Cantona in good company

FOOTBALL DIARY
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The Independent Online
"It's disgraceful. Nothing like this has ever happened before" must be one of the most frequently uttered and dangerously sweeping comments made whenever something untoward happens on a football field. Eric Cantona's televised joust with a Palace supporter brought forth a torrent of such utterances.

It comes as even less of a surprise that there have now been claims that similar attacks have occurred before. Harry Gregg, the former Manchester United goalkeeper, apparently chased a spectator in the stand at West Brom and Villa's goalscoring hero of the 1930s, "Pongo" Waring, had a go at a fan at Villa Park.

Charles Jones, a life-long Villa fan, remembers Waring charging into the crowd at Villa Park to thump somebody. "He'd gone to fetch the ball and I suppose he heard a remark," the 78-year-old recalled. And in his own way, Waring was something of a Cantona. He made his Villa debut for the reserves against Birmingham City in the Central League and drew a crowd of 23,000.

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Sir Stanley Matthews and Vinnie Jones had about as much in common as Stephen Fry and Arnold Schwarzenegger - until football's first knight followed the tattooed trundler in becoming embroiled in a spot of biting talk.

A shopping-centre mural in Matthews' native Hanley was criticised for making him look too gaunt. The artist, David Light, claimed he was reflecting the fact that the Wizard of Dribble used to take his teeth out before a game.

This stung Sir Stan into reassuring his public that he still has his own set. "They're one of my favourite fixtures," he insisted. All of which proves, like Jones's nose-nibbling exploits, that the tooth is stranger than fiction.

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Aston Villa make Tommy Johnson sick. Not in the way they have affected generations of Birmingham and West Brom fans, but literally. The former Derby striker has been so afflicted by pre-match nerves since joining Villa that he vomited in the centre circle before a game against Tottenham, and was said by Brian Little to be "white as a sheet" before Wednesday's 4-4 draw with Leicester (not a clean sheet, obviously). Today the computer has thrown up another stomach-churner for the 24-year-old Geordie . . . away to Newcastle.

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Bad weather caused this week's Coca-Cola Cup semi-finals to be postponed but it was balmy compared to 1909 when a blizzard forced the referee to abandon Burnley's fourth-round Cup tie against Manchester United, but he had to ask United's captain Roberts to blow the whistle for him because his lips were numb.

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When I asked for Romantic XIs a couple of weeks ago, Phillip Grogan, of London, went a step further and generated a whole squad in verse. It made me smile: Bould Swain Peschisolido, Wright Noble Strong Newman, Withe Dahlin Karen Brady, Gould Ring Onur Royle Hand, Young Queen Younger Husband, King Barry Fry Best Mann, Hartson Flowers Sutch Liddle McBridesmaid David Sullivan.

. . . And it's catching on. Nick Callow, of Stockport, sought his Alice and came up with the following: You are AULD father WILLIAMS the YOUNG MANN, And URE EYRE has become very WHYTE, And yet you INCEssantly STANDEN your head, Do you think ATYEO age it is WRIGHT? The Wild Turkey Bourbon should take him to Wonderland.

There was also a Limerick squad from Graeme S Forbes, of Edinburgh: Rough, Gough and Hollins; Dobson Robson and Collins; Hole and Wark; Cole and Cork; Best, West and Paul Ince.

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

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