All of the articles in the last edition relating to the events in Rome were very illuminating but I can’t help feeling that just about every one of your commentators, not to mention David Mellor and the FA, seem to have missed one vital point. Is it not the case that the Italian police (and for that matter, police in this country) should be told by their masters that if somebody has done something which contravenes the law of the land then they should be arrested and dealt with accordingly? If they haven’t then they should be left alone. The overriding image that has stayed with me since the match (apart from of course the dire football played on the pitch) was of police officers battering English fans in a frenzy of sadistic pleasure. In particular I remember watching, mouth agape, as about half a dozen helmeted meatheads set about one man who just happened to be caught behind their lines. The poor man curled up into a ball while they set about him with their truncheons. I don’t know what they thought he had done, but nobody deserves that sort of treatment, least of all from members of the constabulary. It seems to be a growing attitude amongst the authorities, the police, and some of your writers that if you go to a football match, then you open yourself up to a possible battering from the police – that’s just your bad luck. Let’s get this event into some kind of perspective. Police the world over like hitting people – that’s why they become police officers – and football matches (like picket lines) gives them the perfect opportunity. To my mind it’s as simple as that. The responsibility for the mayhem inside the ground belongs undoubtedly to the police authorities who clearly told their men to go and crack some heads. It matters not a jot whether other fans were drunk, abusive or whatever. The fans inside the ground were used for a bit of fun by the Italian police, which is something that should be deplored by everybody, not just football fans.
Jeffrey Lamb, Brighton
Mike Ticher wrote in WSC No 130 that the nationalist trappings of supporting England put him off the whole idea of the national team. It’s a common attitude, and you can’t blame anyone for feeling like that. But I think there is a whole lot more to it than that, and no one seems to address it. Everything that Mike said about the right wing overtones of English emblems and songs is true. But the point is that however many satellite dishes and hospitality boxes there are, football is supported mostly by your average working class blokes, the overwhelming majority of whom are not at all right wing. OK, so these middle class Johnny-come-latelys might push the swingometer over to the blue corner, but all they want is low taxes and private schools, not racial Armageddon. The problem we face is that a hundred or so Combat 18 (or whatever new name they thought up while their mums were all at the bingo) troublemakers, and a thousand associated hooligans, can bring a whole game to a standstill and tar the rest of England’s supporters with the same brush. People with Mike Ticher’s enlightened views are more likely to disown the game altogether. The result: the only voice that gets heard is the voice of those compulsive masturbators of the far right. Rather than walk away, wouldn’t it be more constructive to try and be a voice for England fans, who just want to see their team do well and give the people a buzz and a feeling of optimism? Other countries manage it, and there’s no reason why football in this country can’t be the same. All those trappings of colonialism and arrogance are for Twickenham and Lord’s. Ordinary football fans ought to be able to be proud of themselves and shout for their team without offending any other race or nation, free from guilt-trips and baton charges.
Jim Adamson, London
I have the same feeling as John Wakeman (Letters, WSC No 130) in being irritate by the singing of ‘Rule Britannia’. I like singing ‘God Save The Queen’ at the match, but standing amongst extreme Royalists singing the Sex Pistols version is not advisable. Mind you, given that Glenn Roeder and Peter Taylor are among Glenn Hoddle’s back up team, the end part of the song, “No future, No future, No future for you!” is pretty apt, don’t you think?
Gary Crowe, Watford
My increasing disillusionment with the game was fortified by the media hype surrounding the launch of Newcastle United’s new home strip back in the summer which served as an excuse to focus on the seemingly typical Geordie stereotypes, such as their ‘loyalty’ and their ‘daft as a brush’ mentality. To suggest that the criteria in assessing the loyalty of supporters should be based on their ability to pay an over-inflated price for a tacky piece of polyester which will probably go out of shape after a couple of washes (not unlike Newcastle’s defence) continues to offend me. Adidas (not unlike other multinational sporting manufacturers who have contributed to the lucrative replica kit market) have chosen to exploit this situation for all that it is worth. Since they began their association with Newcastle United just over two years ago, they have launched no less than two home strips, three different away strips and six different goalkeeper strips (clearly this inconsistency in defining a regular choice of kit is symbolic of Newcastle’s selection problems for the right choice of goalkeeper). It is clear that the replica kit manufacturers have a warped sense of humour. Not only do the marketing department take pleasure in launching new strips every five minutes, the design department’s sense of humour is clearly reflected in their finished product. This is clearly illustrated with Newcastle United’s latest goalkeeper away strip, which is a bright orange shirt with a spiral black imprint. It does look ghastly, but the real joke is that it actually resembles the opening titles to a Sixties American cult TV programme called The Time Tunnel which was based upon the theme of time travel. Obviously Adidas are sympathetic to Kenny Dalglish’s wishes to travel back in time to the week before the Umbro International Tournament at Goodison Park so that he could give Alan Shearer a well deserved couple of weeks off.
Rob Fitzgerald, Birkenhead
Ian Plenderleith, you are not alone. I, too, grew up reading Brian Glanville’s epic story of goalkeeping genius Ronnie Blake of Borough United (WSC No 130). Last year, a colleague remarked that he recalled reading a sequel to this mighty tome. I immediately dashed off a letter to Mr Glanville, c/o the Sunday tabloid by whom he was employed, demanding to know where I could purchase a copy of the alleged follow-up. By return of post, Brian confirmed that, sadly, no such volume existed, but that he had, in fact, written another football book; this one concerning a British striker in Italy (natch!). Oh, and Ian. Mr Glanville still doesn’t know whether or not Ronnie Blake came out to claim that last-minute corner at Wembley (apologies to the vast majority of readers, excluding Ian Plenderleith, to whom that last comment will mean nothing).
Dave Wiggins, Rainford
One of the clearest signs of the information revolution is the way that e-mail addresses are regularly replacing town names on newspaper and magazine letters pages. The problem is that knowing where someone comes from can help us to understand the motive behind their correspondence. For example, in the last issue of WSC, Tim Clachers’ rant about England would have been perfectly understandable if we knew it came from a Scot (or a desperate Welshman). Certainly the tone of his message gives this impression, as does the fact that his PC was almost certainly covered with spit when he’d finished writing. Maybe your e-mail correspondents could include their location in their messages to help us to better understand their opinions. (Of course this wouldn’t work with Man Utd fans but nothing’s perfect. Sorry, couldn’t resist.)
Mark Eltringham, via email
Simon Bell spoiled an otherwise worthy article on the Vauxhall Conference in WSC No 129 with his last couple of paragraphs. Yes, non-League football has been blighted by a series of ‘here today, gone tomorrow’ clubs, although in Rushden’s case even if Max Griggs walked away tomorrow they would be left with a superb ground and a supporter-base of around two to three thousand. To say that “the Fifth Division hasn’t really happened” is missing the point somewhat. The only reason that more clubs have not been promoted to the Football League is the closed shop attitude finally ended by the Stevenage Borough court case. Not everyone wants to ‘do a Wimbledon’. Many non-League supporters aren’t even sure whether they want professional football at all, whereas others would be chuffed to ‘do a Wycombe Wanderers’. Just ten years ago Wycombe were struggling near the foot of the Conference on gates of around 800 in a dated and impractical ground. They moved to a new ground, appointed a certain excitable Irishman as manager and it was next stop Division Two and gates of over 5,000. My team has just been promoted to the Conference and I can tell you that ‘Plymouth on a wet Tuesday evening’ is a million times more enticing than Bashley away in the Dr Martens League Cup. It’s all relative, after all. Eleven years on from the introduction of automatic promotion there is still too much dead wood in the lower divisions and a host of ambitious non-League clubs aiming to take their place. Not all of them are the playthings of wealthy chairmen. With the availability of grants from sources such as the Sports Grounds Initiative many clubs have brought their grounds up to league standard and Halifax Town (current leaders) have a squad assembled entirely from free transfers and home grown youth team graduates. Given a couple of million quid and the choice between a lifetime private box at Manchester United or the opportunity to help my local team make it into the Football League, it would be the “jaffa cakes at Chester” every time for me. “Bloody sad”? Or a member of that dying breed; a supporter of my local team...
Paul Godfrey, Cheltenham
As a Tranmere fan, I have suffered from one of Peter Johnson’s hidden agendas. It therefore follows that my sympathies lie with the “Goodison for Everton” group. However, if Andy Burnham thinks the idea of ground-sharing with a rugby league club is so repellent (Out of the Blue, WSC No 130), then it gives me great pleasure to inform him that the thirteen-a-side game has indeed been played at Goodison Park – and that the same applies to, among others, Ibrox, Highbury, Villa Park, Tynecastle, St James’ Park and Stamford Bridge. Elland Road (originally the home of a now defunct RL club, Holbeck) and Old Trafford (the original sporting ‘Red Devils’ in this country were Salford, not Manchester United) are often used for big rugby league games. And ground-sharing doesn’t seem to cause too many problems at Gigg Lane (Bury/Swinton), Spotland (Rochdale/Rochdale Hornets), or the McAlpine Stadium (Huddersfield Town/Huddersfield Giants). Much nearer to Andy’s home (if not his heart) is Anfield which has hosted a few rugby league matches over the past eight years. A record RL Charity Shield crowd of 17,263 saw Widnes defeat Wigan in 1989 at Liverpool FC, while 20,152 saw a Wigan win against Penrith of Australia on the same ground in the 1991 World Club Challenge Final. More recently, St Helens took a run-of-the-mill league fixture against Castleford to Anfield this year; the crowd of over 12,000 represented a 50% increase on the figure for the corresponding game at Saints’ Knowsley Road ground in 1996. Such attendances are, of course, dwarfed by Liverpool FC’s home support but in turn are far higher than those attracted by English rugby union champions Wasps at Loftus Road. This would suggest that ground-sharing with a rugby league club holds far fewer terrors than Andy imagines. And if anyone assumes that my dig at rugby union is a demonstration of sporting xenophobia, bear in mind that for over 100 years rugby union has been trying to stamp rugby league out of existence, even successfully enlisting the help of Nazi- and Apartheid-backed governments in their vain attempts to do so; something WSC’s occasional correspondents might bear in mind when referring to the boring Twickenham game as simply “rugby”.
Michael Wray, Birkenhead
At the risk of being labelled pedantic I feel I must write. In the Diary for October 6th in WSC No 130 you state: “Wales called up a non-League full back, Garry Lloyd of Barry Town, for their World Cup match with Belgium.” As they play in the League of Wales, Barry are no more a ‘non-League’ side than are Celtic or Rangers. They are members of a league that is not English!
Stephen Hughes, Hoylake
The editorial in WSC No 130 regarding misconduct by players makes some good points, but I strongly feel that the writer should not be allowed to get away with apparently providing an excuse for assaulting the referee. There are no circumstances whatsoever where an assault on a match official is justified, even if players, team officials and supporters do disagree with his decision. Indeed, if the fans’ reaction is one of seeking to assault the referee after a decision goes against them, football doesn’t need them or their money. I am a local league referee, and have been the victim of an assault on the field of play. The player was severely dealt with by the relevant County FA. All County FAs will severely punish any player guilty of an assault and rightfully so. A player or team official should expect nothing less than a lengthy suspension and a heavy fine if they place their hands on the referee’s person. This applies at any level. In my view Emmanuel Petit’s suspension is wholly justified, and there are many who feel it should be much longer. The standard county FA punishment for a technical assault is 110 days, plus a significant fine. Why not try something similar in the Premiership? I am sure that some of your readers will not share my view. But how many of them are referees? I’m sure that we all think we can do better than the referee at the game we’re watching or playing in. But very few have got the courage to try. Here’s a radical suggestion which might help our game. All paid (pro or semi-pro) players should have to pass a FA Referees Training Course within 12 months of signing a contract. It might teach some of them the Laws of the Game. How many of the rest of us can break our contracts of employment with impunity?
Ian Grose, Swindon
Further to Martin Callaghan’s letter (WSC No 130) regarding Sam Leitch, it should be remembered that he presented a programme called Football Preview and not Football Focus.
Jonathan Williamson, Sheffield
From WSC 131 January 1998. What was happening this month