So, following Man Utd’s exit from the Champions League at the hands of Bayern Munich, Sir Alex Ferguson saw fit to make the following comment regarding players influencing a referee, in particular to getting an opponent dismissed: “They got him sent off – everyone ran towards the referee. Typical Germans”. I couldn’t help but think back to Derby v Man Utd at Pride Park in the late 1990s and an incident I witnessed just yards from where I was sitting. I distinctly remember Gary Neville instructing the referee, Mike Reed, to send off Derby’s German defender Stefan Schnoor for a foul he had committed shortly after having already received a yellow card. Reed had walked away and wasn’t going to take further action until United’s players forced him to change his mind. To double check my memory I found the following match report on the Independent’s website for the match on November 20, 1999: “Stefan Schnoor, admittedly, invited his own dismissal, ploughing through Dwight Yorke in the 40th minute after being cautioned for dissent moments earlier. What enraged Derby was that when it seemed Mike Reed was undecided about a second yellow card, and the automatic red, David Beckham and Gary Neville ran over in an apparent attempt to pressure the referee into banishing the defender". It’s a bit of an irony, isn’t it, Man Utd’s English players talking a referee into sending off a German. Perhaps, if this behaviour is “typically German” in 2010, they are just emulating the behaviour of English players in an English team, Manchester United, who have been practising it for over ten years.
Andy Kitchen, Derby
I loved Michael Green’s letter (WSC 279) about his application for a job at Carlisle United. However, I can’t help feeling that he missed one crucial aspect of the story when comparing Carlisle and Tranmere during the selection process. The (mostly) well-respected CEO of Tranmere at that time, Lorraine Rogers, was the club owner’s partner in a romantic sense as well as business-wise. If only Mr Green had wooed Michael Knighton with candlelit dinners and long walks UFO-spotting along the Solway Firth, then the job may well have been his.
Tristan Browning, Reading
Tom Davies made some interesting points on the football proposals of the main political parties (WSC 279). But one word that was missing was “FIFA”. Just four years ago, FIFA briefly suspended Greece, saying that a proposed Greek law “constitutes another example of interference from the government in football affairs”. The suspension was lifted after, or perhaps because, the Greek parliament amended a law that FIFA had taken exception to. So, any discussion of proposed law changes affecting football has to include the question: “Could this ever actually happen?” I’m no lawyer but I can’t see FIFA ever allowing our government to force clubs to hand supporters’ trusts a 25 per cent shareholding – which could explain why Labour waited until the end of their third term before they proposed it. I hate to be cynical but I can’t help thinking that our politicians realise that they can really only do two things in football: provide funding, especially at the grassroots, and support a World Cup bid. Anything else? Mere talk.
Pete Ridges, Birkenhead
Unlike in the UK, Declan Hill’s The Fix (Letters, WSC 279) has been published in Italy, renamed Calcio Mafia. Italy may have a chequered history when it comes to football and corruption, but at least books that describe “the dark heart of football” are published here. The most notable are a series written by an ex-player, Carlo Petrini, while another, written anonymously, charts the rise of “Lucky Luciano” Moggi. As Petrini was involved in the illegal betting scandal that came to light in 1980, saw the relegation of AC Milan and Lazio, and the suspension of Paolo Rossi among others, he knows what he’s talking about. And his portrayal of what he calls “the mud of the god football” is both revealing and singularly unedifying. It’s only recently that the books are beginning to be talked about a bit more, particularly with the increasing number of players from that era who naively allowed themselves to be subjected to dubious medical practices (that today would probably be called doping) and now suffer from Lou Gehrig’s disease. At the moment the focus is particularly on ex-Fiorentina and Milan striker Stefano Borgonovo. The 62-year-old Petrini himself suffers from glaucoma which doctors say is probably connected to substances administered to him as a player. Petrini’s books name and shame many in Italian football, including Giovanni Trappatoni, and he’s not been sued yet. Maybe the reason why such books can be published in Italy (albeit by the little-known left-wing publisher Kaos Edizioni) is that no one imagines that football is clean and so what they reveal doesn’t besmirch the good name of calcio because it hasn’t got one. I’d say to anyone who can get hold of The Fix to do so. You won’t enjoy it, but it’s essential reading for any serious student of the game.
Richard Mason, Bergamo, Italy
Derek Brookman’s piece on the play-offs in Holland (WSC 279) raised some good points, particularly the decision to scrap them on grounds of unfairness. It’s a shame this sensible move wasn’t made in England during the 1980s. Instead we have had to put up with hollow arguments that play-offs are more exciting (and, of course, more lucrative) than dull old league matches. Those who watched Sheffield Wednesday v Crystal Palace on May 2 might disagree. There was more excitement in this genuine relegation match (watched by more than 37,000) than any play-off, with all its contrived drama, could possibly muster. The crowd was comparable to many over the Wembley play-off weekend. The idea of the play-offs should have been strangled at birth, not allowed to continue for 20-odd years promoting sub-standard teams from what is effectively mid-table, to endure a season-long kicking in the division above. The best argument against this third-rate cup competition came from WSC 17 (July 1988): “Several teams have already missed out on promotion to opponents who finished well behind them in the League, and this makes a mockery of the whole idea of a league. The cups are for the luck of the draw, the one-off performances... The play-offs bring an unreasonable element of chance into the equation". This argument still stands, though I’m sure any play-off losers who finished just outside the automatic promotion places this season will console themselves with the wad of cash and memories of a “day out” at Wembley. That’s all that matters, isn’t it?
Paul Caulfield, Bradford
It’s often mentioned that not enough of the money in football is invested at the grassroots level. Could all the problems with the Wembley pitch be further evidence of this?
Steve Whitehead, Ellesmere Port
Phil Edwards asks about players who find it amusing when their team gives away a goal (Letters, WSC 279). While he was at Spurs, goalie Ian Walker would regularly reflect on the implications of conceding by staring into space with a vacant grin. I liked to think it was a moment of philosophical contemplation on the absurdity of the art of goalkeeping but, frankly, it quickly grew tiresome. Ian combined this reaction with the classic and largely unexplained goalkeeper’s pose of sitting cross-legged, arms-over-the-knees and clasped hands, a posture common for Year 4 in school assembly then dispensed with for the rest of your life. Perhaps the return to childhood was comforting in moments of distress.
Alan Fisher, tottenhamonmymind.wordpress.com
Phil Edwards’ letter in WSC 279 reminded me of an epic game at Craven Cottage on Boxing Day 1963. The details may be a little hazy but with a few minutes to go Ipswich goalkeeper Roy Bailey made a sprawling save, only for Alan Mullery to tap in the rebound to make the score Fulham 9, Ipswich Town 1. The crowd started to chant “We want ten”. There was still time for another Fulham attack and the great Graham Leggat picked his spot from just inside the penalty area. I was standing right behind the goal and am convinced Bailey saw it all the way, but at full stretch just could not get a hand on it. Fulham 10! I remember vividly that as he retrieved the ball from the back of the net he was beaming all over his face. He was probably thinking it was just one of those days. (Ipswich conceded 121 goals that season.)
Richard Shore, Coulsdon
Concerning the departure of Tony Mowbray from Celtic, I fully understand his frustrations with the game in Scotland. By far the best match of this season for my team Aberdeen was when Celtic came calling and, despite being 4-2 up with only ten minutes left, continued with their gung-ho all-out attacking philosophy. Inept and frankly comical defending meant the final score was 4-4, but it did provide that magical and seemingly far too elusive ingredient in today’s game – entertainment. The remainder of the games this season, and I include champions Rangers, have been dull as ditchwater with most teams coming to Pittodrie with the one overpowering aim of not losing. Given that the current Aberdeen team barely have the skills to prise open a bag of crisps, goals (and entertainment) have been practically non-existent. So if Mowbray is an advocate of a game that would reward skilful attacking players, be exciting for the spectators and, importantly, provide good TV, he should maybe cast his net a bit further afield for a prospective future employer where some job satisfaction is a prerequisite. His best bet would appear to be the J-League if the TV coverage on Eurosport is anything to go by. Huge crowds add genuine atmosphere to a game played as it is supposed to be and, amazingly, even the foreign imports to the game appear to enjoy the physical challenge. The locals just might have a bit of a problem understanding him though.
Ian Craig, Aberdeen
To echo Tony Cole’s thoughts on ball-boy skulduggery at Colchester (Letters, WSC 278), you would need to come to Spain to see the art in its full magnificence. There are too many examples to quote, but the policy is clear and deliberate. My son’s mate, who was a ball boy for several weeks at Real Sociedad last season, told him that they were called in for “training sessions” during the week. Several tactics similar to those described by Cole were demonstrated, but the basic rule was for the boys to always have a spare ball, similar to the tennis ball-boy method of keeping your colleague supplied, just in case. If the throw was to Sociedad, the ball was returned immediately. I noticed at a game last week that the players behave as if they expect this – often catching their opponents unawares. If the throw is to the visitors, the ball is delayed, subtly but delayed nonetheless. The home players even employed a gesture to signal that they wanted the ball back slowly – when they were winning with two minutes left on the clock. Last season, a referee decided he’d had enough (I think against Hercules) and sent off the ball-boys en masse. It was surely unique event in football history, but it was interestingly omitted from the local match reports the next day. The practice is rife, and is fine when it’s your team doing it. When you’re on the other end of the practice, not so. However, if England’s ball-boys could be instructed, when Stoke are the visitors, to apply lashings of Vaseline to the ball, I’m sure many managers would sleep more quietly at night.
Phil Ball, San Sebastián, Spain
Who was the first footballer in the UK to do a celebratory somersault after scoring? I’m prepared to believe that it had been going on for a while in more excitable countries before it caught on here. By a somersault, I mean a complete mid-air head-over-heels then landing on the feet, not a forward roll or a cartwheel. The first player I can remember doing it was Peter Beagrie in the late 1980s. But was the high-pitched wingman from Teesside really the pioneer?
Mike Donnan, Bicester
I don’t really have a head for finance, but I have been doing my best to follow the arguments about financial crises that surround contemporary football. Here’s how I understand things. If my club is purchased by a billionaire who loans the club a lot of money and at some point decides to collect on that loan, my club will be in crisis. If some corporate fat cats purchase my club by borrowing money and then transferring that debt back to the club, my club will be in crisis. If some mid-level local businessman (like a property developer), who is less interested in the football than the investment, purchases my club then it is very likely that my club will end up in crisis. If my club is purchased by a large group of supporters who won’t have the money to maintain the club or will become bored with ownership, my club will end up in crisis. If my club is partially owned by a supporters’ trust and some local business people but ultimately sold to some mid-level businessman (with the consent of the supporters’ trust) because the club needs some cash influx, my club will likely end up in crisis. If my club is owned by a man who has either owned the club for a long time, or stepped in to save the club from administration, but ultimately doesn’t have much money to spend on the club, my club is in crisis. If my club owns an older out-of-date stadium, sells its stadium to finance the development of a new stadium (or sells because the tax burden for the current stadium is too much, so rents a stadium and subsequently loses income that could be generated from owning a stadium), or is straddled with debt that accompanies building a new stadium, my club is going to be in crisis. Does that about cover it?
Daniel Makagon, Illinois, USA
Regarding your article Flicks to Kick (WSC 278), Escape to Victory is pretty awful, ditto for the Maradona movie (although the soundtrack was pretty good). But the all-time king of bad football films is the recent dreadful movie from Brazil about the great Garrincha. It’s got god-awful production values and features one of the worst performances I’ve seen from an actor on film. The film is available on DVD but I’d advice anyone considering watching this trash to skip that temptation. By the way, Sylvester Stallone’s mountain climber/action flick Cliffhanger features an embarrassing football sequence when one of the baddies wants to kick Stallone’s head (not a bad idea in itself) but does so imagining himself about to take a penalty-kick. It’s cringe worthy trash at its best. So Stallone is two-nil down with regards to football movies.
Romulo Tejera, New York, USA
From WSC 280 June 2010