While Ian Kelp (Letters, WSC 183) makes some valid points about the bizarre soft spot banks have for football clubs in allowing them to trade on nought but promises year after year, I fear that he is too puritanical in his approach to business planning. Page one of the Company Treasurer’s Handbook tells us about cashflow planning and a seemingly valid contract promising revenue at fixed future times is a reasonable thing to make plans on, or, if necessary, borrow against. No business waits until the money is in the bank account before planning how to spend it, or indeed actually spending it. Would Marks and Spencer wait until it had a queue of unsatisfied customers waving bunches of tenners in the branch until it ordered a batch of knickers from its suppliers? Where the clubs have probably been naive is in what appears to be a less than watertight contract. If it is true that Carlton and Granada can walk away without liability for their little joint venture, the clubs should be looking at the quality of their legal advice. The fact that the share prices of both Carlton and Granada rose once the situation became public is a pretty depressing sign of what the City thinks of that contract.
Jonathan Gibbs, via email
I share Brian Merrick’s irritation (Letters, WSC 183) about “could” and “will” by sports presenters. Another one that annoys me is when the likes of Alan Green refer to a “volley” when the ball has bounced. Worse still is the usage of “year” instead of “season”. This was demonstrated in a Question of Sport special last August. One question was: “Which team, whose name begins with A, were runners-up in last year’s FA Cup? As a know-all viewer, I immediately said “Aston Villa”, but the answer Sue Barker wanted was “Arsenal”. I was tempted to check my calendar to see that we hadn’t already gone into 2002.
Colin Baker, via email
I realise that this is very childish, but I have to congratulate Paul Tracey on getting through his piece on QPR (WSC 183) without referring to the funny names of Messrs Shittu and Doudou. I don’t suppose either of them will be given the No 2 shirt.
David Hood, Bewdley
Ian Kelp (Letters, WSC 183) appears to welcome the ITV Digital farce as some kind of Old Testament punishment on “clubs that have committed themselves to spending cash they have not received”. I assume that Ian Kelp is a “supporter” of a Premiership team. How does he imagine that Premiership clubs would function if their Sky money was suddenly pulled? Have they not budgeted on the basis that they will receive money from Sky next season, that is, money “not yet received”? If Kelp wants to learn about banks making “concessions” to clubs he should study the recent history of a club such as Real Madrid, who were allowed to operate with debts in excess of £10 million prior to the recent sale of their training ground. How many of the top six clubs in Serie A are currently operating in the black? The withdrawal of TV funding as a whole would spell disaster for any clubs but the ones most likely to survive reasonably intact at their current level would be Nationwide ones such as Wolves, Man City, West Brom or my own Stoke City, because we still survive to a large extent on the basis of committed, loyal, local support, not via armchair subscribers to Murdoch’s empire. As far as Ian Kelp’s analogy to factories is concerned, the neo-liberal capitalist theories he advocates have created at least one interesting basis of comparison. In 1970, 90 per cent of all international transactions were accounted for by trade and only ten per cent by capital flows. However, today this ratio has been reversed. In 30 years’ time, will the phony industry of TV football have resulted in the demise of 90 per cent of professional football clubs? If Ian Kelp thinks such a scenario would be a good thing, then he clearly has as little grasp of the realities of being a football supporter as he does of the true state of global economics.
Kieron Boote, Stoke on Trent
May I use your letters pages to make a rather desperate plea on behalf of my increasingly desperate wife. At the recent Boavista v Manchester United match, we took up our customary pre-match places at a friend’s flat next to Boavista’s Estadio do Bessa. The balcony overlooks the ground, and, since the completion of the latest stand as part of the Euro 2004 preparations, it also affords something of a glance into the away changing rooms. My wife, a friend and our hostess often find themselves on the balcony before a game – discussing tactics or spying the opposition manager’s tactics board, I had always presumed. Imagine my surprise, then, when they emerged from the balcony looking rather flushed and speaking about a finely-honed pair of buttocks, seemingly presented for their delectation, but unfortunately unidentified. Since then it has become a matter of some urgency to put a name to the mystery cheeks. My wife has ruled out Barthez and Blanc (too old), Silvestre (black), and is relieved that Luke Chadwick was not in the squad. I rather imagine that a “Players’ Arses” page is not a regular feature of the Old Trafford programme, but clearly this is a missed marketing opportunity. In its absence, my one-time rational, MUFC-sceptical wife has been reduced to a rather sad, drifting soul, not unlike her namesake in The French Lieutenant’s Woman. Does this qualify as a Brief Encounter or not?
Mark Weeks, Porto
Luke Chapman’s claim (WSC 182) that playbacks work in other sports cannot go unchallenged. Here in Australia, cricket, rugby union and rugby league all use replays and all result in illogical (and sometimes incorrect) decisions on a regular basis, just like you get when you rely on the officials on the pitch. It’s not coincidence that Aussie Rules has the most old-fashioned attitude to such innovations and is also by far the most popular team sport in the country. A classic example of video madness came a couple of weeks ago when the Stormers played the Highlanders in the rugby union Super 12. Twice the Stormers “scored” tries. Both times they grounded the ball correctly. But both times they committed offences earlier in the move, knocking-on the first time and crossing the touchline the second time. However, the video referee is only allowed to rule on grounding of the ball (partly to reduce the number of video referrals). So in both cases he should have awarded the try, despite the fact that both in fact should have been disallowed by the officials on the pitch. He gave the first try but not the second one and the Stormers lost by a point. Can you imagine how Messrs Wenger, Ferguson or O’Leary would react if they lost a game in such circumstances? If you limit the range of situations on which the video ref can rule, you will end up with exactly this kind of absurdity. If you let the match officials go to the video ref every time they think that a Strachan or a Souness might dispute their call, you will end up with stoppages every couple of minutes. By the way, tsunami and tidal waves are completely different natural phenomena, whatever the fans in the cartoon on page 35 of WSC 183 may think.
Don MacCorquodale, Manly, Australia
Glad to hear from Tom Rance (Letters, WSC 182) that Macclesfield Town is a bastion of orderly behaviour nowadays. It wasn’t always thus. I was walking out of Moss Rose some time in the late 1970s or early 1980s, after a dull 1-1 draw during the Christmas period, when someone unseasonally hit me over the back of the head with a bit of tree. It was probably only a modest branch, although it felt at the time like a full sycamore. Mind you, this didn’t affect the annual statistics for arrests at the club, because the perpetrator scarpered while I was still gathering my thoughts. My only offence was to have been wearing an Altrincham scarf – something for which I get laughed at rather than assaulted nowadays.
Simon Arron, via email
In all the copy about Ken Wolstenholme’s recent passing, including WSC and the press I’ve read, naturally all the focus has been on “that” phrase. Although this is very well remembered, it, along with many other “memorable” snatches of commentary (eg Norway v England “Lord Beaverbrook, Lady Di, etc”) are nearly always throwaway lines. Very few actually seem to be profound comments about the sport in question. Well, take a listen to Wolstenholme’s commentary of the 1953 England v Hungary game. England – never beaten at Wembley by a continental side – against the team that were starting to show how the game should be played. Literally a second or two before the whistle blows for the kick-off, Wolstenholme can be heard to say: “Well, this really is the match of the century.” This turned out to be about as profound as they come, as the game practically changed the whole face of international football, and showed that England were not the team that many thought they were. Enough said.
Dave Cohen, via email
“The table doesn’t lie,” says Harry Redknapp, following in a long line of footballing sages, but fellow bosses Alan Pardew and Joe Kinnear appear to disagree. Pardew claims that his faltering Reading side are a better team than Second Division champions Brighton, while Kinnear contends that Luton deserve to win the Third Division title on the basis that they’ve scored a lot more goals than anyone else. As a Plymouth fan who still bears the scars of a traumatic defeat at Reading over 15 years ago, I have to declare an interest, but I wasn’t aware that television’s sphere of influence had yet extended to the point where the team with the most points doesn’t necessarily win the league. Kinnear may fancy himself as a poor man’s Alex Ferguson but the fact is that the majority of trophy-winning managers have built their success on the foundations of a sound defence. The ability to instil discipline in a team, thereby avoiding suspensions (and having enough players to fulfil all your fixtures), and the nous to avoid goading opponents with boorish comments to the press are other attributes that the ex-Wimbledon gaffer has still to acquire. Instead of petulantly boycotting the PFA awards dinner, he may do better to ask himself why fellow professionals elected to include only one of his players (ironically, a defender) in the divisional team. As for Pardew, if his team manage to blow promotion for the second year running he may find himself with enough time on his hands to indulge in a “sport” where artistic merit counts – at Bracknell ice rink.
Chris Bickley, via email
As a Palace fan, it is hard not to sympathise with Paul Tracey’s article about the tribulations of QPR in administration (WSC 183). However, his reading of the situation regarding the transfer embargo does not stand up to scrutiny. Palace were in administration for a similar period to QPR, and also had a transfer embargo imposed, though we were allowed to make loan signings. Clubs or companies go into administration because they cannot be closed by creditors as they do not have sufficient income to service their debts. It would therefore be ludicrous for the League to allow outside persons to use money to improve a club and bring in players without any effort being made to pay off those debts. To give a ridiculous example, an outsider could buy someone like Steve McManaman for QPR and pay his wages, despite the fact that the club itself can’t pay any money, which will often be owed to competitor clubs. This would clearly give the beneficiary club an unfair advantage, and the League is surely correct to say that if somone wishes to help a club in administration they should start by investing officially and helping to repay debts. In the end, it was not mismanagement by the League that forced QPR (or Palace or anyone else) into administration. I hope that Rangers are free of debt soon, but don’t blame the League for causing the problems in this case.
Gerard Redican, London SE19
This summer the Sex Pistols are expected to head up the Thames in commemoration of their stunt during Jubliee week 25 years ago. This will be quite a sad event in itself but it’s made worse by the fact their legacy is now reduced to the glut of terrible “punk anthems” produced to commemorate the 2002 World Cup. There are at least half a dozen of these abominations currently on sale. I don’t remember this happening at past World Cups and I’m mystifed as to why there has been such a deluge this time around. Singing about “Engerlund” in a fake Cockney accent has nothing to do with punk as far as I’m concerned. I’d even prefer to hear Terry Venables’s teeth-grindingly bad pub singer impersonation (though only marginally). I’ve also get the feeling that we’ll be hearing at least one of these “punk” tunes as accompaniment to one of those montages of people doing funny things during the tournament. After which we’ll cut back to the studio where Gary Lineker will be waiting with one of his wry looks. I’m just relieved that Stuart Pearce doesn’t appear to have recorded one. Yet.
Peter Hill, Isleworth
From WSC 184 June 2002. What was happening this month