Being a non-League fan, with a major Premiership side playing their reserve-team football at our stadium, I have long since believed reserves to be almost totally unnecessary at the top level (Nothing In Reserve, WSC 235). A Chelsea v Arsenal game in February 2004 stuck out in particular. The 4,500 crowd probably hoped for the odd household name among a foundation of emerging talent. The players that actually performed would have struggled to get into a non-League team (one of them has signed for my side, Aldershot, this season). The game lacked any quality at all and the players never showed anything that might suggest either José Mourinho or Arsène Wenger might have been presented with an unexpected selection headache. With Chelsea releasing more players this summer, most of whom never got close to the first team (Dean Furman, Joe Keenan, Dean Smith, Jack Watkins, James Younghusband, Lenny Pidgeley, Filipe Morasis and Danny Hollands) again it appears that their reserve team offers nothing for José – and why should it? They have limitless resources, so why should they take a risk with untried youth? The players that are rated are sent on loan to gain “valuable first-team experience” at other clubs. Other clubs also use the loan system heavily, at their reserve teams’ expense: Arsenal and Manchester United have sent five players on loan, Liverpool four, with several others released. Fulham and Everton have also both released many young and up-and-coming players. Bizarrely, other Premiership clubs take loan players at the expense of their reserves – look at Watford giving experience to Ben Foster, Charlton to Scott Carson, Everton to Tim Howard, Wigan to Chris Kirkland and that’s just keepers. Top-level reserve football doesn’t need the Premiership to kill it, the clubs are doing that quite well enough. The days of players being discovered in the reserves are long gone; top managers know what players they have in reserve and that’s why they are there.
Andrew Hailstone, via email
So now we know, courtesy of Ian Childs (Letters, WSC 235), that those Tottenham supporters who wondered why we had to go into probably our biggest game of the season with loads of clearly unfit players now have our answer: everyone concerned in this matter, from Arsenal through West Ham to England, had a divine right not to be inconvenienced. Everyone except us, even though we were the victims, the ones in greatest need of the points and the club making the largest contribution to the England World Cup squad, all of which, it might be thought, should have earned us enough Brownie points for the FA to find someone else to inconvenience. At the risk of stating the obvious, there would have been no advantage to us from knowing the result we needed if our game had to be postponed, since we basically knew that (with no disrespect to Wigan, who were at Arsenal) we were pretty sure we had to beat West Ham. It remains to be added that Spurs supporters are not the only people who think we should be in the Champions League. So do a lot of clubs who have been lumbered with us in the UEFA Cup, and as the next few months will show, who can blame them?
Mike Webber, Aylesbury
Pete Green raises an interesting issue, and makes some valid points, regarding the apparent increase in frequency of Friday night games (Bad End of the Week, WSC 235). However, by mentioning Tranmere Rovers as having the most Friday night games this season and then producing only criticism without mentioning my team again, he creates the impression that Tranmere supporters have a problem with this. In my experience, we don’t. Friday night games have been an important feature for us since the 1970s. They have been, and remain, popular with most of our fans. They tend to produce our best gates and they certainly have a special atmosphere, bettered only by big cup clashes. It has been argued that during the late 1970s and early 1980s, Friday night games where the only thing that stood between us and bankruptcy. However, in some cases particular fixtures are actually moved because Merseyside Police request it to avoid clashes with the Grand National or some local game on the other side of the Mersey. Eight is the most that I can recall us playing on a Friday, though in some past seasons the Football League would appear to have restricted us to five. I wouldn’t dream of putting the new season fixtures in my diary till the Friday games have been announced. My sense of anticipation and excitement in the build-up to a Friday game is always heightened. That build-up includes booking a half-day off work and a preparation for a 460-mile round trip from my home in east London. Some football experiences are worth going that extra few miles for. Friday night games at Prenton Park are among them in my view.
Phil Rimmer, London E15
Ian Walford is right that the current play-off system is unfair on teams finishing in higher positions (Letters, WSC 235), however it isn’t necessary to bring in the complicated “fraction of a goal” system that he proposes. A much simpler and fairer system already exists. The Italian play-off system has no extra time or penalties, but rather two-legged semi-finals and finals where, if the scores are level after both legs, the team that finished higher in the table advances. This occurred last year where Torino lost 4-2 at Mantova in the final first leg but won promotion to Serie A with a 3-1 home win (although Eurosport 2’s commentators wrongly claimed they had gone through “on away goals”). Surely this system would be much fairer than the “cup tie” system we have in England. It would give teams who just miss out on automatic promotion the extra advantage they’ve earned over a season. These teams would be able to take the approach of boxing champions or Ashes holders in cricket, by saying to the other play-off teams: “If you want our promotion place, you have to beat us for it.”
Sam Watt, Bedford
Sorry to prolong the penalty debate, but Jim Ferris (Letters, WSC 235) isn’t quite correct that the goalkeeper’s dive is the most important factor in a penalty. Yes, there is a certain amount of chance involved, but techniques can be used to fool the custodian into diving the wrong way. Even schoolboys practise looking one way and shooting the other, but there are also different run-ups, hip and shoulder positions etc, which imply that you are shooting one way when you are actually shooting the other. Also, if you place the ball in either of the four extreme corners, it is impossible for any human being (with the exception of Peter Crouch) to reach them without diving so early that you could simply adjust and roll it towards the centre, like Socrates. OK, I’ll get back into pedants’ corner now.
Joe Street, Sheffield
One of the most long-standing of the myths and cliches that English football pundits like to trade in is that Dermot Gallagher is one of our best referees, a judgment based largely on his willingness to “let the game flow”. He is a great referee of really easy, usually meaningless, games when there’s nothing on and everyone’s smiling. Otherwise, he is one of the worst of a pretty bad lot. For years he has shirked taking big decisions, especially with regard to foul play. He at least saw Ben Thatcher’s disgraceful assault on Pedro Mendes, which is good for him, but how he could consider it only a yellow card offence is beyond me. If the FA (or the CPS) decide to pursue Thatcher, as one or both should, then Gallagher should also pay for serial incompetence.
John Manley, Prestwich
After the last couple of seasons enjoying a hearty dose of schadenfreude at the new club’s expense, could you possibly just move on and stop treating MK Dons as some kind of leper club? I’m sure the fans of AFC Wimbledon have and, whether you agree with it or not, the Milton Keynes team are now established in the Football League. If you are going to continue to have a pop at a club that moved out of their original home, changed their name and relocated to a shiny new stadium to the detriment of the already established teams in that area, perhaps you could show consistency and start to treat Woolwich Arsenal in the same manner? Or is there some kind of time limit that has now expired and Woolwich are considered established? The season preview (WSC 235) was as entertaining as usual, but to ignore the fans of one team as you disagree with how they were formed is plain childish. Perhaps they should be recognised for the dedicated bunch that they must be to persevere in the face of such pathetic treatment.
Gareth Evans, via email
Editor’s reply Many Spurs fans still treat Arsenal as incomers to north London, but moving a team a dozen miles in the early years of professional football contrasts sharply with uprooting a club 70-odd miles after more than a century.
I’m sorry but Ian Walford (Letters, WSC 235) might think that the passing of time means his sour grapes about Hereford’s play-off injustices grow less bitter with the passing of time. But they don’t. Shrewsbury fans have had to put up with moaning Hereford fans since we won the play-off final. And they all seem to complain about the penalty saves, even though they weren’t even against Hereford. And can I just point out that there was an error in last month’s Season in Brief? Shrewsbury didn’t spend two seasons in the Conference. It was just the one before a swift return to League football. Other teams, of course, have taken bloody ages to come back, as I’m sure Ian Walford knows.
Jon Matthias, via email
Keeping in mind that the recent England v Andorra game was predicted by all to be a one-sided encounter, featuring as it did one of the weakest teams in World football (Andorra, not England), was it really necessary for the BBC to employ four people to sit in a studio discussing the inevitable outcome? Hopefully licence-fee payers will be able to discover the extent of this profligacy in the corporation’s end of year accounts, presumably listed under the “Jobs for the Boys” section.
Tim Blacklock, Sheffield
Your “Season in Brief Division Two 1980-81” (WSC 235) was rather upsetting. You mention Swansea winning promotion with a win at Preston on the last day, but sadly for PNE that was not the last day. On the Tuesday night we had to win at sixth-placed Derby and hope that West Ham, crowned champions long before, would see off Cardiff in Wales for North End to stay up. As a nine-year-old, I was condemned to listening in on Radio Two while Dad journeyed to the Baseball Ground. Amazingly we did our bit, clinching a 2-1 win, but West Ham – England star Trevor Brooking and all – had their cigars out and could only draw 0-0 at Ninian Park. We were down on goal difference. Overwhelmed with despair, pride, shock and anger, I cried myself to sleep. Dad woke me to tell me what a hero Gordon Coleman had been. I spent the next decade getting used to such calamities and having no time whatsoever for Cardiff (just like everyone else) and West Ham (unlike everyone else). Your photo of Geoff Pike scoring against Preston was in fact one of their five without reply that humiliating day. You can imagine how much I enjoyed our two wins at Upton Park on our last two league visits.
Gavin Willacy, Bengeo, Herts
In his article bemoaning the increased number of Friday night lower division fixtures (WSC 235) Pete Green crucially omitted a primary reason for this development, that being the increasing number of England fixtures played on a Saturday afternoons, a factor linked to the increased group sizes for the European Championship and World Cup. Hartlepool’s increased amount of Friday football is great for local-league Saturday footballers such as myself – in fact half a dozen Friday night fixtures may help in arresting the worrying decline in popularity of local league Saturday football. The Hartlepool Church and District League have lost 70 per cent of their teams in ten years, but go into the new season with an increase in the number of clubs from last season. The atmosphere at Friday night fixtures at Hartlepool has been special, far better than the norm of a Saturday or a Tuesday, and the attendances have not fallen as Pete Green says. For example, 5,259 for a Friday fixture v Oldham in March 2006 compares well to the preceding home Saturday gate of 5,122 v Barnsley (who had a far larger following), especially considering a 3-0 defeat between the two. Friday night football is no bad end to a week; it’s (match depending) the start of a decent weekend.
Kevin Cosgrave, Hartlepool
From WSC 236 October 2006. What was happening this month