As one of the few people in Scotland, outside of Glasgow, still supporting my own club I feel I must display a hopeless bias against Rangers.It is about time they played in England, as I for one have had enough of them ruining Scotland’s reputation in Europe. As a country we are seen as having limited success with even more limited resources, but every year Rangers go out and make Europe think Scotland are shit. Having seen Hearts lose on away goals to Red Star Belgrade (who were one of the best teams in Europe a few years ago), Aberdeen go out after putting up a good fight (visits to Wales excepted) and Celtic not exactly disgrace the whole nation, we must watch Rangers get stuffed by any team that fancies a go, except Alania Vladikavkaz. Rangers were beaten by Juventus, Ajax, Auxerre and Grasshoppers of Zurich along with another few teams I can’t be bothered naming. Add this to their stunning 1-0 aggregate victory over the champions of Cyprus two years ago and it becomes obvious that Rangers lack the fighting spirit displayed by the Scots in Europe (remember Motherwell v Dortmund?).Secondly, what is this assumption that Rangers would automatically join the Premiership? Any team that plays Richard Gough, Stuart McCall, Erik Bo Anderson and Peter Van Vossen on a regular basis should be playing in the Second Division at best.
Graham DR Lee, Heriot-Watt University
I agree with the point being made by Sean Ferling, in WSC No 118, who writes of the connection between the moral society, social control and the wearing of hats among football supporters. What he doesn’t mention, however, is the importance of hats for players. In the early days of organized football, virtually every team seems to have been kitted out in woolly caps. The trend seems to have died out very quickly, though – due it is said, to the FA catching on to the fact that the crafty players were wearing metal skull caps underneath, enabling them to perform incredible feats of heading with only a muffled clang hinting at the source of their cranial prowess. Hats have been banned from that day to this, and the game has been duller for it. Wigs, now, were a different story altogether. No, come back, I haven’t finished yet . . .
Simon Eastlake, Ennistymon, Co Clare, Ireland
While concurring with Dave Espley (WSC No 118) that additional textual analysis of Kenneth Wolstenholme’s immortal commentary is certainly in order, I never hear those famous climatic words without thinking how near the great man must have come to disaster. If, as so many commentators would surely have done, he had dwelt an instant longer on the undeniably noteworthy distraction of a group of spectators mingling with players on the field of play while a World Cup Final was in progress, an epic moment in English cultural history would have been lost. I cannot help but be affected when comparing the stirring, wholeness of the actual words uttered with the alternative of, say, “Some people are on the pitch! They think it’s all over! There’s a little fat bloke . . . Hang on we’ve scored!”
Phil Piper, Warrington
When I lived in England, Terry Venables managed the national football team. Now I live in Australia he’s decided to take the job down here. Does he fancy me or something?
Am I alone in thinking that Chelsea’s new signing Gianfranco Zola has the most medieval looking face that has ever appeared on a football pitch (not counting those matches involving fellows in helmets and jesters outfits that they have been holding in Siena for 1000 years or so)? I’m not very ‘up’ on art history – is he a Breughel or a Goya? And are there any current football folk who represent a living link with the Middle Ages, other than David Webb, Steve Bould and Peter Beardsley? (There are probably whole teams full of them a couple of rungs below Conference level.)
Re: your December issue. On page 19 your cartoonist lists some religions . . . including Satanists! Recent research by Newcastle University could only find 100 self-confessed Satanists in the country, poor misguided chaps they must be.On the other hand according to the editor of The Druids Voice, there are over 11,000 people in this country calling themselves Druids. And, hey, some of us are football fans as well!!!
In the art of losing (WSC No 118) one of the given excuses was ‘blame it on the Boogie’. Down here in Cardiff such excuses have been used for decades. In April 1938, Cardiff City, playing well at home but with only two away wins all season, were looking like blowing promotion from the Third Division South yet again.All the usual excuses were trotted out but then one fan found the answer. He sent a doll to the local paper, claiming it was the “bogey” that had been harming City’s away form. The sports reporter did his duty and took the doll along to the club. The manager, seeing his chance to exorcise some of the blame from his shoulders, got all the players to line up and, as suggested by the evil doll’s captor, stuck pins in it before the local press photographer. However it was all to little avail as City still failed to win any of their remaining away games that season.Recent form suggests that, 60 years later, the bogey is alive and well and possibly residing in Holland.
Martin Johnes, Cardiff
Would that Brian Mawhinney had held his photo opportunity at Wessex League Bournemouth FC as erroneously claimed in Voting with their Feet (WSC No 118). Instead he headed for Second Division AFC Bournemouth. Obviously having decided that getting the national press to visit a non-League side for other than a patronizing piece at FA Cup time was a task that made organizing a Tory election victory look like a stroll in comparison.
Colin Tapner, Poole
Please can you let me join your grapevine? I have come to the conclusion that, in spite of living in the heart of the metropolis, I am a victim of a conspiracy of silence when it comes to rumours. This was brought home to me once again when the Arsène Wenger Denial story broke; I seemed to be the only person I knew who didn’t know what he was denying. Similarly, I was the last person to hear of the reasons why various people left a prominent club in the North West a few years ago, and for years I assumed that Nottingham was the coldest place in England, until I went there and discovered that actually the ruddy-cheeked frost-bitten look was quite uncommon.
Ian Campbell, London SW17
Every so often an issue comes along that has the tabloids rubbing their hands with glee. Such was the episode of Emerson’s supposed disaffection with Middlesbrough. Two angles here: the first a purely racist one, ie that South Americans are flighty, essentially untrustworthy types incapable of knuckling down to a bit of graft in a cold climate, the second that Middlesbrough is a typical Northern hellhole, all rough pubs and rusting cranes on the skyline, simply not the sort of place that a star footballer should be expected to ply his trade. Middlesbrough, we were told, is not exactly Rio or Rome. But then neither is London. The Southern press simply cannot get over the fact that football clubs outside London are able to attract star players. The natural order of things, as they see it, is for the provincial clubs to be cannon fodder for their London counterparts. No matter that English football has never been like that, and never will be, these notions are too deeply ingrained in what passes for the minds of the tabloid hacks and will never be shifted. And what exactly are footballers supposed to want from a place, anyway? Does anyone seriously believe that players spend their time going to art galleries and the opera?
Jon Wharton, Doncaster
Poor old Wales. As if having B(l)obby Gould in charge wasn't enough, the craggy West Midlands supremo pulled out a masterclass in tactical ineptitude just in time for the Holland game.Have you ever seen a team in international football with as little ostensible purpose and sense of direction as Wales in that game? Gould’s bold attacking option was to leave three men back and send everyone else up front.Apart from one hopeful effort on goal in the first 20 seconds and Dean Saunders’ consolation effort, this meant that a gaping hole existed in the Welsh midfield, which the Dutch were delighted to occupy. So impoverished was the Welsh midfield that Seedorf and Co probably had the time to stage an intricately-worked arrangement of the Nutcracker whilst keeping hold of the ball.Ach, fair enough, you might say, how can you expect players from Bristol Rovers and Swansea City to cope with the might of the Dutch at their best. Wales were surely just the unlucky side to cop the backlash from the Dutch to a poor Euro ’96. Well, the seemingly poorer players of Northern Ireland managed a draw in Germany – I'd say the Welsh have a comparable squad to the Ulstermen. So where does the problem lie? Surely the answer can only be that the problem is Gould. It is fast becoming painfully obvious that the man is all PR and not much nous. He has alienated two of Wales’ best and longest serving players – Rush and Hughes – served up delights such as 1-1 draws with Albania and frequently embarrassing displays against the likes of Moldova (although Gould was delighted with a scrappy 1-0 home win against this emergent superpower), and when Wales do come up against the top quality sides – Italy, Bulgaria, and so on – the gulf in standard is jaw-dropping.I do not accept that a side containing Giggs, Southall, Hartson et al is simply not good enough to perform with credit against the best of the European nations. There’s only one man who has been unmasked as a charlatan and no-hoper in the last season of Welsh international football – Bobby Gould. The sooner we see the back of him, his absurd kamikaze-style tactics and his worrying conviction that WBA's Paul Mardon is a player of international standard, the better.Perhaps Kevin Cullis can find him a job with Cradley Town reserves. That’d be a happy ending.
Archie Gemmill’s sacking by Rotherham earlier this season set me thinking about why it is that we always assume that the type represented by Archie – the aggressive little midfield scurrier – is natural managerial material. I suspect that this must have a lot to do with their having thrived in a tall world where they are constantly being challenged to prove themselves by smug people who can reach top shelves in shops without straining. This combativeness, it is assumed, will make them good motivators of others. Unfortunately, all that seems to happen is that a playing career full of shouting and gesticulating turns them bitter as they get older, and so they waste time and energy ranting against the world when they should be trying to communicate. Alan Ball being another prime case, and Lou Macari the exception that proves the rule. There seems to be an obvious solution – some sort of halfway house for retired short players, at which they will learn how to control their aggression and pick up social skills that they didn’t need to know in the days when they were snapping at ankles behind the ref’s back. Chances are that if they relax sufficiently they might even grow a bit, thereby removing their main grouch against the world. One for the PFA to fund, I think, now they’ve got all that money from the TV deal. Gordon Taylor, come to think of it, is a bit a stumpy himself yet seems to be reasonably at peace with the world. A role model for titches everywhere, I’d say.
Stephen Carmichael, Salisbury
Strange how all those rumours about Arsène Wenger started up then faded again so quickly. Almost everyone, it seemed, had heard some sort of rumour about the tabloids being about to go to town on his private life, but in the end, nothing.Arsenal’s share price dipped for a while, of course, which would have been highly advantageous for anyone looking to buy. I’m not suggesting that there might have been a link between the rumours and a share purchase in this case, but it does make you wonder what will happen as more clubs are publicly floated – we might see share prices plummeting and soaring on a daily basis according to whether the latest rumours are to do with a star player leaving or one arriving; rumours that club employees in particular would have no difficulty in starting via an incautious word here and there. Not that anyone within football would entertain such an idea, of course, it being highly illegal and all.
Katherine Hare, Balham
From WSC 119 January 1997. What was happening this month