Away days for Wimbledon Wanderers?

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A N INTRIGUING story has sparked across the sporting sky so swiftly you could have missed it in half a blink. It pronounced the dramatic news that moves were in progress to effect the transfer of Wimbledon Football Club - lock, stock and barrel-chests - from the depths of south London across the Irish Sea to Dublin.

As shooting-stars are apt to do, it soon got lost amid the firmament. Sports reporters primed to track such phenomena failed to find the facts that would develop the report and, with the Premier League standing by to douse any such deal, the story quietly expired. Ordinary folk who noticed were probably inclined to dismiss it as the latest attempt by John Major to demonstrate what might befall the Irish government if they don't toe his line in the peace negotiations.

Despite the lack of immediate verification, however, the story carried a whiff of authenticity. It is not the first time that a Wimbledon transplant has been mooted; Cardiff was discussed as a new home several years ago. Unlike many of the tales that cascade from football these days, it also had the ring of sound sense about it. Since Wimbledon left Plough Lane in 1991 to share Selhurst Park with Crystal Palace, their managing director Sam Hammam has been in search of a happy foster home for a club viewed as football's Barnardo's. The team with no fathers.

Had Wimbledon's image been less jagged, their achievements in adhering themselves so pugnaciously to the top level of the game for the past 10 years might be better regarded. Hammam's guardianship under the burden of the weakest support and the unfriendliest publicity has an undoubted distinction, and he could not be blamed for concluding that new owners and new surroundings would be in the club's best interests. Although there is nothing in the Premier League's rules that prevents a club moving, exporting itself to another country is a different matter. The league regards itself as England's top national competition and, although precedent allows the presence of Welsh clubs, to advance over other borders would require a re-consideration of their priorities, not to mention authorisation from the Football Association and probably Uefa.

Not that there is anything wrong in principle in permitting Dublin to acquire a Premier League team. No city in the world has such an unrequited enthusiasm for the game at top club level. They follow the English scene avidly and a team there would add an exciting dimension. But that would not be the end of it. What if Manchester City became so strapped for cash they sold themselves, and their Premier League place, to Rangers in Glasgow? And if Ajax of Amsterdam fancied a more stimulating variety of opposition and Bolton Wanderers became available . . . and if those who ran Coventry City were tempted by Paris St-Germain?

What sort of Premiership would we have then? A fairly interesting one, I suggest. What has happened in rugby should have convinced everyone that all previous frontiers of sporting possibility have been shoved over the horizon. English football has had a slower and more sedate revolution than rugby but it has advanced considerably over the past five or six years. The formation of the Premier League, the rise of Sky Television, the destruction of the traditional Saturday- afternoon fixture concentration in favour of a staggered list of matches liable to be staged on any day and any time suitable to the TV schedules . . . if history has been so blatantly shouldered aside why should mere geography cause them any problems?

The word we don't want to hear is franchising. The prospect of the American habit of teams changing location at a financial whim entering our domain is not encouraging. Only in the past week has come news that American football's Cleveland Browns are moving to Baltimore and Houston Oilers to Nashville. No doubt we shall resist such developments with all the proud defiance that kept out the hamburger.

But what if Wolverhampton Wanderers, a rich and well supported club desperate to move up to the Premiership, decided to purchase a controlling interest in Wimbledon and took them to play at Molineux? At the end of the season they could go into liquidation, equip Wimbledon with shirts of old gold and re-name them Wolves FC. They would be in the Premiership without the bother of hiring and firing another worthy and unfortunate manager like Graham Taylor. Wolves are welcome to the idea - but I'd still prefer Dublin.

W HEN National Hunt jock- ey Declan Murphy re- tired from the saddle recently to become a resident on television's new racing channel, everyone agreed with his decision. After the life-threatening fall Murphy had at Haydock Park in May 1994 it was a wonder he was ever persuaded back into the stirrups.

Sadly, such a gracious and secure exit is not always available to the horses. It is not possible for a gnarled old steeplechaser to announce: "After my narrow escape at the fourth fence at Plumpton recently I have decided to retire and accept an offer from Unigate."

It was the death of the lovely horse Leagaune at Cheltenham last Sunday that prompted this thought. The gallant 13-year-old died negotiating one of the newly built obstacles on the cross- country circuit built in the centre of the great course. Leagaune's jockey Simon McNeill said afterwards that his mount's death could have happened "at any fence, anywhere". Others blamed the introduction of this race - our equivalent to others run around the world - for his death.

I was at Cheltenham, and I make no apologies for saying that as we were unaware at the time of the Leagaune accident, it was the most enjoyable race of the afternoon. Cheltenham are to be congratulated for staging it and for pledging to continue a race that brings a new challenge into National Hunt racing. If only more sponsors were as keen to innovate.

I WAS one of thousands of golfers besieging the UK head- quarters of Ping last week. We were all owners of Ping Eye 2 clubs which have been ruled illegal from 1 January. The illegality concerns the grooves on the face of the club, which are outside the legal limit by the width of a human hair.

What advantage a career rabbit like me gets from the clubs has yet to be established. At the highest level, a brilliant player might be able to impart more back-spin. The only time I get back-spin is when I hit a tree. Nevertheless we must all surrender our clubs and Ping have kindly offered to replace them with a new set at a greatly reduced price.

The trouble is that thousands of golfers are affected, and they have been blazing away at the hot-line number which has been constantly engaged for days. We were getting ready to raise a stink about it. A sort of Ping pong, you might say. But Ping have hired extra staff and are catching up. They promise that we will eventually be able to cast off an illegal advantage most of us didn't even know we had.

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