I have just about learned to cope with the inevitable moaning of Alex Ferguson every time so much as a throw-in is given against his little angels, but now we have to put up with Manchester United fans blathering on about how their “football club” is not for sale. Well, I hate to break it to you, lads, but it is. Manchester United (they dropped the football club bit some time ago) is first and foremost a plc and a stock market entity. So it is for sale every day of the week. And it was this state of affairs that led to Man Utd winning all those titles and cups back in the 1990s. It was the international money markets (along with a great many Roy Keane duvet covers being shifted in the Far East) that allowed Man Utd to spunk millions of quid on Van Nistelrooy, Rooney, Ferdinand and the rest. I didn’t hear Shareholders United up in arms when this happened, nor when they receive their fat dividend cheques every year. Best of all, it was their club’s rampant commercial exploitation of the game that dragged football into the sorry state we currently have to put up with. Manchester United’s supporters have got nothing whatsoever to complain about. If they think they have, maybe they could pop down the road and visit Oldham, or Bury, or any number of clubs in the north-west and beyond who really are being exploited and run into the ground.
Alex Marklew, London (ex-Nottingham, so not a Gooner before anyone says otherwise)
My enjoyment of Middlesbrough’s rout of Lazio was slightly spoiled by Five’s Terry Butcher. Specifically his incessant mocking of Massimo Oddo. Yes, Stewart Downing roasted the Italian so comprehensively he might just as well have put an apple in his mouth and parsley up his anus. And I concede patriotic pride will always play a part on these occasions. Surely, though, if anyone can sympathise with a clodhopping defender being humiliated by more skilful opponents, that man is Terry Butcher?
Andrew Traynor, York
Your Named and Shamed article (WSC 214) touched on the issue of Emirates’ dual association with Chelsea and Arsenal’s soon to be new home, the Emirates Stadium. But surely a greater conflict of interests exists with the fact that the Emirates emblem is also stitched on the shirt sleeves and training tops of the match officials? Chelsea and Arsenal sit, at the time of writing, first and second respectively in the Premiership. Is this purely coincidence? I think not. This thought struck me while verbally abusing a linesman for correctly judging that Thierry Henry was actually not offside when drawing Arsenal level at the end of the first half of the almost comical north London derby. A perfectly non-biased and not-bitter-in-any-way Spurs fan, I believe the FA should consider serious investigation into this sponsorship sham. Bring on Emiratesgate.
Martin Gowers, via email
I can’t really explain what I feel about how my team, Chelsea, have changed. I know I don’t like Peter Kenyon. The idea of him having his dirty hands on a beloved club is enough to make anyone weep. But I don’t know if I like this new found glory. A Norwich devotee suggested to me that I was jealous of his club. And I’m beginning to think he’s right. I liked the days when Chelsea were having a good day if Frank Sinclair didn’t score an own goal and Dennis Wise only got a yellow for a(nother) 65th-minute lunge. They were somewhat endearing – consistent inconsistency. At least it was entertaining. I have a lot of respect for the current players – Frank Lampard, Carlo Cudicini – for the effort they put into the club and the football they produce. But, ironically, I can’t help feeling we’re a bit cheaper than we used to be. When we won the Cup-Winners Cup in 1998 we felt like we had earned it. My dad went to Stockholm to watch the match and spent the night in a 24-hour McDonald’s. We roughed it with what we had, paid our dues in sweat and made it. We earned that cup. But now it just doesn’t feel real. Whatever we do, however much we follow the team around, even if I do give in and pay £20 for a pin badge in the club shop, I know the contribution won’t count that much. The club’s no longer built on emotion, support, 200 fans travelling to an already hopeless midweek away match, but on a cheaper commodity: cold, hard, cheap cash. When it comes down to it – dare I say it? – I just don’t like my club any more. We’ve become, in nature, the Man Utd I’ve always loathed. Maybe I just can’t cope with success. Or maybe I’m just being ungrateful. Who knows, maybe I would just rather be a Norwich fan.
Sarah Hogben, London
The media’s obsession with certain clubs outside the Premiership reached new levels of sycophantic drooling at the beginning of November. First of all, Ipswich continue to be Sky’s pièce de resistance, given the extended highlights and constant appraisal. ITV have jumped on the Portman Road bandwagon, with featured coverage so much so that Matt Smith may as well start having his bank statements sent there. Brighton, for some reason, have always been popular, not sure why, but at least it meant I got to see the goals when Crewe stuffed them twice recently. Usually we’re held in reserve on Sky Sports News until they assume people have got bored and switched over to watch Casualty. Sheffield United and Neil Warnock are given far more coverage than a team full of cloggers led by a madman should ever be allowed before the watershed and the people currently hanging out of Paul Jewell’s backside need to be told that Wigan would still be Fourth Division trash if it wasn’t for the intervention of a man with loads of money who realised he could no longer profit from rugby league. This is not a rant at all, but solid truth: the days of media impartiality have gone the way of Leeds United’s bank balance.
Liam Fox, Stoke-on-Trent
Why do all football pundits have the idea that in England players try harder than those in other countries? Arjen Robben was booked in the last minute in Chelsea’s 1-0 victory over Everton and Mark Bright claimed on Radio Five Live that he needs to get used to English football. Here, Bright said, players make tackles right until the very end and to retaliate against a rough challenge in the final minute was stupid. Presumably at PSV Eindhoven by the 80th minute they were just knocking it across their back four, even if they were a goal down, and England is the only place where you would find a team like Everton getting stuck in during the last minute. Is the English game really so vastly different to the football played elsewhere?
George Duckworth, Clitheroe
The As Good As It Got on Cambridge United (WSC 214) was a very interesting article, though it ought to be added that one of the other teams with which Cambridge had won promotion for the previous two seasons, Southend United (there were three, Grimsby being the other, who went through the Third Division without stopping), repeated the feat of topping Division Two. New Year’s Day, 1992, and an Ossie Ardiles-led Newcastle United were humbled 4-1 at Roots Hall in a 12 o’clock kick-off. With Blackburn not starting until 3pm we were top for just about three hours. I still have the Polaroid of the teletext page. Unfortunately, we slipped and finished in the bottom half, rejoining the basement a few years after Cambridge. We haven’t actually managed a top half finish in any division since 1990-91. That said things are looking up, with Steve Tilson (who played in the Newcastle game) ably assisted by Paul Brush currently producing the best football we have seen by the sea for many a long while.
Gary Crowe, via email
Amid all the wholly justified hoo-ha, anger and indignation about the monkey-chanting in Madrid, I still await a meaningful answer to my email to the Football Association in October about what they intended to do about the “No Asylum Seekers” banner in Baku (Letters, WSC 214). It seems that while the media and the football authorities are prepared to make a stand about certain forms of racism, other equally offensive but less obvious forms of it are not tackled. But then given the general media attitude in this country towards asylum seekers, this is perhaps not really surprising.
Graham de Max, Nottingham
I read Neville Hadsley’s comments about the new stadium-naming trend (WSC 214) with bemusement. A case of boards acting with “impunity” and completely ignoring the interests of the fans? Sorry, but I don’t get it. Mr Hadsley would have a case if the Arsenal directors were taking their Emirates money and installing fur sinks with gold fixtures in the board yacht. Instead, they are spending this money to the benefit of the fans – they are building a state-of-the-art stadium that will house almost twice as many supporters and putting an outstanding team on the field in all the important competitions. The hard fact is that excellence and purity rarely dine at the same table. As any fan of a “massive” team will tell you, being a supporter comes with a price. If you want to consistently live at the top of the table on the pitch, you need the board to make some fairly cold-hearted business decisions off the pitch. That may not be romantic, but it is the reality. Fans who believe their teams can succeed merely through “living a dream” can find themselves waking up in the middle of the night in a cold sweat. As an Arsenal supporter, I do not rejoice in the Emirates deal, but I do accept it. The things I do rejoice in (football excellence, a permanent place in the Champions League etc) cannot be attained using the Notts County FC business model.
Eric Altshule, Los Angeles
If the TV Special in WSC 213 had waited a couple of months it could have reported on the further marginalisation of lower-league football on terrestrial television. I don’t want to subscribe to Sky and was happy with the lower-league coverage up to the end of last season. Sadly, even though ITV’s The Premiership was appalling, the return of top-flight football to an extra-smug Match of the Day and the renaming of the Football League divisions has been very bad news for the ordinary fan who doesn’t want wall-to-wall Rooney. Although ITV’s Nationwide League Extra was shown at a time when only security guards and Dracula could watch it live, at least it offered crucial national coverage to teams in the three divisions below the Premiership. So what now? ITV revamp their show solely to cover the teams in the Championship – talk about mutton dressed as lamb – and pay lip service by tacking on a handful of goals from the other two divisions. Since August, the coverage of lower division football in ITV’s London area has been “provided” by London Soccer Night, in which Jonathan Wills puts the same intense questions each week to Clive Allen (“Tough game for Brentford this weekend, Clive?” “Yes, tough game.”) and you’re lucky to get five minutes’ worth of action. Still, there was always the romance of the FA Cup first round to look forward to, eh? Well, no, since MOTD decided to fit their coverage of the whole round into 25 minutes. Whereas last season BBC showed snippets of every first-round tie, this time round many of the non-League sides who had battled through the qualifiers weren’t even granted their deserved 30 seconds of glory (if I was associated with, say, Vauxhall Motors, I’d have been fuming). Like many, I looked forward to the return of Match of the Day (so long as they pensioned Gary Lineker off sharpish), but failed to see the consequences. Sadly, it turns out to have been a case of better the devil you know.
Eddie Hutchinson, Ashford
If David Alexander (Letters, WSC 214) is still wondering about the whereabouts of one-hit wonder Roy Essandoh, he need look no further than Gravesend & Northfleet, where Roy’s arrival and goals have helped the club rise from relegation candidates to play-off contenders. Interestingly his form prompted Lawrie Sanchez to call him up for the Northern Ireland squad recently. The same Sanchez who let Essandoh go from Wycombe because he “wasn’t good enough for Second Division football”. I hope this is more a reflection of Roy’s improved form than NI’s current standing.
Ronan Munro, Oxford
From WSC 215 January 2005. What was happening this month