In response to Huw Griffiths’s letter in WSC 263, I would like to apologise to David Lloyd, the extremely popular fans’ liaison officer at Bristol City, for the flippant remarks I made in an article about the club in WSC 262. Sorry, Mr Lloyd. I would also like to apologise to my father, a Bristol City supporter for 60 years and, like Messrs Griffiths and Lloyd, an avid admirer of Paul Cheesley, for implying in the article that he cross-dresses in his potting shed. To put the record straight: my father has never owned a potting shed. Sorry, Father.However, I would like to take issue with Mr Griffiths’s claim that I have given up neither time nor money to support and represent the club in the last 15 years. In 2002, I bought and paid for the previous season’s away shirt and gave it to a friend of mine for his 40th birthday. Until unwrapping the gift, the recipient was like an excited schoolboy and cherishes it to such a degree that he has, to this day, neither worn the garment nor, as far as I know, taken it out of the packaging. Further, in 2007, I attempted, albeit unsuccessfully, to obliterate a Bristol Rovers graffito on the lavatory wall in a public house in Berlin using nothing more than my house keys and a briefly rediscovered passion for the Boys In Red. If Mr Griffiths were aware of the willingness of Bristol City stayaways in Germany to jeopardise long-term friendships and to commit acts of criminal damage in the name of the club, he wouldn’t have made such an unfounded accusation in a poor attempt to add some much-needed gravitas to the WSC letters page.
Matt Nation, Hamburg
Further to Jack Lowe’s letter in WSC 263 about offspring of directors playing for clubs, Hereford’s Stewart Phillips not only played but was a lower-league hero. The son of director Archie Phillips, a man who put more into the club than he took out, Stewart’s debut at 16 aroused concerns of nepotism. He shrugged off this handicap to become top scorer for four consecutive seasons from 1981-82. Admittedly this was not quite a Herculean task when the team finished in 17th place on a weirdly coincidental number of occasions. Stewart moved on to West Brom and then Swansea, where injuries hampered him, before returning for the traditionally disappointing second spell. He remains Hereford’s greatest ever League goalscorer with 124 goals in 401 appearances, a respectable record by anybody’s standards. Stewart remains a loyal supporter of the club and his father was widely mourned when he died. It is hard to believe any other son of a board member can beat that record.
Mark Nottingham, Ramsgate
The recent letter about footballers’ fondness for impersonating Norman Wisdom set me thinking. Who was the young Forest player in the early 1980s who became known for doing a great take-off of Brian Clough? I recall him being featured on ITV’s Saturday football preview show standing outside the City Ground answering questions from Brian Moore in a spot-on approximation of that Teesside drawl. Some time later at a different club he was filmed doing his Clough impression in conversation with his manager of the time, who I have a feeling was Tommy Docherty. I don’t think that he had a long career in football but he might have gone on to make a living on the cabaret circuit.
Ian Dunford, Droitwich
I loved the Shot! archive photo of a kick-about during the First World War (WSC 263). However, in the accompanying article, Doug Cheeseman says that there are no sources for the Fritz 3 Tommy 2 game. In Lyn MacDonald’s book Voices and Images of the Great War, there is a source, but from the opposition dugout. Lt Johannes Niemann (133rd Royal Saxon Regiment), whose regiment were in the trenches opposite to the Seaforth Highlanders on the front between Frelinghein (where the plaque mentioned by Mr Cheeseman was unveiled) and Houplines, writes the following: “Next morning [Christmas Day, presumably], my orderly threw himself into my dugout to say that both German and Scottish soldiers had come out of their trenches and were fraternising along the front… Later, a Scottish soldier appeared with a football…and a few minutes later a real football match got underway. Us Germans really roared when a gust of wind revealed the Scots wore no drawers under their kilts – and hooted and whistled every time they caught an impudent glimpse of one posterior belonging to one of ‘yesterday’s enemies’… The game finished with a score of 3 to 2 in favour of Fritz against Tommy.” Mr Cheeseman is right to say that many stories from the war may be a “mixture of romance and realism”, but the tale of the football kicked ahead of troops going over the top is also a true one. On July 1, 1916, under heavy enemy fire, the 8th battalion East Surrey Regiment were waiting in their trenches ready to go “over the top” in the first Battle of the Somme. Their objective was Montauban Ridge. Captain WP Nevill, attached from the East Yorkshire Regiment and commanding “B” Company, had purchased four footballs for his platoons to kick across no-man’s-land “subject to the proviso that proper formation and distance was not lost thereby”. Captain Nevill promised a reward to the first platoon to score a “goal” in enemy trenches. The Surreys achieved their objective that day, but at a heavy cost in lives, including Captain Nevill’s.
John Baker, London
It was a great article by Marcus Davies about the joys of football on cine film (Reel deal, WSC 263). It was really the only way to relive games back in the Seventies and, unlike today’s video and Sky+, you could have more fun slowing them down or playing them backwards and in fast motion (OK, you may be able to do this with Sky+ but I haven’t worked that out yet). And, given you had to do it in a darkened room, it gave the entire thing a better sense of occasion. It also led me to meet the great Bill Shankly. When Liverpool reached the 1974 FA Cup final, I should have been at university and had given up my season ticket for Anfield to my dad, who jammily got two tickets for the final and decided to take my older brother instead of me. I went around the local streets and made a short film about the celebrations around Anfield before splicing it together with bought footage of the game. We showed the completed 20-minute film in the nearby Salisbury pub on many occasions and my dad said I should tell Shankly about it. So I did and I was invited over to Anfield in July to meet the great manager himself. He was brilliant and promised to set up a showing for the players. Two weeks later he resigned. I kept these films for years until eBay beckoned and I have just a few left. Not F133, I’m afraid, Marcus, though I do have some great memories and a letter from Bill Shankly.
Len Horridge, Leeds
Martin King’s assertion (Letters, WSC 263) that Birmingham City Council has a rather biased attitude towards our chums in Aston is of course correct. After all, the council have for years prevented us from using the City’s coat of arms (which was our badge until the 1970s) and did nothing to stop Villa committing architectural vandalism when they demolished Archibald Leitch’s magnificent Trinity Road stand. Ironically, the council have used the heritage argument to stop Blues developing our decrepit and charmless Main Stand. However, I fail to see how a move to a new “City of Birmingham Stadium” would benefit the club. First, we would not be able to fill the proposed 50,000 seats, especially as we are averaging fewer than 20,000 at the moment. Secondly, as I understand it, the move would entail selling our largest single asset (St Andrew’s) and effectively becoming tenants of the council. Not only has a similar move been disastrous for Coventry City, but it raises the question of who would gain from the sale of St Andrew’s? Where would the money go? Finally, in these difficult economic times, should a local authority spend its finite resources on assisting what appears to be a relatively cash-rich club? Unfortunately most Blues fans seem to have bought into the stadium idea hook, line and sinker. Such a move may add to the city’s skyline but I fail to see how it would secure our long-term future or raise Blues from the ranks of the perennial underachievers.
Chris Sanderson, Birmingham
As a long-standing West Bromwich Albion fan born within spitting distance of St Andrew’s (and I frequently did), I feel able to comment on Martin King’s letter in WSC 263, rightly berating Birmingham City Council in general and leader Mike Whitby in particular for the ludicrous suggestion that Aston Villa should rename themselves “Aston Villa Birmingham”. Martin erroneously states that “it was Villa’s choice to name themselves after a suburb”. As any student of local history knows, when Villa were formed Aston was in fact bigger and better known than Birmingham and was not incorporated into the city until 1911, some 37 years after the football club were created. And in football terms, even we staunch Baggies grudgingly accept Aston is still immeasurably bigger than Birmingham.
Neil Reynolds, Bedworth
I very much enjoyed the season in brief article in WSC 263, particularly as it featured my own team St Johnstone in their rightful place at the top table of Scottish football. But I was dismayed to read that Aberdeen and Dundee United have never been relegated from the Scottish Premier. This is not true; United were relegated in 1994-95 under the stewardship of Billy Kirkwood and only returned very luckily the next season thanks to a late, late Owen Coyle goal against Partick Thistle in the now much missed promotion play-off. Aberdeen are also very fortunate to have this accolade attached to them as well; they were only saved in the 2002-03 season from being relegated as Falkirk’s stadium at the time (Brockville) was not considered adequate for SPL football. I think it is only right that the ever-so-smug Aberdeen supporters are reminded of this at any given opportunity. Motherwell have also been saved from relegation on at least half a dozen occasions due to “league reconstruction” or such like. Far be it from me to suggest, however, that Scottish football administrators make up rules as they go along.
Alan Christie , Edinburgh
Although I love watching football, recollections of my own limited achievements in this regard had over time been successfully suppressed by my subconscious; however, Barney Ronay’s article in WSC 263 about Trevor Brooking’s youth coaching schemes brought many lost memories flooding back. From the beginning in primary school, with a tennis ball in the playground, I became a highly proficient centre-forward, sometimes in double figures and never having to face the ignominy of “Pudding and Beef” selection. Full-size pitches were, however, a different matter. I was very small and skinny (only 5ft 7in even in adulthood) so suffered on the boots of the lumpen defenders. I do recall the occasional goal for my house team but the rest is a fuzzy blur of running up and down ineffectively in the cloying mud of overused school pitches. Five-a-side was much fairer, particularly with the enforcement of the eminently sensible “no ball above shoulder height” rule. Even there my exploits for the school house team came to a sticky end when unaccountably I was put in goal for a key game: we lost 8-3. My crowning glory came as a last-minute selection for a youth-club five-a-side league game, scoring a hat-trick in a shock 5-3 win against the eventual champions. This led to my immediate promotion to the full club team for a weekend fixture. In the cloying mud of Hampstead Heath Extension we lost 7-3, made worse by my 6ft cousin scoring four times for the opposition. Needless to say I was never picked again, neither for the full club team nor, bizarrely, for five-a-side. I know I’d never have turned into a Bergkamp or Henry – skill levels of that significance must be obvious to even the most hoof-encouraging of PE schoolmasters – but with the proper coaching and better playing conditions envisaged by “Clever Trevor”… well, it certainly couldn’t have been much less productive.
Howard Lamb, Wargrave
From WSC 264 February 2009