At the time of writing it is Thursday, September 11, 2003. Last night I along with 8,815 others ventured to Windsor Park, safe in the knowledge we could finally put to rest the 11-game goal drought. After all, we only lost 1-0 away to Armenia and we hit the post and crossbar and we missed a few chances. Two hours later we had lost 1-0 again and we hit the crossbar and hit the post and missed a few chances. The media has generally chuckled at our plight, and who could blame them. BBC Northern Ireland is running a phone poll on whether or not we should scrap the Northern Ireland football team in favour of an All-Ireland -Team. This in itself is a quite ludicrous, deliberately contentious and politically loaded question from a supposedly public service broadcaster. I don’t recall a similar poll in favour of a British and Irish Lions team poll when the Irish rugby team lost to Argentina in a World Cup game. A plus point about the goal drought is that for the first time in years what little publicity we have received hasn’t been about problems with sectarianism and the national team. To an outsider it probably seems that Northern Ireland home games are a seething cauldron of bigotry and hatred.In fact, anyone attending a game without preconceived ideas would be surprised at how good the atmosphere is given the terrible ground, poorly performing team and crowd size. We are now just known as being useless, not useless bigots. I hope one day soon to look back and laugh about when we couldn’t score as Andy Smith nods another past a hapless Barthez on our way to automatic qualification for the World Cup in Germany...
Jim Lockhart, Banbridge, Co Down
In WSC 200 (Playing the Game 4. Refereeing), references are made to Pierluigi Collina’s claim in his autobiography that slow motion replays originated on Italian television in 1967, and their subsequent installation into UK homes by Jimmy Hill.It is worth noting that, by 1967, slow-motion replays had been in use on ABC’s live broadcasts of American college football for seven years, having been conceived in a revolutionary 1960 document compiled by Roone Arledge, the then fledgling producer of a puppet show.Seemingly, it is not just referees who may now rue Mr Arledge’s innovations. Bewildered armchair fans who, as he saw them, “may not give a damn about the game, but might still enjoy the programme”, also have him to thank for on-screen statistical graphics, multiple camera angles and expert half-time analysis, all of which were foreseen in that self-same document – which is also believed to contain a primitive, yet highly accurate DNA blueprint for Gary Newbon.
Wayne Gamble, Newcastle-upon-Tyne
One wonders whether, when he asserts that “they’ve [Sheffield United] never won anything. History tells us that”, Wednesday manager Chris Turner (WSC 200) is getting his historical facts from the much maligned Sky Sports Yearbook (Roy Chuter, Letters, WSC 200). A glance at the old-style Rothmans Football Yearbook shows us that the Blades have, in fact, been League Champions once, FA Cup winners four times, and also winners of the old second and fourth divisions. As a Railwayman mate of mine once said about Stoke City, Chris: “One League Cup win since the war does not a big club make.”
Richard Brown, Epsom
I had read and enjoyed the vast majority of the preceding 199 issues, and was filled with anticipation at reading the 200th. I sat down in my local; pint, crisps, fags and your esteemed organ all at hand. But then it all went wrong.Without any warning, I turned a page to find one of the most disgusting and emotionally disturbing pictures ever: Tamworth players celebrating. I checked back to the front page, but no, I had not missed it. They was no health warning.For the first time in my memory, the upstarts from the Lamb are in a division above my beloved Nuneaton Boro, and last season played us off the park in the FA Trophy. And you rub it in with a picture of them. I now wish I had taken you up on one of your subscription deals, just so I could consider cancelling it.
Nathan Walker, Hull
While I applaud John Motson for passing comment on the racism received by Emile Heskey and Sol Campbell by sections of the Macedonia fans during England’s game against Macedonia, I can’t help feeling that there is a sense of double standards being applied here.In all the years that Motson (and others) have been commenting on England games, I have never once heard them criticise sections of England fans for their displays of racism, either through racist chanting or through the clearly visible England flags with NF/BNP logos on. We are still “treated” to the familiar chorus of “No surrender to the IRA”, yet no condemnation/comment from the commentators. When are Motty and co going to realise that they need to be disparaging about any racism at televised football games, not just the racism directed by the opposition towards black England players? Who knows, when they start doing this, we may make even more strides in our efforts to rid football of this evil.
Pete Dudgeon, via email
In WSC 199, Nick Bowers refers to an article mentioning Tony Cottee’s private record of his goals, the existence of which was revealed to the public by Glenn Roeder. Nick hopes that the British Museum attempts to acquire this artifact for the nation, but I wonder if he realises just what they’d be taking on, as, thanks to the Topical Times Football Book 1987, I’ve seen the documents.And they’re extraordinary. Tony is young. He looks very, very sensible. While Frank McAvennie was recovering from Saturday’s excesses on the town, Tony was at home with the Sundays and the scissors and the glue and the graph paper, working out his goals-to-games ratio and how he turned a Devonshire cross into a goal.Things to note: this stretches back to his schoolboy days. I don’t know how many goals Cottee scored for his school team but it’s not unheard of for talented schoolboy strikers to be finishing seasons in triple figures and Cottee has every single one “fully documented with pictures and diagrams”. This also raises the question of just how long Cottee kept this up – he enjoyed a long career – is he still playing? Did he manage to keep this commitment to the end? If he’s playing in one of these “Masters” tournaments, does he still go home afterwards to report to his scrapbooks that he “had a fair game”?
Daniel Chapman, via email
Thanks for the article about Alan Harper in WSC 200 as it reawakened a particularly harrowing experience from my youth. The said Mr Harper was the only sticker I did not get to complete my Panini album of 1985, but, as any self-respecting sticker collector would know, you could not send off for them as that would have been cheating.
Then a few years later, as I was on my way to watch my beloved Gills from my student digs in Liverpool, I happened to be in a newsagents when Alan came in for his paper. A perfect opportunity to tell him the hassle he caused me as a child and to finally gain closure in the matter. But I didn’t do it. Still, I won’t make the same mistake if I ever bump into Jordao of Portugal.
Rob Wilkinson, Rainham
The article by Dianne Millen in WSC 200, where she is troubled by the numerical criteria to be fulfilled before an invasion can truly be called an invasion, gave the readers an insight into the mindset of Aberdeen fans. The Oxford dictionary defines an invasion as a hostile or harmful intrusion; the picture of an Aberdeen fan swinging a kick at Fernando Ricksen certainly shows a certain degree of hostility (or perhaps he was asking for it?). If it wasn’t for the actions of the policeman the harmful part would have been filled also.There was a time not long ago when Aberdeen were a credible force in Scottish football, but they have now been reduced to a team that the Old Firm try and out-score each other against in the title race. Rather than focus on hating Rangers they should worry about gaining parity with Hearts or Hibs – they are no longer the third force and how it must hurt. This was not an isolated incident, as anybody with either a passing interest in Scottish football or a Sky dish will know. Last season saw a match halted after another hostile and harmful intrusion by Aberdeen fans who were on that occasion a bit more successful at hitting their target. If any Aberdeen fans want to assault anybody, then do it outside the ground and leave decent spectators, your own and visitors alike, and players to enjoy the game of football without it being spoiled by more embarrassing scenes. I’d also like the SFA to have the guts to punish habitual offenders with real fines or even bans. A game in front of an empty Pittodrie or a ban on Aberdeen’s fans travelling away would soon focus attention on the problem. Somebody should take action before Pittodrie witnesses a very unfortunate hat-trick. God knows, the signs are there.
Alan Chambers, Hamilton
As the matter seems to have eluded the national press (concerning, as it does, only a club from the “real” Fourth Division) I thought I would draw your readers’ attention to the strange case of Julian Alsop and the disciplinary panel of the Football Association.In April 2003 Big Jules (as he is affectionately known to cuddly Oxford United manager Ian Atkins) was a Cheltenham player when he was sent off for violent conduct in their game at Brentford. He was suspended for three matches and served the ban before the end of the season.Alsop was also reported to have used foul and abusive language towards the match officials in the aftermath of the incident, an offence for which he was finally convicted by the FA in early September 2003 – a full five months after the event and six matches into the new season – and for which he received a further two match ban. Apart from the ridiculous time lapse this would seem reasonable.Except that in the close season Alsop had transferred to Oxford United and one of the games for which he would now be further suspended would be the away leg of the “Cotswold Derby” (copyright the local press) against... yes, you guessed it, Cheltenham Town. So Cheltenham thereby directly benefited from the suspension of a player convicted of an offence committed while playing for them the previous season. As it happens, Oxford United came away with a 0-0 draw to remain unbeaten at the top of the table, but with Big Jules playing who knows what might have happened.
David Underwood, Basingstoke
All the national papers can throw away their dictionaries because the club with the easiest name to pun has returned to the top division. Be prepared for Wolves “howling at the door”. The local newspaper in Wolverhampton has made much use of this, especially the early results paper on a Saturday night. If we win by more than one goal we have usually “mauled the opposition”. If it is a gritty one-nil win then “Wolves show their teeth”. Although we also show our teeth when we fight back for a draw or “bite back”. During victories Wolves have been known to “tear apart”, “savage” and “rip into” opponents but rarely do they just win. At Molineux, or “the Wolves’ lair” as it is known, I have seen many disjointed performances, passes going astray and general confusion among the players, only to find later that actually “Wolves were hunting in packs”.As fans, obviously we are always “baying for blood”. Sadly we have had to watch the boys “lick their wounds” after defeat, when our “bark was worse than our bite”. Also Wolves never have young players, we have “wolf cubs” who are “blooded” when they make their debuts. Premiership fans have all this to look forward to in match reports over the next nine months (and hopefully longer). It’s just a shame that Steve Bull has retired.
Lakhbinder Jass, via email
Profuse apologies to Ronan Munro and all other Wycombe Wanderers fans who searched in vain for their club in the Division Two map in the WSC pre-season preview (Letters, WSC 200). Unfortunately, the Chardonnay had severely compromised my ability to count to 24 by the time I got to Division Two. I promise to omit Manchester United next time to make up for it.
Dave Robinson, Cardiff
The WSC diary entry for August 23 suggested that Swansea were the only team in Division Three with a 100 per cent record. No so. My team, York City, did even better, with maximum points from the first four games. We’ve only won one match since, however, so maybe the diarist had a vision of the future. In which case, we should be told who’s going to win the division so (discreet) bets can be placed.
Les Collins, York
From WSC 201 November 2003. What was happening this month