THE HALF DECENT FOOTBALL MAGAZINE

Dear WSC,
I’m sending out a plea to WSC readers to see if they can tell me of a top goalscorer who was less popular with his own club’s fans than Bournemouth’s Brett Pitman? As Steve Menary’s entry for the Cherries stated in your Season Guide (WSC 283), he was always the first to be moaned at by the Dean Court crowd despite banging in 26 League goals last season (not to mention the 30 before that since making his debut as a teenager in 2005). Granted, Brett was hard to love. His body language was a combination of seemingly uninterested slouch with an unathletic, head-lolling waddle. His reluctance to jump for or chase down over-hit passes was an obvious crime in the eyes of the average football fan. I guess his arm-waving, sour-faced tantrums when not receiving the exact ball he wanted from team-mates cemented his distant relationship with the fans. I can’t recall a single chant about Brett – an astonishing feat when less talented strikers like Alan Connell (13 goals in over 100 games) were lauded on the terraces. Pitman had been at the club since he was 16 years old, scored spectacular goals ever since and never demanded a move – hardly the sort of pantomime mercenary or hapless donkey that usually attracts the ire he received. After signing for Bristol City, his valedictory interview with the local paper was not a fond farewell: “Pitman Fires Broadside At Cherries Boo-Boys” read the headline. So can any other readers suggest a less-loved goalscorer at their club? Not just one that left for a rival or did a silly celebration in front of his former fans when scoring for his new team – but one with a consistent record of excellence met with lukewarm indifference at best?
Simon Melville, London

Dear WSC
Guy Mowbray’s observation about the apparent 2038 shelf life in the design of the World Cup trophy (Letters, WSC 283) got me thinking. Why can’t the FA lobby FIFA to give it to the first three-time winners, like the original one? Germany, Argentina, Italy and Brazil are on two wins each, so it must be odds-on that one of them might win it (and keep it) in 2014. Then, in time for 2018, we could offer to commission a new one, that English players would recognise as a football trophy, not a piece of art. This might help them overcome their obvious confusion as to whether they’re supposed to be winning the thing and running round a pitch with it, or simply admiring it from afar. I’d suggest a great big gold pot, with proper handles, and a lid that could serve as an impromptu hat for a diminutive midfielder.
Peter Dennis, Clayton-le-Woods

Dear WSC
As a season-ticket holder at Ewood Park I’m fully aware that some of the football on show in the last couple of years has been less than scintillating, so I wasn’t too surprised that so many of the fans in your season guide (WSC 283) named Blackburn as the side they disliked the most in 2009-10. Much of the criticism of Rovers was fair and justified but I’d like to point out to your Sunderland-supporting contributor a few memorable moments from our most recent campaign – we only lost three games at home all season, taking points off all the Big Three thus playing a big part in the title race, we achieved hard fought victories in two keenly contested (and at times controversial) East Lancashire derbies, and we saw some really good performances at Ewood, the emphatic victories against Bolton and Wolves springing to mind. In the Carling Cup, we beat eventual double-winners Chelsea on penalties after a 3-3 draw which was the most ridiculously exciting game of football I have ever seen, before taking part in a ten-goal semi-final at Villa Park. What did Sunderland do last season? They scored a goal with a beach ball. Well done. As for the representative of Wolves, the team who willingly surrendered a match so they could concentrate their resources on grinding out a result against relegation rivals, complaining that teams like Blackburn add nothing to the Premiership? I wouldn’t even know where to begin. In summary, there are a lot of desperate teams in the top division at the moment, for whom the financial consequences of relegation would be so dire that they need to do whatever they can to survive, and it seems to me hugely unfair to single out Rovers as being an embodiment of everything that’s wrong with football in 2010. 
Andy Hall, Preston 

Dear WSC
In response to Steve Heald’s question if readers have lesser known British places which bring football personalities to mind (Letters, WSC 283): yes. Mine both concern referees. Tonbridge (as opposed to Tunbridge Wells, which had always had fame through the eponymous letter writer, “Angry of”) was put on the map by Ron Challis in the 1970’s but means absolutely nothing else to me other than that. However, the little known place which truly strikes fear in my heart is Treorchy. This was the town in the valleys where Clive Thomas was based, a referee who courted controversy wherever he officiated, from Mar del Plata to Maine Road. As an Ipswich Town fan, he dealt me the first trauma of my football supporting career, disallowing two Town goals in an FA Cup semi final v West Ham in 1975. I’ve never been to Treorchy, but I’m sure that any Brazillian visiting the town would share my urge to scrawl something nasty about its (only?) famous son in the public toilets.
Graham de Max, Nottingham

Dear WSC
Hailing from Edinburgh, Steve Heald (Letters, WSC 283) may well recognise the Scottish villages of Balfron and Bonkle as one-time domiciles of top whistlers Brian McGinlay and Hugh Dallas, respectively. Indeed, Dallas played an unwittingly significant role in the SFA’s decision to stop publicising referees’ home towns in match programmes, following an incident where his windows were smashed as a consequence of a particularly controversial decision. My abiding memory of Dallas is a fond one; I met him on a tartan-clad Champs-Elysees in the build up to the opening match of the 1998 World Cup, where he was soaking up the atmosphere with his higher-profile English colleague Paul Durkin. Durkin, whose home town escapes me, was clearly not impressed on being handed my camera and asked to take a picture of Hugh and me.
Tom Simpson, Prestwick

Dear WSC
Your last editorial (WSC 283) regarding the sheer lunacy spouting from the mouths of various commentators, pundits and ex-players failed to mention the trend amongst these people that irks me the most. That’s their insistence on talking in plural. So called “lesser” Premier League teams always seem to have to fear playing against multiple versions of their more illustrious opponents. “How will Wigan cope when the Chelseas and Manchester Uniteds of this world roll into town?”. “Blackpool looked solid at the back today, but what about when they have to face the Wayne Rooneys of this world?”. But here is only one world class Wayne Rooney playing football “in this world” so were any team to come up against a Man Utd packed full of blokes called Wayne Rooney, they might fancy their chances. If these people mean Chelsea, Man Utd et al why can’t they say so. Why the plural? I’ve e-mailed and texted Five Live about this to no avail, but it’s starting to become an obsession. Its ruining my enjoyment of Alan Green’s wonderful commentary style.
The Mick Birdsalls of this world, The Bradfords of this world

Dear WSC
While appreciating Ian Plenderleith’s reason for highlighting the contrasting colours of Nottingham Forest and Hull City in WSC 283, even the most anal of kit-fanciers will not give a stuff when the two teams do play each other. They will be too busy blessing the occasion as one of football’s great rare fixtures finally pitching up. Although both clubs have been up and down the divisions in the last few decades – Hull City to all four, Forest to all bar for the fourth – no competitive fixture has taken place between these two sides since 1976-77. Now, at last, thanks to equal inability shown by both teams to fulfil their aims last season, the two will finally meet. For 95 per cent of the Hull City fans who will trudge to the City Ground it will be an experience that has been a long time coming. Forest were promoted to the top flight in 1977 and the Tigers were relegated a year later. Since then, all possibilities of sharing the same tier have been scuppered by the successes of one (usually Forest) or the failures of another (almost always Hull City) or a combination of the two. How appropriate, perhaps, that finally the two will meet at the KC and the City Ground this season thanks to a dual failure the year before. When the play-offs began I discounted Forest’s odd record of self-destruction and tipped them to go up simply because we were coming down to the division from which they were anxious to escape. After all this palaver over missing out on a trip to Forest – and believe me, it exists – the Hull City fans will bring quite a frisson of away-day excitement to the City Ground possibly not seen since those Euro 96 games there. It’s at times like this I’d hate to be an Arsenal fan. I’d hate to be one anyway, but ground-ticking in competitive English football must be hell for supporters whose team have been in the top flight since the 1920s and only get the odd day out in Carlisle or Wrexham to alleviate the boredom. What a tough life.
Matthew Rudd, East Yorkshire

Dear WSC
I feel duty bound to correct Chris Emblem’s claim that Peter Beagrie’s somersault celebrations were based on those of Steve Cooper. This is most definitely not the case. Beagrie’s first such celebration was witnessed by the goal-starved faithful of Stoke’s Victoria Ground following a wonder goal against Bournemouth earlier in the same season. This goal can be seen on YouTube and although the celebration is missed by the cameraman, anyone who attended the match will recall the moment. It was truly something to behold. Beagrie repeated the celebration when scoring a late equaliser against Barnsley in the 3-3 draw during a 4th round FA Cup tie. At the time Barnsley were the perennial bogey team for Stoke and this equaliser gave renewed home having trailed 3-1 during the match. The replay reverted to type and Cooper seized the moment to ape Beagrie’s celebrations. Mike Donnan may well be right. Beagrie really was an instigator.
Richard Burley, Norfolk

Dear WSC
Robbie Savage brings into any room an enlivening breeze of informality. On August 22, MOTD2, Colin Murray spoke of the possibility that Sebastien Squillaci might move from Sevilla to Arsenal. A more experienced man may have hesitated before lobbing an unexpected question over to Robbie Savage just as the programme was winding down, but Murray, keen to keep things fresh, asked suddenly “Do you know anything about him, Robbie?” A blink of surprise from Robbie, already mentally ordering his beer in the Green Room, and then our expert analyser realised he must say something pertinent. “He’s got a funny name!” was his chosen spluttered response, underlining the wisdom of Wittgenstein’s edict ‘Whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must be silent.’ While you cannot rely on Robbie Savage to give you instant and accurate information on the career of a European footballer, you can rely on him underlying the wisdom of Wittgenstein’s edict.
Keith O’Brien, Hastings

Dear WSC
It’s difficult to disagree with the complaint in your editorial (WSC 283) about the overuse of the phrase “get back where they belong” and that this is generally "a place considerably higher than the club’s current league position". However, on the basis that it’s the exception that proves the rule, there cannot be many teams to have a greater claim to "belong" anywhere than Rochdale, as we enter only the seventh year outside of the bottom division in the club’s history. So it’s maybe not that surprising that we are most people’s favourites for relegation from League One this year. Of course, it doesn’t help when you have to play away on a Saturday afternoon, less than 48 hours after a big Thursday night League Cup game at Birmingham. I can’t imagine Sir Alex putting up with that, somehow.
David Emanuel, Littleborough

Dear WSC
I’m sure that I am not the first and I’m well aware that I won’t be the last, but can I just point out to Neville Hadsley (WSC 283) that Coventry won the FA Cup in 1987. I’m not a Sky Blues fan, but at 37 I am well under the age of 45 and quite clearly remember them beating Spurs 3-2 (Keith Houchen, what a goal). Coventry might not have finished in the top six of any league for 40 years but they spent over 30 of those in the top flight and in that time won the FA Cup. Mr Hadsley reduces that achievement, which even in these days of the belittled tournament most teams would kill for, to just one half sentence in his penultimate paragraph. As a Birmingham City fan I have, in my memory, endured six separate relegations and promotions, including three failed play-off campaigns. Trust me Neville, they are more stressful than exciting and I would love for us to have just once won the Cup.
Lee Beddow, Birmingham

Dear WSC
Mark Segal needs to raise his sights somewhat if he thinks football kit design is in need of innovation (Football’s fashion phases, WSC 283). Indeed, raising them only so far as page 38 of your last issue would show him just where “innovation” is leading us, thanks to the Faustian pact of sponsor and designer that sees Continental footballers sporting logos on every inch of their pelvic region, let alone their upper bodies. I would also remind him that “innovation” gave us the Scotland rugby shirt of just a season or two ago: one of sport’s greatest-ever sartorial abominations and a pointed reminder of the barbarians that lurk at football’s gate. Hankering for a modern classic is all very well but it calls for classic designers and too many of today’s crop give the impression that they labour under two serious misconceptions – that every single gizmo on their design software has to be used on every single job and that ‘less is more’ is the name of a boy band. Beware of what you want Mark, for you will get it. Now please keep your voice down.
Jeffrey Prest, Wisbech

Dear WSC
Mark Segal makes some good points in his article in WSC 283 regarding the current trend for teams to bring out refreshed versions of past kits, none more so than pointing out that it limits the potential of teams creating ‘modern classics’. I must take issue, however, with his assertion that the navy away kit worn by Arsenal last season was based on the kit worn by Herbert Chapman’s side in the 1930s. Perhaps even more depressingly, it was only the inclusion of a polo collar that was inspired by the 30s, according to the club website at the time, as Arsenal’s away during that period was actually white shirts and black shorts. Just to take the kit pedantry a step further, I noted in the season preview that your cartoon of Rory Delap showed him in a red and white striped shirt with black shorts. Stoke’s first-choice shorts have been white since 1908, and it is this which separates them visually from the other prominent candy-striped clubs, Sunderland, Sheffield United and Southampton (can a team only wear red and white stripes if their name begins with ‘s’?)
Denis Hurley, Cork, Ireland

Dear WSC
While Rob Freeman’s article on goal-line technology (Eyes Down, WSC 283) puts forward a number of sound reasons in support of goal-line assistants, there are other issues that also need to be addressed. Firstly, if the reason for delaying the introduction of cameras is the necessity to “keep the game the same at all levels’” then the goal-line assistant idea simply does not match the brief. Mr Freeman states that this could be implemented down to Conference level in this country, but what about further along the non-League pyramid, and abroad? Even if the numbers of officials was not an issue, the costs of implementing them are unrealistic – particularly for those clubs in the lower steps of non-league where profit margins are slim and officials are costly. And while the Hawk-Eye system itself is expensive, rudimentary installation of cameras should not be an insurmountable problem for clubs lower down the leagues. While European or domestic cup fixtures could mean some two-legged fixtures being played with and then without the camera technology, the same could be said of the pitch, the stadium, the goalposts, the changing rooms and so on. And in these cases, the system could be switched off if such a thing was likely to give an unfair advantage. Similarly, home sides are unlikely to tamper with the system since teams switch ends at half time, thus making any benefit very improbable – not to mention the expense and technical knowledge required to do such a thing. The article ends by saying that any technology will “slow the game down”. Would a quick overview of a television replay really take that much longer than a referee being surrounded by remonstrating players, and having to consult his assistants amidst a barrage of abuse? Goal-line technology could even help to prevent matches descending into petulant affairs as players seek retribution for the supposed injustice. UEFA are keen to try fifth officials, so why not give the cameras a chance?
Matt Howell, Guildford

Dear WSC
Thanks to Rob Freeman (Eyes Down, WSC 283) for providing a view opposing the introduction of goal-line technology; listening to Mark Lawrenson (especially during the England v Germany game) and his fellow TV pundits you’d be forgiven for thinking that the argument for such technology was self-evident and anyone against it must be a deluded Luddite. Were this technology to be introduced, it would be difficult to conceive that its use would remain confined to the goal-line; Rob mentioned its use in some circumstances but potentially every decision is contentious or has implications on the outcome of the game. If the referee were to add time on for every consultation, we’d never get home after a game. My other concern is over the cost. I’d wager all the estimates given would, in reality, prove optimistic. And who would be the ones to pay, not only for its introduction, but for the constant updating of both the hardware and software, and the technicians required to run the system on matchdays? Could it possibly be we fans through increased ticket prices? Probably, but this wouldn’t be a concern for people who don’t pay to go to a match. TV pundits, for instance.
Andy Mills, Leeds

Dear WSC
As I read Huw Richards’ article (Worst case scenario, WSC 283) I found myself agreeing with virtually every word. My son could never understand why I used to say I didn’t really want us (Sheffield United) to get promoted, but in the Premier League there are just too many games when you know you’re highly unlikely to get any points, and it’s no fun. Much better to go into a game thinking, ‘We could get something here’. When Sheffield United were last relegated from the PL I was actually quite relieved that we wouldn’t be spending that dreaded second season there, spending money we couldn’t afford and risking the whole future of the club. The only downside was finally losing Phil Jagielka – we couldn’t really expect him to stick with us any longer. I suspect Huw and I are in the minority when it comes to this viewpoint. Even when fans deride the PL with its anti-competitive nature and arrogant ‘stars’, many still want their team to be there. Routinely, when fans of medium-sized clubs are asked if they’d rather have PL survival / promotion or a cup run they pick the former. Give me an FA Cup final over finishing 17th in the PL any day. Mind you, the way our season's started even Championship mid-table mediocrity is looking a bit of a pipe dream.
Jane Rhodes, Warrington

From WSC 284 November 2010