Football Diary: The why and the wherefore

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The Independent Online
PEOPLE are often sniffy about footballers' nicknames, assuming all monickers are formed by the simple Y suffix formula, as in Incey, Barnesy, Etcetery. But three new additions to the Handle Hall of Fame prove dressing-room wags are very much at work. Joining Choccy (McClair) and Juke Box (Durie), Tumble (Dreyer) and Zippity (Duda, Chicago Sting's Pole who played alongside Dick Advocaat in '78) are Snowy, Swinger and Ceefax. Noel Whelan was christened Snowy, not due to any similarity to Tintin's four-legged sidekick, but because - the Leeds teenager claims - colleagues felt he was 'quick to settle' in the first team. Swinger (as in 'the oldest swinger in town') belongs to Phil Brown, Bolton's veteran captain, while John Robertson, Hearts' top scorer, rejoices in Ceefax, because team-mates say he can remember every detail - from venue, minute, which foot, provider of pass - of each of his 200-plus senior goals.

THE RIVALRY between the green and whites of Plymouth Argyle and Exeter City's red-and-white-shirted campaigners is long and deep. The recent South African wedding of exiled Grecian Nigel Beer was nearly cancelled when, to his horror, Beer heard the reception would take place in a green-and-white marquee. 'He was going to call it off,' Dominic Sanders, who shares with Beer the cost of sponsoring Danny Bailey's Exeter kit, said. 'Jenny (fiancee) was in tears.' Her father immediately scoured Natal for a suitable (ie, red and white) marquee. 'They found one a couple of hundred miles away,' Sanders said. 'The South Africans could not understand how important the colours were. But then they are all rugby players.' Enough said.

THIS may seem hard to believe, but Mike Atherton's tourists are safer taking on the Windies at cricket than football. Brian Lara, scourge of England's bowlers, had a similar effect on Eton's footballing alumni last year. Trinidad's hottest batsman was in England visiting Dwight Yorke when his agent, David Manasseh, an Old Harrovian, roped him in for a friendly against the Old Etonians. The OEs won 4-3 but Lara, unfazed at facing blue-shirted blue-bloods whose predecessors twice won the FA Cup, acquitted himself admirably in midfield, even insisting the ball remain on the ground at all times, including free-kicks.

BRYAN GUNN, goalkeeper and goalmaker, enjoys a potentially knock-out relationship with Norwich fans. 'They want me to head the crossbar,' Gunn says of the exhortations that greet his stretching routines. 'I've got very close to it but I refuse to head it in case I get stretchered off in the first couple of minutes. Maybe I'll do it on the last game of the season.'

CONTINUING our monthly Top Of The Fifa Pops countdown, from 99-50: South Africa (1m registered players) slip four in the world rankings to 99, but big movers on small resources (only 3,000 players each) are Hong Kong up 14 to 98 and Oman (81) up 16. China are building momentum on their long march to the World Cup 2002 and rise three to 50 - despite Peking mandarins banning senior players from smoking, drinking or growing long hair.

MANCHESTER UNITED scooped a trophy last night: Dave Bagshaw, a Hove Red who travels to each match, lifted the Association of Provincial Football Supporters' Clubs in London 'Supporter of the Year' prize. Tales of loyalty among APFSCIL's 7,000 members abound: Andrew Dewar clocks up 20,000 miles a year feeding his Aberdeen obsession, while the annual highlight for Mansfield exiles is a pub crawl round all eight London inns called The Stag. APFSCIL can be reached on 081-843-9854.

THE bottle of Wild Turkey Bourbon for freak fact of the week goes to A Harris, of Barnstaple, for the following . . .

'Liverpool's last three games have ended in results that are the opposite of the corresponding fixture earlier in the season: 28 Aug, Liverpool 2 Leeds 0; 19 Feb Leeds 2, Liverpool 0. 30 Oct, Liverpool 4 Southampton 2; 14 Feb, Southampton 4 Liverpool 2. 1 Sep, Coventry 1 Liverpool 0; 25 Feb, Liverpool 1 Coventry 0.'

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