THE HALF DECENT FOOTBALL MAGAZINE

Dear WSC
Congratulations on the article about match-fixing (Crimes and misdemeanours, WSC 283). Paul Joyce did a superb job reviewing the many different cases of corruption in European football. As the German police investigation began, partly because of the controversy around my book, The Fix, I did want to take him up on one issue. He mentioned that “Germany lies second in the match-fixing table” – this is true but it is not because corruption is more prevalent in German football. Rather it is because the German authorities are now, after years of denial, actually taking the issue seriously and are vigorously investigating match-fixing – and the more they investigate, the more they find. This proactive attitude is in stark contrast with British football authorities who seem to have adopted the attitude of “don’t know, don’t want to find out”. The circumstances in British football are similar to other European countries: thousands of relatively badly paid players; lots of poor clubs and lots of interest in the gambling markets. However, the British authorities have not yet fully woken to the dangers. I can only hope that they do before they discover a similar problem to the one in Europe.
Declan Hill, Oxford

Dear WSC
Isn’t it about time the BBC abandoned their “If-you-don’t-want-to-know-the-scores-then-now-is-the-time-to-leave-the-room” charade on their pre-Match of the Day news bulletin? Quite apart from the fact that the scores can be found out via the internet, mobile phones, teletext, TV, radio or even, heaven forbid, at a football ground, anyone who might wish to watch Match of the Day without knowing what is about to happen must now possess the speed and acceleration of Aaron Lennon to do so.Just how quickly do the presenters think the viewers can move? I’m a physically active 30-year-old and my sofa is less than ten feet from the doorway but, despite a rigorous sprint-training regime, I have yet to make it out of the room before Sean Fletcher or Celina Hinchcliffe, having barely paused for breath, is blurting out the “news” that Chelsea or Arsenal have stuffed another set of mid-table also-rans.I know there are buttons on the remote control for those people who are not keen on a mad dash to the kitchen, but why do we need the “leave the room” pretence? What was wrong with “look away now” followed by the scores being displayed amid a period of silence? In these apparently Jedward-inspired times, is being quiet on television no longer allowed?
Keith Watson, Cam
 
Dear WSC
Re: Talking the Talk/football expressions in WSC 283. Try these: a) “Back in the day...” One broadcaster or player starts using it, like sheep the rest follow; and that applies even more so to b) “... in and around...” I first encountered this used by Adrian Durham and Stan Collymore on Talksport, it’s since spread like wildfire. Steve Claridge recently said: “I think the games at the weekend told us where clubs were, they were in and around each other.” Now, I can just about stand “in and around the penalty area”, but “in and around the south coast of England area” and “in and around their opponents”? Sorry, no, I’m not having that (oh, that’s another one).
Glyn Berrington, Brierley Hill

Dear WSC
Adding to the gripes about commentators’ turns of phrase, am I the only one who finds this one supremely irritating? It seems that strikers these days can only get their shots “off”, or even worse, “away”. I remember a time when strikers got their shots “in” and that was that. No one seems to say that anymore; just another quaint anachronism for us 40-year-olds to remember from our youth.
Tristan Browning, Reading

Dear WSC
If Fabio Capello wants to establish a better rapport with his players he might borrow an idea from Sir Alf Ramsey and take the squad to the cinema. Sir Alf was known to favour westerns although I suspect that he would have avoided the morally ambiguous Italian variety made popular by Sergio Leone. His successor Don Revie carried on the tradition but opted for more modern fare. Warren Beatty’s sex comedy Shampoo was chosen as one of his early outings, as was revealed by Alan Ball in a Shoot! column of the time (though I don’t think he used the term “sex comedy”). When Danny Blanchflower became manager of Northern Ireland a couple of years later, his first squad trip to the flicks was to see One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest – a distinctly downbeat choice, unless he thought it was a wildlife documentary.
Mark Holme, Uttoxeter

Dear WSC
There used to be a common sight at football grounds which I haven’t seen for ages – the halfway flag. I noticed they were present in highlights of the 1960 European Cup final and the 1970 World Cup final shown recently. So why did they go out of use? Memory says they were always optional but did they have a real function? Were there clubs who never used them and when was the last known sighting? I need to know.
Gerald Ruck, Bream

Dear WSC
I’m not one to name-drop the rich and famous but seeing Neil Mellor referred to as a “Scouser” (Match of the Month, WSC 284) has given me the opportunity to share my only link to a footballer of any real talent. Though he came through the ranks at Anfield, his formative years were spent in Mancunian suburbia where he attended Manchester City’s youth academy for a while before a stunning 36-goal haul in half a season in his fifth year at school (Year 11) prompted Liverpool to pick up what City had discarded. His bustling style of play was honed at the youth club on the grass behind our local church where he once chopped me down for having the cheek to try and take it round him. (I was a fat kid. I would have kicked me too.) That foul also resulted in him scoring so it’s reassuring to hear that little has changed in the intervening 15 years. Now he plays up the road from me so I can watch League One centre-backs reliving the same pain I felt all those years ago, every other week. Result.
Dom Douglas, Sheffield

Dear WSC
Ray Green’s beautiful photograph of Tony Kay in WSC 284 holds a three-fold fascination for me. There is the football aspect, of course, but also the depiction of a 1960s pub. More than this, I am sure I am not the only one to spot the allusion to Édouard Manet’s painting, Un bar aux Folies Bergère. There is the main character gazing out, the Bass triangle, the furtive goings-on behind. I wonder if Mr Kay realised he was being cast as a Parisian barmaid of uncertain reputation. I could look at this picture for hours.
John Nicholls, Milton Keynes

Dear WSC
Alex Anderson’s mission of seeing every European finalist (The hundred club, WSC 284) is unattainable for new hoppers, and not only because of the London Select XI. We must hope Alex managed to attend a match at Stade de Reims, European Cup runners-up in 1956 and 1959, before folding in 1991. As with Accrington Stanley and Bradford Park Avenue, a new club has been formed, and now stands proud in the French Second Division, but ticking off this club wouldn’t satisfy a purist.
Jess Cully, Gosport

Dear WSC
Regarding Denis Hurley’s theory that all red-and-white striped teams begin with S (Letters, WSC 284), I think they may need to call the signfitters at Griffin Park as the S appears to have fallen off the Braemar Road fascia. Slincoln and Sexeter might also want to check for wear and tear.
Neil Doherty, Northolt

Dear WSC
I think your publication is great, I really do. I read it every month, have done for years and keep every copy. You cover lower league football (I support Southend Utd and you’ve heard of them, which I like), women’s football, and consider a world of international football outside Rooney, Terry et al.
All very admirable, and usually to a high journalistic standard. In WSC 284 I’m not sure what went wrong though. I’ve just read an article with no merit whatsoever, laying into Chelsea because the author, David Stubbs, loathes them. Sorry, but what was the point? Some people don’t like them. And? Some people don’t like Colchester Utd (joke, east Essex fans). I read it twice just to see if I was missing anything – humour, irony, history, informed debate. Nope, nothing. Just vitriol, ignorance (“Cech, still wearing that ridiculous headjoy”!) and some thinly veiled racism (José Mourinho, “swarthy”?!). Can I have the ten minutes of my life back I wasted on something that sounds like it came out of the mouth of someone who’s just had ten pints of beer on a Saturday night. So many of the arguments your “writer” put forward against Chelsea could also be levelled against other clubs and players. Dodgy owners – Man City anyone? Players “in need of a beating” – well, I don’t much like Steven Gerrard but even I wouldn’t advocate him getting beaten up by Dennis Waterman. Please, no more anti-club rants, I can get them from unmoderated web forums run by idiots.
Kate Bird, London

Dear WSC
I enjoyed David Stubbs’s anti-Chelsea rant in WSC 284, not least because it was quite a rarity. Chelsea have generally received very gentle treatment in the media since the Abramovich takeover. Their previous chairman Ken Bates built up enormous debts through reckless spending. Other Premier League clubs also acquired high-profile players they couldn’t afford but most didn’t go nearly so far because they knew where it would end up. Eventually, Bates had to find a buyer urgently to prevent Chelsea going the same way as Leeds. They then had the good fortune to be adopted by one of the new breed of Russian “businessmen” who bought state assets at absurd knockdown prices. Yet we’re now supposed to see them simply as one of the “big clubs”, as though they have achieved their pre-eminence in much the same way as Man Utd and Arsenal rather than through the gluttonous over-spending that played a major role in distorting English football’s finances. Chelsea officials routinely make noises about how their club needs to be a self-sustaining business but it’s a hollow sham. Most people who follow football know this and find it laughable, if not disgusting, but it’s hardly ever said. The ambitions of the latest mega-rich club, Man City, are mocked much more widely in the media than Chelsea’s ever have been. I wonder if this is because many pundits actually approve of Roman Abramovich as the ultimate self-made man. Yet there’s nothing about him to admire – he’s just an embodiment of the “gangster-capitalism” that has taken hold of football in the 21st century.
Graeme Hill, Frodsham

Dear WSC
No Steve Heald (Letters, WSC 283), it’s not just you that makes an automatic connection between players’ names and place names. For the best part of 40 years I have carried the information in my head that Ralph Coates was born in Hetton-le-Hole. I don’t know why I remember this, I just do. I have no idea where Hetton-le-Hole is and neither do I especially care, but I do sometimes wonder if I should ever find myself driving through, what would I find? Would there be a blue plaque halfway up a modest terraced house declaring “Ralph Coates, quite good footballer with not much hair, was born here”? Or would there be more ceremony of the town’s favourite son? Would I drive along Ralph Coates Avenue and stop for a drink in the bar of the Ralph Coates Leisure Centre? Might I even enrol to study at Hetton-le-Hole Ralph Coates University? Would there be a small corner shop run by one of his aunties, always ready to regale visitors with her stock tales of “Our Ralphie”? Perhaps posters advertising the upcoming Coates Day Carnival, the highlight of which may be An Evening With Ralph Coates in the Ralph Coates Room at the Hetton-le-Hole Library, or perhaps even in the town’s prestigious Ralph Coates Theatre? Will I ever know? Do I want to? Isn’t travelling better than arriving? Should I seek help? How many question marks can I cram into the one letter?
Simon Betts, Leicester

Dear WSC
Like Tom Simpson of Prestwick (Letters, WSC 284) I too have not committed Paul Durkin’s home town to memory. What I would wager is that it was somewhere near Weymouth. Many, many years ago I was manager of the Portsmouth Schools FA and we played that fair town in a cup competition. They were, to be frank, a much better side than us but the first match in Pompey had ended in an acrimonious draw – mainly due to a few hard-to-defend decisions from our elderly referee. A week later we made the return trip to Dorset and their manager greeted me with the words: “We’ve been lucky today, I’ve managed to get Paul Durkin.” I wasn’t quite sure who he was but I nodded knowingly in that slightly hesitant way we all adopt in such situations. Not lucky for us as it turned out because he refereed the game a whole lot better than our septuagenarian had done and we duly and deservedly lost. It would be nice to say I followed his career avidly from that day to this but it wouldn’t be true. However, for some bizarre reason I can say with complete certainty that he was sporting a Dorset FA badge that day.
Matthew Eyre, Portsmouth

Dear WSC
Simon Cotterill wrote how big clubs could distort competition by loaning out players, and intimated that a “rich unscrupulous club (naming no names)” could buy 14 big-name players and loan them to smaller teams, safe in the knowledge they couldn’t play against their parent club (On borrowed time, WSC 284). He’s one of the many people lining up to have a pop at Man City – after all my club is ruining football by buying young English players for, gosh, a transfer fee! Supporters in the Championship probably feel piqued, but surely City could have done that already with Craig Bellamy? Speaking of City, Simon Melville (Letters, 284) talked about the abuse prolific scorer Brett Pitman endured at Bournemouth and it reminded me, slightly off tangent, of a time visiting Ewood Park watching City in the old Division Two in January 1985. The PA announcer read out the City team and usually at the end of each name you expect the support to bellow out an enthusiastic “Hooray!”. I counted two hoorays, five boos and four names followed by complete silence. Understandable if the team was on a poor run, but we won that day at Blackburn to go top of the league.
Steve Heald, Edinburgh

Dear WSC
Richard Burley’s suggestion (Letters, WSC 284) that Steve Cooper “aped” Peter Beagrie’s goal celebration is wide of the mark. Four seasons before that Barnsley v Stoke tie, those attending Newport’s match at Griffin Park in early 1985 witnessed what surely must have been the original Cooper somersault. Up until this match Steve had only scored two goals in 26 league games. One was against Hereford while on loan at Halifax and the other in a home fixture for Newport earlier that season, also against Brentford. It is my hypothesis that the exceptional nature of the game at Griffin Park inspired Steve to first demonstrate his gymnastic skills. With the score already 1-0 to Newport, he scored in the 31st, 34th and 39th minutes. His first two goals were celebrated with hugs and handshakes, as was generally still the norm in 1985. But on completing his hat trick he took about a ten-yard run up and performed a spectacular high somersault that initiated a round of applause from the crowd. The goal itself had been greeted with silence. He scored again early in the second half to make it 5-2 to Newport and again performed his acrobatics.  This celebration wasn’t contrived, choreographed or pre-planned. I like to think it was simply the exuberance of youth bursting through in a spontaneous exhibition of excitement and athleticism.  
Robin Pearson, Isleworth

From WSC 285 November 2010

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