Football: Referees threaten to strike

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THE MEN in black (and green) may prevent the new season starting on schedule next month, unless the Premier League and the Football League agree to their pay demands.

The Association of Premier League and Football League Referees and Linesmen is asking for pounds 400 per match to referee Premier League games, but has been offered about half that. Referees currently receive pounds 145 per match, and the offer from the Premier League was rejected on Saturday at the association's annual conference in Blackpool.

The referees have also asked the Football League for pounds 200 per game - but have not received a reply. The officials are threatening to strike if an agreement can not be reached. Neil Midgley, the association's president, said: 'The issue is not just about remuneration - it is about the status of match officials and the genuine desire of the association to achieve even higher refereeing standards.'

The Premier League has indicated that it may be willing to improve its offer - subject to improved performances from referees and linesmen. How they intend to evaluate performances has not been explained.

Nine players from Manchester United and Leeds United were absent when England's Under-18 side left for Norway on Saturday for a short tour to prepare for the European Under-18 Championship finals in England later this month. Both clubs - last season's FA Youth Cup finalists - have been charged with misconduct by the Football Association. 'Their players just didn't turn up,' David Bloomfield, for the FA, said.

Southend United have paid pounds 350,000 for Plymouth Argyle's captain, Gary Poole, a 25-year-old full- back who moved to Devon from Barnet last summer. Barry Fry, the Southend manager, also signed two players from his former club, Barnet: the midfielder Derek Payne and Mick Bodley, a defender. Both were among 11 Barnet players granted free transfers by the Football League on Friday. Fry is also keen on David Leworthy, Farnborough Town's 30-year-old former Tottenham striker, for whom Southend have offered pounds 40,000.

Jean-Pierre Bernes, the general manager of Marseille, was yesterday given four days to report to a judge in Valenciennes, France, where he will be placed under investigation for alleged bribery of Valenciennes players. Three Valenciennes players have admitted accepting about pounds 30,000 in bribes to throw a French League match against Marseille in May, and Bernes was named as the alleged middle-man.

In their first international match since the death of 18 members of their squad in an air disaster in April, Zambia beat Morocco 2-1 in a World Cup qualifier in Lusaka yesterday. PSV Eindhoven's Kalusha Bwalya and his brother, Johnstone Bwalya of the Swiss club, Bulle, scored the goals as Zambia came from behind to go to the top of Group B in the second round of the African qualifying tournament. The group winners qualify for next year's finals.

Bruce Grobbelaar kept a clean sheet as Zimbabwe beat Cameroon 1-0 in Harare yesterday to maintain their hopes of World Cup qualification. In the Asian zone first round, Iran need a draw against Syria in Damascus tomorrow to reach the second round, after Iran beat Taiwan 6-0 and the Syrians overcame Oman 2-1 yesterday.

ARGENTINA retained the Copa America when they beat Mexico 2-1 in the final in Guayaquil, Ecuador, last night with two well-struck opportunist goals from Gabriel Batistuta, the Fiorentina striker, in the second half. Benjamin Galindo scored for Mexico from the penalty spot.