Laws decree that strikers will return to haunt their old clubs and certain teams will come a cropper against their bogey team

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The Independent Online
While the laws of the game are subject to constant scrutiny and tinkering, football's unwritten laws tend to stand the test of time. Those laws, which you won't find in the most archaic and long-winded Football Association rule books, decree, for example, that strikers always return to haunt their old clubs (witness Darren Huckerby and Stan Collymore against Newcastle and Forest); that certain strikers will always score against certain clubs (Alan Shearer's goal against Coventry was his 11th, the most damage he's inflicted on any one team), and that certain teams always come a cropper against the most feared opponents - their bogey team.

So West Ham really did not stand a chance at Edgeley Park on Wednesday night. It wasn't just the pouring rain, the long journey and Iain Dowie's errant sense of direction, nor the knowledge that the last time the two clubs met in the Cup, in 1972, County had won 2-1; but rather that Stockport have become something of a Coca-Cola bogey team for Premiership clubs. Having taken Everton to the wire last season, they beat Blackburn at Ewood Park (sealing Ray Harford's fate) before taking West Ham's scalp. "Brett is County's Angell - now he faces the Saints", the headlines noted. It will take a betting man to bank on Graeme Souness' side bringing Angell and his team-mates back down to earth.

Most teams, at one time or another, will admit to a bogey team. Since Stockport's - Aldershot Town - are in the First Division of the Icis Football League, the teams are unlikely to meet barring a Cup exploit of Stockport-like proportions. Up until the Shots dropped out of the Football League in 1992, neither Stockport (nor Crewe for that matter) had ever managed to beat the Surrey side at the Recreation Ground.

As for the Hammers, they may not be a bogey team in the true sense of the word, but they can claim to have put the wind up one of the biggest sails of them all. After the Hammers' obstinacy in the final game of 1994/95 against Manchester United had ensured the championship went to Ewood Park, there was a certain inevitability about the way fortune came out of its hiding place to give West Ham a 2-2 draw against United two Sundays ago. Anywhere other than Upton Park would surely have witnessed a different script.

Arsenal fans will tell you that Luton are something of their bogey team, but Luton's local rivals, Watford, are arguably more so. Although two divisions now separate them, of the 13 League and Cup games they played while Watford were in the top flight, Arsenal won just three. In the 1985/86 season the Hornets did the double over the Gunners on consecutive days then repeated the feat two seasons later despite getting relegated.

However, the game that most Watford fans remember is the stormy 1987 FA Cup quarter-final at Highbury when Arsenal claimed that remarks by the Watford manager, Graham Taylor, before the game had turned the referee in the Hornets' favour; a claim that gathered momentum when, in the last minute with Watford leading 2-1, every Gunner stopped to appeal for a penalty, the ref waved play on and Luther Blissett ran the length of the field to score. To rub salt into Arsenal's wound, Watford's opponents in the semi-finals were Spurs.

But Watford would no doubt swap one of those wins for one against their bogey team, Luton, who they have not beaten since 1986/87. Arsenal themselves have found Spurs something of a bogey team at Highbury in recent years; Gerry Francis was tempting fate in admitting before the November derby that he had never lost to Arsenal. The Gunners duly won 3-1, the first time they had won there since December 1991.

Spurs' real bogey team is Aston Villa, who they haven't beaten since September 1990, but it's Villa's Midlands rivalry with Coventry which boasts the longest-running feud: Coventry's victory at Highfield Road in November 1988 ended a sequence of 26 games, 51 years and 17 managers without a Sky Blues win.

These unwritten laws seldom have any foundation; they're simply quirks of fate which embroider the fabric of the game. But psychologist George Sik believes it's all down to the locus of control. Eh? "Well, if players perceive their destiny to be out of their hands and down to Lady Luck, the manager, manipulative developers or even grey shirts, they'll start thinking `We're fated not to beat them', and subconsciously stop trying," Sik says.

It's hard to imagine quite what external locus of control Hibs blamed over the 22 games, five years, seven months and 23 days they failed to beat Edinburgh rivals Hearts, but easier to imagine how the relief when they ended that run, on 27 August 1994, reduced skipper Gordon Hunter, a lifelong Hibs fan, to tears.

Incidentally, Sunderland's bogey team at Roker Park in the early 1990s was Southend. Frustrated at having lost four times in five meetings between 1991-94, the Rokerites took drastic action. In April 1995 they spent pounds 600,000 in removing from Roots Hall the root cause of the trouble - the striker who had scored every time he played them. Unfortunately, said striker was soon on his way out of Roker having made just 10 appearances and failed to score. His name? Brett Angell.

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