Readers' letters

wsc302Dear WSC
Trevor Fisher (Letters, WSC 301) is nearly right. When Alex Ferguson was accused of driving on the hard shoulder in 1999, he hired Nick "Mr Loophole" Freeman as his lawyer. They argued successfully that he should not be punished as he was
suffering from an upset stomach and needed to get to the training ground quickly to use the toilet. I have always slightly suspected he got away with it because nobody in the courtroom wanted to spend a moment longer than necessary with that gruesome, messy mental image in their head. Which is now in your head. No need to thank me.
Jim Caris, Prague

wsc301Dear WSC
Gavin Duenas asks why WSC readers want standing areas in football grounds (Letters, WSC 300). My reasons are purely selfish. Maybe then the people stand in front of me and my two young boys "because you can only support your team properly from a standing position" will go to the terraces and leave us to sit and enjoy an unobstructed view from our expensive seats.There should be a choice for all supporters between sitting and safe standing. Yet as a frequent away supporter in "all-seater" stadiums, the choice of sitting doesn't actually exist. You are forced into unsafe standing in seating areas if you want to to see anything of the game. Woe betide you if you point out that if everybody sits, everybody sees. Oh for the joy of Huish Park and London Road, where thanks to the terraces you can still sit in comfort.
Andrew Bartlett, Kenilworth

wsc300Dear WSC
The article on the FA Cup's longest tie (Draw to a close, WSC 298) reminded me of what I believe is still officially the longest single match between two English sides – the second leg of a Division Three cup tie between Stockport County and Doncaster Rovers on March 30, 1946. After extra time, the score stood at 2-2 – which was also the score following the first leg. Having checked with the local authorities, the referee let the game carry on until one team scored, the original Golden Goal. After 203 minutes and with darkness setting in, the match was finally brought to an end. The story goes that fans left the match to go home for their tea and returned later to carry on watching. The replay at Doncaster was won by the home team 4-0. This might not be quite as impressive as the longest football match ever, which I believe currently standards at 57 hours. This epic encounter between Leeds Badgers and Warwickshire Wolves in 2010 was played to raise money for charity.
Alan Bredee, Enfield

Dear WSC
In answer to Jamie Sellers’ enquiry (Letters, WSC 296), no, David Needham and I are not related, although I pretended he was for a while at junior school. Also, when I went to Forest games and the Trent End chanted “Needham! Needham! Needham!” during corners (he was renowned for nodding them in), I would step forward, raise a hand, shout “Thank you, fans!” and then do that breathing-on-the-fingernails-and-buffing-them-on-the-lumber-jacket thing that boastful kids were wont to do in the late 1970s.
Al Needham, Nottingham

Dear WSC
Although I thoroughly enjoyed the article on footballing statues (Striking a pose, WSC 294) it did miss out one rather infamous example – the Ted Bates horror show of a few years back. This short-lived “tribute” to the former Saints player, manager, director and president was astonishingly inept, with legs roughly half the length they should have been. To add to the indignity, more than once a resemblance to dignity-phobic Portsmouth owner/asset-stripper Milan Mandaric was pointed out. The overall effect was of a top-heavy, inebriated and besuited dwarf waving at passers-by. Not really the ideal summing up a lifetime’s service to a club.
Keith Wright, Cheltenham

Dear WSC
Interesting that your review of egotistical arch-buffoon Bobby Gould's autobiography, 24-Carat Gould, (WSC 294) mentions him glossing over allegations of his racism in only four paragraphs. Having written to the man himself during his calamitous tenure as Wales national manager asking for an full explanation of his reported remarks to Wales striker Nathan Blake, I  received a written reply from him (leading my mum to this day to describe him as "a decent man") supplying "proof" that he is, in fact, not racist at all. Deep within the body of his non-sequitur-littered letter was his challenge to me, an ultimatum that makes my head ache even 15 summers later. Using the classic "I can't be racist, a lot of my friends are black" gambit, Gould laid it out to me: "...if you think I am racist I suggest you make contact with the following…" going into a list of, you've guessed it, black players with whom he had worked. While hoping that I did not need to become Rufus Brevett's pen-pal to get to the truth of the matter, I was astonished that Gould's list included the surreal "…and Laurie Cunningham (the late)." Dear old Bobby. If he had merely forgotten that the prodigiously gifted erstwhile Orient, WBA and Man Utd winger had been tragically killed in a car crash, I could have forgiven him. But explicitly to advise me to contact a player whom he admitted he knew was dead seemed to sum up everything every Wales fan already knew about Gould. This, the international manager who chose his captain by drawing lots in the dressing room (with fellow bluster-buddy Vinnie Jones winning the armband, presaging a 7-1-going-on-24-1 defeat in Eindhoven). Bullshit, bluff, arrogance and solipsistic stupidity. Write to a dead player. Oh aye yeah Bob, tell us another Crazy Gang story, you deluded dullard. Luckily Gould left the Wales job soon after and our trajectory ever since has been an embarrassment of trophy-laden tournament wins, coming to Wembley in September to make Barcelona's Champions League Final performance look a bit kick-and-rush.
Mark Ainsbury, Hertford

Dear WSC
Having read Rob Murfin's article Easy Pickings (WSC 294), I can only assume from his wish to see newly created clubs start so high up the pyramid that he supports either one of the runners up to the reformed clubs this season, or one of the reformed clubs themselves. Though obviously not Kings Lynn Town, as he would have known that they did not win the United Counties League this season, but came second to St Neots Town and were therefore not promoted. He questions why reformed clubs are placed so far down the pyramid from the liquidated clubs they were formed to replace. Has he not considered this might just be to deter other clubs from repeating the mistakes of these clubs (granted they don't all heed this message)? Also having the larger supporter base should not give any club a divine right to leapfrog lesser clubs that have been established for many years. I presume he also thinks it was the right decision to allow MK Dons to begin life in the Football League as opposed to starting from the bottom of the pyramid. Some will say it unfairly punishes the supporters of the defunct side, but apart from Chester, whose team was ruined by misappropriation as opposed to outrageous spending on the team, most fans are quite happy to go along for the ride while the cash is flowing and only voice their objection when it all goes horribly wrong. I had the misfortune to see the nouveau riche Crawley and their obnoxious manager secure the Conference title at Tamworth last season. As their expensively assembled side carved open our hapless defence and scored for the third time, their fans started a chant of "That's why we're champions, that's why you're going down" (only half right, people). Any criticism of Crawley's outlandish spending habits this season has been dismissed by these supporters as jealousy. I doubt anyone will feel much sympathy if and when Crawley fans find themselves back in the Southern League sometime soon. Rob Murfin writes that that "clubs in a relegation battle can often find some solace in the financial plight of a rival". The fact is that rival has achieved their position in the league by spending money they don't have and tax avoidance, whilst the relegated club has been far more prudent and attempted to live within their means. Who really deserves a place in the Conference next season, Southport or AFC Rushden & Diamonds?
Sean Hallam, Tamworth

Dear WSC
Clive Pacey (Lettters, WSC 294) may wish to dismiss my article as "drivel" but his comments only serve to reinforce the case I was making. Surely he realises that the article was not about corruption. It was about attitudes and where we stand as a nation in relation to football in the rest of the world. The House of Commons Media, Culture and Sport Select Committee took my views seriously enough with regard to their report on the 2018 World Cup bid, that they took evidence from me and used a number of points that I raised in the article as part of their conclusions and recommendations as to the way forward for English football. Is it too much to ask that football fans in this country recognise and respect the fact that football exists beyond the Premier League?
Guy Oliver, Christchurch

Dear WSC
I was very surprised to read the following with regards to Brighton in Tom Green's League One review (WSC 293): "The danger is that, without huge financial backing, or a big home crowd, their future is rather too dependent on retaining their likeable Uruguayan boss." In August, Brighton are moving into their new home the American Express Community Stadium. A 22,000 seater state of the art stadium costing £100 million. The stadium has been fully paid for by our chairman with no debt to the club. Season tickets have also sold out for next year, with 18,000 being sold. With planning approval going through for new training facilities, Brighton are now set up for Premiership football. With our terrific fan base and chairman I fully expect us to be more likely to do a Norwich than a Scunthorpe.
Richard Allchild, Brighton

Dear WSC
Regarding Andrew Woods excellent article in WSC 294, I share his sadness at the demise of "proper" away ends in an increasing number of football grounds. Having watched Leeds away from home since the late 1970s, I've now visited 123 English league grounds and have seen my team play at all but eight of these However, I've become increasingly frustrated in recent seasons at the proliferation of new identikit grounds, where the away end just merges into the rest of the ground and has no redeeming features whatsoever (not that Elland Road is blameless in this regard either). When Leeds are now playing away, I am more likely to be wandering around northern England visiting a new non league ground (71 so far and increasing rapidly) – I accept they often don't even have an away "end" but at least the traditional old-fashioned grounds remain in many instances and I invariably get a powerful sense of nostalgia, remembering how I 1st started visiting new grounds all those years ago.
Paul Dickinson, Aberford

Dear WSC
Regarding Martin Howard's view on the current restrictions on players' goal celebrations (WSC 293), I would agree that little harm could come from a player removing his shirt, donning a mask or even indulging in dancing of dubious aesthetic quality. But as for running into a crowd of his own supporters the present rules must surely remain in place. Whenever this happens a scrum inevitably ensues to try to mob the celebrant. This used to be less of a problem in terraced stadiums where fans were cushioned by others around them. I was often swept along several metres by the crowd on the old Kop – scary, but relatively safe. In today's stadiums though, the seats can become lethal knee-high traps and from experience when celebrations get out of hand in this environment there's a real danger to life and limb. And this is before we even start to discuss the potential dangers to the player. So I'd encourage broadcasters and journalists, before they – yet again – recite the tiresome "health and safety gone mad" to think about the well-being of the paying punter. Radical, I admit.
John Inman, Warrington

Dear WSC
I pretty much agree with Andrew Woods' "No man's land" (WSC 294), other than of course to say Milton Road was the home end at The Dell. Away fans were housed at the Archers Road end, except in its final years when they were shifted to part of the East Stand, and for a period in the West Stand as well until presumably the local constabulary realised the potential for a pincer movement on Saints' fans in the now-seated Archers Road, by then known as the Bike Shed. "Crummy....stick to beat....embarrassment"; do I detect Andrew finally letting his frustration out after seeing his team lose there all those years ago? Perhaps that's because popular myth would tell you The Dell was worth a goal start to the Saints who hardly ever lost there. Looking back to the old ground's final season ten years ago, despite a tenth place Prem finish (ah, them were the days) home defeats were tasted against Cov (twice), Boro, Man City, West Ham, Ipswich and Sunderland. As loved as it was (by home fans! in its day, I doubt you'd find many Saints' fans who'd find the move from The Dell regressive. And that's even taking into account the last six years of turmoil caused in part by financing St Mary's, where away fans are well placed and in full few of the TV cameras.
John Middleton, London W12

Dear WSC
I greatly enjoyed Guy Oliver's article "The Empire Games" (WSC 293) and generally agreed with the points made therein. However, as an American, I take umbrage with the comment, "...with just the US, Scotland and Australia standing in our way, we might just win a World Cup again one day." Allow me to remind Guy that the US finished atop the table in group play at the 2010 World Cup, ahead of England. In addition, the two drew when they met in the group stage. While the popularity and success of both the US men's team and MLS have both grown since the mid-1990s, the England team has clearly regressed. The EPL's success, of course, has been largely built on outstanding imports. As a nation, England can keep heaping praise on aging players such as Terry, Lampard and Gerrard, but the national team has been exposed for the mediocrity it is. The US will absolutely win a world cup before England ever gets to another final. England must get over their undeserved smugness if they wish to ever succeed at the international level.
William J Smith, Brooklyn, NY, USA

Dear WSC
Archie McGregor's article in WSC 294 about the lack of a pyramid system in Scottish football was interesting, but I think he may have overestimated the volatility of the English system. Comparing the 1986-87 and forthcoming 2011-12 season – the 25-year period over which Archie points out that 8 new clubs have entered the Scottish league – there were 12 clubs who played in the earlier season but will not be in the league this coming year: Luton; Grimsby; Mansfield; Chester; York; Darlington; Newport; Wrexham; Cambridge; Halifax; Stockport; and Lincoln. Of these teams, all will play in the Conference next season except Chester and Halifax, and both are well on their way back there, subsequent relegations having been caused as much by financial problems as playing issues (see Rob Murfin's article also in WSC 294). Some of these teams are having only their debut season at the fifth level (Stockport), or have only been down a season or two; the only really long-term absentees have been Newport. I think we can certainly expect Luton to return soon, and probably a few of the others. The following clubs are in the league this coming year but were not there in 1986-87: Wycombe; Yeovil; Accrington; Cheltenham; Barnet; Morecambe; MK Dons; Stevenage; Barnet; Burton Albion; Crawley; and Dagenham & Redbridge. For a league twice the size, and a population eight times the size, this therefore makes the English league rather less volatile than the Scottish over that period. This is more true when we look at the achievements of the promoted clubs. Of these 12, none will play above the third level this season, nor indeed have ever done so. Accrington were a league club of long standing in the past, and MK Dons a zombie club akin to Airdrie United. Without meaning to offend the fans of the remaining ten clubs I would say that from amongst them, only Wycombe and Yeovil have truly established themselves in the league, though I suspect Stevenage will also do so. Certainly none of them have achieved anything comparable with Inverness CT in Scotland, nor even Ross County. I am not saying I agree with Scotland's approach to relegating clubs from to its league but when we look at the achievements of those it has admitted, it is not apparent that the ‘arbitrary choice' method is any worse at selecting worthy league entrants than the ‘playing prowess' view favoured south of the Tweed, and arguably, it might even be more successful.
Drew Whitworth, Hebden Bridge

Dear WSC
I was disappointed – but not surprised – to see disparaging remarks about Rafa Benitez in WSC 294. Apparently, according to your editorial, he was guilty of "impulsive bulk buying" which has hampered Kenny Dalglish's efforts to build a squad. Your writer implies that Milan Jovanovic was one of these "bulk buys", when a quick check would have revealed that Jovanovic was in fact the first signing of that shrewd talent spotter, Roy Hodgson, who was generally applauded for it by his chums down there in the southern press. Woy then proceeded to add further kwolity in the shape of Joe Cole, Paul Konchesky, Christian Poulsen and Brad Jones – all of whom are currently congesting the Anfield exits. Even Woy's best signing, Raul Meireles, seems earmarked for departure. In the meantime, two of Benitez' signings – Javier Mascherano and Fernando Torres – were sold for a combined total of around £70M, which must have made things exceedingly difficult for Kenny when he wanted to buy Luis Suarez and the crocked Andy Carroll for £55M total last January. Benitez' critics – like your Adam Bate (Home Valuation, WSC 294) generally point to extravagant and ill-judged spending as his major weakness. But the figures, which are easily available, show that his net spend (a notoriously difficult concept to grasp for the journalist with an agenda) was just £90M in six seasons – a total that even the Daily Mail agreed with. Dalglish has already spent more than half that amount this summer buying "topnotch" British players. Amongst other things, Benitez produced the best Liverpool team for 10 seasons and achieved the club's two best ever Premiership points totals. I won't mention regular top four finishes and European glory nights, as these obviously don't count. Bashing the sporting press for excesses and inaccuracies is all very well, but the story about motes and planks comes to mind.
Fred Oldfield, Bromsgrove

From WSC 295 September 2011

Dear WSC
I'm assuming the Ruud Gullit who recently defended himself working for a dictator by saying he wasn't interested in politics (Caucasus calling, WSC 292) to be the same one who dedicated his 1987 European Player of the Year to Nelson Mandela. I realise people's opinions can change over 20 years, but I'm just curious as to what made him decide he wasn't bothered about injustice anymore.
John Chapman, Sheffield

Dear WSC
I recently heard Alan Green and Robbie Savage give the customary abuse to Howard Webb during the Man City v Sunderland game. While Green’s job is to commentate on football, Savage, as a current player, is in an awkward position when he criticises officials from the safety of a studio in terms that would get him booked on the field.
Maybe the threat of a disrepute charge would concentrate his mind. As Savage himself commented during the broadcast: “The officials bring problems on themselves. First sign of dissent, bang, yellow card.” Well you said it, Robbie.
Paul Caulfield, Bradford

Dear WSC
My thanks to Phil Robbins (Letters, WSC 290) for pointing out the usual mistakes made about the identity of the Milan clubs. Another thing that really annoys me is the common error over the name of their shared stadium. It is not the San Siro. It is the Giuseppe Meazza. San Siro is the district it’s in. In England one would say the Boleyn Ground but never the Upton Park. That would be daft, wouldn’t it?
Gary Valentini, Leeds

Dear WSC
In his letter in WSC 290, Phil Robbins raised a good point about English commentators getting the names of the Milan teams wrong. He then went on to say that both Internazionale and Milan play at the San Siro, which is something that until recently I didn’t realise is technically incorrect. Brian Glanville put me straight in his World Soccer column. Although almost universally referred to in Britain as the San Siro, the correct term is simply San Siro, which is the name of the district the stadium is situated in. So calling it the San Siro is a bit like saying Liverpool are playing at the Anfield. On the subject of commentator mistakes, I’m sure Arrigo Sacchi would have been a little cheesed off had he known that during the recent Spurs v Milan game, Clive Tyldesley referred to Milan as Fabio Capello’s team. Although Clive is correct in recognising that Fabio enjoyed success at Milan, it was built largely upon solid foundations laid by Sacchi, who brought Ruud Gullit, Frank Rijkaard and Marco van Basten to the club as well as winning back-to-back European Cups in 1989 and 1990. Small beans, of course, but still relatively important if you are peddling so-called expert views on television.
Emerson Marks, Southampton

Dear WSC
Continuing the theme of daft phrases used by commentators and pundits, I’d like to point out my own personal favourite. Towards the end of each season we’re repeatedly told that the teams in the promotion frame are desperate to avoid “the lottery of the play-offs”. Like every other football contest the play-offs involve skill, pace, strength, tactics, concentration, commitment, along with a healthy slice of luck, and more often than not the best team wins. Quite often that team may not have been the better side throughout the regular league season but that’s a different issue. It’s interesting that the same term is never applied to other knockout contests. Since the two competitions use exactly the same format then surely we should also be discussing “the lottery of the Champions League semi-finals”. Unsurprisingly, I’ve never heard either ITV or Sky use that particular phrase when promoting their live coverage. However, if the pundits are right then perhaps we should seek solace in the randomness of it all. The next time England make their customary quarter-final exit, rather than descending into despair, the nation could take comfort in avoiding the lottery of the World Cup semis.
Karl Laycock, Mansfield

Dear WSC
I suspect that the concentration of youth players inw Premier League academies is already in full swing, if my club Leyton Orient are anything to go by. Currently having our best season since the late 1970s, it’s a niggling fact that none of our current first team come from our youth system. At least five mainstays of the team (Jamie Jones, Ben Chorley, Terrell Forbes, Jimmy Smith, Charlie Daniels) are youth-team products from Premier League clubs who have had to drop down the divisions to find regular football. Three current first-team players (Tom Carroll, Harry Kane, Paul-Jose M’Poku) are on loan from Tottenham, and have played vital parts in our season so far. The fact is, we and other lower-league clubs rely on youth players from wealthier teams to reinforce our squads. The issue seems to me not so much that smaller clubs are not properly reimbursed for training young players, but that the big clubs already have a powerful grip on the developing talent in this country.
Phil Laing, Chingford

Dear WSC
I found your article on British voices covering American soccer telecasts dead on (Losing the legacy, WSC 289). As a fan of the New York Red Bulls and the US national team, I can assure you that I find Red Bulls announcer Shep Messing’s Bronx accent and detailed knowledge of every player in MLS infinitely more enjoyable than hearing Steve McManaman ramble on without any knowledge of the American game whatsoever. I wouldn’t mind his accent, of course, if the former star had bothered to learn anything at all about the teams he was covering. His lack of interest in doing so showed a remarkable lack of respect for MLS, a league which draws well, is entertaining and has fuelled the development of the national team. While I certainly appreciate the game’s English history, having someone thoroughly ignorant of American soccer broadcast matches in the US is aggravating. The US is finally developing its own style of play and own systems of player development, yet it seems more determined than ever to “Anglo-cast”. Maddening.
William J Smith, Brooklyn, USA

Dear WSC
The WSC 290 Season In Brief about the Australian National Soccer League prompted happy memories of watching the Wollongong Wolves at Marconi Fairfield one winter’s night in Sydney in – I would guess – June 1998. After a goalless first half the visiting wolf mascot was doing the rounds, as mascots do, a few rows in front of me. Without preamble a man punched the wolf in the head. Even more remarkably, someone pointed out the attacker to a steward, who gave the guilty man a talking-to. Through the power of WSC, can anyone tell me what became of any of them?
Mark Rowe, Burton upon Trent

Dear WSC
I wasn’t around to see the Australian National Soccer League’s birth in 1977. But your Season In Brief brought back fond memories of the seasons that followed. For many years the NSL was a much-loved competition. It was passionately followed by those who knew what true football was, in a country dominated by other codes. We witnessed the formative years of some greats (Mark Viduka, Robbie Slater, Danny Tiatto and Brett Emerton, to name just a few). Yet as the article correctly describes, there was an inevitability about the league’s demise nearly 30 years later. It descended into a farce. Inept administrators, dwindling crowds, barren sponsorship and clubs stuck in old-world ethnic rivalries. At its nadir Peter Beardsley came out of retirement and played two miserable games for the Melbourne Knights. Sadly for some of us, the A-League is yet to fill the void. Crowds trebled in some cities and the breadth of support for the competition has clearly spread. Yet much of the substance of the game has gone. Matches are screened only on pay TV and freshly minted club supporters complain about the “touch judge”. When the A-League was launched in 2005 it was to much hope and fanfare. Since then two clubs have folded, finances have fluctuated and the games expansion has been put on hold. Now it would seem we’re not the only ones a little lost.
Dashiel Lawrence, Melbourne, Australia

Dear WSC
Like Alan Bunce (Letters, WSC 290), I too am driven to despair by the FA Cup draw. However, for me, it has become a real-life example of the proverb: be careful what you wish for, it might come true. Jim Rosenthal has taken to a new level the trend to throw in an inane comment after he reads out the team’s name when their ball number is called. I wouldn’t mind if he said something controversial, such as: “Manchester United, for whom Wayne Rooney will be available to play after getting away with a blatant elbow in the face yesterday.” What we actually get is inanities like: “Manchester United... a late winner at home yesterday.” I point the finger of blame at David Davies OBE, former executive director of the FA. I still remember how he used to add a little extra to the draw, supposedly for the benefit of the less well informed. The nadir was surely this: “Portsmouth... Pompey... from the south coast.” I’m a Southampton fan and even I was insulted, and I remember wishing they would put a trained broadcaster in his place. Well, they did. Enough said.
Tim Manns, Plymouth

Dear WSC
I must correct Dave Lee (Flood risks, WSC 290), who suggested that the FA was responsible for charging fans to watch Ukraine v England online in 2009. The FA didn’t own the rights to that fixture, they belonged to the Ukrainian FA, who originally sold them to Setanta. When they went bust, their agents Perform opted for the online model in lieu of, they claimed, any serious bids from another broadcaster. The FA have absolutely no say as to what happens with the TV rights for away qualifiers, Setanta just bought that one off their own back.
However you’re right to say that the FA did opt for online streaming of Under-21 matches, as well as additional FA Cup games, that were originally part of their contract with Setanta. The difference between the FA’s streaming and the Ukraine v England affair is that, as mentioned, the FA offers them for free.
Steve Williams, Cleethorpes

Dear WSC
In football it is an old adage that “a good player doesn’t become a bad one overnight”. This is certainly true of Fernando Torres – it has taken him the best part of a year.
Geoff Laidlaw, Newcastle upon Tyne

Dear WSC
In his letter in WSC 290 regarding who was overlooked for inclusion in the “Disappearing from view” section of Season In Brief, Tim Curtis seems to have misunderstood the inclusion criteria. As I understand it, those named are not necessarily players, teams or managers that have ended up furthest away from where they played in the season in question (like his suggestions of Barry Hayles, Andy Melville and Matt Jansen) but rather someone or something that reached the end of a glorious or noteworthy career during or around that season. Colin Calderwood was about to retire so his inclusion is entirely justified, while Tom’s suggestions all had reasonably significant careers after the end of 2000-01. Barry Hayles played three further seasons for Fulham, all in the Premier League, representing the highest level he played at before or since. Andy Melville retired in 2005 having also played in the top flight for the same three seasons for Fulham before a short spell at West Ham. Matt Jansen was only 24 in 2002 and, while a motorcycle accident in 2002 seemed to stall his promising progress, he continued with Blackburn and Bolton in the top division for a further five years. As for Ossie Ardiles, I’m pretty certain he would qualify as having disappeared from view after his sacking from Spurs in October 1994 – the following 17 years have seen short, largely unsuccessful spells at ten different clubs across the world. But he wasn’t managing in Division One in 2001 so he doesn’t really qualify for consideration for this particular article.
Fred Sullivan, Manchester

Dear WSC
Paul Knott’s praise of Ian Ashbee in WSC 290 was well merited. However, Paul should in future be more careful with his use of the word unique. In describing Ashbee’s feat of captaining his club in all four divisions, Paul would have been better advised to have used another descriptive term because it is certainly not unique. Ladies, gentlemen and WSC readers, I give you Don Masson. He not only captained Notts County in all four divisions but must surely be unique in as much as he also captained his country.
Mike Gyles, Alfreton

Dear WSC
In response to Keith Chapman’s letter in WSC 290, I can put his mind at rest. As a lifelong Newcastle fan (of the armchair variety in recent years) it pains me to say that I have reliable eyewitness accounts from St James’ Park of fans leaving the ground with the score at 4-0 to Arsenal, somehow unable to foresee the Gunners’ spectacular second-half capitulation. According to my source they numbered in the hundreds (probably about 30 or so accounting for excited exaggeration) and one hapless individual even volunteered to be interviewed by the local media in the days after the game declaring his misfortune at missing a stirling comeback by the Magpies. I can’t confirm that the individuals shown on MOTD were among those that actually left the ground, but I can with some confidence assure Mr Chapman that the BBC certainly didn’t “make it up about people leaving at half time”. Not this time anyway.
Paul Morrow, Newcastle upon Tyne

Dear WSC
While I wouldn’t want to defend the logic of splitting the SPL into two leagues after 33 games, there is certainly a logic and fairness behind preventing the seventh-placed team leapfrogging the sixth-placed team – in fact, unless there was a huge gap between the two after 33 games, you would expect it to happen. The sixth-placed team has to play against the five teams that finished above them, which is clearly a harder task than playing against the bottom five, as the seventh-placed team is required to do. I’d suggest that the SPL consider splitting the league between the top two and the bottom ten at the halfway stage, so that we can all enjoy the spectacle of Messrs McCoist and Lennon being banished to the stands on a weekly basis, but I fear they might take this idea seriously.
John Rooney, Bristol

From WSC 291 May 2011

Dear WSC
I was delighted to see my one and only childhood football video, 101 Great Goals, revisited in WSC 288's Screen Test – and glad to find I'm not the only one ever bemused by its inclusion of Jimmy Greaves' perfunctory toepoke next to the legendary moments of brilliance from Ronnie Radford, Ernie Hunt and ("...and still") Ricky Villa. I was reminded, though, of the occasion a decade or so back when I dug my copy out – for the first time in a good while – to share with some contemporaries; we got about sixty goals in before they said, "You know, these are nothing special, we're a bit bored now". It was shocking to realise, yet I was maybe even thinking it slightly myself; what had seemed so glorious as recently as the mid-'90s could now appear workaday only a few years later. An average Match of the Day now contains as impressive a collection of netbusters as you'd find in any sample of 20-odd "all-time great'" goals on this tape. Shorn of the rosy tint, quite a few of those cherry-picked highlights from 1969-87 look startlingly unexceptional today. I feel sorry for the youngest fans who have never known anything else and so presumably will soon be unable to comprehend what all the fuss was about George Best or Charlie George. Personally, I'm rather glad I caught the tail end of the era in which that action was still considered remarkable, and hence was able to enjoy this video for many years; it was the best single source of classic-football education I ever had.
David Leverton, South Wales

Dear WSC
Following on from recent letters regarding annoying phrases of commentators and pundits, I'm mystified by the unofficial scale measuring the certainty of a penalty decision. Whether it's a "stonewaller", "nailed-on", "stick-on" or merely just "I've seen ‘em given", the rubbish babbled out is bizarre. I'm tempted to make up my own such as a "garden-fencer" or "sellotaped-on" but I might sound as big a berk as Andy Townsend.
Ian Taylor, Ipswich

Dear WSC
Regarding Ian Plenderleith's article about TV commentators in WSC 289, we are seeing far more soccer on TV here in the US due to Fox and ESPN. The last thing we want to see is the commentary taken over by home-grown Americans, because if you've ever heard an American Football game called on the TV you'd know these guys can drone on relentlessly for the three hours without barely taking a breath. Considering that Sky have some guy who says the word "quality" every third word (and never pronouncing the "t") Darke and McManaman are not that bad. My only criticism, which has made me hit the mute several times, is McManaman's propensity to say "isn't", "wasn't it", or "hasn't it" at the end of virtually everything he says.
Ian Orme, Fort Collins Colorado

Dear WSC
I take slight umbrage at James Thomson's review of 101 Greatest Goals in WSC 288. He mentions Graeme Sharp's astonishing strike for Everton v. Liverpool in 1984, and then makes the heinous mistake of suggesting the match took place at Goodison when, in fact, it took place at Anfield, where Everton hadn't won for 14 years. As an Evertonian, I have to point that out by law. However, perhaps his biggest error was in describing the hero of the afternoon. Rather than veering in from the left, as James suggests, the pitch invading goon quite clearly veers in from the right. I would also disagree with his assertion that the male in question was a "bespectacled middle-aged man" – I would argue that he is in his mid-20s, but his aged look is the result of the "trainspotting-chic" NHS/duffel coated fashion which dominated the scene for a time during the Smiths-era mid 1980s.
Graeme Coleman, Carnoustie

Dear WSC
In his letter in WSC 289, Jeff Hoyle bemoans the Wigan Athletic ticket office for recognising him as a potential hooligan, despite his advanced years and Bury membership card. The club database has been oft-discussed and long-derided for it's routinely heavy handed application of the rules of ticket purchase, and it's easy to have some sympathy for Mr Hoyle's plight, but incidents in the past five seasons have made the officials of Wigan Athletic somewhat paranoid. One first has to consider the geographical location of the town. We are smack bang in the middle of a region which contains six other Premier League clubs within half an hour's easy drive. Add that to the fact that the club were formed as recently as 1932 and only very recently attained any kind of status in the sport, and the end result is a populace which doesn't yet automatically see Wigan Athletic as its first club. What this means is that the pubs of Wigan teem with ill-fitting replica shirts every time Man Utd – in particular – are playing. When they play at the DW, of course, the ground often ends up with hundreds of these plastic Mancs sat in the home stands, due to them living in a WN post code area, often leading to outbreaks of fisticuffs as the almost inevitable third or fourth goal goes in. It is because of this that the club operate such a strict application of the database rules. One would hope that common sense would sometimes be applied, but, alas, this is rarely the case, leading to the kind of rejection as suffered by Mr Hoyle.
As an example of why paranoia rules the day, a recent report in the rugby-leaning Wigan press told of another rejection at the ticket office window when a woman, having been challenged on similar grounds to Mr Hoyle, tried to buy tickets for her husband and admitted that he was "both a Wigan and Utd fan". Not much of a fan, evidently, given that the last game he made the two mile trip to the stadium for was the Utd game last season. Personally, I'd rather see thousands of empty seats than have people like that expecting to be able to buy tickets, having turned their noses up at their home town club for the other 37 games played every season.
Paul Middleton

Dear WSC
With Spurs currently playing Milan in the Champions League, yet again I have to endure English commentators getting the names of the Milan teams wrong. Look, it's very simple; there are two teams based at the San Siro, Milan and Internazionale. There's no need to call them "AC Milan" and "Inter Milan" to try and differentiate them. I'll draw you an analogy; in Liverpool there are two teams, Liverpool and Everton. There's no need to call them "Liverpool FC" or, even worse, "Everton Liverpool" to differentiate them. That would be daft. Can you see why this is annoying me?
Phil Robbins, Cheltenham

Dear WSC
In the Season In Brief on Division One 2000-2001 (WSC 289) here were many candidates for the "Disappearing from view" section featured in the actual article itself. Ossie Ardiles was last heard of being sacked as manager of Cerro Porteno in Paraguay, Barry Hayles now plays for Truro City in the Southern League Premier Division, Andy Melville is coaching the Oxford Brookes University Football Club, Jason McAteer doing occasional media work for ESPN Star Sports of Singapore and Matt Jansen is with Chorley (one goal in eight games). So well done you for successfully unearthing Colin Calderwood from that pit of obscurity that is Scottish Premier League management.
Tim Curtis, York

Dear WSC
Am I the only person who is driven to despair whenever the FA Cup draw is made? To be specific, it's the recent trend where Jim Rosenthal or whoever has to announce the "numbers to watch out for". Why do I need to know the numbers to watch out for when Jim himself will give the names of the teams out about a quarter of a second after the numbers are drawn? Not only that but when, say, number 23, comes out, I can't remember whether that was Man U, Arsenal, Liverpool, Chelsea or some non league minnow but I know it was one of them. While I am wracking my brain, he then tells me the team so it loses all impact because I was already trying to figure it out anyway. Does this annoy anyone else?
Alan Bunce, Reading

Dear WSC
Until the mid-1990s at least, the little lines that signify the 10-metre distances from the corners used to touch the sidelines and goal-lines, but now they do not, a sliver of green grass separating them. When did this change, and why on earth did it happen?
Denis Hurley, Cork

Dear WSC
Andy Gray may have been shunted into obscure daytime talk radio, but his legacy of being over critical of match officials – male and female – in the TV commentary box will surely live on via lesser regarded imitators. ITV4 coverage of the Europa League game between Benfica and Stuttgart in mid February, involved commentary by the amiable Steve Bower assisted, unfortunately, by Iain Dowie. A first half incident where Benfica had strong claims for a penalty turned down – efficient referee promptly booked the Benfica striker for diving – resulted in Dowie proclaiming that it was a "stonewall" penalty. Replays from different angles showed the striker knocking the ball to the side of the grounded keeper then dropping onto the keeper's outstretched arm rather than pursuing the loose ball. A reasonably fair call by the ref, but not for Dowie, whose insistence that it was a penalty went on for a few minutes. I senses in Bower's voice that he felt the ref had called it exactly right but he just couldn't be bothered arguing the finer points of the replay evidence with Dowie. In the 1970s and 80s Jimmy Hill used his position as TV analyst to highlight poor decisions but I also recall him being pretty fair minded and highlighting the many good calls made by officials. What a shame the majority of our current TV pundits and analysts appear to have lost that reasoned perspective. From 1992 onwards Andy Gray was allowed to develop the approach he became famous for, with multi-angle slow motion replays replacing real time replays and balanced analysis. Our football officials may well continue to bear the brunt of what some would deem to be wholly biased coverage against them.
Mark Alton, Sale

Dear WSC
I'm sure that the stairs out of St James' Park do not, as the BBC and other broadcasters lead us to believe, go directly out onto the street from Row J or wherever the entrance that we see on match of the day is. Therefore when 4-0 down at home after 25 minutes and after spending fifty plus quid or so to get in, I wonder if I'm alone in thinking that if a TV camera panned onto one of the exits in any ground, during the game, any game – you would see one or two people "leaving". Or Maybe they're going to the toilet. Or for a pie. Or a pint. Basically, with all these factors in mind I suppose walking down the exit stairs is much easier to do when you're four nil down after half an hour (you wouldn't care about missing anything at this stage granted) but also I'd suspect  that these football supporters quite possibly do actually at sometime return to the seat that they'd paid for. I haven't yet seen any of these blokes interviewed yet by any of the papers or anyone on TV to ask them what they were thinking of which in these days of high technology shouldn't be hard. You don't suppose that BBC made it up about people leaving after half an hour to add to the story do you?
Keith Chapman, Leyton

Dear WSC
Keith Chapman's letter (WSC 289) has inspired me to write regarding my longstanding commentator gripe; the idea that a player's previous club is in some ways an adjective and impacts on what he is doing at that precise moment in time. You know what I mean, as such a player has a shot on goal we are reminded that he is a former Liverpool player, like that has been a factor in him either accurately hitting the target or putting it way over the bar. The one that we get every single week in the A League is John Curtis, currently of Gold Coast United, but who has been mentioned more times as being a Manchester United player than what he in fact played (thirteen according to Wikipedia) for them.
Ray Kalinauskas, Sydney, Australia

Dear WSC
Enough has been written, by both the informed and the uninformed, about the Gray/Keys/Massey debacle at Sky Sports but, at the risk of continuing a debate long since closed, there is a serious issue overlooked by most coverage. The majority of discussion focussed on the sexist and laddish nature of the comments but very little was made of the attack on an official before a ball was even kicked. What the off-air pre-match discussion shows is the direct attention TV companies put onto officials, waiting for them to make an error (no matter how small) and setting them up as scapegoats. If Liverpool had lost the game no criticism would have been leveled at Kenny Dalglish's tactics (too fresh and media friendly) nor Fernando Torres' performance (too big a star) so an official, regardless of gender, is set up as the fall guy. As it was, the dominant order prevailed and the fact that the big decisions were made correctly was overlooked, until the following day. Officials in all televised sports are put in an impossible position by television companies who feel they should be in charge of major decisions. What should be highlighted is the patronizing way television forces this agenda onto viewers by deliberately setting out to belittle those currently responsible. Video replays are only just around the corner in football, TV doesn't need to keep ridiculing the current administrators to let us know.
Jonathan Paxton, Barton Le Clay

From WSC 290 April 2011

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