Football Diary: Fans' United stand

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The Independent Online
MANCHESTER UNITED, now in alliance with supporters still angered by 36 hours of detentions and deportations in Istanbul, are stepping up their campaign to right the perceived wrongs. This week United dispatched another report to Uefa on the alleged infringements of civil liberties. Like the local MPs and fans' organisations, Old Trafford has been inundated with complaints about indiscriminate round-ups following a hotel incident, the stamping of 'deportee' into fans' passports and the turning away of United ticket-holders from Galatasaray's stadium.

On Wednesday, Ken Merrett, the Reds' secretary, met local Football Supporters' Association representatives to discuss co-ordinating the campaign which faces its first crucial test next Tuesday when six fans go on trial in Istanbul, charged with damaging a hotel. The FSA urged United to show 'solidarity' with the families of the six, to ask John Major to intervene in the 'deportees' issue and to refund ticket-bearers refused entry. One item agreed was that all letters from aggrieved fans should be forwarded to Tom Pendry, the Shadow Minister for Sport, who, with David Mellor, has been lobbying for government action. Pendry said yesterday that he was still waiting for a meeting with the Foreign Office, who have also received a report from United, listing 'eyewitness accounts'. Whatever the outcome, the champions' links with those who fill their ground will have grown closer.

CHELSEA gave Paul Merson an interesting salute last weekend: when the Arsenal winger neared the East Stand touchline, a handful of Blues fans stood up and mimicked driving a car in a slightly erratic manner. Whatever could it mean? The mercurial Merse must have known: he responded with a grin and an even better impersonation of Penelope Pitstop leaving a Pimm's party.

THE Bridge wags are not just in the stands. Dennis Wise inflicted an inspired wind-up while on tour with Peter Nicholas, golfing fanatic and former Blues player. Wise, thwarted by a hotel manager in an attempt to redesign Nicholas's room in Marbella, succeeded in La Manga by emptying his golf bag over the balcony and filling it with cleaning utensils. 'The next morning he picked up the bag and went off to the course,' Wise relates in Chelsea's excellent 'Onside' newspaper (90p). 'He played a few practice swings on the first tee without a club in his hands and then reached into his bag and pulled out this mop]'

MIKE WALKER, a welcome presence in the England Manager Stakes, was quick to put Norwich's narrow defeat to Inter into its proper perspective: 'They cost pounds 40m to assemble. We cost pounds 1m and a bit with the tea lady added in.'

LANCASTER GATE has been obsessed with dead causes this week: first Charles Hughes' England autopsy and then the release of Football Association guidelines to groundsmen on how to deal with ashes. The FA magazine, FC, reports that Manchester United receive 20-25 entreaties a year from grieving families wishing to spread their loved one's remains over Old Trafford. Advice to groundsmen includes 'scatter upwind on a windy day' and sprinkle sparingly as 'a large pile could kill the grass'.

United's neighbours experienced a bizarre occurrence following the dispersal of a City fan's ashes behind one goal. 'The man had two little grandchildren,' Stan Gibson, the Maine Road groundsman, said, 'and afterwards they went to take penalties as if grandad was in goal.'

A PHOTOGRAPH of a British armoured vehicle escorting a UN convoy in Bosnia appeared in many newspapers on Thursday. The machine had some very distinctive markings stencilled next to its gun barrel: TOON ARMY.

THE bottle of Aberlour Malt for freak fact goes to Simon Daniels, of Bury St Edmunds, for the following . . .

'On Saturday, seven English clubs had a 'Taylor' either on the pitch or bench - Swindon, Derby, Reading, Bristol Rovers, Doncaster, Rochdale and Shrewsbury. Bizarrely, none lost.'

More malt next week. All freak facts to Football Diary, The Independent, 40 City Road, London EC1Y 2DB.