Cracker has the hitman bang to rights

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The Independent Online
Exclusive! Thanks to an accidental excursion on The Into-Net, football's worldwide web of information, I can reveal the casenotes made by Inspector Cracker of the Yard (retired) into the "mystery on Flight CX251" which has so exercised the nation this week. For those who don't remember him, Inspector Cracker was a famous detective, psychologist and football fan who played a key part in solving some of soccer's greatest puzzles in the 1960s and 1970s.

It was inevitable that Cracker would be called out of happy retirement in his Sussex bungalow,hired jointly by a Miss Cathy Pacific and the Football Association's head of internal morality, Mr Dave Doolittle, to investigate this case of "Disorder on the Orient Express".

After all, it was Cracker who proved that Pickles - the dog credited with finding the World Cup when, to acute national embarrassment, it went missing in England prior to the 1966 tournament - was actually the thief. Cracker demonstrated that Pickles had a penchant for bones in the shape of the Jules Rimet Trophy, and revealed how the little terrier had infiltrated FA headquarters and made off with the statuette.

Four years later, Inspector Cracker flew out to Bogota, Colombia, to come to the assistance of England's World Cup captain Bobby Moore who had been accused of stealing a bracelet from a gift shop after a warm up game for the 1970 tournament. With Pickles the dog out of the frame on this one, Cracker was able to show that the bracelet had been handed to Bobby Moore by the shop owner for delivery to a Mr R Atkinson back in England.

In his final football case, Cracker was called in by the Scottish FA when five internationals went missing in a rowing boat in Scandinavia as they prepared for the 1974 World Cup in Germany. Cracker leapt to the defence of Messrs Billy Bremner, Jimmy Johnstone et al, by proving the Scottish FA had in fact seriously underspent on squad travel arrangements to Germany.

When called back into action last week, Cracker was able to interview all 27 members of the England squad while they were still confined to their damaged Marco Polo lounge - "the suite with a few holes in it", he quipped acerbically - and thus began the process of exposing the criminal masterminds who allegedly vandalised two video screens and a coffee table.

The casenotes I now have in my possession reveal that Cracker was able to rule Alan Shearer out of his enquiries because "he hasn't been able to hit anything for England in 20 months". Cracker goes on: "I then interviewed two players with some 'previous' in this very specialised interface between drink, transport and altercation. A Mr Tony Adams, of Arsenal, was breath tested at the scene, found to be negative, and allowed to return to the cockpit where the captain had been letting him have a turn at the wheel. Secondly, a Mr Dennis Wise, of Chelsea, once accused of being too enthusiastic in hailing a London cab, plausibly explained to me that his initial anxieties about the flight were relieved when the pilot had promised to fly south of the river.

"I turned then to the question of provocation, and was able to rule out the possibility that the 4,000 Jeraboams of vintage champagne which Miss Cathy Pacific had generously donated to the squad had any part to play in the proceedings. Nor could screen violence be linked to events. The in-flight movies had been Leaving Las Vegas, the story of an alcoholic, and Babe, the story of a talking pig, although there I retained a suspicion that the weak-minded might have been influenced into excessive drinking and behaving like a farmyard animal.

"But then I found the clues that I needed. Forensic tell me that the damage to the two TV screens was consistent with penetration by the nipples of a pair of plastic breasts. My psychological profiling had suggested that the fact that two tellies had been attacked might be significant - was this rhyme with Five Bellies a mere coincidence? Finally, the damage to the table had clearly been caused by someone who had finished on top of its football equivalent. The list of suspects was narrowing by the second?

"At this moment Miss Cathy Pacific led me down from the Marco Polo lounge, through the Emperor Class cabin where the 31 FA council members whose presence had been so vital to the success of the trip had dozed unsuspectingly, and then on to the Third World Economy section, which has the travelling football press. They circled me in a desperate scrum. Deadlines had to be met. Huge expenses had to be justified. Big holes in papers had to be filled in a quiet week. Miss Cathy Pacific handed out press releases about the luxuries of her in-flight service, but the hacks were only interested in one thing. 'Whodunnit?' they screamed. I paused, cleared my throat. 'Well, fellows, it was . . .'"

At this fateful point my access to the Into-Net was broken off. Inspector Cracker's findings faded from the screen. Pickles the dog, the Bogota Bracelet, the Lost Jocks and now a case destined to be remembered as "The Flight to the Front Page of the Sun". I think I see a pattern, but it may just be the champagne.

FANS of bloodsports must wish that the television was covering next week's negotiations between the 20 Premier League chairmen and the two broadcasting consortia who are bidding for the rights to broadcast our top echelon of football from 1997. For the current franchise holders, BSkyB, are being opposed by a joint offer from the Mirror Group and Carlton Communications. With the Premier League insisting that bidding starts at pounds 150m a year, the stage is set for one hell of a poker game.

But wait, I have a solution for the frenzied broadcasting executives now doing their sums. If they areprepared to fork out pounds 800m for a five- year contract, wouldn't it be more economical to buy up all 20 Premier League clubs? The relegated QPR were valued at pounds 8m by bidders last week, so pounds 40m apiece should easily acquire the likes of Liverpool, Manchester United, Newcastle, Arsenal and Spurs, leaving pounds 600m to mop up the other 15 clubs.

As owners, the broadcasters could assign the television rights to themselves for nothing, and they would soon claw back their initial investment in revenues from sponsorship, advertising and merchandising. It seems such a brilliant scheme I can't work out why I'm still a heavily overdrawn writer, and not a millionaire executive in my own global communications company.

BUT then again, if you take one look at the field for Saturday's Derby at Epsom, you begin to see one of the chief sources of permanent poverty. Those wishing to bet on the race have a wide array of choices, including a horse that did not race as a two-year-old, won twice as a three-year- old but has been injured since; one that was the top-rated two-year-old last year, but who looks like a selling-plater this; a horse that started its career on an all-weather track in Italy; and one that wintered in Dubai, but then wintered again in England this spring, where it caught a cold last week. Add to this those that won't stay, or won't handle the track, and you begin to realise that being a bookie is the only way to get rich on Saturday.

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