CRICKET: Courts, cash and Continental competition

Sport-by-sport guide to 1995: England awaits the European football inva sion as rugby union's World Cup takes over
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The Independent Online
There are no international championships next year but there will still be plenty of important fixtures for football. The only problem is most of them will be played out in courtrooms and boardrooms.

The first results are expected to be from Dennis Wise's and Duncan Ferguson's court appearances on assault charges. Then come the more complicated allegations of bribery, corruption and financial impropriety against Bruce Grobbelaar, George Graham and Terry Venables, respectively. As a sideline expect regular updates on Paul Merson's battle with his drug, alcohol and gambling addictions.

Meanwhile, in club boardrooms chairmen will be plotting to create a second division of the Premiership coupled with the alarming threat that it will be a closed competition thus denying half the country's professional clubs their dreams. This would increase a concentration of wealth that has reached the stage where Manchester United can charge £2 just for their superstore catalogue.

So far, so bad, but there is every hope that the game will be rescued by the quality and passion of its football. The domestic championship may appear to be building towards a straight fight between United and Blackburn Rovers but there could be as many as five teams involved all of whom play attractively.

On a wider front Arsenal, though less inviting to watch, look well equipped to maintain their defence of the European Cup-Winners' Cup, which has reached the last eight. Chelsea also feature in the competition though British interest in the Continent's premier trophy, the Champions' Cup, is restricted to that of jealous spectator.

The international focus will be directed further forward to the summer of 1996 when England host the European Championships. England prepare with friendlies against the Republic of Ireland, Uruguay and Norway around a dress rehearsal tournament in June with Brazil, Sweden and Japan. This will include a rare England match outside London when they play Sweden in Leeds.

There will be considerable interest in the identity of the 1996 qualifiers, all of whom will be known by the end of next year. The Republic of Ireland are well on course but Wales are out and Northern Ireland are on the brink of following them. The chan c e of the Tartan Army heading for the fountains of Trafalgar Square remains in the balance.

The transfer market can be expected to continue to over-heat, especially when English-qualified forwards are involved. Stan Collymore and Les Ferdinand face a long summer of tabloid over-exposure as they are exclusively sold to one club after another.

Managers will continue to come and go - indeed the "bung" allegations surrounding Graham could draw in a dozen more - but it seems the fans will simply keep on coming.

Football has broken out of - but not quite alienated - its old constituency of working-class males and is attracting spectators to its spruced-up stadiums in ever-increasing numbers. It appears that, as long as the hooligan remains in check - and the accountant - this will continue, however badly football presents itself. Everyone in the game should be truly thankful.

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