Curly Watts, Osama Bin Laden, Matt Hancock… who is your club’s worst celebrity fan?

Editor F365
An England fan wears a Matt Hancock mask; and an image of Curly Watts playing in a celebrity football match.

The Mailbox keeps it light for the weekend, asking who is your club’s worst celebrity fan? Schalke fans – we know. Also: tales of getting a lift off Merse and having tea with Danny Blind. And some sportswashing stuff…

Get your mails in to

Bin Laden was a Gooner
While Arsenal were top of the league, I started seeing tweets from Piers Morgan, banging on about how great they were. As much as I admired their young team, that was enough for me to not want them to win the league.

I’m a Newcastle fan, and only last season realised that Matt Hancock is also a fan. This was tough for me to take. I can take a lot of things, including our new owners, but to think I’d be celebrating any future success alongside the former Health Secretary is almost too much for me.

So, c’mon readers – who are you embarrassed to call a fan of your club?
Simon “Bored of sportswashing essays” S, Cheshire.


A lift off Merse and tea with Danny Blind
In response to this morning’s mail about meeting footballers – how great to talk about something other than Sportswashing and Financial doping!!

The summer of 96 my schoolmates and I would routinely get the bus to London Colney so we could watch Arsenal train and also get all their autographs and pictures etc back at their previous training centre, which is now Watford’s.

You could easily access the grounds walking up the drive to the main entrance and see all the players and staff coming and going and chat with them no hassle and they were all friendly and approachable. You could then walk around the footpaths and watch all the sessions through the gaps in hedges and maybe even swipe the odd ball that went wayward (thanks for the Mitre Ultimax’s, Glenn Helder!!!) and then get the players to sign them when they finished.

Paul Merson lived not far from where and friend and I lived and we cheekily asked him for a lift home…..he laughed and told us to duck off……10 minutes later getting Wrighty’s autograph Merson blasts the horn on his Range Rover and shouts “are you coming or not!” Cue two 13 year old gobsmacked running and jumping in and having a great time chatting about everything football whilst he dropped us off at end of his street. Great guy then despite everything he was probably going through and even sorted us tickets for a game v Derby

96 was a great summer for this in our area as we also had Sopwell House a bike ride away and met the Dutch team, Spanish team and Czech team. This included tea and biscuits on the lawn with Danny Blind and Artur Numan (Artur Numan even used to send us both a squad photo of him signed every summer of PSV until he moved to Rangers), a jog round the grounds of Sopwell House with Spanish squad chatting with Miguel Angel Nadal and Adoni Zubbizaretta, and getting plied with alcohol at 13 by some guys from Czech Republic who had driven over for the final and just slept in their car in the hotel car park!!

Just wish that players and teams were accessible now for my kids as they were back then (man shouts at clouds)
Liam (tldr:met footballers and they were nice)


…Overlord Megma asked for it so here it is. A short list of dull player interactions.

Ever since Chelsea moved to their training ground to Cobham I have had the merest of brushes with several players and ex-players.

Shaking Ray Wilkins (RiP) hand at Cobham Sainsbury’s petrol station.
Really annoying Gary Cahill whilst he was shopping at the same Sainsbury’s. BTW Cahill is a big big lad so probably best not to annoy him.
Shouting a Joe Cole whilst at the driving range. Again really annoying him but he is not as big as Gary so…
Flicking the Vs at Glen Johnson after he cut me up in his range rover. My shame is eternal and I hate the person I become behind the wheel of a car.
Simon, Woking


…Not sure it’s a good story for Overlord Megma, but the Blades were off to Notts County for a match and we stopped off for a beer or two on the way. Who’s propping up the bar nursing a pint but none other than Blades and Wales legend Glyn Hodges. We naturally swamped him with lots of back slapping and autograph requests and shortly afterwards we headed off to the game and left him in the bar.

Imagine our surprise when Glynn comes trotting out with the rest of the team at Meadow Lane and proceeds to score. What a top mester.

Can’t see Harry Kane doing that.
Bladey Mick ((Them were the days)


…To Overlord Megma. I too miss the ‘meeting footballer’ stories. The blander or more annoyed/annoying the footballer the better.

My own stories are all leeds related:

1. My dad meeting Rod Wallace at Leeds training ground. My dad said “you’re my son’s favourite player”. Rod simply said “thanks” and ran off without saying anything else.

2. I met Jack Charlton at his pub near Blyth. He chatted about the wonders of modern football, and Messi in particular. I lost my cool, mumbled something and look like a loser.

3. I saw Gary Kelly and Stephen McPhail in town. I said to Gary that my sister loved him when she was younger. I told Stephen he was great but injury prone. He didn’t like that and I was a knob (I was drunk).

Other mailboxes must have been cooler or better behaved than me, surely?!


How to transfer window
It seems to have been a difficult start for United (there’s only one) in the transfer window so far so I thought I’d give them a hand with some helpful tips at how to buy players:
1) Identify weaknesses in your squad. We need a centre forward lads. Yes strength in depth in other areas would be nice but we literally don’t have a single number 2) 9 at the club who can be relied on to stay fit/score actual goals. A centre forward, sign a bloody centre forward!
3) Determine your budget. From reports this seems to be around £120M. Ok, you’ve done this bit, well done.
4) Create a shortlist of players based on 1 and 2. Looks like probably Kane, Hojlund and Kolo Muani as Osimhen will cost more than the budget.
5) Set yourself a limit and bid for the player. I guess we haven’t got this far yet.
6) Sign the player in time for pre season. Clock is ticking on this one.
7_ Be disciplined. Opportunities will present themselves and you might be tempted. But you really need to focus on what’s required to strengthen the first team. What? Yes, a CENTRE FORWARD. There’s time to sign other players later in the window, stick to the priority early on.
8) Kim Min Jae? He’s a centre back?! We need a centre forward. Ok good you f*cked that up, could’ve been costly that because I’m not sure if you know, but our budget is limited and we need a Centre Forward.
MASON MOUNT?! What did I say about priorities?!
9) By all means bid for Declan Rice but he’ll go to City anyway.
10) What? De Gea’s leaving? Yes I know the online Qatar flag fan boys want to sign a new keeper but have you seen the budget? This is an omnishambles.
11) We should sign Onana you say? Well I suppose he’d be better than Henderson but I can draw your attention to the priority and the budget? Yes I know we’d play better football but if rashford gets injured who’s going to put the ball in the back of the net?
12) We’ll make some money on player sales? Uh, have you actually heard of Manchester United in the transfer windows before?
13) It’s 28th August and we’ve drawn all our games nil nil so far.
14) Kane AND Hojlund for £200M?!
I give up.


Why can’t we watch the Under-21s?
For a sport that is so fixated on youth and potential, I found it amazing that no channel in the UK bid for the U21 Euros. For fans missing their favourite sport during the summer it felt like a no brainer, add to that we might uncover a new star at the tournament makes it all the more strange.

This morning I wanted to see if the U21 was being reported widely and again, very little (I wanted to see how Emile Smith Rowe did…and he scored because he’s great!)

Why is it that people don’t seem interested? I thought we all loved the next big thing.
John Matrix AFC


Defending Nev
I think SC, Belfast is spectacularly missing Gary Neville’s point.

He isn’t saying ‘suspend transfers because they are going to the gulf”. He’s saying “suspend transfers because there’s a suspicion of FFP shenanigans going on with Chelsea”.

The suspicion, unproven, is that the PIF own a larger-than-we-knew stake in the firm that owns Chelsea and that, in turn, these transfers (that would be to a related club also owned by the PIF) are going to be for over-inflated values to manipulate Chelsea’s precarious FFP situation.

I have no idea whatsoever if any of that is true, but what Neville was saying is there should be a freeze while it’s figured out.

He wasn’t making a point of about the ethics of doing business with the Saudis, nor suggesting that players shouldn’t be allowed to leave England to work where they want (which would be ridiculous). It was purely about clarifying the FFP point.
Andy (MUFC)

Neville Boehly Chelsea

Best PL team of all-time
I was thinking about the best PL team of all time. It can go so many ways with so many high quality players over the years. When doing this thought experiment, something should always be included when deciding, and that’s the manager and system.

Sir Alex’s and Wengers 4-4-2’s would require different players, very different to a Pep 4-3-3, different again to a Klopp 4-3-3, and again different to a Mourinho 4-2-3-1.

Which then makes me think, whose team, optimized with the PL’s best, would win? Using a bit of recency bias, I reckon it would be Pep Vs Klopp, with Mourinho’s best XI potentially sneaking in. Pep has beaten Sir Alex at his best(I rate Fergie more though), and Klopp has beaten Pep at his best. Mourinho on his day can beat anyone. Nobody did it longer than Sir Alex, and nobody has been undefeated like Wenger. I will create the best XI’s below, trying to avoid the same players.

With Klopp’s high pressing, high energy approach, I think this would be the best PL XI under Klopp and his system:

Zabaleta – Ferdinand – Van Dyke- Evra
Gerrard – Toure
Salah – Rooney – Henry

Reasoning: This would be a team that could run all day, and combine their physical aspects perfectly with their technical. Cb’s can comfortably keep up with any attacker, play the ball out the either fullback, or into their intense midfield three. Getting the ball straight to that lethal front 3, with Rooney doing the Firmino role diligently. You then would have Gerrard and Toure arriving late or smashing one in from 30 yards.

As for Pep:
V. D. Saar
Walker – Kompany – Ferdinand – Cole
Scholes – De Bruyne
Ronaldo – Suarez – Henry

Reasoning: A high quality, highly technical team. This team could pass past any team, while also having the natural ruthlessness in combination with tactical nohow. I doubt anything could stop that front three, or the midfield three from getting passes to them. Not many attackers would have the pace and strength to get past that back 4.

Azpilicueta – Vidic – Terry – Irwin
Makelele – Keane
Beckham – Lampard – Giggs

Reasoning: This would be the hardest team to score against. A devastating low block that wouldn’t give an inch, would then launch the ball via their fullbacks to its wingers to put it on a plate for Drogba, or onto Drogba’s chest, to take it down, lay it off to Lamps, or turn and smash a half volley from 30 yards. Plenty of experience, heart, running and leadership to win any battle.

Conclusion: I can’t look past how ruthless a Pep team looking like that would be, but equally, I cannot imagine a Mourinho XI like this being scored against. Giving Klopp that XI in their primes would be a scary thought, and one capable as any on their day. So I don’t really know? This was a fun road to nowhere.

Who do you think would win?


Why we’ve little to fear from Saudi
The Saudi situation is interesting, and I can see why some may get a bit anxious when they see top stars moving there, especially with a player in their prime such as Neves.

I really feel it will not last, and despite the vast sums being offered to players, it won’t become a long term or sustainable project. There are a few reasons for this.

First, on a pure sporting level, their pro league is nowhere near the levels of quality that you would find in the PL, La Liga and many of the other European leagues. Some players will clearly take the pay day as it’s their means to life, but many more players means to life is football itself. Those players will not go to Saudi, or at least not until they’ve achieved all that can be achieved during their primes.

Second, as rightly said in the mailbox, is the society and culture. Again, there will be plenty who will look the other way, and make the move, but I reckon many will live the experience, and want to move back(As we saw with China). Many more will look at the overall lifestyle, and flat out say no, A la Messi.

Thirdly, the project itself. It’s all well and good being paid millions to do what you were already doing, but there will come a point where the players will have to think “Is having worse facilities, team mates, smaller stadiums, different football culture all worth it?”.
This is a two-way street as well. How long before the Saudis and their fans start to get annoyed at European fat cats just showing up for a paycheck, and not really caring all that much? How much outward investments before they begin to see the diminishing returns?

If they were truly serious (& they still might be), they would be investing in infrastructure. Creating academies across the nation, bringing in the best coaches and trainers, and creating a long term plan to grow the sport organically (With some financial steroids of course).

Part of me feels this is, in part, a vanity project. They saw how successful the Qatar World Cup went, the world wide attention they received, and how well it put them on the map. Now they want some of that attention, and would be more than happy to take some of the shine off of Qatar.

If anything, Saudi does offer a solution to the bloated wages PL teams find hard to get off of the books, as we are seeing with Chelsea. With that, it may become the destination for players who are only in it for the money/ One final financial swansong. In which case, carry on!


…So now the Sky Sports brain trust are worried, we should all be worried? This seemed to be the gist of F365 sounding the doom alarm at Saudi Arabia having bought all of sports. Well, I’m here to be the bearer of good news. They haven’t, and they wont.

Let’s just focus on the football because we don’t have time to discuss all sports, but the Saudi’s can’t buy a top 5 league because, even if they spent billions of dollars (for both purchasing and paying the wages of big stars) filling out their league with foreign players so that the teams barely field a domestic player, mostly no one will watch it.

Let me give you an example; I have seen loads of kids with Messi on the back of their Argentinian shirt. I’ve also seen kids with the blue and yellow Ronaldo shirt. That’s because kids love players. They will say to their parents that they want their favourite players shirt. They don’t ask for the Al-Nassr shirt, because most of those don’t know who Al-Nassr are. They just want their hero’s football top and their parent says, “You want the red and green one or the blue and yellow?”

You know what kids also don’t do? They don’t buy sports broadcasting packages.

Now adults, adults support football teams. I doubt many/any of your readers were huge Man Utd fans who then became huge Real Madrid fans who then became huge Juve fans who then became Utd fans again and finally are now Nassr fans. Instead adults cheer on the players in their teams colour until they break your heart and leave (M Owen) or stay and become your lifelong hero (S Gerrard).

Saudi Arabia buying up talent might be more of a concern if there was only a hundred or so top players, but there isn’t. Look around the globe and you will see enough great players to make many, many leagues highly competitive. Mexico has some great players. Argentina has some great players. Belgium has some great players. Korea has some great players, on and on it goes. Saudi Arabia can’t buy enough players to detrimentally affect the existing leagues so that people see a drop off in talent worthy of even considering switching allegiances. This is particularly the case for the Premiership teams, as they can scour the globe and pick off the cream of a whole planets football products.

The vast majority of people in Mexico watch and support Mexico’s domestic league, as they do in Argentina, Belgium and Korea. Yes, the Premiership has become the next most high profile for most of those countries, but in the vast majority it is still a distant second. The Premiership always required the fervent and lucrative support of a domestic fan base, then after a century of having that, lots of countries with small domestic leagues also began to watch it. This has taken decades of advertising and marketing and each of its teams has toured and built up fan bases. Many of its teams have played in the Champions League or Europa League, also increasing their profile. It is not an easy or swift process.

Just imagine how much money it would cost Saudi Arabia to fill out the league and pay the wages. First without exorbitant pay none of the players would go. Saudi Arabia is not California, its a strict Muslim country expecting certain strict moral standards, not something young footballers with vaults of disposable cash might ideally choose. It also does not have the sporting competitiveness or glamour to draw anyone in. No one cares who wins the league and no international awards await the winners of their competitions. It has one thing: money. The league has no revenue stream to support the massive spends in transfers or wages, the cost will fall directly on the government. And as more players come, that cost grows and grows. And how long will Ronaldo play for? How long will Benzema play for? Even with an entire oil field offered, Karim and Cristiano will eventually just have as much money as they can possibly want. And what level of performance are we to expect from these money hungry, largely aged players? A 36 year old Benzema with little interest in actually trying to win anything in Arabia will probably balloon to quite comical proportions before the end of his first season. Then you need to pay another quidzillion dollars to bring in his replacement while he enjoys a contract that has several years left to run.

There is a reason this trick does not work. The cost very quickly outruns the value. The Saudi’s will throw more cash at it then most, and the players and their agents will bleed them dry and move on when the cash has dried up. I would feel sorry for them, but well, their an abusive, vicious authoritarian state…
Ed Ern


Sportswashing corner
In Friday’s email, ANON raised an important question – what if Saudi Arabia became a hotbed for terrorism, run by religious fundamentalists, committing heinous acts (in our eyes) on a daily basis?

I just have one question in response – do you, ANON, live under a particularly large and heavy rock?

Because that’s the pretty much the only acceptable reason why you would say such a thing. We would be straying too far from football if I submitted the actual response I wanted to send in, but I will say, please, read up on Wahhabism Islam (the fundamentalist version of Sunni Islam the Saudi royal family, and by extension the majority of Saudi Arabia, practice), Saudi Islamists (I’d start with the little-known Osama bin Laden), and the judicial system in Saudi Arabia (81 people killed in a single month seems pretty heinous to me).

Saudi Arabia, and the other petrostates in the Middle East, are engaged in sportswashing. No, they’re not the only ones doing it and they’re definitely not the first ones to do it, but that doesn’t change the fact that they are.

As much as it pains me to say it, Gerard Eire is right on one point – for the most part, the rulers of the Middle East countries don’t really care what we think about them. That is, they don’t care, as long as we keep giving them our money. There’s a phenomenon in international politics which shows that oil-rich authoritarian countries, tend to stay authoritarian as long as the oil keeps flowing. These authoritarian governments use the income from oil to essentially bribe their own citizens – they fund huge welfare programmes and, as shown in a recent high profile sporting event, they bring in outsiders to do all the dirty work and the heavy lifting.

The downside of this is that these countries will have slow economic growth outside of oil because they rely so much on the oil/gas income that they don’t build a productive private sector. That means when the oil money starts running out, the people start to get antsy. This is where the sportswashing comes into play. The Saudis and the Qataris and everyone else are looking for other sources of significant income. They are leveraging their oil income into sectors that they think will return huge profits for them as the oil runs out. They have realised that football offers them something and we should all be questioning what. As big and all as they are, owning Manchester United, Manchester City, Newcastle United, or PSG isn’t going to replace the income lost from oil – so what is the end game?

In short, they’re not looking for Alan the Geordie to like them, they’re looking for Alan to keep giving them his hard earned cash every week.


…A lot were showing their continued ignorance in the Mailbox regarding the Saudi issue yesterday but ANON certainly sat at the top of the pile in that regard.

“Would the mailbox rather Saudi, Qatar and similar become more like Iran? A hotbed for terrorism, run by religious fundamentalists, committing heinous acts (in our eyes) on a daily basis.”

You described Iran yes but also Saudi Arabia at the same time (remember 9/11? Yemen?). Iran only gets treated differently because of their bad history with the US. Other than Iran there are a lot of poorer countries in the Middle East that fit the above description also and who do you think mostly funds their terrorism? Saudi Arabia, Qatar, U.A.E. and Iran. Saudi et al. are just a tiff with the Americans away from being treated just like Iran. That tiff is surely coming in the form of BRICS membership and that new currency to replace the US dollar too.

ANON thinking Saudi Arabia will become more liberal if Western gay men and women visit there for pub crawls is ridiculous. Using Franco’s Spain as an example is ludicrous also. If Franco had lost the civil war the Communists would have been in power which was no better for its people. Spain had a constitutional monarchy and was a democracy before 1939 so the Spanish actually knew what freedom was, it was natural to revert back to that after Franco died. Saudi has never been a democracy, its people have never tasted freedom on home soil (or sand). Arabia the region itself was united by the Prophet Muhammad himself in the 7th century. Their whole history is Islamic oppression for over 1000 years whoever was their ruler. It would take a bit more that seeing women drinking Barcardi Breezers in Jeddah to change that.

Are we ever actually going to get back discussing football in the Mailbox? Silly question since the Qatari’s will buy Utd soon. Anybody like Daniel, Cambridge thinking this is a good thing because supporting Brexit and avoiding taxes is worse than working Third world migrants to death, imprisoning LGBT people and funding terrorism should probably get a one way ticket to the Middle East and never come back.


ANON’s message today included the following:

“What some people may forget is that Spain was a fascist dictatorship until the late 1970’s. That’s right, no elections, the population repressed, mass assassinations of political enemies, political prisoners were interned to concentration camps and homosexuals were interned to psychiatric hospitals. Sound familiar? I was born in the late 70’s so this, to me at least, is not ancient history.

Do we now look at Spain as a pariah or is it a modern, secular, prosperous European nation?”.

I am not offering an opinion on ANON’s overall argument, but points become stronger when the facts adduced to support them are accurate and precise, so allow me to add the following:

First: whether Spain was specifically fascist is open to debate. Leading historian Paul Preston, for example, thinks it was not. This, from him: “If people are looking for a quick and easy insult to those on the right, then fascist, is your go-to term,” he says. “If you’re asking an academic political theorist what constitutes a fascist then you’d have to say Franco isn’t”.

Second: I am assuming ANON’s reference to “no elections” refers to general elections, but Spain did hold general (albeit not free) elections under Franco in 1967 and 1971.

Third, with regard to the “mass assassinations of political enemies”: yes, indeed – note the White Terror of Franco’s early years in power – but it is difficult, I think, to argue that this was the case “until the late 1970’s”.

Fourth: Spain as a “secular” nation. Well, yes, in the sense that religious freedom is guaranteed under the constitution. Debatable from other points of view. The Catholic church still receives special benefits and funding, and there are major regional differences in the role of religion. If you spent a while in Andalucía, you would notice the abundance of images of the Virgin attached to buildings, shrines in the street, and the importance of religious brotherhoods (“hermandades” and “cofradías”) in local life. In Seville, many people ‘support’ a particular Virgin (e.g. La Esperanza de Triana and La Esperanza Macarena) in a way that resembles their support of Sevilla or Betis. My hunch, not supported by statistics, is that the Virgin of Triana would have a higher percentage of devotees who support Betis than the Macarena equivalent. Go to Holy Week (“Semana Santa”) in Seville and see if you think Spain is secular.

Fifth: Spain as “prosperous”. Again, strongly regional, and the specific timing of any analysis would be crucial, but there were areas (like the city of Cádiz) that were crippled by unemployment and other economic issues in the post-2008 period, for example.

Apologies if this seems pedantic, but I wanted to throw a little more light on ANON’s points.

And, in anticipation of people writing in to attack me for being an apologist for Franco: I am absolutely not. I loathe his régime and the effect it had upon Spain.

Finally: congrats to Cádiz for staying up, again, on the last day of the season, again.

Un fuerte abrazo to everyone.
Juan Carlos