Martin Cloake and Paul Kelso’s contributions to the Sol Campbell debate (WSC 175) highlight the head versus heart struggle most Tottenham fans have had to go through. I’m sure that every one of the 30,000 of us who gave him a standing ovation both on and off of the pitch at Old Trafford in the Cup semi-final were left feeling like mugs when we heard that he had finally signed for Arsenal. But to characterise Sol as a symbol of player disloyalty is ridiculous when there are a thousand other candidates who have made taking the money and running an art form: Collymore, Sutton, Anelka etc, etc, etc. The man was at the club for ten years and gave his all in every game he played. To expect more than that, or even half of that, is self-delusion on the part of fans. Fans are loyal, players aren’t. They can’t allow themselves to be. A change of manager, an injury, a loss of form can all see a player thrown out of a club in no time at all. No, what Sol was symbolic of – for Spurs fans anyway – was the idea that Spurs could recruit and keep top international players in their prime and not just those on their way up or down. This idea has taken a major knock now. On top of that, by going to Arsenal he is a symbol of how much they are in the ascendancy – as if we needed any reminding! – and how the board has mismanaged the club over the last ten years. Having said all that, if we’re honest, those of us who have watched Sol week in, week out since 1993 know that he’s not as good as the press would have everyone believe; his poor passing and lack of confidence going beyond the half-way line have been there for anyone to see. Would he get into the Italian national side? Perhaps he’s also a symbol of something else: the way players are hyped beyond recognition by the TV companies and press.
Patrick Brannigan, via email
In a rare idle moment, I decided to rank last season’s Second Division clubs in order of popularity – measured by opposing fans’ “Likes and dislikes” in your 2001-02 season preview (WSC 175). Strange to find that the three least popular clubs, including my team, Reading, are exactly those favoured by the same supporters to top the Second Division table this season. I for one think they’re right.
Jon Cope, via email
That Ken Sproat is an informative chap, isn’t he? Replica shirts are worn by “mainly the match-going fan or the aligned non-attendee”. Now that’s the kind of nugget of information that I buy WSC for, but could he tell me who the remaining small minority of wearers are?
Richard Warwick, Argyll
With his comments on the scheduling of matches (WSC 175), Football League chief executive David Burns seems to be stating that the interests of paying supporters are secondary to those of television companies, because the latter group puts more into the game in terms of hard cash. When the fixture schedules become so haphazard and ridiculous that Football League attendances are counted in dozens rather than thousands, I wonder how many companies will be willing to pay Mr Burns’s organisation large sums of money to televise a series of non-spectacles? It is all very well not wanting to “bite the hand that feeds”, but if the only way of avoiding this is to cut off one’s own head, it may be time to reconsider priorities.
Gavin Barber, via email
For years now a friend who’s not particularly interested in football has insisted whenever John Gregory appears on TV that he used to buy chickens from him – “or else he’s got a double” – and that female customers would always be called “madam” in a manner that might be best described as saucy. I always used to think that it was mistaken identity. Now, however, I gather that John Gregory has admitted he did indeed work on a market stall before becoming a coach. It’s nice to know that Mr Gregory has a trade to fall back on should he ever find himself to surplus to requirements at Villa Park. I assume, too, that he has kept up his old contacts and is therefore often in a position to offer “a nice bit of pork shoulder” to whomever in his first team squad should require it (possibly not Alpay).
Tim Weaver, Irchester
Who’s conning who? I refer to Michael Martin’s allegations in WSC 175 that my article in the previous issue, outlining the disillusion felt by myself and many others with the sanitised, corporate Premiership experience in general, and Newcastle United in particular, was nothing more than “transparent mischief making” and contained “several factual inaccuracies”. Michael goes on to cast aspersions on my claim to be a Newcastle supporter at all, partly based on my non-residence in the north-east. To start with the factual errors – OK, you’d be hard-pressed to find many articles in the NUFC fanzines entitled Why I’m Giving Up My Ticket. But a whopping 83 per cent of respondents to the Mag’s end of season poll declared themselves “less happy” than a year before, while more or less every single article in the same publication’s Summer Special alludes to rising discontent among the support. Contributors variously claim that “my enthusiasm for the club is on the wane”, “my love for the club could be a long distance one if the best midfielder in the country (Kieron Dyer) is sold” or that the club is “embarking on a seemingly determined effort to alienate itself from its core support”. This last quote comes from an article penned by none other than Michael Martin himself. You don’t have to read too far between the lines to conclude that the mood of the fans is less than optimistic. At the time I submitted my piece (just after the end of last season), I was far from alone in forecasting a sizeable drop in season ticket renewals and throughout June the local press rumbled with rumours of low sales. As late as July 7, the Newcastle Journal was reporting that the club were still selling tickets one month after the renewal deadline, citing unofficial reports that only 26,000 had so far been taken up. A mass desertion really did seem on the cards. Still, in the end, I’ve been proved wrong. Current official reports have sales at 39,000 and rising, with the possibility of record-breaking levels by the start of the campaign. A testament to the continuing loyalty of the support, or to a gullibility bordering on the pathetic, depending on which way you look at it. Which brings me back to the question at the top. It is we, the fans, that are being conned, by the directors, into paying through the nose to watch second-rate drivel, season after thankless bleeding season. Sorry to state the obvious, but there you are. And as a lifelong Newcastle supporter (one of the 7,184 there against Wrexham in 1979, for what it’s worth), this is what depresses me, and this is why I’m walking away.
Jonathan Baker, Manchester
Do Rothmans feel that the rest of the clubs come from another planet, when in their current they introduce Rushden and Diamonds by giving their address as being in “Earthlingborough”?
Andy Howland, via email
What is actually wrong with the fact that the Bundesliga is run according to relatively sane economics? Matt Nation’s Letter from Germany (WSC 175) gives the impression that clubs in the top German division would rather not pay big money for the top players, for a variety of bizarre reasons, above all the so-called “jealousy factor” – which has certainly dom- inated a large part of the debates on football and money. It’s true that this is a neat phrase for the darker side of Germany’s collective consciousness, but it has nothing whatever to do with the fact that Sol Campbell, for example, chose to join Arsenal rather than Bayern Munich. It’s also true that many top European players are willing to sacrifice their ambitions to play in the Champions League or UEFA Cup in order to devote themselves to middle-ranking Premiership clubs. But that has less to do with the glamour emanating from Middlesbrough, Derby or Southampton than with the fact that they can earn roughly 50 per cent more there than in the Bundesliga. That in turn is the result of higher TV revenues and an exchange rate that makes Japan look like a realistic travel alternative to Britain for Germans and other inhabitants of mainland Europe. Matt Nation goes on to assert that a lack of passion in the Bundesliga also contributes to the shortage of star names. I’ve got no idea where he’s seen games in Germany, but Amoroso is likely to experience a sight more passion in Dortmund than in Parma. Likewise at Schalke, Kaiserslautern, St Pauli and in many other stadiums, not least because you are still allowed to stand and sing at German league matches. The existence of terraces is also one of the reasons why average ticket prices in Germany are lower than in most other major European football countries. Nation calls them “ridiculously low”, but it’s hard to see what’s so wrong about that. The pricing policy is not only an attempt to shore up wavering fan loyalties, as he alleges (although a club like Hertha BSC is certainly a good example of that). Amid all the commercialisation that has come into German football in the past few years, there still remains a clear feeling among those in charge that various social group should not be excluded from stadiums by extortionate ticket prices. If that’s a conservative policy, then I’m happy to be labelled a conservative. I’m not sure either what is supposed to be so weird about paying attention to the integration of foreign players and their families at German clubs. Ewald Lienen, the Cologne coach, recently spent the whole of an afternoon’s training session speaking French, to give his German players an idea of the problems faced by their non-German speaking colleagues. I don’t find that absurd. It can hardly be damaging that players in the same team are able to communicate with each other. But obviously in this area Germany does not have the benefit that half the world speaks English. The starting point of the article was the record transfer of Amoroso from Parma, which actually wasn’t a record at all. Of the DM50 million paid out, DM35 million was the value accorded to Amoroso’s compatriot Evanilson. His contract is now held by Parma, but Evanilson will continue to play for Dortmund on loan. So Borussia are in fact paying only DM15 million. Obviously even for record transfer fees Bundesliga clubs aren’t so free and easy with their cash.
Christoph Biermann, Cologne, Germany
What a disappointment that no one writing in the season’s preview (WSC 175) came up with the one sure-fire winner of an idea for half-time entertainment. The manager’s half-time team talk should be broadcast over the tannoy system or – better still given the clubs’ eye for a profit– on rented earphones. If it is via the tannoy, there will be a choice so the rule must be it is the losing manager’s pep-talk that is broadcast or, in the event of a draw at half-time, the home team’s. I first came across this simple pleasure a few years ago at a non-League ground where the home team was playing someone two levels lower in a qualifying round of the FA Cup. I noticed a group of home fans gathered against the side wall of the Portakabin changing rooms. At the point that I joined them, the home manager was speaking in a sort of controlled rage about “passion” and “who wants it more” and “looking at yourself in the mirror”. As the interval proceeded the volume increased and we were able to move further away without risk of missing anything. The rant rose to a finely timed crescendo, without a single word from any of the players, until some signal told them it was time for the second half. There was just time for a final roared “Now go out there and show me you want to win it”, before the door opened and we all hastily scattered. There was certainly an effect from this homily because in the first half the home team had controlled the play but failed to score, due to a mixture of appalling finishing and uncompromising tackles. Following their leader’s words of wisdom, they now abandoned all pretence at passing and tried to out-threaten their visitors. They scored first but soon conceded an equaliser and then lost to a penalty five minutes from the end following a fight after which two players were sent off (bringing the total to three).Unfortunately, I had to leave straight after the end and so missed the manager’s final comments. So there you have it. A guaranteed riveting half-time entertainment, usually only available at smaller non-League grounds, or those with thin-walled dressing rooms. Next time you go to such a game, find the dressing rooms and drift towards them at the 40-minute mark because soon, and mark my words, you will have to pay for such privileges.
Mick Blakeman, via email
It seems to me misguided to suggest as Ken Gall did in WSC 175 that the Scottish national team during the Fifties and Sixties included some of the greatest players in the world. Granted, while acknowledging that many prominent names such as Law, Bremner and Baxter spring to mind when thinking about Scottish football during this era, I don’t believe they can be properly equated with players such as Puskas, Eusébio, Di Stéfano and Pelé. Secondly, Gall mentioned that during the aforementioned era “Scotland qualified for nowt”. This is an inaccuracy, since Scotland qualified for and competed in both the 1954 and 1958 World Cup finals. The Home International championship of 1952-53 was used as a qualifying tournament for the 1954 World Cup. It was not until proper pan-European football emerged in the late Fifties that the Home International championship descended into the parochial non-event it largely was until 1984. In 2001, notwithstanding the realistic threat of hooliganism, the extreme demands of domestic and European football on clubs mean that the matches are a non-starter. Moreover, what individual national coaches and players would learn from the games is open to question. Another likelihood is that the games would be used by coaches as a means to test out players who are simply not up to the standards of top class competitive international football.
Damon Main, Aberdeen
In his article Deep Divisions (WSC 175) I was astounded to see Roger Titford using Richard Prokas’s tackle on Patrick Vieira in the Carlisle v Arsenal FA Cup tie last season as a metaphor for what lower division “journeymen” footballers feel towards the “untouchability of the stars”. Admittedly, Mr Titford described the tackle as “gruesome”, but please don’t dignify Prokas by giving his disgusting, potentially career-ending act of thuggery some perceived deeper meaning. I can’t believe any such thought process went through his mind as he launched himself at Vieira’s knee.
Ian F Dall, Fuengirola, Spain
From WSC 176 October 2001. What was happening this month