Remember when kids played football just for the fun of it? Ian Plenderleith looks at the website run by forward-thinking nostalgics who want to bring back those days, and at online homes for amateur players

As an original member of the “jumpers for goalposts” generation who learnt to play the game in the back garden, the concrete school yard and a bumpy field covered with cow shit, I’ve nothing but praise for a new UK site seeking to reclaim youth football from the hands of coaches and ­ambitious parents.

Ian Plenderleith goes in search of some serious football journalism and after reading a series of exposés of FIFA shenanigans finds some unintended laughs in the governing body’s code of ethics

For all the thousands of sites about football, very few are devoted to old-fashioned investigative journalism aimed at exposing the greedy and corrupt. One such rarity is Play The Game, a Denmark-based and funded site that calls itself “home for the homeless questions in sport” and covers in depth many stories neglected elsewhere.

Ian Plenderleith enjoys mascots as much as the next man – as long as the next man isn't intent on practising his best costume-related moves in front of the mirror while concentrating on "the three Es"

There are a few cardinal rules for club mascots. They must be smiling, at all times. Their names must be alliterated or rhyming, like Donny the Dog or Scunny Bunny. And, in theory, they should have some sort of historical connection to the team they represent. A website that shows several dozen English club mascots on one page has, however, revealed the scandalous truth that most clubs are breaking at least one, if not all three, of these basic good-luck guidelines.

Away from the rants of the message board maniacs, there are plenty of people trying to use the internet to stage more reasoned debates about the game. Ian Plenderleith picks a few arguments

It’s six years since this column took a critical look at a site called Voice of ­Football , a pomposity-packed home page for all kinds of blustering, big-name opinion-­mongers such as Alan Green, Uri Geller and the late Tony Banks. Thereafter the site was cursed and soon disappeared into oblivion, celebrity sheen proving no compensation for words of genuine substance.

Some of the biggest global websites rely entirely on contributions from users. Ian Plenderleith looks at what two of them have to offer football fans and finds some artificial community spirit elsewhere

Going in to the “soccer” section of YouTube is a little like entering a massive second-hand record shop that has no categories or alphabetical order. You feel a shimmer of excitement, knowing there’s probably some good stuff in there somewhere, and possibly even everything you want. The difficulty, though, is wading through all the crap to find it.

While Italy was going wild after the penalty shootout success against France in Berlin, the real celebrations should have been in South America. Ian Plenderleith reveals who are the true top dogs

It goes without saying that Scotland are the greatest football nation of all time. That they have now been statistically declared as world champions no fewer than 85 times only serves to confirm what all tartan-blooded people have always maintained, and if you look at the website of The Unofficial Football World Championships then you’ll understand why.

Following last month's guide to official and corporate media World Cup websites, Ian Plenderleith looks at the best of the blogs and fan sites covering every competing country at Germany 2006

World Champion Website – Planet World Cup
It’s hard to find a World Cup webpage that tells you something you didn’t already know, so I was pleased when I came across the following in an A-Z sub-section of this site: “Brothers have been part of the same World Cup squad several times. But Victor and Vyacheslav Chanov are unique. They were in the 1982 Soviet Union squad, both as goalkeepers. Neither of them played a match though, as the great Rinat Dassayev was first choice.” The whole site is a footballing treasure in a desert of almost unending blog banality and sloppy stats. There are comprehensive analyses of each squad, written by Peter Goldstein, whose lively style is apparent in sentences such as this one on the US line-up: “The first words of George Washington after he took office were OK, so who the heck plays left-back? It’s still a problem.” Qualifying games and recent friendlies for all teams are a click away. The stats are complete, including line-ups and scorers for every World Cup game ever played, together with rosters and appearances of all the participating sides. The mascots are there, the posters, the legends and a multi-level quiz. I’d recommend you only take the latter after you’ve thoroughly read the site. 10/10

Coming down with premature World Cup fever? Michael Owen’s tournament diary should calm you down (if not send you to sleep). Ian Plenderleith looks at the big boys’ special sites for Germany 2006

Several major internet companies and sports channels have launched their own dedicated World Cup websites and most will track matches during the tournament to catch the unfortunate fans who can’t be there because they don’t have a mate of a mate who works for one of the tournament’s corporate sponsors, or who are unable to be sitting in front of a TV screen.

If you’ve ever been enchanted or mystified by foreign chants, then Ian Plenderleith has found your dream site. Learn Polish raps and Russian ragtime numbers, but steer clear of PSG and Sampdoria 

While football and music may attract the same kind of slightly sad, trivia-driven fan, these two cultural staples have always seemed ill at ease when they’ve overlapped. Yet the website Soccerclips.net , which has gathered more than 1,000 football songs from around the world, proves that while many attempts to fuse the two cultural staples have hopelessly failed, there are a ton of surprising gems that would probably make up a fat and eclectically pleasurable double compilation CD to stick on the car stereo for away trips.

No need to abandon hope just yet if you missed out in the World Cup ticket lottery, as long as you’re rich enough or gullible enough to buy your passport to Germany online. Ian Plenderleith reports

While millions of fans have faced disappointment in their applications to FIFA for World Cup tickets, there are some organisations that seem to be swimming in excess. If you’ve money to light cigars with, you might just make it to Germany after all.

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