Interesting that your review of egotistical arch-buffoon Bobby Gould’s autobiography, 24-Carat Gould, (WSC 294) mentions him glossing over allegations of his racism in only four paragraphs. Having written to the man himself during his calamitous tenure as Wales national manager asking for an full explanation of his reported remarks to Wales striker Nathan Blake, I received a written reply from him (leading my mum to this day to describe him as “a decent man”) supplying “proof” that he is, in fact, not racist at all. Deep within the body of his non-sequitur-littered letter was his challenge to me, an ultimatum that makes my head ache even 15 summers later. Using the classic “I can’t be racist, a lot of my friends are black” gambit, Gould laid it out to me: “…if you think I am racist I suggest you make contact with the following…” going into a list of, you’ve guessed it, black players with whom he had worked. While hoping that I did not need to become Rufus Brevett’s pen-pal to get to the truth of the matter, I was astonished that Gould’s list included the surreal “…and Laurie Cunningham (the late).” Dear old Bobby. If he had merely forgotten that the prodigiously gifted erstwhile Orient, WBA and Man Utd winger had been tragically killed in a car crash, I could have forgiven him. But explicitly to advise me to contact a player whom he admitted he knew was dead seemed to sum up everything every Wales fan already knew about Gould. This, the international manager who chose his captain by drawing lots in the dressing room (with fellow bluster-buddy Vinnie Jones winning the armband, presaging a 7-1-going-on-24-1 defeat in Eindhoven). Bullshit, bluff, arrogance and solipsistic stupidity. Write to a dead player. Oh aye yeah Bob, tell us another Crazy Gang story, you deluded dullard. Luckily Gould left the Wales job soon after and our trajectory ever since has been an embarrassment of trophy-laden tournament wins, coming to Wembley in September to make Barcelona’s Champions League Final performance look a bit kick-and-rush.
Mark Ainsbury, Hertford
Having read Rob Murfin’s article Easy Pickings (WSC 294), I can only assume from his wish to see newly created clubs start so high up the pyramid that he supports either one of the runners up to the reformed clubs this season, or one of the reformed clubs themselves. Though obviously not Kings Lynn Town, as he would have known that they did not win the United Counties League this season, but came second to St Neots Town and were therefore not promoted. He questions why reformed clubs are placed so far down the pyramid from the liquidated clubs they were formed to replace. Has he not considered this might just be to deter other clubs from repeating the mistakes of these clubs (granted they don’t all heed this message)? Also having the larger supporter base should not give any club a divine right to leapfrog lesser clubs that have been established for many years. I presume he also thinks it was the right decision to allow MK Dons to begin life in the Football League as opposed to starting from the bottom of the pyramid. Some will say it unfairly punishes the supporters of the defunct side, but apart from Chester, whose team was ruined by misappropriation as opposed to outrageous spending on the team, most fans are quite happy to go along for the ride while the cash is flowing and only voice their objection when it all goes horribly wrong. I had the misfortune to see the nouveau riche Crawley and their obnoxious manager secure the Conference title at Tamworth last season. As their expensively assembled side carved open our hapless defence and scored for the third time, their fans started a chant of “That’s why we’re champions, that’s why you’re going down” (only half right, people). Any criticism of Crawley’s outlandish spending habits this season has been dismissed by these supporters as jealousy. I doubt anyone will feel much sympathy if and when Crawley fans find themselves back in the Southern League sometime soon. Rob Murfin writes that that “clubs in a relegation battle can often find some solace in the financial plight of a rival”. The fact is that rival has achieved their position in the league by spending money they don’t have and tax avoidance, whilst the relegated club has been far more prudent and attempted to live within their means. Who really deserves a place in the Conference next season, Southport or AFC Rushden & Diamonds?
Sean Hallam, Tamworth
Clive Pacey (Lettters, WSC 294) may wish to dismiss my article as “drivel” but his comments only serve to reinforce the case I was making. Surely he realises that the article was not about corruption. It was about attitudes and where we stand as a nation in relation to football in the rest of the world. The House of Commons Media, Culture and Sport Select Committee took my views seriously enough with regard to their report on the 2018 World Cup bid, that they took evidence from me and used a number of points that I raised in the article as part of their conclusions and recommendations as to the way forward for English football. Is it too much to ask that football fans in this country recognise and respect the fact that football exists beyond the Premier League?
Guy Oliver, Christchurch
I was very surprised to read the following with regards to Brighton in Tom Green’s League One review (WSC 293): “The danger is that, without huge financial backing, or a big home crowd, their future is rather too dependent on retaining their likeable Uruguayan boss.” In August, Brighton are moving into their new home the American Express Community Stadium. A 22,000 seater state of the art stadium costing £100 million. The stadium has been fully paid for by our chairman with no debt to the club. Season tickets have also sold out for next year, with 18,000 being sold. With planning approval going through for new training facilities, Brighton are now set up for Premiership football. With our terrific fan base and chairman I fully expect us to be more likely to do a Norwich than a Scunthorpe.
Richard Allchild, Brighton
Regarding Andrew Woods excellent article in WSC 294, I share his sadness at the demise of “proper” away ends in an increasing number of football grounds. Having watched Leeds away from home since the late 1970s, I’ve now visited 123 English league grounds and have seen my team play at all but eight of these However, I’ve become increasingly frustrated in recent seasons at the proliferation of new identikit grounds, where the away end just merges into the rest of the ground and has no redeeming features whatsoever (not that Elland Road is blameless in this regard either). When Leeds are now playing away, I am more likely to be wandering around northern England visiting a new non league ground (71 so far and increasing rapidly) – I accept they often don’t even have an away “end” but at least the traditional old-fashioned grounds remain in many instances and I invariably get a powerful sense of nostalgia, remembering how I 1st started visiting new grounds all those years ago.
Paul Dickinson, Aberford
Regarding Martin Howard’s view on the current restrictions on players’ goal celebrations (WSC 293), I would agree that little harm could come from a player removing his shirt, donning a mask or even indulging in dancing of dubious aesthetic quality. But as for running into a crowd of his own supporters the present rules must surely remain in place. Whenever this happens a scrum inevitably ensues to try to mob the celebrant. This used to be less of a problem in terraced stadiums where fans were cushioned by others around them. I was often swept along several metres by the crowd on the old Kop – scary, but relatively safe. In today’s stadiums though, the seats can become lethal knee-high traps and from experience when celebrations get out of hand in this environment there’s a real danger to life and limb. And this is before we even start to discuss the potential dangers to the player. So I’d encourage broadcasters and journalists, before they – yet again – recite the tiresome “health and safety gone mad” to think about the well-being of the paying punter. Radical, I admit.
John Inman, Warrington
I pretty much agree with Andrew Woods’ “No man’s land” (WSC 294), other than of course to say Milton Road was the home end at The Dell. Away fans were housed at the Archers Road end, except in its final years when they were shifted to part of the East Stand, and for a period in the West Stand as well until presumably the local constabulary realised the potential for a pincer movement on Saints’ fans in the now-seated Archers Road, by then known as the Bike Shed. “Crummy….stick to beat….embarrassment”; do I detect Andrew finally letting his frustration out after seeing his team lose there all those years ago? Perhaps that’s because popular myth would tell you The Dell was worth a goal start to the Saints who hardly ever lost there. Looking back to the old ground’s final season ten years ago, despite a tenth place Prem finish (ah, them were the days) home defeats were tasted against Cov (twice), Boro, Man City, West Ham, Ipswich and Sunderland. As loved as it was (by home fans! in its day, I doubt you’d find many Saints’ fans who’d find the move from The Dell regressive. And that’s even taking into account the last six years of turmoil caused in part by financing St Mary’s, where away fans are well placed and in full few of the TV cameras.
John Middleton, London W12
I greatly enjoyed Guy Oliver’s article “The Empire Games” (WSC 293) and generally agreed with the points made therein. However, as an American, I take umbrage with the comment, “…with just the US, Scotland and Australia standing in our way, we might just win a World Cup again one day.” Allow me to remind Guy that the US finished atop the table in group play at the 2010 World Cup, ahead of England. In addition, the two drew when they met in the group stage. While the popularity and success of both the US men’s team and MLS have both grown since the mid-1990s, the England team has clearly regressed. The EPL’s success, of course, has been largely built on outstanding imports. As a nation, England can keep heaping praise on aging players such as Terry, Lampard and Gerrard, but the national team has been exposed for the mediocrity it is. The US will absolutely win a world cup before England ever gets to another final. England must get over their undeserved smugness if they wish to ever succeed at the international level.
William J Smith, Brooklyn, NY, USA
Archie McGregor’s article in WSC 294 about the lack of a pyramid system in Scottish football was interesting, but I think he may have overestimated the volatility of the English system. Comparing the 1986-87 and forthcoming 2011-12 season – the 25-year period over which Archie points out that 8 new clubs have entered the Scottish league – there were 12 clubs who played in the earlier season but will not be in the league this coming year: Luton; Grimsby; Mansfield; Chester; York; Darlington; Newport; Wrexham; Cambridge; Halifax; Stockport; and Lincoln. Of these teams, all will play in the Conference next season except Chester and Halifax, and both are well on their way back there, subsequent relegations having been caused as much by financial problems as playing issues (see Rob Murfin’s article also in WSC 294). Some of these teams are having only their debut season at the fifth level (Stockport), or have only been down a season or two; the only really long-term absentees have been Newport. I think we can certainly expect Luton to return soon, and probably a few of the others. The following clubs are in the league this coming year but were not there in 1986-87: Wycombe; Yeovil; Accrington; Cheltenham; Barnet; Morecambe; MK Dons; Stevenage; Barnet; Burton Albion; Crawley; and Dagenham & Redbridge. For a league twice the size, and a population eight times the size, this therefore makes the English league rather less volatile than the Scottish over that period. This is more true when we look at the achievements of the promoted clubs. Of these 12, none will play above the third level this season, nor indeed have ever done so. Accrington were a league club of long standing in the past, and MK Dons a zombie club akin to Airdrie United. Without meaning to offend the fans of the remaining ten clubs I would say that from amongst them, only Wycombe and Yeovil have truly established themselves in the league, though I suspect Stevenage will also do so. Certainly none of them have achieved anything comparable with Inverness CT in Scotland, nor even Ross County. I am not saying I agree with Scotland’s approach to relegating clubs from to its league but when we look at the achievements of those it has admitted, it is not apparent that the ‘arbitrary choice’ method is any worse at selecting worthy league entrants than the ‘playing prowess’ view favoured south of the Tweed, and arguably, it might even be more successful.
Drew Whitworth, Hebden Bridge
I was disappointed – but not surprised – to see disparaging remarks about Rafa Benitez in WSC 294. Apparently, according to your editorial, he was guilty of “impulsive bulk buying” which has hampered Kenny Dalglish’s efforts to build a squad. Your writer implies that Milan Jovanovic was one of these “bulk buys”, when a quick check would have revealed that Jovanovic was in fact the first signing of that shrewd talent spotter, Roy Hodgson, who was generally applauded for it by his chums down there in the southern press. Woy then proceeded to add further kwolity in the shape of Joe Cole, Paul Konchesky, Christian Poulsen and Brad Jones – all of whom are currently congesting the Anfield exits. Even Woy’s best signing, Raul Meireles, seems earmarked for departure. In the meantime, two of Benitez’ signings – Javier Mascherano and Fernando Torres – were sold for a combined total of around £70M, which must have made things exceedingly difficult for Kenny when he wanted to buy Luis Suarez and the crocked Andy Carroll for £55M total last January. Benitez’ critics – like your Adam Bate (Home Valuation, WSC 294) generally point to extravagant and ill-judged spending as his major weakness. But the figures, which are easily available, show that his net spend (a notoriously difficult concept to grasp for the journalist with an agenda) was just £90M in six seasons – a total that even the Daily Mail agreed with. Dalglish has already spent more than half that amount this summer buying “topnotch” British players. Amongst other things, Benitez produced the best Liverpool team for 10 seasons and achieved the club’s two best ever Premiership points totals. I won’t mention regular top four finishes and European glory nights, as these obviously don’t count. Bashing the sporting press for excesses and inaccuracies is all very well, but the story about motes and planks comes to mind.
Fred Oldfield, Bromsgrove
From WSC 295 September 2011