I must respond to Simon Bell’s assertion (Letters, WSC 187) that Hugh Dallas gave an “incomprehensible display” in the Germany v US World Cup quarter-final. He is probably referring to two incidents, the first one involving Frings’ handball on the line. Dallas explained his decision in the Scottish press, stating that in his opinion Frings’ handball was completely accidental – in other words the ball played him – and referees could not give a penalty or send a man off in these circumstances. I watched the incident again at normal speed and I completely agree with him, Frings could not have done anything other than handle the ball, or arm it if we’re being pedantic. Just because a goal would have undoubtedly resulted had Frings not been positioned where he was does not mean that a penalty and a sending off should have been automatic. Hugh got it right. The second incident was the mistaken identity booking of Oliver Neuville. Dallas admitted he got this one wrong but he was not the only guilty party as he had firstly run over to consult his linesman, an Englishman incidentally, before booking Neuville instead of Jeremies. Personally, I thought Dallas was one of the best refs at the World Cup and was on a par with Collina and Anders Frisk, a view obviously shared by FIFA when they appointed him fourth official in the final.
Scott Harrison, Hamilton
I disappointed, but sadly not in the least bit surprised, to read in the pre-season supplement (WSC 187) that Cardiff City were nominated as the most disliked team amongst fans in Division Two last season. Indeed, Cardiff were the only team to be nominated by at least one fan from each of the four English divisions! Without wanting to jump on the bandwagon, I would also like to nominate the “significant minority” of Cardiff City fans as my most disliked of the 2001-02 campaign. I’m a Ninian Park regular, you see, and am fed up with the pathetic pride that some of the pond life on the Grange End take in cementing their reputation, not to mention the subsequent draconian police tactics we encounter away from home, along with reduced ticket allocations and anti-social kick-off times.
Gareth Dix, via email
Is Terry Venables really any good as a coach (WSC 187)? No, he isn’t. Two trophies, in a career lasting over 25 years? I can’t believe it’s even up for discussion. Venables had some success in his early years as a manager/coach, but so did Howard Kendall, who peaked in his late thirties (like Venables) and is now on the scrapheap (where Venables would be without his many mates in the press). England’s showing at Euro 96 was “their biggest success in years” – well, of course it was. They only have one tournament every two years. So the dismal effort four years later was, also, their best in years. People remember the outstanding 4-1 win over Holland, but they easily forget the appalling 0-0 draw with Switzerland and the way England struggled through the other games. And, that old chestnut: the England players loved him. No surprise really, as he allowed them to make drunken buffoons of themselves (the “dentist’s chair” episode etc) and then tried to cover up for them in the media. More recently, Venables has shown off his gross stupidity within days of getting the Leeds job. He claimed that Rio Ferdinand should stay, because “he has a contract and I think it’s fair that contract is honoured, otherwise what’s the point?” As anyone with half a brain and a rough knowledge of modern football could tell you, the point of a contract (from the club’s point of view) is to ensure that the player can’t leave the club, within a certain length of time, without them being entitled to a transfer fee. Let’s see whether the great man wants Lee Bowyer to “honour” the remaining year of his contract and then walk away for nothing. And he must be disgusted at the idea of Nick Barmby breaking his contract at Liverpool to sign for Leeds. The man’s an idiot.
Graham Hughes, Chester
I can’t help taking offence offence at one comment in Alex Anderson’s otherwise excellent article Feelings Mutual (WSC 187). To state that “for the vitriol of the Old Firm rivalry to dissipate we need to escape Scotland’s claustrophobic hate factory” is an insult to any team outside the Old Firm or Glasgow. Theirs is a problem of their own making and to use Scotland as an excuse is a cop-out. It’s wholly apparent that with their love of Union Jacks and tricolours they are in no way represenative of the nation they deign to play their football in. I suggest that in future any references to “claustrophobic hate factories” be replaced by “Ibrox” or “Celtic Park”. He’s right about one thing, the rest of the SPL are sick of them and the sooner they take their unique brand of hatred elsewhere the better. Missing you already…
Stephen Marshall, Edinburgh
Oh dear. WSC 187 appeared to be a case of “Let’s make incorrect statements about Wolves” and, as usual, Adrian Chiles lets his personal bias get in the way of the facts. He claims: “Dave Jones would think nothing of going out to spend £4 million on a player.” Jonesy might not, but I bet Sir Jack and the board would. Just for the record, as Wolves manager DJ has bid that kind of money for a player exactly once, when he tried to sign Jon Macken from Preston in the early part of last season. The most he has paid for a player, bearing in mind my own knowledge is limited to what’s reported in the press, is the £3 million he paid Rangers for Kenny Miller. Wolves’ record transfer fee paid was when Colin Lee was manager and is the £3.5 million paid to Bristol City for one Ade Akinbiyi. (Don’t laugh, we sold him to Leicester a year later for £5 million. Now that’s the way to do business.) I suppose that Chiles will want to explain gently that, as he’s talking about Wolves, it doesn’t matter how wrong it is, just as long as he can get his digs in. Then in your new season supplement, your Kidderminster correspondent claimed Robert Plant was a Kiddie fan but that Wolves fans were always trying to claim him. We’re claiming nothing, chap, just sticking to the facts. Planty has a season ticket at the Mol, wore a Wolves scarf on TGI Friday, is forever mentioning Wolves in interviews, and said in an interview with the Times that the name West Bromwich Albion gave him hives. Sounds like a Wolves fan to me, although Adrian Chiles would probably claim that it all means he’s a secret Villa fan.
Your recent debate on the ability of Mr Venables (WSC 187) was interesting reading. No one will be surprised that Tel himself paints a glossy picture of his time at various jobs (Palace, Tottenham, England, Portsmouth). However, the success of his publicity machine is best illustrated when even his opponents believe the propaganda. Tony Christie, presenting the “anti” argument, says the Venables record at Spurs ranks alongside that of Keith Burkinshaw and David Pleat. I don’t think so! Comparing with Pleat is hard: DP took over a promising team and made it better, his buying/selling record was good, but he was hounded out over non-football issues rather faster than TV. Sixteen months was not long enough to judge him. Keith Burkinshaw, by contrast, took over a poor team on its way down, but got them promoted again first time, and in the next five years won the FA Cup twice and the UEFA cup, with several top six places as well. TV took over a good team and made them poor. He says the team was weakened by the loss of Hoddle, Ardiles, Allen and Gough. The main trouble is, he didn’t rate the successors signed by Pleat. Metgod hardly got a game and he and Fairclough were both sold. Perhaps they weren’t up to it, but one cannot help noticing that the teams they joined were both champions the following season. By contrast, Spurs were bottom half for the next three seasons, and TV had one trophy in five years against three for Burkinshaw. TV was also responsible for signing the back four from hell: Fenwick, Ruddock, Cundy, Van den Hauwe. All honest pros, maybe, but not really in keeping with the image of attractive football he says he promotes. I think his record is better compared to Peter Shreeves’. It is a mirror image, in that Shreeves was colourless and his teams flattered to deceive. However, finishing as low as eighth saw Shreeves sacked; it took Venables five years to get Spurs as high as that.
Martin Sheppard, via email
Sadly, there is racism everywhere and no one is denying that Rangers, like many clubs, have a moronic element among their support. However, I must say – having attended the matches in question and watched tapes later – that Alex Anderson’s experience (WSC 187) of Rangers fans’ reaction to Celtic’s Bobo Balde was very different to my own. The overwhelming response was booing of a notoriously dirty player. Could you discern some idiots, probably drunk both on alcohol and the poisonous atmosphere of an Old Firm match, making monkey noises among the storm of boos (if you tried really hard)? OK. But to nothing like the extent Mr Anderson claims. It should also be pointed out that this phenomenon is not unique to Ibrox. Recently, Hearts and Hibs fans have racially abused opposing black players, including Riccardo Fuller, and Aberdeen fans did the same to Rangers’ Russell Latapy. Also, it is not “clutching at a straw”, as Alex Anderson suggests, to recollect the utterly appalling racism of Celtic fans towards Mark Walters (here, as elsewhere, Mr Anderson appears to have been unduly influenced by anti-Rangers propagandists, perhaps mistaking them for people as sincere as himself). These events put the undeniably reprehensibletreatment of Balde by a minority into context and into perspective. As for Rangers FC, they are active participants in initiatives such as Show Racism The Red Card and Sense Over Sectarianism. Moreover, this year’s Asian Soccer Championship finals will be at Ibrox in September. Now, there is an occasion I hope even Alex Anderson can attend without angst and self-loathing.
Alec McLaren, Glasgow
I am sure I am not the only fan who is perplexed by the FA’s supine acceptance of the Transfer Window system. The aim of this system, as I understand it, is to prevent constant transfer speculation unsettling the particular players and clubs being targeted. Now, as laudable as that intention may be, in my opinion it has two basic flaws: 1) It doesn’t work; 2) It makes things worse. It doesn’t work because you will never stop speculation over possible transfers. Despite the fact that Italian football has operated this system for many years, anyone who has watched Football Italia over the last ten years will tell you that presenter James Richardson would quote reports from the Italian football press on possible transfers from October onwards, even though no player could be signed until January. It makes things worse for two reasons. First, it favours the bigger clubs who can afford larger squads and, indeed, led to the situation in Italy where the big clubs bought top-class players, who hardly played, just to prevent their rivals buying them, AC Milan being a prime example. Second, the player and club who are the subject of the transfer speculation will be unsettled for a considerably longer time than under our old system, where signings are normally completed within a few weeks. Consider this as an example. Jason Roberts scores ten goals for West Brom in the first 11 games to the end of October, but they are bottom of the league. Sunderland need a goal scorer. They let it be known to Roberts’ agent that there is a big money move for him in January. Presuming Roberts fancies the move, how hard is he going to try in November and December? He will want to avoid injury at all costs and there could be all sorts of supposed illness and mystery thigh strains to prevent him playing. Under the old system Roberts could be sold and a replacement bought in relatively quickly. Now, Roberts will effectively be rendered ineffective for two months thus making it even more difficult for West Brom to escape relegation, while at the same time being of no use to Sunderland until January.
If someone can explain to me how the Transfer Window helps either club in this scenario, I would be very grateful.
Vic Jones, via email
I must take issue with Adrian Chiles’ assertion (WSC 187) that football “flaming isn’t” big business. He compares Manchester United’s turnover (£150 million in 2001-02) with Wolverhampton and United Breweries (£560 million) to make his point. Well Adrian, let’s look at this closely. The UK beer market was estimated at £16.4 billion in 2001 (Keynote 2001). Not bad. The UK football market has been estimated at £8.2 billion in 2000 (ODS 2001). That’s pretty big when up against the national predilection to quaff lager. The combined turnovers of UK brewers in 2001 was approximately £10.1 billion in 2001. The combined turnovers of England’s 92 League clubs in 2000-01 was £1.1 billion. If you add Scotland, League of Wales and English semi-pro clubs you get coser to a market value of £1.8 billion. This does not include England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland’s national teams, nor FA turnover, nor shirt/apparel manufacturers, scarf sellers, hot dog vendors etc. I estimate a total of approximately £6 billion for all UK football-related enterprises. Pretty damn big. I have not even started to consider the advertising revenues accruing to Sky, ITV, radio etc resulting from presenting football programmes in this figure. Wolverhampton and Dudley is one of the five major breweries. These account for over 80 per cent of the UK market. Then you can add perhaps 200 or so micro breweries. There are over 10,000 football clubs in the UK. Man Utd and the 19 other Premiership clubs in 2000-01 accounted for 65 per cent of the total English football club turnovers combined. So the market is less concentrated and of course W&D’s turnover will be larger than Man Utd’s. So, even with these basic figures, I think we can say Football is big business. Big bloody business. Not as big as some admittedly, but still a pretty bloody big bastard bollocking business nonetheless. And this is why we need executives and chairmen to come out of the stone age, into the 21st century and start running clubs properly rather than as personal fiefdoms.
Jez Booker, via email
During the recent Man Utd game in Hungary, Motty went to great lengths to remind us more than once that Hungary beat England 6-3 at Wembley, then 7-1 the year after. He and Trev even reminisced about Englands 3-1 win in Budapest, but with one crucial omission. They failed to mention Trevor’s stanchion goal. This bit of trivia is surely an integral part of a commentary on any game in Hungary. This can only be a sign of Motty and Trevor’s lack of match fitness at the beginning of a new season. I would propose a series of pre-season friendlies for all our top level commentators to enable them to hit the ground running, as it were, as the season starts, and to eliminate needless errors, just as our top clubs do – although thinking about it, it didn’t work for United in Hungary, did it?
Dave Wallace, via email
From WSC 188 October 2002. What was happening this month