Football Diary: The art of close marking

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REMEMBER the 'pen pals' sections of football magazines when you were a kid? Full of starry-eyed Swedes busting for news about the latest British stars. Times have changed. The current World Soccer, the global game's monthly bible, embraces two ads in its 'pen pals' column - and they are not interested in the vital statistics of the title contenders. The first starts '1000 PRETTY GIRLS from Holland, Scandinavia, Europe, America, Asia and Worldwide seek friendship/marriage' and lists a box number in Rotterdam. Marriage? We haven't even swapped scarves yet.

The second, from Chorley, Lancs, offers 'Penpal Mag for lonely people'. Whatever next? The League's computer being rented out for marital matchmaking services or Graham Kelly and his magic velvet bag being employed to pair people together - 'No 6, Bjorn Bjornsen, will meet No 73, Kate Murdoch'. With blind- date updates on Match Of The Day.

FOR more than 20 years the legend 'Astle is King' - honouring the ex-West Brom and England striker Jeff - had adorned a bridge at Cradley Heath in the Black Country. Finally, the council decided it was time for a clean-up, and took the Jif to Jeff before painting over the offending words. That, it seemed, was that, until last week when the nostalgic slogan mysteriously reappeared overnight. The King is dead . . . long live the King.

OIKS, the Isles of Scilly side, have outdone Milan and retained their unbeaten record. Word arrives from the Tresco Times, the sub-tropical haven's newsletter, that the OIKs (the Off Island Kickers FC) have decided to call it a day after recording their first-ever goal and victory. 'They rested on their laurels,' TT reports, 'and decided not actually to have a season. No games were played but many pints were sunk and much talk took place on tactics and what we would do to (rival island) St Mary's if only the sea wasn't so lumpy . . .'

UNDAUNTED by the surprise failure of their 'Roland Nilsson for England' campaign, Sheffield Wednesday fans are planning another crusade - 'Chris Waddle for Sweden'. The Owls fanzine, Boddle - Taking the Wednesday into Insanity (which offers a free tea bag in its latest edition), tried to promote Nilsson, their much-capped Swede, as the answer to Graham Taylor's right-back problem. Now, Taff Boddle, the fanzine's editor, writes that a Waddle for Sweden movement is afoot, 'in the hope that our wing wizard gains some international caps'. Owls fans hope Taylor will respond this time to prevent the loss of a national treasure.

MAL DONAGHY and the Grand National gave the bookies the blues last weekend. Until recently Donaghy had not scored for five years, hence odds of 80-1 against him netting the first in Chelsea's matches. The generous price prompted certain Shed dwellers to risk a pound each game; for 40 matches Donaghy failed to deliver and the men with satchel bags collected. But the Irishman's famine- busting goal at Leeds United on 24 March burned the bookies' fingers and sent his odds diving to 33s for last Saturday's visit of Middlesbrough. Donaghy obliged again. The post-National, post-match scene at the Bridge Ladbrokes was 'chaotic' according to one eye-witness.

HOT NEWS from Uncle Sam. The USA 94 organisers' impressive stadium-by-stadium guide contains the shock revelation that the LA Aztecs' line-up 'at one time included flamboyant Englishman George Best'.

GERMANY'S four-horse race has developed nicely since Bayern Munich started tossing points away. The debagging of the Bavarians - leaders now only on goal difference - has been noted by the famous club's captain, Lothar Matthaus, who remarked that opposing players 'are encouraged to make sure we leave the pitch with our Lederhosen down'.

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

'For the first time since the Dark Ages Manchester United failed to fail at a crucial point in the season when they beat Norwich at Carrow Road on Monday.'

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