Just a pedantic correction to Matthew Taylor’s piece in WSC 156 about foreigners in Britain throughout the century. Danish international Nils Middleboe did indeed play for Chelsea from 1913, but not just for one season. He made 46 appearances for the club between 1913 and 1921, a period encompassing five seasons. As an amateur, he reputedly never even claimed his expenses, rather like today’s foreign contingent. Incidentally, and though I’ve got nothing in particular against Germans or Germany myself, I was interested in Uli Hesse-Lichtenberger’s suggestion in the same issue that the Belgians have never forgotten the German invasion of 1914. The similar over-running of their country in 1940 probably didn’t help either and may be fresher in some elderly Belgians’ memories.
Peter Collins, London SW17
Wasn’t Man Utd v Necaxa a great evening’s viewing? Not just the delicious sight of both David Beckham and Alex Ferguson getting sent off, but hearing Barry Davies back on top form. I didn’t realise how much I’d missed such patronising rambling. Barry started by affecting puzzlement that the locals failed to support the greatest team in the world. Aren’t they supposed to know a thing or two about football in Rio? Fancy shouting for a team no one has heard of. He continued to assume the inherent superiority of European football throughout the match, contrary to all the evidence before him. When Necaxa scored it would just be a matter of time before the Reds drew level. When Beckham was sent off they would “do it the hard way”. A penalty missed by Necaxa and United were “still in it”. A set of officials from “far-flung countries” – Kazakhstan, Kuwait and Uganda – was also a rich vein of material for such a master to work with. The crowning glory of the evening was a baffling comment from Barry that Beckham’s petulant behaviour on the pitch was somehow Posh’s fault.
Peter Gutteridge, Nottingham
I am writing to you on behalf of a group of York City supporters called FACT (Fans Against Craig’s Tyranny), in response to And Who Are You Exactly? in WSC 156. I realise that everyone is entitled to their opinion, but calling Douglas Craig “a true fan”? Would a true fan state his willingness to shut the club down because not everyone supports him? And the quotes section: “Cut out the fancy stuff!” is probably the most complimentary thing he has ever shouted to Wayne Hall, as people who sit in the vicinity of the directors’ box will confirm – and who would have heard him shouting that at Old Trafford anyway? Another error – he isn’t a magistrate any more, having retired after being spotted sleeping in court (while it was in session). Mr Craig has a majority shareholding in every sense of the word – he owns more shares than all the other shareholders put together. These are worth approximately £125,000 (although he paid a lot less than that for them) but he has stated he would only listen to offers of over £3 million. The writer’s assertion that “the jury is still out on the magistrate” also came nowhere close to describing the situation. If the jury he refers to are the fans, I think three sides of Bootham Crescent chanting “Craig out!” (the fourth side is the away end, and even the Peterborough fans helped out with our red card protest earlier this season!) is fairly conclusive proof that the jury has come to a verdict. There is mass discontent with Douglas Craig at Bootham Crescent.
Joe Haining, via email
The problem with any digital revolution is that it’s always so difficult to find anything useful to do with it. Consider interactive television. From the little I’ve seen, its contribution to football coverage seems to be more obtrusive than helpful. If we are to have subscription services, let them be ones that will genuinely improve the spectating experience. A really useful facility would be the choice of commentator selected according to prejudice. What we need is a choice of three commentators: home bias, away bias and neutral. As a Manchester City fan, for instance, I would anticipate a commentary that is downbeat, cynical and – even in the face of a 4-0 lead over Fulham – bewildered by our elevated position in the league. Fans realised years ago that objective coverage was severely limited in its appeal and validity; we don’t really need to be told how good or bad our team is, we already know; we just want to be able to discuss our own matches from our own perspective. Perhaps the logical conclusion of this would be whole TV networks that are dedicated to individual clubs. Indeed, I’m told that this is already beginning to happen in some obscure parts of the country. But that’s not the same at all; that’s akin to watching football from an ivory tower. At least with this notion you have the option of switching on the opposition commentator to get the alternative picture. It’s also a handy excuse to throw things at the TV set. Of course, even if the broadcasters thought that this idea had any kind of merit, they wouldn’t be able to keep it simple. Sooner or later, some TV executive or other would whisper the words “celebrity opportunity” and the televised football match would duly complete its journey to the circus ring. So it is with trepidation that I envisage the Manchester City match with commentary by Liam Gallagher; but then again, at least I won’t be a Charlton Athletic fan listening to Steve Davis.
Howard Pattison, Exeter
Whilst I find Alan Shearer’s acting talents lamentable and his style as an interviewee dull beyond description these are forgivable sins. What I find deplorable, especially in an England captain, is that when one of his underlings manages to beat a man or two and swing in a decent cross, meaning that all the overpaid wretch has to do is knock it in from five yards, he always swings away, arm aloft, to accept the adulation of his slavering Geordie public but never runs towards the cross provider with a word of thanks, or even looks across with a nod of appreciation. Even in a below-average pub team such self-centredness has a swift and negative effect on team spirit. I can only guess how divisive this must be in the Premiership or even, heaven help us, with England. I am sure Ruud Gullit had many faults but I really don’t blame him for his attitude to Shearer and unless Kevin Keegan wises up and makes Tony Adams captain we won’t have a prayer next summer.
Tim Manns, via email
We would like to respond to some of Joyce Woolridge’s misunderstandings in her review of our book Not For Sale (WSC 155). First off, she seems to dismiss the victory against BSkyB because Utd still have the same board. It is true that the campaign was initially a defensive one, but Martin Edwards’s current problems in acceding to the chairmanship of the plc stem from his failure to see the bid through. Would Joyce actually prefer to have Murdoch’s henchmen in charge? Second, she seems to think that it is only because of our “left wing backgrounds” (itself an assumption) that we give time and space to the huge support which other fans gave IMUSA (despite animosity to United fans). It is not – the support was vital to the campaign in illustrating that the takeover would have wrecked football for many. The issue of fan solidarity is now high on the agendas of many supporters groups and we felt it important to illustrate its positive effects in this case. Third, Joyce belittles the efforts of some members of IMUSA in supporting Chester City at the “Fans United 3” day by saying that we “only” took a minibus to the match. Well, it was a damn sight more than most clubs’ supporters did (Brighton excepted). Most serious, however, are her accusations of “fanzinesque posturing”, ageism and misogyny. We do see the ageing profile of the Old Trafford crowd as a problem – not because we have anything against older fans but because young people are being excluded from attending football. This is a concern shared by many people, from IMUSA to plc chair Sir Roland Smith. We attack Zoe Ball purely because she used her position as a celebrity to back the takeover and splashed it all over the Sun, even before the United board had accepted the offer. It has nothing to do with “lazy misogyny” on our part and everything to do with ignorant posturing on Ball’s. Why doesn’t Joyce see fit to mention the criticism we level at male celebrities and ex-players? At no point do we say (or do we believe) that football should “properly belong to young, working class men”. To allege that is wholly unjustified and merely demonstrates Joyce’s own ill-informed prejudices about us. Hopefully she will comment on what is actually written in future and not on imaginary “subtexts”.
Adam Brown & Andy Walsh, Manchester
You’re probably correct to say in WSC 156 that we in the West Midlands are more concerned with beating each other than taking on the rest of the world. Can I, however, point out that you repeat the myth that Jack Hayward has put a large sum of money into Wolves (the figure seems to increase by £1 million with each article). When the council bought the club from the Bhatti brothers they separated it into two entities: Wolverhampton Wanderers FC and Molineux Stadium plc. When both companies came into the possession of Mr Hayward he invested heavily in the stadium. Wolves have to pay Molineux Stadium to rent the ground for home matches. Mr Hayward is reaping a reward from his investment. Very little money, by contrast, has gone into the football club and he got most of that back with the sale of Robbie Keane. By the way, on the map accompanying the article you’ve got Albion playing at the Ray Hall Sewage Farm. Is that an editorial comment on their football this season?
David Hawkins, Wolverhampton
Never in my wildest dreams did I ever think I would agree with Arsène Wenger over anything. But I begrudgingly have to admit he is right about one thing – yes, Leicester City truly are the most negative team you could hope to meet. Their approach to the first Worthington Cup semi-final against Villa was astonishing. The team seem unaware that the opposition also have a half. The idea, lads, is to get into it and maybe, just maybe, put the ball into the net at the other end. Leicester obviously believe that you can only cross the half way line when you get into a penalty shoot-out. And to compound matters the kit they had on would put a Sunday morning team to shame.
Mike Waring, Stroud
Re: Phil Charnley’s letter in WSC 156 suggesting that Norwich City’s Camilla Canary might be the best candidate on offer to realise Joyce Woolridge’s dream of a post-feminist female football club mascot. For reasons that need not trouble you, Camilla spent a night on my sofa last year and, sadly for Joyce, she was sporting a 36DD bra to complement her frilly knickers and fluttering eyelashes. In recent appearances at Carrow Road her frontage has, admittedly, been more Kate Moss than Sophie Dahl, but she still tends towards coquettish maiden rather than Amazonian warrior. And Camilla is believed to have a male teenager inside her. Ms Paglia would not approve.
Graham Dunbar, Norwich
From WSC 157 March 2000. What was happening this month