Oh blast, nearly made it, Huw Richards (Reviews, WSC 248). Six paragraphs of something approaching even-handedness towards Leeds United in your review of Gary Sprake’s biography but then, with the finishing line in sight, you can soar above the gravity of glib public opinion no more: “They were indeed dirty, cheating bastards.”It’s not that I’m a Leeds fan, nor that I unreservedly dispute these allegations. I was in my naive early teens when Revie’s men were in their pomp, so I could easily have been oblivious to the more devious methods of what was still one of the most effective teams I’ve ever seen. If they are to be criticised 30 years on, however, then can it at least be in a manner consistent with modern times? Consider one Roy Keane, for example. Occasional thug, habitual hothead, a cynical intimidator who went after what he wanted regardless of whether it did more harm than good to those around him. How many times have you witnessed a debate on the Irishman kick off with one of these themes, only to undergo a remarkable transformation as your local Keane apologist enters? By the time he has stressed Keane’s honesty, perfectionism and dedication, you’re being invited to believe that Sunderland’s gain was the Vatican’s loss. Whatever side of the argument you take, its structure certainly works to Keane’s advantage. Get the Mr Hyde stuff out of the way first, then finish the discussion on a high, firmly focused on Dr Jekyll. And if it’s good enough for Roy, it’s good enough for Leeds United. So next time your writers are let loose on the Elland Road archives, can we have a gentlemen’s agreement that they get the whole snidey, paranoid, Machiavellian thing out of the way early on and then close with two simple points: that Revie’s team were one of the best passing and possession sides this country has ever produced and that anyone who thinks you can merely cheat your way to two League titles, League and FA Cups, plus two European trophies from five finals, wants their head examining?
Jeffrey Prest, via email
Last week on Ceefax I read that Michel Platini, top banana at UEFA, had written to all heads of European governments expressing his concern that wealth and the big clubs were dominating soccer and threatening to ruin the sport. Ceefax also reported that Gordon Brown responded by saying that he felt governments should not interfere and that sports should be run by their own governing bodies. Mr Brown is surely missing the point: if UEFA felt that they could manage without government help, then Platini would not have bothered to write to heads of governments. It’s galling that a Labour prime minister and alleged supporter of a small club, Raith Rovers, should adopt such a view. I am also concerned that this news item is getting very little coverage in the rest of the media.
Rod Metcalf, via email
I read Matthew Barker’s article on Italian youth football (WSC 248) with interest, but was surprised he didn’t mention that the leading club in this sector for at least 15 years have not been one of the giants, but small-town Atalanta of Bergamo. Starting with the 1993 primavera side, coached by Cesare Prandelli, all of whom went on to become professionals, Atalanta have supplied Serie A with more players than any other club. This season there are 23 Atalanta products spread among 14 of the 20 Serie A clubs, including five in the Atalanta squad. They range from veterans of the 1993 side such as Domenico Morfeo (Parma), through Giampaolo Pazzini and Riccardo Montolivo of Fiorentina to Italy Under-21 captain Marco Motta of Torino. Rolando Bianchi (Manchester City) and Massimo Donati (Celtic) also started out there. It is true that the primavera championship has been won only twice (1993, 1998), but this is because Atalanta regularly field a very young side, preferring to loan promising players at the top end of the age range to clubs in Serie B and Serie C to gain experience. For several years now Atalanta have been in the top six in Europe for the number of players produced that have gone on to play in the top divisions of the major European leagues, and it is not an exaggeration to say that the money received from the sale of many of these players has kept the club afloat.
Richard Mason, via email
Richard Oldale’s assertion that the introduction of technology to decide contentious decisions is “what the fans want” (Letters, WSC 248) isn’t a view shared by this particular fan. The great thing about football is its simplicity. When I take to the pitch on a Sunday morning, hungover and reluctant, I’m playing to the same laws as Rooney and co in the Premier League – and the laws are interpreted by the same person, by a referee. Goalline technology would create two games: one version for the “elite” ranks and another for the rest of us. And where would we draw the line? How long before the first club turns down promotion through the pyramid due to the expense of installing the relevant technology? The people who call for technology are, I find, often the same ones who berate referees for “acting like robots” and refereeing to the letter of the law. Oh, the irony. We all make mistakes, even players and referees. That’s life. And, more to the point, that’s football.
Rob Crane, South Wimbledon
With all the belly-aching going on about poor refereeing decisions in WSC 248, can I just bring to light the worst one I have ever been a victim of? To most of you the 1990 John Smeaton summer five-a-side league may not be earth shattering or memorable, but as we had gone through the entire season unbeaten, we went along to presentation night fully expecting to be given the league trophy. But, no, to our shock, when the positions were announced, we came second. Why? Because the referee had logged the results for week three incorrectly and decided we had lost the game on that evening. We were gutted. However, to put it into perspective, that week we had used a goalie from another team to substitute for our own absent keeper. Our non-goalie played a blinder, we won the game but, according to the referee, we lost. And, ironically, the team this goalie played for were handed the trophy. So you see, things really do level themselves out over a season. Though I’m still sick…
Len Horridge, via email
I enjoyed Phil Ball’s piece about Ciudad de Murcia becoming Granada 74 (WSC 248), but would argue that the precedent of a club buying out another lock, stock and barrel for their own advantage has already been set in Scotland. When Airdrieonians went bankrupt in 2002, Jim Ballantyne bought out fellow strugglers Clydebank, with the backing of the League. He admittedly changed Airdrie’s name, but from a beautifully evocative Victorian one to the imagination by-pass of Airdrie United. The “new” club play at Airdrie’s Excelsior Stadium, of course wearing the white with red diamond football strips. And unlike in Spain, there was no outcry that took the move to the Court of Arbitration for Sport in Lausanne, just typical Scottish apathy.
Gordon Cairns, Glasgow
I have to take issue with Andrew Hailstone’s assertion (Letters, WSC 248) that Villa, Chelsea and Boro have “identical” lions on their badges. On Chelsea’s crest – itself an attempt to recreate the Villa badge of the Seventies and Eighties – the lion is clearly looking backwards over its shoulder, presumably at the club’s glorious history of championships in the pre-Abramovich days. Villa’s lion, on the other hand, is looking forward to the future, as Martin O’Neill’s team of young English stars gels together to defeat all before them. And, of course, the Villa lion is juggling a star symbolising the European Cup victory – something I’m sure any right-thinking neutral is willing Chelsea to emulate this year.
James Lane, Barton in the Beans
The Season in Brief feature on the 1980-81 Division One season (WSC 248) noted that this was the last season in which a win earned two points, rather than the three points awarded since. I dusted off my calculator and found that in the top flight in 1980-81 just over a quarter of games ended in a draw, actually 25.1 per cent if we’re being precise. Fast forward a quarter of a century to the end of the 2006-07 Premier League season and the number of games ending in a draw has actually risen, albeit very slightly, to 25.7 per cent, despite the extra point on offer for a win. A team that drew every game in 1980-81 would have finished comfortably in mid-table, but a team that drew every game in 2006-07 would have been flirting with relegation. I fear that teams are not gambling enough in search of late winners to convert one point into three. Maybe those supporters who constantly and desperately urge their team to “attack”, “push up”, and “pump it forward” in search of a last-gasp winner should be applauded for their appreciation of the true statistical advantage of a win rather than a draw, rather than scornfully dismissed as tactically naive and unaware of the sophistication of the modern game.
John Clarke, Reading
According to the Season In Brief feature about 1980-81, Ron Saunders, the Aston Villa manager, “sold Andy Gray to Wolves at the start of the season”. I think Nottingham Forest need to be told about this, as I distinctly recall Gray scoring in a League Cup final for Wolves, a good six months before the season you were referring to. Was Gray part of some underhand “loan deal”? Should he even have played for Wolves, at Wembley, that day, if so?
Peter Dennis, via email
Rob Freeman asks why Leeds fans have not risen up and made a serious attempt to depose Ken Bates (WSC 248). The following reasons are my best guesses. The other bidders could have chosen to invest alongside Ken Bates. Not that he springs to mind as the ideal business partner, but it would’ve been financially the best thing for the club. When Krasner and his board ran out of funds and had to sell, Bates was genuinely the only alternative. This doesn’t necessarily prove what a good chap he is, only how desperate we were; but he did invest and for a time backed Kevin Blackwell. The administrators, KPMG, rather than Bates, are taking the blame for the lack of transparency and sense of chaos regarding the failed attempts to agree a Company Voluntary Arrangement and subsequent sale to the “highest bidder”. Although Bates’s attempts to make HM Revenue & Customs settle for one penny in the pound seem crazy, it may be that they wouldn’t have backed a CVA for anything less than 100 per cent of their debt. HMRC are upset that the rules have changed so they are no longer preferred creditors and upset with the Football League that football creditors have to receive 100 per cent ahead of them. If they would refuse 99 per cent, may as well offer them one per cent? Of course HMRC outwitted Bates, by waiting until the last minute before objecting to the CVA, so that there wasn’t a hope of any court case being resolved before the new season. If the club had been refused their “golden share” in the League at that point, he would surely have taken the blame. Last, and most important, the 15‑point deduction has united everyone and renewed the spirit that has been sadly lacking in recent times, to an extent that will probably offset the loss of points over the season. The League probably had no choice but to readmit us, while ensuring there is a severe deterrent for any other club thinking of exiting administration in a similar fashion. But there is a genuine sense of grievance at our treatment, such that anything to do with Bates doesn’t seem so significant. It would be lovely to have a competent, low-profile chairman who didn’t seem so fond of controversy and relishing the platform the club’s status provides for himself and his views; but maybe that’s just not the kind of person who Leeds United would ever attract.
Tim Sanders, Leeds
Can anyone confirm a story I heard recently that Mark Hughes once adapted one of his old Panini stickers for use as a passport photo? I assume that players can get stickers of themselves for free rather than having to buy loads of packets and hope that they eventually turn up. He must have had some swaps, as you need to supply two pictures. This shows admirable thrift – no need to waste a couple of quid in a photo booth when you have several suitable head shots already to hand. I’m surprised that Mark hasn’t got his own TV series, offering money-saving tips.
Robert Henderson, via email
I write in response to Julian Bird’s letter (WSC 248), implying Setanta have scheduled Premier League matches against Championship matches. In reality it is the other way round, Sky moving their Friday night Championship match to compete with the Saturday teatime Setanta game, having their noses put out by not holding all the Premier League rights any longer.
Dave Martin, Morecambe
Howard Borrell wrote (Letters, WSC 248) of missing a goal scored after 16 seconds in a match in Cyprus because the mother of all flags obscured his view. I continue to bore anyone who wishes to hear of the time I was at Old Trafford on a cold and foggy evening in the late Seventies. I recall that the crowd enthusiastically sang to the visiting Sunderland team “you’re gonna get what the other Geordies got”, a geographically challenged reference to a 7-0 beating administered the previous weekend to Newcastle. I remember going back to my student hovel via the bar recounting to my mates how well United had played in a 2-1 win only for the local news to report a 2-2 draw with a late equaliser by the visitors. I hadn’t left early but had missed the goal in the gloom. Does anyone else remember this, or was it just a dream?
Peter Ryan, Liskeard
From WSC 249 November 2007