There have been suggestions that some African footballers are actually several years older than they claim to be. But there may be a case closer to home. It may be the strain of shouldering Preston’s promotion bid almost single-handed or the fact that he’s endured over a decade of underachievement as an Everton fan, but David Nugent is the oldest-looking 22-year-old I’ve ever seen. With his sunken, haggard features, he looks like he’s been transported into 2007 from some time in the 1930s. But now he’s hanging around with the worldly sophisticates in the England squad, it can only be a matter of time before he gets a makeover. In fact, that might make a nice feature for Icon, Jamie Redknapp’s splendid magazine for millionaire footballers.
David Senior, via email
Regarding Tim Webber’s letter in WSC 243, I work in an airline-related industry and can reveal a possible truth regarding the wearing of colours in third-world countries. Rather than commercial globalisation, it is an example of growing insurance fraud. Every now and again the lost-property departments in the various airports load up planes with the stuff not collected by their rightful owners (as they have now claimed on their insurance, no doubt) and ship them off to other parts of the world where the stuff is dished out. Thus, from the names of players mentioned, I guess we can take for granted that Arsenal fans are the most likely to lose their suitcases then continue with their insurance claim even when the case is recovered. This also accounts for the fact that chaps filmed burning American flags in street protests are often wearing Hilfiger, Nike or other US sports gear.
For what it is worth, the only British football shirt I saw worn by a local when I was working in Colombia in 2001 was a Manchester City one, which could have been some sort of punishment.
Michael Wootten, via email
Your Maths of the Day cartoon in WSC 244 suggests that Steve Bruce needs a life-size cardboard cutout of Gary Pallister next to him to improve his situation. Surely his pornographer employers have the technology to create something much more convincing than a cardboard cutout, perhaps with real hair and a life-like expression?
Neil Trott, Stratford upon Avon
Aside from the fact that my team, Kidderminster, lost in the FA Trophy final, there were many other reasons for disappointment on a first trip to the new Wembley. The architecture was impressive in a retro-1960s concrete brutalist style, the seats were fine with good legroom and an unrestricted view of the pitch, but otherwise the experience was distinctly underwhelming. As everybody outside London knew at the time it was built, the Wembley location is just plain wrong for access. Traffic still has to creep its way through cramped suburbs before arriving at a dilapidated industrial estate. As for getting away, in the absence of any visible attempt at traffic management, it took more than an hour to escape the coach park at the end of the game, with drivers groping and jostling around trying to find individual routes to the single exit. Signage was modest to the point of near invisibility and ambiguous arrows difficult to decode. Toilets were dark, dingy and inadequate with planners seemingly still unable to apprehend the diuretic properties of alcohol. Food and drink were outrageously overpriced. Everybody knows about the £8 fish and chips, but £5.50 for a hot dog and £3.50 for a pint is surely extortionate even by London standards. The build-up was pathetic. The days of community singing and Abide With Me may be gone, but there was absolutely no sense of occasion in listening to tacky pop over crackly speakers with a hyper DJ. This was unexciting entertainment for a school disco, never mind a national event. The video montage of “great Wembley moments” could also have been much improved by most enthusiasts with home editing equipment. All in all, from an ordinary fan’s point of view the new Wembley is a poor showpiece. Had it been finished in time it would surely have ruined our Olympic bid.
Colin Smith, Kinver
Before I start I should state I’m a West Ham fan, so I’m going to be looking at the “Carlos Tévez affair” in a different light to the majority of neutrals no doubt. I have sympathy for Sheffield United fans as relegation is always hard, particularly when you think you are virtually safe. However, as time has passed and some of the media coverage has become increasingly hysterical, I’ve gone from feeling a little shame-faced about the whole situation to feeling Dave Whelan, the Blades, “The Gang of Four” et al should stop using it as an excuse to hide their own teams’ failings. West Ham did wrong, went through an independent disciplinary procedure agreed by the clubs, and were punished. Other clubs may not have liked the decision but they signed up to the process, and the view that West Ham got off scot-free is just not true. What seems to have been ignored is the fact that when West Ham were fined £5.5 million – the biggest fine ever handed out to a club – they were still third from bottom of the Premiership, three points behind Wigan, further behind the Blades, and still looking pretty likely to go down. The probable outcome was relegation and a £5.5m fine. West Ham aren’t Chelsea. They don’t have unlimited funds and £5.5m is a big deal. Not until the last game did West Ham have their fate in their own hands. Wigan and Sheffield United could have sent West Ham down at any time by picking up even a few points. Banking on another club being docked points for administrative failings is not a practical strategy when you are fighting relegation. Tévez is a great player and was never ineligible as some people continue to insist, but he didn’t win games on his own. Mark Noble, Bobby Zamora, James Collins, Lucas Neill and Robert Green all made a huge difference. West Ham lost 3-0 to Sheffield United in April and Tévez was playing that day. It is a great shame that due to a previous regime’s murky behaviour in administrative dealings, not only has the reputation of West Ham been tainted but the achievement of the players in winning seven out of their last nine games has been overshadowed. However, Sheffield United didn’t go down because of West Ham’s failure to reveal third-party involvement. They were relegated because they didn’t gain enough points or score enough goals over the course of the whole season.
Alison Townsend, via email
I was pleasantly surprised to see Simon Willis (Season in Brief, WSC 244) mention Lincoln City’s 0-0 home draw with Crewe in the 1971-72 season of Division Four, and not just because it was the first Wednesday night game I ever attended. Any football historians struggling to find a reason why this game should be remembered need look no further than the line-ups in the 5p match programme. Apparently, Crewe boasted a striker by the name of “Nipple”. Under “Visiting team – Details” on the inside back cover, there is sadly no mention of the, erm, titular No 9, and an internet search threw up only unhelpful pointers to the fleshpots of Cheshire. An expert in the field pointed out that the printed name may have come from a misunderstanding when Crewe phoned in the team line-up to a programme editor in Lincoln who was either slightly hard of hearing, or who secretly fantasised about writing the film script for Carry On Up Yer Sincil Bank. More likely, the forward’s name was “Nicholl”. Perhaps a Crewe fan could enlighten us? Thankfully there was no such misunderstanding with Alexandra’s No 5, “Rosser”.
Ian Plenderleith, via email
“When you’ve invested £500m, it’s a fantastic season to win the League Cup”, said Rick Parry about Chelsea after their Champions League semi-final against Liverpool. I’m sure it was just heat-of-the-moment stuff, but now the season is over we can reflect on Chelsea’s double and Liverpool’s empty trophy cabinet. As April turned into May Chelsea were still on for all four competitions and, had they reached the Champions League final, they would have played in every game in which it is possible to play in one season. Impressive stuff and no wonder they suffered injuries in key positions, but José Mourinho still managed to galvanise them into grinding down Man Utd at Wembley. You can only have respect for what Mourinho tried to achieve this season. His players fought for every minute of every match. Liverpool, however, gave up playing competitively in all domestic competitions at the earliest possible opportunity. Steven Gerrard even conceded the Premiership title as early as October. Alex Ferguson talked of respecting the title by (sort of) fielding a competitive side against West Ham in the last game of the season. However, what Rafael Benítez showed this year was a flagrant lack of respect for our domestic competitions in order to improve his pedigree among his European peers. It was clear that from very early on he decided his squad could only compete in one competition and he went with the one he knows best. What Liverpool really need is to learn how to get results at places like Bolton and Eastlands. If not then I’m sure several million from their new owners will help. Then, having become what he has mocked, Mr Parry can genuinely comment on whether money buys success.
Andy Fleming, via email
From WSC 245 July 2007