Alun Rogers (Letters, WSC 173) may well be right about Wales’ superior claim to Owen Hargreaves, but repeats the canard about how they “should by rights have Michael Owen”. Owen has two English-born parents. They moved to Wales, but close enough to the border that Michael James was born in a maternity hospital in England. He may live in and have been educated in Wales, and took Deeside schools records from Gary Speed and Ian Rush, but chose the training set-up of, ahem, the land of his father, at an early age. While “Owen” clearly suggests Welsh roots, the player’s own comments when asked about this subject are that his nearest Celtic relative is a solitary Scottish grandparent, while he had three English ones. In which case, is he even qualified to play for Wales?
Philip Cornwall, Lewisham
I am writing to try to get to the bottom of a sociological mystery that has been bugging me for some time. I am hoping that WSC readers worldwide can throw more light on the issue. When a goal is scored it is traditional for the supporters of the successful team to cheer and applaud loudly. No shocks or surprises here I know but recently, from the not very scientific position of my armchair, I have noticed there seem to be subtle differences in the pitch and intonation of cheering from different parts of the world. In England, of course, there is the bog standard, medium pitched “aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaay” sound. Now, applying some logic to the science of vocal chords, one would imagine that this “aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaay” sound is the sound you would expect from a typical football crowd of, let’s say 80 per cent male, 20 per cent female people in a state of some excitement. But in Scotland, especially in Old Firm games, the pitch seems to be far higher. Almost “aiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiy”, if you can imagine. It is as if the cheering is on a 33rpm record played at 45. Now I’m sure the average Scots football man is as deep voiced as his English counterpart, so what is causing him to produce such a high note at games? Is the Scottish game more exciting? Are his trousers tighter? Next on my list is Spain, a country whose European club success this year has led to many appearances on television. When a goal is scored in Spain, the crowd cheer in a much more manly way. It is as is if the crowd are shouting “Whore!” in a very throaty manner for as long as they can (“WHHHHHHHHHHORRRRRRRRRRRRRRR”, if you like). Again, I doubt the average Spaniard has a deeper voice than a Scot, so what is going on?
Ray Dexter, via email
I find it strange that Simon Edwards (Football Myths, WSC 173) can write an article on promotion from the Conference without once mentioning Halifax Town, currently the only club to have spent more than one season outside the Nationwide League before returning. Perhaps this is because our example provides solid evidence that in some cases relegation does indeed benefit both the club concerned and the league? Changes always take time to have effect and after the introduction of automatic promotion it took years before the standard of the Conference became high enough for top teams to challenge recently relegated ex-League clubs, but these days it is a valid institution; after all, surely if you win a division you deserve the chance to play at a higher level? Had one-up, one-down been introduced only recently, we would probably see exactly the same occurring now as actually occurred in the late Eighties, namely relegated teams walking away with the Conference title. With reasonable justification, we could claim to have been on average the poorest team in the League, both in playing ability and support, between the late Seventies and early Nineties, eventually culminating in our relegation in 1993. Regardless, during this time we were never once in any danger of losing our league status through the re-election process, despite an increasingly dilapidated ground and mounting financial problems. Thanks to our time in the Conference, we have been able to rebuild our fan base and our stadium and, for once in our history, gave ourselves a chance to break the mould of failure which had dogged us throughout our history. Our average crowd in the first season back was almost double our 1980s average, and when building work is fully completed The Shay will be one of the best grounds in the lower divisions. Do not be fooled by our position this season; we have a much better set-up than ten years ago. Had we not been relegated I am pretty certain we would still be consistently the worst team in the Third Division with a ground which, frankly, would have disgraced the League, and even less support than we currently have. For me, that at least is progress.
Matthew Wright, Halifax
I am writing in response to Simon Edward’s musings on the subject of promotion from the Conference (Football Myths, WSC 173). He wrote, in reference to Maidstone United: “The Kent side lasted three seasons before going bankrupt. They now play in the Kent County League.” Sadly, that’s untrue. Maidstone United went bankrupt following the last-ditch effort to save the club by John Waugh, a north-east businessman. He had purchased the club from chairman Jim Thompson and proposed to move it lock, stock and barrel to the north east, playing at St James’ Park as the Newcastle Browns. Unfortunately, he was serious. When this imaginative plan not surprisingly failed to gain any support, he closed the club down. Within a few weeks, Jim Thompson had formed a new club called Maidstone Invicta. They arranged to play on a ground owned by the local Mormon church, which ironically was the original Maidstone United’s training pitch, situated just behind the home improvements superstore on the site of the old ground. Eventually, Thompson sold his interest in Maidstone Invicta to Paul Bowden-Brown, who, as soon as he was able, purchased the right to use the name Maidstone United. He formed a new company, and the club is officially now called Maidstone United (1996) Ltd. Since that time, they have played in the County League, and have attempted to pass themselves off as the genuine article. However, unlike Aldershot, where the supporters took over the remnants of the club, in Maidstone there is no connection, other than the name, with the original Maidstone United. The historic ties that have been claimed are non-existent.
M George, Maidstone
Brian Whitby (WSC 173) writes to “explode the myth” of Barcelona’s reluctance to besmirch their shirts with sponsors, stating that the Nike tick is as good a sponsor as anything on their shirts. Shirt manufacturer logos go on all shirts, along with the club badge; I accept Brian’s point that this could be unnecessary if Barça wish to take the anti-advertising agenda to the nth degree, and I also accept that in an ideal world Barça would use a Catalan company to produce their sportswear. However, Barça exist in a market where they must compete with other clubs who can earn vast amounts from sponsorship. How could a local company producing shirts cope with the global demand from Barça fans, who want to be able to walk into their local sports store and buy the latest top? The simple fact is that Barça refuse to allow the club’s colours to be desecrated by a sponsor’s name. The club’s fans attach a great importance to their club, a greater sense of community, they see Barça as representing the whole of Catalonia on a global scale. The club do have official sponsors who have boards in the ground, and players go to functions on their behalf, but they still refuse to bear their names on the shirts. Here is a club that could command virtually any fee from some of the biggest names in the world, yet they choose not to milk that particular cash cow. I applaud them for it.
Jack Street, Stockport
I write to take issue with the wording of an incident that occurred at Brentford’s Griffin Park at the end of last season. In your words (Diary, WSC 173): “Luton defender Jude Stirling (right) is arrested after his team’s match at Brentford for allegedly assulting a home fan who had made racist remarks.” Now the way I saw it from the other side of the pitch was that Jude Stirling was arrested during the match. I mention this because from my vantage point I seem to recall him being led along the side of the pitch by one of the boys in blue. This was because he was involved in an altercation with a member of the public. There was never any “alleged” about it as far as I know. But the word “alleged” would not have looked out of place about four words from the end. The allegation of a racially motivated chant was not mentioned until a member of Luton’s management team decided to play this card about 24 hours after the incident. The general consensus of opinion was that Jude Stirling really lost the plot that evening and had probably thrown his career away. The fan involved, in your words, would not be allowed inside Griffin Park again. But that fan will probably still be cheering on the red and whites because apart from that member of the Luton management no one else heard anything (this included stewards and police who were also nearby). The same people who definitely saw the Luton player in a part of the ground not usually reserved for players.
Leslie B, via email
In response to R Watts’s letter regarding Trevor Francis’s play-off penalty shenanigans, I believe that this matter has been taken out of context from the preceding season by the whole of the media in general. While not excusing Francis’s behaviour on the night (which ultimately did us no favours in the following penalty shoot-out) the following points must be considered when blooking at his actions. Worthington Cup final v Liverpool – decision taken before the game for any penalty shoot-out to take place at the Liverpool end. What happened to the mythical toss of a coin? This was the end of a very long and emotional season for Francis – board fallouts etc – that had not been helped by what can only be described as some very erratic refereeing throughout the First Division, the worst offenders commonly being ex-Premiership referees considered not good enough for that division but fine for major First Division promotion clashes. One such individual was in charge for the Preston game. Francis was informed before the game that any penalty shoot-out would take place in the “neutral end” – in the event nothing of the sort happened and Francis was quite rightly upset that in his eyes an assurance had been given that was in effect nonsense. Ultimately Francis is a fan of the club and in this instance acted as a man from the terraces would have – with illogical passion – but to a lot of Birmingham City supporters it demonstrated the feelings that he has for the club. The question of a replay is clearly nonsense and I quite agree that we were not good enough over the course of the season to be promoted. However, the fact that Trevor Francis has been portrayed as some kind of buffoon for his actions is wide of the mark.
Ian Holloway, Kings Norton
Your comparison between Sol Campbell and Andrew Oldcorn (Editorial, WSC 173), doesn’t really stack up. Golfers get paid on a results basis, where if they miss the cut they get next to nothing. Sol Campbell on the other hand was looking for, if the figures are to be believed, £5.5 to 6 million per annum, whatever the results. Do you think that if Spurs had paid him the money he wanted, they could have asked for some back if they didn’t get into Europe next year? Yes, even as I speak the runway for the flying pigs is being built. Equally, if they paid Campbell that salary, how long before all the other players are queueing up for their rises, a logic golfers can’t apply. You may think you are half as good as Tiger Woods, but the only way to prove it is to go and win half his prize money. The word “win” being the key in that sentence. Don’t get me wrong, I am not defending the amounts sports players “earn”. I think they are all vastly overpaid, when you consider most people would give their right arm to do what they do for a living. It’s just that some get paid on a performance basis, while others want to get paid what they, or more likely their agent, think they are worth.
Ian Crossan, via email
Living in Porto, I was particularly interested to read Phil Town’s article about Boavista (WSC 173). What the club managed to achieve was stunning in the light of Portuguese football history. Well into this year, Porto fans were patting them on the head, confident in the inevitability of their eventual capitulation to the Dragons on the other side of the city. When the title was clinched, many reverted to regional gloating in order to catch a ray or two of reflected glory. In fact, the bandwagons in the north of Portugal must be buckling under the pressure of all those jumpers, in a way that reminds me of the Saturday in May 1995 when I first saw Blackburn shirts on the streets of Winchester (try finding one now). Phil Town refers to their game winning few purist friends; this needs a little clarification. Their high-tempo, relatively direct style contrasts greatly with the standard Portuguese game. References to the English abound when their games are on TV. They do it well and, when on-song, do it with a passion and dynamism that is a refreshing change. Unfortunately, the standard of refereeing here can be dismal, with seemingly every little fall penalised. While Boavista certainly know how to play the same old games with refs as all the others, they also suffer from their frequent lack of comprehension of the notion of “hard but fair”. This problem is a curse of the game here, often reducing matches to passionless, plodding inevitabilities that draw pitiful crowds as a result. Yet Boavista managed to overcome all this through motivation and belief, mixed with not a little ability.
Mark Weeks, Porto
In the Season Review included in your latest issue (WSC 173) you mention Luxembourg’s home defeat against the Faroe Islands. But Jeff Strasser has not been quoted correctly. His true words were: “If the coach has to go because of them [the fans], many of us players will think about abandoning the national side too.” Which is quite different to saying: “The fans should give the coach a chance.” Many of us have grown up as Luxembourg fans knowing only Paul Philipp as a coach, so no one should tell us whom we should criticise. Philipp achieved a lot with Luxembourg but he missed the time to resign – they would have errected a monument for him in the middle of the Route d’Arlon (the street in which Luxembourg’s national ground lies) if he had stood down after the Euro 96 qualifying campaign. But the progress made by then has since been wasted.
Paul Krie, via email
From WSC 174 August 2001. What was happening this month