THE HALF DECENT FOOTBALL MAGAZINE

Dear WSC
In answer to Jamie Sellers’ enquiry (Letters, WSC 296), no, David Needham and I are not related, although I pretended he was for a while at junior school. Also, when I went to Forest games and the Trent End chanted “Needham! Needham! Needham!” during corners (he was renowned for nodding them in), I would step forward, raise a hand, shout “Thank you, fans!” and then do that breathing-on-the-fingernails-and-buffing-them-on-the-lumber-jacket thing that boastful kids were wont to do in the late 1970s.
Al Needham, Nottingham

Dear WSC
With reference to Seb Patrick’s article on away goals in WSC 295 (Counting your blessings), surely the solution is obvious. Make away goals count only after extra time has been played in games where both sides have scored the same number of goals after 180 minutes. This would be fairer than the present system, because there is something not right about declaring one team the winner when they haven’t scored more goals than the opposition. At least with an extra 30 minutes there would be another chance to produce a genuine winner. Furthermore, if the result didn’t change, the away team in the second leg could claim something of a moral victory because they had to play 120 minutes. It would also make many games much more interesting in their later stages. For example, Udinese v Arsenal was effectively over with 20 minutes left, but if Udinese had had to score two goals to force extra time, maybe the outcome would have been different.
Richard Mason, Bergamo, Italy

Dear WSC
Mark Segal’s defence of the Sporting Events (Control of Alcohol) Act 1985 in WSC 296 falls back on the age-old view that football fans are in some way inherently “more volatile” and less trustworthy when it comes to alcohol use than spectators at other sports. However, even if we accept that there is a direct pharmacological link between alcohol consumption and violence (which is still unproven), peer-reviewed academic research on both fan behaviour and disorder associated with social drinking suggests that a repeal of the Act would reduce the risk factors for “hooliganism” rather than increase them. Allowing fans to drink within sight of the pitch could reduce binge drinking beforehand, disorder in and around pubs before kick-off, late crushes at turnstiles and disorder associated with congestion around alcohol outlets at half-time.The campaign to reform this discriminatory, ineffective and probably counterproductive legislation should be welcomed by all fans who wish to watch matches in a safer and more orderly environment.
Dr Geoff Pearson, Football Industry Group, University of Liverpool

Dear WSC
Mark Segal is right to doubt whether allowing alcohol to be consumed in your seat is such a good idea (Drinking it dry, WSC 296). In rugby league we still have terraces so movement to and from the bar places the emphasis on the drinker not to spill their beers. However, at major events, which are always in all-seat stadiums, you have to put up with getting up and down to let the man beside you pass, or trying to see round the bloke in front of you as his pissed aggressive mate staggers in with yet another round.
Geoff Holden, Leeds

Dear WSC
By coincidence, WSC 296 carried both a letter and an article that addressed deceptive measurements at Southampton FC. The letter writer, Keith Wright, asks why the legs on the first attempt at a statue of Ted Bates were too short. A good question, since I know, for a fact, that the sculptor had been given the exact measurements. I was commissioned by the fundraisers for the statue to take the sculptor to meet Ted’s widow, Mary. She volunteered that she’d always bought Ted’s suits for him, in Marks & Spencer, so would he (the sculptor) like Ted’s waist and inside leg measurements? I’ve no idea why those vital statistics went unheeded. Mark Sanderson recalls, in his article (Saints’ relics), how close The Dell crowd was to the touchline. That point was made to me by many a visiting player whom I interviewed for some of the Southampton histories to which Sanderson refers. This closeness had the effect of making the pitch feel smaller than it was. For instance, Mark Crossley was convinced that corners reached his goalmouth more quickly than elsewhere.My favourite assessment came, however, from Kevin Keegan, recollecting the perils of The Dell touchline: “If Denis Hollywood didn’t get you, an old lady would reach out and trip you with her umbrella.” St Mary’s just ain’t the same – not even with the Bates statue, Mark II.
David Bull, Bristol

Dear WSC
When will football commentators go on a course to find out the Laws of the game? It’s the fifth minute of Chelsea v Bayer Leverkusen in the Champions League and Raul Meireles, in an offside position, tries to backheel the ball into the net and misses, but the ball goes into the goal anyway. The linesman flags for offside. The commentator insists that as he didn’t touch it, the goal should have counted, even complaining that the official behind the goal should have told the linesman. Er, wrong on both counts. Law 11 states that a player in an offside position is only penalised if he is involved by “interfering with play” (he was), “interfering with an opponent” (he was) or “gaining an advantage by being in that position” (he did). Any mention of touching the ball is conspicuous by its absence. Get someone in who knows what the Laws are. Actually, get someone in who knows it’s Laws and not Rules. Hint: you won’t have to pay me as much.
Terry Pratt, Walderslade

Dear WSC
I was interested to read Chris Daniel’s article on recycled grounds (Pick and mix, WSC 296). Oddly, the fate of Seamer Road goes further, as one stand has now also moved to Featherstone rugby league club. For many years, Edgeley Park had Sheffield Utd’s old scoreboard – which would occasionally break down during County or Sale matches, reset and read “Super Blades”.
Steve Whittaker, Urmston

Dear WSC
I enjoyed Gavin Barber’s article about his son appearing as a mascot for Ipswich Town (Paternity leave, WSC 296) earlier this season. Two years ago, I had a similar mascot experience with my son, at Carrow Road. My beloved Tranmere Rovers were in town and I was delighted to be invited with my seven-year-old to lunch with directors from both sides and for Sam to go on the pitch. Proud as punch, I marched him into Delia’s kitchen fully kitted out in his Tranmere goalie kit. The Norwich CEO David McNally said to Sam: “Nice kit Sam and great to see you following Tranmere. Who is your favourite player?” “Fernando Torres and Steven Gerrard,” were the bullet-like responses. Cue much mirth from surrounding adults, shame and head-shaking from me and a bemused seven-year-old who just cannot be bribed enough. Pass the sharp knives please Delia.
Seb Blair, Aylsham

Dear WSC
I enjoyed Gavin Barber’s story in WSC 296. It also reminded me of a recent discovery while going through my programme collection. The first game I ever attended in England was at Portman Road – Ipswich 1, West Brom 0, courtesy of a rare kicked goal by Terry Butcher. In looking through the Junior Blues page on the programme, among those wished a happy birthday is Gavin Barber.
Joe Lancello, Missouri, USA

Dear WSC
In WSC 295 Harry Pearson referred to a court case in 2007 involving Gary Lineker which shed light on the ghosted nature of columns purportedly written by sportsmen. As eminent an authority on northern cricket as Harry, however, is surely aware of the case of Cecil “Ciss” Parkin, who played between 1906 and 1926 for Yorkshire, Lancashire and Durham. In the latter case, he appeared alongside both my great-great-uncle and Johnny Common, the brother of Alf, football’s first-ever £1,000 signing. The test career of Parkin was ended in 1924 after a weekly column published under his name in the Empire News criticised the lack of bowling opportunity afforded him during the First Test against South Africa and suggested that Parkin did not wish to play for England again. Parkin denied having ever made such a claim, having been required by pressing travel arrangements to ask a journalist present at the ground to write his copy and submit it directly to the paper. Parkin accepted responsibility for his actions and refused to publicly name the journalist (Lancashire correspondent Johnny Clegg) whom he had dishonestly approached but who, in the search for sensationalism, had betrayed him.
Johnny Wright, Limours, France

Dear WSC
Further to your Mundialito piece (WSC 296), the tournament proved a godsend to an aspiring businessman, who had been lumbered with providing a free cable TV channel to the suburban estate he had developed. Not only did locals enjoy the live football from Uruguay, but through an ingenious system of relayed tapes, he succeeded in converting numerous regional broadcasters into a de facto national TV station, the symbiotic relationship between football and the media pre-empting Rupert Murdoch by over a decade. Yes, in hindsight, the Mundialito proved to be the making of Silvio Berlusconi.
Paul Culloty, Tralee, Ireland

Dear WSC
I must add my sympathies to those of Ashley Shaw in his article covering Manchester United’s “money woes” (Buoyancy aids, WSC 296), particularly his tear-jerking conclusion that Alex Ferguson’s performance despite the “considerable financial obstacles put in his way” is “one of the more remarkable stories in recent football history”. As “success against all odds” stories go, it’s right up there with the US invasion of Panama and Gordon Gekko’s acquisition of Blue Star Airlines. The last ten years have been brutally frugal for United and Ferguson. It must stick in his craw that he was only able to afford an £18 million loss on £28m Juan Sebastián Verón (roughly a million per month of his United career), could only cough up around £7m or £8m each for duds such as Eric Djemba-Djemba and Kléberson, and was forced to take a £7m gamble last summer on a player he had never seen in Bébé. In recent years, penniless United have only managed successful but bargain basement signings such as Anderson, Nani, Michael Carrick and David de Gea (a combined £72m), Antonio Valencia (£18m)and Dimitar Berbatov (£30m). Then there’s that hidden gem they unearthed in Rio Ferdinand who cost a cut-price £30m way back in 2002 – and who United have recently set about replacing with two young centre-backs for a total of £32m. The epitome of penny pinching. Finally, there’s Wayne Rooney who, discontent with his paltry £100,000 a week, toyed with the idea of switching to Man City at a time when his form was pretty lousy. The only option for poor old cash-strapped United was to double his salary to around £200,000 a week. I honestly don’t know how Fergie does it year in, year out.
Jindy Mann, London

Dear WSC
I know it’s normally bad form to respond to pedantry, but I couldn’t let Colin Dunn’s letter in WSC 296 about my review of Crusaders v Fulham go unchallenged. I concede that Newington YC football club were, indeed, originally from Newington. However, given that they draw players from Ardoyne, which is a few hundred yards away at the other end of the Cliftonville Road, that both areas are within walking distance of Seaview, that Newington don’t actually play in Newington, and that for almost two decades they had to play home games in Antrim 15 miles away on a terrible muck-heap of a pitch, I’d be more than happy to argue that my “startling geographical inaccuracy” was nothing of the sort. As someone who lives in Belfast, and has played amateur league football here for 20 years, I’d be happy to write a piece on North Belfast’s geography and the catchment area of its amateur football teams, but I’m not sure too many WSC readers would want to bother with it. How any of the above is evidence for his own “startling” generalisation that everything I write for WSC contains “inaccuracies” and that I’m not portraying Irish League football in a positive light is beyond me. Although, to be fair, one of my Crusaders-supporting friends is still not speaking to me for failing to describe Timmy Adamson’s superb equaliser in the game as better than Maradona’s second against England in 1986.
Robbie Meredith, Belfast

Dear WSC
Huw Egginton’s statement that Maidstone United took their place at the bottom of the pyramid (Letters, WSC 296) isn’t quite correct. A junior team, Maidstone Invicta, founded in the 1960s, changed their name to Maidstone United in 1996 – so strictly speaking they are a separate club from the one that played in the Football League. Also Dartford were not demoted to the Kent League. The first team resigned from the Southern League in 1992 but the youth team continued, thus keeping the club’s FA affiliation. The first team re-formed in 1993 and took their place in the Kent League. In 1988 Maidstone United almost had a ground-sharing agreement with Gravesend & Northfleet (who only rented their ground) but at the 11th hour switched to Dartford (who did own their ground) and the rest is history.
Richard Ralph, Gravesend

Dear WSC
In reference to footballing cricketers (WSC 295 and 296) I feel that Leicester’s Graham Cross should be mentioned. Signing for City straight from school in 1960 he quickly began a parallel career with Leicestershire CCC. A powerful centre-back, he was a Filbert Street stalwart, appearing in four cup finals during the 1960s and picking up England Under-23 caps. In cricket he was an all-rounder with a useful turn as a medium-paced bowler. He stayed loyal to his hometown club and won the Second Division title in 1971. The following year Cross set a new appearance record – he would ultimately play 599 games for the City – for which he was rewarded with a hideously cheap plastic kitchen clock with a stuck-on plaque. That he was also refused a testimonial showed the esteem that the board held for him. Nonetheless he continued at both sports and, in 1975, was a member of the Leicestershire team that won a first ever County Championship title. His reward from the ever-sensitive board was to dock him two weeks’ wages and threaten a transfer for missing pre-season training. The city council showed a bit more appreciation and named the streets of a new housing estate after the victorious cricketers. Cross Walk remains his testament to this day.
Simon Betts, Leicester

Dear WSC
Paul Collins (Letters, WSC 296) rather understates the singular achievement of cricketer-footballer Chris Balderstone. Batting for Leicestershire against Derbyshire in 1975 he was 51 not out at close of play (6.30pm). He was then presumably driven, changing as he went, to Belle Vue, Doncaster, where he turned out for the Rovers against Brentford. Emerging unscathed from the rigours of Division Four he returned to Chesterfield, resumed his innings and completed a first-class century – the only man to do so while simultaneously playing in a Football League match. Today he would doubtless be fined by both his clubs for lacking “focus” and ignoring the strictures about rest and recovery. He was 35 at the time.
Roger Titford, Newbury

From WSC 297 November 2011

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