Letters, WSC 279

Dear WSC
In his article on football in film (WSC 278) Rob Hughes quite rightly says that the most convincing football scene ever takes place in Ken Loach’s classic 1969 film Kes. I attended the school that Barry Hines, author of a Kestrel For A Knave, worked in as a teacher. Mr Sugden, while probably never acknowledged by Hines, is clearly based on our old games teacher, Ron “Rocket Ronnie” Hallam. Ron was driven by a will to win at all costs and a classic Ronnie-ism was said to me when I tried out for the school team as an 11-year-old, “goalkeeping’s an art son”. I can still hear him say those words. In fairness to Ronnie he was right. I was never much of a footballer but was occasionally prone to bouts of brilliance. One such example came against Rocket Ron. He was playing a sweeper role when a ball was played forward for me to run on to. I pushed the ball past Ronnie and advanced on goal, easily rounded the full-back and slotted the ball under the advancing goalie. As I wheeled away, delighted with my goal, Ronnie was whistling furiously. He was yelling “offside, offside”. When I said that was rubbish he sent me off for arguing with the ref. Ronnie Hallam may well have been too keen to win at times but he was fantastically knowledgeable about football and cricket, and we didn’t waste much time on cross-country running. Some of Ronnie’s protégés went on to play professionally – the Shirtliff brothers turned out for Sheffield Wednesday among others and Steve Shutt played for Barnsley. Ian Swallow passed up football for a pretty successful cricketing career with Yorkshire. I guess one big disappointment was that Ronnie’s son, Matthew, never reached those heights. Rocket Ronnie though. A living legend.
John Hague, Leicester

Dear WSC
In response to your article Flicks to Kick (WSC 278), I wholeheartedly agree that it’s impossible to recreate the excitement and unpredictability of a football match on the silver screen. It is the best form of improvised theatre in the sporting world, anything can happen at any time, which is what makes the game so appealing. However, film does have a role to play. Not in recreating the “heart-bumping tension of Liverpool in Istanbul”, but in looking at the stories behind football, capturing the human emotion and sharing it with a new audience. Film is better placed than most art forms in trying to explain football’s importance and global impact.There are some amazing football stories out there that would make excellent films if filmmakers had the courage. For example, there’s the story of Start FC who played against a German team during the Nazi occupation of Kiev, an event that inspired the film Escape to Victory. I’m sure this would be a wholly more satisfying film than that starring Sly Stallone. Or maybe a Michael Moore-esque exploration of business in football. There are lots of potential film scripts out there, only some of them have already made it to the big screen.
Matthew Couper, Festival Director, Kicks n Flicks, London Football Film Festival

Dear WSC
My thanks to Harry Pearson for pointing out the suggestion in my review of Ralph Milne’s autobiography (WSC 278), that Milne once covered 100m in 10.1 seconds, would have won him a gold medal at the 1980 Olympic Games. There has clearly been an error here. By his own admission Milne was a heavy drinker in 1980 and the sensational time was recorded with him wearing “old trainers”. Separately, those two factors make it unlikely he would have been granted a place in the 1980 British Olympic squad. Taken together, it is simply impossible.
Neil Forsyth, Edinburgh

Dear WSC
Why is Paul Scholes’s consistent dirty tackling regarded as amusing by so many in the media? He’s never been able to tackle. He was sent off for England at Wembley in the late 1990s and, while he was treated sympathetically, let’s not forget he missed the Champions League final in 1999 because he was suspended for picking up a series of yellow cards. But he’s never learned, or addressed the problem, and now age has slowed him his tackles have tended to come even later. But when it happens, commentators often just laugh. Why is he indulged so much? It never happened to the hard-tackling likes of Mark Dennis, Dennis Wise or David Batty, nor even Roy Keane or Patrick Vieira, whose excellent careers were coloured slightly by their tendency towards “robust” challenges. But Scholes’s fouls are considered funny, for some reason. And not only by the Newton Heath-tinted commentators who love to look back on “that night in Barcelona”. The otherwise excellent Martin Tyler is guilty too. Tyler reacted to a shocking foul by Scholes on Deco by shouting: “Deco decked!” He then chuckled as he continued: “Some say tackling’s never been Scholes’s strong point, Jamie Redknapp says he’s known what he’s been doing all along!” A few minutes later Scholes was booked for a similarly bad foul on Florent Malouda. At least Mike Dean realised what was going on. Why is it funny that he’s been committing nasty fouls for years?
James Clarke, Birmingham

Dear WSC
I witnessed Rory Delap live for the first time at West Ham v Stoke recently, but I don’t want to talk about whether what he does is good or clever or right. I want to ask whether he gets special treatment from referees? In recent decades FIFA have made quite a few changes to the rules, all designed to keep the ball in play: preventing goalkeepers from picking up back-passes, limiting them to six seconds with the ball in hand and allowing multiple balls for quicker restarts. We are all familiar with anxious, skittish players scanning forward and back along the line trying to find a target for their ordinary throw-ins. If they take too long, referees can be seen telling them to “get on with it”. I am sure that I have seen, more than once, referees losing patience with players, blowing their whistle and awarding the throw to the other team. Another FIFA initiative? Yet Delap doesn’t seem to be measured against the same yardstick. Because of his ability to deliver the ball into the penalty area from anywhere in the same half, he seems to be categorised with the corner taker or the long free-kick. As with those set pieces, the referee seems happy to wait for centre-backs to lumber forward, to spend time decoupling grappling players in the box and looking to see if the goalkeeper is being impeded. Then Delap does his bit and, if the ball is ejected into touch by the defenders, it all starts over again. I know that it all generates goalmouth incident and, yes, I am sure that if he played for us I’d be willing him on. But having flown 200 miles to get to the game and paid nearly £50 for my ticket, I expected more than to spend such a large proportion of my time watching a man cleaning a ball with his shirt. I have a suggestion – what about six seconds for outfield players with the ball in their hands, the same as goalkeepers? That would at least be more consistent.
Mark Lewsey, Glasgow

Dear WSC
Pompey fans have spent a whole season feeling like they’re being beaten around the head by all and sundry, even by people who may not really exist.
Now it appears the same goes for the players. First, Steven Gerrard lashes out at the back of Michael Brown’s head – the referee obviously sees it as we are awarded a free-kick, but does nothing more than speak to Gerrard before Rafael Benítez substitutes him. Then, just over a week later, two of our players have to leave the pitch with facial injuries caused by flying Chelsea elbows. The total punishment? One yellow card. And the FA take no further action as neither was considered to be “off the ball”. To rub salt into the wounds, the owner of one of the elbows scores twice as we are hammered in the second half.
So what if Brown had swung an arm at the back of Gerrard’s head? If a Pompey striker had leapt at John Terry with a leading elbow aimed at his face? If Frank Lampard had had to leave the pitch with a broken nose? Would we be looking at a disciplinary record increased by only one yellow card? You know the answer.
Jim Newman, Southsea

Dear WSC
The review of Alan Curtis’s autobiography in WSC 278 resulted in a near-Proustian experience for me. I was instantly transported to 1982 and that year’s unimpeachable Panini album which for the first time included full-length portraits of all the Division One players. Playground talk that year centred not on obtaining the tiresomely rare Ian Rush but on each footballers’ choice of footwear. Where most of his fellow professionals wore boots and some went out in their socks, Curtis instead chose to sport a quite stupendous pair of brown slipons (or at least that’s what my memory recalls). This was clearly a man who wanted to demonstrate his difference from the norm at every opportunity. Panini Football 1983 was also the album that featured cartoon representations of all the laws of the game. I’m still missing number 499, which explained the offside rule. A lifetime’s confusion is contained in that sticker.
Joe Street, Newcastle Upon Tyne

Dear WSC
I enjoyed Roger Lytollis’s article (WSC 278) on the eventful last two decades for Carlisle United. In the condescending way that fans of Premier League clubs have of adopting lower league teams (Tottenham, if you must know), I have always looked out for the results of Carlisle, their one season in the First Division coinciding with my awakening awareness of football at the age of six. The allegiance could have been so much closer. Having graduated from business school in France in 1999, I returned to the UK without a job and fired off an enormous amount of speculative job applications. At the time there was a lot of press coverage about the good job that a former City banker was doing as CEO of Tranmere Rovers. I also recall another article about Michael Knighton’s plans for Carlisle. As I had a similar background, I wrote to Mr Knighton suggesting that I could do as good a job for Carlisle as Tranmere’s CEO was doing there. There was, unsurprisingly, no immediate reply and in the meantime I joined a dotcom company in the dog days of that boom. Two months into that all too brief adventure I returned home from work one day to be informed by my wife that I had received a call from a certain Michael Knighton wishing to speak to me. The number left had a Carlisle dialling code. I returned the call a couple of times but never got beyond some ferocious gatekeeper and Mr Knighton never did get back to me. Despite the strong field, this could well have been Carlisle’s greatest escape.
Michael Green, St Albans

Dear WSC
I cannot help but be intrigued by the picture of Jimmy Glass scoring for Carlisle against Plymouth (WSC 278). Not because of the goal that we all recall so well but more the smile on the face of the defender on the goal-line. It really does look like he is smiling and it made me wonder if any WSC readers can recall similar moments when players from a team conceding a goal found the moment amusing? As a Bristol City supporter I certainly can never remember seeing this – but then again maybe the guy just has a bit
of wind?
Phil Edwards, Somerset

Dear WSC
York City’s latest visit to fellow Conference stalwarts Kidderminster threw up a rather amusing situation. As our teamsheet was being read out prior to the game it became evident that it was being announced to backing music. Eventually we worked out the tune that was being played. Kidderminster, in a jovial poke at York’s northern location, had decided to read out our team sheet backed by the theme tune to Emmerdale. When the second half drew to a close the public address system was stoked up again. This time the track was Common People by Pulp. Now this could have purely been a coincidence. However, I think it may just have been another Kidderminster joke, this time aimed at our social class. I look forward to seeing what we play for next season’s return fixture. Have any WSC readers been mocked at away grounds or, indeed, can they suggest a good song to return the gesture with? I’d be fascinated to hear.
Tim Dempsey, Harrogate

Dear WSC
As a long-time subscriber I was honoured to find a feature on my book The Fix in your March issue (WSC 277). However, the actual article was so inaccurate I have to take issue with it. Robert Hoyzer, the referee convicted for fixing games in Germany, claims that he was simply one of a large number of people who were fixing European matches. In his words, “it was the tip of the iceberg”. Your reviewer denies this story, claiming this is simply a typical criminal alibi. However, in November 2009, after an investigation launched partly because of The Fix, German police arrested dozens of fixers and accomplices. Many of them had worked directly with Hoyzer and the investigation confirmed much of what Hoyzer had said. So much so that the UEFA executive in charge of the battle against match-fixing repeated Hoyzer’s words exactly. He spoke of the hundreds of fixed matches that they had discovered as “the tip of the iceberg”. There are two main facts that a reader needs to know from a book complied from over 220 interviews with players, referees, policemen, mafia hitmen, bookmakers, professional gamblers and the fixers themselves. One, the Asian sports gambling industry is mostly illegal and far larger than the European and North American betting industries combined. Gangs of criminals have corrupted most of the Asian football leagues, so now they are coming to Europe to fix games. So far they have been reasonably successful fixing matches, from Champions League to youth tournaments, in a range of countries. They do not succeed all the time, there are plenty of unfounded rumours out there, but enough so that genuine football fans should be very concerned indeed. Two, a gang of Asian fixers has been at every major international football tournament in the last 20 years. They have approached dozens of different teams, players and referees to corrupt games. Many people inside the football industry know that this goes on. The official FIFA response is that, yes, the fixers come to all these different tournaments, in all these different continents and approach all these different people, but they never ever succeed. My response? Well, that makes the fixers the unluckiest tourists in the world, because who else would pay to go all these different countries and never succeed but keep coming back. Your reviewer claims that The Fix has not been published in the UK because of stringent British libel laws. This is not the case – a team of very senior lawyers has extensively vetted the text. The sad truth is that, in part, many in the football establishment simply do not want the book out there. I received a number of emails from UK publishers saying, in effect: “Your book is very good, the findings sensational, but we publish autobiographies of famous players and we don’t want to annoy them by publishing your book.”
Declan Hill, Ontario, Canada

From WSC 279 May 2010