You published a letter from me in WSC 70 (December 1992), suggesting that Newcastle City Council may one day be cajoled into erecting an Arthur Horsfield memorial statue in Eldon Square. For over six years, WSC then callously ignored the career of one who, even in the face of fierce recent competition, must still rank as one of Newcastle United’s least successful signings (seven games in six months before being shipped off back to the lower leagues from whence he came). Imagine my surprise, then, upon reading an article in WSC 150 in which Harry Pearson suggested that the music which Middlesbrough used to run out to was “far too exotic to announce the arrival of Arthur Horsfield”. Having read Mr Pearson’s latest contribution in WSC 153, where he again cites Arthur in his musings on loyalty at Middlesbrough, I am convinced he shares my obsession with this shadowy character from my footballing childhood. Nevertheless, I must object at the vilification of Arthur as a footballing “serial philanderer” given that, apart from his brief stay at Newcastle, history shows that he played between 78 and 139 games for each of the other clubs which he represented (presumably with greater distinction), and indeed held the record of consecutive appearances for Charlton Athletic. Perhaps Mr Pearson would care to provide moral support to my latest plan to lobby Derwentside Council for a statue based on Arthur’s famed pose with arms outstretched, screaming for the ball to be centred? This could be situated inland, midway between Newcastle and Middlesbrough, high up on the rolling moors which dominate those great industrial conurbations. The Arthur of the North?
John Wright, Limours, France
The cover of your October issue made a joke at Alan Shearer’s expense. The day it came through my letterbox he got a hat-trick against Luxembourg and has since been unstoppable. On the front of November’s issue you poked fun at Chris Sutton’s scoring record. The day after that arrived he was on target in the first 15 minutes against Manchester United. Perhaps you could see your way clear to making Oldham’s Mark Allott your cover star for January?
Jon Levitt, Saddleworth
I would like to offer a view on the Peter Johnson/Everton affair from the perspective of Tranmere, the forgotten club in this shambles. Everton can attract crowds of 35,000 and therefore have large match day revenues. They have been able to sell their assets at the best possible price (with Dacourt and Co fetching approximately £15 million) and they have spent £4.5 million on new players this season. They also stole our young keeper Steve Simonsen for a reported fee of £3 million, two-thirds of which is still outstanding. Why, when we are still owed this money, did Tranmere have to to sell skipper Kenny Irons for £450,000 in order to stay afloat? We are due to receive the rest of the Simonsen fee when he has played something like 3,000 games. I’m starting to think that he is not being picked on purpose. The Evertonians working in our local press grumble daily about the fate of their club. These same people welcomed Johnson as the “multi-millionaire saviour”, but now choose to refer to him by what they clearly take to be an insulting term, the “Wirral grocer”. There is only one club really suffering from the dual ownership issue, but because we won’t sell enough papers we have been ignored. When I offered this opinion to the letters page in the local rag it wasn’t published – the fate of many a letter from Tranmere fans.
Jonathan Hughes, via email
Why all the negativity about European football? It’s not just WSC, but Radio 5 Live as well, and any number of journalists. It’s as if there is some sort of perceived wisdom that the “new” Europe is bad, and that the old days were glorious. Well, I’m not so sure. OK, the Champions League is a misnomer, but does it have a complicated format? It seems simple enough to me: eight groups, four groups, then a knockout. Weighted in favour of certain clubs? Of course it is – the only way UEFA have found to head off what would be a disastrous breakaway. It’s still possible to play your way into the structure and in Maribor and Willem II we have the equivalent of FA Cup minnows mixing it with the big boys. The UEFA Cup is “devalued”. But surely it’s always been the “third” cup? Now it’s the “second” with its influx of national cup qualifiers, and is a good quality knock-out cup in my view. Too many “boring” games? In the old Champions Cup, there would be two rounds before Christmas, providing quite often one-sided ties. Most of our romantic memories of Europe concern what has happened in the second half of the season. Speaking as a non satellite-owning, regular watcher of live Football League action, most of the rest of my football consists of often very tedious helter-skelter highlights of Premiership games, Italian football on a Sunday and, this season, lots of European football – and I for one have really enjoyed it. Give it a chance. Maybe we’re at a crossroads, and it’s time to consider the correct balance between domestic and European football, in which case I think the top division here should be smaller. But then as long as I can watch Crewe Alexandra’s continued attempts to play at their current elevated level, and a bit of something different on the box, then I can’t really be that bothered (except to write this letter of course). Am I alone?!
Derek Seymour, Crewe
Can Michael Dennison of Morecambe (WSC 153) and all other geographically challenged fans please note – Southport fans are not Scousers (“plastic” or otherwise). We are Sandgrounders and proud of our Lancashire heritage, despite local government attempts in the 1970s to say otherwise. If Michael would like to take up the challenge next time Morecambe visit us, and stand with the locals, I will happily refund his entrance fee and buy his drinks all night if he hears a single Scouse accent in the crowd. One final comment – are Altrincham fans “plastic” Mancs and anyone south of Watford “plastic” Cockneys?
John Massam, Southport
I was dismayed to hear that the FIFA delegates being taken on an inspection of England’s 2006 World Cup sites were treated to a dinner at which the dismal Hugh Grant was guest speaker. What, I ask you, was the point of this? Do the organisers seriously think that a bourgeois dork wittering on about Craven Cottage would bring a “classy” touch to proceedings? Better surely to have placed the after-dinner speech in the capable of hands of someone like Barbara Windsor, whose cheerful, gutsy “take me as you find me” approach to life would make a fitting symbol for English football and its honest artisans. I hope that the FA’s big-cheese-in-waiting Adam Crozier will give his full attention to presentation issues of this sort once he’s finished explaining away his youthful misdemeanours.
Barry Thornton, Leominster
I wonder if Southampton supporters fully appreciate just how fortunate they are this season? Their Latvian import has provided the opportunity to sing “Knowing me, knowing you: Pahars!” in the Abba/Alan Partridge style. It seems almost criminal to let something so obvious pass by. So much so, in fact, that I’m almost tempted to buy a season ticket for The Dell and sing it myself. On the other hand…
Anthony Pope, Brighton
I enjoyed Matt Nation’s studs-up assault on the mythical machismo of the British centre-half (WSC 153). Big lads are indeed far more often funny than frightening. How appropriate that the piece should be published in a month when we were subjected to the rugby union World Cup, a sport featuring two entire teams of centre-halves who lumber up and down the pitch committing technical infringements undetectable to everyone bar the referee. Big lads who are a bit dim become centre-halves or occasionally goalkeepers, provided they haven’t let themselves run to fat. Big lads who are a bit dim and also unable to control a ball with their feet become rugby union players. Now, incredibly, some of these chaps no longer have to supplement their boot money with a job on a farm, or, for the most stupid, at the Stock Exchange, and are able to “play” for substantial sums of money. It doesn’t seem too long ago that football’s position as the country’s No 1 team sport was deemed to be under threat from the rugger revolution. But hardly anyone watches the club matches, only three international teams in the world are any good and underdogs are said to have done well if they lose a match by a margin of less than 50 points. I realise that criticising rugby union may fall outside WSC’s remit but, dear God, it’s rubbish isn’t it?
Rob Weston, Winchester
I was glad Chelsea won 5-0 against Galatasaray, not because I am a Chelsea fan, but because it finally put a stop to the garbage about Istanbul being some kind of “Hell” for visiting fans, or just visiting people in general. It’s true that some fans have had bad experiences there, but then every time English fans go to Belgium or Holland a good number seem to end up spending a night in the cells or packed indiscriminately on to ferries home, and no one thinks of Brussels or Rotterdam as “Hell” (not until Euro 2000 anyway). What was the difference between Man Utd’s visit a few years ago and Chelsea’s? I’ve never been one for the “players’ behaviour incites the crowd” theory, but the experiences of Eric Cantona and Gianfranco Zola do seem suggestive – one engaging in running battles, the other applauded off by the Turkish crowd after taking their team apart. Where would you see that in England? Not Old Trafford, that’s for sure, where United’s fans heartily booed Vialli in Alex Ferguson’s testimonial. That was because his team beat theirs. Another triumph for the spirit of English fair play and phlegm to set against the antics of the excitable Turks next time one of our clubs goes there.
Jessica Plant, Droylsden
Back in the Seventies, when Blackburn were in the lower half of the old Second Division (ah, the whirligig of time), I travelled to see them at West Brom, standing quietly in the home section. Unexpectedly, we took a two-goal lead. What lingers in the memory is the voice of a home fan muttering, “We can beat the best teams in this division, and we’re losing to this shit.” Now that hurt. During our championship season, after a victory at Everton, one of their fans spent his airtime telling the world what an awful, awful team we were, and how, if we became champions, there was no God. That hurt, too. My point is that fans don’t just love their team, they want everyone else to think they’re pretty wonderful too. We are embarrassed when we have a player sent off, when we get dismal crowds, when our players go nightclub crazy or when team-mates fight each other live on TV during a European Cup game. We are embarrassed because we feel everybody’s watching and everybody cares. A moment’s thought tells us that, beyond a brief spasm of Schadenfreude, they don’t, because they’re preoccupied with their own team’s image. This outpouring of insight stems from a throwaway remark in your readers’ poll report in WSC 153: “Other big fallers were… Blackburn, despite getting what many thought was a come-uppance.” Are we so unpopular? Why? What have we done? I would have thought that a couple of seasons giving the really unpopular big boys a run for their money would have gained us a bit of lasting affection. But it’s the money, isn’t it? Well, we can’t help it. Would any club tell Jack Walker “thanks but no thanks, we’ll do it the proper way and struggle on”? And surely all clubs, at their own level, with the means at their disposal try to buy success? And some clubs have spent a lot of money for any years, but that’s all right is it? I must admit, though, Fulham do annoy me.
Ray Chenery, Darwen
From WSC 154 December 1999. What was happening this month