I’m glad Brian Gibbs can gain pleasure from hearing Ray Wilkins (Letters, WSC 192). Us QPR supporters can’t help remembering Ray Wilkins presiding over the start of the long decline we’ve had to endure at Loftus Road. Ned Zelic is the “versatile as an egg” player referred to. Wilkins wasted a big chunk of the money QPR got for Les Ferdinand on buying him. What was Wilkins thinking of? Ferdinand was approaching his peak, you could guarantee 25 goals (and probably more) from him in a season. He was incredibly popular with QPR fans, even when he scored for Newcastle at Loftus Road a couple of months later in what turned out to be the first of the relegations QPR would suffer all too quickly. Zelic turned out to be a very bad egg, not versatile at all. We could forgive him for not being any use. It was the fact that he didn’t even try that annoyed us.
Pete Harris, via email
I know I am a complete anorak, but I just can’t resist. Howard Pattison’s letter about Harry Pearson is funny (Letters, WSC 192), but I’m not surprised that David Coleman lacked sympathy for East Germany in the Cruyff turn footage in 1974. East Germany weren’t on the field. The full-back left cursing the invention of the action replay was Jan Olsson of Sweden, admittedly playing in a DDR-imitating blue.
Tristan Browning, Reading
Something overlooked with regards to Lee Bowyer’s controversial move to West Ham has been Glenn Roeder’s extremely worrying comments about “footballing ability and not moral issues” being his only concern. With these words he sends out the message to the local ethnic minority community that West Ham will sign any racist that harasses or assaults you. If he is a good enough footballer! What Roeder simply should have said that he was satisfied Bowyer was not a racist and if he was he would not have signed him. It looks like Roeder’s comments have been overlooked to date, as most of the media attention has focused on the actual signing of Bowyer, but he deserves some very serious questions to be asked about these potentially inflammatory remarks.
Judd Clarke, via email
Where’s the logic behind staging FA Cup replays a week and a half after the original tie? The main result of the prolonged wait is to reduce anticipation after the excitement (or lack of it in the case of Bournemouth v Crewe Alexandra in this year’s third round) of the original tie. As far as I’m aware, the reason this was introduced was to allow the local police force to arrange cover for the replay. However, there have recently been two examples of postponed matches where this hasn’t been a problem, namely Gillingham v Sheffield Wed (FA Cup third round, postponed on Jan 4 and rearranged for three days later) and Portsmouth v Sheffield United (First Division, postponed on Jan 11, rearranged for two days later). In both of these cases, the local police had no advance warning the fixture might be rearranged, but seemed to cope admirably. Another (albeit foreign) example is the postponed Barcelona v Newcastle “Champions” League fixture, re- arranged at 24 hours’ notice. Surely if a game of such magnitude can be rearranged with minimal notice, then an FA Cup replay could be too? It could be argued that ticket distribution for the replay may cause a problem, but clubs always coped years ago when crowds were bigger and technology hadn’t stretched to a computer, never mind an electronic substitution board. And there’s another thing...
Andrew Brown, Teddington
I find it hard to believe that Chris Ramsey (WSC 192) was fired from Luton on what he describes as racist grounds. The general consensus at the time was that he and Ricky Hill were clearly not the right men for the job. He was only given 12 games to prove himself, but in those matches we saw an appalling Luton side – and the fans were talking of impending relegation. Coaching an England Under-20 team and the day-to-day running of a professional side are two entirely different entities – and it showed. Ramsey claims that the players turned against him. Which players were they? Abbey, Boyce, Johnson, Scarlett, Kandol, Douglas, Sterling and George were all regulars at his disposal – all of them black. To imply that Luton is a racist club is grossly unfair. How many clubs would have appointed a black duo to oversee the team in the first place? You say that the fans are “exclusively white” but the nature of the town means that we are probably the most racially tolerant supporters I can think of. Do Norwich, Plymouth or Newcastle have a large ethnic support? I think not. It is a pity that Chris Ramsey felt the need to play the racist card instead of focusing on his own shortcomings as a coach.
Richard Hedge, via email
I read Ashley Shaw’s “reassessment” of Martin Edwards’ reign at Old Trafford (WSC 192) with interest. I was highly surprised by his claim that “United were struggling in 1980, indeed Manchester City were about level in terms of attendance and income in this period”. Double-checking records for that period my suspicions were confirmed; in the seasons 1979-80 and 1980-81, City averaged 35,272 and 33,587, while United averaged significantly higher crowds of 51,608 and 45,071. With consistently higher crowds than any other club in England, even in the club’s darkest days, it is hard to see how Edwards could have failed toturn Manchester United into the dominant economic power in English football.
Geoff Pearson, via email
If a future historian has nothing better to do than trace the developments in football during the last quarter of the 20th century, he will find it harder than he thinks, given the strange malice which surrounds much press coverage of Manchester United, one newspaper in particular making itself look more ridiculous by the year. I would have though better of WSC, however, and assumed that you could at least check a factual statement by one of your contributors. In his bizarre paean of praise for Martin Edwards (WSC 192) Ashley Shaw fuels the envy-driven notion that until their recent success, Manchester United were a run-of-the-mill top division side, whose following was dependent on on-field success, and has much expanded as a direct result of more recent trophy-hoovering. In particular he states that “United were struggling in 1980”. This would presumably be the “struggling” that involves topping the league attendance figures for the previous eight years, despite Liverpool’s dominance in terms of trophies and United spending one of those years in the Second Division. Even more surprisingly, you print his assertion that “indeed Manchester City were about level in terms of attendance”. It is fair to say that 51,608 is not quite “about level” with 35,272, to give the two teams’ average league attendances for the 1979-80 season. All of this needs to be put into the perspective of standing on the terraces which meant that few matches were sold out, stadium size thus not being a factor, and the fact that the incumbent manager was master tactician Dave Sexton whose long-ball theories got him sacked after seven successive victories. All of which goes to show that the average United follower is right in attributing the current glory years to the Man with the Plan, rather than the Butcher’s Boy.
Mike Matejtschuk, via email
While Duncan Nisbet may be correct in his letter (WSC 192) with regards to Rodney Marsh’s signing scuppering Manchester City’s title challenge in 1972, he is wrong in stating it was our last serious attempt at the championship. This was actually in 1977 when a disputed goal for Liverpool, at Maine Road (some things never change) earned the Reds an undeserved draw, a point that came in handy later in the season as it was the difference between the two sides at the top come May. Considering Duncan used this as a joke to highlight the fact that Marsh himself bent the truth somewhat in his “best-known gag” is rather ironic.
Phil Dykes, via email
Though hardly a plea in mitigation, I should point out that football is by no means the only sport in the UK with a scarcity of black managers (WSC 192). Indeed, the only sport in this country with a good record in this respect appears to be rugby league, in which Ellery Hanley, for example, was appointed as Great Britain head coach in 1994. Incidentally, I don’t know which player Ray Wilkins described as being “as versatile as an egg” (Letters, WSC 192) but I understand that the phrase was first used in a television advertisement for Coronation evaporated milk in the Seventies.
Nicola Hearsey, Ipswich
The other night on The Premiership Andy Townsend commented that Kieron Dyer “gives Newcastle an extra dimension”. Most viewers probably dismissed this as hyperbole, but I am not so sure that Andy hadn’t hit on the real reason behind United’s recent good run. I mean, assuming that Sir Bobby’s side are already operating in Albert Einstein’s posited four dimensions, the addition of the nippy midfielder is taking the team into the fifth dimension. My knowledge of what this means scientifically is admittedly sketchy, but based my memories of The Tomorrow People it seems that with Dyer in the side The Magpies would be able to travel through time, make goldfish bowls shatter using the power of the mind, communicate telepathically and wear crimpelene bodysuits without fear or embarrassment. No wonder they beat Spurs.
Fred Wesley, Durham
Your editorial in WSC 192 hit the nail on the head in its comments on Peter Kenyon’s desire to see 52 Football League clubs go out of business. I would go further; the other side of the idea that there are “too many clubs” is that there are “too few fans”, which can only mean that Kenyon and his Premiership co-thinkers believe that fewer clubs will result in more supporters coming through their gates, or buying their replica shirts from JJB. I believe they are mistaken. As I write this, I have no idea whether York City will survive. If they do not, I shall certainly not be battering at the doors of Old Trafford or Elland Road to spend huge amounts of cash to watch teams I could never give a toss about. If my allegiance is to be transferred anywhere, it will be to another lower-division or non-league club. Maybe Whitby, maybe Morecambe, but certainly a football club and not a bloated money machine. It seems the bigger these businesses become, and the more capital they have concentrated in their hands, the less they can handle the competition. You mentioned Kenyon may have seen his lot beat York City in 1975; he is more likely to have been at Old Trafford on September 20, 1995 when York City stuffed United 3-0 in the League Cup, a victory which prevented his plc doing a domestic treble that year. A 40-club set up could all but eliminate such banana skins for the self-adoring elite, which would certainly cheer their accountants up. But for genuine football fans there will be as much joy in this process as there would be in getting partisan about whether it’s Sainsbury’s or Asda who gets to take over Safeway. Nevertheless, there is light at the end of the tunnel. The supporters of York City and many other teams have fought back hard to defend their clubs and save them for future generations. Clubs run by supporters’ trusts are not guaranteed to survive. However, they are not being run by financiers who want to spend the competition into oblivion, but by fans who care passionately, not just about their own club or their own league, but about the whole of football from the Sunday leagues right through to the so-called Champions League.
Frank Ormston, York
On Talksport, January 14, presenter Alan Brazil was chatting to a bookmaker about that night’s FA Cup ties. While going through the list, Mr Brazil offered the view that “Sunderland may well get the three points” and “Sunderland to leapfrog Bolton tonight” before carrying on with the rest of the predictions. But then, he is only a full-time sports journalist.
Sean O’Brien, Leeds
From WSC 193 March 2003. What was happening this month