Why does Andy Gray keep saying “pick the bones out of that”? It’s an expression he’s come to use in every post-match analysis he does on Sky, usually in relation to a slow-motion replay of a goalmouth incident. But it’s become so frequent that it’s almost a verbal tic, as though he doesn’t realise he’s saying it. This suggests a deep-seated trauma. Could it be that he is haunted by an incident when he failed to pick the bones out of a fish, say, and consequently nearly choked while in a packed restaurant? Either that or he’s replying a vivid and unsettling dream. But it could be worse. Imagine the look of alarm on Richard Keys’ face as Andy stares into the middle distance and mutters: “The defence was as exposed as someone standing naked in front of everybody they went to school with, plus their mother and other female members of the family.”
James Potter, via email
I’ve just seen the venues, dates and times for the FA Cup semi-finals and am exasperated to see that yet again Watford have been landed with an evening kick-off. However, what surprises me more is seeing that the match is being played at Old Trafford, despite Manchester United being semi-finalists. I am sure that in the past, semi-finals were not played at the ground of a club that had reached a semi-final, in order to prevent a club benefiting financially from both semi-final matches – playing in one and hosting the other. Could anyone enlighten me as to when this policy was changed? Is this part of a new FA policy to ensure that Manchester United remain the wealthiest club in England?
Steve Atkinson, Tooting
I ticked off another of the 92 by taking a trip to Field Mill to see Mansfield play Chester on Tuesday, March 6. The game itself was fairly uneventful, but I was mildly excited when the announcer read out the Mansfield line-up and I realised that they had fielded shirts 1 to 6 and 8 to 10, with only 7 and 11 missing. My excitement was raised when the No 16 left the field in the second half to be replaced by right-winger Matty Hamshaw (7), so much so that I immediately called my friend to let him know. The situation reached fever pitch when, on 72 minutes, Hodge (14) left the pitch to be replaced by Michael Boulding (11) and the perfect 1-11 were on the pitch at once – and all playing in the “correct” positions. I suspect that from the rather poor 2,366 crowd, only myself and the gentleman behind me drawing out formations throughout the game realised the beauty in this moment, but I wonder how many other WSC readers have seen a team play properly outfitted since the 1999-2000 season?
Dr Jerome Jones, via email
I must take umbrage at the claim (Letters, WSC 242) that Nicky Weaver was punched by a pitch invader during the Millwall v Man City game in September 1998. City fans have launched the same accusations about that match again and again yet despite an overwhelming lack of video – and police – evidence for their many claims, the one that is the most laughable is the said attack on Weaver. I was at the game and didn’t witness any such attack – although I did see one kid run up to him after Millwall had scored and poke their tongue out at him in a manner that can only really be described as “piss-taking”. What’s more, there was also no mention of any such attack in the national press the following day, the same national press who gave untold column inches to Derby County goalkeeper Martin Taylor getting pushed over during the play-off game in 1993 and who later had the back-page headline Someone Will Die One Day when a lone supporter strolled up to Kevin Pressman and called him a “fat bastard” during a League Cup tie in 1995. It should also be noted that there was no investigation by the FA, no fine, no points docked or any reprimand whatsoever for the “alleged” assault – although they did ask Millwall to take measures against the pitch invasions – which had, incidentally, been going on all season, so City fans can stop thinking that they were somehow special. No one was arrested for the assault, let alone banned, and there was also nothing on Sky Sports News, although they did show the 22-man brawl that took place during the first half. The only place the attack was ever reported was on the Manchester City message boards and in their many fanzines. I’m not saying Millwall fans are an innocent bunch, wrongly portrayed by the media – far from it. We have our problems – but they’re no worse than those of many clubs around the country. Yes, it was a highly charged game – two wrongly disallowed goals, two red cards, last-minute equaliser etc – and there were repercussions at the return fixture at Maine Road (Joe Royle’s pre-match comments in the matchday programme didn’t exactly help matters). But that’s no excuse to invent stories in order to deflect attention away from the behaviour of your own fans and players.
Neil Andrews, via email
I had to laugh at the photo on page 22 of WSC 242, that accompanied the article about the future World Cups and England’s chances of staging the one due in 2018. The picture of the Chancellor of the Exchequer and possible future Prime Minister, ahem, “getting down with the kids” and kicking a ball about outside Wembley was embarrassing on two levels as 1) surely a middle-aged man in a suit and tie should never be seen kicking a football and 2) the young lad (No 6) on the left of the picture had a white boot on his left foot and a red boot on his right. You would think that the spin doctors who managed this photo opportunity would have spotted this, unless of course it’s a new fad of the youth of today to wear different coloured boots. In which case, did they miss a trick and should they have had Gordo wearing one black shoe and one brown one?
Ian Smith, via email
During Liverpool’s Champions League tie with Barcelona, Clive Tyldesley got very vexed about the fact that Deco’s left and right boots were different colours. Apparently ITV’s Mr Football was unaware that you actually buy them like that and imagined parents up and down the country being forced to purchase two pairs of boots by mewling brats intent on looking like the crafty Brazilian/Portuguese midfield maestro. As I listened to his waffling, my mind turned back to the days of Alan Ball, his white boots and my mate Tim’s attempt to imitate them by painting his black Golas with a tin of household emulsion he had found in his grandad’s shed. Maybe if today’s youngsters showed the same ingenuity as Tim, then we wouldn’t have to listen to all this whining about the cost of sports footwear. Though admittedly in my experience the moaning we would have to put up with when the emulsion paint came off on the ball and made it all sticky would probably offset that.
Chris Front, Redcar
Consett is a town of unique identity and its football club embodies the spirit of the place. Thus the Tommy Harris picture (Shot! Archive, WSC 242) does us a valuable service in recalling a bygone football age. Readers who know the north-east foot ball scene may well recognise (fourth player from the left) a young Alan Oliver, now the chief sportswriter of the Newcastle Evening Chronicle, who has covered the fortunes of Newcastle United for almost three decades. Alan was centre-forward for Consett in the early 1960s and recalls this photograph being taken before a Wearside League home match against nearby Annfield Plain in 1964. In an era where no self-respecting football club was without their beauty queen, Miss Consett AFC is Margaret Vipond of neighbouring Leadgate village, who lived in the same street as Alan. She is pouring the tea for skipper Malcolm Scott. Behind Scott to the right is the Consett manager, the great Harry Cornell, who hailed from Sunderland and brought in many players from the Wearside area. Going right to left from Scott, the others are (partly hidden) Malcolm “Maxie” McAloon, goalkeeper Alan Imrie, Hal Brown (now a local fruit-and-veg merchant) looking over the left shoulder of right-half Bobby Robinson, then to Alan Oliver’s right are Doug Oxley and John Bates, though the identity of the last player to the left escapes us, as do the identities of the backroom pair to the extreme left. Two players, inside-left Dougie Morris and right-half Ian Woods, are missing from the photograph. In those days, employees at the steelworks were given the opportunity of contributing a portion of their wages to the welfare of the football club, and many chose to do so. Five years earlier, Consett had reached the first round of the FA Cup and most of the townsfolk journeyed to support them at Doncaster Rovers, where they were soundly beaten, 5-0. Belle Vue Park, Consett, where this picture was taken, remains largely unchanged, although there is talk of a move to a new site in the near future. Had he still been alive, the legendary Tommy Harris would, no doubt, have been on the scene to record the last days of Belle Vue Park with a photo of the players drinking tea poured out by a former beauty queen.
Paul Tully, Newcastle United FC Publications Editor
Things that frustrate me as a football supporter, number 473: referee’s assistants. From where I sit at the Reebok Stadium I get a decent view of their performance at every game and, more often than not, along with it comes a sense of extreme irritation. For example, how often have we seen a blatant foul right under the nose of the linesman which he ignores/disregards as if he is just an interloper rather than a match official? Another is diffident decisions on throw-ins after the ref has decided – in fact I reckon 70 per cent of throw-ins these days are illegal (raised feet etc), but liners miss the lot. Players take free-kicks miles away from where they should be and linesmen just watch, or tamely object for ten seconds then carry on as if there’s nothing they can do. I propose that linesmen (this referee’s “assistant” business is laughable much of the time) be trained to flag when the ball’s out of play and to judge offside, and that’s all. Any other kind of decision should be left to the ref, or two refs – one in each half of the field. Maybe this is a proposal that could be given a dry run in non-League first. I am aware, by the way, that I have just drawn attention to the fact that the games at the Reebok are often so dull that watching the linesman is a more entertaining pastime, but your club chooses you, and all that.
Mark Weatherall, Bolton
Usually those picked to be club mascots for the day are small children, so there is no danger of them mistakenly staying on the field once play has started. However, when I went to see Rotherham play at Brentford in March, there was an overweight middle-aged man warming up with the home side who somehow ended up staying on. He had “Shipperley” on the back of his shirt, appeared to weigh around 16 stone and must have been at least 40. In fairness to him, he made the occasional useful contribution and I was told later that he has been a good deal better than Brentford’s recent signings, to the extent that the club are now playing him on a regular basis. Rather than wasting several grand a week on uninterested loanees, other clubs should be made aware that fans are happy to take a few kicks in the cause for free. In exchange they get to hang out with the players and, in Brentford’s case, with such luminaries as club chairman, and former BBC hotshot, Greg Dyke, who is doing such a fine job down there.
David Rushton, via email
With regards the letter in WSC 241, asking why Newcastle fans remove their shoes and wave them about, this ancient phenomenon dates back to a time when executions were held on the nearby Gallowgate. Occasionally a merciful judge would give the condemned man one last chance, by asking the assembled crowd to indicate if the miscreant could be spared the noose – this they did by removing their footwear and waving it, indicating that the person should walk away. This was latterly taken up by early football fans who, having plodged their way through calf-deep clarts to get on the terracing, would also remove their shoes, waving them in the air to dry them, which usually took about 90 minutes, by which time the match was over. This practice became even more prevalent when, towards the end of its life as a terrace, the Gallowgate toilets would frequently overflow, necessitating the need to wave your shoes around to remove the contents of the pre-match pub. One suspects that, as the area around St James’ Park is now fully tarmacked and the toilets work admirably, the Coventry fans were witnessing a modern-day version of all this. As they were soundly beaten, despite the best efforts of their fans, Toon supporters were indicating that it was time to walk away. Incidentally, I am currently researching the reasons as to why Newcastle fans take off their shirts in sub-zero temperatures.
Alistair Murray, Newcastle upon Tyne
Without wanting to reignite the debate about whether the Match of the Day commentators are in the studio or actually at the match I, like many family men, have to endure the television spectacle that is Dancing on Ice every Saturday evening. I wasn’t taking any notice of Lee Sharpe gliding around, but my ears pricked up when I heard none other than Tony Gubba summarising on his triple salchow. I made a mental note to myself to see which match Tony was commentating on for MOTD, hoping that it would be Bolton or Blackburn as this would finally settle the conspiracy (surely Dancing on Ice must be filmed within the M25). However the nice bottle of red that helped me through the Hansen and Lawrenson summaries of Chelsea’s bad defending then sent me fast asleep on the sofa before the smaller teams got their chance. So, answers on a postcard to WSC.
John Harris, Nottingham
In response to Graham Kaye’s question, “whatever happened to John Scales” (Letters, WSC 242) – he lives next door to my friend Neil in south-west London. He is rarely in when I’ve been there, though.
John Smith, via email
The BBC might like to consider that not everyone who listens via the internet is mad keen on the over-inflated Champions League. So it might have been nice to have had a bit of commentary from maybe the Chesterfield v Bristol City game on March 7, 2007, instead of that irritating voice telling me that, for contractual reasons, I can’t listen to 5 Live via the web. That said, the announcement is more interesting to me than the Champions League.
John Hague, Leicester
Thanks, Al Needham, for reminding me of Leeds United’s glory year (WSC 241). But in case he didn’t know and for anyone else who cares, that legendary piece of Porridge wasn’t filmed at Elland Road (200 miles north of BBC TV centre) but at QPR’s Loftus Road (200 yards west of it) with a hastily rigged banner.
Gerry Varley, Leeds
Much as I detest the worst excesses of the commercialisation of the game, I have just returned from a visit to Malawi and have what I believe to be irrefutable proof that Arsenal have the biggest “global reach” in world football, which is perhaps contrary to received wisdom. Using the highly scientific method of counting replica football shirts, 50 per cent of Malawian football fans support Arsenal. During my stay I counted six Arsenal shirts (Bergkamp, Ljungberg, Reyes, Kanu, Overmars and one without a name), four Manchester United (Saha, Smith, Rooney and, ahem, Yorke), one Marseille (Drogba) and one Milan (Shevchenko). Not one Chelsea shirt. Take that Peter Kenyon. (In fact, this may hint that the real reason Drogba and Shevchenko were signed was part of a plan to become “big in Malawi”. How else to explain the signing of Shevchenko?) I wonder, have other readers conducted similar surveys of such rigour and validity when visiting other countries? If so, perhaps we could pool findings to obtain a truer picture than that presented by the clubs themselves. Then again, that would only encourage them.
Tim Webber, via email
Anyone remember Law 14, The Penalty Kick, “players other than the kicker (and the goalkeeper) shall be at least ten yards from the penalty mark”? Sunday, February 2 a) Gary Speed scores a penalty for Bolton at Tottenham, very nearly tackled by Kevin Nolan as he takes it, four Bolton players having encroached into the penalty area – referee Graham Poll; b) Blackburn’s Shabani Nonda has a penalty saved by David James, eight Pompey and Rovers players having encroached – referee Mark Clattenburg; c) Newcastle’s Nolberto Solano has a penalty saved by Wigan’s John Filan, five players having encroached – referee Alan Wiley.
I already know from many recent personal experiences that “assistant referees” don’t watch for foul throw-ins any more; it seems referees can’t be bothered administering the laws of the game, either.
Glyn Berrington, Brierley Hill
From WSC 243 May 2007. What was happening this month