May I request that Derby fans who wish to profess their hatred for Nottingham Forest do so in a manner that doesn’t obstruct my view of the game? Perhaps a chant of “Sit down and fold your arms if you hate Forest” could be introduced. A new tune might be required to go along with these catchy lyrics, but I believe fellow Rams supporters would respond to this battle cry in overwhelming numbers. I know I would definitely join in, as I already spend most matches sitting down with my arms folded, conveniently enough.
Gavin Duenas, via email
I was interested to read Andrew Hailstone’s letter (WSC 236) about reserve-team football. I can’t comment directly on his perspective from the non-League viewpoint since my forays into that level are occasional (and, I should add, highly enjoyable at my local team Harrogate Town), but I can comment as a long-time season-ticket holder at Aston Villa. For the Villa, reserve-team football – played at Walsall’s Bescot Stadium – is a useful step up from the youth team towards regaular first-team football for those lads showing promise. Over the last two years several of our senior squad have “found their feet” in the reserves: Steve Davis, Luke Moore, Gabriel Agbonlahor, Craig Gardner and Gary Cahill have made numerous appearances for the reserves, as well as having loan periods with clubs in the Football League. The current reserves include the promising Sam Williams and keeper Robert Olejnik, for example. My perspective is that clubs that invest in a good youth set-up also need a vibrant reserve-team environment as one of the ways in which to offer promising young players the development-step toward first-team status. Also, while the media impact of bringing in “top-class players” will always be seductive to ambitious managers, the value of homegrown talent nurtured through the club’s team strata is probably more cost-effective and certainly more satisfying to the loyal fans.
Dave Evans, via email
Andrew Hailstone’s account of Chelsea reserves at Aldershot (Letters, WSC 236) shows how quick the demise of reserve-team football has been. As late as the late 1990s, Kingstonian FC were the proud hosts of the Chelsea stiffs. And many a star (and Robert Fleck) regularly graced the turf as leading names from the Blues and their opponents fought their way back from injury, obscurity or rows with the management. Southampton’s Matt Le Tissier showed he could be as nondescript for Saints reserves as ever he was in an England shirt (with Bruce Grobbelaar, facing match-fixing allegations, hiding sheepishly in the corner of the bar after the game as the Sky cameras concentrated on the Channel Island enigma). The look of fear on Ruud Gullit’s face, as it dawned on him that reserve games were high-speed and competitive, stays with me to this day. And we even saw Pierluigi Casiraghi kick a ball in anger in a Chelsea shirt. Only one, mind. I think he got taken off injured. Less than ten years ago. But a world away.
Mark Murphy, Chessington
Seeing your picture of the programme kiosk at Vicarage Road (WSC 236) and noting your comment at the price being charged, I was reminded of my experiences last year in Buenos Aires where I attended matches at Boca Juniors and River Plate. As one who has not bought a match magazine since – well, since they started calling them match magazines – I rejoiced to discover that both clubs handed out programmes free of charge. Admittedly, each publication was a flimsy affair, easily creased and battered as it was wedged between your back pocket and the stadium seat, and you got the idea that the print would come off easily in particularly sweaty palms (not much use at Eastlands, then). Even so, it gave me everything I needed: squad lists, officials, league table, results and fixtures. Throw in an editorial (albeit one I couldn’t read), some bits of news and a couple of pictures from recent home games, and there you have it: a 16-page, full-colour pamphlet that could probably be funded entirely by advertisements. I don’t suppose for one moment that any Premiership club would countenance anything as tatty, unprofitable and downright practical as this, but it shows that when you’ve just winded the supporters with the prices at the turnstiles, there’s really no need then to send them reeling with the cost of the programme.
Howard Pattison, Exeter
Welcome though your occasional visits to the shifting sands of non-League football may be (including a recent dewy-eyed retrospective on the mighty Tanners), I feel I must correct some facts in Gavin Willacy’s article on the demise of some London non-League clubs. First, the league tables will confirm that Hendon in no way can be considered since the 1970s to have been a major power in non-League football, having last won the Isthmian League in 1964-65 and having never reached the final of the FA Trophy. Second, Sutton United, Hendon (to date) and Harrow Borough have all retained their identity without moving grounds. To this list should be added Kingstonian and Corinthian Casuals and Barking, all of whom have relocated but survived. What unites most of the clubs that are surviving but have relocated is financial pragmatism in the face of the costs of ground maintenance and of complying with unrealistic ground-grading requirements. I fondly remember visits to Southbury Road and Claremont Road, but the lesson appears to be that if you are serious about ensuring the future (if not the heritage) of your club through redevelopment, for goodness sake make sure either through the terms of any planning permission or other contractual arrangement that a replacement site is secured.
The Leatherhead Lip, via email
While we were watching England play Andorra in September, my girlfriend suddenly announced that she had remembered who Peter Crouch reminded her of – a cadaver. Warming to this theme I brought my extensive knowledge of medieval art into play (OK, that Black Sabbath album cover) and remembered those paintings of gangly skeletons doing not very nice things to numerous medieval sinners. So I looked up Bruegel’s Triumph of Death on the internet and Crouch is there, sat on a horse in the bottom left-hand corner. It’s uncanny.
Mark Carroll, Chicksands
Who decides what goes on the back of an England shirt? Philip Neville’s recent recall to the England team to replace his injured brother prompted a confusing issue with regards to the labelling; to wit, even though Gary wasn’t in the squad, never mind the team, it was still deemed necessary to graft a “P” next to his surname, to make it abundantly clear which Neville was on the pitch in Manchester and Macedonia. The same applied at the World Cup. Gary had a “G” on his shirt, even though his baby brother hadn’t made the squad (again) and therefore was in no position to cause any bewilderment. However, while there were two Coles in both squad and team in Germany, making the “A” and “J” additions necessary, the omission through injury of Joe from the Euro 2008 qualifiers rendered Ashley’s initial on the back of his shirt dispensable. Although it could be a brotherly policy (and I do appreciate that Ashley and Joe could never be mistaken for siblings), it seems a bit pointless, given that, despite their common parentage, I doubt anyone has got Gaz ’n’ Pip mixed up at any point.
Matthew Rudd, East Yorkshire
No offence to writer Jim Ferris (Letters, WSC 236) but his refutation of the assertion that footballers should practise penalties like rugby players ignores a reality of the game. No matter how brilliant the goalkeeper, regardless of how much he knows about the kicker or how lucky his guess is, it is impossible to save a perfectly placed kick. If Jim were a professional coach he would know that the fundamental advice given a keeper before a kick is to wait a split-second and not move until the ball is actually kicked. That is when he will have a sense of where it has been placed and, if it is slightly off-target, he may dive and reach it. Better yet, if it is blasted down the middle by a kicker hoping the goalie will make the mistake of guessing, then the keeper stands there and saves it. There is an area approximately one foot square in each corner of the goal (bottom corner being safest, since the ball can’t go underground if mishit, but can go over the crossbar) which, if the kicker nails it, no goalkeeper on the planet can reach in time. That is why players should know, perhaps even the night before, where they will place the ball. And – again, from a professional coach’s opinion – the single most important thing for the kicker to remember before they kick is this: make the decision about where you are going to place the ball before you kick it and don’t change your mind. Most “saves” come from the kicker’s errors; practice doesn’t make perfect, practice makes permanent. If the kicker practises and sticks to what he has practised, he will always score from the spot
Michael Aidan, Norwich
Could we please implement a yellow- and red-card system for pundits and commentators who, 13 months down the line, have still not understood and/or accepted the “crazy, new” offside rule. I would suggest a caution for bemoaning “a late flag”, or the sarcastic classic, “well if he’s not interfering with play, what’s he doing on the pitch?”. There would be a straight red card and removal from the gantry for all harking back to the old days and the questioning of footballers’ ability to understand the rule; as though the 1990 change to the backpass rule should be rescinded as a result of Chris Kirkland’s low IQ. Finally, any derogatory mention of “non-football people ruining the game” would result in a six-match ban. I am no fan of FIFA, but it is insulting of the cartel of ex-pros who operate in the media just to dismiss the opinion of anyone who has never played professional football. I’ve been a football fan for as long as I can remember, but just because my career never got beyond Barnsley Secondary Modern’s Fourth XI, are my opinions to be dismissed, too? I hope not, as I’ve got plenty of them.
Gareth Allen, via email
I can assure Gareth Evans (Letters, WSC 236) that the vast majority of us AFC Wimbledon supporters have not “moved on” from treating the MK Dons Franchise as anything other than a “leper club” who exist on the back of another club’s hard-earned place in the Football League, solely to facilitate a property deal, and we positively welcome WSC’s annual snub of every-thing to do with them. Perhaps he could explain where this “dedicated bunch” of fans have been for the last 30 years, during which several Milton Keynes-based non-League clubs went belly-up through lack of any tangible local support? And I’m guessing by his sneering at (Woolwich) Arsenal that Gareth follows Tottenham? In which case, can he pass on the thanks of AFCW fans to his own club’s Independent Supporters’ Association for their help in persuading Spurs to call off a pre-season friendly against MKDFC – as did several other clubs this summer. MK Dons continue to be the pariahs of English football – as they deserve to be.
Ray Armfield, via email
As someone who is a Newcastle supporter and has worked in Africa, I read Filippo Ricci’s article about Obafemi Martins (WSC 236) with great interest. Although I was on the east, rather than west, of the continent, I think the situation regarding dates of birth is very similar. I spent two years doing IT work in Eritrea and the payroll application was our first project. Part of this involved compiling the personal details of the 500 or so employees where I worked. I would say that a good 60 per cent could not give an accurate date of birth. Many simply had no idea, so the simple solution was to assign a birth date of January 1, adding a year that seemed to be around the right age. It didn’t surprise me, therefore, to see Filippo mention identical birth dates on the Nigerian FA site. It might seem like a tired adage, but things just don’t happen in Africa as they do in the so-called developed world. It doesn’t, though, necessarily mean anything sinister is going on.
Tom Locke, Burntisland
Please can someone explain to me how a referee who just gives an offender a talking to instead of flashing yellow and red cards is “letting the game flow”? Surely if he’s blown for the foul then he’s interrupted the game’s flow anyway? If the offender was cautioned or dismissed, the ref might not have to blow for so many fouls during the rest of the game.
Bruce Antell, Newmarket
From WSC 237 November 2006. What was happening this month