style slanted nets to the modern boxes the net makes the goal. My personal favourite type of nets are the small squared, white box nets, with the club crest sprayed in the back, common in the Bundesliga, most notably at Wolfsburg and Werder Bremen. A housemate of mine shares my passion for the football net and we like to think that we could name any of the 92 Premier League and Football League grounds by its respective nets alone. As crazy as this might sound, this is how much we pay attention to a goal net. I would like to thank Jonathan Wilson for enlightening the world to the joy of nets and to let him know he is by no means alone.
Kier Lymn, Leicester

Dear WSC
On the subject of annoying phrases entering the football lexicon, I thought I would add “talking points” to the list. Barely a live match goes by without the commentator referring, almost always in the first half of a rather dull game, to “plenty of talking points for the boys in the studio”. I don’t watch football purely in the hope that something controversial might happen that allows Andy Townsend or Jamie Redknapp to dissect every detail of it. But then that might just be me. It shows the worst of televised football – media talking about media and contrived discussion where all that matters is that Les Ferdinand has enough to talk about to fill the half-time chat. Otherwise he and Ray Stubbs might have to provide some actual tactical analysis, god forbid. The other recent additional to football’s “news-speak” is “boo boys”. Player under-performing? Manager struggling? He has attracted the “boo boys”, apparently. No, it’s not some retro band, nor a rather pathetic group of organised hooligans. It just means people who boo. Do the “boo boys” systematically plan out who to boo or is a spontaneous thing? Is there a club? Can I join? There must be sports journalists with stock “boo boy” articles already written, where they just change the name of the player and club accordingly.
Ian Bettles, London


Dear WSC
Following on from letters in WSC 275 and 276 regarding stupid phrases used in the world of football commentary, I feel that the time has come to vent my spleen against everyone’s favourite “expert summariser”. I’m sure we’ve all heard this one, after a long-range shot fizzes inches over the crossbar and the incident has been replayed time and again from every possible angle, Lawro (for it is he) utters the immortal words: “If anything John, ’ees ’it it too well.” Now I’m no expert on the English language so I’d be grateful if anyone could explain how the bloody hell it is be possible to do anything “too well”. I’ve never heard Jonathan Agnew state a fielder’s shy at the stumps was thrown too well as it evades the wicket-keeper and goes for four byes or John McEnroe describe an Andy Murray forehand which lands just outside the baseline as having been hit too well so why should it apply to football? Is it that difficult to say he hit it too hard? Or too high? Or that the useless sod ballooned it over the bar (which is what the rest of us are probably thinking)? Anyway, I guess I’ll be watching the World Cup with the sound turned down again. Unless Lawro’s travel plans are organised too well and he ends up in Madagascar.
Adrian Finn, Harrogate

Dear WSC
Further to your editorial in WSC 276, quite how the football authorities think that the product of modern football’s most reprehensible chapter is something worth holding up proudly to the world is beyond me. Are they really so out of touch that they didn’t realise that the town’s inclusion would spark something of a backlash from football’s ordinary rank and file? So much for England being united behind the bid. If, like me, your readers feel unable to support England’s World Cup bid while it contains Milton Keynes, they can sign the petition to Downing Street that is available. The petition runs until March 1.
Rob Crane, South Wimbledon

Dear WSC
Your account of what is happening in Milton Keynes (Editorial, WSC 276) becomes more implausible by the month. Strange as it may seem, the FA have a number of good reasons for wanting to include MK in the 2018 World Cup bid. A UEFA Elite category stadium (there aren’t many of these). A stadium right near the M1 and the West Coast rail line, halfway between London and Birmingham. A town with a quarter of a million people, a rapidly developing economy and infrastructure, and burgeoning civic pride. This is a choice that makes at least as much sense as Plymouth, say. None of this has very much to do with “looking for legitimacy”. I don’t defend the FA’s decision to allow MK Dons automatic entry into the Football League – this was a gross error. I have been an Arsenal fan for 30 years and a WSC reader for 20 years. But WSC’s blindness to the reality of what is happening is becoming tedious. Local interest in MK Dons – attendances are now regularly above 15,000 – has not been “whipped up by an expensive PR campaign”, as much as fostered by a club that has an impeccable record of working with the local community and getting involved in health promotion, education and charity work. Local interest is being led by kids who are getting into lower-league football instead of watching the Premier League on Sky and supporting Chelsea. People in Milton Keynes are not being brainwashed, they are responding to the existence of a football club (owned and run by local people) on their doorstep the way people everywhere do. That makes them football fans rather than pariahs.
Michael Flack, Milton Keynes

Dear WSC
Those watching Stoke’s fourth round tie with Arsenal will have heard the reaction of the ITV commentary team to Ricardo Fuller’s opening goal from Rory Delap’s long throw – why don’t more teams have such a specialist, can this not be coached?  A good person to consult might have been Tony Pulis. His father-in-law, Bill Stroud (Southampton, Leyton Orient and Newport County), explained to me in a 1997 interview, how he had been coached in this art by John Arnold, the Southampton, Fulham and England winger, who was also a Hampshire and England cricketer and later a first-class umpire. Stroud confessed that Arnold taught him how to throw using only his stronger hand, yet never be detected. Watching Gareth Bale’s massive throw when he burst upon the scene at St Mary’s, I wondered whether he had acquired the Arnold knack. It had never occurred to me to study Delap’s technique, not least because he so seldom used his long throw at Southampton – heaven forfend that he might have been helped to develop this weapon along family lines at Stoke.
Never mind coaching players in this art. Might officials need training in how to detect one-hand practitioners, who have been deceiving them in a way perfected by a cricket umpire?
David Bull, Bristol

From WSC 277 March 2010

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