Stoke City's pride in having joined football's hi-tech stadium revolution is looking somewhat hollow after their pounds 15m Britannia arena witnessed a record 7-0 home defeat against Birmingham on Saturday.
Afterwards, hundreds of fans crowded on to the field to demonstrate long and loud that state-of-the-art surroundings are hardly a consolation when your team has gone 10 matches without a win. Their only relief in a grim weekend was the news that arch rivals Port Vale, in spite of their FA Cup heroics against Arsenal, had suffered a seventh consecutive First Division defeat.
Vociferous fans have forced the removal of several managers in Stoke's recent history, but the target of their disaffection this time is not Chic Bates but Peter Coates, chairman for the last 12 years.
Coates, whose business supplies stadium catering to several clubs, stands accused of the usual failing - that he has not provided the club with oodles of cash. Since last season's top scorer Mike Sheron was sold for pounds 2.5m, only pounds 350,000 has been spent.
Last week, nine players read in the local Stoke Sentinel that they had been put on the transfer list, a public relations own-goal that may in part explain Saturday's tame capitulation.
Next Friday's home match against Bradford has been earmarked for a supporters' boycott in an effort to force out Coates, whose own dilemma is that he neither has a huge personal fortune to invest nor knows of a wealthy potential buyer.
In the meantime, Stoke will discover whether current difficulties will end their recent dominance of Midlands rivals West Bromwich Albion, who they take on in the FA Cup at The Hawthorns, where former Stoke hero Denis Smith, coincidentally, is the newly installed manager. Stoke have not lost to Albion in their last 18 meetings.
Old boys achieve longevity landmarks
Football clubs and players are clearly built to last in the East Midlands. While Notts County, the Football League's oldest club, were marking their 4,000th match in the competition, at Rochdale on Saturday, with a sixth straight away win, Tony Ford, the 38-year-old player-coach of neighbours Mansfield Town, was extending his own longevity record.
Ford's appearance at Hull City was his 901st in League and senior cup matches, a figure that places the Grimsby-born defender in exalted company. He joins Peter Shilton and Terry Paine as the only English players to have taken part in more than 900 games.
Ford has his sights on reaching more landmarks, too. Before the end of the season, he should achieve another milestone by completing 800 League appearances. And he needs only three more goals to tot up 100 League strikes.
"I have no plans to hang up my boots," Ford said. "As long as I feel I can do a good job, I will carry on - if the manager picks me, that is."
Given continuing good fortune, Ford could well surpass Paine's record of 824 League games, the highest for an outfield player. But even should he fail in that ambition, he has one distinction that sets him apart from all others. Having been the youngest player in Grimsby Town's history when he made his debut at 16 in 1975, he is the oldest to have appeared for Mansfield.
Meanwhile, County's celebration of their milestone came with one regret - but for a waterlogged pitch forcing last weekend's match against Hull to be postponed, the 4,000 mark would have been reached at home. That it was not cost the club an estimated pounds 30,000 in lost revenue.
GOOD BOYS . . .
John Hartson 19
Andy Cole 18
Chris Sutton 14
(Blackburn) Kevin Gallacher 13
Dennis Bergkamp 12
(Arsenal), Robbie Fowler
(Liverpool), Francesco Baiano (Derby)
. . . and BAD BOYS
THE SEASON'S RED AND YELLOW CARDS
Had it not been for Hitler, Gerard Withe might have enjoyed his own football career as well as giving two sons to the game.
"He had a trial with Everton, but the war interrupted things," Chris Withe, the youngest of Gerard's five children, recalls. "When it was over, there was better money working in a factory."
Later, Withe senior represented his club after a fashion, selling programmes outside Goodison Park. In the meantime, Chris's brother, Peter, had grown up to make the family's football name with Nottingham Forest, Newcastle, Aston Villa and England.
Full-back Chris, junior to Peter by 11 years, launched a 17-year professional career at Newcastle, having spent his formative years basking in reflected glory. "I was really proud of Peter," he said, "and as a kid still at school it was brilliant for me - I could mix with the star players and get all the autographs I wanted."
While Peter now spends his time star-spotting as Villa's chief scout, 35-year-old Chris is a window cleaner in Nottingham when not turning out for Boston United in the Unibond League. "I still love playing, if I did not I'd pack it in," he said. "I've got my full coaching badge, too, and I'd love to have a crack at that side of the game."
There might have been a third brother playing had Tottenham followed up their interest in Gerard Jnr. More recently, Peter's son, Jason, had a year with Burnley.
After twice moving for pounds 1m during a high-scoring career, 29 is no age for a fit striker to be kicking his heels, especially when he needs only six more for his 150 League goals. But former Sunderland and Derby star Marco cannot take up an 18-month deal with Stoke because Panionios, the Greek club he joined last summer, will not release him from his contract, even though they have run into cash problems and cannot afford to pay their players. "It is a shame but I have three kids to support, so I had to leave," he said. Uefa, the sport's European governing body, have been asked to intervene.
A late developer who has tasted Nationwide League football with Scarborough, the GM Vauxhall Conference's leading goalscorer is attracting fresh attention after finding the target 27 times this season. "I've been in the game a long time but this boy is something special," says George Mulhall, the Halifax manager, who has just persuaded the 24-year-old to sign a 12-month contract extension.
Should he be thinking of an alternative career after his team's sad experience at the hands of Stevenage, the Swindon manager can take heart from one thing: he could still get in a music studio and become one of the richest men in the country.
The 1st Eleven
Eleven ex-Blackburn players now elsewhere in the Premiership.
Shay Given (Newcastle) Henning Berg (Man Utd) Ian Pearce (West Ham) David May (Man Utd) Alan Wright (Aston Villa) Scott Sellars (Bolton) David Batty (Newcastle) Paul Warhurst (C Palace) Graeme Le Saux (Chelsea) Alan Shearer (Newcastle) Graham Fenton (Leicester)
Many thanks to David Smalley, who naturally nominates Kenny Dalglish as manager.
Fact and ction from the Sunday papers
Ian Wright's dilemma over the chance to finish his career with Benfica has prompted new speculation over where Arsene Wenger will turn for the replacement he will ultimately need to find for Highbury's goalscoring legend. The Mirror reckons he has rekindled his interest in Blackburn's Chris Sutton but the Express believes he will target Liverpool's Robbie Fowler.
Reports that Alan Stubbs cannot settle in Scotland have alerted a string of clubs, according to the People, who say Liverpool, Tottenham, Newcastle, Arsenal and Nottingham Forest are keeping tabs, but that Derby may tempt Celtic to trade by offering Scottish international Christian Dailly in exchange.
Both the People and the News of the World report Chelsea to be on the trail of more foreigners, the former naming Cannes midfielder Laurent Charvet as a pounds 1.5m target, the latter suggesting a pounds 2.5m move for Malmo's Daniel Andersson.
Newcastle's new belief in moderation in the transfer market has brought a snub from Stoke City, according to the Mirror, who report that Kenny Dalglish's pounds 500,000 offer for full-back Andy Griffin has been rejected by the Potteries club, who value the youngster at three times that amount.
The People says Burnley and Manchester City both want Joe Royle to be their next manager, which will delight Chris Waddle and Frank Clark, while the Mirror says Lou Macari has joined Neil Warnock as a candidate for the vacant Bradford City job.
The People also reports that Everton are chasing Cameroon international Marc-Vivien Foe after failing to land Manchester City's Georgi Kinkladze.
The Football Association's offer of a pounds 100,000-a-year pay rise to Glenn Hoddle, putting the England coach on pounds 360,000 a year, is billed as an exclusive in the News of the World, even though the Mirror has a similar story - and goes a step further by claiming Hoddle is stalling over whether to accept.
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