It’s becoming rather tiresome to see anyone who criticizes the state of modern football labelled as some sort of apologist for the squalor of the ’80s. Neil Penny (Letters, WSC No 127), in his criticism of Rogan Taylor’s The Death Of Football is the latest to trumpet the glorious revolution of the ’90s. It is particularly galling as people like Rogan Taylor, the FSA and the fanzines were just about the only ones to kick against the poor facilities, endemic racism and brutality of the ’80s. The silence from those now happily riding the football bandwagon was deafening back then. What we didn’t expect was the baby being thrown out with the bathwater in the cavalier fashion that it has been. Ordinary supporters are as far away from having real influence on the way football is run in 1997 as they were in 1987. Of course, football has improved for the better in all sorts of very important ways (safer grounds, more women attending, less racism etc), but some of the game’s fundamentals – fairness, meritocracy, community – are being rapidly eroded by the Premiership/ Champions League philosophies now running amok in the game. This whole debate as to whether football has got better or worse is pretty fatuous anyway. What’s happened is that the game’s enemies have changed, not disappeared. If we’re going to have any chance of standing up to these people, then at least we need to know who they are, which is what The Death of Football was trying to do. So, Neil, if you’re happy with a game pricing out some of the people who sustained it in its darkest days, and with a domestic and European game becoming increasingly predictable and uncompetitive, then by all means enjoy it. Just don’t pretend it is evidence of a game in ‘great health’.
Tom Davies, Leeds
The near extinction of AFC Bournemouth has been avoided very narrowly and the dust has settled. I remain, however, a little confused. I was the Receiver and also an ‘old fashioned’ football supporter (I think). As a chartered accountant specializing in insolvency, I became involved in the financial mess at Bournemouth and find myself in a jacket and tie on match days and somehow ‘one of them’ as so often maligned in your columns. I was still a WSC subscriber, still a lover of the terraces, but somehow a little alienated as I was the one who might have to close Bournemouth down if we couldn’t stem the losses and find a solution. Whilst tremendous help was received from the community, and Southampton and Reading generously played friendlies without their expenses, others involved in football were less forthcoming. The police were consistently demanding, the League were unable to be flexible, and the PFA had an understandable and clear policy of protecting their players. Quite quickly there seemed to be the expectation of a solution, and I was asked if I could sign new players, if I could keep giving out comps, if I knew who had Cup Final tickets. Meanwhile, other clubs circled our best players, available at knock down prices. I’m criticized for having to charge a fee, but never once did I charge time on a Saturday/ Sunday or weekday evening. The old directors pledged allegiance to the club (but not new funds) and ran costly legal actions right to the end. At the end of it all, I just feel more sympathy with many Nationwide League directors who are a lot like me, an ordinary fan who somehow ended up trying to keep a football club afloat on a very tight budget. Winning at Bristol City and Millwall were great highlights, as was only conceding 11 goals in 18 games but in the end the new club kicking off at Northampton was the real victory and I am happy to have bought a 1997-98 season ticket.
Alan Lewis, Aia email
I certainly share Martin Cloake’s fondness for radical jargon (Letters, WSC No 127), but unlike Martin I do not use it as a substitute for a reasoned understanding of where football fans stand in relation to the reins of power. My “thought” (blimey) may well be “rooted in oppositionalism”, but that’s because, to be honest Martin, we can do very little else but oppose. We possess no administrative power, nor do we have the ability of the labour movement to exert power through the withdrawal of labour. We can therefore express our opposition in all the usual ways, and certainly we both can and will “develop new arguments”, but that’s not going to add up to all that much, is it Martin? We can bring about very peripheral changes, but not fundamental ones, which is why the actions of the government, which does possess some power, are so important. And good initiative though the task force is (Mellor or no Mellor) can we really force it to seriously challenge the Halls and the Berlusconis, when it does not want to? Obviously not. It’s not timidity, Martin, it’s perspective. Be reasonable. People aren’t going to rise up as football supporters unless and until they do so as workers and citizens, are they? Is that happening? No, not yet. So to talk about making history is to indulge in mere rhetoric. I am not nearly as pessimistic as Martin thinks, but he needs to recognize that what happens in football depends primarily on what happens outside football, and that the world is not changed, not really changed by football supporters. Not even the world of football.
Ed Horton, Oxford
Back in March when Leyton Orient had Ray Wilkins, Peter Shilton and Alvin Martin on their books I suggested in WSC that Tommy Taylor was attempting to reassemble the 1986 England World Cup squad at Brisbane Road. I speculated that the likes of Steve Hodge would soon be turning out in the Os’ red shirts. Now, five months later, Wilkins, Shilton and Martin have all moved on but who should Taylor sign last week but Steve Hodge? Flushed with this success I decided to dig out my crystal ball again. As the mists cleared I saw a Scotsman based in the North-East attempting to bring together a group of friends who once saw success in red. They were now wearing black and white but one man with a bad haircut was attempting to hitch-hike to Bolton. Just before the mists blocked out the image again a tall, thin man with grey hair appeared. Glenn Hysen for Newcastle anyone?
James Clarke, Bexhill-on-Sea
Isn’t everyone rather missing the point about Manchester United’s alleged level of indigenous match attendees? Surely it’s only to be expected and is in fact nor particularly vexing that a large proportion of United’s season ticket holders are Mancunians. And anyone who does live in the home counties, for example, and yet still travels for hours to home games on a regular basis has my utmost admiration. What pisses off the majority of right-minded fans are the ‘plastic’ United supporters – those who wear the team’s various shirts, gloat about good results (and feel no genuine pain about bad results) and yet never have and never will go within a hundred bloody miles of Old Trafford. Most of these apostate wretches don’t even bother when United are playing away in their town, so a survey of season ticket holders is hardly likely to include them, is it?
Rob Mullins, Elm Park
It is alleged that Sir John Hall spent in the region of £3 million to “save” Newcastle United in the early 1990s. It has been further alleged that he is personally £110 million richer following the recent Newcastle United share issue. I’ve just watched the Croatia Zagreb v Newcastle United match. Is John Hall wisely investing his extensive wealth in refereeing decisions or did UEFA simply want the English team to go through?
S Brown, Newcastle-upon-Tyne
Can I point out that no sooner had Robert Fordham written (Season Preview, WSC No 127) that Liverpool had never played a home game in front of an empty end, than they promptly did so, and lost. They will continue to do the former (though I hope not the latter) until the new Anfield Road stand is completed next year. I thank you.
Robert Fordham, Solitary Confinement, Alcatraz
I couldn’t help noticing the obsession of contributors to your otherwise excellent Season Guide (WSC No 127) with meat pies, tannoy systems and the prospect of hurling darts at club hate figures. Instead of boring everyone else with their personal problems why don’t these frustrated gastronomes, music-lovers and arrow-playing avengers invest in one of those Russian hats with furry ear flaps. Then, come half time at Turf Moor or wherever the hell Wycombe play, they can follow a simple procedure to ensure that nothing spoils their afternoon’s entertainment: 1. insert warm meat(less) pie inside each hat flap; 2. secure said flaps by knotting attached strings tightly under chin; 3. settle down to imaginary game of 501-down-doubles-to-start-and-finish using mental mug shots of club chairman or least favourite former manager without fear of interruption by risible musical claims that motley collection of cloggers and scufflers are either ‘Champions’ or ‘Simply the Best’. And just think of the advantages: no danger of contracting BSE from old cow gristle, no more fluffed half-time scores to wince through, and sweet revenge on the idiot who sold the local folk hero to balance the books or ruined the club’s famous passing game. Then there’s the fun of getting all that gravy and microwaved potato extract out of your ears in the pub after the match. And very nice too with a warm lager and peach schnapps chaser at the end of another hard day on the terraces.
Bill Dixon, via email
Commentating for Five Live on the opening Sunday of the Premiership, Mark Lawrenson described the over-elaborate passing patterns of Spurs and Man Utd as being, “a case of ‘to me to you’ as that Irish comic would say.” Impressed as I am with Mark’s early season punditry, his insight into children’s television is sadly inadequate. The catchphrase “to me to you” belongs to the Chuckle Brothers, whose teatime gameshow of the same name involves lots of wacky but futile sliding around in gunge and cries of “oh dear, oh dear!” all of which explains their devotion to Rotherham United. Paul and Barry Chuckle also exhibit hairstyles which officially became extinct with the retirement of Neil McNab. I suspect “that Irish comic” is a reference to Jimmy Cricket (his vaguely similar catchphrase, “Come here, there’s more”, was unsuccessfully hijacked by Howard Kendall in his bid to land Fabrizio Ravanelli). Incidentally, any readers who can recall which current Premiership manager hosted a BBC1 kids’ show, Stopwatch, in the late seventies should award themselves a Chuckle Island coconut and a pair of green kneelength wellies.
Tony Kinsella, Swinton
What’s this I see before me as I watch Sky’s first Premier League fixture of the current campaign (Spurs v Man Utd)? Alex Ferguson is wearing glasses. Surely the Great Scot hasn’t finally conceded that it is he and not the referees or their assistants who are visually impaired? Less chance even of his conceding that his new calm approach is in no small way related to his new-found ability to see another’s point of view. No, much more probable that his blinkers and Red tinted lenses failed to arrive by 10th August. Still, at least he won’t have noticed the Beck(h)am shirt fiasco...
Glenn Turner, Bolsover
Whilst out shopping, I happened on the most bizarre football ‘lucky mascot’ imaginable. Sitting proudly on a pile of Exeter City scrapbooks was a model Buddha resplendent in a shirt painted in the traditional red and white stripes of ECFC. The nice bloke behind the counter explained that, “If you rub his stomach Exeter will win.” And at least this far the Grecian Buddha is working. If you think that this stomach-rubbing craze is bollocks, then think on this. Uri Geller’s son is a devout Grecian and we have had the dubious privilege of Mr Geller himself placing two “positive energy crystals” behind the goals for a City game. Despite divine intervention, we still managed to lose the game. Even then, Uri refused to concede defeat, preferring to blame the City faithful for “thinking negative thoughts”. What does he expect, miracles? Following the spectacular success of Buddha, I am now a fully-fledged shaven-headed Buddhist, and I urge all Grecians everywhere to follow my lead.There. That should get us promoted. But then again...
Andy Crossing, Exeter
I owe an apology to all Northern Ireland supporters. I am truly and deeply sorry about my part in the collapse of our seven point plan for defying Germany. I now realize that blowing our cover before the World Cup match was totally irresponsible. Questions on the subject of the unbeaten run were met by German Officials and players with ominously well-prepared answers. I offer my whole-hearted congratulations to the N.Ireland on their efforts to salvage the situation, especially on their continued use of the ‘tricky little winger’ ploy which once again proved so effective. Unfortunately, the Germans were expecting to concede the first goal of the game and, instead of panicking, welcomed Michael Hughes’ goal as the sign to bring on their matchwinners. In the desire to fully clear my conscience, I must confess to a further act of treachery, inadvertent though it was. At Belfast Airport I almost bumped into Thomas Hässler. I stress that it wasn’t intentional, he appeared out of nowhere so I wasn’t ready, but I pulled out of the challenge and even mumbled an apology to the vertically deprived star. I insist that if I’d known then what I know now, I would have hammered into the dwarf and to hell with the consequences. While accepting that it’s a bit late now that the damage has been done, I would ask not to be judged too harshly. I may have been naive and foolish, even irresponsible, but I plead innocent to the charge of treason. Nevertheless, I know my duty. Yours, in the locked room with the brandy and the loaded revolver.
Davy Millar, Belfast
From WSC 128 October 1997. What was happening this month