Excitement to a certain extent

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The Independent Online
The request by Manchester United and Liverpool for an extension to the season because of their European commitments has been passed on by divided Premiership chairmen to their two-man board, which will decide this week. What can possibly be the objection to the two clubs going on beyond 11 May, however?

United's problem is the re-arrangement of a home match against Newcastle, scheduled for this Wednesday but now superseded by Borussia Dortmund. Liverpool have yet to organise a match at Sheffield Wednesday due to the second leg of their Cup-Winners' Cup tie against Paris St Germain.

Already both United and Liverpool have three matches in the last week of the season, beginning on 3 May, so the night of Wednesday 14 May seems a good time for the two to fulfil final fixtures. Neither will contest the FA Cup final on 18 May, nor are their opponents involved in the relegation process to confuse the picture.

One law for the biggest clubs, another for the rest, say the dissenters, and those chasing Uefa Cup spots may feel miffed that rivals will know what they have to achieve thanks to any extension. There is also the issue of modifying the rules once the game has begun.

The only ones who can have any lasting objection, however, are Arsenal - as Arsene Wenger forcefully pointed out on Friday - who will at least, surely, be involved in the runners-up argument, which is more important than ever this year with a Champions' League place at stake. They are fortunate to be on schedule thanks to their failure in cups; as United and Liverpool argue, they themselves could be penalised for success.

Sky might be tempted to object, desiring a last-day bonanza, but would actually benefit along with the rest of us. On the Sunday, they could focus on the relegation issue, on the Wednesday they might get the most exciting title denouement since Arsenal v Liverpool in 1989 - when the season was extended. Arsenal were also granted an extension in their Double-winning year of 1971.

Over and above TV, the argument is more validly based on sporting considerations. United and Liverpool are representing the Premiership after all, as its chairman Sir John Quinton and chief executive Peter Leaver should consider. Besides which, do we really want to see pedigree athletes limping to the line because of too severe a schedule?

A GOOD example of the sporting tastes of the British public came as Wednesday night gave way to Thursday morning.

I had taken the Leicester striker Steve Claridge - with whom I have collaborated on a book, readers may be bored to be reminded - to appear on the Channel 4 show Under the Moon. Also appearing was Pete Goss, the round-the-world yachtsman who rescued a fellow competitor and performed an operation on his own arm without anaesthetic.

After Goss had told his amazing tale of heroism, the host Danny Kelly switched to calls from viewers. Came the first one: "Tell me Steve, why don't you wear shinpads?..."

It was interesting, incidentally, to be sat in hospitality while all this was going on when the phone rang: Paul Gascoigne wanting to get through. After much agonising about his, um, well-being he was duly allowed on. The relief was evident when the best/worst he came up with was a gag about the Rangers training absentee Andy Goram last being seen beached on the Firth of Forth. Dear Pot...signed Mr Kettle.

THE debate about use of video technology to aid referees has been raging. It occurs that perhaps it could be used to "help" faint-hearted managers. More and more are employing the cop-out "I didn't see it," a practice of which Monsieur Wenger seems quickly to have been appraised. A TV in the corner of the press room might work wonders.

MAYHEM last week in Mexico, Bolivia and Paraguay, with the latter brawl apparently sparked by a red-carded Faustino Asprilla, described recently in World Soccer as "mild-mannered". Clearly in that interview Asprilla was speaking from a knowledge denied the rest of us, who are aware mainly of the Bigg Market on a Saturday night or the Meadow Well estate in North Shields, when he described Newcastle as "not very big, but it's peaceful."

Meanwhile, Juninho's Brazilian predecessor in the North-east, Mirandinha, is playing for Botafogo in Sao Paulo. He is, at 37, apparently overweight and bald. Beware the curse of Jim Smith. "May he rot in Brazil," the then Newcastle manager once said.

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