Football: God's own coach on a mission of mercy for the lad Heckinbotto m

THE GAFFER TAPES
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The Independent Online
We received a postcard at the Old Cornfield this morning, from Goa. Nothing strange in that - the office staff are always doing this in the winter, letting us know that while we are struggling around the garden recovering laundry after the gales, or sliding across black ice into the neighbour's MGF, they are sunning themselves on some beach leering at the talent.

However, this postcard came not from one of our wannabe Shirley Valentines but from Brian Heckinbottom, our blunt instrument of a centre-forward who's supposed to be battering defenders on our behalf this afternoon. In a way it's a relief; at least we know where he is. Ever since the normally reliable Mancunian failed to make training on Monday we've been worried about him.

We checked the obvious - wife, mum, credit card agency, his tab at the Mop & Bucket - and the signs looked bad. All his bills had been paid up to date on Sunday, while both his women had been told he was going away on a club tour. We began to fear he'd jumped into the Sludgethorpe Canal and were about to ask the cops to dredge it when the postcard arrived.

It seems he wants to find himself and is considering giving up the game and become a hippy. His failure to make the Jamaican World Cup squad appears to hit him hard. Despite being no more Jamaican than William Hague (wearing a baseball cap at the Notting Hill carnival, having "One Love" on CD, etc) he saw it as his last chance of international football.

It's a savage blow for the club. He, Fritz Unstartz and Ego Massive had struck up a fine partnership up front. Brian would cow the defence into submission with a well-timed (i.e. when the ball was at the other end) elbow and Fritz and Ego would take advantage.

In desperation we've turned to God - well, his right-hand man. Glenn Hoddle is flying out tomorrow. As the FA's counsellor-in-chief he felt he had a responsibility to answer the call. He's going to commune with Brian and try and raise his karma over a kilo (Glenn promised Graham Kelly he won't inhale). Naturally, half a dozen hacks have wangled a trip on expenses to follow the "story" but Glenn's hoping to shake them off.

He's dedicated and, if he has to, he's prepared to bring Brian into the England squad to lure him back. This is a great gesture, but we're hoping he doesn't actually have to pick him as that means we'll have to pay Whippet Athletic, his former club, an extra pounds 250,000 as part of the transfer deal.

In the meantime I'm following up a lead from Ego about a hard-man striker he knows in Central America called Che Revolta. Apparently Barcelona, Real Madrid and Juventus have all been trailing him but there are complications, so we may be able to nip in.

On the credit side the work permit for Swettie Bettie, Fritz's personal tea lady, has come through so Fritz is staying. The Ministry of Employment had been dealing with some Swiss PE teacher but they dropped everything when Swettie made her personal approach. They obviously liked her as she's also got permission to do some modelling, and she had a picture shoot yesterday for the The Moon's page-three brew-up. I think she could be a good signing, especially as she's agreed to service the ref at home games as well as Fritz.

Meanwhile we were on the wrong end of a shock in last week's FA Cup, winning 3-0 away to another Premiership side. Shaun Prone scored a hat- trick with all three goals set up by Ivor Niggle. This opened up all manner of fourth-round nightmares, but we've managed to avoid Stevenage, or the prospect of playing Hereford or Cheltenham. Instead we've drawn a respectable First Division team away from home, the sort you can lose to without disgrace.

But it's back to the league this week and, typically, the Prone-Niggle partnership is back in the sick room. Prone's got a swollen head while Niggle has a punctured ego after the chairman turned down his request for a bonus with the response that he "wouldn't get a bean until he went a month without injury".

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