Where would you say are the game’s real hotbeds? Liverpool, Newcastle and Birmingham? Wrong! Try Ipswich, Norwich, Gloucester and Wolverhampton, some of the places where there is still enough interest to make it worthwhile printing a Saturday night sports paper. We all know that new technology makes information much more easily accessible, but at least in those places the traditional method of getting the latest football news will still be available. Those towns I have named who still have Saturday “Pinks” (or whatever) have papers owned by local companies, whereas the papers in Liverpool, Newcastle and Birmingham are owned by the Trinity Mirror group. It seems therefore that while local companies can still find a way to serve their community, Trinity Mirror can’t be bothered. In view of their hostility to football fans and their contempt for the needs of their regional customers, I suggest that we all boycott all Trinity Mirror papers until such time as they either reinstate the Pinks or sell their local interests to local people.
Mick Blakeman, Wolverhampton
I can’t tell you how immensely disappointed I was that your review of the World Cup on TV (WSC 234) didn’t mention UKTV’s live coverage. When the opinions of Shearer, Wright, Venables and all became too much, a quick flick to cable provided some quality analysis. The anchor man was Andy Goldstein, whose previous TV work includes the Carphone Warehouse “comedy” idents during Big Brother, and his panel of experts included Dave Bassett, Brian Blessed, DJ Spoony and Harvey out of So Solid Crew. The match commentary, which suspiciously stopped every time the pictures went away from the on-field action, included Big Ron, if you were wondering whatever happened to him. By the way, well spotted Taylor Parkes for noticing that the BBC trailers for England matches were accompanied by The Who’s Won’t Get Fooled Again. That song also contains the line: “Meet the new boss... same as the old boss.”
Steve Nicholls, Birmingham
Tom Darvell’s email about Tony Norman’s pioneering goalkeeping (WSC 233) got me all nostalgic. I made my debut in goal for Harraton Primary School as a nine-year-old in 1989 and, as an avid Sunderland fan, Norman was my first goalkeeping hero. His confidence with the ball at his feet did not just extend to wandering out of the penalty box to knock the ball long, though.When the back-pass law was introduced in 1992, Norman was 34 but he took to it like it had been in place for all of his career. When Norman received a back-pass he would, more often than not, wait for the opposition’s big lumbering striker – probably Brett Angell – to run right at him before dropping his shoulder and laying the ball off to a far less composed member of the back four. Sunderland fans took it as read that our goalkeepers were comfortable on the ball – until Alec Chamberlain arrived and, in one of his first games, booted the ball off the ample backside of Wolves’ Mike Small and lost the race back to the net.
Keith Watson, Cam
While it was a great relief finally to watch a World Cup without Barry Davies’s endless moaning, the BBC does seem to have found a commentator just as annoying. I was staggered when I read your TV diary describe Jonathan Pearce as “the best commentator on either channel” (WSC 234). I can only assume your tastes are for a commentator who ceaselessly reads out prepared stats rather than follow the actual game. On Argentina’s famous goal against Serbia & Montenegro he was still going on about the past of some of the Argentina players as World Cup history was unfolding. He is also the king of the re-recorded goal. “You know, I think it was Xabi Alonso coming in behind,” he said, with acting ability that would fail to get him a part in a primary school play – having no doubt messed it up first time. But the worst thing about your favourite commentator is the irritating pronunciations of chosen names: “Luith Garthia” and “Niclas Alexander Son”. Why does he choose a couple of people at random and make a ham- fisted crack at “authentic pronunciations” when he doesn’t do it with the rest? God help us when he starts saying Stevie Gerrard and Jamie Carragher in a Scouse accent. Now that John Motson is clearly too old and has to rely on Mark Lawrenson to tell him what’s happening, there will be a new head commentator in charge for the next major tournament. I’m praying it’s not Pearce. The best commentator on either channel – my arse!
Will Stevenson, Henley-on-Thames
I notice once again that this month’s cover (WSC 233) has accurately predicted the future – in this case Michael Owen’s injury at the World Cup. Since your picture editors appear to have the power to influence future events, I was wondering whether you could turn your psychic powers towards wish fulfilment on behalf of your readers? I personally would like to see Middlesbrough win the Premiership after Chelsea are docked 48 points for being too rich, and Sir Alex Ferguson spontaneously combusting after Cristiano Ronaldo decides to join Barnsley “to win things”. If necessary, I am prepared to pay handsomely for the front covers that would be required to make these events take place. Could you inform your picture desk?
Neil Cumins, East Kilbride
In reply to Martin Callaghan’s letter in WSC 233 about teams with the letter “x” disappearing from the football league I would like to point out that since the introduction of the “two up, two down” between League Two and the Conference, a famous university city has subsequently lost its League status each season – Exeter, York, Cambridge and Oxford. I reckon Notts County fans should join the Wrexham fans in bricking themselves ahead of next season.
Andy Mollet, Nottingham
Re: Chris Jordan’s query (Letters, WSC 233) about the origins of the rallying cry of Accrington boss John Coleman – the one where he urges players to be “carried out on your shields”. I took this to be a reference to the old Spartan maxim (found in the writings of the Greek historian Plutarch). Spartan mothers told their sons to return from battle “either with their shields or on them”, ie victorious or dead, as losers dropped their shields in battle and ran. Incidentally, the Spartans tended to adopt a “phalanx” formation on the field of play – think 3‑4‑3 but on a larger scale. Very hard to break down, by all accounts.
Haydn Parry, Beckenham
I don’t know why it’s taken me all this time to notice this, but isn’t the Premiership trophy a tacky, garish piece of vulgarity? Standing about three feet high and with all that gold all over it, it reminds me of a small man driving a big car – trying to compensate for what’s missing with big, ostentatious displays. The Jules Rimet trophy, probably the greatest ever football trophy, only needed to be 12 inches high, so what are the Premier League trying to prove? Or more to the point, dispel?
Peter Sutcliffe (no, not that one), via email
Congratulations to your contributor Chris J Taylor, who wrote the article on FCUM in WSC 233. This continued the noble journalistic tradition of managing to go for an entire article without even once mentioning Bury or Gigg Lane, despite the fact that his club groundshares with us (and is due to continue doing so for the next three seasons at least). Mind you, perhaps this omission is a blessing in disguise for we beleaguered Shakers. Most of the FCUM fans I know have developed a unique and novel way of starting every single conversation. “Oh, hi Steve,” I’ll say, “how are you doing?” “Four thousand three hundred and twenty-four!” (or whatever) they will invariably reply. “How many did you lot get last time?” I am a firm supporter of the FCUM project, I agree with their grass-roots, fan-based approach, their total commitment to democracy and inclusiveness, and I believe other clubs, including Bury, should learn from FCUM’s example. It occurs to me, however, that a percentage of their fans are only there because they can’t resist backing the winning team (even if that is only in North West Counties League Division Two) and they can’t resist being the biggest show in town (even if that town is only Bury). Jumping on the bandwagon? Now, where have we seen that before?
Chris Bainbridge, Bury
Tim Manns’ theory that England should practise penalty kicks based on Johnny Wilkinson’s “mastering of the technique” in rugby union (Letters, WSC 233) does not stand up. Penalty kicks in rugby come at all distances and angles, not just the one 12-yard opportunity in football. As well as distance, the ball also has to reach a certain height, therefore the penalty taker has to consider the wind factor on the day, therefore practising kicks from all distances/angles/conditions is paramount. Once the oval ball has been kicked, as long as the distance, height and wind factor have been reached, the ball “only” has to be on target and it will cross safely between the posts. Tim appears to have forgotten that footballers not only have to aim between the posts, but they also have to beat a goalkeeper, too, who will move in a direction unknown to the penalty taker at the time of approaching the ball. A footballer can practise and practise and practise taking penalties, but if the keeper dives the right way at the right time then there is a very good chance that the penalty will be saved – unlike in rugby where there is no one there to save the penalty kick.
Jim Ferris, Hebden Bridge
Luke Chapman’s article on the Spurs Sickness Controversy (WSC 233) neglected to discuss one highly significant point, that being that it was the final game of the season. It is established protocol that all games have to be played at the same time in order to avoid a team having an advantage by knowing the result that they need. This negates the comparison with Arsenal’s game against Portsmouth. It is possible that they would have made do with only changing the Arsenal game, but even this could have elicited complaints from the teams that were battling with Wigan and West Ham for position, given the financial ramifications of being just a single place higher in the Premiership. There would then have been the problem with scheduling the game. Playing it in midweek would have given an unfair advantage to Liverpool in the FA Cup final and scheduling it afterwards would have given Arsenal a disadvantage for the Champions League final. This means it would have had to have been played at least three days after that fixture, which took it into the 30-day zone prior to the World Cup finals, within which FIFA had said they would not allow any matches (though they later allowed two Spanish league games to be played, this was not to be known at the time of making the decision). All of this would have been considered by the FA, but was not mentioned in your article. Whether the authorities were right to go ahead or not will long be debated, but the factors above would have certainly influenced the decision makers towards playing the match as scheduled.
Ian Childs, Kent
Now that my team Hereford United have finally been promoted after finishing second in the Conference three seasons running, I feel I can speak out without being accused of sour grapes. The 2003-04 season was particularly galling – we had a fantastic team, got the sixth highest points total recorded in the division, finished a single point behind Chester and 20 points ahead of Shrewsbury (they finished third and eventually went up), yet we lost our semi on penalties after an inept refereeing performance saw us playing most of the game with ten men. The play-offs are here to stay, but promotion should never be decided on penalties. Here’s my suggestion. The team that finishes just outside the automatic places should get a 0.75 goal advantage in semi final ties, the next best team a 0.5 advantage, fifth placed 0.25, with nothing for the last team. In the event of a drawn tie, the advantage rule is applied (we don’t even have the away goals rule in the Conference play-offs). The team finishing higher gets rewarded, making the play-offs more fair in the eyes of us who hate them. If finishing higher gives you some advantage it may also add a competitive edge to the more meaningless games at the end of the season, when teams have already secured promotion play-off places. Never will a game go to penalties – Shrewsbury secured promotion the other season simply because their goalkeeper got away with standing two yards off his line during the shootout in the final. Such a rule change would encourage attacking football – at every stage of a match, a team will be “losing” – whether it be on aggregate or on this “advantage rule”. The onus will be on the losing team to score. Who’s with me?
Ian Walford, via email
Just one day into the new season and ITV’s erratic coverage of the football league is in evidence again. The Championship highlights programme began at 11am (a change of time from last year to keep us on our toes), but despite being on air for a full hour the programme still failed to show more than half the goals from Leagues One and Two. Why is ITV’s league coverage so consistently inconsistent? Why, for example, should a Chesterfield fan be able to see all the goals from an excellent away win but newly promoted Cheltenham fans be denied the same privilege? I don’t support either team but this incomplete coverage is very frustrating and typical of ITV. Feeling cheated I later scoured the weekly TV listings to find out when the regional Soccer Night programme was on but it was not to be found. As in previous years it takes ITV until around October to realise that the season has even started. These people just aren’t fit to cover football.
Andy Fowler, Stockport
From WSC 235 September 2006. What was happening this month