THE HALF DECENT FOOTBALL MAGAZINE

Dear WSC
Howard Pattison (Sign of the times, WSC 286) wonders why there are so few official plaques to footballers in London, but goes on to answer his own question: most of the big names from the pre-war era were based in the north-west, and all the more recent players mentioned in the article died less than 20 years ago. The "20-year rule" – which applies to all suggestions made under the London-wide blue plaques scheme – is designed to ensure that the decision to commemorate an individual is a historical judgement, made with the benefit of hindsight. I could agree that Bobby Moore is as good a case as any for making an exception – but where, then, would you draw the line? The blue plaques scheme is run almost entirely on the basis of public suggestions. In recent years, considerable efforts have been made to increase the hitherto small number of nominations that have come in for sporting figures, including footballers. This has brought some success – Laurie Cunningham and Ebenezer Cobb Morley, the FA's first secretary and author of the first football rulebook, are now on the shortlist for a blue plaque. As time goes on, more outstanding players and managers will become eligible for consideration, and surely join them. In view of this – and, among other projects, the involvement of English Heritage in the Played in Britain publications and website – the charge that "those who administer our heritage simply don't see football as part of it" seems about as close to the target as a Geoff Thomas chip.
Howard Spencer, English Heritage

Dear WSC
I share Howard Pattison's interest in heritage plaque schemes (WSC 286) and agree that some sites – like those related to Billy Meredith – should be marked. However, I do have to correct the piece about the Manchester plaques marking City and United's birth. Manchester operates a "red plaque" scheme marking sites where significant events occurred and they have placed plaques at the sites of the Football League's first meeting, Newton Heath's first ground (North Road site), the site of City's birth (as St Mark's) and United's former home (Bank Street). All of these were red except the plaque marking City's birth, which was sky blue. It is still listed as a "red plaque" on official documents. I went to check on the plaque on Saturday November 13 (which marked the 130th anniversary of City's first reported game) and it has vanished. It appears to have been stolen. The one at Newton Heath's ground has suffered a similar fate. It might be worth recording that there are plenty of streets named after former footballers but none, as far as I can recall, remembering Hattie Jacques or Terry Scott. In Manchester alone there are streets named after City players in Moss Side, United's Munich victims in Newton Heath and there's also Matt Busby Way and Joe Mercer Way.
Gary James, Halifax

Dear WSC
Regarding the letter in WSC 285 about the disappearance of halfway line flags, I am delighted to report a recent sighting. While Aberdeen FC were on their travels my son and I visited Highland League newcomers Turriff United in their game versus Forres Mechanics. Taking our seats in the centre of the modest stand, there, right in front of us, was indeed a rare sight – a halfway line flag. I reacted as if I had just met a long lost relative while my son edged further away with a bemused look on his face. I looked around the ground to see if there were any other remnants of the past, but there was no half-time scoreboard or supporters bearing rattles. My hopes of the half-time entertainment being a police dog display team were dashed as I watched the Turriff substitutes send their practice free-kicks over a dyke and into the nearby Deveron river.
Phil Rothnie, Aberdeen

Dear WSC
Was Seb White's Season in Brief (WSC 285) written two years ago ("...with all the teams that finished in the top six this season now members of the Football League")? Chester City left the Football League in May 2009. They should also be added to the list of 2002-03 Conference clubs in the last paragraph who would later fold and be reformed (as Chester FC).
Chris Wigginton, Deptford

Dear WSC
Richard Tiplady is falling prey to the creeping Americanisation of society (Letters, WSC 286). For one billion tonnes of yoghurt to equal 350 daily pots when eaten by 62 million Frenchmen, one billion has to be taken as one thousand millions (nine noughts), which it isn't. A billion is one million millions (12 noughts), or a million raised to the power of two, hence the "bi" element at the beginning of the word. An American billion (a thousand millions, or a milliard) has crept into British usage over recent years, aided in large part by our politicians' obsession with all things American, and by similarly afflicted news media. This is why the current financial slough seems so dire. When Cameron and Osborne speak of billions of debt, they mean thousands, not millions, of millions – not that reassuring as corrections go, but it does make for less hysterical language. My Webster's American English Dictionary makes the distinction between American and British billions. If the Americans put in print that we have it differently (and, arithmetically, correctly), then so should we. This leaves the average Frenchman eating much less yoghurt. It doesn't explain what happened at the World Cup, however. Such matters as these occupy my mind on Saturdays now Grimsby are in the Conference.
Ben Moody, Bourne

Dear WSC
Although I sympathise with Tony Pulis and Stoke City with some of the decisions that have gone against them recently, I am not sure that his suggestion to promote and relegate referees is really the answer. Clearly we all want referees to get decisions correct and some officials will be better than others if they are more impartial, have more assertive characters and are fitter. We shouldn't forget, however, that they are human beings, consequently imperfect and prone to mistakes. Their decisions are part of what helps to make football the game, the spectator sport and, in essence, the obsession that it is for so many of us. While the best referees should be in control of games at the highest level, Pulis's argument not only implies that "inferior" referees should be at a lower level, it insults the quality of the rest of the League and non-League football pyramid. Doesn't the Npower League deserve high-quality refereeing? The difficulty for managers in the Premier League is the pressure to remain there, for financial reasons as much as anything else. Culpability lies not with referees, but with the greedy Premier League, the greedy big clubs and the greedy TV companies who over-analyse and apportion blame.
Chris Barltrop, Reading

Dear WSC
With regard to the ongoing gripes regarding annoying habits of TV commentators, I'd like to add to the list the increasing references out of context to when a perceived lesser team last beat their mighty opponents. The commentators say something along the lines of "it's 50 years since Blackpool beat Liverpool at Anfield" and then comment no further while we are left to ponder what a long time this is and whatever significance this may have to the current match. If we are not told how many times the teams have played during that period the comment is pointless. It's more and more frequently being said about teams any fan would know have hardly faced each other due to having spent most of the time in differing divisions. Stats can sometimes be instructive, such as when during Manchester United v Spurs we learned that Spurs haven't won away at the Big Four for 17 years, a total of 68 games. Now that's a proper losing streak and the victory will be all the sweeter when we do eventually chalk a win up. Football commentating seems the direct opposite of cricket. In cricket the likes of Benaud and Botham actually enhance the watching experience, whereas in football Lawrenson and Gray detract from the game. It would be great if we could just listen to the crowd.
Ian Holder, Eastbourne

Dear WSC
Yet another irritating commentator/summariser trait: the character who develops a particular phrase then uses it repeatedly in an attempt to make it his trademark, no doubt hoping that it will eventually feature in his (no doubt glowing) obituary. Andy Gray: take a bow, son.
Adrian Finn, Harrogate

Dear WSC
Reading Ian Marsden's letter about Barnsley's Jerónimo Morales Neumann and the status afforded to exotic-sounding players (WSC 286), I couldn't help but think back to Tcham N'Toya-Zoa and his arrival at Chesterfield in 2003-04. The French-Congolese striker's unusual name was enough to earn him cult status on the terraces before he had even kicked a ball and, with a handful of appearances for Troyes under his belt, we all assumed he would bring the guile and continental flair so badly lacking in his pedestrian colleagues. With eight games to go in a desperate relegation battle, the excitement surrounding his arrival was palpable. In fact, in the build-up to his home debut one fan actually unfurled a tricolour in Saltergate's creaking main stand. What happened next will be familiar to all those who have watched a foreign player struggle to adapt to the rigours of the English lower leagues. Although Tcham's effort could not be faulted, he failed to find the net at all during the run-in and it was left to Glynn Hurst to save us from the drop with an 88th-minute winner on the final day. Although Tcham briefly found a bit of form the following season he was soon let out on loan, and a later spell at Notts County where he scored just twice in 27 games was his last in English football. However, thanks to Wikipedia, I know he is currently back among the goals in the Israeli league and banging them in for Maccabi Ahi Nazareth.
Rob Murfin, London

Dear WSC
The professional levels of the male game are likely to remain a bastion of homophobia for some time yet (Out of mind, WSC 286) and the sporting media's silence on the murder of Eudy Simelane was shameful, but there are encouraging signs for gay British female footballers. I am involved with a fourth-level English women's football team. Of our squad of 20 players, 16 are openly lesbian and proud of it. Throughout the female regional leagues in England, out gay players, some of them in civil partnerships, are an everyday occurrence. Even if the upper echelons of the women's game are less accepting at the moment, we can realistically hope that enough players will progress upwards from the lower leagues, bring their culture with them and help change the character of the top leagues.
Jess Cully, Gosport

Dear WSC
I've rarely disagreed with a WSC article as completely as I do with Adam Bate's plea to make managers even more expendable than they already are (Seize the moment, WSC 286). His basic argument seems to be that they have to succeed quickly in order to, er, be given time to succeed. There was an old adage that every football manager deserved to be given three seasons: one to get rid of the players he'd inherited but didn't want, one to bring in the players he needed to execute his plans and one to bring those plans to fruition. In an ideal world, I'd like to see this enshrined in the FA rulebook – a stipulation that no manager can be sacked until they've been in the job for at least three years, except in exceptional circumstances (fraud, criminal activity, that sort of thing). The advantages of this are obvious. Firstly, the absurd concept of the manager "losing the dressing room" (newspaper speak for "the players are sulking because they disagree with the manager") would disappear. The players would have to put up or shut up, and might actually find that doing what they're told works if they do it properly. Similarly, there would be little point in the fans chanting for the boss's head. Instead, they might decide that when things aren't going well, it's more productive to support the team. The manager would also be freed from the need to make flashy, short-term signings and could concentrate on long-term strategy, safe in the knowledge that he might actually be there to see it through. Most importantly of all, the chairman might take a bit longer over recruiting a new manager, rather than just picking one of the usual suspects off the managerial merry-go-round, safe in the knowledge that he can chuck him out and get another one in if it doesn't work out. Ultimately, if we want to improve the quality of our football managers, we need to give them the chance to do their jobs without the fear of the axe haunting their every working day. None of us could work under that pressure: why should they have to?
Tim Turner, Fulham

Dear WSC
I was an occasional visitor to Brisbane Road in the late 1980s/early 1990s and enjoyed the Shot! Archive feature in WSC 286. What particularly endeared me to the club was that one year they made a profit of £25,000 and spent the whole lot upgrading the ladies' toilets. There was a club with a sense of priority who looked after their fans.
Michael Blackburn, Cambridge

Dear WSC
I just had to point out an omission in the article about Lee Trundle in WSC 286. Stats on Lee always seem to miss out his brief spell at Southport, which involved 26 appearances and four goals between December 1998 and March 2000. Very occasional bursts of brilliance were more than offset by regular instances of hilarious ineptitude, including falling over two yards from goal and (pardon the pun) trundling the ball home via chest and stomach. I always remember him returning to pre-season training after being told to watch his weight in the summer. Well, he did, watching over a stone go on to an already generous frame. Still, it's always nice to see ex-Port players do well. Not many remember that Peter Withe made his League debut for Southport and that Andy Mutch, later with Wolves, also did the business for us.
John Massam, Southport

Dear WSC
Your description of John Rooney, Wayne's younger brother, as being "blessed with undoubted natural ability" (Mixed blessing, WSC 284) must be an example of the British gift for understatement about which we here on the frontier have heard so much. It is a singular talent indeed which allows someone to train "with both the Seattle Sounders and Portland Trailblazers", as the latter play in the NBA. We do have a soccer team called the Portland Timbers which has undergone several incarnations since its birth in the heady 1970s. The team will enter MLS next season, having achieved the necessary financial respectability under the ownership of Merritt Paulson (son of the Secretary of the Treasury under George W Bush, a Wall Street careerist who presided over the meltdown of the economy). Paulson Junior also owned the local minor-league baseball team, the Beavers, but followed through on his threats and closed it down when he supposedly failed to extort millions of taxpayer dollars from the city of Portland to build a new baseball stadium, as well as to upgrade the existing Civic Stadium for the Timbers. His clumsy profit-driven manoeuvrings (which have alienated most sports fans, and every baseball fan, in town) remind me of the gracelessness of an over-the-hill Giorgio Chinaglia lumbering down the pitch, hacking, spitting and waving his arms when the Cosmos visited our fair city many years ago.
Tom Mathews, Oregon, USA

From WSC 287 January 2011

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