After the thrilling second leg of Chelsea’s Champions League tie against Valencia, I have found that the only way to get through ITV’s woeful coverage is by marvelling at how retarded the commentary team must think we are. Having lived through Andy Gray’s 18-month-long reconciliation to the “crazy” offside rule, and survived two seasons of Five’s head-scratching over the “barmy” UEFA Cup groups, I was amazed at just how often ITV’s team felt we needed to have the away goals rule explained to us.
I realise the networks want to make their coverage accessible to all, but even the casual football observer understands the away goals rule. If I had a pound for every time the commentary team explained to me that, if Chelsea score now, then of course Valencia will need to score twice, then I would probably have collected enough to get a Setanta subscription.
Gareth Allen, Normanton
Why does Andy Gray keep saying “pick the bones out of that”? It’s an expression he’s come to use in every post-match analysis he does on Sky, usually in relation to a slow-motion replay of a goalmouth incident. But it’s become so frequent that it’s almost a verbal tic, as though he doesn’t realise he’s saying it. This suggests a deep-seated trauma. Could it be that he is haunted by an incident when he failed to pick the bones out of a fish, say, and consequently nearly choked while in a packed restaurant? Either that or he’s replying a vivid and unsettling dream. But it could be worse. Imagine the look of alarm on Richard Keys’ face as Andy stares into the middle distance and mutters: “The defence was as exposed as someone standing naked in front of everybody they went to school with, plus their mother and other female members of the family.”
James Potter, via email
In Nigel Harris’s excellent Fools Gold (WSC 241), he mentions that South Wales Police officers are approachable and highly regarded. This got me thinking about when Cardiff City were the visitors to Preston a couple of seasons back. As my friends and I were sat drinking in our usual pre-match pub, a jolly officer from the aforementioned constabulary approached us and informed us that they would be letting a group of Cardiff City “fans” into the pub and that we should drink up and leave or they wouldn’t be responsible for the consequences. The SWP officers then proceeded to welcome these fans into the establishment and chuckled along as they went round taunting everyone else in the bar with racist anti-English insults. Though I agree that no set of supporters should ever be banned from seeing their team, Cardiff City’s cause is not helped when the body employed to control their unruly fans’ behaviour is seen very much to encourage what they do. South Wales Police may be “highly regarded”, but not in Preston.
Bobby Dilworth, via email
The surprisingly rapturous reception given to the old has-been Sylvester Stallone by fans at Everton v Reading led me to wonder which celebrities have received the worst reaction at a match. The one that springs to my mind is when Ted Rogers, oily host of ITV gameshow 3-2-1, did a pre-match raffle draw at Stamford Bridge in the late 1980s. Taking the microphone he shouted something like “Alright Blues, are we gonna win today or what?” and was met with a torrent of prolonged abuse from all around the ground. It was magnificent and he duly scarpered as quickly as he could manage. It may have been a reaction to the crappy show, but his faux-matey tone was probably the main cause. In general, celebs are on a hiding to nothing if they attempt to speak to the crowd. Just wave and smile for the photos then zoom off ASAP for the cognac and Ferrero Rocher in the boardroom.
David Senior, via email
It was good to see your piece on York City Supporters’ Trust in WSC 239, which gave an excellent summary the position at York City. One minor point – it was never the intention of the trust to take a controlling interest in the club. That was dictated by circumstances whereby if the trust had not taken control the club would have folded. So returning to private ownership probably isn’t a setback for the cause of fan ownership. We still retain a 25 per cent share of the club and can now go back to our original objective which was to represent fans – we still have two seats on the club board. Taking the broader perspective, being the major shareholder brings the major responsibility of financial management and raising funds to fill the gap between gate and commercial income and costs. The fans of York City have been magnificent at raising money, but closing that gap proved impossible for the volunteers of the trust to do. Ultimately, “private ownership” was the only way forward. We do wonder if majority fans’ ownership can ever be a realistic option.
Steve Beck, Chairman, York City Supporters’ Trust
Jez Moxey, the Wolves chairman, has decided to ban Cardiff City fans from attending the match between the two clubs in January. This is a throwback to Margaret Thatcher’s attitude to football. Two seasons ago, I attended the match between Cardiff and Wolves at Molineux and it was one of the most scary experiences I have had at a football match, as the West Midlands Police decided to allow Wolves fans to wait to ambush Cardiff fans returning to their coaches. From what I can gather, embarrassed by their performance the previous year, the West Midlands Police decided to impose themselves in the repeat fixture last season. When a handful of City fans in the concourse at half-time started chanting “we want beer” after the bars changed their mind about staying open, the police decided to “calm things down” by charging into the concourse in full riot gear, beating anybody who failed to clear out of the way with their batons. They continued in this vein out of the concourse and up the gangways to the terraces, leading to people spilling on to the pitch to avoid being attacked. About 30 City fans attended hospital. Of the 17 that were arrested, all but one were offered apologies by the magistrates when they were discharged. An FA of Wales inquiry has yet to be completed, because West Midlands Police did not turn up to the hearing, twice. This is the same police force that refused to meet with fans’ representatives before both matches to plan away travel to avoid trouble. So who is to blame? Cardiff City fans, if you believe the West Midlands Police and Wolves. And the Football League, who agreed with the away fan ban, without bothering to seek the views of Cardiff City, the FA of Wales, any of the fans involved or the South Wales Police. This harks back to Luton Town’s away ban of the 1980s, which was snuffed out by the Football League. Why are they so happy for it to be reintroduced by Wolves? All teams, under League rules, are supposed to make a certain amount of tickets available to away fans. Perhaps a better solution would be to ban West Midlands Police from the fixture and invite South Wales Police to ensure there is no public disorder. But I guess that would not give Wolves the advantage of playing in front of no away fans.
Jeff Wagstaff, via email
The Scotland supporters who found themselves under attack by a group of Ukraine fans on the evening prior to the recent Euro 2008 qualifier in Kiev have been praised for not retaliating but dispersing in as orderly a way as possible to avoid any escalation of the incident. Some Scots weren’t that lucky, however, about a dozen requiring hospital treatment for cuts, bruises and broken bones after the unprovoked assault by around 100 young Ukrainians in the city’s Independence Square. During the last 15 years or so, the self-styled Tartan Army has become legendary the world over for its self-deprecating humour and ability to make friends even in the most hostile of environments, as well as for swelling the coffers of local bar owners while simultaneously emptying towns and cities of supplies of beer and spirits. But in the wake of the Kiev incident, a small number of Scotland fans started to question whether being the touchy-feely, super furry animals of world football may have its downside. Indeed, it provoked an almost philosophical debate amongst Scotland fans on the streets of Kiev and later on internet forums; what would you do if we were attacked? Most who took part in this impromptu debate quite rightly condemned all violence and pointed out that Scotland fans’ hard-won reputation was at risk by even raising the spectre of the Tartan Army fighting back. A small minority put forward the thesis that Scotland have become too nice and that this translates – both on and off the field – as a soft touch. This in turn could invite trouble from determined hooligans who would attack safe in the knowledge that the Scots were unlikely to fight back. It’s unlikely, however, that this isolated event – even more shocking because it was just that – will give rise to a surge of disorder among Scots fans. Our sense of humour is unique (I still almost die laughing every time I hear people from Scotland complaining about terrible food on away trips) and can usually be relied on to defuse the odd potentially incendiary moment.In any case, which member of the Tartan Army is seriously going to risk not being able to attend the next World Cup we qualify for? (In the words of BA Robertson’s 1982 Scotland World Cup song, I Have a Dream.)
Colin McPherson, via email
May I request that Derby fans who wish to profess their hatred for Nottingham Forest do so in a manner that doesn’t obstruct my view of the game? Perhaps a chant of “Sit down and fold your arms if you hate Forest” could be introduced. A new tune might be required to go along with these catchy lyrics, but I believe fellow Rams supporters would respond to this battle cry in overwhelming numbers. I know I would definitely join in, as I already spend most matches sitting down with my arms folded, conveniently enough.
Gavin Duenas, via email
Being a non-League fan, with a major Premiership side playing their reserve-team football at our stadium, I have long since believed reserves to be almost totally unnecessary at the top level (Nothing In Reserve, WSC 235). A Chelsea v Arsenal game in February 2004 stuck out in particular. The 4,500 crowd probably hoped for the odd household name among a foundation of emerging talent. The players that actually performed would have struggled to get into a non-League team (one of them has signed for my side, Aldershot, this season). The game lacked any quality at all and the players never showed anything that might suggest either José Mourinho or Arsène Wenger might have been presented with an unexpected selection headache. With Chelsea releasing more players this summer, most of whom never got close to the first team (Dean Furman, Joe Keenan, Dean Smith, Jack Watkins, James Younghusband, Lenny Pidgeley, Filipe Morasis and Danny Hollands) again it appears that their reserve team offers nothing for José – and why should it? They have limitless resources, so why should they take a risk with untried youth? The players that are rated are sent on loan to gain “valuable first-team experience” at other clubs. Other clubs also use the loan system heavily, at their reserve teams’ expense: Arsenal and Manchester United have sent five players on loan, Liverpool four, with several others released. Fulham and Everton have also both released many young and up-and-coming players. Bizarrely, other Premiership clubs take loan players at the expense of their reserves – look at Watford giving experience to Ben Foster, Charlton to Scott Carson, Everton to Tim Howard, Wigan to Chris Kirkland and that’s just keepers. Top-level reserve football doesn’t need the Premiership to kill it, the clubs are doing that quite well enough. The days of players being discovered in the reserves are long gone; top managers know what players they have in reserve and that’s why they are there.
Andrew Hailstone, via email
Where would you say are the game’s real hotbeds? Liverpool, Newcastle and Birmingham? Wrong! Try Ipswich, Norwich, Gloucester and Wolverhampton, some of the places where there is still enough interest to make it worthwhile printing a Saturday night sports paper. We all know that new technology makes information much more easily accessible, but at least in those places the traditional method of getting the latest football news will still be available. Those towns I have named who still have Saturday “Pinks” (or whatever) have papers owned by local companies, whereas the papers in Liverpool, Newcastle and Birmingham are owned by the Trinity Mirror group. It seems therefore that while local companies can still find a way to serve their community, Trinity Mirror can’t be bothered. In view of their hostility to football fans and their contempt for the needs of their regional customers, I suggest that we all boycott all Trinity Mirror papers until such time as they either reinstate the Pinks or sell their local interests to local people.
Mick Blakeman, Wolverhampton