Blues for claret and blue : Football Diary

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The scenario is depressingly familiar. A manager is sacked and, with few exceptions, his backroom staff follow him out, their sadness suppressed or soothed by a pay-off. Colin Clarke's exit from Aston Villa was different. Clarke coached Ron Atkins on's juniors, who had won 18 successive matches (and reached the last eight of the FA Youth Cup days after he left). Brian Little, once dismissed by Wolves, decided to bring in his own men, but Clarke had the final word this week in a disarmingly candid letterto Birmingham's Evening Mail.

"Usually I only cry at weddings or funerals, but the tears fell after my brief `chat' with Brian Little," he began. "Having been in similar situations before, and endured the shabby exits of Messrs Atkinson, Barron and Sexton, my emotions should have been hardened, but I wept unashamedly after enjoying two years of fulfilment and success."

After describing how joy and pride "ran through my veins in claret and blue", Clarke concluded: "Doug Ellis and Brian Little will never understand that affinity." Which gives the lie to the notion that no one in football cares which club they work for aslong as the money is right.

*** Paul Merson is not the only one on the comeback trail. Paul Lake, who played alongside him in the England Under-21 side, is expected to turn out for Manchester City's A team against Blackburn in the Lancashire League today, two and a half years and several operations after his last attempt to relaunch a promising career.

Talking of players appearing in unlikely settings, Andy Saville's week takes some beating. Within days of leading Burnley's FA Cup charge against Liverpool at Turf Moor, the shaven-headed loanee was recalled by Birmingham and scored twice against Exeter reserves in an Avon Insurance Combination Second Division epic before a few dozen diehards at Sutton Coldfield.

*** Players are often accused of acting, but in Tony Meola's case it will soon be true. America's World Cup goalkeeper, who made his indoor debut in late December with Buffalo Blizzard of the National Professional Soccer League, will join the cast of theoff-Broadway show Tony 'N Tina's Wedding this month. Next stop a part in An Evening with Gary Lineker, presumably.

*** Rudi Voller has achieved pretty well everything in football from club to international level, but until lately he hadn't managed to persuade his mother to watch him play live. But when he played in a tournament at Hanau that took place only 500 yardsfrom her house, she was won over. Ilse Voller, 66, said: "I've followed my son only on TV and to see him live was very different, but football doesn't really interest me."

*** Philosophy Football, part 2: Is there really nothing new under the sun? Andrew Kelsey, who lectures in philosophy at the University of Wales, Cardiff, claims to have got there first on the idea of ball-playing wordsmiths and he has an article in No 3of Philosophy Now from 1992 to prove it.

What a load of artists you are! There were piles of entries to the Artists XI, including some real crackers like Hieronymus Bosch-nich, Botti-Selley, Alfie Conn-stable, Franz Becken-Bauhaus, Gi-Otto, BRoy-gel, Ho-garth Crooks and Jurgen Klimt-smann. The winner of the Wild Turkey Bourbon is Michael O'Neill, of Belfast, for: ARTISTS XI: Packie Bonnard; Sandro Botti-kelly, Otto Dicks, Lowry Sanchez, O'Keefe Curle, Salvador Daley, Laurie De Kooning-ham, Henri Mat(Le)tisse-ier, Rodin E Wallace, Rouault Fox, Kingsley Braque.

Next week: A Dramatic XI. Entries to: Team Spirit, Football Diary, Sports Desk, The Independent, 1 Canada Square, London E14 5DL