I don’t know what the rest of you think but all the recent media coverage of the Italian national team had led me to one major conclusion: Paolo Maldini gets his good looks from his Mum’s side of the family.
Alex Anderson, Ardrossan
Here’s a question for Scottish football experts. Ian Stewart played for Dundee United and Greenock Morton between 1964 and 1967. He went on to be part-time manager of Brechin City, Montrose and Arbroath, taking Montrose to the Second Division title in 1985. Where is he now? The answer is that he’s just been appointed head of the Department of Social Security’s Benefit Fraud Inspectorate. Yep, he’s Peter Lilley’s top snooper, responsible for chucking skint single mums off benefit if they do a bit of work on the side to keep body and soul together. Suddenly, I feel an irrational dislike for Montrose and I shall think of Mr Stewart’s appointment whenever Montrose lose.
Nick Hodgkinson, Leeds
Thanks to WSC for printing Rogan Taylor’s article about the issues raised by Jimmy McGovern’s Hillsborough programme and the continuing fight of the bereaved families for justice. How strange that the football ‘glossies’ didn’t feel the subject to be of sufficient importance to merit their attention. Hillsborough was undoubtedly the catalyst for football in England to transform itself into the money monster we see today. However, until McGovern’s film, the football industry, and more sadly, all too many supporters, have been content to accept the cascade of distortions and downright lies which various public figures – none of whom were anywhere near the Leppings Lane terrace that day – have used to undermine the findings of Lord Justice Taylor about the disaster. The evidence which has emerged as a result of the programme appears finally to give the families the hope that the injustices of the past will put right. However, the campaign for a just conclusion to the disaster by way of a new Inquiry and Inquest, and an investigation by the Director of Public Prosecutions will only succeed if some of those who have grown rich from the game since 1989, as well as the majority of supporters, realise that this is their campaign too. Why, maybe even the glossy football mags will decide to join in.
Colin Moneypenny, Merseyside FSA and Hillsborough Disaster Working Party of Liverpool City Council
And lo, the people did tear their hair out and rend their garments. Especially the black and white ones. And they did weep many tears. And never had the world seen such a bloody silly performance. Kevin Keegan is a multi-millionaire with a very comfortable and, I hope, happy future ahead of him. He resigned his post reluctantly but insists that it was his choice. As a very wealthy man, he would have found that choice easier to make than, say, a Newcastle season ticket holder having a rough time at work might have done. The BBC didn’t help by starting reports with, “Tributes have been pouring in...”. I remember some of the post-Hillsborough reports starting with the same words. A degree of perspective wouldn’t go amiss here. I admire the work Kevin Keegan did at Newcastle. He succeeded, above all, in pulling off the illusion of bringing a massive club back to the supporters in a way which other clubs, my own club Manchester United in particular, have never shown the slightest interest or inclination. But let’s face it, football clubs want us for our money and Kevin, let it be known, Geordies everywhere, has gone off with a lot of yours. So good luck to him – but please, let’s all put the hankies away. And just hold on a minute. Before we all get carried away with notions that the romance continues with King Kenny (that must be the Edward VIII comparison), think back to Blackburn. Does anyone else remember the press struggling for new adjectives to add to: “dour” and “workmanlike” or phrases to augment “Blackburn won points but no friends” and “a long ball to Shearer”. Ah, the beautiful game. So much more beautiful when slightly out of focus.
Steve Bennett, Oldham
I see Newcastle United have replaced one quitter with another quitter. Should be good for continuity.
Phil Rogers, Exeter
Much as I enjoyed aspects of Euro 96, I can’t help feeling a mounting sense of dread at the thought of the 2006 World Cup coming here. As it would be the 40th anniversary of 1966, we’d get the saga of Geoff Hurst and his bloody ball all over again, with Helmut Haller once more dragged out of his snack bar in Baden-Baden or wherever, to take part in another ceremonial handing over of a suspiciously new looking orange ball. And there’d be Jimmy Greaves, going on about he’s not bitter about having been left on the bench, even though he never goes to to the old team reunions and spent his first few years of retirement drinking himself insensible. We’d get to hear about Kenneth Wolstenholme’s days in the RAF again, about Jackie Charlton’s pre-match superstitions and why Ray Wilson is happier, on the whole, driving corpses to the cemetery than he ever was when kicking wingers into row G. And the Mirror and the Sun will have years in which to plan their ‘patriotic’ stories aimed at winding up the Germans, Argentineans, Scots, Spanish, and the rest of the world. I’ve already begun an intensive campaign of lobbying designed to get myself and like-minded friends elected onto the FIFA Executive Committee with the intention of swinging the vote in favour of South Africa. I’ll keep you posted about my progress.
Mark Higginson, Lutterworth
The FA, we hear, are “hotly denying” the allegations made against them in the recent Dispatches documentary about child abuse in youth football. For anyone who didn’t see it, the programme claimed that a number of cases of serious sexual abuse by youth coaches which have recently come to light could have been prevented if Lancaster Gate took child protection seriously. “Oh but we do,” they assure us. So why did they refuse to be interviewed on the programme? And why did dear, departed Charles Hughes follow up that denial by scuttling past the reporter like a dodgy car dealer on the Cook Report? As of two months ago, I am now the proud father of a son who I hope comes to love the game as much as his Dad always has. But what if he goes one better and turns out to be able to play? Am I going to have to block his ambition for his own protection? Surely not. But I’d like more reassurance than the FA seem disposed to give me.
Phil Ramsden, via email
A conspiracy theory has surfaced here in Scotland in recent weeks, and is apparently the reason for Celtic’s inability to win Old Firm games. After the January 2nd meeting when a (perfectly good) Jorge Cadete goal was ruled to be offside (or handball, we’ll never know...) by linesman McBride, Tommy Burns insinuated that there was a more sinister reason for the decision than a simple mistake. However, the truth is that the officials in Scotland are not biased against Celtic, as any supporter of the 38 other teams in Scotland will tell you – it’s just that officials in Scotland are useless. Booing your least favourite referee onto the park is one of the perks of the supporter. This season alone, I’ve counted three who have responded by turning to the home fans and waving sarcastically back at them. The final straw came when newspaper allegations surfaced concerning the aforementioned Mr McBride being on a season ticket waiting list at Ibrox and wearing Rangers kits during kickabouts. This was an amazing piece of clumsiness by the SFA but then again, why shouldn’t referees have favourite teams? Why else would you do that job if you weren’t a football fan? Certainly not for the money. Referees aren’t allowed to speak in Scotland although plainly some of them are dying to, if only to hog the limelight for a bit. Even managers never find out why a decision went against them, but they get into trouble for complaining about it. Honesty gets you into more trouble than being economical with the truth. The only way to breach this cloud of darkness is to hire X-Files style investigators who could provide explanations into the paranormal activities of the SFA. Someone tall, dark and handsome with a short ginger sidekick. I’m pretty sure we could get Alan Hansen, but I think Gordon Strachan’s a bit busy right now.
Graeme Jamieson, Stirling
We are continually being told that it is becoming no longer possible for the ‘haves’ and the ‘have nots’ in football to compete with each other, and that the gulf between the Lager League and the rest of the nation’s teams is no longer possible to bridge. A glance at the last eight in the Coca Cola Cup and the last sixteen of the FA Cup would appear to prove this theory fairly wrong. Admittedly some of the success of the ‘have not’ teams can be put down to incest (the teams from the Premier League playing with each other) and to ‘the magic of the cup’, but there’s enough ‘have nots’ still in the draw to suggest that commitment, team spirit and an inspirational manager are still as important as money. They are what Wimbledon, Leicester and Forest clearly have at present, and Blackburn and Middlesbrough, for all their millions, clearly lack. They say it’s impossible for a team outside the elite to win a cup these days. I wouldn’t be so sure.
John Tandy, Birmingham
Local newspapers have often been accused of not devoting enough space to football, but I can never recall us being taken to task for providing too much coverage! Yet that is the only explanation for Mark Wenham’s ludicrous claim that the Evening Post should carry some of the blame for the riot at the Bristol derby match (WSC No 120). True, Rovers’ manager Ian Holloway did say that pre-match ‘media hype’ might have had something to do with the aggro, but these remarks were made very soon after the poor chap had fled the pitch by assorted Neanderthals. Hardly the best time for clear and considered comment, I would have thought. Indeed, we asked Mr Holloway to expand on his theory the following day so that we might see where where we had gone wrong. He declined; you can draw your own conclusions. If we portrayed the match as “the biggest showdown in years”, that is because it was the biggest showdown in years. Football is a passionate and emotive sport... except in Mr Wenham’s sterile and sanctimonious world. If we didn’t reflect that we wouldn’t be doing our job. Enough ranting. I can’t recall a single derby match or headline in the Evening Post that even Gandhi would have found inflammatory. If anyone can show me different, I’ll eat my bobble hat.
Mike Lowe, Editor, Bristol Evening Post
Radio Leicester, seconds after the final whistle ensured Leicester’s place in the Coca Cola Semis: “A great result there, and some news just in... Darren Eadie has signed a new contract at Norwich”. Ladies and gentlemen: local radio in a nutshell.
Simon Tyers, via email
Watford’s FA Cup tie against Oxford was postponed minutes after the game should have started, as the referee suggested that the pitch conditions had deteriorated sufficiently in the preceding 30 minutes to warrant sending 9,000 paying customers home without seeing a ball kicked. To the club’s credit, they and the police refused to open the gates until the referee had assured them that the game would be on, yet despite suffering over £15,000 in “legitimate” refund claims over the course of the following week, Watford FC have no way of reclaiming the losses that resulted from the late postponement of the fixture. Presently the referee is under no obligation to consult a manager, an assistant referee, the police or weather centre when postponing a match. Proof of the arbitrariness of the whole process was provided by the Wrexham v West Ham game, played in conditions far worse than those at Roots Hall or Vicarage Road. Is it not possible for a set of guidelines to be introduced whereby the same decision will be reached in the same set of conditions by every referee? I feel certain, however, that nothing of the sort will happen. It often seems that fans are given the runaround as a reminder of our lowly place in the hierarchy of football. We are never formally entitled to compensation, and should think ourselves lucky if we get any form of a voucher for that re-arranged fixture. What's more, with the police often stubbornly sticking to the 10 day rule, the fixture backlog grows, and Watford are among several clubs finding themselves in the 5th round draw without having kicked a ball in the 4th round. Sooner or later the travelling supporter is going to decide that enough is enough between the months of November and March. The risk of wasting our money and time hurtling over the country to a game that is never guaranteed to be played is just becoming too great. Perhaps by demoralizing the supporters into calling time on travelling away, the authorities are a step closer to obtaining their goal of “trouble free”, attendance free football, and a step nearer complete television power. Or am I just too suspicious?
Peter D Fincham, Watford
I’ve been following the recent Druid-Satanist football debate in your letters pages with interest, but feel that the particular religion or belief system of football fans is largely irrelevant. What is much more interesting is the religion of referees. Out of the 100 so-called Satanists in the country (as stated by Matt from Gateshead, WSC No 119), how many of these are referees? I play Sunday League football, and my team has been refereed twice this season by an evil, fat bald man in black who several times induced screaming fits in members of the crowd. First, he booked our winger for a trip which he couldn’t have seen (unless he had eyes in the back of his head), then in the second half he muttered foul incantations (“you’re off son”) to the same player after he argued an offside decision. I’ve also seen instances amongst the refereeing fraternity of Chaos Magic and Papal Infallibility as well as an over-emphasis on cards. Come on FA – what’s going on?
Neil Upton, Cambridge
From WSC 121 March 1997. What was happening this month