Every Saturday three men decide the results of postponed matches. If you don't want to find out why and how, look away now, because Al Needham met them

Whenever I have an argument with anyone about the innate superiority of British football over any oth­er sporting entity in the world, I always keep one killer argument in reserve: the fact that we have a Pools Pan­el. It gives off the impression to foreigners that our game is so important that when matches can’t be play­ed, we actually have a platoon of experts who decide the result for us. Of course, they could counter this fact by pointing out that if every team in the country had the kind of facilities that they should have in the 21st century, there would be no need for a Pools Panel, but I counter that by stating that, even if there was a nuclear holocaust, the Pools Panel are probably on standby to decide entire seasons until civilisation recovered. That shuts them up a treat.

With the start of the season overshadowed by talk of financial meltdown and eras at an end, we brought together broadcaster Adrian Chiles, MP Andy Burnham and academic Stephen Wagg to mull over how football got into this state and how we might get out of it

Football clubs at all levels in this country are experiencing financial difficulties of one kind or another. The problems are obvious, but are there also some good things that might come out of this crisis?
Stephen Wagg: To me, it’s a bit like asking whether any good will come from the recent corporate scandals in the United States. Is Enron or WorldCom going to be some kind of blessing in disguise? The sane voice at the back of your head says yes, people will forsake the lunacy of the market system and demand something more equitable and decent. Professional football people will cease to be paid obscene sums of money for their services. But the signs are that that voice, at least in the short term, will not be heeded. So ever more colossal sums of money will be spent on the defensive skills of a Rio Ferdinand or the “image rights” of a David Beckham. But, as a life-long Leicester City supporter, I’m not wholly depressed by their current predicament. They only recently proclaimed that they were “no longer a selling club”. Less than two years later the entire first team squad is for sale and the club has admitted difficulty in paying the salary bill. These salaries were, in all conscience, barmy, as Matt Elliott, who is the recipient of one of them, accepted recently. So, if it ends here, so much the better.

Did football really have a golden age? A new photo collection seems unsure when it was, says Doug Cheeseman, though it definitely took place in London

This is a giant airbrick of a football photobook, com­prised of black and white documentary pic­tures from the start of the 20th century to 1985. The notional theme of the book is football in its broader social con­text, in the period before commercialism took over and photographers swapped their black and white films for colour. In other words, football in all its sepia, if sometimes rose-tinted, glory.

Chris Taylor & Craig Ellyard argue for and against the idea of scrapping the League Cup

Yes ~
Paul Scholes is not most people’s idea of a rebellious prima donna, so when the mild-mannered Manc refused to play in a match against Arsenal you knew some­thing was up. This season he’s been played out of position, left on the bench and generally messed ar­ound as his manager attempts to accommodate Ruud van Nistelrooy and Juan Sebastian Veron. All accepted without a murmur. “But for God’s sake,” you can im­agine him telling Sir Alex, “not the bloody League Cup!”

We asked some of our regular contributors if they could remember anything about 2001. Surprisingly, quite a few of them could

Harry Pearson
Best • Seeing different faces in the home dugout at the Riverside. Finally getting a radio that allowed me to listen to Alistair Brownlee’s delirious, deranged commentaries on Century FM. His pronunciation of Marinelli alone is worth the price of the batteries. Oliver Kahn’s expression at the end of the game in Munich.

Continuing our occasional series on defunct competitions, Lionel Birnie dons his plimsolls and recalls the glory days of the televised indoor tournaments

Despite increasingly sophisticated coaching meth­ods, the humble five-a-side has endured. It is still the traditional way for teams to round off the last training session of the week. But despite its far-reaching popularity, no one would think of organising an indoor  tournament for Premiership clubs. Can you imagine Sir Alex’s face if he was asked by the FA to send David, Roy and Juan Sebastian to the G-Mex the night before a Champions League match?

Continuing our series about extinct competitions, Jim Heath glances wistfully back at the Texaco Cup, which briefly gripped parts of Scotland and the west midlands 

The Texaco Cup will always hold a special place in the hearts of Wolves fans whose team were its first winners, exactly 30 years ago. It marked the beginning of a very successful and eventful era for the club, one which only lasted a couple of years but was loads more fun than supporting them now.

To kick-off a new series about trophies that are no longer with us Peter Collins recalls the distinctly lukewarm appeal of the Full Members Cup

Football chairmen abhor a vacuum. So when Eng­lish clubs were thrown out of European competition for an indefinite period after the Heysel disaster in 1985, it didn’t take long for someone to come up with the idea of a domestic cup competition that would make up for the lost glory and, most importantly, the lost revenue from all those European nights.

Massed ranks of WSC writers and interviewees reflect on the best and worst of 2000

Jim Rosenthal
– Premier League highlights acquired by ITV
– Cardiff losing at Gillingham to ensure Oxford United avoid relegation
– Playing for the Cookham Dean Parents against 12-year-old son Tom (lost 8-7)

– Hearing the country I had backed to win Euro 2000 (Italy) had lost in the final in extra time. They were still leading with two minutes to go when I boarded a flight home after the French grand prix.
– Oxford United’s owner Firoz Kassam telling the fans after the Luton game to “piss off” unless they gave him their support. The club’s “saviour” is taking us into the fast lane out of the League.
– Sitting in the stadiums of Florence, Rome and Turin and hearing the racist abuse directed at black players of Manchester United, Arsenal and England

Hope for 2001
– It stops raining and English clubs go all the way in the Champions League.

David Stubbs reviews a musical... about football. Oh dear

Must admit, the prospect of an Andrew Lloyd-Webber-Ben Elton musical set in Troubles-ridden Northern Ireland about a local football team didn’t brace me. This is going to be bad, I thought. Groan-out-loud bad. Tear your pro­gramme into sweaty shreds and assume the foetal position bad.

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