Allow me to be one of the first begrudgers in the queue. For some reason Manchester United are being described as being a member of European football’s “elite”. United fans should realise that their team has just gone from winning the European Cup as many times as Aston Villa, to winning the European Cup as many times as Nottingham Forest. “Elite” my arse.
Brian Hughes, via email
Supporters who like to say how unfair the play-offs are might think about the following: play-offs are actually the traditional method of settling promotion. Promotion became an issue in 1893 when it was settled by play-offs (they were called Test Matches at the time) between the top three clubs in the Second Division and the bottom three in the First. Draws were settled by further play-off matches. In 1895 promotion was settled by a home and away mini-league between the top and bottom two clubs, with the top two going into the First Division. This system was abandoned in 1898 when no clubs were promoted and the two-up, two-down system began. Automatic promotion for third placed clubs is a recent innovation of which Carlisle were the first beneficiaries in 1974. If you finished third in the 63 seasons between 1895 and 1973 it was tough luck and try again next year. Automatic promotion from third place lasted a mere 15 seasons until 1986, when football for once embraced tradition and reinstated the play-offs.
Peter Gutteridge, via email
Although I’m usually far too lethargic for finger-pointing and coal-blowing, I would like to reply to Matt Greenslade’s comments on the subject of Bristol City in WSC No 148. While not wishing to get entangled in a semantic debate regarding the word “recent”, nor to indulge in Dougie-and-Eddie nostalgia, I must point out that, even though there has, admittedly, been “only” one large-scale pitch invasion, City’s fans have been active participants in severe crowd trouble before. The 1980s saw at least two serious incidents. Of course, Scott Davidson was not the chairman at that time and the people who threw the bags of glass shards at Elm Park, Reading and ripped up the terraces of the County Ground, Swindon, may now have reached an age where they rid themselves of surplus energy in South Bristol allotments rather than in football grounds. Nonetheless, the club whose reputation was subjected to long-term damage as a result of this hooliganism bore the same name as the one both Mr Greenslade and I still support. Furthermore, if Mr Greenslade were to scan the letters page of the Evening Post Green ’Un – probably the most widely read forum for fans of Bristol’s football clubs – he would maybe reassess his claim that Scott Davidson enjoys universal popularity among City supporters. Not all of the correspondence is critical – some is even as glowing in its praise as that of Mr Greenslade in WSC – but there has been enough general dissent this season to scupper the idea that I am the only villein who has forgotten to doff their cap. I don’t want to see Scott Davidson hounded out of Ashton Gate – despite the fact that the article was teeming with cheap jibes, it did contain a smidgen of praise for the chap as well – but to afford him the reverence that Mr Greenslade appears to favour is a mite pre- mature. The City have, after all, just been relegated after an appalling season. It would thus be unnatural for Scott Davidson to escape criticism, be it desperate or otherwise. And the only reason that I took the piss out of his haircut was that everybody takes the piss out of mine.
Matt Nation, Hamburg
Pointless – sums up Ian Plenderleith’s view of my book Winners & Losers: The Business Strategy of Football. He suggests that reading about the business of football is like “having a professor of music analyse the chord and key changes of your favourite song”. Nice analogy, but a rather dangerous viewpoint. Today football is being shaped by people who view it as a business. You only have to look at the merchant bankers, investment fund managers, media companies, receivers and competition authorities who are all taking decisions which impact on all fans. Football fans have never had much of a say in the running of football, but in the past at least the decision makers, misguided as they were, had a knowledge and love of the game. In order to have a say in the future, fans must understand how the people and organisations setting their ticket prices and rearranging their competitions operate. Our book does that. The recent victory of SUAM in persuading the Monopolies and Mergers Commission (who view football as a business) to block the BSkyB/Man Utd deal is an example of fan power of the future. Indeed the competition authorities, both in the UK and, perhaps more importantly, in Europe, might be the fans’ only hope in the brave new world of corporate football. Ian also suggests that people with no feeling for the game should steer clear of writing about it. I can reassure Ian that I do have an “irrational” love of the game. Some of the best times of my life, and without doubt the worst time, have resulted from my love of Liverpool. It is because of this love, not despite it, that I wrote this book. In last month’s WSC, Michael Crick was urging Manchester United fans to buy shares in order to have a say in the future of their club. It may be a rather forlorn request given the enormous stakes held by institutional investors, but at least he recognises the importance of business to the future of the game. Real fans ignore the business of football at their peril.
Tim Kuypers, via email
I trust that, following the appalling performance by Newcastle in the FA Cup final, the old joke from the Seventies about Malcolm Macdonald, based on the schoolboy quiz question “What is taken to Wembley every year but never used?” will be updated?
Paul Smith, via email
Did anyone else notice that out of seven Manchester United supporters interviewed on Sky outside Ewood Park before their Premiership game with Blackburn, two had something resembling a Manchester accent? Odd, that.
Dave Green, Gravesend
To reply to Allen Christopher’s letter in WSC No 148, I was the fool who tipped Blackburn to win the Premiership, not only in the pages of WSC but with a hefty wager at the bookies. I based my prediction on the domestic experience of Roy Hodgson, the team spirit of Sherwood and Sutton, the prudent signing of Darren Peacock to replace Colin Hendry and, of course, the guaranteed 30 goals from Kevin Davies. Still, I’ve learned a valuable lesson. Next season my money’s on Sunderland.
Ian Cusack, Newcastle upon Tyne
John Mackin quite rightly pointed out in his letter (WSC 148) that the Kop’s Hillsborough Memorial protest was aimed at the directors of Sheffield Wednesday and not the club’s supporters. I was late arriving at the ground that day and didn’t buy a programme, so consequently missed both explanatory announcements. However, correspondence with the Hillsborough Justice Campaign had forearmed me with the knowledge that a protest against the directors was about to take place, yet I still felt the protest to be distinctly provocative towards the Wednesday fans. Having to directly face such a powerful testament of feeling was too much for some of the visiting support, who began to chant their own city’s name in order to relieve the tension. Tactless it may have been, but being there facing that accusatory image, I fully understood why they did it. A great many Wednesday fans have written in protest at the club’s lack of a memorial, myself included... yet on the day I felt accused. A similar protest emanating from the Centenary Stand would have directly faced the Wednesday directors who, sitting alone amongst all those Liverpool fans in the Main Stand, would have found it difficult to avert their gaze.
Graham Lightfoot, Sheffield
At last Graham Taylor is back in his rightful place – the top division. Given his track record over the years it is scandalous that it has taken this long since his departure from the England job. After working miracles at Watford – from the Fourth Division to the First, a Cup final and the third round of the UEFA cup – he repeated the performance with Villa, taking them to promotion and then second in the league. Taylor’s time in charge of England might well be remembered as a national disgrace, but the mistakes he did make were exacerbated by tabloid vitriol, dodgy refereeing and the poorest crop of players in living memory to choose from. True, he had plenty of money to spend at Wolves, but who’s succeeded at Molineux in the last decade? Taylor did as well, if not better, than anyone else has, and that includes so-called “better” managers (where are you now, Mark McGhee?). Taylor’s return to Watford was a huge risk – he could easily have ruined the fond memories left by his first spell. But he rewarded Elton’s faith with two successive promotions. He has been ignored by many chairmen, who have felt that they need a “big name” to appease fans and, increasingly, shareholders. But compare the CVs of Atkinson, Hodgson and Venables over the last couple years with GT’s, and I know who I’d back at my club.
Jonty Pritchard, Henley in Arden
During the Champions League final, I distinctly heard Ron Atkinson describe Bayern Munich’s whey-faced midfielder Jens Jeremies as “a real ratter”. Taken to task by his co-commentator Clive Tyldesley, Big Ron was at pains to point out that he meant it as a compliment. Surely it’s time that ITV realised the value of their one football asset and devoted a two-hour summer special to an appraisal of his works, intercut with out-takes of his most winning commentating moments. Background music by, say, Michael Nyman? It could work.
Colin Mallam, Northampton
In his appraisal of Shrewsbury Town in WSC 148, Kevin Bright is surely needlessly modest in his claim that the club has no celebrity supporters. Derek Smalls, bass player in legendary rock band Spinal Tap, appears in several scenes of the film wearing the late Seventies blue and amber striped shirt which Kevin himself mentions. Rumour has it that Smalls, like Brentford fan and fellow rock god Rick Wakeman, used to fly in for home games in a private jet.
Simon Tombs, Isleworth
From WSC 149 July 1999. What was happening this month