Football Diary: Sorry, wrong number

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The Independent Online
DRAMA unfolded outside Terry Venables's London club on Tuesday as the paparazzi waited for the great man on one of the many days he was due to be crowned England manager. Venables drives a Merc and when one appeared the flashbulbs started popping; the excitement mounted further when someone spotted its number plate - 1 VEN. The pack's charge stopped only when they realised the car contained not the future England manager . . . but the Venezuelan ambassador.

A NEWCASTLE garden centre has come up with an inspired scheme to offload 300 unwanted gnomes - they coloured the shirts black and white. Requests for individual names and numbers on shirts are included in the pounds 11.99 price, but most demand has been for the No 9, Andy Cole, particularly after staff painted his face. The white beard remains though.

IF THE pitch at the Boleyn Ground resembles a bowling green it is hardly surprising. West Ham's head groundsman, Kevin Auger, is studying for a national diploma which involves preparing a range of sporting surfaces, including those trodden by pipe-smokers in whites. Auger's smooth terrain - he walks seven miles pushing the mower to achieve the en vogue circular pattern - is one reason why the Hammers' passing game is prospering again. 'Billy (Bonds) and Harry (Redknapp) think it's one of the best they've seen,' Tom Finn, the Hammers secretary, said of the 75 per cent sand-based pitch laid last summer to replace the old mire. 'Last season some of the players preferred playing away because of the state of the pitch. They are delighted with the new one.' With so many passing teams around, a bobble-free field is paramount so it is no surprise that Upton Park have received calls from impressed clubs.

TOP OF THE FIFA POPS: We know about Tel's new boys' slide to 13th in the world during December, but what about those bubbling under the Top 100. Straight in at 166 go St Kitts and Nevis; no movement for Vanuatu at 164; 1993 new boys Cayman slip three to 154; up 19 places to 148 go the Maldives; Burkino Faso fall four to 127; big climbers Nepal show the highest elevation, up a staggering 38 places to 124; Lebanon's rise continues, up three to 108; and improving one to 101 are those Burundi boys.

THIS will not surprise those who attended Leeds' last match: selling outside Elland Road is a T-shirt bearing the logo 'Galatasaray Supporters Club. Leeds Branch'.

GROUPIES do not present one of football's more pressing concerns - especially for mature campaigners like John 'Budgie' Burridge, still between the sticks at 42. 'I don't think John's terribly bothered or harassed by female groupies. He isn't the prototype blue-eyed, blond boy,' Budgie's wife, Janet, tells BBC2's On The Line (Wednesday, 7.30pm). 'I think if there were a few groupies that could talk goalkeeping and gloves then maybe he'll be interested. I think anyone who could send over a good cross would stand a better chance.'

ARBROATH entertain mighty Dundee United at Gayfield Park in the Tennents Cup today - but their centre-half, Charlie Adam, and rising winger, David Elliot, have spent all week at Tannadice. Both are employed in the construction of United's new stand.

'ARSENAL in four-goal thriller'. Unfortunately for the Gunners' pounds 10m reserves, who fielded Miller, Linighan, Keown, Selley, Davis, Carter and Merson, Ipswich's modest stiffs scored all four at a packed Bury Town in midweek.

THE bottle of Wild Turkey Bourbon for freak fact of the week goes to Vicky Harrison, of Birmingham, for this:

'None of the 15 English League clubs who style themselves 'City' managed to win last weekend: Coventry, Norwich, Birmingham, Stoke, Swansea, Cardiff, Hull and Chester all drew; whereas Manchester, Leicester, Bradford, York, Exeter, Bristol and Lincoln all lost.'

More bourbon next week. Entries to Football Diary, The Independent, 40 City Road, London EC1Y 2DB.