For those readers who may have heard York City chairman Douglas Craig spouting off on a Radio One/Radio Five programme about the Fabian Society’s ‘Football United’ report, please permit me to fill in a few background details. Mr Craig is the former chairman of the York and District Conservative Association and close friend of Tory MP and club president, John Greenaway, a self-confessed Arsenal fan. He remains the only Football League chairman not to endorse the CRE ‘Kick Racism Out Of Football’ initiative and describes City supporters who campaign for the club to back down and sign as “interfering left wing do-gooders”. Who better, then, to comment on a report by a socialist organization? The BBC confirmed when I spoke to them that Mr Craig was only used because they knew they’d get the desired negative response. This may be all well and good for the purposes of the feature but it is infuriating to hear someone express such myopic opinions without the chance to refute and counter some of their comments. To hear a man who tells his own club’s supporters to stay away if they don’t like what they see on a Saturday afternoon, belittling the report because he claims the authors don’t realize that football is “a business”, is just laughable. But then everybody loves a clown...
Instead of asking himself whether England should play with two central defenders or three, Glenn Hoddle should be far more concerned as to their names. Whereas just a few years ago I could sit back and watch my national team play with two centre backs called Tony and Gary, in a few years time I predict that we could well be watching an England team containing three centre-backs called Rio, Sol and Ricardo. What is the game coming to?
Charlie Harris, via email
As a Middlesbrough fan, I was intrigued to discover in WSC No 128 that your readers regard us as their third most disliked team after Man Utd and Rangers. If this is, as you suggest, based on our hefty spending on players, why do Newcastle have a +15% rating? (Juninho cost £4.5m to Shearer’s £15m.) It can’t be down to entertainment either; Newcastle’s cavalier approach departed with Kevin Keegan, Boro scored 92 and conceded 73 in all competitions last season. Perhaps everyone just loves a chairman who admires Mao and Mrs Thatcher, and makes £110m out of flotation then clears off to Spain! Or is it Kenny Dalglish who makes you go all gooey, or David Batty? Warren Barton...? If it’s under-achievement that turns you on, Boro are streets ahead, even in the North East. Still, it’s good to know so many people enjoyed our relegation, and loss of three points, two cup finals and Juninho. Sorry we rose above our station for a while there – we’ll just quietly slip back amongst the also-rans where we belong, shall we?
Paul Armstrong, London W2
I’ve had enough. Whose idea was it to start plopping the trophy next to the presenter during TV matches? It was Sky’s, wasn’t it? So another football tradition has been eroded. I’m young, but I remember the days when the only people allowed to touch the trophy were the winning team and the Duchess of Kent. Now, it seems, any old meathead can get their hands on whichever trophy they want. Take the FA Cup, for instance. The FA withdrew the old one from service a few years ago, and made a replica. Then it started turning up on Sky’s live Cup matches, even if it was the Third Round, five matches away from winning it. (No doubt ITV will do the same this season, as they’re even crapper at presenting football than Sky.) It seems mandatory nowadays for any non-League team reaching the Third Round to be pictured on the back of a tabloid, holding the Cup aloft (with sponsor’s ribbons), as if they’ve won the damn thing, and as if they ever will. Then there was that urban legend (probably true) concerning the Premiership trophy. There are two. At the end of season 1994-95, when the championship went down to the last day, one of the jumped-up little European Cups was at Anfield, ready to present to visitors Blackburn, and one was at Upton Park, in case Man U won the title. Now it’s at every live match from January onwards. The final straw, however, was broken during England v Moldova. I walked into the pub during the adverts, so I got my pint, sat down and waited for the coverage to resume. Back to the studio, and what’s that gold thing next to the presenter? It’s the World Cup. The WORLD BLOODY CUP!! Just think, only a select few of football’s greatest names have ever touched that trophy... Franz Beckenbauer, Diego Maradona, and Richard Keys. It’s the way it sat there, right next to him, that got me (“Back to the studio, let’s join Richard Keys with his guests Ray Wilkins, Alan Shearer and the World Cup.”) Okay, so it’s probably only a replica, but that’s not the point. Trophies are special, you only used to see them when somebody had won them. Football has few traditions left, can we not keep this one? And worst of all, I’m now stuck with this vision of Richard playing with the World Cup during the break, holding it aloft like I used to with my Subbuteo trophies when I was a kid. At least mine was plastic.
Ian Tomkinson, Chester
What with one thing and another, us Newcastle fans currently find ourselves having played less than half the number of matches we should have by this stage in the season, and down in mid-table obscurity despite what’s technically a hundred-percent record. Now I’m not shouting “unfair” here, and I’m certainly aware of the tragic cause of the most recent postponement. But just by the by, surely the league ranking system should reflect the advantage of having games in hand? Otherwise, it’s not really an accurate reflection of who’s currently doing best, and how hard the other teams have to work to catch them up. Of course it sticks in the craw to suggest we might have anything to learn from the Yanks, but the “games behind” system they use in baseball is, I think, the cleverest ranking system I’ve seen. Its equivalent to giving teams half a point for a win, and penalising half a point for a loss (so that each victory gives you a one-point advantage over the team you beat). Baseball has no draws so things are a bit easier, and their system wouldn’t work for football. But I like the idea of penalising for losses. My suggestion (wake up at the back) is that a win should be worth two points and a draw none; a loss would incur a one-point penalty. That would give exactly the same rankings at the end of the season, but a more accurate picture in the meantime. It would also stop managers talking about “coming away with a point” as if it was something to be proud of...
Phil Ramsden, via email
Adam Powley (Sheri Amour, WSC No 128) criticised the media for expressing surprise at the booing of Sheringham’s return to Tottenham. I was always proud of Spurs supporters’ long tradition of applauding ex-players on their return. Booing of ex-players seemed to become widespread in the 1970s, when it was given to any player regardless of the circumstances of their departure. Tottenham seemed to buck this trend; we applauded Waddle, Stewart and Moncur, and if we’d had the chance in competitive games, we would have applauded Gascoigne, Klinsmann and Lineker. The first and only ex-player we booed was Neil Ruddock who left in controversial circumstances at the time of Venables’ sacking. So what was different about Sheringham? Adam suggests it was because Sheringham publicly identified himself with the club. This is a bizarre argument; players who keep quiet, do not “bond” with supporters or criticise Arsenal will presumably not be booed. I am not suggesting that you sit in your seat silently for the whole game; be loud, be partisan, but applaud ex-players before kick-off. Now, if Teddy had gone to Arsenal, that would be different.
Nigel Waterfield, Uxbridge
Re the Fabian Society pamphlet. I’m sure they mean well, but it is a load of bollox isn’t it? Football for a £1? The poor saps playing Man Utd are going to miss out on a payday, aren’t they? Women’s football? Well by all means have a go at promoting it, but I suspect I am in a very large majority that is never going to bother watching it. Football ambassadors? Health and community stuff? OffFoot? This is all pie in the sky nonsense. In the real world clubs only act in their own financial best interests. Mark Perryman, thank you for your interest, but don’t pat us on the head. We know what the game is like, on and off the pitch. We had enough of meddling politicians in the Tory years. As low as our opinion is of those who run the game, why should we believe that politicians can do any better, be they left, right or centre?
Walsh Five, via email
In the new issue, there is the season preview for the Scottish teams but what happened to my team, Motherwell FC? Did you mean to leave us out for being so mind bogglingly crap for the past couple of seasons? That didn’t stop Celtic being included though. Third Lanark have had more mentions than us and they went bust in the sixties. For the record: How will the team do? If we avoid the bad luck with injuries we’ve had over the past couple of seasons, a mid table finish should be no trouble – a European place would very much depend on how long the Edinburgh sides’ supposed re-birth lasts. A good run in the cup and a couple of victories over the Old Infirm would be lovely. Most important figure? Tommy Coyne. He is one of the most gifted strikers to be produced in this country over the past couple of decades and we are lucky to have him – if he can avoid his usual injuries we could do OK. Also our new Namibian signing Eliphus Shivute could add something special to the team. New piece of merchandise? MFC branded Chinese worry balls – to relieve the stress of those odd-goal victories and defeats (and something to chuck at the referee if all else fails). Which player most divides the home support? The manager Alex McLeish. Some people believe what they read in the Daily Record, ie – that McLeish is “the best young manager in the league”. Others believe what they see and think that he is “the most tactically inept manager in the league”. Change to matchday environment? Motherwell fans are notoriously fickle and hard to please. I would like to see some more positive vocal support and the end of Motherwell fans verbally abusing players when they are in earshot – it doesn’t help anyone – I also wouldn’t mind seeing less buses leaving the town for Ibrox and Parkhead every week and a couple of thousand added to our home gate...
David Innes, via email
* Sorry, Motherwell fans. We warned him but our correspondent there would inisist on sending his contribution to the preview by sea mail. It’s here now...
The problem with Sky’s coverage is that their agenda differs from that of the individual clubs. There is no denying the role played by TV coverage in the marketing of individual clubs. Sky start by showing Manchester Utd, Liverpool et al because they attract the biggest audience. This soon becomes a self-fulfiling prophecy because Sky show very little of anyone else. I cannot imagine any company in any industry which would willingly concede control of its marketing to an organization which does not have their interests at heart. My team, Derby County, have a superb new stadium and an exciting, skilful squad yet Sky’s coverage amounts to zero televised home matches this side of 1998. And I daresay Barnsley fans will soon tire of their club being treated as a novelty item. Pay-per-View, run by the individual clubs, could be a way of redressing some of the balance of the disproportionate coverage of the big clubs (whoever they are). I much, much prefer going to see a game live. But I’m beginning to get a little fed up of paying the earth for non-viewing seats at certain grounds and my tolerance of fascist stewards is beginning to wear a little thin. Pay-per-View could also be a way of some of your income ending up in the hands of your club as opposed to none, as is the case for away games at the moment. If Derby were to come up with, say, a Pay-per-View TV season ticket for away games it would receive some serious considerations from me. Sky may be in for an unpleasant shock when their contract comes up for renegotiation.
Peter Gutteridge, via email
Interesting news on the FIFA www site. England has the highest number of licensed agents in the world, a staggering 55. Germany is next with 36, then France with 24, and then Italy with 22. Anyone care to draw some dark conclusions from this seemingly harmless fact?
Jon Hoare, via email
From WSC 129 November 1997. What was happening this month