Whilst I agree with Tony Dolan’s point (Letters, WSC No 142) that Welsh fans and players alike currently ignore Bobby Gould like your average town centre nutter, I fear that the supernatural hidden powers of everyone’s favourite Celine Dion fan may have been overlooked. I am the Welsh fan referred to in WSC No 141 as having received a letter from Gould during the furore over allegations of his racist comments, in which he advised me to contact (and I quote) “Lori Cunningham (the late)” in order to establish his non-racist credentials. Now, I am prepared to overlook the fact that he evidently thought the legendary Orient and WBA winger had a girl’s name, but to this day I cannot get over the idea that Gouldy (as we don’t call him) apparently has the powers to contact people who are dead. How do they do that, Bobby? It’d be great pre-match entertainment, though, I can see it now. At our next game, in Zürich in March, perhaps Bobby could leave the tactical side of things to the players (rather like against Belarus last month), while he sits on the touchlines with a ouija board soliciting advice on substitutions, whether to use the Christmas tree formation etc, from formerly-alive footballing luminaries. Having witnessed the debacle of Gould’s reign (and our glorious, life-affirming win in Denmark, which was truly astonishing), I’ve finally sussed Gould’s secret. He sees things we’ll never see, he talks to the other side, he may be literally a man of the dark arts. At least that would explain the Celine Dion fascination.
Mark Ainsbury, Wembley
In today’s game of money, money, money, it is often quoted that “football is a sport made by the English working classes for the English working classes”. A romantic view, but totally inaccurate. The game as it is today was developed at public schools. Teams in the south were formed through these connections, whilst teams in the midlands and the north were formed either by a church or a factory mill – usually by the sons of the wealthy owners having returned from public school. The church was involved because they saw football as a way of attracting unruly boys into the church, to teach them religion, discipline and middleclass values. If you did not attend church, you did not play in the team. The factory and mill owners were involved because a fit and happy workforce (especially if the team was successful) equals increased productivity and more profit. Also, the owners were able to charge admission fees and profit from gate money too. When the game became more professional and clubs broke away from their roots, sponsors were needed to help pay for new grounds. Both Manchester clubs owe their survival to local breweries, without whom the grounds at Ardwick (City) and Clayton (United) would not have been built. Did the breweries do this out of community spirit or charity? Of course not. They knew that thousands of fans supping their ale in bars was a financial winner. What is the difference between that happening 100 years ago and a corporate sponsor today giving millions to help finance a new stadium and have it named after them? The working class have never “made” the game and as for the game being “for” the working class, clearly they have always been exploited to the maximum and used as consumers of a product making rich people richer. It seems to me that Murdoch, far from breaking with tradition, is just carrying it on.
Phill Gatenby, Manchester
Just to follow up Simon Bell’s letter about Coronation Street and football (WSC No 142). Many pubs in the early Seventies used to display brewery-sponsored fixture lists for a wide range of teams. Scottish and Newcastle bars on Tyneside often boasted the season’s games for teams as geographically disparate as Hartlepool and Carlisle, as well as the Toon. I’m sure Newton and Ridley followed suit, despite Annie Walker’s preference for bowls. Weatherfield County only came into prominence after Raquel took up with their new striker, who’d been signed from Darlington for £100,000. As for cast members supporting a particular team, I remember a discussion in The Kabin between Eddie Yates and Len Fairclough, where the affable Scouse ex-criminal expressed a fondness for Everton and the pugilistic jobbing builder came down firmly on the side of Manchester City. Links with Maine Road were maintained about four years ago when Curly Watts, Martin Platt and the nice MacDonald twin went off to a Boxing Day fixture. Would it be churlish to point out the similarity in fortunes for both City and Curly since then? Clearly, were Sky TV ever to purchase the soap from Granada, all the characters would develop a sudden love of pay-per-view matches involving a certain team from Trafford.
Ian Cusack, Newcastle upon Tyne
Are my local club Hendon the only team trying to take advantage of one of the new laws of the game allowing one to score directly from the kick-off? So far I’ve seen a couple fly past the corner flag, one sail out of the ground and one collected by an embarrassed looking opposition goalkeeper. When the inevitable happens you can say you read it here first and I’ll write a gloating letter saying I told you so. In the meantime I’ll keep pressing my local bookies for a decent price on the team to score the fastest goal ever and hope that Ryman League goalkeepers do not read WSC.
Keith Chapman, London NW2
Steve Smith (Letters, WSC No 142) made some points about Jock Brown which basically boiled down to his view that Celtic FC are religious bigots while Rangers FC are paragons of virtue by comparison. I think he chose to ignore a few salient points. Taken from a historical perspective, the worst he can come up with for Celtic is the fact that Jock Stein was not offered a directorship because he was a Protestant. Stein’s treatment following his retirement was indeed shameful, but that was down to the general incompetence of the board at that time – if they had been bigots they would hardly have employed Stein in such a high-profile position in the first place. Celtic FC have never run a sectarian employment policy (apart from Stein there have been many non-Catholic stalwarts over the years including two of their best-ever players, McGrain and Dalglish) unlike Rangers who steadfastly refused to employ Catholics for over 100 years. When they did finally sign a Catholic – Maurice Johnston – this prompted scenes of season ticket-burning among their loyal followers. Hardly a “seamless appointment” (as he described that of new Ibrox chief executive Bob Brannan) on that occasion. Rangers have now dragged themselves into the present by employing Catholic players (although strangely no Scottish ones), and they are to be commended for that, if a little belatedly. As for Jock Brown’s lack of “Celtic-mindedness”, this may be an issue for some Celtic fans, but not the vast majority. Why would these same fans accept Stein, McGrain, Dalglish et al, but not Brown? He was hounded out by a combination of the press (with whom Brown admitted he failed to establish a proper relationship) and a vociferous minority of Celtic fans led by Peter Rafferty, the self-styled “fans chief” who actually speaks on behalf of a tiny percentage of true Celts. For a final comparison between the clubs’ official attitude to sectarianism, contrast Fergus McCann’s “Bhoys Against Bigotry” campaign – which David Murray refused to endorse – with Rangers FC’s official club song, as released on CD, Hello, Hello, which contains the delightful line “We’re up to our knees in Fenian blood”. I wonder what Bob Brannan makes of that?
Nick Saxton, Glasgow
In the article in WSC No 142 about how Stoke-on-Trent city council are biased against Port Vale, Rob Rushton states that the council put up £3 million of council tax payers money to help build the Britannia Stadium. This is a well-rehearsed lie that has been rebutted before. The city council provided £3 million of money from the European Union for the development of a new community asset. The money would not have been provided to redevelop the old Victoria Ground. He makes the point that the Football Trust contributed a generous grant. True, £3.25 million is a substantial amount of money. But the size of the grant was dependent upon moving to a new stadium and not the redevelopment of an existing stadium. He suggests that the sale of Mike Sheron to QPR was the contribution made by Stoke City FC. When funding arrangements for the new stadium were first announced the SCFC board assured fans that no player would be sold to build the Britannia Stadium. History has proven this to be false. Not only Mike Sheron but also Andy Griffin (to Newcastle) were sold to help supplement the money raised from the sale of the Victoria Ground. I think that many Stoke City fans feel that this may have been too high a price to pay for a new stadium. Mr Rushton argues that “moving away from our traditional fan base into the heartland of our greatest rivals would be an accountant’s nightmare”. For those people with an interest in history, Port Vale as a Burslem club dates back to the 1950s. Previously they were the local club in Hanley, birthplace of Sir Stanley Matthews, who as a boy was a supporter of his home town team, Port Vale. Stoke City on the other hand held tenure at the Victoria Ground since the end of the 1800s. Finally, Mr Rushton argues that the city council forced the closure of their shop in the centre of Burslem by insisting they sold only Vale’s own branded merchandise on the grounds that it was taking trade from other shops in town. What Mr Rushton fails to point out is that this shop was opened only a stone’s throw away from a local sports retailer. Maybe pressure was applied on the council? He also suggests that their one-room lock up store on the Hamill Road has had to close. When I drove along there recently I noticed what appeared to be a Vale retail outlet which appeared to be trading. It hardly looks like the shack he described in his article. Perhaps Mr Rushton can enlighten us about this mirage I saw.
Mike Dennis, Nottingham
Jim McFarlane is correct in stating (Letters, WSC No 142) that fans do have the power to control the replica shirt industry by simply refusing to buy merchandise. However, this is particularly difficult for those with children, or those who feel less than a “complete” fan when not wearing the latest shirt. In any circumstances, it is unreasonable to heap all of the blame onto the fans, and Manchester United’s replica strip range has reached such epidemic proportions that it verges on self-parody. By my calculations, you can now buy four Manchester United shirts, two of which are red (the red home shirt, the red home “European” shirt, the white away shirt and the black away shirt) and, even more preposterously, six different pairs of shorts, three white and three black. I think they also have about five pairs of socks, all in black or white. Tellingly, none of these involve “hallucinogenic” designs, just careful branding based on three basic colours. This may be an object-lesson in merchandising, but its difficult to believe that it comes about due to specific demand from fans. Unless fans nationwide can organise a boycott of replica strips (and think how unlikely that is) then regulation by the FA appears the only workable way to curb this situation.
Andrew Okey, Lancaster
OK, Los Angeles and New York will likely have the largest fan base for the US’s Major League Soccer teams (Fire Starters, WSC No 142). But Columbus has one socially redeeming asset that other teams do not – next season, we will have the only tailor-made-for-football stadium in the States. LA and New York will continue to play on their non-regulation sized fields, as will all the other MLS teams, except the Columbus Crew. As a season ticket holder to our terraces, I will be happy to see it. Mind you, Ohio is not exactly Arsenal or Liverpool, but our players are nearly as good or better than the rest of the MLS, and we have ample parking at the stadium. Try parking a nine-passenger Buick Estate (with fake wood panelling) anywhere in London, and then getting out a cooler and grill to “tailgate”.
Brian M. Perera, Ohio, USA
In my recent article (A Passing Trade, WSC No 142) I misleadingly gave the impression that Programme World ceased to exist as a trading post for footy programmes. Not so. All your 1973-74 Mansfield Town home programme needs can still be catered for at the top end of Arkwright Street, and they have a lovely selection of Notts County car cushions to boot. Sorry for the blatant plug, but it was either this or trying to catch a pigeon that’s been in Terry’s storeroom for the past six months.
Al Needham, Kingston-upon-Thames
From WSC 143 January 1999. What was happening this month