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Falklander is a football envoy

MARTYN CLARKE just wants to play football but when he boarded a plane to fly to Buenos Aires to train with Diego Maradona's old club he found himself an unwitting diplomat - the 19-year-old striker is from the Falkland Islands.

This week he became the first islander to fly to the mainland after the restoration of services between the islands and Argentina for ordinary citizens. Last week Argentine veterans of the 1982 conflict flew to the disputed territory as part of the agreement.

But to many Argentinians Mr Clarke's arrival for his trial with Boca Juniors carries more significance.

His try-out (he is vying for a place in the team's development squad) made front-page headlines, not only because of his novelty but because of what Boca represents.

Maradona played for the club, one of the country's top teams. As quintessentially Argentine as the tango and beef, it inspires passions as deep as the lingering Argentine claims to the islands.

But, far from his arrival being taken as a challenge to all things Argentine, Mr Clarke has attracted good-natured curiosity. He left his job as a handyman, hoping to pursue a football career: "I was afraid about coming here. I was thinking about it a lot on the plane. But now that I'm here, I couldn't be happier."

It was while chasing down a ball on the islands' tough ground that Mr Clarke caught the eye of Esteban Cichello, an Argentine (who has an Italian passport), who arranged the trial. "Had this happened 10 years ago, people would be yelling, `Take this pirate out'," said a Boca official.