I recently attended the Blackburn Rovers v Coventry City delayed Fourth Round FA Cup tie. During the game the referee approached Gordon Strachan to warn him against coaching from the sidelines only to receive the reply that he was allowed to run up and down the touchline because he was sub. Aside from whether or not this is a valid defence, it occurred to me that the ban on coaches and managers issuing instructions from the side of the pitch is rather bizarre. Can explain why it shouldn’t be allowed? It seems to me that thousands of people in the ground are allowed to shout (often conflicting) instructions to the team, and to ban the coaching staff from doing so is unfair. In any case the chance of the manager’s voice being heard above the noise is slim, the chance of the instructions being understood by the players is very remote, and there is an ice cube in hell’s chance of them actually acting on the instructions and making a difference to the game. It may even add to the entertainment if, say, some of the more vocal managers were allowed to run up and down the touchline shrieking instructions. Imagine it’s the last five minutes of Manchester United losing to Wimbledon in the FA Cup – you’d have Alex Ferguson, Brian Kidd, Joe Kinnear and Sam Hammam vying for positions on the wing and shouting simultaneously, “Get it in the box!” and “Hoof it in the crowd!” You might even get the odd player losing concentration at a crucial time and missing the ball because, for example, he was trying to understand what Arsène Wenger had just yelled at him. Surely everyone would like to see Arsenal lose like this?
Jeremy Barker, Tonbridge
Having recently posted my cheque for £1,000 to the Football Fund, I was interested to read Paul Fryer’s piece of moral hand-wringing in WSC No 121. Over the years I must have “invested” thousands of pounds following my team, Hereford United, and for little or no “profit”. If football is booming now, then that is because of people like me who supported it through thick and thin, so I don’t see anything ethically wrong about taking a slice of that cake for myself. He isn’t the first person to say it, but what Paul Fryer implies is that the transformation of football into a “business” is wrong. In fact, the money pouring in to football from BSkyB or wherever is the best possible thing that could have happened to it. Okay, so no-one would argue that English football is best in the world (apart from Richard Keys). But the only way to change that, to get the best players in the world, at their peak, playing for English clubs, is if we can match the level of resources of the Italian and Spanish leagues. In this way, Paul Fryer’s hypothesis about the cornflakes is wrong, because the quality of the “product” is already vastly improved compared to, say, ten years ago. Paul Fryer assumed that eventually the bubble will burst. I have no idea whether or not people will still be eating cornflakes in ten or twenty years time – they might go the same the same way as Spangles or British beef – but what I do know is that there will always be people watching and playing football, no matter what happens.
Phil George, Hereford
I want to start a witch-hunt for the worst half-time ‘entertainment’ at a football ground. I’ll start the bidding at my team, Leicester City, who not only wheel out Alan Birchenall for the half time draw, but also have their own dance team, FXL (formerly the Foxy Ladies), who have only caused a reaction twice this season, against Chelsea (the backing CD started jumping horrendously, and they gave up pretty quickly) and against Southend (their attempt at a human pyramid collapsed). I wouldn’t like to bet on it, but are there any worse halftime ‘treats’ in the country?
Simon Tyers, via email
With regard to Kevin Davidson’s defence of Aberdeen supporters’ behaviour during the one minute’s silence at Ibrox (WSC, No 121), I’d like to add a little weight to his claims that a minority of supporters can convey a false impression of majority involvement to people not in the immediate vicinity of an incident. A few years ago, I attended a match at the Boulevard, Hull rugby league club’s ground. Hull were planning to hold a minute’s silence following the untimely death of Clive Sullivan, a winger revered on Humberside. Sullivan was the first black captain of a British sports team when he led Great Britain to the Rugby League World Cup in 1972 in France, scoring the game’s winning try. His exploits were legendary in Hull, he even had a road named after him – the ultimate accolade in modern society. The silence was announced about three minutes prior to kick-off, after the players and officials had assembled and all in the ground fell silent. That was, apart from a bloke arriving late, worse for wear after visiting the nearby pub and slowly making his way up the steps from the back of the stand, loudly denouncing the opposition in colourful terms, unaware of what was happening in the stadium. As he mounted the steps, cursing the Warrington team and their coach, the crowd in the stand could hear him clearly. People first began to tell him to shut up, then began to boo him and then some angrily tried to push near to the stairwell to insist he shut up. The tannoy announcer heard the swell of noise and, beginning to think that the club might be embarrassed, cut short the minute’s silence. The newspaper headlines the following day accused the crowd of stunning disrespect to a great player and attacked the mindless attitude of racists in the main stand, yet this was the work of one unknowing man. Local dignitaries and self-styled moralists called for everything, from the banning of rugby matches on a Sunday to the public flogging of the perpetrators. I have every sympathy with Keith Davidson and the genuine Aberdeen supporters. The individuals who were banned from Pittodrie deserved what they got. But if, as I suspect, the majority were appalled too, it seems that we can expect no understanding from those who did not witness the incident from close range.
Michael O’Hare, via email
England’s defeat by Italy at Wembley set me pondering about Glenn Hoddle’s selection strategy and then a light dawned. We know that Glenn is a deeply spiritual man, superstitious even, and probably draws inspiration from the sacred texts – the Bible, the Lives of the Saints, Brian Glanville’s writings etc. It might have been ‘the temptation in the desert’ which snared Don Revie or ‘the parable of the Talents’ which beguiled Graham Taylor, but it seems obvious to me that Glenn’s bed-time reading must have been the story of Noah and the ark. Everyone in the team was paired up with someone else and, for back up, pairs often overlapped. Consequently, there were two Newcastle players, two from Spurs, two (and no more) from Old Trafford, two midfield terriers (muzzled), two lads with wind in their wavy hair, two left backs for some reason, two Channel Islanders (a rare sighting), and two Gunners admitted after sailing time. The plan went a little adrift towards the end when about four centre-forwards ran into each other but really again it was a 2 x 2 line-up at the England prow. At least this method will give clues in future to the likely composition of the team: if Adams (one recovered alcoholic) plays, so does Merson. Similarly, if lissom Beckham is omitted this doesn’t necessarily mean this for McManaman. He could qualify under the Liverpool, scribes, or frustrating ball-player categories. Of course, it could all have been much worse; Glenn might have studied the story of Lazarus and he might have witnessed Stan Mortensen and Neil Franklin wilting before the Azzuri.
Roger Hall, Bristol
Mike Lowe, editor of the Bristol Evening Post, pours scorn in WSC No 121 on comments made by lan Holloway, the manager of Bristol Rovers, about the role of the Post in building up the atmosphere that led to the Ashton Gate riot. He also feels that not even Gandhi would have found the Post’s coverage inflammatory. How ironic, then, that on the Monday following the derby, when the Post covered the crowd trouble in lurid, tabloid terms (leading to several weeks of bitter recriminations and acrimony between City and Rovers fans in the Post’s letters column), Mr Lowe’s paper chose to use as a screaming headline Holloway’s comment “l THOUGHT I WAS GOING TO DIE!” This remark was made very soon after Holloway had fled the pitch; hardly the best time for clear and considered comment, I would have thought, but given credence by the Post in order to sensationalise a story which was already the talk of Bristol. Mr Lowe’s newspaper also attempted to implicate celebrity City supporter Tony Robinson, whose miked-up half-time banter with City fans included the f-word. The logic behind this argument escapes me; as it does in the case of so much which has appeared in the Post during Mr Lowe’s tenure; but as usual it produced a spate of letters from old ladies trying to win £10 by parroting the Post’s editorial line. I was also amused to see Mr Lowe threatening to eat his bobble hat. We should thank Providence that the dispute did not involve education, or he would surely have offered to consume his mortar board. I suppose that a man who habitually refers to cats, children, dogs and drinks as moggies, tots, pooches and tipples must be expected to be somewhat detached from reality. Personally, I wish he would sit on his rattle.
J Paines, Bristol
It’s the question everyone in football is asking. Why did Leyton Orient sign Ray Wilkins? I have a theory. Adding Raymond to a team that already features Peter Shilton and Alvin Martin is step three in boss Tommy Taylor’s plan to recreate the atmosphere of Mexico ’86 by reuniting the whole of England’s squad from that tournament at Brisbane Road. It makes sense, after all – they were a reasonably good side then and now they’ve got a further eleven years’ experience. So where will Tommy look next? Well, Peter Beardsley can’t have too much longer left at Newcastle unless he wants to join his son as a ball boy. Mark Hateley is as popular as a plague of locusts (though less effective) at QPR, so he might fancy a move. The two Gary Stevens could be available – one’s already dropped down into the Nationwide League and the other is just babbling away on Radio Five. If Middlesbrough see sense Bryan Robson and Viv Anderson might be up for grabs by May, and Steve Hodge must be out there somewhere. Even the boy Lineker might be released by Walkers if Barry Hearn asks nicely. What’s the betting that it all falls apart when some short stocky guy punches a winner for Hartlepool, though? And where on earth will they find a little green skinned guy in a sombrero to act as mascot?
James Clarke, via email
So what are Brighton fans complaining about? They may have been deducted two points by the FA for their act of blatant hooliganism against Lincoln, however they seem to conveniently forget the three points presented to them on so-called Fanday. Hartlepool had to take on the world and his dog that day. They never stood a chance and probably felt obliged not to spoil the party. Interesting to note that three days later without the hired help Brighton only managed a narrow victory against Exeter. Fanday may have done Brighton a few favours, but it did nothing for the likes of Darlo, Hereford, Doncaster and Exeter. I hope none of the fans of these teams were betraying their clubs by being at the Goldstone Ground. Brighton deserve to go into the Conference, because for the past ten years they have been badly led and their fans have sat back until it was too late. I am a Darlo fan and biased as hell, but that’s what being a fan is all about. Enjoy the trip to Gateshead, lads.
Matt Tenholme, Huntingdon
Re Profit of Doom? (WSC No 121) There are of course a number of both moral and financial questions to consider when deciding whether or not you take Alan Hansen’s advice and part with your hard earned dosh to invest in the topsy turvy world of football. Bollocks! Put your money where your heart is. If, like me, you despise everything Mancunian and red what better investment than Cantona and Co plc. The logic being that if they lose you are delighted as usual but if they win you might make some financial gain from it. This I found to my benefit when purchasing some Man. Utd. shares whilst they languished some points behind the Toon Army during last season. When selling the shares midway through last year, not only was I able to put a substantial dollop of profit in my piggy bank, but I was also able to pay for a ticket to the England v World Cup 2006 hosts Euro ’96 semi and also have a good day out in the capital! Spend, Spend, Spend, I say!
Martin Thirkettle, Norwich
With all this reminiscing about the 70s being a golden era for football, it astounds me that no-one has mentioned one of the true innovations of that carefree time – The Dancing Footballers. You must remember them – every cup final day on ITV some creative wunderkind in the edit suite would shuttle videotape of Rodney Marsh or some such ‘Maverick’ backwards and forwards, giving the impression that he was truckin’ on down with the latest hot step that all the Kids were doing, Daddio! I can just about remember Clive Thomas brandishing a yellow card over and over to the swingin’ beat of Gilbert O’ Sullivan’s ‘Get Down’ and spilling Cresta lemonade down my tank top with glee. Surely this is due for a revival – Cantona hurling himself at Matthew Simmons to the strains of ‘Kung Fu Fighting’, or Ravanelli endlessly lifting his shirt up and down as the jungle beat of ‘Yummy Yummy Yummy I’ve Got Love In My Tummy’ blares forth. Come on, Andy Gray – next time you rock the Beta tape deck, let the Dancing Footballers get on the good foot – I used to love it, although I also used to have a crush on Penelope Pitstop, had a phobia about the old News At Ten music and used to think that if my nipples disappeared I would die, so don’t be so sure about my judgement.
Al Needham, via email
From WSC 122 April 1997. What was happening this month