In his article Mind the Gap (WSC 209), which celebrated a rise in attendances in what used to be Division Two, Ed Parkinson did confess that as a fan of promoted Hartlepool he might be viewing the league with rose-tinted spectacles. Having read the article, I feel he must have gone the whole hog and had a full rose-tinted laser eye operation. Having witnessed many games in this division last season and having seen all the teams play at least once, I can honestly say that the standard of football never exceeded mediocre. Plymouth were the only good footballing side and they didn’t look anywhere near as good once Paul Sturrock swapped addresses on the south coast. As well as attributing the rise in attendances to what he considered to be “fine football”, Ed also noted that the struggles of “a few self-styled big clubs” such as Sheffield Wednesday provided pleasure for many. However, average attendances in Division Two were only up 6.5 per cent on the previous year and, with an average home attendance of 22,000 (almost twice that of any other team in the Division and four times more than Hartlepool), is it not more likely that it was the presence of “self-styled big club” Sheffield Wednesday that caused the upsurge in attendances rather than the alleged quality of the football?
Stuart Thorpe, via email
So, Europe’s top players were too tired to perform at their peak in Portugal. I wonder who’s to blame for that? All four semi-finalists are about to endure a campaign that sees them play 12 games by October next year – 14 if they need play-offs. Whose fault is that? Leading clubs will play 13 European Cup games – 15 if we speak of Real, Man Utd and Juventus, who must pre-qualify. Who’s answerable for that schedule? The Czechs and the Portuguese played six qualifiers in the preliminaries for Euro 76 – contesting a four-team group with England and Cyprus. The Czechs went to a World Cup group for Argentina 78 that involved four matches, Wales and Scotland being the opponents. In those days, nine games were sufficient to win the European Cup. So, 13 outings for leading players, in games under UEFA’s auspices, have now become 29. The reduction in size of England’s top division, allied to the curtailing of cup replays, means about six fewer domestic appearances for our heroes each year. Who’s responsible for the puffed-out pin-ups? According to UEFA, it’s not them. Somebody else is to blame. And the evil must be striven against. Mightily. It’s only the absence of a six-month public inquiry and the lack of an 800-page report that convinces me Tony Blair isn’t running UEFA in his spare time.
Charlie Lamb, Edgware
Glyn Davies states in his letter (WSC 209) that the lack of the away goals rule in the play-offs is a bad thing, compared to a penalty shoot-out. Those teams who have lost thanks to the away goals rule would disagree. Not because they were level after two games, but because on all of the occasions that away goals settled a play-off semi final, the side who finished lower in the table went through to the final – hardly fair, as they had an extra 30 minutes to score an away goal. Blackburn (1989), Crewe (1995) and Ipswich (1997 and 1999) all had more right to be aggrieved about losing out on a rule that gave an advantage to a side who had accumulated fewer points over the previous 46 games. Ten points to be precise, in the case of Ipswich (who lost to Bolton) in 1999. After the injustice of that, Ipswich chairman David Sheepshanks had a sudden fit of usefulness (possibly the last time to date) and suggested that the away goal rule should be scrapped. Fortunately, the other 71 league chairmen agreed. Brighton and Mansfield both reached play-off finals this season (as did Preston in 2001) via penalty shoot-outs; however, under the old rules, both would have lost out to sides who finished lower. In fact, since the play-offs were introduced, Sunderland are the first side to draw on aggregate, but score more away goals than the side who finished lower. Penalties are certainly fairer than the away goals rule, but possibly it would be fairer to promote the side who finished higher in the event of a draw – or even better, scrap the play-offs altogether, and just promote the three sides with the best records over 46 games.
Rob Freeman, via email
And just when I was getting used to calling the old Third Division the Second, the Fourth Division the Third. I suppose we’re still OK with the Premiership and League Two because we can say things like “the Top Flight”, and “the Basement”. The intermediate divisions are more problematic. Perhaps the old Second, ie the First, now known as the Championship, should be called the “Second Flight”, and the old Third, which was the Second and is now League One should be known as the Ground Floor (ie the level up from the Basement). But hang on, this would actually make the one up from this (old Second, was First, now the Championship) the First Floor, and the Premiership the Second Floor... Therefore, the Premiership (the old First Division) would now be known as the Second, making it a less important competition than the Championship. Which we all knew, of course.
Graham de Max, via email
Doubtless you’ve been deluged with similar like-minded sentiments (at least I hope so), but I would just like to express my disgust at the behaviour of elements of this country’s tabloid press in the aftermath of England v Portugal. Publishing Urs Meier’s phone number for the dregs of our society to abuse a man simply doing his job marks yet another knuckle-scraping, moronic new low for our newspaper industry. What on earth does the rest of the world think of a country that produces such spineless, dignity-free individuals as the editors and writers responsible for such filth? The sad irony here is that this has happened towards the end of a tournament where the football-loving English fans have behaved well and contributed to a great event. I was in Portugal for the first week of Euro 2004 and I had the time of my life, meeting brilliant people from loads of countries. The aftermath has tarnished those memories.
Dan Turner, via email
I have to confess I struggled to empathise with Matt Nation’s piece on players suffering from an identity crisis (WSC 208). Maybe as an Arsenal fan I’m able to distinguish between my favourite team’s former players better than most but the player in question, Martin Hayes, I’d like to think was fairly memorable for being quite tall and gawky looking. I think I can safely predict he was at least a six footer, possibly taller, and not the assumed 5ft 10in you had him down for. And we all know he looked nothing like Ian Allinson, who, as any Gooner will testify was an absolute spit, pun intended, of Bob Carolgees.
Ted Grant, via email
My work took me to Heathrow terminal two in mid-June where deported England fans were coming through arrivals. Two things struck me. First, “football hooligans” look like everyone else. You would be surprised how many British travellers come back from Zurich and Milan with England shirts, black eyes and no shoes. Second, while some of the deportees had clearly got what they deserved – I’m talking about the swaggering St-George-Bellies offering violence to the TV crews outside – some looked like they had had the fright of their lives. I talked to a few and it was a repetitive tale – a night out, a stampede, trying to run in flip-flops and falling over, being picked up by the coppers and getting a shoeing in a cell four nights in a row. One lad from Grimsby came in on Saturday with nothing but the blood on his shirt and the stitches under his eye. He hadn’t had any sleep since Tuesday, and had no idea what to do, so I gave him my ticket into London and offered him a couple of quid. He took the ticket and refused the money and for a second I thought he was going to cry. I hope he got home all right.
Damon Green, East Dulwich
From WSC 210 August 2004. What was happening this month