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Savage pruning

EVERY week Almanack receives a mountain of communications from companies promoting their sporting links. The race for this year's Marketing Baloney Award (Sports Section) looks like it is going to be exceptionally tight.

Right up there with the leaders at the moment is the estimable Charles B Fruit, vice-president, Media and Presence Marketing, The Coca-Cola Company. Mr Fruit's latest offering, a classic of its kind, trumpets: 'The association of Coca-Cola with sport dates back more than a century and is evidenced every day around the world. Our consumers expect us to be wherever exciting sports activities take place . . . ' (They don't, Mr Fruit. They don't give a fig. They're there to watch the match.)

Currently heading the race for the MBA are the marketing wizards at the California Prune Board, whose latest effusion beggars belief. 'Some of the sports stars who confessed to being prune-snackers,' it reveals, 'were the world's fittest man in the world (sic) . . . No 1 squash player, Jansher Khan.' Others were tennis player Jo Durie, a strongman, an arm-wrestling champion and the Green Goddess, whose sporting achievements are unknown to Almanack but who used to be a keep-fit person on breakfast TV.

'Four out of five sports stars watch their weight,' the release rambles, 'saying overall weight is important to preference yet they advised people not to go hungry and to avoid special diets.' Pure, unadulterated rubbish: are prunes a verbal laxative as well?

The wrong track

NICOLA FOULSTON, the boss of Brands Hatch and other motor racing circuits, has put her foot in it again. A few weeks ago Almanack reported the furore caused by her unfortunate remarks about the competence of track marshals. She has apologised for that controversy. And caused another one.

This time, Nicola has suggested that accidents at her tracks should be more entertaining. According to Autosport, during a flying visit to one of the circuits she owns, she told marshals: 'An accident is something that every spectator will rush to watch, but only a small percentage can actually see. One of the measures we are discussing is putting chief marshals on microphones.' Sorry? 'We want to explain the spectacle that is currently made out of an accident. At the end of the day, that is why some people come to watch motor racing. What we can do is produce theatre, produce entertainment.'

Foulston stressed that the plan would not apply to accidents where injury or fatality had occurred. But it is difficult to see how this would be enforced: would the miked-up marshals not be allowed to speak to injured, trapped drivers? How would they find out if the drivers were injured in the first place? Sign language?

At least the marshals, newly reconciled with Miss F, are taking a diplomatic line. 'We know this sort of thing works in the United States,' their spokesman Chris Hobson tells Almanack, 'we're just not sure it will work over here.'

ITALY'S midweek defeat by an Eric Cantona-skippered France was actually good news for the Azzuri. The last three world champions have lost to France in pre-World Cup friendlies: West Germany 2-1 (Cantona, Papin) at Montpellier on 28 February 1990; Argentina 2-0 (Ferreri, Vercruysse) at Parc des Princes, 26 March 1986; Italy 2-0 (Platini, Bravo) at Parc des Princes, 23 February 1982. Baggio's Boys for the Cup.

In celebration of a perilous game

THE ART of goal celebration is taking increasingly athletic form, as the antics of Everton's Peter Beagrie become fashionable across the land. Delwyn Humphreys executed a spectacular double-somersault after scoring the winner for Kidderminster against Preston in the FA Cup. And last weekend Forest's late goal in the Nottingham derby prompted extended acrobatics not only from the scorer, Dave Phillips, but also from his goalkeeper, Mark Crossley.

Where will this trend end? Will entire teams perform synchronised forward-rolls every time they score? Or (more likely) will a team find its top striker out for the rest of the season with a broken wrist having attempted a triple salchow in a sticky penalty area? Performances such as Beagrie's have, of course, a long and respectable pedigree. Latin America has provided much inspiration in the past: one thinks of Jairzinho's triumphant sprint towards the corner flag in 1970, and Hugo Sanchez's acrobatics for Mexico in 1986. From Africa came Roger Milla's seduction of the corner flag (now popular at Arsenal).

England's contributions to the history of the form remain somewhat sketchy: Mick Channon's windmill comes to mind, but few other innovations. Gazza's most recent routine, the strut-and-pose, is a blatant lift from Chris Eubank.

But what of the dangers? A couple of years ago the veteran Tommy Hutchison attempted a somersault after scoring and damaged himself sufficiently to miss his next match. Are players at risk? Almanack consulted Craig Sharp, Professor of Sports Science at Limerick University, formerly chief physiologist at the British Olympic Medical Centre. 'It's very dangerous indeed,' the professor pronounces. 'All of us who have worked with elite squads of whatever kind know that sports injury is a risk. One of the main causes of injury is people fooling about. They're young men, they're so strong, they like to do it. I understand it - but that's when they can injure themselves.' As Stephen Morrow, who broke his collar- bone celebrating Arsenal's Coca- Cola Cup win last year, can testify.

It's not just footballers who are in danger. 'One of the four main causes of injury to gymnasts is just playing about,' Prof Sharp says. 'I remember with the canoe squad one of our real problems was injuries doing arm wrestling, or vertical one-handed handstands.'

Almanack has yet to see a vertical one-handed handstand on the football pitch, even from Peter Beagrie. But doubtless he's working on it. His employers wouldn't mind. 'Goal celebrations?' said an Everton spokesperson, as if the g-word were utterly alien. 'I hope he does it every week.'

(Photograph omitted)

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