I am curious to know why you didn’t ask Howard Wilkinson (WSC 154) how he justified selling Cantona to Manchester Utd for £1 million. Great technical expertise there. If it came down to a spat between our Eric and the legendary Lee Chapman, I know who your readership would choose. Perhaps he’s a closet Man Utd fan. And Wilkinson is not the only one upset at his not getting the job at Arsenal. I am sure all my fellow Spurs fans are gutted too. Could he please apply if Arsène goes back to France?
Christopher Brandt, Tonbridge
He’s back. After a long absence from the pages of WSC, I unfortunately have to announce that The Bloke Behind Me (TBBM) has reinvented himself and now poses a new menace at football grounds across the land. TBBM now has a mobile phone and intends using it at a ground near you. On three separate occasions this season at Maine Road, my enjoyment of the game has been spoiled by TBBM (actually, the last occasion was by The Couple Next To Me – TCNTM) The first time, TBBM contacted his pal sat in the opposite stand. There followed the familiar nonsensical conversation of “Where are you?… Yeah, I’m waving, can you see me?” etc. He then contacted his friend after each goal (City beat Sheffield Utd 6-0). The second TBBM must have had one of those free-calls-at-weekend deals. He gave a running commentary for the whole 90 minutes, including a rundown of the half- time scores. Neither of TCNTM saw much of the second half, as they were more bothered about sending text messages than watching the game. Then, with about five minutes to go, the woman lets out a cry of “Oh no, I forgot” and then furiously dials a number before asking her mother to record Coronation Street. She then informs all around us that Chelsea are drawing 0-0 with Milan. This comment receives a welcome rebuke from TBBM, who remarks that if he was interested in Chelsea, he would have stayed at home and watched it on TV. Perhaps the use of mobile phones should be banned at grounds, as they are in hospitals and aircraft. The police should be able to confiscate them on entry as offensive weapons – which they could be, of course. Also, is it any coincidence that the tannoy announcers no longer amuse spectators with their request for “Fred Jones to go to the hospital please as your wife is giving birth”? That is because Fred, selfishly, will now have a mobile phone. For emergencies – fine. But otherwise, please – it’s not good to talk, in fact, it’s a pain in the arse.
Phill Gatenby, Moston
Much as I enjoyed Paul Whitehouse’s contribution in WSC 154, I feel the comment about Pat Jennings being a “turncoat” is unfair. Tottenham made it clear to Pat that he was not wanted and treated him badly. At the end of the 1976-77 season Spurs were relegated, with the goalkeeping appearances being shared almost evenly between Pat and Barry Daines. There are still those of us who think that more appearances from Pat might have prevented that relegation, though the defence was generally awful. Barry Daines was ever present in the Spurs side promoted the next season. However, the First Division proved more of a struggle, and Daines found himself sharing the jersey with three other keepers. He played up to the FA Cup quarter-final in 1980-81, but Milija Aleksic played in the rest of the Cup run. Ray Clemence signed that summer and the rest is history, as was Barry Daines. Meanwhile, Pat Jennings was going from strength to strength behind a generally decent defence, and Willie Young. A string of Cup final appearances followed and Pat retained his place well into the Eighties. Pat served Spurs from 1964 to 1977 with distinction, and won the Footballer of the Year award. No one would have been more upset than Pat to be let go – he remains a Spurs supporter to this day.
Andrew Roberts, Wellington
With reference to the More Than A Match feature in WSC 154. Ian Plenderleith has obviously not attended a match at Sincil Bank for several seasons, as he said in his account that: “Sincil Bank never has been and never will be a vocal ground, as its fans are hardly known as progenitors of rousing terrace originals.” This is true of the past, but not of the present. The Lincoln City faithful, although not the world’s biggest fan base, create a superb atmosphere at every home game, using drums, trumpets, ticker-tape and even an air-raid siren to make visiting players and supporters feel isolated. Many fans who have visited Sincil Bank in the last few years will, I am sure, testify to this. We all feel that the ambience we create every other Saturday has spurred our side, some members lacking in ability, to many victories which they would not have achieved were it not for our efforts.
James Prentice, via email
John Williams’s article on refereeing standards (WSC 154) raises some interesting points but largely avoids placing any onus on players to accept responsibility for their actions. The 1990 World Cup final is mentioned but largely glossed over. To me, this horribly cynical match was the turning point in world football. To suggest that the subsequent rule changes were merely to placate the US public prior to 1994 is disingenuous – the sheer nastiness of that game, the fights, the assaults on the referee, the play-acting, all combined to make it imperative that something be done. (The one redeeming feature was the delicious irony of Argentina losing to a dodgy penalty.) It was referees using “common sense” and “discretion” that led to players pushing their luck further and further throughout the 1970s and 1980s, culminating in that disgraceful match. The only way out of this vicious spiral was for referees to be given clear instructions regarding what is and is not acceptable, and to enforce them strictly. As David Elleray has said, consistency and common sense are mutually exclusive. Of course, referees can still be infuriatingly inconsistent, but the “professional foul” has been virtually eradicated in the 1990s and I believe the game has improved as a spectacle. Players have a duty to behave like mature adults; referees have a duty to punish them if they choose not to. That is common sense and may be the only way to save the game.
Shane Roberts, Westcliff-on-Sea
John Wright (Letters, WSC 154) is quite correct. I do share his obsession with Arthur Horsfield. I once managed to say the raven-haired goal-grabber’s name four times in 30 seconds on local TV, establishing a world record mark which, without wishing to sound complacent, I believe will never be matched. I have already sent a letter to Derwentside Council to support John’s idea for a statue of the great man. However, I can’t endorse his suggested pose for the sculpture. On the Holgate End in the mid-Sixties my friend Pete recalls a bloke shouting, “Horsfield, stop standing about doing nothing.” Another man, replying on the Horsemeister’s behalf, yelled, “He’s not doing nothing. He’s lurking.” Any memorial should, I believe, reflect Arthur’s stealthy approach to the striker’s art, perhaps by being placed behind a bus shelter or copse of ornamental cherry trees.
Harry Pearson, Hexham
I switched on Radio 5 Live the other day, just after Trevor Brooking had been asked a question, which I hadn’t caught. I listened to him speak for over three minutes, but by the time he had finished, I still had absolutely no idea what he had been asked.
Matt Rees, via email
UEFA are looking for a way to make “friendlies” more serious. How about a ladder system, common in most squash clubs? Take the current UEFA standings and allow a lower-placed club to challenge a higher club. The challenged club then has the choice as to whether they play the match at home or away. A win for the lower club means you move one place higher, otherwise they keep the same positions (a draw can then be adjudged a victory for the team playing away). Then, when it comes to deciding the seedings for qualifying groups, teams like Wales and Northern Ireland can reap some reward from beating teams like Germany in friendles.
Anthony Patamia, via email
At first I couldn’t put my finger on why I wasn’t getting worked up about the Scotland v England game on Saturday. I had avoided the worst of the build-up hype by not reading too many newspapers in the week beforehand, and that may have had an effect. Maybe it was because the prospect was of a game where “heart” and “passion” would get in the way of decent football, a game like any other Premiership game – but without the good foreigners to add the spice. The strange lack of involvement stayed with me as I got to the pub with about 15 minutes to go before kick-off, changed briefly as the two goals went in and resumed during the dull second half. The penny dropped the next day when I realised England had slipped in to the Losers’ Twilight World that is everywhere in football now. Promotion opportunities for teams that come sixth in the league, non-champions playing in a “champions” league, losers in one competition going automatically into the advanced rounds of another competition and losing teams in a knockout competition being allowed into the next round anyway. Having been crap in seven out of the eight qualifying games England didn’t deserve to go through to the finals of Euro 2000 and a decade ago would not have done so. The reason I couldn’t get enthusiastic was that two mediocre teams were playing each other to get in to the finals through the back door. No amount of hype could change that fact for me.
Patrick Brannigan, London N22
John Williams’s criticism of my chapter in his review of A Game of Two Halves (WSC 153) misunderstands my intention. I was not presenting a blueprint for a regulator but arguing that a regulator is necessary, a fact unfortunately not universally accepted. Critically, it was not BSkyB’s money which paved the way for football’s renaissance, it was governmental regulatory intervention via the Taylor Report and the near 20 per cent of ground rebuilding pump-priming finance paid for out of the public purse through the Football Trust. Secondly, John is critical of the focus in A Game of Two Halves on the Monopolies and Mergers Commission’s decision to recommend rejection of BSkyB’s bid for Manchester United. As the world’s media companies continue to stalk Europe’s premier clubs, the significance of what the BSkyB bid for Man Utd tells us about media company strategy and its implications for football cannot be underestimated, particularly as they are so misunderstood. Thirdly, arguing the case for some fan ownership and management element in clubs through supporter-shareholder trusts, the chapters by Jonathan Michie and Andy Walsh offer a more optimistic and positive alternative than simply waiting for the next benevolent dictator-owner. John Williams’s pessimism is manifested in his assessment that the Labour government will be unwilling to address the negative effects of football’s commercialism: “What, with education, transport and poverty to be thinking of?” There is nothing inevitable about what Labour will or won’t do just as there was nothing inevitable about BSkyB taking over Manchester United, though few were prepared to argue so at the time. Such pessimism is particularly misconceived in the light of Chris Smith’s recent announcement that the Department of Culture, Media and Sport is setting up a unit to help fans set up supporter-shareholder trusts.
Sean Hamil, via email
The odd Ipswich fan may agree with David Wangerin’s assessment (WSC 154) that our 1980-81 UEFA Cup-winning and championship challenging side “fell apart at precisely the time championship sides come together”, but most of us are rather more understanding. Town played 66 matches that season, a whopping 20 more than Villa. Around Easter we were confronted with a schedule that had us playing a top-of-the-table match with Arsenal on the Saturday, an East Anglia derby on the Monday and a UEFA Cup semi-final second leg in Cologne on the Wednesday. What would Sir Alex make of that? It’s small wonder that our team containing “more flair” and “more talent” than Villa suffered seven of their nine league defeats in the final ten games. But if Villa fans feel they deserved the title more, who am I to argue? As David says, they proved themselves to be worthy champions by winning the European Cup the following year. Of course, the effort involved (Villa played 60 games in 1981-82) took its toll on their domestic form and they finished a dismal 11th. That’s understandable – only the very best teams can win trophies in Europe and challenge for their domestic title at the same time. Teams like Ipswich the year before, perhaps.
Csaba Abrahall, Brentwood
From WSC 155 January 2000. What was happening this month