THE HALF DECENT FOOTBALL MAGAZINE

wsc301Dear WSC
Gavin Duenas asks why WSC readers want standing areas in football grounds (Letters, WSC 300). My reasons are purely selfish. Maybe then the people stand in front of me and my two young boys "because you can only support your team properly from a standing position" will go to the terraces and leave us to sit and enjoy an unobstructed view from our expensive seats.There should be a choice for all supporters between sitting and safe standing. Yet as a frequent away supporter in "all-seater" stadiums, the choice of sitting doesn't actually exist. You are forced into unsafe standing in seating areas if you want to to see anything of the game. Woe betide you if you point out that if everybody sits, everybody sees. Oh for the joy of Huish Park and London Road, where thanks to the terraces you can still sit in comfort.
Andrew Bartlett, Kenilworth

Dear WSC
James De Mellow's article on the latest episode in the Saints-Pompey saga (Match of the month, WSC 300) was commendable in almost every respect. But how long is it going to take to blow the "they have only played 37 times" myth? This "statistic" first appeared courtesy of some press agency in 2003, when Portsmouth made it to the Premier League. It was so obviously dumb that nobody contested it. Now it is a "fact" that nobody can be bothered to question. Can whoever conjured the figure up have been so ignorant of football they decided that if a club wasn't in the Football League it cannot have existed, therefore Portsmouth and Southampton must have popped into being in 1920, along with the rest of the Third Division? For the record, the first derby was in 1899 – Portsmouth was slow to adopt professional football – and to date there have been 141 official league (note the lower case "l") and cup fixtures between the two clubs. When you bung in war competitions, testimonials and friendlies, it rises to 214. Followers of football are bombarded with "lies, damn lies and statistics", but even the "damn lies" should stand up to some sort of scrutiny. It should be obvious that reducing the history of a rivalry 112 years old between two clubs 20 miles apart to 37 games is rather like writing a history of the British Isles and failing to mention the English. 
Dave Juson, Southampton  

Dear WSC
Brian Simpson's article (Official complaints, WSC 299) rightly highlighted the depressing trend of referee abuse, but it overlooks another issue that can be a significant demotivating factor. A fine example occurred on a recent Saturday afternoon at Hemsworth Miners Welfare FC, in the Northern Counties East League. An off-the-ball incident occurred while the ball was in the goalkeeper's hands. When the culprit was duly identified and cautioned, the referee restarted play correctly with a free-kick from the position of the fracas. At this, the home manager launched into a tirade at the nearest official. His issue was with the restarting of play because: "It can't be a foul or a free-kick if the ball's in my keeper's hands." He further advertised his ignorance by arguing with nearby spectators. They politely suggested that, given his long involvement in football, he should have a basic understanding of the laws of the game or at least refrain from criticising the decision of someone who has. Shortly after the game the "gentleman" in question was seen in the club's bar, hunched over some paperwork, discussing with his club secretary what mark the officials would be awarded. It is this ridiculous system at the lower levels which, more than anything else, prompted my own decision (and those of two other ex-referees of my acquaintance) to leave the game. Most referees have no problem with being assessed, but I can think of no other walk of life where judgement is passed by ignorant people who know little of the subject in question, and who are by their very nature subjective.When compared with the disgraceful assaults recounted in Brian's article, this may appear a trifling matter, but it can be intensely irritating and frustrating. It is impossible not to draw a link between the lack of understanding concerning the officials' jobs and the abuse of them. I would insist that players and managers pass a refereeing exam in order to be allowed to work in the game. If nothing else the criticism might be a little easier to stomach, in the knowledge that the critic at least had some idea of what he was talking about.
Andrew Cowe, Rossington

Dear WSC
Ed Wilson does a good job of sticking up for beleaguered and over-criticised referees (Critical mass, WSC 300). However I cannot agree with the oft-touted suggestion that referees should "have the chance to explain their decisions". Has anyone stopped to think how the post-match conversations would inevitably go? "Why didn't you give the penalty?" "Because I saw no offence." "But it was handball." "Perhaps it was, but I didn't see it." "Why did you send that player off?" "Because in my view he stopped an obvious goalscoring opportunity." "But he didn't touch him." "That's not how I saw it." It could go on and on. Referees have no need to explain a decision because the act of making it is in itself an explanation. For any pundits or fans who cannot grasp this, can I suggest familiarising yourself with the laws of the game. This, along with a realisation that referees are human and can see an incident only once, will provide you with all the explanation you could possibly want.
Karim Fatih, London

Dear WSC
I read with interest Ed Wilson's piece in WSC 300 about attitudes towards referees. While the foot of the media is always hovering over referee's necks, I have noticed a definite ramping up of sanctimony this season, from all corners, for whatever reason. That's why I was interested to see Football Focus bring on a representative of the Referees' Association to discuss the recent apparent AVALANCHE of red cards in the Premier League for dangerous tackles. I can't remember the bloke's name, and nor should I, because the referee's name doesn't actually matter, TV people. He was sat on a nice shiny chair alongside those bastions of verbal proportion, Alan Shearer and Robert Savage. I was pleased to see an attempt to engage the people responsible for enforcing the rules and didn't really notice Savage trembling with expectant energy as he waited for Dan "Paxman" Walker to set him up for a question. As soon as he was prompted – and after Shearer said something surprisingly reasonable, I think – Savage just laid into the bloke: "How come, when everyone in the ground can see it's a foul, and the ref is stood five yards away, how can he still not give it? Eh? Eh?" It was an example of the utterly stupid and needless self-importance that fuels everything chucked out by the football media (WSC excepted, of course). I regularly read whole match reports that seem to deal with the award of one penalty. It's boring. If your team concedes a disputable penalty then you still have the rest of the game to score yourself. To play football. Which is the reason we have all paid through the nose to be there, not to get embroiled in some senseless debate about "degrees of contact". Until the media loses its ego, both fuelling and fuelled by irate and manipulative managers, it'll always be the same.
Simon Brown, Nottingham
 
Dear WSC
I have been hesitating in replying to James De Mellow's article (Keeping in touch, WSC 298), as it may distract James from following his team in the future. But I would like to reveal a "secret". Live football on Saturday afternoons is available on terrestrial and satellite channels. Since the 2010-11 season, the public service Welsh language broadcaster S4C has shown live Saturday afternoon games from the Welsh Premier League. It is refreshing that a broadcaster is taking such a risk in covering the league. The majority of games only attract a few hundred supporters and the standard is below the Conference, but it is entertaining. If you cannot get out to see live football or cannot afford the satellite subscriptions, S4C provides a window on the game that most broadcasters choose to ignore. Most football coverage is obsessed with a handful of teams in the Premier League. For me the deeply ingrained conservatism was highlighted by the coverage of the third round of the FA Cup. Was I the only person wondering why Fleetwood v Blackpool was not a live game?
M Allen, Surrey

Dear WSC
It was very gratifying to see the spread in WSC 300 featuring Hyde FC's Boxing Day derby with Stalybridge Celtic. Not only for the peek into the Blue Square North, but also to highlight the interesting story of a football club's change in identity due to the involvement of a bigger fish. The article explained the very recent history of the club formerly known as Hyde United and the financial boost given to it by Manchester City. It is worth considering whether or not the City bail-out is a good thing, as there is ambivalence among Tigers supporters, many of whom prefer to wear the red favours of the club in its 1919-2010 incarnation (or none at all, as HUFC merchandise is no longer available). It is indisputable that City helped to solve Hyde's problems with the Inland Revenue and they have every right to lease Ewen Fields for their reserve and youth team fixtures. After all, it offers an excellent playing surface and was leased by Manchester United for a season a few years ago. The total rebranding of the club, though, is a step too far. City's conditions included the repainting of the ground, blue replacing red in the club badge and the removal of United from the club name. Is this Stalinist or simply small-minded? Whatever, it does little to encourage fans who also support United as their "big" club. The huge City crests and logos conspicuously displayed around the ground may even alienate potential fans. Meanwhile a word of praise for the manager, Gary Lowe, who in his first season at this level has skilfully assembled a new team, which won all ten of their first BSN fixtures. They are still top of the league and have a very good chance of promotion to the Conference – a level the club has never reached before.
Brent Shore, Tolpuddle

Dear WSC
After years of driving me mad with his "ezzactly", I heard Michael Vaughan on Test Match Special finally pronounce "exactly" correctly. Maybe his employers have had a word with him. Now then, about Chris Waddle and "pelanty"...
Glyn Berrington, Brierley Hill

Dear WSC
Am I alone in thinking that the modern protocol requiring players to refrain from celebrating scoring a goal against their former club has gone too far? What can probably be traced back to Denis Law's genuine melancholy at relegating Manchester United in 1974 has become more and more prevalent during the last ten years. We have reached the point where almost anyone with even the vaguest connection to a club will make a show of not enjoying putting the ball in the net against their old side. As a Sunderland fan, I remember Kevin Phillips refusing to celebrate scoring for Aston Villa on his return to the Stadium of Light. A genuine club legend not wanting to wind up fans who once adored him is fair enough. Last month, if not quite to the same level, Robbie Keane (Wolves) and Darren Pratley (Swansea) were just two players to do likewise. However, I absolutely draw the line at Scott Sinclair's embarrassingly apologetic reaction to putting Swansea ahead against Chelsea. Who does he think he is? Gianfranco Zola? In his time at Stamford Bridge, Sinclair made a grand total of 13 appearances, seven of which were as a substitute. He started just one (ONE!) Premier League game for Chelsea. Surely the reason Sinclair is playing for Swansea and not Chelsea is that, in the end, the Blues didn't think he was good enough. He might have spent five years on Chelsea's books, but they were not the club he came through at – that was Bristol Rovers – and he made far more appearances on loan at Plymouth, QPR, Charlton, Crystal Palace, Birmingham and Wigan. Will he show the same restraint if he nets against those clubs? I'm not suggesting that everyone should mimic Emmanuel Adebayor's 100-yard dash to goad the travelling Arsenal fans at Eastlands a couple of seasons back. But surely we have not reached the point where supporters are that precious they cannot bare to see a goalscorer smile and stick his arm in the air as Alan Shearer used to. I don't recall him having any problem celebrating Newcastle goals back at Ewood Park.
Keith Watson, Cam

Dear WSC
Men out of time (WSC 298) highlighted the failings of two recent England managers in Steve McClaren and Sven-Göran Eriksson. This article could have been written about almost any of the men who "achieved" the most prestigious and lofty position in English football and then tried to return to club management. From Sir Alf Ramsey, who was caretaker manager at Birmingham City in the 1977-78 season, to Kevin Keegan (Man City 2001-05 and Newcastle 2008), none has made any impact of note. So what if Keegan's City won the First Division Championship in 2002, and McClaren's FC Twente topped the Eredivisie in 2010? These titles can hardly be compared to winning the Premier League, or even the current Championship. The only exception, achieving multiple titles and silverware abroad with PSV, Porto and Barcelona, was the legendary Sir Bobby Robson. If only the likes of McClaren and Eriksson could show the same dignity and humility, instead of pampering to their own over-inflated egos and trying to fill their pockets as hurriedly as possible, they might still have some respect, instead of appearing as pantomime villains.
Robert Mann, Huddersfield

Dear WSC
When I attended a course on better driving recently, the subject of Alex Ferguson came up. The topic of discussion was stopping on a motorway, specifically on a hard shoulder to take a leak. The lecturer was adamant it is illegal, as the law does not class it as an emergency. However, there was one notable exception to the hard line taken by the courts, and this involved Sir Alex. The story is that Ferguson stopped to relieve himself some years ago, was charged by the police and went to court. The court ruled that the law does not allow motorists to do this and he was duly fined and admonished. Ferguson did not take his conviction lightly. He hired expensive lawyers and appealed. Sir Alex being the determined chap he is, the prosecution decided to drop the case as it was not in the public interest to spend money on a case he was prepared to take all the way to Europe. Sadly, the lecturer could not give details of when the events took place. It might be another folk myth, but it is plausible. Can any reader throw light on the tale? Is Sir Alex, having established it is illegal to stop on a motorway for a toilet break, one of the very few people to have got away with it?
Trevor Fisher, Stafford

From WSC 301 March 2012

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