Your piece on the delights of terracing in Germany (WSC 171) provided a stark juxtaposition with the book I am currently reading, Nick Varley’s Parklife, where remorselessly he denies the reader any escape from the fact that Hillsborough is the pivotal moment of modern English football. For a moment I bathed in a tide of nostalgia, wistful for the excitement and overwhelming passion of terrace culture. Seats were for spectators, not fans. I also recalled the crush amidst the Tottenham fans at the Leppings Lane end in 1981 referred to in Varley’s book as the disaster that nearly happened. Last month I watched another semi-final, this time sitting in the Stretford End with my children. I’m proud they share my undiminished enthusiasm for the game, but we would not be together, either at Old Trafford or in the Members end at White Hart Lane, if we had to stand. We go to every home game in perfect safety and the view is excellent. Earlier that day they had for the first time been exposed to a fraction of the experience of the old days, and the famous adage that clubs never learn. Several thousand fans arriving for the official coaches formed an orderly queue round the ground. Well past departure time the random arrival of coaches, no stewards, no information and only three police meant that we joined everyone else roaming up and down the High Road. The best informed copper had not been told where the coaches would pull up and advised us to wait and “scramble for a seat”. The club were sufficiently organised, however, to open up the club shop from 5am. Thanks to the fans there was no trouble. My kids were bewildered at this lack of organisation because their experience of supporting their team is so utterly different, and I am glad this is the case. They already know about the contempt with which football treats the fans (left home 4.30am, back home 12.45 am). The game remains indifferent to Hillsborough and the Taylor Report in so many ways, but if terraces return we will still be sitting down.
Alan Fisher, Tonbridge
Your article on German stadia provides evidence for the fact that terracing at football grounds is, indeed, as safe as seating. Had the Hillsborough or Heysel disasters not taken place, I don’t think that football in Britain would have reached the same level of commercialisation that it has done, which is destined to leave more and more out of pocket and maybe persuade children into following cheaper pastimes.The efforts of Kate Hoey to reinstate terracing at football grounds are certainly brave, but their dismissal by the powers that be shows naivety on the FA’s part. Many have had to cope with the emotional baggage created by accidents at football grounds, but it is simple to see that terracing is as safe as seating in stadia, on three conditions: that the areas are maintained at a safe standard; that appropriate access is provided both inside and outside the grounds; and that the amount of people admitted does not exceed a safe ceiling. The recent disaster in South Africa shows how too many people even in seated areas is unsafe. So why has terracing become the scapegoat for something that happened which wasn’t directly its fault?
James Prentice, North Hykeham
Roy Keane’s tackle on Alfie Haaland in the Manchester derby has been described as the sort of thing one might expect to see in amateur football. In fact, tackles like that rarely happen at lower levels for the simple reason that the perpetrator would know that the victim’s team-mates would be waiting for him in the car park afterwards. Keane, I’m sure, was in no such danger – the worst he could expect after the match would be to endure five minutes’ small talk in the players’ lounge with the shirt sponsors. The higher a player’s profile, the more likely he is to get away with common assault.
Paul Beecham, Sale
Whilst I am delighted to see an article about the Conference in your magazine (WSC 170) you have to go and spoil it all with your inaccurate remarks about Telford United. Louis Williamson alleges that “Telford United and Leigh RMI average comfortably under four figures”. Has he noticed that we played our home games for the first half of the season nearly 40 miles away at Worcester City while our stadium was being redeveloped? Since our return to the Bucks Head only one league game has attracted less than 1,000 spectators, and we had nearly 2,500 for the opening game against Dagenham at the new stadium. Comfortably under 1,000? I think not!
Rollo Sheridan, Telford
Roger Titford’s response (Letters, WSC 171) to my original letter the previous month seems to have missed the point somewhat. I am well aware, as indeed are most Wycombe fans, of the deep-seated and intense rivalry that exists between Swindon’s, Reading’s and Oxford’s respective supporters. However, if you look at all the previous Regions articles in WSC, they have focused on broad geographic regions often covering large numbers of teams, eg the South West, London, East Anglia, the North West, whether teams therein have been natural “local rivals” or not. Whilst I admit that the Thames Valley corridor has never been a hot-bed of upper echelon footballing success, to exclude Wycombe from the article by means of restricting membership to those within the cosy enclave of the Didcot Triangle (a bit like the Bermuda Triangle, only it’s trophies that seem to go missing) seems a fairly large oversight, at worst a touch disrespectful. No one could deny that Wycombe Wanderers have made great strides over the last decade or so, with the events of this season pushing the club well into the national spotlight, so Piers Pennington’s complete omission of the club (save one condescending mention) in WSC 169’s Regions article was the catalyst for my first letter. However, as Roger rightly points out, Reading in particular do seem to have welcomed Wycombe fixtures into their schedule as genuine local derbies, and, speaking from experience, all games between the two sides in recent history have been memorable “blood and thunder” affairs. Maybe the area could be renamed the Henley Trapezium? The Wallingford Oblong? The Abingdon Rhombus? I knew Maths O-level would come in useful one day...
Dave Chapman, via email
In your feature on now extinct trophies (WSC 171) it is said that the hat-trick scored in the Chelsea v Man City final was the first in a Wembley final since Geoff Hurst’s in the 1966 World Cup. Would just like to remind those who have forgotten (how could you!) that Doug Young scored a hat-trick for Billericay as they overcame Almondsbury Greenway in the 1979 FA Vase final. But, of course, we all knew that.
Daniel Rickard, via email
The little regard in which the Full Members’ Cup was held, as recalled in WSC 171, never seemed to occur to Radio Solent in 1992. Southampton’s appearance in the last ever final against Nottingham Forest was given an em- barrassing level of hype by the local radio station, culminating in commentator John Hughes gushing at seeing Des Walker walk past “with that famous trophy”. Which famous trophy it was that Walker had apparently purloined was never revealed.
Colin Tapner, Poole
Although there is no doubting the existence of double-headed coins (even though Nasser Hussain hasn’t twigged yet) I have yet to see a three-sided coin. But there must indeed be such a thing, because at the end of the Bayern Munich v Man United game, commentator BFR said that his choice for man-of-the-match was “a toss-up between Effenberg, Kahn and Jeremies”.
Derek Megginson via email
According to a report in the Sunday Express, Newcastle’s hopes of signing Michael Bridges from Leeds have been set back because he has twisted a knee “while getting off the toilet”. This was disappointing news for us Tynesiders who had been hoping that local boy Bridges was about to atone for the mistake made at the start of his career when he signed for Sunderland. But it’s baffling, too. Attempts to recreate the moment have left my friends and I none the wiser as to how the injury occurred. Does he have an especially high toilet? Was a polished floor to blame? In view of the damage the incident may have done to young Michael’s career, can we now expect to see a public safety film warning of the dangers lurking in the smallest room (in fact, probably quite a big room given the money he’s on)?
Ken Monro, Hebden Bridge
Reading the Football Myths section in WSC 171, I was very intrigued by the accompanying picture. Is it just me, or is the bloke on the right, trailing hopelessly in Signor Chinaglia’s wake, attempting to stop him by performing the movements from YMCA? Or was this another NASL innovation – a compulsory workout for each missed tackle?
Mark Horseman, via email
Recently I attended the Under-16 European Championship match between Spain and Belgium at New Ferens Park, Durham. As is the practice at Northern League grounds, the half-time whistle saw a mass exodus in the direction of the bar. We were in for a disappointment, however, as a steward informed us that the clubhouse had been booked by UEFA. As I stood in the drizzle on the cold terrace I kept my spirits up by imagining that inside, the top honchos from Zurich were being entertained in traditional manner. The thought of Lennart Johansson and his chums eating pie and peas while listening to a middle-aged divorcee in a lurex cat-suit singing Evergreen certainly did more for my morale than a pint of Federation bitter ever could. Incidentally, the same game also produced some good news for pun-loving patrician TV commentator Barry “Sergi aptly named because he does like to go on those surging runs” Davies – Spain’s midfield was marshalled by a young dynamo named Busy.
Fred Wesley, Lanchester
I thought the anti-racism fanzine included with WSC 171 was very good but there was one section which I found a little concerning. Sir Alex Ferguson’s interview raised three issues which I thought were slightly alarming. He seems to argue that to be on the end of abuse somehow makes the recipient stronger. I know there are some people who derive their desire to succeed from adversity but I would argue there are more people who find abuse, especially because of their colour, more than just a little hurtful. His admission that he had to ask black players why they “rose” to racist abuse seems ignorant. Secondly, his claim that Peter Schmeichel’s comments were in the heat of the moment and not racist per se. A racist comment is a racist comment, whenever it is said. If Emile Heskey, for example, fell over under a gentle challenge and won a penalty in an important semi-final, would a cry from the crowd “the black bastard dived” be deemed a heat of the moment comment by the black person standing next to the moron who shouted it? What is more worrying would be Schmeichel as a manager being interviewed immediately after a game and blurting out some idiotic remark.Finally, Alex Ferguson’s claim that he didn’t notice many black faces at West Ham. I am a West Ham fan and it is true, given the location of the Boleyn Ground, that there are very few black or Asian fans. However, I will not try to excuse this à la Ferguson as a problem in getting hold of tickets. To justify the limited number of black fans at Old Trafford, the biggest ground in England, by stating that they cannot get season tickets, is no better than sweeping the problem under the carpet. Football can be used as a force against racism but it needs people like Sir Alex Ferguson to get right behind the campaign and not make ridiculous excuses.
Jake Fleming, Swindon
Mikey writes an elegant and and powerful rebuke to racism by football fans in general and Manchester City fans in particular in United Colours of Football 2 (Kick It Out supplement, WSC 171). Disturbingly, however, he asks at the bottom of column one why he is hated so much (because of his colour) but apparently perceives no hypocrisy in himself hating Andy Cole (because he plays for a club which Mikey does not support). Perhaps if Mikey was able to address his own irrational hatred of players from opposing football teams and try not to judge them by the colour of their shirt but by the content of their character (with apologies to Martin Luther King) he would be better placed to pursue his excellent campaign against hatred and racism in football.
Tim Littlewood, Oxford
From WSC 172 June 2001. What was happening this month