While I was expecting WSC to cover the issue of the proposed relocation of Wimbledon FC, I was disappointed by the slant of the article (From Here to Where, WSC No 108). Once again you fall into the standard trap of belittling the Dons; “they are not exactly deeply rooted in their home soil”. I’d like to disagree. I first visited Plough Lane over thirty years ago when they had just won the FA Amateur Cup. In the years that followed, was it really any surprise that the supporter base could not keep up with the team’s success, especially given the proximity of other clubs? If Runcorn, Gateshead or Hednesford succeeded in getting into the Premiership they would suffer similar problems. Wimbledon have worked tirelessly to build up community support and recently won an FA award for ‘Football in the Community’ work. When the media claim we have no support, it ignores the hardcore of 5-6,000 to whom keeping the Dons in South London (preferably in Merton) is of vital importance. What I would like to see is an article which looked at Wimbledon’s achievements objectively, echoed the idea that a team’s status should be judged by on the field performances not numbers through the turnstiles or cantilever stands, and finally addresses the real problem of short-sighted local politicians who don’t actually want football in their community.
Paul Jeater, Ingatestone
It’s not often one finds oneself close to the centre of decisive news events, within touching distance of a legend at a defining moment in history. But I was there, right there in the tunnel outside the dressing rooms at the incident that led to a Daily Mirror exclusive, Keegan tried to chin me by Chelsea legend Alan Hudson. I saw the team leave along with Keegan, followed by sundry other celebrities. I do remember thinking it a little bit odd that, when the Chelsea Legend appeared, no-one seemed interested in talking to him. He hung around like a stage door Johnny for a few minutes then left. Maybe Keegan did wag his finger at him. If he did, I didn’t see it. The Legend turned up a few minutes later at the supporters’ bar under the North Stand where the Chelsea faithful meet after the game. It was billed as “Alan Hudson’s Question & Answer Night”. You write down a question and the celebrity, or Legend in this case, gives you the benefit of his incisive views. The first question: “What can be done about referees and injury time?” The Legend took the mike and the throng waited for the wit, the repartee. “Hit ’em!” said the Legend. We waited, surely the real answer would follow. But no, that was it. (The Legend was to be quoted in the Mirror as saying “Kevin was totally out of order. What sort of example does that set to supporters?”) So, a pretty ropey start, but surely things would improve as he warmed to his task. Unfortunately, only the odd phrase was discernible: “Bill Shankly”; “In my day . . .”; “Have you ever paid £25 to watch Arthur Cox?”; “Chopper would have ’ad ’im”. He struggled on for about fifteen minutes but it was no use. Amidst catcalls and chanting someone had the decency to place his camel coat over his shoulders and lead him away to a corner where he joined the old farts reminiscing about the glory days. Another dream had been dashed. Even at the age of 40 I still believed that heroes had a divine knowledge about life which they could impart with flair and humour. But it can’t be easy being a legend in these cynical times, especially if no-one is interested in you. Is it any wonder they are sometimes reduced to flogging sad little stories to the tabloids so that, once again, their name appears on the back pages alongside mere mortals such as Kevin Keegan and Peter Beardsley?
Gerry Liddell, Haywards Heath
I think you have all misunderstood Julian Dicks’ complex character (Brief Encounters, WSC No 108). It’s a well-known fact that people grow like their dogs. Julian owns, breeds and, of course, loves English Bull Terriers. They are friendly, lovable, loyal, tenacious and full of fun but when they are playing they tend to get over-excited and are prone to the occasional little nip which they immediately regret and then want a love and a cuddle to make up. I think the FA Disciplinary Committee have obviously never had anything to do with little Bullies . . .
Maureen Hewlett, Letchmore Heath
I was thrilled to see your photo of the 1970 England World Cup squad mid ‘Back Home’ (Letters, WSC No 108), stirring memories of my Esso coin collection, which I gather is now worth even less than it was in 1970. The photo did raise a few questions, though. 1. I was proud to be able to name every member of the party without a second’s hesitation – except for the follicly-challenged gentleman back right. Who is he? 2. With the possible exception of Les Cocker (pub quiz organizers ahoy – “Which three Cockers have sung on UK Top Ten hits?”), Jeff Astle is the only one who appears to be taking the thing even remotely seriously. Can it be, as tabloid interviews with the last Baggies goalscorer not to be completely shite suggest, that Jeffrey really believes he can sing and that his Skinner and Baddiel slot is something other than abject ridicule?
David Davies, Salford
Matt Stone’s article (Labour the Point) in WSC No 108 offered a generally fair representation of Labour’s Charter for Football. In particular, it clearly distinguished between our pro-active ideas to rejuvenate the national game and the Conservatives’ do-nothing approach. However, I would like to pick him up on one point when he said, “Amazingly, Labour declared that no football fans would want representation in boardrooms, which showed ground level touch on a par with a park centre-back.” That this was used as the pull-quote was unfortunate as it is a clear misrepresentation of our stated position. I am particularly concerned to put the record straight because I have over the years in Parliament, and especially during the passage of the Football Supporters’ Bill, stressed the need for fans to be heard at boardroom level. Indeed, on page five of the Charter we state the need for such a voice to be heard. The confusion in Matt’s mind could well be that after much consultation we came to the conclusion that football supporters would not wish to be board members for the obvious reason that they would be bound by unpopular decisions made by their clubs. This would have the effect of divorcing themselves from the legitimate interests of pressure groups representing supporters. So what I do promise is that under a Labour government fans will be more heavily involved in the running of the game, will be given greater consultation rights and will be represented on public bodies in which they have an interest. Unlike the Conservatives, we will not allow a return to the days when the voice of fans was marginalized.
Tom Pendry MP, House of Commons
I’m puzzled as to why you seem to think that the Six Million Dollar Man theme tune (WSC No 108) goes “Deer der dee der. Dee der doo der.” As many of us remember, the tune goes “Bum bar de dum. De do da dum de dum”. Your spelling of the theme tune, as well as being inaccurate, does not even contain the correct number of syllables. However, I believe for some reason that only yourselves can explain, you have got the theme tune to the Six Million Dollar Man mixed up with the Honduras National Anthem that we all had a laugh about during the 1982 World Cup. I believe your obsession with football is distorting your late Seventies theme tune knowledge. Then again, the article in question may just have been taking the piss.
Keith Chapman, London NW2
While I share Gary Oliver’s distaste for hypocrisy there are other aspects of his piece on Scottish League reconstruction (WSC No 108) which are not full developed.
Within two years of the Premier League’s creation in 1975-76, two of the self-styled élite (Hearts and Dundee) had discovered that potential and tradition were no substitute for getting it right on the park. By 1980-81 four of the top ten were part-time clubs and by the mid Eighties the precedent of expedient change was well established. I do agree with Gary that despite everything the raw talent is still being produced. Sadly, though, our strength in depth can be measured by the fact that lower caste Endsleigh League players like Stevie Cooper, Warren Hawke and Peter Duffield shine worryingly brightly up here. As for Gary’s comment about John Lambie sending his sides “into the trenches”, I have to say, as a keen observer of Partick Thistle, that it wasn’t ever thus. When Thistle were promoted in 1992 they played bright football. Once that flash exuberance promoted sides often have faded and they started to ship goals, they gravitated into the grim side we now see, but it was circumstances that did it. Gary is right to suggest that we will be left with whatever Rangers and Celtic desire. This is a worry. Fergus McCann may have done well by Celtic but his pronouncements on Scottish football have been about as helpful as Newt Gingrich’s on welfare. And Rangers’ David Murray’s free-marketeering genius led to over 20,000 empty seats at Rangers’ three Champions League matches. Do we need that kind of acumen? Do we have a choice? They say a good cricket match is a fair contest between bat and ball. In my view a good league is a balance between competition and decent football. The current set-up is not delivering these lofty ideals. That’s why I’m in the reform camp.
Ross Templeman, Tarbert
I watched the recent Coca Cola Cup quarter-final match between Arsenal and Newcastle United. We don’t get that much live football on our local channel, Meridian, apart from the odd Charlton v Sunderland, and when we do it’s usually commentated on by a regional chap with a good grasp of the art of observation.
Nothing, however, could have prepared me for the challenge of Brian Moore’s commentary. Has he been on some kind of therapy course involving Class A illegal substances? His commentary was the most inept piece of television presentation since that dodgy American weatherman they always drag out on It’ll be Alright on the Night. When Helder was carded for the dive, Mr Moore was incredulous. “Very strange decision by the referee,” says our Brian, “there was certainly some contact from Howey.” Bollocks, Brian! Even I saw Helder jump higher than Sergei Bubka after a whole tub of UHU. When Ginola got his marching orders, our Brian was on the mark again. “Oh, and Howey has gone!” Even a shot of Ginola virtually wetting himself in frustration failed to sway our intrepid reporter. “A second yellow for Howey!” bellowed Brian. No wonder most people I talked to turned down the sound and switched on 5 Live. I wish I had. Has old Planetarium Head been taking commentary lessons from Murray Walker? Mind you, having Big Ron sitting next to you for an hour and a half is enough to put anyone off, even Barry Davies. God help ITV when they get the Cup Final. I suggest they open contract negotiations with Motty ASAP.
David Templeman, Camberley
Mickey Parker’s theory about football songs (Letters, WSC No 107) falls down on his assumption that they require their subjects of adulation to possess names of the correct length for the appropriate tune. The four syllable of my obsession, Bristol City fit perfectly into that ubiquitous song, ‘And it’s (Bristol City) . . . by far the greatest team the world has ever seen’. I could just about cope with opposition fans in our Fourth Round FA Cup match last year eliding the last two notes together so ‘Everton’ expanded to fill the requisite space, even though they weren’t the greatest team on the pitch that day, let alone the world. But the only bright spot in a crushing 5-1 home defeat by Wolves that season was when the victorious fans started up the same chant. Having heartily proclaimed “And it’s Wol-ver-”, a sudden realization spread through the ranks that there were only two notes left and still a high proportion of the alphabet left to shout out before the end of their illustrious team’s full name. Bewildered, some fans sped on and were left repeating the last note to all the remaining syllables like demented Gregorian monks; some froze on the top note and burbled away up there til they reached the end of “Wanderers” and it was safe to come down; others let out the “-hampton” altogether, only to discover that they still had too much text and not enough music. Vowels were ruthlessly cut out to make do and the full-throated vocal unison which had begun with such confidence disintegrated into bedraggled confusion. The one consolation in City’s rapid descent down the League is that soon I will get the chance to hear how Bury fans and (eventually) the supporters of Ollerton and Bevercotes Miners Welfare FC announce their team’s position at the apex of international football excellence. Tim Rice must be quaking in his boots.
Nick Pickard, London SW1
I’m increasingly coming to believe that football commentators are living on a different planet from the rest of us. The latest piece of evidence came during the Chelsea v Newcastle cup tie at Stamford Bridge. The commentator remarked that Newcastle hadn’t done too well in the Cup in recent years and then added, “And you always think of Newcastle as being a good cup side.” Well I certainly don’t! In the last twenty years I can’t remember Newcastle having a decent run in any cup competition. If I remember correctly, they even managed to lose in the play-off semi-finals – which is a cup competition of sorts – to Sunderland a few years ago, despite drawing away from home, and despite Sunderland having the aging Eric Gates up front. And, of course, last season they threw away a three-goal lead to go out of the UEFA Cup. I suppose a footie commentator’s mouth has to keep working at all times, even when his brain has slipped into neutral. However, I even found that the bookies were supporting this view of Newcastle being ‘cup supremos’ – they were only offering odds of something like 25-1 for them to achieve the treble! This was, of course, before Arsenal dumped them out of the Coca Cola Cup, but it was still piss-poor odds indeed when you consider the fact that the domestic treble has never, ever, been done. Still, by the time you read this I expect Chelsea will have knocked Newcastle out of the FA Cup as well – on penalties after a 2-2 draw is my prediction.
Bruce McCormack, Reading
Martin Cloake’s complaint (Letters, WSC No 108) that the BBC’s last episode of Kicking & Screaming was “unable to deal” with the huge number of ideas from supporters about the future of the game misses the point. The programme was emphatically not a forum to air “the depth and diversity of opinion among football supporters” about the game. But then nor was it a forum to air the views of anyone else – entrepreneurs or hooligans. Rather it was to chronicle the landmarks in football’s recent history – namely the part played by commercialism, hooliganism, television – and supporters – in ushering the modern game. In this context, Irving Scholar was indeed a pioneer. Whatever one’s views about his vision, his methods and the success of his ventures, the fact is that many of his commercial ideas are now common currency. Indeed, his commercial manager at the time went on to expand that vision at Manchester United. Supporters too have had a role in shaping football’s recent history. But, like it or not, the biggest impact was made by the hooligan contingent – hence why “the main voice of supporters was of an ex-hooligan with no regrets”. To be sure, other supporters have had a role in shaping the modern game. The FSA highlighted safety problems. Supporters’ organizations arrested and even halted some of the worst excesses of the commercial revolution such as bond schemes and club mergers. They’ve even managed to depose club managers and chairmen All these successes are represented in the programme and indeed reflect the growing influence of the supporter’s – or is it the customer’s? – voice. But in the broad sweep of history, these victories on the battlefield are overshadowed by the brutal fact that the sponsors of the commercial revolution are, so far, winning the war. The programme reflects this stark truth.
Jean-Claude Bragard Producer, Kicking & Screaming, BBC Manchester
From WSC 109 March 1996. What was happening this month