Reading your letters page over recent months has led me to the conclusion that many of your correspondents are obsessive on subjects that are essentially trivial. I feel strongly that this valuable space should be reserved for people with something to say. Incidentally, I feel I should point out that in your article on World Cup nicknames (WSC No 137) you refer to Bam Bam as Fred Flintstone’s son, when he was in fact Barney Rubble’s son.
Alastair Walker, Farnsfield
Richard Darn’s status as WSC’s “Barnsley correspondent” should be thrown into disrepute after his disgraceful defence of Gary Willard. Comments along the lines of “referees are honest men doing a tough job” are Brooking-esque in their blandness and naivety. The question Darn fails to ask is: why do these “innocent errors” never happen to Man Utd at Old Trafford or, indeed, any big club facing small fry on their home turf? Furthermore, why did Willard not err on the side of caution (play it safe with a yellow card if in doubt rather than red) instead of his reckless, irresponsible attitude of “send him off and sod the consequences”. Darn is probably correct to scoff at “conspiracy theories” but he should at least acknowledge the possibility of unconscious bias towards big clubs by referees who are fearful that they may lose their jobs if they upset the FA hierarchy by penalising their golden boys or favouring the inconvenient small clubs who belong in the Nationwide. I don’t believe Gary Willard is corrupt but I do believe he lost the plot on March 28th because he knew Big Brother was watching him.
Jon Harrison, York
Villa Park, Tuesday March 17th. Villa v Atletico Madrid, UEFA Cup quarter final 2nd leg. After half an hour, Bosnich lies down behind a couple of defenders and Caminero makes it 2-0 on aggregate. The new electronic scoreboards stop urging us to get behind the team, and instead inform us that home shirts are now available in the club shop at 50 per cent off... Dark, dark humour indeed.
Bruce Smith, via email
The recent screening of the 1975 FA Cup final by ITV unearthed disturbing memories that had remained buried deep inside me for over two decades. The need to unburden myself of this long-forgotten trauma has its origins in the Fulham full-back on that occasion, John Cutbush, and in the commentary of David Coleman on the BBC coverage of the final. Others may remember West Ham’s clash with Fulham for the performances of Bobby Moore and Billy Bonds, but not me and my equally strange chums. For some reason, Coleman clearly pronounced the Fulham No 2’s surname in a curious and outlandish way, approximating to “Cootboosh”. As were many at the time, we were particularly sensitised to Coleman’s verbal meanderings, and this caused much mirth as we sat gathered around the television. Later that evening we returned repeatedly to Coleman’s creative licence with Cutbush, culminating inevitably (beer involved here) in further elaborations and versions of the name. Good Saturday night fun, you’ll no doubt think. However, things did not end there, as maybe they should have done. For months, nay years afterwards, blameless pub-goers were subjected to increasingly theatrical, elongated and continental versions of the basic ‘John Cutbush’. I particularly remember a friend rolling around as if possessed on top of a pool table and wailing out a six-minute Germano- Hispanic variation, prior to being ejected by the landlord. I suppose in time we all moved on from this phase in our lives, some of us to pursue promising careers, establish stable relationships and have families. But none of us will ever really rid ourselves of the spirit of John Cutbush. Where is he now? And what were you thinking of, David Coleman?
Steve Edwards, Birkenhead
As a student of Romanian language and literature (no, there aren’t many of us) I spend a lot of time in Romania and have become rather fond of Steaua as a result. Unfortunately, I was not in Bucharest for the visit of Aston Villa, and therefore had to watch the game on Channel 5. I spent it counting cliches. They started immediately after the opening titles ceased – cue shot of the Câsa Poprilor, which is not where Ceaucescu lived as Channel 5 told us; cue orphans; cue interview with a taxi driver (and I hoped he ripped Channel 5 off as Bucharest taxi drivers do most foreigners). Even worse was the predictably awful pronunciation of Romanian names. For the eight thousandth time, ‘Steaua’ is pronounced ‘Ste-au-wa”. As for the attempts by all involved to pronounce ‘Ciocoiu; (which should be ‘Chock-oi-oo’), I’m still laughing. Villa themselves must also be berated for their patronising ‘gifts’ of food and bobble hats to a Bucharest orphanage, thereby reinforcing all the stereotypes that Britons have vis a vis Romania, sure to be repeated during the World Cup . The Romanians’ economy is not as strong as our own, but the populace is not starving, and does not need charity. But perhaps Villa have now set a precedent, whereby teams from strong economic powers should bring donations for their poorer hosts. So, if Villa go on to play a German team later in the competition, maybe their opponents should bring food and clothes for the homeless of Birmingham?
Craig Turp, London SW20
All of the articles in the last edition relating to the events in Rome were very illuminating but I can’t help feeling that just about every one of your commentators, not to mention David Mellor and the FA, seem to have missed one vital point. Is it not the case that the Italian police (and for that matter, police in this country) should be told by their masters that if somebody has done something which contravenes the law of the land then they should be arrested and dealt with accordingly? If they haven’t then they should be left alone. The overriding image that has stayed with me since the match (apart from of course the dire football played on the pitch) was of police officers battering English fans in a frenzy of sadistic pleasure. In particular I remember watching, mouth agape, as about half a dozen helmeted meatheads set about one man who just happened to be caught behind their lines. The poor man curled up into a ball while they set about him with their truncheons. I don’t know what they thought he had done, but nobody deserves that sort of treatment, least of all from members of the constabulary. It seems to be a growing attitude amongst the authorities, the police, and some of your writers that if you go to a football match, then you open yourself up to a possible battering from the police – that’s just your bad luck. Let’s get this event into some kind of perspective. Police the world over like hitting people – that’s why they become police officers – and football matches (like picket lines) gives them the perfect opportunity. To my mind it’s as simple as that. The responsibility for the mayhem inside the ground belongs undoubtedly to the police authorities who clearly told their men to go and crack some heads. It matters not a jot whether other fans were drunk, abusive or whatever. The fans inside the ground were used for a bit of fun by the Italian police, which is something that should be deplored by everybody, not just football fans.
Jeffrey Lamb, Brighton
For those readers who may have heard York City chairman Douglas Craig spouting off on a Radio One/Radio Five programme about the Fabian Society’s ‘Football United’ report, please permit me to fill in a few background details. Mr Craig is the former chairman of the York and District Conservative Association and close friend of Tory MP and club president, John Greenaway, a self-confessed Arsenal fan. He remains the only Football League chairman not to endorse the CRE ‘Kick Racism Out Of Football’ initiative and describes City supporters who campaign for the club to back down and sign as “interfering left wing do-gooders”. Who better, then, to comment on a report by a socialist organization? The BBC confirmed when I spoke to them that Mr Craig was only used because they knew they’d get the desired negative response. This may be all well and good for the purposes of the feature but it is infuriating to hear someone express such myopic opinions without the chance to refute and counter some of their comments. To hear a man who tells his own club’s supporters to stay away if they don’t like what they see on a Saturday afternoon, belittling the report because he claims the authors don’t realize that football is “a business”, is just laughable. But then everybody loves a clown...
It’s becoming rather tiresome to see anyone who criticizes the state of modern football labelled as some sort of apologist for the squalor of the ’80s. Neil Penny (Letters, WSC No 127), in his criticism of Rogan Taylor’s The Death Of Football is the latest to trumpet the glorious revolution of the ’90s. It is particularly galling as people like Rogan Taylor, the FSA and the fanzines were just about the only ones to kick against the poor facilities, endemic racism and brutality of the ’80s. The silence from those now happily riding the football bandwagon was deafening back then. What we didn’t expect was the baby being thrown out with the bathwater in the cavalier fashion that it has been. Ordinary supporters are as far away from having real influence on the way football is run in 1997 as they were in 1987. Of course, football has improved for the better in all sorts of very important ways (safer grounds, more women attending, less racism etc), but some of the game’s fundamentals – fairness, meritocracy, community – are being rapidly eroded by the Premiership/ Champions League philosophies now running amok in the game. This whole debate as to whether football has got better or worse is pretty fatuous anyway. What’s happened is that the game’s enemies have changed, not disappeared. If we’re going to have any chance of standing up to these people, then at least we need to know who they are, which is what The Death of Football was trying to do. So, Neil, if you’re happy with a game pricing out some of the people who sustained it in its darkest days, and with a domestic and European game becoming increasingly predictable and uncompetitive, then by all means enjoy it. Just don’t pretend it is evidence of a game in ‘great health’.
Tom Davies, Leeds
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 have just received the July issue of WSC, and cannot believe that you, along with the rest of the footballing media, have not spotted an unique footballing fact, as noticed by that great sage and philosopher, Mr Ronald Atkinson. Towards the end of the European Cup Final, the Holy One commented that Italy was going to have an unprecedented treble of losing clubs in European finals – Juventus, Inter Milan and, er, Paris St Germain.
Tony Blatchford, Bath