Richard Darn’s status as WSC’s “Barnsley correspondent” should be thrown into disrepute after his disgraceful defence of Gary Willard. Comments along the lines of “referees are honest men doing a tough job” are Brooking-esque in their blandness and naivety. The question Darn fails to ask is: why do these “innocent errors” never happen to Man Utd at Old Trafford or, indeed, any big club facing small fry on their home turf? Furthermore, why did Willard not err on the side of caution (play it safe with a yellow card if in doubt rather than red) instead of his reckless, irresponsible attitude of “send him off and sod the consequences”. Darn is probably correct to scoff at “conspiracy theories” but he should at least acknowledge the possibility of unconscious bias towards big clubs by referees who are fearful that they may lose their jobs if they upset the FA hierarchy by penalising their golden boys or favouring the inconvenient small clubs who belong in the Nationwide. I don’t believe Gary Willard is corrupt but I do believe he lost the plot on March 28th because he knew Big Brother was watching him.
Jon Harrison, York
It now appears that Tony Blair is an authority on park football, having endorsed the Football Task Force’s proposal to make racist comments a red card offence. What never fails to amaze me is the lack of knowledge of the laws of the game demonstrated by these so-called experts. The law relating to misconduct clearly states that “offensive, insulting or abusive language” is a sending-off offence. If racist remarks are not included within that description, then I don’t know what is. Of course, such remarks have to be heard by the referee before he can take action, but the sort of player choosing to make racist remarks rarely does so within the earshot of the match officials. As the prime minister and David Mellor should know, hearsay isn’t a sound basis on which to enforce the law. The problem of racism at the lower levels of the game is being greatly exaggerated. I have officiated on the parks and commons of south-west London for ten years and I am proud to say that during this period never once have I heard a racist remark. Likewise, I do not remember seeing David Mellor on the touchline, although many games were in his former constituency.
Stephen Saul, London SW19
It is easy to be cynical about the Task Force, Matthew Brown starts his piece in WSC No 135. Well of course it is, just like it’s easy to be cynical about my chances of winning an Olympic gold medal and appearing in the FA Cup final in the same year. Yes, some things are easy to be cynical about, not because the cynic is adopting a trite and politically popular stance, but because those things genuinely deserve to be exposed as nonsense. I deplore racism in football or anywhere else, and I’m all in favour of improving disabled access. It’s just that as a supporter of a relegation-threatened and frequently financially-challenged Conference club I don’t think that these are the major problems to be addressed. Personally, I wouldn’t wish to define the classist and sexist remarks of certain gentlemen in the north east to be either better or worse than racist attitudes, and there does seem to be a rather eerie silence from Mr Comp Ticket Mellor and his mates on the subject. For my part, I deplore the elitist and flawed reasoning that says that a Tory MP who cannot even get himself re-elected can be any sort of Fans Representative, whether or not one of his friends is kind enough to sort himself out a cosy berth living off the BBC at the licence payers’ expense. The Task Force’s insular attitude can best be demonstrated by the identification of the return of terracing as a major issue. For most clubs outside the Magic Circle it never went away (earth calling Tony Banks, please come in). Finally, were I to be persuaded that public debate with David Mellor would be of any value to any supporter of football outside the Premier League, I must admit that Mellor’s habit of not turning up at these roadshows would slightly put me off. So far, as far I know, he’s attended under 50 per cent of them. As far as the Minister of Mellor Support is concerned, I will support a Fans Representative just as soon as the ballot has been run to elect one. In my naivety I thought the Labour Party believed in such things.
Rollo Sheridan, Telford
It was disappointing to note in Davy Millar’s piece regarding the Republic of Ireland v Northern Ireland B international (Tickets Going South, WSC No 134) what appeared to be some form of North-South prejudice. He referred to the ground being “thronged with Dubliners queuing up to pay in at the turnstiles” as if this was some kind of unlawful act. Dubliners had every right to queue to pay cash at the turnstiles when the match was not advertised as being all-ticket. Regrettably this article made no mention of the fact that hundreds of local supporters holding valid tickets were also denied admission and that severe disenchantment with the FAI was in no way confined to Northern Ireland. Are we to assume then that as far as Davy Millar is concerned locals holding legitimate tickets being denied entry was perfectly acceptable? Additionally his remark regarding Dublin being a place where “a ticket merely represents a desire to see a game, not a right to be there” was a completely unfair generalisation more at home in lesser publications than When Saturday Comes. The fact that spectators holding valid tickets, whether local or visiting, were turned away from the ground is quite unacceptable and the FAI were deserving of all the criticism they received. However it is most frustrating to witness the matter being compounded by such inaccurate and one-sided reporting.
Christopher Doughan, Dublin
Three cheers for Stan Collymore’s ex-teammate Steve Harkness. Following last month’s Barnsley v Liverpool game, Mr Harkness thought the following would be a good wheeze. From the safety of the team bus, he rubbed thumb and forefinger together and informed the crowd of mainly kids that he had plenty of money. When one of the parents unwisely got involved by stating that he too wasn’t without, Harkness pretended to explode with mirth and pointed at the two kids’ attire. Wonderful stuff, eh? No need to ask what people of the calibre of Shankly or Paisley would have made of such behaviour.
Edwin Pawlikow, Barnsley
In reference to the letter in WSC No 134 asking how the term “United” came about, I was once told it stems from the days when several cricket clubs in Sheffield combined their resources to build a big ground for final matches. Thus Bramall Lane was bought and named the Sheffield United Cricket Ground, and run by a committee of the same name. Eventually they formed their own cricket team and ultimately a football team. So Sheffield United, as far as I am aware, are the original United. (Not Manchester, you non-Mancunian bandwagon jumpers please note. Not only did they pinch our name and adopt our colours, they also pinched our “Ooh, aah, Bob Booker!” chant and tried to claim it as their own.)
Stephen Colgrave, Sheffield
I’ve had enough of some people trying to make a special case for a few professional footballers and their wages. Sure, football is an industry – from that we cannot escape. Yes, professional footballers should share in the fruits of their industry. However, for Brendan Batson to attempt to justify huge salaries on the basis that they are “a bad injury away from a new job” (Ceefax, April 16th, p306) is plainly insulting to other people. For many ordinary folk, serious injury would ensure complete loss of work, never mind a new job. If you’re self-employed and get sick, you can quickly lose your business. There’s no six (seven?) figure nest egg to fall back on. What’s more, most of us don’t have fame, plus contacts in the media that ensure a smooth transition from the football field to the role of super-pundit! Please, let’s have a little honesty. The rest I can endure.
Nick Archer, via email
The content of Jim Ferris’s letter in WSC No 135 is exactly the reason why the media tend to favour fanzine editors when quotes from the heart are required from people who don’t sit on the fence. Whether the “Lee Out” situation at Maine Road was a majority or minority view (and how would we know without individual polling, or did Jim conduct one, in fact?) is almost irrelevant. What’s required here is a balanced view, based on fact, and the facts are that under the chairmanship of Lee, who came in with (unfulfilled) ambitious plans and promises of high investment, we now find ourselves in the most humiliating situation in our history. The rest of football must think we are completely stupid if, as Jim suggests, we’re all portrayed as thinking that the ex-chairman did a great job. Regarding loving the free publicity from media appearances, I can assure Jim that it is usually a complete balls ache for which great efforts and sacrifice have generally to be made, all part of the continuing campaign to give fans a voice. Also it is doubtful if fanzine sales have increased one iota due to any media appearance, would that I looked like Leonardo Di Caprio! Finally, there is absolutely nothing to stop Jim himself from getting out there in the media, his letter to WSC might just be a start. It just takes a little effort and the balls to face the consequences!
Dave Wallace, Editor, King of the Kippax
A minor blip in the editorial in WSC No 135. You mention several pitch invasions in the early 1970s, including the infamous “game that never was” – the FA Cup tie in 1974 between Newcastle United and Nottingham Forest. However, this was not the semi-final – the game was actually the quarter-final, played at St James’ Park. At the time, Forest were leading 3-1, and Newcastle’s centre half, Pat Howard, had just been sent off, leaving Newcastle with a none-too-easy job. A rumpus developed just behind where I was standing, in the old Leazes End, followed by a rather large guy, no doubt fuelled by Broon Ale, knocking his way through the packed crowd towards the front of the terraces. He climbed up onto the cinder track, and a number of policemen rushed to restrain him – this was a tactical masterpiece, as while around a dozen law enforcers tried, without much success, to restrain him, hundreds of youths took advantage of the diversion, and poured out of the Leazes End onto the pitch. Every one of them surely deserves a medal for defying the odds – look today at the video footage – how they progressed through the six-inch-deep mud wearing four-inch platform shoes defies belief. For the record, the referee withdrew the players from the field, and gave the Forest management the choice of whether they wanted to continue or have the game abandoned. Two goals ahead, against ten men, well into the second half – of course they wanted to continue, a decision that backfired when Newcastle went on to win the game 4-3, only for the FA to annul the result and force the two teams to play again at a neutral venue. In today’s climate, this is undoubtedly not the “politically correct” way for the crowd to behave, but ask anyone who was there – this was without a doubt one of the most memorable games of the 1970s at St James’ Park. Perhaps Newcastle’s dismal record in the FA Cup from 1974 until this season is in some way a kind of punishment or curse for that day in March 1974. Will the curse strike again on May 16th?
Bruce Renwick, via email
What most people expected has now actually happened: after 75 years in the Football League, Doncaster Rovers have been relegated to the Vauxhall Conference. I know that someone has to go down, but the reason that this should have happened to Doncaster is because the club continues to be run into the ground by its so-called benefactor, Ken Richardson. Late last year Richardson stated that he wanted nothing more to do with the club, yet he stills owns it. The club is currently managed by Mark Weaver, whose previous experience of football was working in the commercial department at Stockport County. The fans of Doncaster Rovers see no end to the current situation. There have been several attempts to buy the club but no deal seems to be imminent. The most serious approach, from Anton Johnson, got very close to being signed but the deal was halted by Richardson at the last minute. I would like to say that there is a bright future on the horizon, but I can’t. The fans are determined to fight until Richardson is replaced by someone who is interested in football and will give the club the opportunity to gain promotion back to its rightful place in the Football League. Finally, I would like to thank the fans of other clubs who have offered their support and best wishes, and promise that Doncaster Rovers will be back.
Andrew Spiers, Editor, unofficial Doncaster Rovers website
From WSC 136 June 1998. What was happening this month