When Saturday Comes: The Half Decent Football Book

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9780141015569: When Saturday Comes: The Half Decent Football Book

The best chants, the funniest nicknames, the greatest headlines and enough little-known facts to keep the average football supporter entertained - and entertaining - for several seasons. This is the story of the greatest game on earth, from 'abandoned matches' to 'Yeovil Town', via celebrity fans, mascots, punditry and superstitions, written from the fan's point of view and with a separate entry for every club in the English and Scottish leagues.

Who cares why, if Torquay United's strikers had been more prolific in the 1950s, England may never have won the World Cup; or where football hooliganism actually began; or who the hell Captain Henry Blythe Thornhill Wakelam is? We do. Because as every true student of the game knows: it's important.

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About the Author:

When Saturday Comes is a UK-based monthly football magazine covering all aspects of football culture from a fan's perspective. It first appeared as a fanzine in March 1986, and within two years had developed from a bi-monthly, photocopied, hand-stapled production into a monthly magazine with national distribution. The magazine has always aimed to provide a voice for intelligent football supporters, offering both a serious and humorous view of the sport while covering all the topics that fans are likely to talk about, whether serious or trivial. It is recognized as a source of informed comment on all aspects of British football.

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

Some footballing pearls of wisdom taken from When Saturday Comes

Queen of the South

The town of Dumfries acquired the alias Queen of the South in 1857 when a local poet, David Dunbar, coined it during his campaign to be elected to Parliament. Queen of the South was selected as the name of a new club formed from several existing local sides in 1919. They are the only team given a name check in the Bible, during the Old Testament tale of the Queen of Sheba, proving that Mr Dunbar was a man who knew his scriptures.

At the other end of their history, Queens are enjoying one of the most successful periods: 2002 saw them win Division 2, only the second championship win in 83 years, and also the Challenge Cup, a knockout competition for lower league teams. Since then they have remained in Division 1 and punched above their weight, even after losing their manager, John Connolly, to St Johnstone as a result of his success in Dumfries. Since promotion from Division 2, Queens have edged towards a return to the top flight of Scottish football for the first time since 1965.

However, for consistently competing with the best in Scotland the club still looks back to the immediate pre- and post-war era. Between 1934 and 1959 Queen of the South spent just one season below the top division, finishing fourth in 1934 and sixth in 1956. In 1948-49 their striker Billy Houliston earned three caps for Scotland and remains the club's only full international, although former Carlisle midfielder Chris Balderstone turned out for the club in the late 1970s shortly after having played cricket for England. Among the several other English players to have starred for Queens, the most fondly remembered is goalkeeper Allan Ball, who played 819 competitive matches for the club over 19 seasons from 1963.

pitch invasions

The term 'pitch invasion' has come to describe any incident of one or more members of the general public stepping on to the field of play while a football match is in progress. Pitch invasions tend to fall into one of four categories: the streaker; the lone angry nutter; the post-match end-of-season we've-just-avoided-relegation free-for-all; and the hooligan rumble, thankfully largely a thing of the past.

Given that every day of the week for nine months of the year somewhere in the UK a football match is played in front of a bi-partisan crowd, on-field violence and security problems are remarkably rare. Perhaps for this reason, the more momentous pitch invasions of the past tend to be remembered with affection. The White Horse Final in 1923 remains a part of football's rattle-shaking Golden Age. The most famous pitch invasion in a televised cup final came in 1966 when balding Everton fan Eddie Cavanagh hurtled ecstactically across the Wembley turf, with several policemen trailing behind, after his team equalized against Sheffield Wednesday having been two goals down. A couple of months later several spectators ran on in the final moments of the World Cup Final between England and West Germany thinking, wrongly, that the final whistle had been blown.

More notoriously, at a vital end-of-season game between Leeds United and West Bromwich Albion in 1971 a goal scored by Albion's Jeff Astle from an offside position inspired a violent invasion of the pitch by irate Leeds fans and most of the club personnel (including manager Don Revie carrying a blanket). The incident was given added poignancy by Barry Davies's unusually rabble-rousing television commentary: 'And Leeds will go mad! And they have every right to go mad!' Pitch invasions happened with increasing regularity during the decade, notably in April 1973 when fans of relegation-threatened Manchester United swarmed on at Old Trafford after neighbours City had taken a late lead that some believed would send United down.

During the 1980s nadir of Hooliganism in and around football stadiums, the pitch invasion was seen in its most sinister form. During an FA Cup tie at Luton in 1985 a group of spectators in the Millwall end rampaged on to the pitch, throwing ripped up plastic seats and engaging in a pitched battle with mounted police. Similar incidents around the country led to the introduction of unbreachable iron perimeter fences, intended to pen potential invaders in the terraces; with tragic consequences, as it would turn out, after the utterly avoidable events at Hillsborough in 1989 (see Hillsborough Disaster).

The pitch invasion has been the subject of increasing censure by the game's administrators, not just as a menace to the safety of players and officials, but to the sanctity of the stage itself. This is partly because of the dangers posed by groups of excitable people running around an enclosed square of grass; and partly a response to the isolating effects of the recent phenomenon of player celebrity. There is a sense that a pitch containing 22 millionaires who regularly appear on national television must be protected at all costs from the intrusions of the public. The Birmingham City fan who ran on to the pitch to confront Aston Villa goalkeeper Peter Enckelman in 2002, after the Finn had miskicked embarrassingly to gift a goal to his team, received a life ban from St Andrews and was gaoled for four months. This may be a reasonable punishment; but the two-year ban imposed on a Crystal Palace supporter in 2000 for dancing on the pitch to celebrate a goal suggests that preserving the sanctity of the playing area can be taken too far.

Wayne Rooney

At the age of 20 Wayne Rooney is already a global star. He is also the youngest-ever goalscorer for England, and after his £27m move from Everton to Manchester United the second most expensive player in British football history. Despite this, his career has barely begun. Very little can be predicted about his longevity in the game, his ability to enjoy prolonged success or even - despite a few opaque public appearances - what he's actually like.

Notwithstanding the desensitizing effects of the hype and hard sell of modern football, Rooney's talent is startling. After making a superb full England debut as a 17-year-old in the 2-0 European Championships qualifying victory over Turkey in 2003, he scored nine international goals in his first year as an England player. Then, after joining Manchester United in the summer of 2004, he scored a spectacular Champions' League hat-trick against Fenerbahçe on his injury-delayed debut for the club. Rooney is a completely natural footballer. Powerfully built, well-balanced and seeming low to the ground despite being 5'10" tall, even as a 16-year-old he had an intimidating physical presence. Playing as a striker or in an attacking midfield position, he has superb control, vision, shooting power and an ability to perform on the big occasion.

The urge to compare Rooney to the greatest players of the past has overwhelmed even experienced managers. After his successful appearances at Euro 2004, where he scored four times against Switzerland and Croatia, Sven-Goran Eriksson compared Rooney's impact to that of the similarly 17-year-old Pelé at the 1958 World Cup. The Fenerbahçe coach, Christoph Daum, said Rooney could be 'the player of the century', George Best has called him 'the complete player ... as good as anything you've seen', and Wimbledon champion Serena Williams described him as 'a sweetie' during England's run to the quarter-finals of Euro 2004.

Rooney was a familiar whispered topic of conversation among Everton fans long before his debut for the club in August 2002. His spectacular performances for Everton's FA Youth Cup finalists of 2001-2 made him one of the most talked about young players in the country. From the start, Rooney has appeared utterly unfazed by the pressure of expectation. After scoring his first senior goals against Wrexham in the League Cup while still a 16-year-old, he announced himself in the Premiership with the spectacular long-range strike against Arsenal at Goodison Park two weeks later. The goal demonstrated the completeness of his talent: instant control of a bouncing ball, awareness of the space in front of him, quick feet to manoeuvre the ball and then an extraordinary dipping side-footed shot beyond the England goal-keeper David Seaman.

In truth, Rooney's Everton career never had time to live up to its astonishing start. Injuries and loss of form, combined with manager David Moyes's reluctance to over-burden a teenager, restricted Rooney to 40 starts in the Premiership games and 15 goals over two years. In 2003-04 he played well in patches, scoring several crucial goals in a relegation-threatened campaign, but also spending time out of position on the right wing and missing games through suspension. Several rash tackles led to unhelpful comparisons with the young Paul Gascoigne, another prodigiously talented, occasionally reckless player from a poor background. There is no real comparison. Even at his best Gascoigne always appeared to be slightly out of control, in thrall to his own trapped and destructive energy. On Rooney's better days he appears calm and focused. At his worst, although less so in recent times, he has the petulance of a teenager.

Unusually, Rooney's talent has flowered in the England team rather than at the levels below. He scored his first international goal away to Macedonia in a Euro 2004 qualifier in September 2003 and has since become the dominant force in Sven-Goran Eriksson's team. He was one of the players of the tournament in Portugal in 2004. After Rooney left the field in the quarter-final with a broken metatarsal, England lost both momentum and a 1-0 lead against the hosts. It's no exaggeration to suggest that, had he not been injured, they would probably have been favourites to win the competition at that stage.

A strange summer followed for Rooney. Weekly stories emerged in the tabloid press of his visits to prostitutes in Liverpool the previous year, causing some much-publicized soul-searching over his relationship with fiancée Coleen McLoughlin. In the middle of this he signed for Manchester United, completed his recovery from injury and began his Old Trafford career in spectacular style. The future for Rooney would seem to be wide open. He has prodigious talent, a resilient physique and a place in the starting XI at one of the biggest clubs in the world. Success doesn't always follow in such circumstances. But British football has rarely, if ever, seen a young player progress so meteorically. Either way, it should be fascinating to watch.

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