I drove my family to Cardiff for the Championship play-off final, although I wasn’t going to the match. As a gnarled veteran of 35 years of away trips and big games, I planned my campaign with meticulous detail, with five separate contingency routes. It goes without saying that I totally ignored the official travel suggestions, while I treated the soothing advice of my friends who are Cardiff residents with amused, patronising disdain. Travelling football fans are deprived of their human rights as martial law is imposed for the duration and I’m the only man who can save us. What I experienced was a masterclass in football event management. I dropped them off 400 yards from the stadium and drove back later to collect them. There were orderly queues with fans from both teams mingling. Publicans had got together to designate certain pubs for West Ham or Preston fans. Not a single window was boarded up. Food and drink were at reasonable prices. Local residents could finish their shopping and catch their trains. Travel routes were clearly signposted. Stewards asked people if they wanted help. On the radio on the way home, the delays to Wembley stadium were being airbrushed out of existence by the builder’s spokesperson. There were no problems, it would just take two months to “hand the project over” (surely, uh, it’s the stadium, yes, the one over there…). I’ve always been a staunch supporter of Wembley; football needs its own home, yes the old facilities were crud and the transport diabolical, but the atmosphere made it all worthwhile. Suddenly that’s just not enough. After Cardiff, the new Wembley has lot to live up to and I fear that too much time and energy has gone into seductive architecture at the expense of the simple things that enable football people to have a good time. Prove me wrong, or else take us back to Cardiff.
Alan Fisher, Tonbridge
Recently I stumbled upon WSC 7 from May 1987, in which you asked if any readers had experienced “the George Petchey ankle tap”, an effective foul perpetrated by the former Crystal Palace and QPR wing-half. I experienced it many times, in junior football in Essex. George played for Upminster Minors (could have been Juniors) and I was with the Hornchurch Boys’ Club. I also worked with George for the same stockbroker, when we were office boys making tea, in about 1945-47. So the rivalry continued off the pitch. I know this is rather a late reply, but as they say: “Better late than never.”
Stan Walker, St Catherines, Canada
A few pedantic points about John Bourn’s article on Spennymoor (WSC 221). First, Workington would only have finished as champions had the league table been finalised with Hyde United having played one game less. Had points per game been used to determine the final table, Hyde would also have finished as champions. Second, Hyde were the club that appealed against the League’s decision, though Workington kindly backed them all the way. Third, the club’s name is Workington AFC. Workington Town are the rugby league side (and one of the only ones to have avoided the crass American football-style naming craze that swept the game since the start of the Super League). On another note, the messing around by the Unibond League is just one of many highlights of poor administration in the non-League game. Indeed, over recent years it seems that the various non-League bodies have been attempting to out-do each other. After the Unibond fiasco, the highlight of this season was probably the ground-grading scandal that initially denied Walton Casuals and Lymington & New Milton promotion to the eighth level. Both appealed and were successful. However, this then left ten teams to fill the eight promotion places. Instead of resorting to randomly drawing four teams to have promotion play-offs (as had been the original plan at the start of the season), the Football Association decided to just promote all ten teams rather than potentially face another lawsuit, leaving two of the four divisions at the seventh level with one extra team (though this has since been reduced to one since Spennymoor’s expulsion). The latest news for Spennymoor is also bleak – the Durham FA have initially rejected the idea of allowing Evenwood Town to move to Spennymoor and change their name to AFC Spennymoor United. Perhaps at least one FA got the message about franchise football…
James Wilson, via email
Delighted though I was to see John Bourn’s article, I do feel that he misrepresents the proposed coming together of Spennymoor and Evenwood Town. Evenwood is the smallest community with a Northern League club. They have survived on tiny crowds for many years now and their passing will be mourned only by diehard romantics. However, instead of resigning their place and reprieving second-from-bottom Easington, Evenwood took the morally questionable step of inviting Spennymoor to take them over. In effect Evenwood Town (formed 1890) ceased to be and Spennymoor United simply assumed their place in the league. Strictly speaking, Evenwood Town still exist. All they have done so far is to inform the league of a change of ground. The attitude of most clubs in Division Two would have been broadly supportive; 50 Spennymoor fans bring more money into the club than five Evenwood ones. Simple economic pragmatism wins out over moral outrage or the belief that Spennymoor ought to have started again at the bottom level of the non-League pyramid in the Wearside League, one step below where they will be now. This is of little consolation to Easington Colliery Welfare who were relegated, along with former FA Amateur Cup winners Willington, who celebrate their centenary next season. Many Northern League aficionados have invoked the name of MK Dons in regard to this shabby affair. However, the case of Clydebank and Airdrie United seems more appropriate.
Ian Cusack, via email
This is not meant to be a defence of the politics of Lady Thatcher. But, with reference to Ian Thomson’s letter in WSC 221, I always thought – perhaps wrongly – that Emlyn Hughes’s and Kevin Keegan’s “enthusiastic toadying” towards her before the 1980 European Championship was more a case of the prime minister of the day, irrespective of his/her party, wishing the England team well before a major tournament.
Tim Wright, via email
There can’t be many degrees of separation between Andrew Cowe’s letter in WSC 221 and pure bullshit. “Little-known facts” and “hinted at” according to the Joe Jordan apologist – where, when and how were these little-known facts hinted at? And talking of facts, perhaps he might want to take into consideration that little-known fact hinted at on the team-sheet – it was David Jones not Joey Jones who was unfairly penalised by the French referee, Robert Wurtz.
Dylan Jones, via email
One Sunday, I was reading Taylor Parkes’ piece on the state of premiership football (Match of the month WSC 221, Charlton 2 Crystal Palace 2). Somewhere in the background Sky pundit Gerry Francis droned on about “well it’s on Spurs’ website so it must be true”. I assumed that Robinson, King or Defoe had hopped it or Martin Jol had joined Ajax. None of the above lot moving would have been a surprise. What was a surprise was the level of disappointment I felt when I heard that Frank Arnesen had seemingly decided to join Chelsea. Having been watching Spurs for 20 years I assumed that I am no longer of capable of optimism, but Arnesen struck me as someone who might be able to knock the club into shape over the next few years. With a young squad and more young talent coming through we might be in a position in a couple of years to be more than also-rans. Whether or not Chelsea have broken the rules doesn’t interest me. What does bother me is the lack of ambition that Arnesen has demonstrated. Nothing surprises me about player and manager moves, but I thought that Arnesen had been around enough and was mature enough to want to see things through to a decent conclusion at Spurs. Silly me. It now appears that he has the same approach to ambition and facing a challenge as most players, ie just join the select few who win things/have loads of dosh and wait for the success to come rolling in, oh and here’s a massive pay rise. Surely he isn’t underpaid at Spurs? My season-ticket renewal price suggests he’s not. Later, with straws firmly grasped, I waited for news of the “Fair Play” UEFA Cup places draw. Spurs didn’t get picked and, let’s be honest, it’s a pathetic way of getting into Europe. The day’s events brought me back to Taylor Parkes’ article and the feeling that, in the Premiership era, is the best we can expect a spot in the UEFA Cup? Everton’s excellent season suggests otherwise, but I’m not convinced that they are about to embark on a challenge to the top three. It also made me think that, yes, we cast envious glances at Chelsea, Man Utd and the other lot, but for me (and I like to think thousands of others) there are also envious glances towards the divisions below the Premiership where there still appears to be ambition and a competition every season.
Simon Young, Biggleswade
With reference to Adam Brown’s article in WSC 221, I am curious about the writer’s tactics in response to Malcolm Glazer’s takeover. First, linked to the levels of debt taken on by Glazer, the writer explains how much he loves the club (which I don’t doubt) and then outlines in detail how he plans to withdraw all funding from that club as a protest. Surely, if this is replicated on a large scale, revenue will slump and those debt repayments will therefore become a problem, with the fans creating the problem they feared in the first place. I’m not suggesting that Manchester United fans should dip into their already exhausted pockets in order to further finance the club, but this protest seems misguided at best. Second, I think the idea of FC United is fatally flawed. AFC Wimbledon succeeded because it was founded on the premise of returning a club to their fans, a club that represented a corner of south-west London and that still had roots there. Manchester United, however, do not represent a corner of south-west Manchester anymore, its support-base is spread throughout the country. Indeed, the sort of people who “support” Manchester United, like so many Premiership fans, attach themselves to clubs for the joy of winning trophies; finishing fourth constitutes a dire season. Are these fans really going to be interested in FC United? And if they aren’t, then surely all that will happen is that Mancunian Reds will voluntarily walk out of Old Trafford, leaving it to the glory hunters who will do the museum tour and Megastore pre-match shop. Perhaps it would be more sensible for Manchester United fans to attempt to use the boardroom reshuffle to get representation there and to try to guide the club themselves from the top.
George Young, Leeds
Adam Brown wonders why Manchester United’s predicament has attracted little sympathy from fans of other clubs. Part of the answer may be that many of us remember the days when they seemed to think they had a divine right to acquire any player who took their fancy, whether or not his club wanted to sell him. Many of their fans still find it comforting to abuse Alan Shearer years after he had the temerity to turn them down. Driving through the New Forest on the last Sunday of the season, I noticed a sign outside a pub that read: “Saints welcome McDonald’s United.” I am sure that Malcolm Glazer will be bad for United and for football generally, but it was impossible to resist a little smile.
David Hood, Bewdley
Listening to Radio 5 on Bank Holiday Monday, I was surprised to hear the Preston v West Ham game referred to, without any further explanation or context, as “the £20 million play-off final”. Does this signal a new era of honesty in football? Are we entirely dispensing with the notion of sporting contests and simply describing fixtures in terms of their monetary value to the winners? And does it work the other way for the losers? As an Ipswich fan, should I already be preparing for next season’s “another year of servicing-the-debt play-off semi-finals”?
Gavin Barber, Abingdon
Now Wigan Athletic have reached the dizzy heights of the Premiership, I expect we will be deluged by newspaper and magazine articles reporting our first season among the big boys. However, may I please request that the following references are immediately banned: our chairman’s rags to riches story, “northern soul”, Mikhail Gorbachev, George Orwell, Wigan Pier, low crowds, pies, but most of all rugby bloody league. Unfortunately, that only leaves the football on which to report. Can’t see it happening, really.
Jonathan Jackson, via email
From WSC 222 August 2005. What was happening this month