How will your team do this season? Third (again)
Who is going to be the most important figure at the club this season? Arsène Wenger: he’s the most intelligent person ever to be associated with professional football anywhere in the world ever, so this is our chance to just sit back and enjoy whatever he comes up with...
If you had to come up with a new piece of merchandise to sell at the club shop what would it be? Life-size, fully realistic, 100% physically accurate model of Ian Wright.
Which player at your club most divides the home support and why? Ian Wright: bizarrely, a sizeable portion of the fans seems to think that we’d do better without him, that he’s too old, too selfish, or some such crackpot theory. These people are clearly insane or are from the Arsenal old school and simply can’t cope with too much pleasure.
Which element of the matchday environment would you most like to change? Installing some kind of device which sends a near-fatal electric shock through anyone who shouts “Yiddos!” and make it easier to get a half-time cup of coffee, perhaps by getting rid of the enormous bar area in the North Bank and installing 10 coffee stalls.
How will your team do? I was going to say we’ll qualify for Europe next season but then realised that probably doesn’t paint much of a picture anymore. Top five is likely, championship unlikely, FA Cup out of the bloody question. Again.
Most important figure? Stan Collymore thinks he’s going to be the most important figure. Who am I to argue? Then again, anyone who finds the net for us this season is in with a chance.
New piece of merchandise? A scarf. Remember them? They told the world who you supported, they didn’t cost too much, and they didn’t need changing every other season. And you could wave them over your head when you felt proud.
Which player most divides the support? Last season Savo Milosevic was so controversial Villa fans tended to talk about abortion and capital punishment as a way of avoiding offence. Alas, if the Savmeister doesn’t bag at least 20 goals this season the controversy is likely to draw to a close.
How will your team do? Realism goes out of the window when Barnsley find themselves in the Premiership. There were forces at work last season that it’s best not to speculate on during the night. Possible we’ll avoid the drop – alternatively you could be looking at the most unlikely champions since Boadicea decided to dump the shopping and join in the protest.
Most important figure? Danny Wilson and anyone selling matchday tickets on the black market. Unbelievably Oakwell now has nearly 16, 500 season ticket holders. Barnsley’s the woodworm capital of Europe.
New piece of merchandise? As a piece of branding the juxtaposition of Brazil and Barnsley (“It’s just like watching Brazil”) is sublime, but it’s time to move on. Quite fancy being compared with Frickley Athletic for no other reason than drawing them in the FA Cup would scare me shitless. As a Sunday league footballer I have a real respect for mining village teams born of absolute fear. So “It’s just like watching Frickley” T-shirts for me.
Which player most divides the support? At a push Paul Wilkinson has attracted some invective and Peter Shirtliff, with his Sheffield Wednesday past (although Barnsley born), has had his lack of pace commented on by the crowd. But let’s not forget that Danny Wilson was booed in his first season at Barnsley. A judge of a fine player we are not.
Change to matchday environment? We could do with a bigger West Stand roof to keep the rain off. There is one seat that’s directly below the outflow pipe and I sat on it last year on a stormy day. A roof of any description would be an improvement at the away end. Stand by, Leeds United fans, to get soaked. (If we had a roof we would have it removed especially for your visit.)
How will your team do? I think we’d be disappointed not to qualify for Europe. Disappointment counselling classes are consequently now obligatory at all Blackburn health centres.
Most important figure? Roy Hodgson, without a doubt. After the trials and tribulations of last season’s Harford/Dalglish/Eriksson farrago, I reckon everyone’s looking forward to a fresh start. Except for Le Saux, of course.
New piece of merchandise? Blue-and-white top hats with pictures of Malcolm Darling on the front.
Which player most divides the support? Tim Sherwood. I don’t know why – he just does.
Change to matchday environment? Reduce ticket prices. “19 quid – I used to go when it was only two bob you know...”
How will your team do? We should finish clear of the drop zone, and I anticipate it to be comfortably clear, without any end-of-season last-minute jitters. It would make a refreshing change for us to end up nicely mid-table.
Most important figure? Colin Todd is the key factor by virtue of the amazing team spirit he has created. In turn, this has brought the best out of Nathan Blake. Our Welsh hero can either be a world-beater or, on bad days, a third rate donkey. If the spirit survives, Blakey will be up for it and we will be OK.
New piece of merchandise? Scale models of the Reebok Stadium with battery powered floodlights.
Change to matchday environment? Two things. The first is the embarrassingly bad ‘Mad Kevin’, the on-the-pitch announcer. The second is the tacky obsession with playing old Queen records (‘We Will Rock You’) and Tina Turner (‘Simply the Best’). If we get rid of the first we should have solved the second.
How will your team do? Excitable talk of championships, European glory and new eras dawning leads me to suspect we will be lucky to improve on last season.
Most important figure? Ruud Gullit without a doubt. If he were to leave for whatever reason, the whole fragile edifice could collapse very quickly (see question one). The names likely to be touted as his successor don’t bear thinking about.
New piece of merchandise? My Big Book of Ken Bates Quotes (“By the turn of the century Man United will be known as the Chelsea of the north.”).
Which player most divides the support? Perhaps Frank Sinclair. Everyone admires his commitment, and home-grown players are becoming something of an endangered species. On the other hand, everyone knows he’s not quite good enough for a team that is serious about winning the league.
Change to matchday environment? The charmless and occasionally vicious mob who sat in surrounding seats last season. Hopefully they were still sitting there when the West Stand was demolished.
How will your team do? They will escape relegation. Just, probably.
Most important figure? Wee Gordon. He scares us all. Not a bad thing.
New piece of merchandise? A corporate logo hip flask for the last game of the season.
Which player most divides the support? Wee Gordon. He shouts at us. At everyone.
How will your team do? We’ve got every chance of staying up if we get a good start, but I don’t think I’ll be planning my holidays around Palace’s UEFA Cup commitments for the following season.
Most important figure? The little fella inside Ron Noades’ pocket who sent him doolally and loosened the purse strings. After two relegations in the 90s already, Noades’ willingness to flash the wad at the new Bald Eagle shows that the message might finally be sinking in – the Premiership isn’t the place for Scrooge.
New piece of merchandise? A replica of Brighton’s late Goldstone Ground. Always good for a laugh.
Which player most divides the support? Carl Veart, because he’s completely crap, but some Palace fans, having got used to Darren Pitcher kicking the ball into the stands, are too blinded to realize.
Change to matchday environment? The lack of any hint of an ‘undesirable’ element who would give the stewards something to worry about other than ejecting fans for standing up to go to the toilet.
How will your team do? With the year’s experience, an improved squad and the encouragement of a bigger crowd at Pride Park, there’s no reason why we should be settling for a mid-table position this season
Most important figure? It could be Lionel Pickering for his investments, Keith Loring for his organising behind the scenes, Stuart Webb for being Stuart Webb (there’d be no club at all without him). But it will probably be Jim Smith again for his experience, organisation, transfer ‘coups’ and uncanny knack of explaining what could be said in one word in about 4,000.
New piece of merchandise? An inflatable bald eagle.
Which player most divides the support? Probably the goalkeeper we have at any given time rather than a particular individual. Colin Boulton’s boots have never been adequately filled since the 1970s. Shilts was the nearest thing we’ve had to a reliable shot stopper since, and even he was nearing his decline at the time.
Change to matchday environment? Absolutely every element of the matchday environment will have been changed between the final game at the Baseball Ground in May and the first Pride Park match in August. These may not all be improvements but one is a guaranteed certainty – the view of the pitch.
How will your team do? How can you possibly tell with Everton? Seriously, a season of mid-table mediocrity and one good cup run would be nice after all we’ve gone through recently.
Most important figure? Howard Kendall. Will it be the wine and roses of the first spell, or just the wine of the second?
New piece of merchandise? A Peter Johnson Bullshit Detector.
Which player most divides the support? Earl Barrett. He’s something of an enigma: a top class defender, but he goes forward with all the finesse of a penguin in the Sahara. Some mischievous people may like to hint that the Goodison crowd’s loathing of Barrett has something to do with his skin colour, but it’s very hard to quantify. Plus, Terry Phelan is a terrace cult hero.
Change to matchday environment? Almost everything. Get rid of the coke and burgers and bring back the dishwater tea and those pies that once bitten would spew out steaming hot fat all down your coat (etc, carrying on in a “we were poor but happy” vein).
How will your team do? Best – 5th; Worst – 16th; Won’t go down. Cup – quarter-final.
Most important figure? George Graham – Nobody else’s ego is big enough.
New piece of merchandise? A Dunce hat for Ian Rush to wear when training with the juniors.
Which player most divides the support? Tony Yeboah – 16 stones of sheer class!
Change to matchday environment? I’d change the stupid ‘Eye of the Tiger’ intro for the Emmerdale theme tune.
How will your team do? In the League, we should “win the bloody thing” – as I wrote last year in this space. “And something else, too” – ditto. We’ll also win our first derby match since ’93-94.
Most important figure? David James – however well Ince, Riedle or anyone plays, unless James performs at his excellent best, it probably won’t matter. Without another keeper who has played a single League game, he’s under no pressure for his place. A keeper brought in from outside would have to be in reaction to such severe trauma that we probably couldn’t recover. (I’m sure that mistake in the friendly with Gothenberg was just to lull the rest of the League into a false sense of security.)
New piece of merchandise? LFC swearboxes at £8 a piece, with a refund of £1 every time Ince is booked for dissent or adding insult to injury following a foul, £2 is he’s sent off for effing and blinding. If we don’t make a profit then (James permitting) we’ll have won the League.
Which player most divides the support? Redknapp – some think he’s too much of a Spice Boy to ever become the great player he should be and should be shipped out (I’m leaning that way now that Danny Murphy is here); others hope that it’s just a phase. Maybe married life with that nice Louise will sort him out.
Change to matchday environment? I’d get rid of the McDonalds in the Kop. The rest of the redevelopment has been handled as well as could be expected – never playing in front of an empty end, for instance. This is a step too far, though, especially in the Kop.
How will your team do? 9th was beyond our wildest dreams. It would be nice to improve on that but deep down we’d settle for Premiership survival.
Most important figure? Martin O’Neill, who put us where we are now. Plus whoever is masterminding the proposed flotation, something we have to get right. There’s been talk of a reverse takeover involving the football shares company fronted by Alan Hansen but that all sounds a bit iffy to me.
New piece of merchandise? A road map of Europe – but we don’t want to end up with a UEFA Cup tie in the Mediterranean because the pills Steve Claridge takes for his thyroid trouble apparently make him go funny (or funnier than usual) in hot weather.
Which player most divides the support? Emile Heskey. He’s brilliant but still a kid and looked very tired at one point last season, which his detractors, unfairly, put down to laziness.
Change to the matchday environment? I’d have legendary ex player and PA man Alan Birchenall patrolling the pitch throughout the game (he’s only allowed on at half-time) providing a running commentary on the action.
How will your team do? Another Championship? Another Double? Cantona’s departure at present seems a less significant factor hindering further success than the attempted purchase of a Brazilian defender, feared by some as only marginally less disastrous than buying a Brazilian goalie.
Most important figure? Roy Keane. We need him to stay on the pitch and not leave it either on doctor’s or referee’s orders.
New piece of merchandise? Electronic pet footballer, that needs to be kept alive by being “fed” with lager every twenty minutes and told he’s the new George Best every ten.
Which player most divides the support? Andy Cole. The arguments rage on about whether his improved all round game and “other contributions” to team play compensate for his failure to achieve the 20 plus League goals in a season which has eluded all United strikers since McClair in 1987.
Change to matchday environment? The dismal parade of ‘celebs’ to do the half-time draw – ex-footballers OK, but Simon and Jasmin Le Bon? And we’re expected to applaud them and feel thrilled.
How will your team do? Well, assuming Man Utd plc win the Premiership, – Liverpool still lack bollocks and Arsenal and Chelsea are still in transition – we’ll probably come second again. Not too sure if we’ll qualify for the soi-disant Champions League as we’ve a tough draw. I fancy us to win a cup, as our record is so abysmal in them. Probably the Coca-Cola Cup in its penultimate season. It’s not a case of winning things is it? It’s more a case of taking part in Europe to make pots of money.
Most important figure? Equal split between Dalglish who turned the club around well at the end of the season and Billy Big Pockets himself, Alan Shearer, who could be the difference between us and everyone bar Man Utd plc if he’s fit to play for enough of the season.
New piece of merchandise? Wallets the size of holdalls, with Alan Shearer’s face beaming back at you. Either that or Clark’s Attackers style football boots with compasses in the bottom, especially for Warren Barton to find his way to right back.
Which player most divides the support? Keith Gillespie. During the course of any one game he can veer between top quality ball playing winger and lazy, bit part nonentity. Fans either see him as an indispensable genius or an arrogant under achiever. I’m in the latter camp.
Change to matchday environment? The bloody tannoy operator, ‘Barry in the Box’, his inane chatter and shite choice of music. Running out to ‘Local Hero’ and hailing a victory with ‘Simply the Best’ is just unacceptable. He once dedicated some piece of Mogadon-suffused AOR tripe to “All Newcastle United Fans, whether you like football or not”.
How will your team do? After last year’s surprise showing, in which we proved ourselves “a hard team to beat” (probably the most over-worked cliché since “the dour Yorkshire side” of the 80s) we expect our philosopher/manager to lead us into Europe.
Most important figure? As I am moving my seat this time around, the most important figure is the person who sits in front of me. I just hope they haven’t got a head as big as Ozzie Owl’s.
New piece of merchandise? It has to be a kazoo in club colours, so each and every one of us can become part of the Wednesday band – it would sell like hot cakes (I can hear supporters of rival teams groaning in anticipation). Or we could try selling hot cakes, I suppose.
Which player most divides the support? Probably Guy Whittingham, who worked his nads off all season and whose goal poaching skills from midfield earned us points at home to Villa and away to Newcastle and Liverpool... yet he misses a sitter in the cup quarter-final and he is castigated (they don’t mess about in Sheffield, you know).
Change to matchday environment? It has to be the bizarre entertainment that we are subject to whenever the occasion seems to demand it. At Carbone’s inaugural game we got Sienese flag waving and Pavarotti impersonators: we’ve had dancing girls, a circus... just give us what we want – free pies.
How will your team do? The players must now be used to adjusting to a new manager at the start of each season. The team is good enough for a mid-table position – but if all else fails our in-built survival instincts should see us safe – again. The team normally starts playing once the clocks have gone forward in the spring.
Most important figure? Lots of candidates for this one. Dave Jones is the obvious one but events off the field are likely to remain prominently in the news, so possibly Rupert Lowe, the chairman, but don’t rule out Sir David Frost. Matt Le Tissier will be hard-pressed to get a look-in.
New piece of merchandise? The club! Or at least 7,712,849 of the shares, plus options to buy a further 1,450,000. These are reportedly the holdings of the current board of directors.
Which player most divides the support? Francis Benali – praised to the skies by fans for his unswerving loyalty and commitment to the club, but at the same time pilloried for defensive lapses which have a habit of looking terrible. But statistically the team performs better when he is playing.
Change to matchday environment? The stadium! There are teams in the Nationwide League who sell 10,000 more season tickets than there are seats at The Dell.
How will your team do? In traditional fan mode, I’m becoming more enthusiastic as Sky week 1 nears. Ginola, Ferdinand, Le Saux (?) should all be top Spurs’ types. We’ll finish eighth.
Most important figure? The physio. We’ve got about 12 excellent players – providing we can clear the Cheshunt field hospital, the season will at least be enjoyable.
New piece of merchandise? A first aid kit.
Which player most divides the support? There’s really not much to argue about. Who could say that Campbell wasn’t awesome, Sinton mediocre or Austin shit? Contrary to the ‘fickle Spurs fans’ business, we’ve put up with mediocrity for a while now – there’s not much arguing at the Lane.
Change to matchday environment? When things are truly awful, Alan comes onto the big screen, interviewed by Gary Stevens, telling his children to stop moaning. It would also be nice if Leeds United didn’t bother coming this year.
How will your team do? 15th (anything above 18th would do...).
Most important figure? John Hartson – difficult to see where goals will come from if he doesn’t maintain his form of last season. At the last game of the season the chant changed spontaneously from ‘Super Slaven Bilic’ to ‘Super Johnny Hartson’, seemingly in recognition of this.
New piece of merchandise? How about some claret and blue blindfolds? Otherwise, maybe we could take the lead in bringing about the return of rattles.
Which player most divides the support? John Moncur. Is he skilful? Is he hard enough? Why does he give the ball away so often?
Change to matchday environment? Don’t mind the horrible cheap food (it’s part of the experience), but do mind having to queue and be jostled for fifteen minutes (if you’re lucky). Same for the toilets.
How will your team do? Above Chelsea, and thus in the top six and off to Europe.
Most important figure? I guess our Norwegian beneficiaries Rokke and Gjelsten – we’re the richest club in Europe, you know.
New piece of merchandise? Ideally, Premiership midfielders.Failing that, a huge range of alcohol branded with different players – Ekoku Vodka, Chris Perry Babycham etc.
Which player most divides the support? Dean Holdsworth. To a lot of the support he is a jewel in the forward line. However, some of us remember him rubbishing the club and doing Paul Ince style advertisements trying to get a move. We continue to brand him the Judas he is.
Change to the matchday environment? It’s got to be the tannoy. Beyond the eerie, scratchy white noise that greets you on the way into the ground, they have yet to get the announcer anything as hi-tech as a radio or a teletext television to read the scores from, so you have to take the word of strange people in rainwear that United are losing 6-3 to Southampton.
From WSC 127 September 1997. What was happening this month