Some regular WSC contributors weigh up the best and worst things to have happened to football in 1998, and look ahead to 1999

Ian Plenderleith

– Soaring wages in the Premier League – it makes me feel warm inside to watch players and know at the same time that they will be secure in their old age.

– England’s World Cup exit – God save us eternally from Englishmen on top of the world.

– Scotland fans once again annoying the English by showing them how to enjoy a football tournament.

– The desecration of once-wonderful European club competitions.

– The failure of self-appointed fan-of-the-people David Mellor to drown in his own grease.

– Overall, too much hype and too little substance.

That football will eat itself and then we can all do something worthwhile with our spare time.

Roger Titford

– The brilliant support for England in France from so many different types of supporter. To see a young Asian woman in an England shirt in a foreign stadium was inconceivable ten years ago.

– The amazing return of Halifax Town to the League. The words “I thought you were dead” spring to mind.

– Charlton top of the Premiership for a day. Shame that day wasn’t New Year’s Eve.

– Post-Murdoch, an increasing sense of the domestic game becoming Man United v The Rest. (And the Pools Panel have got it down as a home win.)

– Proposed changes to every cup competition going to suit the European agenda and the consequent decline in interest of live midweek football. Our forefathers struggled to put up those floodlights, you know.

– The failure to complete the A33 Relief road, leaving the Madejski Stadium an island in a sea of grid-locked Escorts for most of the autumn.

The top 20 earners in the Premiership “adopting” a struggling Football League club and donating five per cent of their earnings to it. So, for instance, David Beckham sponsors Rochdale to the tune of £150,000 or whatever. What better way to bring the whole family of football back together? Just don’t let Eric Hall nick the idea.

Uli Hesse-Lichtenberger

– My club, Borussia Dortmund, although turning into a faceless, stinking-rich corporation, building the largest terrace in Europe instead of still more glass-panelled VIP boxes. I can take my son to a game for less than £4.

– Kermit the Frog hosting a press conference to announce that Waldorf and Statler will henceforth run the national football team. The puppets are made up to resemble German FA official Egidius Braun, plus new coaches Erich Ribbeck and Uli Stielike.

– Bayern Munich netting an improbable last-minute winner at Barcelona. The German TV commentator is so surprised he mispronounces the goalscorer’s name. Then, out of the blue, he solemnly says: “Zorro rides again.” Then he falls silent for two minutes.

– June 21st (ask the people of Lens).

– The best team at the World Cup going out on penalties two days before we travel to that country for our holidays. (And no, we didn’t cross the Channel.)

– My son finds the league table printed in the paper and wants to know what all those straight or dotted lines denote. I explain the concept of winning the Bundesliga and being relegated from it, detail who earns direct entry into the Champions League and tackle the system of qualifying rounds, expound the concept behind the UEFA Cup and mention that the Cup-Winners Cup is now part of the latter competition. When I venture near the Inter-Toto Cup, he says: “Can I watch a cartoon?”

I’d like to see UEFA do away with their all-seater policy. Dortmund might qualify for Europe, and I don’t want to watch Ronaldo while sitting down.

Dave Robinson

– The World Cup – an exotic dish served up on a bed of cynicism but wonderful nonetheless, which is probably why Blatter now wants to hold it twice a month or whatever – or maybe it’s the money...

– Big shorts. Huge, voluminous pantaloons looking like 1940s bloomers made out of parachute silk. One in the eye for “sexy football”.

– Gordon Strachan interviews. He probably whinges twice as much as Alex Ferguson but he’s charming with it.

– Player power. The greed I can bear but players refusing to play because they are “not mentally right” makes me wonder if I’m mentally right in contributing to their salaries.

– Murdoch hovering over football like one of those massive metallic pizzas with extra aliens in Independence Day.

– The shameless, cancerous return of Douglas Hall and Freddy Shepherd.

The introduction of a mid-season break for David Mellor. Nine months ought to be long enough, starting in August.

Joyce Woolridge

– Peter Mandelson no longer responsible for giving an impartial judgement on the proposed Sky takeover of Manchester United.

– Alex Ferguson taking the blinkers back from his racehorses and pulling them on himself to return to his piss-and-vinegar conspiracy theory best. Mellowing out was just not his style.

– Barry Venison speculating about whether he was “turning gay for Ryan Giggs” on On the Ball and rising in my estimation a hundred fold. Did anyone else hear him say this, or am I the only person who watches the show?

– Dick size in danger of becoming the latest Carling Opta Index Statistic (though it would probably be a more accurate way of judging performance than the existing stats).

– Missing Graham Kelly’s compering of the FA Cup draw already. Bathos has a welcome place in football when “charismatic” screaming hyperbole rules supreme.

– Television screens full of men with bigger breasts than myself defending England’s honour abroad this summer.

Ken Bates abandons any FA management ambitions because the UN offer him the position of goodwill ambassador.

John Williams

– France hosting and winning the World Cup. Apart from the usual hoolie stuff from the English and the Germans it was a fantastically supported tournament. The French also had the best players (certainly in midfield and defence) and notwithstanding the media guff, the victory was an important moment for the French people and a kick in the teeth for the National Front.

– The derided Football Task Force. Despite its problems and lack of legislative force, it is bravely trying to face up some of the major issues dogging the game (the rich/poor div­ide, the social responsibilities of clubs, etc).

– The continuing successes of the “community-run” clubs such as Bournemouth and Northampton. They prove that there is another sort of future for the smaller clubs, short of part-time status or the forced pruning of the Football League.

- The growing power struggles between rich clubs, national associations, TV entrepreneurs and the sport’s governing bodies. It has already brought a bloated Champions League and UEFA Cup and club qualifying rounds for Europe in the middle of summer and may yet bring (God help us) a two-yearly World Cup.

– Music during matches, to herald corners won, goals scored and virtually anything else of note. The FA should rule it out. Do they think we’re all brainless: we used to provide the soundtrack.

– The growing global thrust of “football business” which has top clubs extending their attempts to colonise new markets abroad and has given rise to the associated idea that signing players from Japan, China etc may not make much football sense but could profitably help unload replica shirts and duvet covers in some distant megastore.

A new Tapas bar to open in Bootle so Macca gets to see the Spanish side of Merseyside (it can get very touristy in the Summer). Michael Owen to get a decent haircut. Both to play in the FA Cup fifth round.

Gary Oliver

­– Hibs’ relegation from the Top Ten – poetic justice for ex chairman Lex Gold having acted as “super league” spokesman.

– The money-grabbing Scottish Premier League failing to land a sponsor. No, don’t titter.

– Ally McCoist’s BBC chat show being broadcast to a UK-wide audience. No reason why we Scots should suffer alone.

– The dismal form of Raith Rovers – promotion contenders to relegation candidates inside 12 months.

– Autonomy for the Scottish Premier League robbing the poor to pamper the undeserving rich.

– Scotland’s execrable World Cup performance against Morocco.

That all 30 of the financially stricken Scottish Football League survive the year and for as many of the clubs as possible to somehow remain full-time. Especially Raith Rovers.

Cris Freddi

– The French back four, the best in any World Cup finals.

– Tore Andre Flo against Brazil.

– Liechtenstein’s first-ever win, at the 33rd attempt (2-1 against Azerbaijan).

– Nigeria in the World Cup, especially their request for a minute’s silence for former military leader Sani Abacha.

– English journalists laughing at the German players after the defeat by Croatia, even though Germany got further than England in the World Cup, as they have done in every tournament since 1966.

– Tottenham’s treatment of Christian Gross.

The retirement (or something) of Rupert Murdoch.

Dave Hill

­– England’s ten-man rearguard in the World Cup second round made me feel proud of my national side for almost the first time since 1966 when I was too young to understand that blind patriotism is a form of mental disorder.

­– Tony Adams’s recovery from alcoholism and his brave book about the depth of his addiction provided some of my most heartening reading.

– I was also cheered by the successes of Derby, Leicester, Coventry and Southampton in 97-98 Premier League on relatively thin resources (and may the latter two avoid relegation in 1999).

– The most sad and shaming event of 1998 was the suicide of Justin Fashanu destroyed by his failure to love his own homosexuality. For this, English football culture deserves a big share of the blame.

­– Glummest non-event on the pitch was Ronaldo’s non-performance for Brazil in the World Cup Final which rubbed just a little of the shine off France’s wonderful win.

– I was dismayed by the administrative cock-up at Leyton Orient which led to the fielding of ineligible players and the consequent deduction of points which may have cost my local club a place in the Third Division play-offs. A pall has hung over Hackney Marsh ever since.


That all the richest English clubs go horribly bankrupt. Only then may we be reminded of what football really is – a truly popular form of art and recreation and a splendidly irrational obsession which does not need fat cats and even fatter media bastards to give it life and meaning.

Simon Evans

– Croatia’s run to the semi-finals in the World Cup, in particular their win over Germany, was a much-needed boost to football in Eastern Europe. It is also proved that contrary to the belief of many, teamwork, unity and good coaching can deliver results even if you lack expensive star quality.

­– England’s first half performance against Argentina was one of the best 45 minutes I can recall from an England side.

– Aston Villa – a reminder that traditional English football at its best can still bring results and you don’t need a big-name manager and expensive imports to be successful.

– The emergence of cheating as an art form, after 1998 it is hard to believe that there aren’t some players who practise diving and feigning injury on the training ground.

– English football’s behaviour on the international scene. After shafting the Germans with the bid for 2006, the FA then shafted Lennart Johansson, the top Premier League clubs showed indecent interest in the Media Partners super league and then there was the end of an era with the FA’s cash for votes scandal.

– The UEFA restructuring of European competition – yet another botched compromise which creates two messy cups with too many teams, too many meaningless matches and will accelerate the declining prestige of European club football.

Manchester United win the Champions League and Fergie finally calls it a day. Louis van Gaal takes over, signs the De Boer brothers and Kluivert and destroys United faster than Dalglish managed to destroy Newcastle.

Harry Pearson

– Boro’s first win at Old Trafford for 68 years.

– Watching Tow Law Town at Wembley.

– Travelling through Lyon on a bus filled with Mexican and South Korean fans who had formed a makeshift gong, cymbal, trumpet and guitar band.

– Paul Merson’s bleating about Middlesbrough – don’t get me started.

– Increasingly pompous posturing of major European clubs (The G14!).

– Middlesbrough conceding goals in the last ten minutes.

That the Mexican and South Korean cymbal, gong, trumpet and guitar band will camp on Paul Merson’s lawn and keep him awake at night from now until the end of time (cue maniacal laughter).

From WSC 144 February 1999. What was happening this month

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