An idea for a movie script, in which hard man Vinnie Jones plays a villain called, er, Hard Man. A large group of ex-footballers who’ve been on the receiving end of one of his so-called “tackles” lure him to a deserted warehouse and wallop the shite out of him.
Stephen J Bunting, Cambridge
Mike Ticher (WSC 164) may be right in attributing Rothmans’ attitude to the change in divisional names in 1992 to an admirable independence of mind. But its effect, paradoxically, was to collude in the myth, promoted for obvious reasons by Sky TV and its allied media, that events since that date have been qualitatively different. Their lumping together of all champions of anything called the “First Division” irrespective of date, downgrades the achievement of pre-1992 League champions by equating them with the First Division winners of the last eight years. Achievements that are clearly qualitatively different, such as Sunderland’s six pre-1936 championships and their two recent First Division titles, are treated as though they are the same, while those that are the same – Manchester United’s eight pre-1992 championships and their six since then – are listed separately. Clubs who have won a League championship – Chelsea, Sheffield United, West Brom and Ipswich – find their feat treated as equivalent to Palace, Middlesbrough, Bolton and Charlton’s more recent promotions to the Premiership. You can argue that this doesn’t matter that much, but it is a distortion of history and is also exactly what Rupert Murdoch and his minions would have asked for. I’m also a little sceptical of Rothmans’ accuracy on the basis of the entry for my club, Swansea City. This lists our season goal scoring record as 90 in 1956-57, when 92 were scored in 1976-77. And while I can’t tell you what the Vetch Field’s receipts record is, the fact that last season’s average gate was 5,895 and the cheapest places in the ground were £9 makes me reasonably confident that the listed record of £36,477.82 has been exceeded a few times. Two basic errors grouped so closely make you wonder what else might be wrong. That said, the essential point of the piece is right. As rugby league fans, already deprived of their Rothmans, have found out, while the book isn’t infallible, it is pretty well irreplaceable. Since this is a blatant case of a valuable facility for fans being withdrawn so somebody can make a few bob elsewhere, surely this is a case either for the new fan-friendly FA outlined by Adam Crozier in the same issue, or for the regulatory watchdog currently in the pipeline.
Huw Richards, London E1
Tim Littlewood is right (Letters, WSC 164). How boring it is to carp about people who choose to support the most successful team irrespective of where they come from! Supporting your local team through thick and thin smacks of the bad old days of the 1970s, a time when the government was run by left-wing militants, when one had to wait for medical treatment on the boring NHS rather than go private and when the railways were run by a single, boring, quasi-Stalinist body, not the efficient collection of private companies we have today. How boring it was to have to watch one’s team lose every week, without the right to change one’s allegiance whenever it suited you! No! At a time when freedom of choice is paramount and even the Labour Party – sorry, New Labour – has recognised the pre-eminence of the free market, it is our right, nay our duty, to support the nation’s most successful club, buy their shirts and proclaim loudly that one has supported them since the age of six when one first saw George Best/Ryan Giggs (delete as appropriate) on Match of the Day! But isn’t this teams-stuck-in-the-same-towns business a bit anti-competitive, too? Why not free the clubs from this archaic notion that clubs owe an allegiance or identity to some fixed place? If the town of Wolverhampton, say, got sick of waiting for some success, why shouldn’t they just be able to dump their own rag-bag of losers, buy Arsenal and cut out this tedious process of having to win games to gain success. Then a consortium of super-wealthy Sutton and Cheam businessmen could buy out the Manchester United franchise and save themselves the tedious task of having to go to the grim north of England to watch home games.
Neville Hadsley, Coventry
While Mike Woitalla’s report on Concacaf in WSC 164 was informative and mildly entertaining, I must say that I’m slightly annoyed at his patronising and generally ignorant comment on the Canadian national soccer team. I understand the challenge he faced with trying to describe in ten words or less the woeful state of soccer in Canada for a predominately British audience. Hence the “England without the flair” reference. And I’m willing to cut him a little slack when it comes to his attempt to convey a hip, ironic edge in his writing style. But surely he could have come up a better way to describe the earnest but generally futile efforts of the Canadian national team, and done so in a way that demonstrated a rudimentary knowledge of the soccer in Canada. We are crap, without a doubt. Our national team (if you’d like a British reference) would barely hold a place in the English Second Division. However, I don’t think we deserve, nor do I think WSC should condone, the derisive comments such as those offered up by M Woitalla for the sake of a cheap laugh.
RA Paterson, Toronto, Canada
I think I may know the reason why Chris Fyfe (WSC 164) was unable to view the Cup final while abroad – he should have waited an hour! I saw the 1994 Cup final in Moscow in the obligatory “Irish” pub. Having heard that the match was to be shown on Russian television we patiently waited for the match to kick off at the appointed time and… nothing. Consulting the TV schedules, it became apparent that the match was being shown on an hour’s delayed transmission. The strangest thing about the whole episode (apart from the fact that the pub wasn’t entirely full of Man Utd “fans”) was the way the half-time whistle went and the transmission immediately switched to the whistle being blown to kick off the second half. A match without half-time somehow just didn’t seem right.
Michael Green, via email
I feel I must rush to the defence of Alan Green (Letters, WSC 163 and 164). Unlike some of his wooden contemporaries, at least Green adds a bit of life with his commentary on some of the mundane scraps that pass themselves off as entertainment in the game. What’s more, he tells it like it is – none of these Sky TV euphemisms like “competitive” or “tight” to describe crap games (when we can see what they’re like), even if he does use the word “shocking” more times than is probably strictly necessary.
John Disley, via email
I have very fond memories of the tidy skill which Romeo Zondervan brought to the Ipswich midfield, as well as his opportunistic forays into the porn industry (it’s a long story) but I must take issue with Csaba Abrahall’s claim in WSC 163 that he was “the fourth greatest moustachioed Town player”. Although Romeo had a clear edge over hirsute mid-Eighties colleagues such as Kevin Steggles and Mich D’Avray, I would point out that Kevin Beattie, Allan Hunter, Mick Mills, Frans Thijssen, the original David Johnson and, of course, John Wark all made sizable contributions to rather more glorious periods in the club’s history, without ever bringing a razor into contact with their top lips. This, I’m afraid, placed Romeo seventh in the table of be-tached Town legends, just outside the play-off places. Speaking of play-offs, I saw Romeo at Wembley in May, and I hope Csaba will not be traumatised to learn that the man is now clean-shaven. On an almost related topic, does anyone else remember a period of about two weeks in the early 1980s when Terry Butcher sported a wild and frankly scary beard, which made him look like he’d stepped out of a cave painting? Or was it just a nightmare I once had?
Gavin Barber, Abingdon
If Chelsea feel that winning the FA Cup constitutes a disappointing season, maybe they’d like to replay the final and let us win.
Rob Pritchard, Perry Barr
In reply to Dougal McKinnond’s letter on Ayr United (WSC 164), can I apologise to the “Honest Men” for renaming their chairman. On the other hand, seeing as we are fast approaching mid-season and planning permission has still to be granted on the new stadium, maybe you should keep the phone number of Kriss Akabusi at Record Breakers handy – it looks like you just might need it.
Doug Stenhouse, Manchester
“South coast special” it said among the front page teasers of WSC 164. But where’s the Pompey story? Tim Springett is right when he says the Pompey-Saints rivalry is intense, but the way the “evidence” is portrayed just goes to show how hard it is to be objective. For example, the story of the origin of the word “Scummer” is described as “probably far fetched”. How the hell does he know? None of us was even born at that time. Southampton fans only began shouting it at us for the first time during the 1984 Cup tie at Fratton Park, 80-odd years after the initial events are supposed to have taken place. For the record, the term is supposed to have come from the first four words used to describe the men brought in to break a fishing company strike – Southampton Company Union Men. All right, maybe this is just anecdotal, but let’s look a little closer at concrete “statistical evidence”. Portsmouth: two championships and a dozen top half placings. Southampton: “regular high placings culminated in the runners-up spot in 1984”. Not quite Real Madrid is it? There’s no doubt Southampton have been more successful over the last few decades, but surely a club’s standing in the game overall is built up over its whole lifetime, where things like actually winning championships count for far more than just scrabbling around the bottom of the Premier League year in, year out. Pompey fans have had to put up with dross for years and years. Cause enough to be bitter, you might think. What’s all the more galling for us, however, is that Southampton have had the chance of much more success, but have simply wasted it. There is no doubt that they are a very well run club, but the enthusiasm of the locals just isn’t there. Maybe the Saints’ rising new ground will finally lift the apathy, and maybe Matt le Tissier did score the best goal I’ve ever seen – you know the one, against Newcastle, where he flicks the ball over a couple of defenders’ heads, before burying a grasscutter into the bottom corner? But you can’t write Pompey off yet, not by a long chalk. I mean, it’s only been 40 years.
Dave Benneworth, London
From WSC 165 November 2000. What was happening this month