I’m glad Brian Gibbs can gain pleasure from hearing Ray Wilkins (Letters, WSC 192). Us QPR supporters can’t help remembering Ray Wilkins presiding over the start of the long decline we’ve had to endure at Loftus Road. Ned Zelic is the “versatile as an egg” player referred to. Wilkins wasted a big chunk of the money QPR got for Les Ferdinand on buying him. What was Wilkins thinking of? Ferdinand was approaching his peak, you could guarantee 25 goals (and probably more) from him in a season. He was incredibly popular with QPR fans, even when he scored for Newcastle at Loftus Road a couple of months later in what turned out to be the first of the relegations QPR would suffer all too quickly. Zelic turned out to be a very bad egg, not versatile at all. We could forgive him for not being any use. It was the fact that he didn’t even try that annoyed us.
Pete Harris, via email
It’s hard not to be impressed by the awful judgment displayed by the Football League. First the ITV Digital fiasco and now the appointment of a failed politician as their new chairman. Apparently Brian Mawhinney’s credentials are that he “has been an MP for 23 years and has served as Secretary of State for Transport and as Northern Ireland Sports Minister”. Also that he has “contacts in the corridors of power”. Oh, and he’s been a keen supporter of Peterborough United for 25 years! Let’s look at a few facts. He is an MP for buggery’s sake! The new “family friendly” working hours introduced in Westminster in January are shifting an MP’s work to the daytime. Are all Football League board meetings going to be shifted to the evening to accommodate Mr Mawhinney’s day job? In the register of members’ interests, he already has four other part-time jobs. Plus, he is a trustee of Boston University (that’s Boston Massachussetts, not Boston Lincs, by the way). Is he going to carry on with them while providing “strategic planning” for the Football League? A keen supporter of Peterborough United? Indeed, so keen a supporter, that when it looked like he was sure to lose the Peterborough constituency at the 1997 General Election, he joined the Tory “chicken-run” and legged it to north-west Cambridgeshire in search of a safe seat. What’s more, on the Peterborough fans’ website, it was claimed that, yes, he had a season ticket – but sadly it was at Arsenal. Good news for lower league clubs, then. He wasn’t specifically the “sports minister” for Northern Ireland. He was a Northern Ireland minister and, because at that time there was no devolution, he as a minister would have had hundreds of areas of responsibilities, only one of which would have been sport. The biggest joke is about him having contacts within government. Picture the scene: Mawhinney asks a Labour minister for a meeting to discuss football. Labour minister thinks: “Hmm, it’s the man whose greatest achievement was to come up with the idea of rail privatisation and he is still a Tory MP to boot.” Says to secretary: “See if you can squeeze Mr Mawhinney into the diary for July 2009.” I don’t live in north-west Cambs and its not my business to slag off their MP, but as a football fan, I simply cannot believe this is a good appointment.
Niall Duffy, Worthing
Being a lifelong Leicester City fan (and having the facial lines to prove it), I too read the letter in the Observer (referred to in WSC 190) from the person who claims to not to have had the courage to visit either Filbert Street or Filbert Way for ten years. While no doubt true, does this represent an accurate picture? I sit yards away from dozens of non-white fans who don’t seem to face any problems. To suggest that no progress has been made in ten years is simply nonsense and an insult to those fans who have worked tirelessly around this issue for many years. I don’t know what progress has been made at other clubs (any more than this writer can have at Leicester) but nobody need feel unwelcome at our new stadium. Racism is not primarily a football issue. He or she will risk facing it whenever leaving home and it cannot be defeated without the potential victims having the courage to stand with the rest of us and declare it unacceptable. There is only one colour that matters at Leicester City and that is blue. Wear it and you might find that there was nothing to fear all along.
Chris Lymn, Oadby
Have any other readers noticed that clubs and players seem to be under increasing pressure to pay money for successful outcomes to fixtures? On The Premiership, September 28, Jon Champion at Man City v Liverpool observed that “Michael Owen can’t buy a goal from open play at the moment”. A bit later, during Charlton v Man Utd, Clive Tyldesley told us: “Charlton can’t buy a home win this season.” I know football is a money-dominated sport, but this is ridiculous. However, what I really want to know is how does the system work? Is there a sliding scale of charges, so that Owen could afford to buy a goal against the generous Man City defence, but not against West Brom’s tight back four the previous week? Are “six-pointers” decided by bids in a sealed envelope, which may explain why Sunderland beat Villa, but Bolton v Southampton was a draw? And do teams expected to win easily not bother buying that week? This would certainly account for Chelsea’s home crash to West Ham. To take it further, do supermarket-style special offers and other assorted gimmickry apply? For instance, was Owen’s hat-trick part of a “buy two, get one free” arrangement? Did Charlton, who led at half-time but eventually lost, buy a past-its-sell-by-date home win for half price? And is there a loyalty card system for frequent win buying? Arsenal must be well sorted if there is. It would be bad enough if this was limited to the top flight, but it’s even happening in the Nationwide. Ronnie Moore, explaining my team Rotherham’s unexpectedly good start, cautioned that: “This time last season Grimsby were top of the league, but their manager couldn’t buy a win after that.” So, as a Miller, can I please urge whoever is in charge of our points purchasing department to keep up the good work and carrying on signing the cheques.
Steve Ducker, via email
I occasionally wondered what had become of Gerry Harrison (WSC 188), with his penchant for bad grammar and getting players’ names wrong. In the late 1970s and early 1980s we in the Anglia region were often subjected to “Kenny Samson” of Arsenal and Manchester City’s “Ray Ransome”. His treatment of the assault by a dog at Colchester which effectively ended the career of Brentford goalkeeper Chic Brodie (“What a tackle!”) was ill-advised to say the least, and he annoyed my dad, an English teacher, on a weekly basis by his use of the grammatically incorrect “off of”, as in “that’s a corner off of Micky Mills” or “the winger bounces off of Dave Stringer”. With his unfashionable hairstyle (even by Seventies standards) and his improbable choice of apparel, he was a role model for some of the less gifted commentators, such as Roger Tames and Tony Gubba, who were later foisted upon ill-prepared viewers. Cambridge or Southend, whence Anglia games often came when Norwich and Ipswich had got fed up with Gerry, were more or less his mark although contractual obligations presumably meant that ITV had to take him to the World Cup in 1974, where he was limited to commentating on Chile versus Australia, or something similar, during the group stages. My fondest Gerry memory came in 1980, the week after Justin Fashanu announced himself to the football world with his staggering volley against Liverpool. (Gerry would never have aspired to the Beeb’s Barry Davies’s lucid reaction to that goal – “Woah! WOOAAHH!!”). The following Saturday Norwich were at home again, this time against Wolves, who were two up at half-time. It was Gerry’s job to obtain, as the second half started, the thoughts on the state of play of the then Canaries boss John Bond before Bond returned to the dugout. Unfortunately Wolves scored their third (in a 4-0 eventual victory) within about ten seconds of the restart, with Gerry indelicately blurting out something along the lines of: “Well, you’re really up against it now, John... John... John?” The elegantly-coiffured and besuited Bond (if anything the antithesis of Gerry) had, as they say, taken his leave.
Alun Thomas, via email
I must respond to Simon Bell’s assertion (Letters, WSC 187) that Hugh Dallas gave an “incomprehensible display” in the Germany v US World Cup quarter-final. He is probably referring to two incidents, the first one involving Frings’ handball on the line. Dallas explained his decision in the Scottish press, stating that in his opinion Frings’ handball was completely accidental – in other words the ball played him – and referees could not give a penalty or send a man off in these circumstances. I watched the incident again at normal speed and I completely agree with him, Frings could not have done anything other than handle the ball, or arm it if we’re being pedantic. Just because a goal would have undoubtedly resulted had Frings not been positioned where he was does not mean that a penalty and a sending off should have been automatic. Hugh got it right. The second incident was the mistaken identity booking of Oliver Neuville. Dallas admitted he got this one wrong but he was not the only guilty party as he had firstly run over to consult his linesman, an Englishman incidentally, before booking Neuville instead of Jeremies. Personally, I thought Dallas was one of the best refs at the World Cup and was on a par with Collina and Anders Frisk, a view obviously shared by FIFA when they appointed him fourth official in the final.
Scott Harrison, Hamilton
While I was not one of the 100,000 “strange folks” that travelled to Phoenix Park to welcome the Irish team home from the World Cup – the event had become less of a homecoming and more of a bad cabaret night – I do not agree with Paul Doyle that those that made the trip were basking in mediocrity (WSC 186). It’s true to say that our players, most of whom are very ordinary, might have gone further. It is also true to say almost every other country is thinking the same thing, from Italy and Spain feeling robbed, to Costa Rica missing a sitter in the last minute against the eventual third place side. The people who did go to the park may have done so for any number of reasons, the most obvious one being to thank the players for giving everything and entertaining us along the way. For many kids it was just the chance to see their heroes. (They may even have gone just to see Westlife.) Showing support for your team is what supporters do, and Irish fans have always appreciated it when a team has given their all. Just because Roy doesn’t like it doesn’t make it wrong.
Rónán Barrett, Dublin
Thanks for digging deeper into the faceless consortium that are attempting to transplant Wimbledon FC to MK. Although the “stadium” would be on my doorstep, I naively assumed that the FA would fulfil their responsibility to the sport and dismiss the move out of hand. Having lived in MK most of my life I’ve hardly been deprived of reasonable live football action. As a child, Saturdays were down to Kenilworth Road (at ten,Luton was an exciting day out). Now I take my son to Sixfields, and both Northampton Town and, if we’re really going on safari, Rushden and Diamonds provide good entertainment, and more importantly teams and clubs that we can feel part of and be passionate about. It’s spurious and irrelevant to try to justify the project by stating that we’re the only city in Europe without a major football club. Firstly, MK is not a city and secondly, so what? The primary consideration should be how this move will benefit Wimbledon FC, and then let’s hear some quantifiable benefits for the area. It’s a small point but it looks like the ice-rink in MK will be closing despite being home to a reasonably successful Ice Hockey team, the MK Kings. The result of this commercial decision by the rink’s owners is that the Kings are likely to be playing out of Birmingham next year. So how long might it be before a more affluent club than Wimbledon decides to realise the capital locked up in their current piece of potential prime retail development land and offer the MK stadium landlords a deal for some “temporary” accommodation. This could be the top of a very slippery slope.
James McAuley, Milton Keynes
You may not be aware that fans from Madrid and Leverkusen attending the Champions League final at Hampden Park were handed a Scottish goody bag by the Daily Record containing, among other things, a Tunnock’s caramel wafer and a can of Coke. Class.
Glenn McCall, Dundee
While Ian Kelp (Letters, WSC 183) makes some valid points about the bizarre soft spot banks have for football clubs in allowing them to trade on nought but promises year after year, I fear that he is too puritanical in his approach to business planning. Page one of the Company Treasurer’s Handbook tells us about cashflow planning and a seemingly valid contract promising revenue at fixed future times is a reasonable thing to make plans on, or, if necessary, borrow against. No business waits until the money is in the bank account before planning how to spend it, or indeed actually spending it. Would Marks and Spencer wait until it had a queue of unsatisfied customers waving bunches of tenners in the branch until it ordered a batch of knickers from its suppliers? Where the clubs have probably been naive is in what appears to be a less than watertight contract. If it is true that Carlton and Granada can walk away without liability for their little joint venture, the clubs should be looking at the quality of their legal advice. The fact that the share prices of both Carlton and Granada rose once the situation became public is a pretty depressing sign of what the City thinks of that contract.
Jonathan Gibbs, via email