Speaking of bleeping out certain phrases from football commentary and punditry (WSC 225), my pet peeve is “The shot beat the keeper but went wide”. It only beats the keeper if it goes past him and into the goal (or goes past him and is cleared off the line by a team-mate, or goes past him and sticks in the mud and stops, as in a Danny Baker football video). The keeper is only beaten when the ball goes past him within the area of the goal he is there to defend, otherwise any shot that ends up on the roof of the stand or hits the corner flag could be said to have beaten the keeper. Bah!
Phil Brown, Romford
I was just flicking through the Sky Sports channels when I saw Elton Welsby, ITV’s silver-tongued anchorman of the late 1980s, presenting crown green bowls from the Waterloo Hotel in Blackpool. I bet lots of WSC readers have been wondering what had happened to Elton. Perhaps it is ironic that he has ended up on Sky, his own performances having done so much to ensure that nobody wanted ITV to win the original rights to the Premiership. Elton has grey hair now and, though he did his best to whip the bowls massive into a frenzy (“it’s turning into a thrilling Waterloo championship”), he looked like he was about to cry. I bet Elton knows how Orson Welles felt when he was making those hotdog commercials. I know this is all a bit trivial compared to the crisis-torn Premiership with its wonky attendance graphs and vulnerable share prices, but I just had to share this with someone.
Gavin Barber, Abingdon
Re: Mike Bassett Football Manager in TV Watch, WSC 225. You were spot on when you stated that this “comedy” (although I hesitate to use that word) “[forced] most of its humour through improbable circumstance and dialogue that appears to have been cut and pasted from a football joke book”. However, it reached a new low during its first episode with the line “He’s done a Jock Stein on me!” to refer to a chairman dying at a match. Not only is this crass in the extreme, someone at ITV must have known that the programme was broadcast almost exactly 20 years to the day since that tragic night in Cardiff. Did no one do their research, or was this simply “improbable circumstance”? There are many things in football we can laugh and joke about. But some things are best left on the cutting-room floor or, at the very least, to Rodney Marsh.
Graeme Coleman, via email
While I would no longer expect Premiership managers to be gracious in defeat, it seems some of them can’t be gracious in victory, either. After Sunderland had given Chelsea a run for their money, José Mourinho, despite having seen his team win, felt the need to state that “They have had 15 days to prepare, we had just one day together” (WSC 225). Less widely reported than Mourinho’s whinge was Mick McCarthy’s response that 11 of his squad had been away on international duty before the match, a fact that clearly failed to reach the ears of Carlos Queiroz, who trotted out the same excuse a few weeks later when Sunderland performed well against Manchester United. It is pretty depressing that managers at the top clubs know so little about their own opponents, never mind what is going on throughout the rest of the Football League. The time must be coming to stop these clubs milking the global reputation of the Premiership and kick them into a European super-league, where they won’t have to bother playing pesky teams such as Sunderland.
Joan Dawson, Gateshead
I’ve never felt moved to write before, but two items in WSC 225 have done the trick. First, in the Diary section I was disappointed that you had followed the incorrect line taken by the press and TV in reporting Villa’s 8-3 victory at Wycombe as their biggest for 43 years; in fact, it’s just under 20 years (October 9, 1985) since they beat Exeter 8-1 in the League Cup at Villa Park. A small point, I know, but it matters to the handful of us who were there. I was more offended by the gratuitous reference to the former Villa centre-forward and captain Archie Hunter in Season In Brief. He seems an unfortunate choice for your “disappearing from view” section. In fact, he was just 30 (not 40) years old when he suffered a heart attack during a match against Everton at Goodison Park on January 4, 1890; he never fully recovered and died in hospital less than five years later. There may have been some hereditary weakness involved, as his younger brother Andy, who played for Villa in the early 1880s before emigrating to Australia, also died from a heart attack, aged only 23, in 1888. Archie scored 42 goals in 73 competitive appearances for Villa between 1878 and 1890; had the League been founded earlier, no doubt his tally would have been significantly higher. He might be better remembered as the first player to score in every round of the FA Cup, a feat he achieved in 1886-87, rather than lampooned as a man who fainted after falling into a puddle during a football match, as your item implied.
Mark Hughes, via email
I’ll tell you what makes you feel old. It’s when your club shop is selling retro kits that are not only recent enough that you can remember when they first came out as new, but you clearly remember that, when they came out, they were, by common consensus, shit. I refer to the mid-1980s Ipswich Town tops with a horizontal red stripe across the front, commissioned as a deeply unconvincing homage to the kit in which Platini’s France had just won the European Championship. Twenty years later: yours, in a variety of adult sizes, available for a distinctly non-retro price from Planet Blue, Portman Road. Yet more confusingly still, the tops are rendered not in their original cheap polyester, but in sensible and hard-wearing cotton of a kind never utilised at the time. So, not only are we asked to get nostalgic about a time when Ipswich had a crap team and a kit to match, we’re supposed to remember it by buying a “replica” kit that never really existed. What manner of postmodern nightmare are we living in? It’s no wonder Sam Parkin can’t head the ball with all that going on. Christ.
Stewart Markess, Stowmarket
I think we can look forward to a World Cup next year with many of the emerging nations such as Ghana and the Ivory Coast having a realistic chance of reaching the later stages. In view of this, FIFA should take a serious look at future plans to limit the number of overseas players that play in the various domestic leagues. The reason that countries can “emerge” is that their best players are able to improve playing outside their home nation. How good would Michael Essien be if he was restricted to playing in Ghana? Sepp Blatter’s plans for each club eventually having at least eight home-grown players will, effectively, shut the door on hundreds of players currently playing in third-world countries. Currently each Premiership club in England has a squad of around 30 players. The percentage of overseas players in the squads has risen dramatically in the past ten years. If each of the major clubs has to “release” ten to 15 players (or maybe more) to comply with future regulations, poorer quality English players will be elevated from lower leagues to fill the gaps. And who would benefit from this? Not the spectator, now deprived of seeing Essien and the like, and certainly not the emerging nations, who would have a much larger percentage of their squad playing domestically. There also seems to be some misguided thoughts that restrictions on the movement of players will even things out when it comes to major club competitions. Many people have accused Real Madrid of “buying” domestic and European trophies. The same criticism is now being levelled at Chelsea. But the truth of the matter is that the past two European club champions have been Porto and Liverpool and the current national champions are Greece. All three proved that the power of organisation can overcome the twinkling feet of the galácticos. Sepp Blatter should concentrate on eradicating diving, cheating, shirt-pulling and the misinterpretation of the offside rule. His plans to restrict the movement of players will kill the growth of football and cement the domination of the current world powers. Ghana will never be able to compete with countries such as Italy if their players cannot play in Serie A or the Premiership.
David Howes, Great Whelnetham
While reading the article on Hearts (WSC 225) a number of striking similarities occurred to me. Are Hearts the Chelsea of the SPL? A rich eastern European, with dubious credentials, buys an ailing team and oversees an influx of foreign players that light up the league. Further still, both inherited a core of players from their respective nations, who began to flourish. Chelsea have Terry and Lampard, Hearts have Gordon, Hartley, Webster and Pressley. With the sacking of George Burley, Vladimir Romanov has even managed to emulate Abramovich’s dismissal of Ranieri. Many have looked at Chelsea and have foretold the end of the English Premiership or the England football team. How can any of the other teams compete with their millions? Or compete with the wages they can offer to players? Shaun Wright-Phillips is a perfect example of this. A great prospect who was lured from the pitch at Man City, to the Chelsea bench, just because they could treble his wages. It is then somewhat unsurprising that Chelsea have seldom been described as a good thing for English football. I agree that the arrival of new and, more importantly, quality foreign signings at the Jambos has made the SPL much more exciting and competitive, as the prospect of a much heralded emergence of a “third force” in Scottish football looks like it has finally occurred. It does worry me, however, whether Hearts are a good thing for Scottish football as a whole. The four players previously mentioned are now Scotland regulars, but for how long? If more foreign imports are bought in by Romanov then a successful Hearts will just become an extension of the Old Firm – teams of foreign players with few if any Scottish players as regular starters. With the dismissal of a Scottish manager (who may have had a certain interest in the fortunes of the national side) I can only see bad times ahead for the Hearts players who are doing so well for Scotland. Burley had dropped a number of the Lithuanians Romanov had bought in last season, which apparently caused friction. If the next manager is forced to play the team Romanov wants, then the Scotland national side will lose four players who regularly start for their club. If the promises of the Hearts board that “Scottish players are key to our success” come to fruition in the New Year, then I will agree with the media hype around Tynecastle. Until then, I will worry that the Old Firm might just get a new member.
Craig McFarlane, via email
Mention of Kerry Dixon in the article on the poisonous M1 derby (WSC 225) brought back memories of one of the most unpleasant afternoons I’ve ever spent at Vicarage Road. It was early 1996 and, in desperate need of goals, Glenn Roeder had bought Dixon from Millwall. He was perceived as being Luton through and through, though, and feelings ran high when he made his first home appearance. It’s the only time I’ve ever seen fights break out among Watford fans: the two points of view could be broadly summarised as “He’s a scummer and not fit to wear the shirt” and “He’s in yellow, so he’s one of us now”, and they were never going to agree. The fact that Dixon was useless didn’t help. (Alec Chamberlain and Matthew Spring have both shaken off their Luton-ness by playing superbly for us.) In all he played 11 games for the Hornets without scoring a goal and by the end of his brief Watford career Roeder had been sacked and we had been relegated. Then again, that precipitated the return of Graham Taylor, so maybe we should thank Kerry for helping to usher in one of the club’s best periods.
Tim Turner, Letchmore Heath
I was grateful that Ken Jones (Letters, WSC 225) was able to clarify why he dislikes Fulham so much. He identifies my club’s poor attendances and appeared to pour scorn on Fulham’s desperate attempts to attract new supporters, such as family days (which may have explained the amount of children at the recent matches he has attended). He’s right of course; Fulham, along with a number of other smaller Premiership clubs, have been struggling to keep attendance levels healthy. Fulham’s plight is not helped by being one of 12 professional clubs in London (with three within a five-mile radius of the Cottage). Nor did the club ever recover from lean years when we haemorrhaged support to more successful and glamorous clubs, reducing to a core of 4,000 in the darkest years. These factors, combined with the fact that there are plenty of cheaper leisure diversions in London and the south-east, have meant that Fulham will no doubt continue to struggle along with small crowds for some time to come. On a positive note, I can assure Ken that the place is always packed to the rafters for derbies and the visits of the more attractive footballing sides. The crowd then mysteriously drops when Birmingham City, together with their, how can I put this politely, more robust style of football, turn up to collect a few more bookings. Anyway, a quick glance at the league table today indicates that Ken may not have to put up with Fulham and our poor crowds for very much longer!
Ashley Manning, Brockley
From WSC 226 December 2005. What was happening this month