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The Archive

Articles from When Saturday Comes. All 27 years of WSC are in the process of being added. This may take a while.


Like father like son ~ 2015 writers’ competition winner


The WSC writers’ competition was set up with a legacy left by contributor David Wangerin, who died in 2012. We are now taking entries for the 2015-16 season, and for some inspiration here is the 2015 winner – Adam Deuchars – explaining how he rediscovered his interest in football

Amid the blur of boys in blue and yellow shirts, some in binman orange bibs, the copper hair is easily recognisable. The cacophony of motion is silenced briefly; the boy with the copper hair emerges from the hive of bodies, deftly slipping the ball from his right to his left foot, before placing his shot in to the bottom corner of the goal. The scorer wheels away unsure quite how he has done what he has done only to then hare off down the pitch and throw himself to the ground in celebration. A few of his team-mates pile on.

Once the pile is dismantled the boy emerges again only to engage in some curious victory dance. The parents dutifully patrolling the side of the pitch give me knowing looks. My best response is to shuffle from foot to foot and raise my eyebrows in a “What can you do?” type of way. The coppery haired goalscorer is my six-year-old son. It is another night at training, one of few remaining this season.

My son has an interest and fascination with football that only a six-year-old could maintain. A staggering level of curiosity mixed with a perpetual ability to get muddled by the seemingly arcane workings of leagues, cups, away goals and offside traps. It is a language I know too well and I lose my tolerance at times for the infinite need to explain what seems to be the blindingly obvious. No Manchester City cannot play in the World Cup. No it isn’t unfair that Chelsea are out of the Champions League. No I don’t understand how Steven Gerrard heads the ball with such a small forehead.

Looking back, the exposure to last summer’s World Cup was crucial in this. Sleepy eyed silent mornings were disturbed with requests to know the previous night’s scores, to view the highlights and to stay up late for that evening’s games. It would be wrong to think I am not pleased by this, as I am delighted we have a common interest. The issue is that my interest in football has been on the wane for many years.

I clearly wasn’t as fascinated by the game at the age of six as my boy is. Organised teams and the like didn’t really happen until I was 11. Football stickers, Match magazine and endless kickabouts were perhaps a little earlier at eight or nine. From that point on I would say that my interest, curiosity and pure passion for the game was comparable to that of my son now. This was the early 1980s and football, of course, had a bad public reputation. I never went to matches. In part because we weren’t a footballing family and the sense of matchday tradition and ritual was totally anathema.

The other part was also the threat of violence. There was genuine fear about attending matches which kept me, via my parents, away from games. Despite this my love of and for the game grew and grew. Heysel and Hillsborough unfolded before my eyes yet this didn’t dissuade me. They were curious times and I was steeped in them to the hilt; playing, watching, reading, day in, day out. It wasn’t that I was a good player but I was willing. In my mid-teens I was playing both men’s and junior football. One fortnight when I was 16 I played eight games including two on one day. And I could sustain this as my relationship with the game was deep and involved.

Then, not quickly or even that discernibly, a creeping fatigue set in. I stopped playing 11-a-side in my early 20s, due initially to a combination of the need to work and injury, but I never found my way back. I began to realise I didn’t miss hours of travelling to some godforsaken dog shit smeared patch of grass to endure 90 minutes of threats, abuse and random acts of violence. The players on the opposing teams were little better, of course. In time I could also go weeks without knowing what was going on in the broader world of football. Which was quite a feat given the utter, dripping saturation of the coverage.

Oh how the 18-year-old me would look on in horror and bafflement. That present-day football, the lovechild of Margaret Thatcher and Irving Scholar, was now a mere passing interest, which I dipped in and out of as I chose. That I could cocoon myself away from all of it, content that I was not really missing anything that I could not return to if I wished.

Things have changed again and my son is responsible. Not through the incessant questions along the lines who I like best out of…(randomly pick five Premier League players of your choosing at this point, though one of them has to be Frank Lampard) with follow-up questions where I need to justify my selection. The wilful part of me never allows Frank Lampard at number one.

I am my own worst enemy at times. My son is responsible as there is such simple joy in watching him and his friends play football. Within the shambolic mass of a bunch of six-year-olds there is togetherness and spirit and no little skill at times. By having fun and lumping bits out of one another, they are being together and trying to negotiate all the awkward and difficult bits around sameness and difference. And they do this via football. This is the game I know. It has found me again and I am grateful.

There is a bitter postscript. At the end of May we as parents were informed that the club who host all the junior football were being threatened with eviction by the local parish council. Hallen FC of the Western League Premier Division were being forced to vacate their ground at the Hallen Centre, with Almondsbury Parish Council stating that their financial support for the club was no longer viable. The council is rumoured to be one of the wealthiest in the country, leading to speculation as to what its true intentions are – the land and buildings serve the village of Hallen as a whole.

Losing the facilities would have forced the club to fold, affecting dozens of kids as well as established senior sides. After threats for the club not to hand back the keys, a document was found that secured Hallen FC’s place at the Hallen Centre, which was signed when they gave up their original facilities so that the centre could be built. However at the time of writing no lease had been signed. The footballing future of many could be protected for £20,000 – the amount the council have suggested Hallen need to pay to secure the site. It’s a substantial sum, of course. Unless you are a Premier League footballer or the agent of one.

Illustration by Adam Doughty

Enter the 2015-16 WSC writers’ competition here

Played out

wsc340A verbatim play has been touring the country which tells survivors’ stories of the Valley Parade fire of 1985 in Bradford, and Tom Hocking went along

There is a line towards the end of The 56 when one of the characters says that the city of Bradford “wrapped its arms around itself” in the disaster’s aftermath. The line evokes the coming together of a community, but also suggests why it was regularly called football’s “forgotten” tragedy. The city’s strength to bury, mourn and remember their dead but to try to “get on” as best they could inadvertently masked its impact.

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War wounds

wsc334With declarations of superiority and personal messages from leaders, Jon Spurling looks at why the 1934 meeting of England and Italy was as much about politics as football

In November 1934, world champions Italy arrived at a packed Highbury to face an England team containing seven Arsenal players: Wilf Copping, Ray Bowden, George Male, Frank Moss, Ted Drake, Eddie Hapgood and Cliff Bastin. Benito Mussolini had claimed “Good kicking is good politics” and described Italy’s World Cup victory the previous summer as a “triumph for fascism”. Although tempting to suggest that Italy were little more than a collection of 11 sporting soldiers, the England players were also expected to demonstrate the superiority of the Britisher.

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Loyalty card

wsc335Manchester City have been mocked for low attendances but the criticism is a cheap shot which ignores glaring facts about their supporters, states Matthew James

Back in Manchester City’s darkest days of the late 1990s, as they battled the likes of Macclesfield to escape the third tier, the odd article began appearing in the press mocking attendances at certain home games. They caused outrage among City fans, always sensitive to media bias. They even generated sympathy in neutral readers, who regarded them as unnecessarily mean-spirited and unfair, given the traumas the club had experienced and the fact that crowds had generally been good.

A decade and a half later and the numbers are under scrutiny again, except this time with no lower-league mitigation. Now the issue is that only 37,500 turned out for a Champions League match against Roma, and the reaction was immediate. Rio Ferdinand, inevitably, took to Twitter to treat us to his instant opinion, ridiculing the expansion of the Etihad, while on ITV the increasingly Keane-esque Paul Scholes criticised what he saw as the supporters’ apathy towards the competition.

Fan loyalty is always a sensitive issue, and reaction is naturally defiant when the criticism comes from the enemy, but did they have a point? On the surface, the stadium enlargement might look a folly if you can’t fill it for a Champions League game, but it should be noted there is a waiting list for season tickets. As for the Scholes comments I would say it probably is true that the fans have yet to fall in love with the competition, due to a lack of special nights in their first three campaigns.

If you’re looking for excuses you can point out that it was the third home game in ten days, and then there is the ever-present issue of cost, but in reality it looks like an anomaly, plain and simple. The attendance was back up to 45,000 for the CSKA Moscow debacle, while there has been no pro-rata drop-off in interest in the other competitions. League games are played to full houses, while the two League Cup matches either side of Roma drew a creditable average of 36,500.

Behind all this discussion are the questions of how many supporters City have, how many do people think they have, and how many do those people think they should have. There is an assumption that trophies and star signings would attract them in droves. One of the key indicators used to chart the rise of a newly successful club is the number of replica shirts cropping up in pubs and playgrounds, particularly beyond the usual catchment area, and the light blue has certainly become a more common sight. But while impressionable kids and needy adults in far-off towns may be happy to suddenly claim allegiance, and even spring for a shirt as the price of reflected glory, there is a huge step up in commitment to being willing to board a coach and trek to the stadium. City simply do not have reservist armies of fans ready to step in.

And why should they? City are traditionally a parochial club, drawing their support almost exclusively from Greater Manchester, including some of its poorest areas, and building beyond that to the point where tickets become like gold dust could take a decade or more of success. With City’s recent history prior to the foreign takeovers it’s impressive that they even maintained the foothold they did, given people had an option across town that would actually bring them some happiness. Fans of, say, Newcastle United are rightly lauded for their commitment, but it has to be noted they don’t have to share their city with anyone, let alone the Manchester United empire. A market analyst who was ignorant of the peculiarities of fandom would be amazed City didn’t go the way of Bebo and Betamax long before their current renaissance.

The crowd for the first Champions League home game of the season was undoubtedly underwhelming, and given City’s financial situation it is understandable that people would seize an opportunity to take them down a peg. But I believe the support deserves to be cut some slack, thanks to dues paid over years of disappointments. One thing is for sure, if all that cash were to disappear and the club imploded once again, the same people would be there for Rochdale as they were for Roma.

From WSC 335 January 2015

Living the dream

RockRoll101Moving to the NASL was a culture shock for many British pros in the 1970s – an extract from Ian Plenderleith‘s book Rock ‘n’ Roll Soccer, which WSC readers can purchase at a discount here

Many young British players arriving to play in the North American Soccer League had no clue about the geography of the United States. “I thought it was the San Francisco Earthquakes. I didn’t know it was San Jose until I read it on my jersey,” said former Newcastle United reserve Derek Craig after signing for San Jose in 1975.

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