Neil Reynolds (WSC 180) thinks it inconceivable that Lee Hughes should choose to leave West Brom for Coventry for footballing reasons, but I think he should consider the facts at the time that decision was made rather than the current league table.
When Hughes signed for Coventry we were rated as second favourites by most bookmakers to be promoted back to the Premiership. Just about every pundit considered us to be more likely to get promotion than the Baggies and at the point of Hughes’s signature the full extent of Coventry’s debts had not yet been made public. These are the footballing reasons. We were considered to have a better team than West Brom. The fact that West Brom have a bigger stadium and higher attendances are not footballing reasons. The fact is that Hughes would have felt that he was more likely to get promotion with Coventry than with Albion.The real gist of this is that fans of some of the other Midlands clubs cannot accept the fact that Coventry have been a more successful club for the last 15-20 years and that this may be the reason we have been able to lure their players away (Birmingham – Liam Daish and Gary Breen; Wolves – Steve Froggatt; Baggies – Hughes) so they choose to believe that the players can only have been influenced by financial considerations. To borrow Neil Reynolds’s warthog analogy, that doesn’t wash either.
Ian Hossack, via email
Cris Freddi (A-Z of Footballers, WSC 180) dismisses Len Richley too lightly. In 1968-69 he took Rochdale to promotion from the Fourth Division. As the only manager ever to achieve this gravity-defying feat, he surely deserves a medal. He also took the Dale to the top of the Third in the next season, and then had the good sense to resign when he realised that no money would be forthcoming to build for further success.
David Lye, via email
Having just witnessed Cameroon v Democratic Republic of Congo in the African Nations Cup, I hope that Cameroon’s basketball-style shirts don’t catch on the Premiership, especially with my team, Middlesbrough. The sight of Phil Stamp and Dean Windass dressed in skimpy lycra vests would be enough to send most fans over the edge (if they weren’t there already). Although it might be club psychologist Bill Beswick’s idea to put the opposition off by “showing a bit of muscle”. Not a pretty thought, which- ever way you look at it.
Guy Bailey, via email
While I now live away from the area, I recently visited Home Park, Plymouth to view the reconstruction work. Following negotiations between the club, the local council and our former chairman (still the majority shareholder) much of the new stadium has been fashioned from the remnants of the old ground. I would be the first to accept that the old ground was dilapidated, what with the spartan Bark Park away end, condemned roof over the grandstand and the Tannoy system that was to public address what Ian Paisley is to a quiet chat over afternoon tea. However, I defy anyone to feel the slightest warmth towards the three new stands, sombrely set against the side of the pitch and which, in isolation, cannot be distinguished from each other. Unfortunately I never had the pleasure of visiting The Dell but constantly marvelled at the sheer magnificence of the stand which was less oblong, more scalene triangle. Also consider the recesses behind the goals at the pre-1980s Goodison or the vast expanses of fallow land at the old Stamford Bridge, perfect for selling used cars. A small part of me would have accepted the penance of Argyle staying in the lower reaches of the League providing we could avoid the monomania of football ground planners producing their characterless symmetrical grounds but, sadly, I now know how you feel at the Riverside and the Britannia. Next thing we know, not only will they have the soul of mass produced supermarket designs but they’ll be named after faceless and transient corporate sponsors. Oh, Bolton, yeah...
Rob Synott, Horsham
Darren Rogers, in his letter (WSC 180), simply proves my point about there being no “serious reflection” as to the state of the English game after Barcelona’s destruction of Liverpool at Anfield. I simply meant to point out, in case it wasn’t obvious, that a team “genuinely competitive at the highest level” should not have been so tactically and technically bereft of ideas as were Liverpool that night. Barcelona, up to then, had been quite awful in Spain – but the fact that they stuffed Liverpool in such embarrassing fashion should surely tell us something. As older Liverpool fans might well reflect, it wouldn’t have happened in the old days. Deportivo’s defeat at Leverkusen is irrelevant, since they always lose away, even in Spain. But they were not played off the park. And in case Darren failed to notice, they registered a double over Man Utd before Christmas. Bayern Munich’s drab and stuttering defeats of Real Madrid and Valencia hardly constitute a reason for Spanish soul-searching. As for Beckham, it is not a case of one game, ten games or even 100. He was indeed wonderful against Greece and long may he prosper, but the players with whom he allegedly rubs shoulders – according to this year’s FIFA awards – play like that week-in, week-out. If you watch lots of Spanish football and a bit of English football, like I do, you tend to view the game through a less rosy pair of patriotic spectacles. If Darren Rogers wishes to stick his head in the sand then all well and good, but I would prefer not to be labelled a “poor lad” for simply stating the obvious. And of course, it would be wonderful were Becks and Owen to stride Japan like twin colossi in June – but I have my doubts. So do most folks who know anything about football.
Phil Ball, San Sebastian, Spain
Roger Titford (I Dared to Discover Optimism, WSC 180) might be right to laud the only joint-player-managers ever, at Reading. Surely it is Bristol City, however, who must take credit for introducing the player-manager triumvirate. Step forward Russell Osman, Gary Shelton and Mark Aizlewood, who took over for a couple of games when Denis Smith was dismissed in January 1993.
As if that wasn’t enough, Bristol’s finest then appointed a three-man team of Tony Fawthrop, Dave Burnside and Leroy Rosenior to take over from Tony Pulis’s reign of evil in January 1999.
Ed Hayes, via email
Soheb Panja’s article on Leeds Utd and racism (WSC 180) cast my mind back to a previous editorial where there was criticism of every finish being “clinical”, every “so” a “very much so” etc. To this list of annoying cliches we should now add that every racist, every hooligan, every undesirable in football must be tattooed. I mention Mr Panja’s article only because it is the most recent example of what has been consistent stereotyping in what is otherwise the best magazine covering the game. As someone who has spent around £400 on skin art and who has never been involved in football or race-related violence, I can’t help but find this constant anti-tattoo sniping offensive. Surely all stereotyping, even about us painted freaks, is a bad thing?
John Morrow, Belfast
With reference to Cris Freddi’s description of Stan Cullis’s Wolves team as “ugly” in his otherwise informative piece on the Mitropa Cup (WSC 180). Cris has clearly failed to heed his own opinion, expressed in the same article, that “football’s great weakness is ignorance about its past”. Wolves formulated a direct, attacking style in the 1950s that combined strength, stamina, speed and skill to claim three league championships and two FA Cup wins in 11 years – scoring over 100 goals in four consecutive seasons along the way for good measure. Granted, they may not have been as “pretty” as the Man Utd and Spurs teams of that era, but their successes at domestic level should not be dismissed. Wolves also played (and remained unbeaten) in a series of ground-breaking floodlit friendlies against Europe’s best club sides, which led directly to the establishment of Mr Freddi’s much-missed European Cup. Under the management of Cullis and the captaincy of Billy Wright, Wolves were regarded as a real footballing power, and to denigrate such a formidable side as “ugly” does their memory a great disservice.
Andy Lockett, Tividale
I found the articles in WSC 180 by Soheb Panja (Stares from Tattooed Men) and Mark Tallentire (Black Marks) heartening. In the early 1980s I worked with a bloke who was a West Ham fan and he gave up going to matches at Upton Park because he got fed up with being called a “Paki” and being spat at. For him going to West Ham stopped being something he did for fun. I was very pleasantly surprised when I was with a group giving out anti-Nazi leaflets outside West Ham’s ground a couple of seasons ago. Not only did we get a warm reception but I was particularly struck that there were occasional groups of young Asian fans. That sounds patronising given that West Ham’s ground is in an area with a very large Asian population and their match day attendance in no way reflects the local population mix. However it’s not the exclusive bastion of white hostility that the racists would love. Another friend who hadn’t been to West Ham for many years told me that the crowd at a recent match were getting very irritated with “want-away” Trevor Sinclair’s performance and weren’t shy about giving him loads of abuse. She had that horrible feeling that as the abuse got nastier the first racist insult was only seconds away. But it never came. When she told the West Ham regulars who she was with how pleased and surprised she’d been, they were surprised that she thought it so unusual. I still think that change has been far too slow but it is definitely change.
Colin Yates, Plaistow
Following the recent FA Cup third round weekend, I feel that I must respond to Richard Brown’s letter bemoaning the lack of beards in professional football (Letters, WSC 180). Viewers of the live coverage of Aston Villa v Manchester United would clearly have seen the full face of hair sported by Villa defender Olof Mellberg. Furthermore, the evening before, Match of the Day viewers were treated to the “King Neptune” beard of Everton’s (as he then was) Abel Xavier playing against Stoke City. Stoke’s manager Gudjon Thordarson also proudly showed off his “just like your dad’s” beard in an interview with Barry Davies. So there we have it. Three beards, one Swedish, one Portuguese and one Icelandic. As an interesting footnote, Cardiff’s manager Alan Cork is now completely bald on both the top and bottom of his head and looks about 15 years younger than he did in 1993.
Andrew Brown, via email
I would like to take issue with certain statements made by Jill Birnie in her article Old Firm, Old Tactics (WSC 180). She states that it would take a very tolerant Hibee to wish Alex McLeish well, yet I think it would be disingenuous not to acknowledge the excellent job he did for Hibernian. Although this season has been disappointing, the past three have brought exciting football culminating in Hibs’ best league position for decades, European football for the first time in ten years and a Scottish Cup final. For this he deserves immense credit and naturally, having been such a success, he, like many players before, had the opportunity to move on. Given the equivalent opportunity in their own profession most people would leave “their Hibernian”. This is why Jill’s suggestion that football has unwritten rules and that McLeish has committed a cardinal sin is completely absurd. It is our team and we would never change allegiance, but I think Jill has confused “employee” with “supporter”. So, in three or four years’ time when Frank lifts the Premier League title and the UEFA Cup and Marseille come calling, be prepared – Kaiser Sauzée won’t be found at Easter Road, even if he does love Hibernian.
Malcolm McCann, Ramsden Heath
Forced to watch the first 15 minutes of the Aston Villa v Man Utd FA Cup game with no sound, I put the Ceefax/Teletext subtitles on and discovered a whole new world of comedy. Reference was made to “Ernest Lloyd”. I wondered for a moment who this unknown signing was. Another player from Holland where names like Dennis and Ronald still seem to be fashionable? Surely not a new Welsh sensation? Then it dawned on me that this was the subtitle rendering of “Nistelrooy”. Similarly, “Solskjaer” came across as something like “skill short”. Presumably the subtitles are produced by some hi-tech machine which gives phonetic reproductions of the commentary, but is not primed to deal with the endless foreign names in football these days. Either that or it’s some 18 year-old student desperately trying to cope with poorly enunciated commentary while earning a few bob on a Saturday night. While this method actually improved the commentary, it was too distracting, so eventually I resorted to using the sound. However, next time a TV game gets too tedious, try the subtitle option.
Andrew Roberts, Wellington
A World Cup winner as a player and a European Championship winner as a manager, Berti Vogts should have few problems in gaining the immediate respect of the Scottish squad. If, however, his charges get a bit uppity, Berti can always show them a video of the German made-for-TV thriller Tatort in which he had a bit-part as a gardener. Anybody who can go on prime-time television, say “Give the rabbit another carrot, he saved our lives” and still show his face in public is definitely not to be trifled with.
Matt Nation, Hamburg
From WSC 181 March 2002. What was happening this month