Awayday strain for Pool

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Those who consider computers to be a blight on people's lives will not be surprised by the apparent lack of Christmas spirit the Endsleigh League's fixture cruncher has shown Hartlepool United. They have a home match on 26 December against Carlisl e United and play away at Torquay United the next day, a 700-mile round trip. To get to Devon in time, the Cleveland club has brought forward the kick-off of the Carlisle match to midday, and the players will leave straight after their shower for the jou rney south, stopping overnight on the way.

Hartlepool complained when they saw the fixtures, but changing it would apparently have meant altering four or five games. "We're aware of the Hartlepool situation but it is just unfortunate," according to the Endsleigh League.

The Third Division side seem to have suffered this year-end. Hartlepool are the only ones with a long journey on 27 December, but some New Year's Eve fixtures are hardly local - Bury v Torquay, Exeter v Wigan, Gillingham v Carlisle and Hartlepool v Fulham. Early kick-offs all round, except at Gigg Lane.

*** Barry Fry, the Santa-shaped manager of Birmingham, is undisputed king of the quips in the Second City now that Ron Atkinson has left Aston Villa. Fry is not so hot, however, when he has to think about his lines.

At a charity auction recently, he was mischievously primed by Atkinson to ask, in the presence of Coventry's Phil Neal: "Ron, would you have paid £2m for Dublin?" Atkinson was to have answered: "Yes, but for that money I'd have wanted Cork and Belfast too."

Alas, when the moment came, Fry stood up and said earnestly: "Ron, would you have paid £2m for Dion Dublin?" Collapse of stout parties.

Cesar Menotti, Argentina's 1978 World Cup coach, left struggling Boca Juniors this week after a second spell there, but he may not be worried about clinging on to any job in football. Argentine newspaper reports suggest Menotti might go into politics. Apparently he could seek the governorship of his home province of Santa Fe, 300 miles north of Buenos Aires, where the current governor, the former Formula One racing driver, Carlos Reutemann, is not allowed to stand for re-election. Menotti ha s the backing of President Carlos Menem. "He's a very prestigious and popular man as well as being a great manager and a fine person," Menem said.

*** If only all national coaches were so revered. In Fucecchio, near Florence, and a short distance from Italy's national training ground, there is an anti-Arrigo Sacchi club, who think the man who steered Italy to the World Cup final, is too inflexible in his tactics. However, it has also spawned a pro-Sacchi club called "Per il calcio con Sacchi", which has assorted sporting and society high flyers in its ranks. They seem to hold sway at the moment. On the night of their first meeting this week, Italybeat Turkey 3-1 in a friendly match.

*** In Germany a survey of 350 professional footballers, commissioned by Kicker magazine, showed that 70 per cent of them have lost faith in Berti Vogts as national coach.

Some seem to think that the appearance of the Winter XI should signal the start of Team Spirit's hibernation, but a number of you still enter every week. If you have any ideas for an alternative, put your ideas on the end of next week's entries and I'll consider them. Ray Laundon, of London, froze out the competition for the Wild Turkey Bourbon this week with: WINTER XI: Jim SLEIGHTON; TherMAL DONAGHY, Road GRITTer, BOULD Lang Syne, Hail STONE, Jimmy CHILL, Ian St Long JOHN, GALE Force, Over COATES, LeeGLOVEr, BLACK ice.

Next week: A Fighting XI. Entries to: Football Diary, The Independent, 1 Canada Square, London E14 5DL.