It’s hard not to be impressed by the awful judgment displayed by the Football League. First the ITV Digital fiasco and now the appointment of a failed politician as their new chairman. Apparently Brian Mawhinney’s credentials are that he “has been an MP for 23 years and has served as Secretary of State for Transport and as Northern Ireland Sports Minister”. Also that he has “contacts in the corridors of power”. Oh, and he’s been a keen supporter of Peterborough United for 25 years! Let’s look at a few facts. He is an MP for buggery’s sake! The new “family friendly” working hours introduced in Westminster in January are shifting an MP’s work to the daytime. Are all Football League board meetings going to be shifted to the evening to accommodate Mr Mawhinney’s day job? In the register of members’ interests, he already has four other part-time jobs. Plus, he is a trustee of Boston University (that’s Boston Massachussetts, not Boston Lincs, by the way). Is he going to carry on with them while providing “strategic planning” for the Football League? A keen supporter of Peterborough United? Indeed, so keen a supporter, that when it looked like he was sure to lose the Peterborough constituency at the 1997 General Election, he joined the Tory “chicken-run” and legged it to north-west Cambridgeshire in search of a safe seat. What’s more, on the Peterborough fans’ website, it was claimed that, yes, he had a season ticket – but sadly it was at Arsenal. Good news for lower league clubs, then. He wasn’t specifically the “sports minister” for Northern Ireland. He was a Northern Ireland minister and, because at that time there was no devolution, he as a minister would have had hundreds of areas of responsibilities, only one of which would have been sport. The biggest joke is about him having contacts within government. Picture the scene: Mawhinney asks a Labour minister for a meeting to discuss football. Labour minister thinks: “Hmm, it’s the man whose greatest achievement was to come up with the idea of rail privatisation and he is still a Tory MP to boot.” Says to secretary: “See if you can squeeze Mr Mawhinney into the diary for July 2009.” I don’t live in north-west Cambs and its not my business to slag off their MP, but as a football fan, I simply cannot believe this is a good appointment.
Niall Duffy, Worthing
In response to Neville Spalding’s letter (WSC 191) questioning what constitutes a “derby” game, the answer comes, historically, from deepest Surrey. The origin comes from the famous horse race first run on Epsom Downs in 1780. The title of the race was decided after the Earl of Derby and Sir Charles Bunbury, a leading racing figure of the day and friend of the Earl’s, flipped a coin to see who would have the honour of starting the first race. So begun the inaugural running of the Derby (won, incidentally, by Sir Charles Bunbury’s horse Diomede) which was to become an extremely popular sporting event. Over the years, “derby” came to refer to any sporting event drawing a large crowd. Obviously, in the old days the best attended football fixtures were always between local teams because of greater interest and less travelling. Hence the historical association of a derby with locality. However, in these heady days of motorways and globalisation I see no reason why derby can not be associated with larger areas and regions, like the north-west derby, the east midlands derby etc. By the way, I don’t think that Palace fans consider games versus Brighton to be derbies. Brighton fans may consider the game more of a derby since, I think (and I stand to be corrected), that the closest league club to Brighton is in fact Crystal Palace.
Richard Brown, Epsom
While watching Match of the Day’s FA Cup second round highlights show on December 7, I was puzzled to hear Gerald Sinstadt begin his resumé of Exeter v Rushden & Diamonds by saying something along the lines of: “These two sides could be swapping places at the end of the season.” This would mean Exeter finishing in a Third Division promotion place and Rushden slumping to a Third Division relegation place – an eccentric prediction, but possible I suppose. Gerald then rounded off his report on Exeter’s 3-1 victory by saying: “The pecking order was maintained.” This was another strange comment as the result was a small upset, if anything. Then it dawned on me. Gerald thinks Rushden & Diamonds are still a non-League side. The last couple of years which saw their promotion to the Nationwide League and their participation in last year’s Third Division play-off final have passed Gerald by, as he was far too busy doing his job as, er, a professional football journalist.
Ian Pickering, Knutsford
I can only admire Harry Pearson’s suggestion that Barry Davies was at fault when failing to reprove Leeds United for their passing movement in the 7-0 win over Southampton in 1972 (WSC 190). Personally I have yet to forgive John Motson’s refusal to censure Ricardo Villa’s cruel humiliation of the Manchester City defence in the 1981 FA Cup final. And surely the recalcitrant Davies would have been better describing Maradona’s goal against England in 1986 with the words: “Oh, you have to say that’s totally uncalled for!” Looking further back, David Coleman’s description of the famous Cruyff turn in 1974 totally lacked sympathy for the East German full-back made to a look a complete charlie. And as for Kenneth Wolstenholme’s commentaries on the Brazilian team of 1970: why, the man should have been apoplectic with rage.
Howard Pattison, Exeter
I’ve just been watching a preview of Sheffield United’s Worthington Cup quarter-final. Look North’s Harry Gration said that if United won, it would be the first time in their 113-year existence that they’d reached the semi-final. Of course, for the first 70-odd years, they didn’t even manage a goal in the competition! Ah, the powers of research.
John Clayton, via email
Does Millwall manager Mark McGhee wear eye-liner? I saw a clip of him on Sky over Christmas and, as usual, he definitely seemed to have black circles under each eye. I suppose it may just be the strain of working with Dennis Wise and so always having to look out for buckets of water placed above office doors and so on. But I prefer to think that he dabs on a bit of kohl first thing in the morning because, hey, that’s part of who he is. Equally, there’s no reason why players wouldn’t take heed of an outstretched hand pointing out a tactical switch just because the nails are painted damson. The latest attempt to revive New Romanticism failed, but it could spark up again if Millwall’s charge (well, more of an amble) in the direction of the play-offs is led by a gaffer in a frock coat and a pirate hat.
John Hislop, London SE1
Not wishing to moan or anything, but it’s worth pointing out that Newcastle had gone four Premiership games without so much as a yellow card before the Boxing Day match at Bolton. There, Sheffield’s leading karate-schooled JP, Uriah Rennie, managed to halt Sir Bobby’s quest for the Nobel Peace Prize by booking two players (LuaLua and Shearer) following Mike Whitlow’s foul on LuaLua, to which Whitlow confessed at the time. The ever stone-faced David Moyes had said on Sky after Yobo’s recent sending off : “I think we’re all getting a bit sick of referees just applying the rules.” Good to see a rare example of a referee taking notice of a manager’s comments, then, and manufacturing an entirely random response to on-field events. I look forward to Rennie et al officiating by mobile phone from their living rooms in future and not even bothering to travel to the ground. Would cut down on petrol expenses too.
Phil Greaves, Newcastle upon Tyne
David James, an embarrassment at Liverpool, now England’s second-choice keeper; Brad Friedel, totally average at Liverpool, now the best keeper in the Premiership; Sander Westerveld, second-choice Holland keeper, began committing ludicrous errors at Liverpool; Jerzy Dudek, need I say more? The common denominator in this little lot? Joe Corrigan, goalkeeping coach extraordinaire! By what exact success criteria is a goalkeeping coach judged? Results, development of ability? Corrigan’s record is little short of appalling. Is it only managers that get the sack when they fail to deliver? Chris Kirkland beware.
Dave Wallace, via email
Has anyone else noticed that Radio 5 summariser Jimmy Armfield begins every other sentence with the words “And what’s happened there is”? No doubt it’s all part of the radio commentator’s brief to paint pictures for the listener, but personally I’d like to hear Jimmy break free from mundane reportage every once in a while. I’m sure his flat northern voice intoning “And what hasn’t happened there, Mike, is a 12 foot high duck didn’t run on the pitch and begun singing a medley of Howard Jones’ hits with young Lee Bowyer doing the mime artist bit” would make him an instant cult.
Chris Front, Redcar
The letter about George’s Best’s “If I’d have been born ugly” quote (Letters, WSC 191) reminded me of another quip, associated with his comedy partner. Rodney Marsh is, we would all agree, quite a character. His best-known gag, about playing for England – “Sir Alf Ramsey told me he was going to pull me off at half-time. I said, ‘Blimey, at QPR we just get half an orange’” – features regularly in books of football quotations. But he never really said it, did he? This is supposed to have happened in a match in the early 1970s but we only heard it for the first time after Marsh became a TV pundit a few years ago and, significantly, after Sir Alf Ramsey died. There’s no way in the world that a player would have talked to Ramsey like that, but he was safe to be mocked after he was dead. The gag was probably created for an after-dinner speech, got a good reception and so stayed in the repertoire. The only funny thing Marsh ever did was to screw up Manchester City’s last serious title challenge after they signed him in early 1972.
Duncan Nisbet, Stockport
Why is Jonathan Pearce so keen to tell us that he knows various managers? Hardly an edition of 6.06 goes by without him informing some moaning caller or other that “Graham Taylor and I go back more years than I’d care to count”, or “I’ve known Peter Reid for a very long time”. It’s like listening to an airline pilot bragging that he gets to fly on lots of planes. Of course you know these people, Jonathan – it’s your job. Get over it.
Gerry Vale, via email
Birmingham coach Mark Bowen has been criticised for the size of his workload by Steve Bruce who wants him to devote less time to his other job with the Wales squad. Mark’s commitments haven’t prevented him from getting busy with a screwdriver, however. A friend of a friend bought Mark’s old house recently and was surprised to discover that all the light fittings had gone, despite being assured that this wouldn’t happen. I suppose this might have been a practical joke played on Mark by one of his charges, Robbie Savage being the most likely culprit. If not, we hope he’s found a good use for all those spare switches.
Ben Smith, via email
It’s always a pleasure to see Ray Wilkins offering his calmly expressed views on Sky’s Nationwide League coverage, even though he wasn’t perhaps one of the most successful managers at that level. A recent sighting of him on the box caused a friend and I to have an argument about which new signing Ray once praised for being “as versatile as an egg”. I fancy it was a Fulham player, though it could have been during Ray’s deft spell in charge at Loftus Road. The player in question might have been a poacher who’d be expected to be useful in a goalmouth scramble, but I could be wrong. Can anyone help?
Brian Gibbs, Hammersmith
So, farewell then,
Sir Bert Millichip.
They called you inert,
Others thought you noble.
But, really, you were carbon,
another series altogether.
This time you’ve drawn an away tie,
And there will be no replay.
That concludes the draw.
EJ Hoon, via email
From WSC 192 February 2003. What was happening this month