Geoff Leonard (WSC 152) shouldn’t dismiss his Murphy’s Mob theory so hastily. Consider this: from 1982 to 1984, Murphy’s Mob was filmed at Vicarage Road. In that time, Watford were promoted to the First Division for the first time in their history, finished second in their first season there and reached the FA Cup final. From 1984 to 1997, Watford achieved little of any great note. From 1997 to 1999, Sky One’s Dream Team was filmed at Vicarage Road. In that time, Watford won the Second Division and then went straight up to the Premiership. Coincidence? You decide. Sadly, Dream Team’s Harchester United have now moved to the Theatre of Dreams, aka the New Den. Bad news for us Hornets fans, but a glimmer of hope for the Millwall faithful?
Tim Turner, London N4
I was stimulated by Nick Varley’s article on the myth of Leeds United (WSC 152) to write in with my own impressions of them at the time. Like most fans then, I had picked up the image of Revie’s Leeds as being a nasty, bad-tempered side who would stop at nothing to win games. I saw them in their first season back in the First Division in 1964-65 and I was amazed. This was not what I had been expecting. Instead of a dirty, petulant side, I had seen a team who played brilliant, attacking football, worked hard for 90 minutes and played together as a unit. In short, everything I wanted from my own team. The fact that it was my own team – Birmingham City – who took a point from Leeds in their last game that season despite the fact that we were already relegated left me with mixed feelings. I was pleased with our performance against a far better side but disappointed that it meant that Manchester United could take the title even if they lost their last game. The following year I started a course nearby and was a frequent visitor to Elland Road, where my impression was confirmed. Leeds were brilliant. How they never won as much as they deserved is beyond rational explanation. And yet in general the media were still sending out inaccurate messages to those unfortunates who hadn’t seen them play. Yes, Leeds could certainly handle themselves but I never saw them start anything. Instead, they would usually play the opposition off the park and those who couldn’t handle that sometimes resorted to violence, which Leeds would match if they had to. I looked in the press for them to get the credit they deserved but usually in vain. I think the moral is “don’t believe everything you read” .
Mick Blakeman, Wolverhampton
Can I ask that future contributors to the new Football Myths series give some indication of how old they were at the time the myths they are debunking were taking form? Of course Revie’s Leeds were more than a bunch of thugs. That many of them were also skilful and talented footballers makes their systematic and cynical gamesmanship all the more unpleasant and unnecessary. Compare and contrast, as they say, their disciplinary records with Clough’s Derby County, a team never to be thought of as exactly shirking a physical challenge. I know the laws have changed, but it would be interesting as a late night TV exercise to have recordings of matches from that era “refereed” by modern standards – giving yellow cards and logging what would now be sendings off. I would not be surprised to see Leeds finishing those games with the fewest players left on the park most weeks.
Dave Quayle, via email
James Walker doesn’t appreciate my suggestion that feelings amongst Cardiff City’s supporters run high towards Brentford (Letters, WSC 152) although his letter certainly helps to show why. Nobody suggested Cardiff fans are all angels and nobody denies there were problems, but if every pub outside Brentford’s ground was smashed up and every one of the 5,500 Cardiff fans was pissed-up (James’s words), why was there not one single arrest that day? Why did the Football League write to Cardiff praising the fans’ behaviour in the most extreme circumstances? Why weren’t the “almost legendary” Brentford pub riots reported at the time and why did the pub I was in go out of their way to welcome us back this season? I heartily endorse the thrilling experience of being among 2,500 fans locked out of a ground 150 miles from your home, having queued for up to one and a half hours to enter through just two turnstiles.Then being told to go back home despite half of your car/coachload being inside the stadium, forcing you to wait around in the streets for two and a half hours. All this after the home club refused to sell tickets in advance for the away sections and gave prior media assurances of entry and contingency arrangements for visiting supporters in a top of the table clash. How well do you think your travelling support would cope? Could it possibly affect your feelings towards the other club? It is history now but it is not an experience I would wish on any football fan.
Nigel Harris, Cardiff
Most of Cris Freddi’s Worst Refs of the Century (WSC 152) couldn’t hold a candle to the various wallies, bozos and fliptops who officiate in the Northern Premier League, but that’s not why I’m writing. So why? Ray Tinkler, that’s why.Yet again, the Jeff Astle goal at Elland Road in 1971 is trotted out as an example of crap refereeing. Next time the goal gets replayed, try watching it instead of accepting the common wisdom of the centuries. Hunter tries to play the ball along the right touchline but Tony Brown intercepts, knocking the ball into space behind Hunter. Thirty yards away, in the centre of the field, Colin Suggett is jogging back, several yards short of the last Leeds defender. Brown pursues the ball, on his own, sets off up the line with it, pauses momentarily as the linesman raises his flag, then carries on as the ref waves play on. Not interfering with play, clearly. Well, you can make a very compelling case for it, even in those days, but the simpler fact is that Suggett simply was not offside. Because before a player can be given offside, the ball has to be played forward. To be played forward, the ball has to be passed or shot (or simply hoofed upfield aimlessly). Brown never played the ball forward, he simply played it into space and went after it himself. By the time he did play the ball forward, passing it to Astle to score, Suggett was miles behind him. (Of course, Astle may have been offside, but if he was, that’s a bog standard crap decision that’s hardly worth bothering about.) If Suggett could have been given offside when Brown first played the ball, then the next time Ryan Giggs or David Ginola sets off on a mazy run with the ball, the first time a forward steps past the last defender, the referee had better start blowing the whistle. But I realise I’m flogging a dead horse here. The Suggett Incident has achieved mythological status, and there’s about as much chance of getting people to use their own brains and look at it for themselves as there is of overturning the myth that, on the eve of Waterloo, Napoleon spurned his wife’s amorous advances with the famous words “Not tonight, Josephine”. Which, given she’d been dead for five years by then, always strikes me as dodgy.
Martin Crookall, Stockport
Watching the movie War Games (BBC1, Bank Holiday Monday) I noticed that the secret code denoting the imminent thermo-nuclear destruction of earth was “Crystal Palace”. At the climax of the film, an out-of-control computer realised that “the only way to avoid defeat is by not playing”. Irony, methinks, can no further go.
Tony Kinsella, Eccles
Following on from Adam Powley’s article in WSC 149, highlighting the media’s inconsistent approach to hooliganism, I had expected WSC to deliver a balanced response to the hype surrounding the Cardiff v Millwall fixture on the opening day of the season. Unfortunately, I found the Football on the Internet article in WSC 152 more in keeping with the tabloids. My personal experience of that day was via BBC’s Ceefax pages which from about 1pm ran the story that trouble had flared in the city centre “after the arrival of 700 Millwall supporters” for the game. As the afternoon wore on, further allegations were made about the use of a supporter’s website and a pitch invasion from the away end of the ground. Anyone watching that afternoon will have gained the impression of a major incident provoked by hundreds of Millwall supporters. In fact, many of the 700 went straight to Ninian Park and were not among the Millwall fans outside where it turned “nasty”, in the words of a local shopkeeper, after Cardiff fans arrived. Following the game, Millwall fans were moved on to the pitch for their own safety. The website referred to is that hosted by Paul Dodd, which has nothing to do with either club or their supporters. Does anyone really believe that thugs turned up in Cardiff complete with laptops connected to mobile phones and if they did, that they would risk expensive equipment by engaging in hand to hand fighting? In the event, there has been much dialogue between true Cardiff and Millwall supporters condemning the behaviour of the minority and working towards ensuring the rematch in London is trouble-free. BBC Ceefax has since reported on the court appearance of the six people arrested, all of whom are from south Wales and not south London, but the name of Millwall was still included in the report. More people were arrested in another English town hosting a Second Division game that day and I’m still waiting to see their court details on television. Furthermore, I was interested to see in WSC 152 that a referee has been floored by a spectator at a league game elsewhere in the country. Can’t recall seeing that on Ceefax either.
Phil Kennedy, London SE19
I hope all Premiership supporters aren’t as slow as Graham Lightfoot (WSC 152) in realising that his team aren’t ever going to win anything again, ever. His novel suggestion that perhaps this year’s “big five” should go off and join a Euro League was an interesting one, as was his idea that maybe Wednesday would be better off getting relegated and enjoying the chance of winning the Nationwide Division One title. I’ve a better idea. The Nationwide League should begin to market themselves as the League which nearly all teams can win. They should also refuse entry to any relegated teams from the original Premier League line-up, as they were the ones who wanted to be cut off in the first place.
RobTrent, via email
Colin Maitland is right to draw parallels between Tottenham and Chelsea over their exorbitant prices (Letters, WSC 152). In fact, there are further similarities between the two clubs, particularly when you compare the Chelsea of 1999 with the THFC of the mid-1980s. Back then Tottenham boasted a decent team playing exciting football. Off the pitch, they were adherents of a zealous business attitude, pricing many fans out of watching the club while diversifying into disastrous “non-footballing activities”. Sound familiar, Chelsea fans? The point I was trying to make in my original anti-Blues rant is that the smug “I’m-all-right-Jack” attitude of the club and some of its fans ignores the harsh lessons of Tottenham’s demise. Criticising Chelsea is not a case of taking the moral high ground, more a weary recognition that we’ve seen it all before. There is one difference between the two clubs, however. Spurs have survived because of the extent of their support, built on the back of (relatively) consistent success. Chelsea’s meteoric rise rests on arguably less solid foundations.
Adam Powley, via email
I read with interest your piece on worst referees of the century (WSC 152) especially the mention of the Leicester v Villa game during the 1969-70 season where a Villa goal was disallowed after the ball came back off the stanchion. I was at that game and your article missed out the best bit of the incident. After the ball rebounded back from the stanchion and the ref waved play on he was immediately surrounded by irate Villa players claiming a goal. Whilst this melee ensued the ball was hoofed upfield to City’s Alistair Brown who planted the ball in the Villa net. The ref was then faced with two sets of irate players, both claiming legitimate goals. He gave a dropped ball on the centre spot. Talk about indecisive.
B Kennedy, Dover
From WSC 153 November 1999. What was happening this month