Charity begins at Wembley

Glenn Moore on the restricted cast list for tomorrow's traditional curtain-raiser
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The Independent Online
Maybe it is a result of watching too many old editions of Match of the Day, but the Littlewoods Pools FA Charity Shield, like perms and glam rock, does not seem to appeal like it used to.

The plethora of high-profile friendlies - there were 37,000 at Highbury on Thursday - the early start to the Endsleigh League season, and the surfeit of Wembley occasions has diluted the impact of an event which once spawned a thousand "traditional pipe-opener" cliches.

Tomorrow's match between Blackburn Rovers, the Premiership champions, and Everton, the FA Cup winners, is likely to attract less than 50,000. And it is not only the supporters who will be missing. Colin Hendry and Henning Berg are on international duty, Andrei Kanchelskis is in transfer limbo, and Duncan Ferguson, Dave Watson, Paul Warhurst and Jason Wilcox are injured.

It is important, however, if only because it is Ray Harford's first senior match as the manager of Blackburn after Kenny Dalglish's decision to move upstairs.

Harford has appeared relaxed in the build-up to the match, and he explained this week: "It has been no different to me so far, Kenny was never there for pre-season anyway."

Harford will begin the season in the same low-profile vein he operated as coach to Blackburn. Ronnie Clayton, a former Rovers and England international, will lead the team out, not Harford.

Harford has also been quiet on the transfer front, but the one signing he has made, Adam Reed, is likely to play after a late injury to Ian Pearce. The pounds 200,000 signing from Darlington is likely to be alongside Nicky Marker in central defence.

Marker is one of three long-term absentees who are expected to play; David Batty and Kevin Gallacher are the others, and their return is one reason for Harford's transfer reticence.

Everton are expected to leave their new signing Craig Short on the bench, as he is suspended for next week's opening Premiership match with Chelsea. With Watson still recuperating from a summer operation, David Unsworth and Gary Ablett may pair up in central defence, with the promising youngster Tony Grant coming into midfield.

Both managers admit the game is nothing more than a glorified pre-season friendly, but if they doubted its value, they need only ask the 60-plus beneficiaries of last year's match.

When Blackburn first competed in the Charity Shield in 1912, a donation was made to survivors of the sinking of the Titanic. Since then millions of pounds have been given to charity. Last year's game between Blackburn and Manchester United raised pounds 436,000.

Almost half of this went to charities related to football and sports facilities, the rest to causes as diverse as Crisis at Christmas, Birmingham Hospital Broadcasting Service, the Association of Wheelchair children and the leukaemia appeal set up by Bryan Gunn, the Norwich goalkeeper, after the death of his daughter.

Incidentally, full receipts totalled pounds 1.2m. Charity was dispensed after Wembley took their pounds 400,000 cut and the clubs divided a similar sum.

But does it mean anything in terms of the season's form? Last year Manchester United beat Blackburn, but Rovers won the title. After Everton, the then champions, beat Blackburn, the FA Cup holders, 2-1 in 1928, they finished 18th in the league and were relegated the next year.

In reality, such omens are irrelevant; for both managers the key will be to avoid injury before the real thing starts next week. The rest of the Premiership will be looking for clues as to whether Harford intends to reshape Dalglish's Rovers, or stick to a winning, but sometimes robotic, formula.

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