I’m sure I’m not the only Wednesday fan disappointed that the recent takeover was unsuccessful. However, whatever the rights and wrongs, our initial disappointment was lessened when we found out that would-be buyer Paul Gregg was a leisure magnate rather than the purveyor of quality pastries to our high streets. I was quite looking forward to Leon Clarke puffing up and down our newly laid pitch with “Steak Bake” emblazoned across his ample midriff.
Paul Sullivan, Pontefract
I never thought I would see the day that I would read a letter like that from the “open minded and perfectly liberal” Dave Lodwig in WSC. While he may not dispute the veracity of William Gaillard’s comments, the latter’s boss Michel Platini certainly did and the much vaunted dossier Mr Gaillard was so vocal about has never materialised. There have been no confirmed reports of children having tickets stolen from their hands. So much for being open minded. The fact is that, yes, some people travelled to Athens without tickets or with forgeries, attempted to gain entrance to the stadium and in many cases were successful. Those people are a disgrace but let’s not perpetuate this myth that it is only Liverpool supporters who act like this. In 2003 Celtic took an estimated 50,000 fans to the UEFA Cup final in Seville. Not all of those had tickets. Does Mr Lodwig really think that not one of the ticketless fans attempted to bluff their way in without a ticket or with a forgery? Or that no Man Utd fans travelled to Barcelona in 1999 without a ticket and did not attempt to enter the ground with a forgery or without a ticket at all? At the World Cup in 2006 the German authorities effectively encouraged fans to travel without tickets, or at least condoned their presence, with the provision of big screens and fan zones. If you attend any major sporting event anywhere in the world, or any major concert, there will always be touts selling forged tickets. Unlike Mr Lodwig I was at the final in Athens and, while I condemn any fan who tried gaining entry without a genuine ticket, the fact is that this could not happen if the stadium was actually equipped with turnstiles. The Olympic Stadium does not have turnstiles at all, merely gateways into the stands, and the stewards checking tickets could hardly have been less interested. Ticket touts were present at that stadium throughout the Olympic Games in 2004 and knew that there were no turnstiles and therefore knew that it would be relatively easy for the determined “fan” to gain access with forged tickets. With the simple addition of turnstiles no ticketless fans could gain access and, given that tickets these days are bar-coded, then forged tickets too should be rendered useless. The Greek authorities and UEFA were warned in advance by Liverpool FC and Merseyside Police of the shortcomings in the stadium design and security arrangements, but the situation on the night was farcical. Oh, and to answer his liberal reference to “our loveable Scouse friends”, during the day of the game I encountered ticketless Liverpool fans from Wigan, Middlesbrough, London, Norway, Ireland and Greece. How many of these subsequently snatched tickets from the hands of children I do not know.
David Rankin, Liverpool
Attending the Barnet v Arsenal friendly at Underhill on July 14, 2007, I was appalled to hear a group of young Arsenal fans singing songs imploring their fellow Gooners to “get rid of the Yids”, and triumphantly declaring that “Tottenham’s going to Auschwitz; Hitler’s going to gas them again”. The chanting was not restricted to the condemnation of Jews; their songs covered a broad enough racial spectrum to offend Muslims, Asians, Sikhs and Africans. Our Spanish goalkeeper, Manual Almunia, was routinely abused as a “spic bastard”, and one memorable song claimed Emmanuel Eboué was “from the Ivory Coast and blacker than burned toast”. The pre-match minute’s silence was predictably marred by racist comments and hissing gas noises. Underhill stewards were alerted, yet it became apparent that they were either unwilling or unable to eject these people from the stadium. Being Jewish, I always give the benefit of the doubt to songs deriding Tottenham fans as “Yids”, as those using the term are usually too stupid to understand its religious connotations, robbing such songs of any potential menace. Perhaps these fans genuinely hate all people of the Jewish faith (although their pleas to reinstate David Dein were almost comic in light of this), and who am I to deny people their racial and religious beliefs? Yet surely it is not too much to ask not to be subjected to such idiocy in a forum as public as a football match. Where were the police? Why were these fans not immediately thrown out and banned from all further matches? I am told by a friend that such chanting was heard sporadically throughout last season, yet these people are still attending matches. I would suggest that the FA begin their moral crusade against racism a little closer to home before wading into international matters with such righteous indignation.
Joel Abraham, via email
According to Spain’s manager, Luis Aragonés, Liverpool’s new striker Fernando Torres “never scores the same goal twice”. Given this fact, I hope Rafa Benítez doesn’t decide to give him the responsibility of taking penalties.
Steve Whitehead, via email
I have seen the future of World Cups and it is not a pretty sight. FIFA’s decision-makers would appear to have used the Under-20 World Cup in Canada as a test-bed for forthcoming tournaments. Among the list of banned items at matches were the following: musical instruments over 60cm long, flag sticks over 20cm long, any food and drink purchased outside the stadium and any camera lens greater than 70cm. There might be some noteworthy events in a Scotland v Japan Under-20s match, but a photo of Scott Cuthbert winning a header is hardly going to generate a worldwide bidding war. If you had a flag that was bigger than the FIFA flag, it had to be taken down and no flags were to be draped over the bland, blue, FIFA-approved material stretching around the perimeter. At Scotland v Nigeria, the stewards were persuaded to allow a set of bagpipes into the ground. However, once the mild-mannered guy in his fifties started playing, a not-so-mild-mannered security steward in his fifties appeared and told him: “Just because you’ve been allowed to bring them in, it doesn’t mean to say you can play them.” To be honest, it was probably the guard’s determination to be seen to do a good job that caused the problems. Canadians, as a whole, were genuinely welcoming, even if 80 per cent of them had no idea what was going on. We were told this was the biggest sporting event to hit Canada since the 1976 Olympics, so clearly they were out to impress FIFA by endeavouring to stick to the rules with a relish the Premier League could only envy. Let’s just hope common sense will prevail in the future – but it is FIFA we are talking about here.
Kevin Donnelly, via email
My apologies to Mike Thomas and all Walsall fans for awarding their title to Hartlepool (Letters, WSC 246). Took my eye off the ball, no excuses really – especially as I understand Mike’s point about his club “living in the shadows of our more illustrious neighbours”. I worked for a year in a Walsall pub where all the regulars were West Brom fans except for one, and he only grudgingly supported Walsall because he used to play for them. Good luck, and keep mooing at the milk lorries.
Pete Green, via email
Leighton Moses (Letters, WSC 246) brought back some terrific memories of Red Star Belgrade’s 1990 summer tour. Their jaunt extended down to Torquay, where I was one of 2,111 rather perplexed souls at Plainmoor who watched such World Cup luminaries as Robert Prosinecki, Dejan Savicevic and Darko Pancev sweating buckets in the blistering heat, while being outfoxed by the subtlety and cunning of, among others, Tommy Tynan and John Uzzell. Nowadays, the idea that players of the Yugoslavs’ class would warm down from a World Cup and warm up for a run to the European club title with a run-out against Torquay United seems very old-fashioned, lost in the current swirl of marketing and gimmicky tours to get those extra shirts sold. It’s a shame, as Torquay’s old lags enjoyed their literal and metaphorical day in the sun. They held them at 1-1 until 75 minutes as well, before Red Star nicked a late goal to win it.
Tristan Browning, Reading
Sheffield United should romp the Championship, but they won’t with Captain Marvel in charge. I actually believe that one of the relegated Premier League sides should be made to appoint Robbo every summer to counter-balance the unfair advantage they get from the TV money.
Kevin Clarke, via email
As chairman of a small, village-based Welsh League club, I was most interested in your views (in WSC 245) on how clubs are “disciplined” and particularly in relation to intent and precedent. My club were on the verge of extinction two years ago but were fortunate to find a young manager with links to a local university, who brought in an entire team and fought his way from bottom of the second division in September to clinch the third promotion spot in April. That was then taken away from us by the imposition of a massive 33-point deduction for playing an ineligible player in circumstances that were clearly not of our own or the players’ making. The lad, call him Jim, had been signed pre-season by a Welsh Premier League side and by their “nursery” side, playing just one game for the latter before requesting deregistration from the Premier League club in order to sign for us. That club’s secretary then fell ill and forgot all about Jim and his request. Jim then played in 12 games for us, 11 of which were won as the team drove for promotion. We didn’t hide the fact that he was playing; indeed his photo appeared on our website. Then in March we were told that we were to face charges of “misconduct” (note the terminology) at the FA of Wales for Jim’s ineligibility. Despite evidence from the player and from the Premier League club that he had requested deregistration and that the error was theirs, the plain fact that he played for us made both Jim and Garw Athletic “guilty of misconduct”. Following the FAW’s verdict, the Welsh League then followed their rulebook to the letter and deducted the points. At a subsequent appeal we challenged the whole concept of misconduct without evidence of intent, and cited the case of another club that had played two suspended players and had no action taken against them (a clear precedent) but to no avail. We ended the season in mid‑table and Jim was distraught. We went on to be champions last season and Jim was top scorer, but the whole affair left questions about football’s insistence on rigid adherence to rules without latitude in matters such as intent, good faith, precedent and the concept of “natural justice”. And is 33 points the biggest deduction anyone has seen?
Michael Lambert, Chairman, Garw Athletic FC
The close season has nearly ended, and still (as I write) no word regarding future gainful employment being secured by one Neil Warnock. As things stand, therefore, we’re facing a season without the joy of post-match interviews with Neil disdainfully dismissing every media story he dislikes as “tomorrow’s fish ’n’ chip papers”. I had been under the impression that for many years now hygiene legislation had prohibited chip shops using old newspapers to wrap your dinner in, but Neil persisted in peddling this line throughout the season, leading me to believe that he must never actually eat fish ’n’ chips. His “witty” dismissal of all media froth became catching and Paul Jewell, for one, began to make the same inaccurate assertion. Perhaps the two currently un(der)employed ex-managers will go into the catering business in order to fill their time, and use up all those free newspapers that come through the door, too.
Phil Greaves, via email
If there is one thing that football managers need to learn, it is that there is really no point in their standing up for the duration of the game. It doesn’t do them any good – Stuart Pearce paced around his technical area at every match at Eastlands while Man City were scoring fewer goals than any other home team in top-division history. If he had any useful instructions to pass on to his players, they certainly couldn’t hear them. Before the advent of the technical area, most managers sat down for the entire 90 minutes – Don Revie for one seems to have spent most Leeds games hunched up inside his raincoat staring resolutely at the floor, while Sir Alf Ramsey didn’t even stand up when England won the 1966 World Cup, possibly because he didn’t want to risk losing his seat. And there was none of this ostentatious swigging from water bottles either – managers of past generations would have a cigarette on the go or be working their way through a packet of toffees or mints. Very often the only person who ever moved off the bench was the physio, who’d run on to apply a unnecessary wet sponge to a broken ankle or ruptured knee before the unfortunate player was carried off. Whenever you see a manager pacing the touchline next season, advise him, as nicely as possible, to return to his seat and give in to helplessness like the rest of us.
Aaron Marshall, via email
From WSC 247 September 2007