Millions of neutrals will have watched the recent Manchester United versus Arsenal match and greatly enjoyed its conclusion – even people who dislike the Premiership for what it represents will have been entertained. They may have been surprised, therefore, to learn that civilisation itself was undermined by what followed a late penalty miss. Sky, of course, were shocked by the hounding of Ruud van Nistelrooy and made sure we saw why, repeatedly, from every angle. Revulsion swept through the media – phone-ins were jammed, the tabloids brought out extra large point sizes for their headlines and the letters pages were full of tearful letters from parents about how their poor children were shocked by what they saw (while they were outside, arguing over who was going to play Martin Keown in their reconstruction).
By now we will all be agreed that any newspaper which describes to the occupants of Stamford Bridge as “Chelski” should be referred to the Press Complaints Commission and sternly censured with, at least, a swingeing fine. Short custodial sentences and history lessons, meanwhile, ought to be the norm for anyone using the term “Red Roman” for a man described on his takeover of the club as “the real financial genius of Russia’s bandit-capitalism epoch” – Ken Bates is more leftwing.
FIFA have missed an opportunity once again. In new rules introduced for the season, players are forbidden to wear sleeveless jerseys and there are to be no slogans or advertising on undershirts. The latter stipulation at least means that a seemingly very partial God will no longer be thanked by an evangelical Brazilian striker on scoring his side’s fifth against Venezuela. But once again, players who kiss their badge after scoring have escaped censure.
So, democracy comes to football. Luton Town’s decision to elect their new manager, referred to in WSC 197, produced a most unexpected result in late June with Mike Newell apparently beating Joe Kinnear to the job by just four votes. Meanwhile in Spain, Barcelona fans enthusiastically voted in Joan Laporta as new club president on the back of his pledge to sign David Beckham and four other players.
Like Newell, Laporta was a rank outsider when campaigning began, with just 2.2 per cent support among Barcelona’s 100,000 voters (the Pope is a club member but is believed to have abstained). How embarrassing then for the new president to see Beckham subsequently depart to Barcelona’s sworn enemies for several million less than they had been prepared to pay.
Much heat and little light have been expended in recent weeks over the length of the football season, with especial reference to England’s European Championship qualifier against Slovakia on June 11.
As you know, Neil Warnock enjoys a rant. Many football supporters would, however, agree with the content of his recent tirade against Leicester City in the Sheffield United programme when the clubs’ met recently. “I find it quite immoral that they have been allowed to do what they have done off the field.” Warnock’s complaint was that Leicester could write off 90 per cent of their £50 million debt after calling in the administrators last October. Warnock called for punitive action, adding: “Otherwise, everyone who has huge debts will do exactly the same and it leaves clubs like ourselves – who run a tight financial ship – at a huge disadvantage.”
The new England shirts, launched at the end of March, have “anatomically engineered moisture management panelling”, which is another way of saying lots of small holes, ideal no doubt for playing in hot weather. Whether England will need to use them in a certain international tournament next summer is, of course, far from certain. However, a qualification failure by England wouldn’t displease the clubs employing three of the four players, Michael Owen, David Beckham and Rio Ferdinand, who modelled the new strip.
It has been reported that Gary Megson has taken to bringing a giant cheque, of the type normally reserved for pools winners’ photographs, into the West Brom dressing room to remind his players how much they would make in deferred bonus payments if the team stay up. It hasn’t worked – to date he has brought out the big cheque three times and the team have lost each match.
Televison cameras picked up Peter Ridsdale slumped in his seat during Leeds United’s match at Goodison Park, to where travelling fans had brought banners reading, among others, “Lies United” and “PLC = Pathetic Leeds Chairman”. In view of the fact that he is receiving advice from PR expert Max Clifford, he might have unveiled one of his own: “Blame Liverpool”. If it hadn’t been for the latter’s cave-in over the last few fixtures of 1999-2000, Leeds wouldn’t have finished third and qualified for the Champions League, with all the unfortunate effects it has now brought.
At the time of writing, York City could be less than a fortnight away from disappearing. The club is in administration, players aren’t being paid and property developers Persimmon, who hold shares in the company that owns the ground, Bootham Crescent Holdings, plan to build flats on the site.