Football: Swettie Bettie wrangles threaten to spoil the tea party. And where's my gong?

THE GAFFER TAPES
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The Independent Online
Three days into 1998 and already I want to turn the clock back - to about 1973. One New Year's resolution, to get to training in time to fine the latecomers, has gone by the board already and a few others look vulnerable, not least my pledge to have an alcohol-free-day once a week.

That's no surprise considering events at the Old Cornfield. Fritz Unstartz, our returning hero, was an instant success last week, scoring a hat-trick on his debut as we beat the leaders. However, he's now threatening to go back home if we can't secure a work permit for his personal tea lady.

Apparently Fritz now has a carefully planned programme of tea-drinking. English breakfast with lemon in the morning, Darjeeling and semi-skinned milk before training, peppermint during the break and camomile and honey afterwards. Later on he works his way through four different fruit teas and a Ceylon before finishing with a double-strength Lapsang Souchong.

This is an area where the English game lags behind the Continent and we are especially weak. The old tea lady went to Fulham a month or so ago, lured by a golden teapot with the Harrods logo and a trebling of her wages to 3/- a cup. We got a fee but, seeing the improvement in Fulham's results since, perhaps we should have negotiated an extra payment if they went up. Her replacement, a YTS trainee, cannot even steer the trolley, let alone cope with a tea regime like Fritz's. But, while I can understand his desire to have his own tea lady I do wonder if he'd be so keen if she looked like one of my ex-wives rather than Melinda Messenger.

Unfortunately neither the Tea-Person's Union, nor the Rosy Lee Foundation, recognise Swettie Bettie's Diploma from the Tahitian Institute of Char- Brewing, so the Department of Employment will not approve a work permit. If we don't win the appeal Fritz says he's off back home, so we're pulling out all the stops. Leroy's gone down the cabinet office with a kilo of dope to sell to their kids, Sir Hirem's threatening to go public on the PM's offshore tobacco holdings and we've suggested Swettie might like to make a personal appeal to the civil servant dealing with the matter, over a cup of tea you understand.

If that fails I'll be lucky to manage an alcohol-free morning each week. Mind you, a couple of drinks are understandable, I need them to get over the shock of not being named in the New Year's Honours List. I was sure I'd be getting a gong this year, I mean, Sir Tom Finney? All right, he could play a bit, but his real job was as a plumber - football was just his sideline. At the very least I expected an OBE for services to the game, not to mention my low-profile charity work - for more than 30 years I've been giving comfort and financial support to ladies in distress on the streets without ever seeking publicity.

It was all I needed after the dismal set of Christmas presents I received. A nasal hair trimmer (batteries not included), a set of brown paper bags and map of the motorway network for receiving bungs (very funny I don't think, especially as it was from the chairman), four bottles of cheap whisky and two football coaching books. At least Kit Mann, my faithful assistant, came up with a new puffa coat, though I was surprised to find it had GF rather than BG on it. "Short for Gaffer," he claimed, which didn't explain the cockerel on the other breast.

Still, with the old one at the dry cleaners (I noticed it smelt a bit grubby when I woke up in it on New Year's Day) I'll be wearing it today. And what a day. The third round of the Cup, the most evocative weekend of the season.

Personally I'll never forget the day I scored the winner for One-horse Town Athletic against the league leaders. One of the best own-goals I ever scored - me and Butterfingers Bertie made a killing on the fixed- odds that day.

We've a good draw, another Premiership side away from home. It may not look ideal to the fans but there's no danger of anyone calling for my resignation when we go out because everyone expects us to lose. I looked at West Ham's draw and feared for Harry. So, he's got a good chance of making the next round, but what if they draw someone like Watford away? Or lose to Emley today? Better off with a nice and early respectable defeat if you ask me.

There's only one concern, Both Ivor Niggle and Shaun Prone are fit to play. The club historian tells me the last time that happened, we thrashed the champions 6-1 at their place. I might have to leave them out.

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