Villa Park, Tuesday March 17th. Villa v Atletico Madrid, UEFA Cup quarter final 2nd leg. After half an hour, Bosnich lies down behind a couple of defenders and Caminero makes it 2-0 on aggregate. The new electronic scoreboards stop urging us to get behind the team, and instead inform us that home shirts are now available in the club shop at 50 per cent off... Dark, dark humour indeed.
Bruce Smith, via email
Your correspondents who performed laudable hatchet jobs on Kevin Keegan (Letters, WSC Nos 133 and 134) will have been as bemused as I was to hear Bob Wilson announcing some spurious pundits’ prize to Wor Kev and Brian Moore during Man Utd’s latest Euro slump. Nice to know Keegan has a trophy to tell his grandchildren about which post-dates his bubble cut. More satisfying by half was Kev’s celebratory waffle during the said fixture. The hilarious stabs in the dark at pronouncing Trezeguet. The comparison of Barthez with “the French lad at West Ham – Lomo” (would that be Jonah, Kev?). The obscurely mixed metaphor: “Phil Neville’s got pace to burn.” The strategic genius: “Alex will be pleased that Monaco scored so early, giving United time to get back into it.” The endlessly self-evident claptrap: “That was United’s best effort because it was their only effort.”; “Dumas really is a player.” And my favourite, the tortured tautology of: “They haven’t created a chance in the best part of forty-three-and-a-half minutes.” Mind you, Terry Venables was no better: “Van der Gouw epitomised what he was about with that save, he gets four extra inches out of his arms.” Thank God for the profound wisdom of Barry Venison. Unless, of course, you know different.
Tony Kinsella, Eccles
In was interested to read ‘Tickets Going South’ (WSC No 134). I still have a ticket for the ill-fated Rep of Ireland v England game from February 1995 which bears the legend, ‘IR£20 (including admission)’. As if you would wish to buy a ticket for any other reason.
Gary Bonner, East Finchley
Great fun though it is to bait Man Utd fans, Martin Johnes (Letters, WSC No 134) has picked the wrong subject to get them on. The campaign to bring back/keep safe terracing is backed, to date, by 16 Independent Supporters Associations, over 30 fanzines and the FSA. As well as thousands of Premier- and First Division-supporting fans wanting the choice of sitting or standing, many in the Second and Third Divisions have found to move to all-seater stadia has got them too. In fact, the present government has stated its intention to make all four divisions all-seater. The ‘real fans’ are those making a stand now. So Martin, join the campaign while you can. When your ground goes all-seater and your stewards tell you to sit down or get thrown out, you haven’t even got a megastore to look round instead.
Alison Pilling, Football Supporters Association
This morning I decided I was going to have to start admiring Julian Dicks. His shaven-headed stockiness and a style of play usually described as “uncompromising” by the papers has made it too easy to stereotype him as a proletarian hard man. His support for his female agent Rachel Anderson’s attempts to challenge the Professional Footballers’ Association’s male-only rule at their annual awards dinner is in stark contrast to the silence of those footballers who might, on the surface, appear more likely to come into the category of new men. They didn’t even send a spokesman to debate the issue with Rachel Anderson on Channel 4 News, where she reiterated her valid point that the occasion from which she was barred as a woman who makes her living from her work in football was not a stag night but a televised event where business could be done and contacts made. The PFA leadership have been at bit sniffy in their response to suggestions that their policy is discriminatory and archaic, claiming that the dinner is for professional players and as such women have no place there. As this argument is patently specious, why should the PFA should be so determined to maintain their stance in the face of widespread criticism of its sexism? Surely they could welcome Rachel Anderson and other women to their highly public ceremony without spoiling the atmosphere in some arcane way we don’t understand? Maybe it’s so they can have “entertainment” provided by Bernard Manning and his ilk? Or if women were admitted, players’ wives and girlfriends might want to come too? We can only speculate, but in the meantime I’ve done my bit by making the supreme sacrifice of boycotting watching coverage of the dinner. Instead I’ll be reading Julian Dicks’s biography to learn more about one of the PFA members at least who seems to have made the transition to the twentieth century.
Joyce Woolridge, Bristol
The letter from Frank Plowright in WSC No 134 invited learned and erudite explanations for the origins of the suffix ‘United’. I can put forward two alternative sources. The first and more common source would be in the sense of working towards a combined purpose, or towards common goals in the general good of the combined organisations.
However, a brief study of the Oxford University Dictionary of Dialect shows that there is an alternative dialect definition used specifically in the Manchester area and nowhere else. In Manchester alone, the word ‘united’ is used to mean the adoption of unacceptable standards of behaviour and is associated with human greed, the pursuit of evil and absolute domination over all the competitors at all costs. There is, of course, a well-known football team in Manchester which makes use of the expression ‘United’. I cannot trace the origins of the word in this specific example. There might, however, be a clue to this riddle in the nickname that they have adopted.
Jim Norris, Arnold
Whilst recognising the tremendous impact that fanzines have had on football over the last decade, one side-effect has been the rise of the ‘professional fan’, there on the spot like Kate Adie in a war zone. In response to the never-ending goings on at Manchester City, the local TV, radio and newspapers have kept up with the trend of finding out the views of the fan on the street. What this means in practice is that they all contact the same person who then appears all over the media saying the same thing. This is fine for clubs who change managers once every two years or so, but you get slightly bored and irritated when the same view is being given by the same person every two weeks as happens at Maine Road. It is even more disturbing when the views being given are those of a minority of the support, as happened with the campaign to remove Francis Lee. Those leading the campaign were in the minority – the views of the majority were not aired because the reporters couldn’t be bothered to get off their arses and look for that viewpoint. Travelling the country with work, I get asked if I am happy that Lee has gone because the impression given via the ‘professional fan’ is that is all we wanted. The media must be prepared to make the effort to seek out different views. Of course fanzine editors love the free publicity (and presumably increased sales) but they should stop hogging the limelight and give someone else a say.
Jim Ferris, Crewe
These plans for Football League reform are all very well, but what we really need is a league structure that actually reflects the balance of power in English football. Here’s what we need: Premier League Division One: one club. Manchester United, of course. Look through the Sunday Times Rich List, and Martin Edwards is the only chairman whose Principal Business Interest is football. Which makes Manchester United the only genuinely professional football club. All the rest are just sidelines and ego trips. Premier League Division Two: these are the wannabes. Currently Arsenal, Liverpool, Chelsea and Blackburn. I’ve never understood who the ‘Big Five’ were anyway. In the year the Premier League arrived, Blackburn were in the Second Division, from which Newcastle avoided relegation by winning their last two games. Man Utd blew the title, Liverpool finished in their lowest position for 27 years (sixth) though they won the Cup. Premier League Division Three: once you’re out of the UEFA Cup places there’s not much of a difference till you’re halfway down the First Division. The WSC prediction polls in September showed no less than twelve clubs tipped for promotion. Even allowing for wild pre-season optimism (Stoke, Crewe, Portsmouth) that’s a sizable chunk. It must be the Sky TV money. Far from isolating the top flight, it’s seeping down and down. Teams like Birmingham and Wolves still see themselves as big clubs in spite of a combined quarter of a century out of the top flight. And if Barnsley, Derby and Leicester can get there, there’s hope for the rest of us. Nationwide Division One: Middlesbrough’s natural home. What all this really goes to show is that if ever the Champions League really became a league, we wouldn’t lose that much. The Big One (Two, Three, Four, Five) could bugger off and we’d still have quite a lot of decent football to watch. And I haven’t even mentioned Coventry...
John Tandy, Birmingham
I recall in the olden days when a new rule was to be tried out it was implemented at the squarer end of the soccer pyramid rather than the pointy bit. I now look back with a sigh and a smile at the kick in/thrown in debacle fobbed on to (what now is) the Ryman League, and us Barnet fans can recall heady days when a valuable away win at the likes of Runcorn brought with it a point more than the two for a victory at home. Those cheery amateurs were quite willing to be the guinea pigs for whatever harebrained scheme the Mad Professors may have flung their way – they knew it was absurd and would never last. So why is it that FIFA decide to introduce the most controversial modifications to the game for a tournament scheduled to be watched all over the world by billions of people? Did they not watch the Mexico v Bulgaria Second Round tie at USA ’94? This was the match at which players were so scared of getting sent off that the game degenerated into the sort seen on the first day of terms when boys are afraid they’ll rip their new school trousers should they fall into the gravel. Players now face getting sent off for winning a tackle fairly, albeit from the wrong angle. Sepp – try it at Dulwich Hamlet first then see if I’m wrong.
James Castle, via email
Perhaps I’m just a bit too naive, but is it possible that the near-tragedy of the evening of March 30th 1998 will signal an end to the Munich chants which emanate from a section of the Leeds Utd support at their games against Man Utd? There but for the grace of George...
Dominic Doherty, via email
From WSC 135 May 1998. What was happening this month