Matt Nation’s defence of the long ball game (Myths, WSC 167) was a welcome read for someone like me who went to Wimbledon regularly in the Eighties and saw contempt spat at the club from all directions for the no frills style of play that apparently invalidated everything we had achieved. Long ball football, admittedly, can be boring, but only if it doesn’t work. And for Wimbledon in the Eighties it did work – like a dream. In fact the Dons were the League’s top scorers in each of their first two seasons of hoofing it (1982-83 and 1983-84) with 96 and 97 League goals respectively, topping the hundred mark in all competitions.We were also, not surprisingly, promoted in both as well (as champions with 98 points in the former) and again in 1985-86. By September 1986 – less than four years after losing 4-2 at home to Halifax in a Fourth Division match – we were top of the whole League (albeit only for 11 days). In all the excitement I don’t think I even noticed that we were a “boring long ball side” until the media and our disgruntled victims started bleating about it.
Brian Matthews, Sutton
I remember a glorious moment from the early stages of the 1986 World Cup when England supremo Bobby Robson, stumbling through the England team sheet for their next game, became very confused by the ace Everton duo of Gary Stevens and Trevor Steven, coming out with “Trevor Stevens playing rightback”. Clearly, the Polish opposition were utterly fooled as we managed to win the next game and rekindle some World Cup hope. So, imagine my surprise when such a delusion repeated itself in Bryan’s Gig (WSC 167), which featured an England team photo from 1986 with Gary Stevens looking suitably ruffled and pink-faced by the premonition that, by 2000, Trevor Steven would still be lacking managerial experience.
Doug Wood, Kent
* Sorry. Blame the, er, work experience person. Far too young to remember.
I know that the BBC sports department is strapped for cash but they must be urged to spend just a little of their minuscule budget to send Mark Bright on an assertiveness course. He’s the most nervous person I’ve ever seen on Match of the Day (and I can remember the rabbit-in-headlights heyday of Bob Wilson) and his palpable panic transmits itself to the viewer. I’m worried now, just thinking about him. And isn’t it about time the Beeb clamped down on presenters who refer to guests by their nicknames? Ray “Lawro” Stubbs is the main offender here, but the aforementioned Mark Bright seems to be “Brighto” to Gary Lineker. I know they’re all mates but they’re not our mates. It’s the sort of lower class guff we expect from ITV. Perhaps a few people are hoping for a transfer at the end of the season.
Ian Campbell, Frodsham
Well, isn’t that bloody typical. My local club, Barking, had looked set to celebrate promotion this season from the Ryman League Second Division. They have been relegated a couple of times but I think I’m right in saying that this would have been their first ever promotion. But now restructuring plans have been announced which mean all the teams currently in the Second Division will become part of a First Division split into Northern and Southern sections. So we might just as well have spent the season loitering in mid-table for all the good it’s done. The upheaval has been caused by the plans for reorganising promotion to the Conference, first suggested by the Northern and Southern Premier Leagues (and mentioned in WSC 165). But the other leagues still want to freeze out the Ryman, in which case the fiddling about with the lower divisions might be to no avail. I only hope Barking-born Trevor Brooking is monitoring the situation, in his role as head of English sport or whatever it is, with a view to pulling some strings on behalf of his old manor. (That’s how things get done out in the eastern badlands.)
Robert Howell, Barking
The news that Paul Sturrock is the new manager of Plymouth (Diary, WSC 167) made me wonder whether he gets the award for the furthest ever managerial move within the British Isles, having been resident at Dundee United for so many years. Also, is there some reason why he couldn’t accept a post closer to home – within Scotland even – instead of putting so much distance between himself and his past? I think we should be told.
Nigel Downs, via email
I was actually going to write to you to suggest another subject for your Football Myths feature but the letter from Ernst Bouwes (WSC 168) has pre-empted me. He is right, the quotes from “Shanks” such as “football isn’t a matter of life and death” and the one about “winning is not everything, it is the only thing” were first made famous by Vince Lombardi, coach of the Green Bay Packers from 1959. In fact many of them were first used by John Wayne in the 1953 film Trouble Along the Way. There is nothing wrong with plagiarism, as long as you don’t claim it as your own.
Ian Cobden, via email
In his appraisal of Terry Butcher’s shambolic reign as Sunderland manager (WSC 167) Joe Boyle omits to tell people the real reason Butcher actually got the job in the first place – he used to wave at the crowd! It started after a 1-0 FA Cup defeat to Sheffield Wednesday at Hillsborough. From that point onwards, Butcher used to spend five minutes after every game – win, lose or draw – waving like a maniac at the bemused Sunderland supporters. Weird. As for Tel’s alleged anti-Catholic views, Pete Davies tells the story in his classic tome All Played Out of the time Butcher (then at Rangers) threw all his Simple Minds CDs over his hotel room balcony after someone told him that lead singer Jim Kerr was a staunch Catholic and Celtic supporter. He musn’t have ever recovered from that knock on the head while playing for England – the manic smile on that famous photograph sums Terry Butcher up quite well, don’t you think?
Tom Lynn, Editor, The Wearside Roar
In the wake of Terry Venables’s appointment as Middlesbrough “advisor”, Harry Pearson’s withering assessment of Bryan Robson’s time in charge (and I use the term as loosely as possible) at the Riverside in WSC 167 now reads as a sort of obituary. Venables is unlikely to want to stick around beyond the end of the season given the demands of his vital new role as sidekick to Des Lynam on ITV’s new Premiership highlights show. Captain Marvel’s supporters in the press appear to think their man will learn all he needs to know about management over the next few months by putting down the cones on the training pitch while El Tel points and shouts, and will then return to his old job in the summer a changed man. I can’t see it. He’s already had seven years in which to pick up management skills but precious little appears to have stuck. If, as now seems likely, Boro stay up, they will be back to square one. Who will they call on next season? Robbo’s other mentor is, of course, Ron Atkinson, whose judgment appears to be slipping rather, as evidenced by his column in the Guardian after Kevin Keegan’s resignation. He thought the next England manager should be... Bryan Robson. I’ll laugh about it one day, but only after he’s gone.
Paul Cannon, Ripon
Keith Turner’s admirable idea for anthemic punk tunes for sides to run out to (Letters, WSC 167), has endless possibilities. Here are but a few more... Sham 69 are most appropriate for Arsène and the Lads – Red London to promote self-esteem among the fans, and The (Naturalised) Cockney Kids are Innocent. Southampton coud run out to The Saints are Coming by The Skids, who also provide the pogo-tastic Into the Valley for Charlton. For Gérard and his increasingly erratic scousers: Danger Signs by Penetration. For David and his innocent but tough Yorkshire lads, how about White Riot, especially for the visiting fans who get a bit hot and bothered when they can’t get a half-time drink quick enough at the Stadium of Light – bless them. And as for Middlesborough, the possibilities are numerous: From Gibbo to Robbo and Viv – Something Better Change by The Stranglers, leading to a couple of classics by the Sex Pistols – Pretty Vacant, a comment on Robbo and Viv’s cognitive ability as well as current workload; and Holidays in the Smog... er... Sun for the visiting Venables and the accumulating Brass in Pocket he is draining from the hapless Teessiders.
Andy Hay, via email
Filippo Ricci might not have to worry about racism against black players in eastern Europe (WSC 167). I watched Poland’s World Cup qualifier against Belarus in a bar full of Polish emigrés, but I’d forgotten most of the Polish I’d ever learned. I didn’t need a dictionary, though, to understand the frequent cheers of “Oli! Oli!”. Emmanuel Olisadebe, the Nigerian Pole, was even more popular than Kaluzny, who scored a hat-trick that day. The 2002 qualifying campaign is shaping up to be Poland’s best chance to qualify for a World Cup since they last reached the finals in 1986. Thanks to his role in vanquishing the Ukrainians (in Kiev) in their qualifier last September, Oli might be posing for a statue before too long.
K Thomas, Philadelphia, USA
What’s the story with Jean Tigana and his toothpicks? Is it some sort of sponsorship deal? If it’s part of an attempt to give up smoking it looks to be a much cheaper solution that Nicorettes or, as in my case, packets of Rich Tea biscuits. Still, the extra layer of fat has its uses in the cold weather. Neil Ruddock probably says the same.
Michael Fernandes, Finchley
Reading the item in WSC 167 regarding Tony Cascarino reminded me of a story that was reported in Nottingham around 1992. At the time English Tony was plying his trade in France and looking for a return to English football. His agent apparently informed him that Mike Walker was particularly interested in signing him and on this news Tony made his way to Goodison Park only to find that Everton had never showed any interest in him and that it was Mike Walker, the then Notts County manager, who wanted Tony. Needless to say Tony was not impressed and got straight back on the plane to France, not passing Meadow Lane.
John Harris, via email
From WSC 168 February 2001. What was happening this month