Football: The Sweeper

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The Independent Online
FA powerbrokers made in Sheffield

THE LONDON mob, Terry Venables and Glenn Hoddle, have had their chance. Now it's the turn of the Sheffield mafia to take control at Lancaster Gate - and we're not just talking about Howard Wilkinson.

Apart from the FA's technical director and caretaker England coach, there are also the international committee members Geoff Thompson and Dave Richards, while completing the powerbrokers' quartet is David Davies, who has been standing in as chief executive following the departure of Graham Kelly. Even two of the newly appointed coaches, Nigel Pearson and Nigel Spackman, are from Sheffield.

Davies, who has hardly been out of the public eye during the recent Hoddle furore, is the most surprising product of the Steel City, not least because he is a dyed-in-the-wool Manchester United fan. "Well, he is from London," as a colleague remarked. Davies has not forgotten his roots, however, and occasionally returns to Sheffield to lecture at the university in journalism.

Sheffield used to be called the "Cradle of Football". In fact Sheffield FC, an amateur club, claims to be the oldest club in the world. So football is really coming home. But for how long is another matter.

Rather like the tenure of its two clubs, Wednesday and United, in the top flight, it may only be temporary. After all, Wilkinson is only acting coach, Thompson is only acting FA chairman and Davies is only acting chief executive.

THE DISABLED have been in the spotlight the past week after Hoddle's crass comments about them, but in the Northern Counties East League Darren Bonnington goes about his business in the Maltby Main goal without fuss. One-handed saves are par for the course for Bonno, who was born without a left hand and has just a little finger and a thumb. He has compensated for his disability so well that opponents don't even know that he has one. Steve Fleetwood, his manager, said: "I have known Bonno a long time and he's a great lad and an outstanding keeper and I believe he has the talent to play at a much higher level. The fact that he has only one hand does not bother him nor does it interfere with his goalkeeping. He commands his area and comes and catches the crosses that are knocked into the penalty box full of confidence." Bonno even refrains from punching the ball. "I find it just as easy to take the catches," he said. There are a few foreign keepers who could learn something from him.

WHEN THE recently appointed Worcester City manager, Graham Allner, told his board he knew just the man to "get us out of jail", one hopes that he warned them that "first, though, we have to get him out of jail." When Allner made Darren Steadman - whom he had signed 12 years earlier when manager of Kidderminster Harriers - his first signing, the only problem was that Steadman was serving a two-year sentence with one year suspended for a pounds 70,000 mortgage and wine bar swindle. The authorities at Hewell Grange Prison, near Redditch, however, have allowed Steadman to play for the Dr Martens League Premier Division club under a resettlement scheme for offenders and the 29-year- old was allowed out to make his debut for the reserves against Telford United on Wednesday. Watching him was his friend and former Kidderminster team-mate, Lee Hughes, now with West Bromwich Albion and the country's leading goalscorer. There could be a problem, though, with evening kick- offs. Steadman has to be back behind bars by 9.30pm.

IF YOU thought John Spencer was relieved to get away from Everton after the resurrection of his Motherwell move - "it couldn't have been any better had Cindy Crawford been on the other end of the line asking me out for dinner" - you should have heard what Billy Davies, the Motherwell manager and Spencer's brother-in-law, had to say when he thought Spencer had returned to Goodison for good after his loan spell. "I feel like going home and dousing myself in four-star petrol," he said. "Just how do you replace John Spencer?"

It must make a pleasant change for the wee man to be loved so after the disparaging remarks made about him by Everton chairman Peter Johnson. I'm not too sure, though, whether Pat Nevin, the Motherwell chief executive, who secured his release for pounds 500,000, will be so delighted. "When I get back up the road I'll have to kiss him on the lips," said Spencer.

DON GOODMAN knows just the place for those players - and I don't mean David Beckham - who are tired of being booed week in, week out. Japan.

The former Wolves striker, who is back in England on loan to Barnsley during the J-League's close season, said of his new experience with San Frecce Hiroshima: "There is plenty of skill in Japan but no one seems to take it personally.

"You get the same amount of applause if you lose as when you win."

In fact, he found himself missing the pressure that he was under to perform while with the First Division's great underachievers.

"I missed the intensity of the English game - the desire to win and the hurt you feel if you lose," he said. Goodman must be loving it at Oakwell just now then - he hasn't scored a single goal since he joined them.

Goodman returns to Japan for the start of the new season on 18 March, two days after Wolves visit Barnsley.

As you were

BOBBY ROBSON (main picture, flares) has enjoyed success as the England manager and with several European club sides since his Ipswich team won the FA Cup in 1978. Today (left) he's in contention to coach the national side again. Quite why, when the job turned him grey the first time, is anyone's guess.

The price is right

A LORRYLOAD of bad karma from a previous life. That can be the only explanation for last week's biblical calamity when three bets went down by a single goal. Here's hoping we won't have to wait until our next trip round the reincarnation conveyor belt to collect again. Liverpool, who let us down for a draw with Coventry, can atone by beating Boro at Anfield, Manchester United who did the business for us at The Valley, can cut down Forest and Arsenal - who destroyed our draw bet with a 1- 0 verdict over Chelsea - can hammer West Ham at Upton Park. Fiorentina, top of Serie A and 3-1 winners at the San Siro earlier in the season, can beat Milan in Florence in Channel 4's Italian cracker, while on Monday Wimbledon can force a draw with Charlton at the unhappy Valley.

LIBERO WAGERS

(pounds 4.50 treble with Stanley): Liverpool to beat Middlesbrough (8-13); Man Utd to win at Nottingham Forest (4-7); Arsenal to win at West Ham (5-4).

SUNDAY SKY MATCH

Derby v Everton

Derby (pounds 3, 4-6, Coral, William Hill & Stanley).

SUNDAY C4 ITALIAN JOB

Fiorentina v Milan

Fiorentina (pounds 5.50, 10-11, Coral, William Hill & Stanley).

MONDAY SKY MATCH

Charlton v Wimbledon

Draw (pounds 2, 9-4, Coral & Tote).

ORIGINAL BANK: pounds 100.

CURRENT KITTY: pounds 132.42!

TODAY'S BETS: pounds 16.35 (including pounds 1.35 tax paid on).

THE SWEEPER'S KARMA CHAMELEONS

Mascot on the mat

Name: Wolfie Wolf.

Club: Wolves (surprisingly).

Appearance: A wolf sporting an old gold and black shirt.

Crime sheet: Wolfie had the Ashton Gate crowd howling with laughter when he took it upon himself to be the instigator of a mass brawl at half- time during a First Division game in November. Wolfie was joined by the Bristol City cat and three pigs - representing double glazing firm Coldseal - in a mass bout of fisticuffs. An FA spokesman said: "Certain actions that might be regarded as hilarious by one set of supporters might strike the others as provocative."

In mitigation, Your Honour: Bristol City supporters found the whole incident quite the funniest thing they'd seen all day. One said: "It was the best half-time entertainment I've ever seen in 22 years watching football." It was the only thing the Robins' fans had to smile about as their side were mauled 6-1.

Other information: Coldseal later informed Wolves they will no longer send their pig mascots to their matches. At least Wolfie is still in a job, unlike City Cat, who was sacked on the spot.

Paul Stevenson

My team

Michael Parkinson

Barnsley

Chat show legend

"I was taken to my first game at five. At half-time I was asked "What do you think?" and I said "Can I go home now?" and I was told "No" and it started there. In the late 60s or early 70s I was over in America. It's like a sickness, but you try to find the results and I looked in one of the papers and it said `Stockport County 21 Barnsley 1.' I spent $15 or $20 on phone calls trying to find out the worst and discovered the score had actually been 1-1, which was almost as bad as 21-1. The best moment was when we were promoted to the Premiership. And watching Danny Blanchflower, well that was a joy and a pleasure."

In t'net

Found on the Web: Football 365.

DANNY KELLY'S daily is probably the best source of up-to-date football news and features on the web. On top of all the breaking news you'd expect, the opinion polls such as yesterday's (which asked whether a Scot could be the England manager and looked likely to find a small majority against), the critical round-up of the day's media coverage, and the "bollox" section (footballers talking cobblers) are all interesting staples. The "lookalikes", while amusing, have shown an increasing reliance on cartoon characters, but no one who looks at the Robbie Fowler-George Formby likeness can cry foul.

http://www.football365.co.uk/

Seen but not bought

QUITE THE ugliest football-related cuddly toy must be the Arsenal Gunnersaurus, a green monster in a club shirt. The shirt is, for some bizarre reason, tucked into a pair of what look like thermal long-johns. Rumours that Arsene Wenger insisted on the club shop stocking these items (at pounds 18.99 each) solely because they are sought after in France and he covets all things popular across the channel (usually players) are unlikely ever to be confirmed.

They're not all Dennis Bergkamp

Unsung foreign

legionnaires No 25

KJELL OLOFSSON: The 33-year-old Swedish striker played for Orgryte and Vastra Frolunda in his home country before moving to Moss in Norway, and then, in 1996, to Dundee United for pounds 400,000. Olofsson has won but a solitary international cap, at the Olympics, but has been a firm supporters' favourite since he moved to Scotland. Tangerines' fans sing `Olofsson's in the air' to the tune of `Love is in the air' to their hero, who was top scorer at Tannadice last season and the third top scorer in Scotland. Perhaps played too wide to fulfil his potential, Kjell scored last week against Dunfermline nevertheless.

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