Football: Dave Jones is proof you don't have to be a big name to get on

OLIVIA BLAIR sings the praises of some of football's Unsung heroes
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The Independent Online
SO after 272 days, 6,488 hours and more 90 minutes than most of us care to remember, it is almost all over bar the shouting (of which there will doubtless be a lot done during next week's Cup-Winners' Cup final, not to mention the play-offs). In truth, of course, this is the longest-ever football season, since there is hardly time to draw breath before the World Cup kicks off. But domestically, at least, the final whistle is nigh.

It has been business as usual this season. Bans and brawls, drink and drugs, friendlies and not-so-friendlies, injuries and comebacks, hirings and firings (42 managers got their marching orders) have all played their part. There have been highs and lows, successes and failures,winners and losers, heroes and villains. And, of course, there have been unsung heroes.

It's a term normally applied, with all due respect, to football's unglamorous stars; the likes of Martin Keown, the Garys - Pallister and Mabbutt - and Carlton Palmer. But, in fact, football has more unsung heroes than most walks of life, and the following spring immediately to mind.

Never mind "Arsene Who?", it was "John Who?" when Gregory took over the Aston Villa reins from Brian Little, steering them quietly but quickly clear of the of relegation danger. Down on the south coast, meanwhile, Southampton fans must be suffering from vertigo. More accustomed to peering down the relegation trap door, they've been craning their necks towards Europe. Dave Jones won't be scared of the heights, having led Stockport to lofty perches last season but, like Gregory, he is proof that you don't have to be a big name to get on in this game.

Ditto Frank Sinclair who, despite his Jamaican connections, was the poor relation in Chelsea's jet-set squad. Yet his strike broke the deadlock in the Coca-Cola Cup final, just as his equaliser against Real Betis in the Cup Winners' Cup quarter-final sparked Chelsea's fightback. Sinclair was once the laughing stock of Stamford Bridge. Not so now.

Jason Lee knows all about being a laughing stock, but the man who once achieved unwanted notoriety for having a haircut the shape of a fruit that goes well with gammon had the last laugh this season; it was his goal against Fulham that ultimately won Watford the Second Division championship.

Gary Jones' 28 goals have helped Notts County run away with the Third Division while goals from the veteran Steve Wood have been instrumental in ensuring Macclesfield's meteoric climb into the Second Division behind County.

It's been a forgettable season for Manchester City fans, but their loyalty has been as unforgettable as that of the Clydebank fans. The Bankies could win promotion from the Scottish Second Division today, but the fans have put long-term gain before short-term glory and stayed away in protest at the directors' handling of the club's affairs.

Bobble hats off too to Charlton, who have proved that small budget doesn't always equal small ambition; to Stockport, Crewe and Bury, who have shown that what comes up does not always have to go down again; to Jim Jefferies and his Hearts side, who came close to breaking the Old Firm domination in Scotland; to the West Ham board, whose faith in Harry Rednapp is at last starting to pay dividends; to undefeated League of Wales champions, Barry Town; to Channel 5, who were bold enough to broadcast England's World Cup qualifier against Poland and Chelsea's European run (only for the BBC to poach the final); to Northern League side Tow Law Town, for reaching Wembley for the first time in their history (they play Tiverton Town in the FA Vase final today); to Everton's director of youth coaching, Colin Harvey, for winning the FA Youth Cup (at least there's hope for Goodison's future); to Arsenal's Groundsman of the Year, Steve Braddock, who won Highbury's first title of the season in April; and to Barnsley - down, but by never forgotten.

And with the World Cup in mind, we should perhaps applaud an unsung hero in the shape of the Italian striker, Christian Vieri, whose misplaced header in Rome ensured England's passage to France. And on a final note let's not forget the England World Cup song "On Top Of The World". Early signs are that it's unlikely to be afforded the heroic status of its predecessor, "Three Lions". In fact, it's more likely to remain - by the fans, at least - unsung.