Football Diary: Refuge from reality

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The Independent Online
'CRUCIAL killer touch'; 'a two-year nightmare'; 'survived the old enemy's onslaught'. Culled from this week's newspapers, these words sound as if they belong in foreign war stories but they refer to football. Someone scores, another fails to, and then there's the Merseyside derby.

Bill Shankly's famous comment about football's importance vis-a-vis life and death would have passed unnoticed, but it has taken on a certain poignancy in Bosnia.

Football is providing a form of refuge from grim reality in Sarajevo. Youngsters have kick-abouts amid the wreckage in sheltered streets and soldiers on breaks from the front play on a basketball court in a battered sports complex. 'The main reason is because it's an escape,' one soldier said. 'The score isn't important.'

Sarajevo hosted the 1984 Winter Olympics, but many of the Olympic sites are battlegrounds. Now the source of national pride is Bosnia's football team, which features players like Safet Susic, once of Paris St Germain, and Faruk Hadzibegic, who captained Yugoslavia's 1990 World Cup team. The collection of Muslims, Croats and three Serbs, who have stayed loyal to the republic, won for the first time last month, beating the Belgian club, Ghent, 4-2.

'When I saw the national team, I could scarely breathe, I was so excited,' said Nihad Baljak, who works FK Sarajevo, one of five teams from the capital in the old Yugoslav league.

His club continues to operate its youth programme. About 100 boys aged 12 to 16 train three times a week in a gym, Baljak said. They may provide the core of a future Bosnian league. Hope springs eternal.

ALAN HANSEN, cool defensive stroller turned smooth television talker, provides some insight into the art of captaincy in the latest issue of For Him magazine. 'I never went in for aerial challenges at Liverpool. You lose 150 brain cells every time you head a ball. I used to make Mark Lawrenson do all the heading. You have to delegate - it's a captain's prerogative.'

WHEN there was a clamour for a newspaper backstage at Karl Lagerfeld's fashion show in Paris last week, it was because one of the models was desperate to discover how Southampton had fared. Their victory over Ipswich was greeted with a whoop of delight, but then the model's father is the manager at the Dell. Joanne Branfoot, daughter of Ian, is a rising star of the catwalk, whose blossoming career is troubled by a minor problem with her flame red hair. Her agents think she should go blonde. In the circumstances, there is an obvious compromise . . . red and white stripes.

YOU are playing Wimbledon and on comes Vinnie as a second-half substitute. You know what to expect, and, yes, in no time a word out of place and he is shown the yellow card. Shortly before the end there is a clash with the goalkeeper and Vinnie is off. No, this is not Vinnie Jones, but Vinnie John, of the Dons' South-east Counties League team who took on Crystal Palace's youngsters recently. Will he be damned by association? If Mr John thinks he is judged by name and not deed, he might judge it worth changing his name by deed poll.

WHATEVER effect those substances had on Ben Johnson's performances as a sprinter, they certainly did his sense of humour no harm. Interviewed on an Italian television station owned by Milan's president Silvio Berlusconi, the Canadian said of his football prowess: 'I've got a good shot and I control the ball well. I'd like to come to Italy and play for a team. Why not?' Answers on a postcard.

CUP derbies are two-a-penny these days. They turn up everywhere, like in the African Cup-Winners' Cup where the first-round draw paired Arsenal with Clube de Gaza.

THE bottle of Aberlour Malt goes to Sean Fowler, of Bray, Co. Wicklow, for spotting the jackpot that got away. 'Last Saturday there were 59 games played in the FA Premier, Barclays and Scottish leagues, of which 54 were on the pools coupons. All five games not on the coupon (at Blackburn, Chelsea, Halifax, Stranraer and Hartlepool) ended as score draws, four of them Jackpot draws. Perhaps the Pools Promoters Association know something that we don't?'

All freak facts and figures to Football Diary, The Independent, 40 City Road, London EC1Y 2DB.