After the thrilling second leg of Chelsea’s Champions League tie against Valencia, I have found that the only way to get through ITV’s woeful coverage is by marvelling at how retarded the commentary team must think we are. Having lived through Andy Gray’s 18-month-long reconciliation to the “crazy” offside rule, and survived two seasons of Five’s head-scratching over the “barmy” UEFA Cup groups, I was amazed at just how often ITV’s team felt we needed to have the away goals rule explained to us.
I realise the networks want to make their coverage accessible to all, but even the casual football observer understands the away goals rule. If I had a pound for every time the commentary team explained to me that, if Chelsea score now, then of course Valencia will need to score twice, then I would probably have collected enough to get a Setanta subscription.
Gareth Allen, Normanton
Barney Ronay’s piece “The Usual Suspects” (WSC 243) brings to mind a similar situation regarding playing for Scotland, the requirements for which seem to be, in order of priority, being in the squads of: 1) Rangers; 2) Celtic; 3) Any team playing in England; and finally, 4) Other teams. This was brought sharply into focus when the recent Scotland team against Georgia had a defensive position made vacant by the fact that Steven Pressley (of Celtic) was suspended. Most of public opinion said that the obvious replacement was Russell Anderson, a player who has consistently received rave reviews, man-of-the-match and player-of-the-month awards in Scotland over the past two years. Unfortunately for Russell, he plays for Aberdeen, a team most definitely in category 4) above, so it was no real surprise to us Dons fans that the team versus Georgia included the untried Stephen MacManus (of Celtic) in place of Anderson, who didn’t even make the bench. In these days of money-grabbing soccer mercenaries, Russell has been a loyal servant to his home team. Given his apparent, laudable desire not to want to play for the Old Firm, surely there is an English team out there in need of a classy central defender to help him progress his international career?
Ian Craig, via email
Pilgrims saddoes will know that March 3, 2007 did mark a first for Boston United but it was not losing to a team we weren’t even playing (Diary, WSC 243). We didn’t lose at home to Wrexham as we were playing at MK Dons, during which, for the first time in the Football League, we took the lead in an away match having previously been behind. Unfortunately we couldn’t hold on to win (it ended 3-2) and the way things are going we’ll probably never have another chance to actually win a League game having been losing, but it was a start.
John Chapman, via email
Mark Weatherall (Letters, WSC 243) complains about referees’ assistants not flagging for a blatant foul under their nose. Does he realise that referees at all levels frequently instruct their assistants before the match not to flag for anything other than throw-ins and offsides? It might be a poor decision to do so, but it is the referee’s rather than the assistant’s. There is a similar situation with throw-ins: assistants are told to limit their calls to making sure that the throw is taken from the right place. It is the referee’s responsibility to make sure the action is legal. Incidentally, I’ve long been of the opinion that pundits ought to be required to take a refereeing course before being allowed to comment publicly on decisions. Their ignorance of many laws and competition rules infects too much of the football debate in this country.
Rory MacQueen, London E5
On reading Glyn Berrington’s letter (WSC 243) concerning encroachment at penalties, a thought occurred to me. Perhaps one of the facets of the mysterious new interpretation(s) of the offside law is being rolled out into other areas of the game. Maybe a player is now only to be deemed to be encroaching at a penalty if he is interfering with play. I had lately also been considering a similar issue regarding encroachment. Can a player be given offside from a penalty kick? It may even be, given other similarly inspired ideas recently emanating from the governing bodies, that the encroachment law has been repealed and players are now allowed to advance until they trespass into an offside position. I am eagerly awaiting the first player to venture past the penalty spot before a penalty kick. Given the ever-increasing distances the encroachers are covering, I feel sure that I will not have to wait too long for my question to be answered.
Steve Whitehead, via email
In reference to Ian Smith’s observations (Letters, WSC 243), the boy to the left of Gordon Brown in the picture is actually wearing Nike Total 90 boots, which, unbelievably, are red on the outer face but white on the inner. (This two-colour technology must obviously confer some great advantage to the young footballer so complex that it can only be fully understood by a select group of white-coat wearing “sports scientists”.) I am shocked that Mr Smith has lagged so far behind in his knowledge of the Nike football boot range. Evidently, the company’s marketing tactics need reviewing to eliminate these small pockets of resistance.
Graeme Milloy, via email
If he wants to see properly outfitted teams numbered 1 to 11 and no names on shirts, Dr Jerome Jones (Letters, WSC 243) only has to come to Scotland. Morton may play a centre-forward at right-back, a right-footed centre-back at left-back and three right-sided midfielders in any place but the right wing, but by God the numbers on their shirts correspond to the positions they play.
Frank Plowright, via email
Regarding Dr Jerome Jones’s letter in WSC 243, and whether any team had had the players with numbers 1 to 11 on the pitch at the same time since 1999-2000, the closest I can come is Arsenal against Fiorentina at Wembley in the Champions League that season. The starting line-up had three players with numbers over 11 (Ray Parlour, Emmanuel Petit and Kanu) but in the second half Parlour was replaced by Freddie Ljungberg (8) and not long after Nelson Vivas (7) came on for Petit. With the game still scoreless on 73 minutes, and Davor Suker (9) preparing to come on, I thought the elusive 1 to 11 was in sight, but instead Arsène Wenger decided to bring off Lee Dixon and play 3‑4‑3 for what I’m sure is the only time in his Arsenal reign. Two minutes later Gabriel Batistuta scored and Arsenal exited the Champions League early. Again.
Denis Hurley, Co Cork, Ireland
Chris Front’s mate Tim who copied his hero, the late Alan Ball, by painting his black Golas with white emulsion (Letters, WSC 243) was more faithful to the red-headed one than he realised. I believe that Ball was a party to one of the early boot deals and was under contract to wear the white boots. However they proved very uncomfortable, and rather than suffer blisters and bunions to earn a few quid, Alan himself took to painting his old black boots white before each game.
Is this another example of life imitating art?
Richard Pennington, via email
Further to Andy Brassell’s interesting piece on Levante (WSC 243), one or two things need clearing up. The RFEF (Spanish federation) have indeed refused to acknowledge Levante’s 1937 Cup win, but it might be unwise to paint them as Francoist reactionaries, secretly conspiring to keep the heroic lefties out of the history books. Andy Brassell’s article doesn’t do this, but the implication always surrounds this issue. The cup win is tricky to acknowledge because it in no way represented “the Republic”, as Levante supporters claim. It was a tournament organised to represent “free Spain”, but one in which the unfortunate bickering of the republicans that eventually lost them the civil war was all-too present. The area around the Levant and Catalonia were not the only zones that had held out against Franco, but when Real Madrid (under a communist president at the time) applied to join the league, their application was turned down. Madrid was also a part of “free Spain”. The organisers had turned it into a Catalan-Levant fest, and the RFEF are rightly against the history books being rewritten by those who have contemporary political reasons for doing so. Seville (the first city to “fall” to Franco and subsequently the nexus of his operations) was indeed rewarded with the 1939 cup, in less-than-free Spain. But what’s the upshot of that? Franco ran an illegitimate regime for the next 36 years. Much better to wipe off the league and cup records under him. Now there’s an interesting suggestion…
Phil Ball, San Sebastian, Spain
I don’t know who does the photo layout for your publication, but it seems as if they are not a fan of Danny Coyne. Pages eight and nine of WSC 243 show him being beaten to the punch against Southend and the Republic of Ireland. Granted, pictures of him making top-drawer saves may be hard to come by, but to show him conceding two goals on successive pages won’t do his fragile confidence much good. I speak in his defence as I still recall his Tranmere debut with great affection, where he was sent off for handling outside the area and (as memory serves) cried as he was escorted off the pitch. Nice to see that he’s done so well ever since.
Rob Fitzgerald, via email
Your correspondent Shaul Adar (Goodwill Hunting, WSC 243) seems a man impossible to please and quick to pass rash judgment. Any TV crew can always find a stereotypical England fan to film, including in Tel Aviv. What exactly does that prove? A media obsessed with pictures of England fans baring our bellies and knocking back the beers finds a bar full to bursting point, the same old pictures and reports are filed, job not well done. Of course, beyond the seafront English bars the media could have found hundreds more exploring Tel Aviv, taking coach trips to Jerusalem and Nazareth, and all getting on famously with the locals. Much of the media couldn’t be bothered to look – more surprisingly, it seems neither could a WSC correspondent. When the first group of away fans, ever, decide to lay a wreath at Israel’s Holocaust memorial your writer damns us as “patronising”. That wasn’t the response of those there when we laid our wreath, anything but. Fan groups from Nantwich and Wealdstone to Spurs and Man Utd collected kits for mixed teams of Arab and Jewish kids to wear in a Football4Peace tournament. “Liberal do-gooders” is the best Shaul can come up for this. And when two coachloads of England fans travelled 200 miles north to play a game against the supporters of Israel’s top Arab team, he damns us for indulging in “old-fashioned colonialism”. Despite being invited, Shaul didn’t bother to join us for a single one of these activities. So he didn’t see the joy on those kids’ faces playing in their English club kits, he didn’t hear the pride as over 1,000 Sakhnin supporters welcomed us to their stadium. And he didn’t witness the thanks from Israelis that a group of non-Jewish fans would want to mark the horror of the Holocaust. Worst of all he wrenched a quote from the Times entirely out of context. The writer, Matthew Syed, was making the point that England versus Israel isn’t going to end the Middle East conflict; Shaul instead applies this to his rubbishing of England supporters promotion of fan-friendly events on away trips. Shaul closes with a neat soundbite: “Thanks for the goodwill, no thanks.” What would he prefer, ill-will? Interestingly, he enquires whether we’d insult the people of Northern Ireland with similar events. If he’d bothered to ask us he would have learnt that when England played in Belfast we went out of our way to support the brave efforts of the Northern Ireland Supporters Association to counter the sectarianism that blights their games. It’s not the Israelis who were patronised, but WSC readers by your writer’s dogged determination to misreport and misrepresent everything England fans sought to do off the pitch in Israel.
Mark Perryman, London England Fans organiser
Your article Price Fixing (WSC 243) raised a very important point regarding football fans being asked, in many instances, to pay over the odds to watch live football. However, in pointing out the good work of many clubs to address this issue, namely Charlton, Bolton and Bournemouth, you neglected to mention my club’s forward thinking in this area. Macclesfield Town reduced the prices at the Moss Rose from the very start of the 2006-07 season. It currently costs only £10 for adults and £7 for concessions to watch the Silkmen. Under-16s are able to gain admission for a fiver and under-12s are allowed in for free. Average home attendances are up this year, despite a relatively poor season on the field.
Francis Pyatt, Wilmslow
In response to Tim Webber’s letter (WSC 243) about the possible levels of support for Arsenal support in Malawi, I had a similar thought about my own team, Celtic. A former colleague and fellow Hoop once followed a well travelled hiking route from northern Thailand to Laos and into Vietnam. He purchased about 25 Celtic tops in the Bangkok markets for about ten dollars each and distributed them freely to children in tiny villages along his route, carefully choosing to follow the tourist trail in each country and making sure his gifts were handed out hundreds of miles apart. So for all you bemused Rangers fans out there who may have travelled through south-east Asia around 2004, maybe this will offer some closure on your nightmares.
Michael Shine, via email
From WSC 244 June 2007. What was happening this month