THE HALF DECENT FOOTBALL MAGAZINE

Dear WSC
I recently heard Alan Green and Robbie Savage give the customary abuse to Howard Webb during the Man City v Sunderland game. While Green’s job is to commentate on football, Savage, as a current player, is in an awkward position when he criticises officials from the safety of a studio in terms that would get him booked on the field.
Maybe the threat of a disrepute charge would concentrate his mind. As Savage himself commented during the broadcast: “The officials bring problems on themselves. First sign of dissent, bang, yellow card.” Well you said it, Robbie.
Paul Caulfield, Bradford

Dear WSC
Could I add to the excellent examples of daft phrases used by commentators? My annoyance is when a commentator says something along the lines of: “This (team name) side who has won the FA Cup five times, two Premier League titles and a European trophy.”
No they haven’t, as it is quite conceivable that the players playing that day have not won any silverware at all between them. They just happen to be playing for a club which has, with completely different teams, managers, directors and, quite possibly, stadiums, won these trophies decades ago. You’re only as good as your next trophy – as Arsenal and Nottingham Forest fans must be all too aware.
Being a Plymouth Argyle supporter none of this really affects me, it just annoys me when commentators go blathering on about past glories as if it makes any difference at all to the team playing in front of them.
John Clifton, Plymouth

Dear WSC
I am bemused by Phil Sharman’s defence of Billy Davies (Losing pride, WSC 291). By the time Davies talked himself out of the Derby job, by deliberately undermining the chairman of football, he’d already wasted millions on dire signings like Claude Davis and Robert Earnshaw, whom he barely ever used.
Phil claims that Nigel Clough buys non-League players who fail to make the step-up, but the only players he could possibly mean are Saul Deeney, Jake Buxton and Ben Pringle, who were all signed as reserves. Clough has brought in the talismanic defender Shaun Barker, while last summer’s main purchases were Player of the Year candidate John Brayford and promising midfielder James Bailey.
Plus Nigel has loaned players like England Under-21 goalkeeper Frank Fielding and Liverpool’s Daniel Ayala. To say that Derby can no longer compete with Scunthorpe in the transfer market simply isn’t true. As for Doncaster, they spent a club record £1.15m on Billy Sharp last summer, but still finished below the Rams in the league this season.
Phil refers to the strategy of stabilising the club’s finances as “feeble”, but we would be in a far worse state had we continued to lose £14 million per season, as happened in 2008-09. The owners injected over £8m in 2009-10. Sheffield United, who announced losses of £19m in November 2010, would certainly swap places with us, as would Coventry City, whose chief executive recently described the club as a “basket case”.
This season has been very disappointing, but Derby’s Premier League disaster – caused by the selfish short-termism of Billy Davies – had to be paid for at some point. However, Phil’s article rightly highlights that if GSE genuinely intend to build Derby as a club, the time for further investment is now.
Ollie Wright, Northenden

Dear WSC
In his otherwise interesting piece on Derby in WSC 291, Phil Sharman stated that Derby were the only club outside the big cities to win two League titles in
living memory.
Er, no, my father was born in 1934 and is still going strong. He clearly remembers Wolves winning not two, but three titles in the 1950s. Wolverhampton counts as a city now, since 2000 in fact, but it was no more a “big city’” then than Burnley
and Ipswich were when their teams won the League.
Paul Quinton, Wolverhampton

Dear WSC
As I read the explanations of England’s recent failure at the Cricket World Cup, it struck me how similar it sounded to the aftermath of last year’s football extravaganza in South Africa.
A desperate struggle to qualify from an easy group was followed by defeat in the very first knock-out match. There were injuries to key players at the start (Rio Ferdinand, Kevin Pietersen) and apparently confused team selections (goalkeeper, opening batsman). It was argued that the players were tired after a long season/tour of Australia and that they’d been away from home too long – although this seems more justifiable for the cricketers, who had been abroad for three months, compared to the short Austrian training camps that the football squad had to “endure”.
Some people might also point out that, just like Fabio Capello, Stuart Broad had to return home early from the tournament because he had a bad side. But I’d never stoop so low.
David Emanuel, Littleborough

Dear WSC
Has anybody else noticed the remarkable agility and movement displayed by Carlo Ancelotti’s left eyebrow? If not, I urge you to observe closely next time the affable Italian gives a press conference or is being grilled by Geoff Shreeves in the wake of another disappointing result. After all, we may not have much longer to enjoy this curious phenomenon of the modern game.
Simon Harvey, Altrincham

Dear WSC
In a recent match at St Mary’s, between Southampton and MK Dons, I was struck by a potential injustice in the way in which stoppage time is allocated.
 As the Dons went 1-0, and then 2-0, up, their goalkeeper was dallying ever longer over his goal-kicks. As the crowd bayed for him to be booked, I refrained from joining in: the referee’s remedy surely lay in adding on time. That logic went out of the window, though, when the Saints came back to lead 3-2. As they dropped deeper in defence of their lead, the fourth official flashed that a minimum of five minutes were to be added.
Now, let’s suppose that two of those minutes were attributable, as is the apparent norm, to goal celebrations. That means that the visitors were now being awarded three minutes that had been whiled away by their goalie’s gamesmanship. That is demonstrably unjust. In such circumstances, those three minutes should not be added, unless and until the miscreant side scores within the limited time that has been properly allocated.
OK, applying that logic might appear complicated to the “don’t know what you’re doing” choir and to some occupants of the technical area, but I assume it would appeal to WSC readers, whose letters relentlessly indicate a passion for justice.
David Bull, Bristol

Dear WSC
Ian Plenderleith’s article on lost youth (Generation game, WSC 291) didn’t so much strike a chord with me as play an entire symphony.
Now I understand why, although my team currently reside in the Premier League, watching their struggle to stay up means so much less to me than the delight I once experienced watching Steve Bull destroy Fourth Division defences from a crumbling terrace in a ramshackle stadium. I also understand now why my dad was never moved by anything messrs Derek Dougan, John Richards, Andy Gray or Bully could conjure up, as Billy Wright, Peter Broadbent and Bert Williams had already ruined it for him by 1960.
Phil Vaughan, Wolverhampton

Dear WSC
There is no doubt about it: all referees are, at heart, luvvies. They yearn for that moment of being in the spotlight on their own. Next time you watch a match on TV, any match, any broadcaster, look at the ref at the final whistle. It’ll be easy, he’ll be right in the middle of your screen.
Refs blow the final whistle – regardless of how much time has been played – when they’re sure they are “in shot”, with the ball in mid-air following a goal kick or on the ground but really close to them. The TV director is given no choice but to include that bloke who’s probably annoyed you all afternoon/evening/morning/night.
Refs are not allowed to give interviews or allowed to explain, they’re just dependent on a lousy decision to make the headlines. But they are always, absolutely always, there, centre screen, to blow the final whistle. And this decision, “Am I in shot yet?”, is the one decision they never, ever get wrong.
Robin Carr, Ley Hill

Dear WSC
Phil Laing (Letters, WSC 291) bemoans the fact that promising youth players are already concentrated at Premier League clubs prior to changes in regulations that will no doubt make life even easier for them. However, the current picture is not quite as Phil might imagine it. Earlier this season the Premier League published a table listing the most productive English youth academies. This demonstrated that while 125 top-flight players who started their careers in England did so at Premier League clubs, 129 of them actually started outside the top division. Indeed, ranking fifth in the list (after Man Utd, Man City, West Ham and Everton) is a non-League club – my own team Luton Town.
Since the table was published one of our protégés has dropped down a division but of the seven remaining, four (Matthew Upson, Curtis Davies, Jack Wilshere and Kevin Foley) are internationals. In addition, over the last 18 months Chelsea, Liverpool and Fulham have all signed promising school-age players from our academy. My fellow Luton supporters and I feel rather proud of all this, particularly as we also have a number of good home-grown players in our own team. However, feeling proud and feeling happy are different things. For myself, I shall remain tetchy, morose and frustrated until we finally get our act together and manage to return to the Football League.
Roy Williams, Welwyn Garden City

Dear WSC
The piece on Dong Fangzhuo (WSC 291) reminded me of my “interview” with the player back in 2006. Living in Belgium, I was asked to track him down for a piece in the Manchester United magazine during his Antwerp phase. It wasn’t easy but I finally got to him in the stands at the Bosuil stadium after an Antwerp game where he had been a spectator. His English was not too good and when I asked for the interview, he nodded and rang his girlfriend. He passed me the phone, I asked her the first question and passed the phone back to Dong. They then talked at some length – presumably in Mandarin. Dong again passed the phone to me and his girlfriend said the erstwhile striker was tired and he had to leave for Germany early next morning. End of interview.
Apart from struggling on the pitch, Dong didn’t have an easy time in Belgium. There are three official languages (French, Dutch and German) and he had none of these. As mentioned, his English was also rather limited and even at Antwerp’s Chinese market he found that the dominant language was Cantonese.
John Chapman, Brussels, Belgium

Dear WSC
Yet another case of a player’s selective memory, this time with Rio Ferdinand concerning the “lack of respect” shown by Mario Balotelli in celebrating in front of the Manchester United fans at the end of the FA Cup semi-final.
Does he not recall his team-mate Gary Neville twice running 80 yards to celebrate Manchester United goals in front of 8,000 Liverpool fans? Neville was punished by the FA for the second occasion. Rio also – quite understandably – celebrated his brother’s team (West Ham) taking the lead in the 2006 Cup final, but provocatively very near to the Liverpool fans.
On a more general note all players should be disciplined by celebrating in front of the opposition support. If a yellow card is automatically shown to players who celebrate by removing their shirt in front of their own fans, surely the inflammatory gestures by Neville, Balotelli etc should be more severely punished?
Norman Mason, Widnes

Dear WSC
During a half-time discussion about Frank Lampard’s “goal” in Chelsea v Tottenham Glenn Hoddle said that: “Even a fifth official standing beside the goal wouldn’t be able to see because the post would be in the way.” Er, that’s the whole point, Glenn. The post and white lines are the same width, which must not exceed five inches, so if the post is obscuring part of the ball, it hasn’t gone over the line.
Also, further to the “Annoying Things Commentators Say”, can I add “...denied a goal by the upright/post/bar”. A player can be denied a goal by a flying save, the outstretched foot of a defender or even a small boy running on and booting the ball away, but not by an inanimate object. If the ball hits either the post or the bar it wasn’t going in the net.
Terry Pratt, Walderslade

Dear WSC
After the controversy of Chelsea’s over-the-line “goal” against Spurs, I’m concerned about how the debate is moving towards the allowance of video technology. People such as Mark Saggers of TalkSport seem to think a TV replay will solve all the game’s ills. Yet, ironically, the TalkSport commentator’s initial reaction when reviewing replays of the goal was that the footage was “inconclusive”.
Should TV replays be used all over the field of play I forecast that managers will vent their spleens in post-match interviews on the official making decisions based on the TV footage, rather than the referee or linesman. The managers still won’t agree if the decision goes against them. For some reason I picture Steve Bruce, sadly shaking his head while questioning the ability of the man in the stand after his team have lost a game based on the TV replay.
Steve Heald, Edinburgh

From WSC 292 June 2011

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