It’s hard to say which of the many depressing scenes from Channel 4’s Football Dreams documentary carried the most negative message for the future of the English game. Was it the sight of the Chelsea YTS kids spending their days scrubbing boots and cleaning toilets instead of playing football? Or the tin-pot sergeant-major’s approach favoured by coach Graham Rix, so reminiscent of bullying school teachers? Or perhaps it was the lack of self-confidence and immaturity of the boys themselves, reduced to mumbling self-pity by Rix’s ranting? It seems to me that the responsibility of the club towards YTS trainees is two-fold. First, to equip the players who are taken on as professionals with the skills to cope with the game at the highest level. Second, to give the ones who will be rejected the best possible chance to make a different career for themselves. It would be nice to think that the kids received some practical training in something useful (as they are compelled to do in other countries, such as Germany). But in essence the two jobs come down to the same thing: teaching the youngsters to think and act for themselves, whether on or off the football pitch. It seemed that at Chelsea all they were trained for was to follow orders, and the more ridiculous the orders were, the more slavishly they were enforced. True, the programme was made a year ago. Perhaps since then Ruud Gullit has encouraged a more enlightened regime, which encourages the trainees to question their coaches and develop their own judgment as he did himself in Holland. But if this is how things are done at the club which has been most receptive to continental influences and systems of play which depend on a certain degree of intelligence, then what on earth are the rest of them like?
Colin Sullivan, Lincoln
I am writing to enlist the help of all supporters who have been in the position of fighting to keep their clubs alive in the wake of financial mismanagement by directors, the Taylor Report, Bosman etc. I am a supporter of Clydebank who have just been relegated to the bottom half of Scottish football for the first time in 20 years. This situation followed in the wake of the board (almost all from the one family) prematurely selling the ground and moving in with near neighbours and fellow strugglers, Dumbarton. We have gone part-time and are now selling our playing assets as their contracts expire. The situation is such that at present we would struggle to field eleven players on a Saturday. We have formed a supporters group called the United Clydebank Supporters which has the aim of fighting for “an ambitious Clydebank playing senior football within the boundaries of Clydebank district”.
Steven Latimer, Old Kilpatrick
In his article Writing Wrongs (WSC No 126) Simon Kuper appears to sum up quite well what is wrong with current media coverage of sport and football in particular. The proposition of Perfect Pitch is an attractive one. However, there was something rather disconcerting concerning his analysis of match reports in newspapers. His suggestion that match reports should contain “views and gossip on how the two clubs played and how they are doing generally, with some funny quotes thrown in” is one that I am unable to agree with. One of the most significant problems with football’s present over exposure is the emphasis placed upon gossip, showbiz and trivialities. What is lacking in the coverage of football is decent analysis. Match reports should be highlighting the tactical acumen of the respective managers, the technical competencies of the players... in short match reports should concentrate upon the match. In my view there is not too much coverage of football, rather the wrong type of coverage. Both Italy and France have newspapers that are exclusively dedicated to sport. Of course, these papers do include gossip, but they also include quality analysis. This quality analysis is what is missing in Britain, and may go some way to explain our ‘kick and rush’ mentality. Simon Kuper is quite right to suggest that foreign players receive a better education than their British counterparts. In relation to football nowhere is this epitomized more clearly than in the way the domestic press analyzes a game we invented, but which those overseas understand much better.
Mark Shingleton, Walthamstow
I’m not sure about all this fuss about David Mellor being appointed head of the football taskforce. I mean, I was as annoyed as anyone when I first heard, but then I thought, hang on, we don’t know what tasks this force is going to have to perform. For example, if one of the tasks is a dangerous mission to free the Iraqi football team from the evil clutches of their torturers, then I’m glad Mellor will run the risk of getting shot to pieces and having his bottom burnt off. Of course, the football task force’s task could just be to officially name a replacement for Tottenham in the ‘Big Five’. Who would they pick?
Jon Hoare, via email
Re The Death of Football (WSC No 125) I thought Rogan Taylor was talking about the 80s – crumbling stadia with terrible views and often no cover for away fans, intimidating atmospheres with overt racism, fences, dwindling attendances, the threat of ID cards and England never considered as potential hosts for an international tournament. But no, he was referring to the 90s – new stadia with great facilities, views and cover, no fences, less racism, increased attendances, an international tournament which caught the nation’s imagination and even talk of staging another World Cup. Whilst I agree some aspects give cause for concern, generally the game is in great health. It’s easy to forget that not long ago being a football fan was seen as some sort of deviant pastime.
Neil Penny, Cheltenham
Stuart Pearce’s move to Newcastle is announced first on the floor of the Stock Exchange – further evidence of the increasing influence of the money men on the game and by definition a bad thing, right? Well, maybe not. If you’re like me, you get increasingly irritated by the announcement of transfers as being completed when it’s clear that negotiations have only just started, if they’ve got that far (eg Paul Ince, Ronaldo), or indeed when clubs deny any interest just before they snap the player up (Karl-Heinz Riedle, anyone?). Surely the regulations on the release or withholding of financially-sensitive information relating to public companies should help stem the tide of misleading or speculative “information”, and are thus a welcome by-product of football’s headlong dash towards the Stock Market. Of course none of this explains the on-off saga of Peter Beardsley’ s move to Bolton, and the FTSE-100 can’t begin to reflect the depth of Kenny’s feelings on the value of the Umbro Cup to his pre-season preparations.
Tim Poynter, Andover
I’ve long suspected that Ed Horton’s supposed radicalism was in fact merely an alibi for timidity, and his article Wishful Thinking (WSC No 126) proves it. A genuinely radical view is able to understand the power and complexity of capital, big business, the political establishment; to identify its weak points and to actively mobilize against them. Ed’s always been good on interpreting the world, but judging by this article, he doesn’t see much chance of changing it. Anyone who does see a chance for change is obviously naive or unable to understand the potency of the forces ranged against us. Ed’s thought, rooted in oppositionism, is unable to develop. It’s true that the new Labour government is not going to be wonderful, that it’s refusal to challenge the free market will restrict its ability to forge real change – but that’s where we come in. We don’t have to settle for what we’re told we can have, we can develop our own initiatives. Even as someone who never will be a Labour Party member I can see that there is more opportunity to move forward with this government than with the last – even after the perverse appointment of the unelected and rejected Mellor to head the Football Taskforce. Ed and others like him may be content to write depressing tracts about why we shouldn’t place our confidence in Labour, but people who really want change are getting on with it. We should be developing new arguments to challenge accepted wisdoms in football, seeking meetings with Tony Banks and the progressive voices in the game, publicly backing good initiatives and opposing bad. Instead of waiting for an agenda to be handed to us, we need to set it ourselves. It’s not impossible. If people want something to happen enough, they can make it happen. You could call that naive, or you could call it realizing that people, not governments, make history.
Martin Cloake, London N4
Congratulations to Ed Horton for winning the Loony Left Daft Idea of the Year Award for 1997 for his suggestion that Tony Banks should introduce legislation requiring clubs to monitor the proportion of their support that is black or female, and to impose penalties for failure to increase that proportion. Who is to decide the politically correct proportion? How is it to be measured – separate turnstiles for blacks and females to make them even more welcome? What happens towards the end of the season when the correct proportion is not likely to be met? Are white males to be prevented from watching games,while innocent football hating blacks and females are forced to endure 90 minutes imprisoned at their local football grounds? My calendar isn’t wrong is it, or was I reading a delayed 1st April issue of WSC?
Derek Clowes, Arnold
In his corrective letter (WSC No 126) regarding my earlier Eddie Colman article, Des Browning kindly corrects a typing error, wiping a decade off the time elapsed since the Munich aircrash before berating my propagation of the myth of United’s “foreign” support. He then insists that, “75 of the regular attenders at Old Trafford are from the Manchester area”. If Des would like to contact me, we could form the Mancunian branch of the Victims of Typing Errors Society. Definitely no “foreigners” allowed.
Tony Kinsella, Swinton
As a bitter and jealous City fan I must respond to Des Browning’s letter regarding (WSC No 126) regarding the alleged support for United in Manchester. The recent survey of Premier League supporters did not show that 75% of Reds came from Manchester. The League asked clubs for addresses of supporters, but United and Liverpool declined, insisting they would forward the questionnaire themselves, to season-ticket holders. Since United knew the questions, it is therefore safe to assume that they knew the answers they were looking for, too. 75% of returnees came from the local area, but how many season-ticket holders do they have? How many received mail shots and how many were returned? United may have not wanted the added expense of posting forms to Malta, Norway, Malaysia and the Home Counties...
P Gatenby, Manchester
From WSC 127 September 1997. What was happening this month