Football: The Sweeper

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The Independent Online
Rennie bellyache for Stocksbridge

URIAH RENNIE, whose refereeing has come under fire from some Premiership managers this season, has now upset one or two in the non-League game. Following his controversial dismissal of Arsenal's Emmanuel Petit, along with Don Hutchison, at Goodison Park the other week, Rennie took charge of a Sheffield Senior Cup quarter-final between Worksop and Stocksbridge Park Steels in which he sent off another two players and booked eight.

Alan Bethel, the chairman of Stocksbridge, who had the two players sent off, said: "His performance was not up to the required standard. Some of his decisions left both sides bemused."

The Jamaican-born Rennie, who lives in Sheffield, had an outstanding first season in the Premiership last year but has come in for heavy criticism this year, most notably from Dave Jones, the Southampton manager, and more recently Arsenal's Arsene Wenger. Following Petit's dismissal - his fourth in English football - the Frenchman is said to be considering his future in the game in this country.

This season Rennie has booked 90 players, more than any other Premiership referee, and sent off 19. A karate black belt first dan, kick-boxing instructor and magistrate, no one messes with Rennie. He once said in an interview: "Refereeing is not just about interpreting the rules, it's the use of life skills. I see myself as an arbitrator. I'm not there to trip players up. I'll explain a decision when asked. They may not agree and know my word is final, but it helps to create an empathy."

Not everyone, though, has had a bad word for him recently. Paul Mitchell, the Worksop manager, said: "Uriah is an excellent ref and I've no complaints at the way he handled the game. My players who got booked will be fined."

A MAN who in his time has attracted bigger crowds than Pele, Bobby Charlton or Ronaldo and who is arguably worth more in monetary terms than any player alive, certainly in the City Traders' League, came on to the sound of silence as a late substitute for Silverstone FC at Newcastle-under-Lyme last Sunday. Tunstall-born pop singer Robbie Williams, who failed to score in the 4-0 away win against Lloyds Midland, had good reason for wanting to keep his head down - he was supposed to be at home in bed recovering from the viral infection which had forced him to cancel his continental tour.

A spokesman for Williams' management company said in the Evening Sentinel story: "He was ordered to rest because the doctor felt that to have carried on would have prolonged his illness. It may well be that by the Sunday he was feeling better." Paul Bateman, of Hanford, one of the disappointed fans who four days earlier had travelled to Paris to see Williams, said: "I should have thought he should have given himself a full body rest rather than running round a football pitch."

ROBBIE WILLIAMS may be Port Vale's most famous fan but if the name of the Potteries club ever ends up on the lips of millions it could be because of the exploits of another pop performer. While in the process of formation, a three-piece American rock band who were rather taken by the name of "port" decided to trawl the internet and stumbled across the Port Vale web-site. "We liked the word `port'," said Texan singer Lance Walker, "and when I began reading the Port Vale website I liked everything I saw about the team, especially the fact that there didn't seem to be any big stars, just a bunch of guys playing hard. The dedication of the fans and the attitude of the team made us feel that Port Vale was a name we could feel good about using." The group, based in Houston, are about to begin a national tour. Who knows, one day Port Vale might even come up against St-Etienne - the pop group not the French football team.

OF COURSE, it is not the first time that football has been a source of inspiration for the pop world. Remember the number, "Cheer Up, Peter Reid", which actually made the charts? Well, the same Sunderland group who called themselves Simply Red and White have followed it up with another number entitled "Disco Pants", which has been inspired by their lanky striker Niall Quinn - "Niall Quinn's disco pants are the best/they stretch up from his arse to his chest" or words that go something like that. The song, which is to be released on Monday, will be given a live airing by the group, who now call themselves Love Supreme, at the Stadium of Light on 24 April when Sunderland play Sheffield United. The song has been regularly chanted at the stadium since a group of Manchester City fans told a local fanzine that they sang it to Quinn at Maine Road.

Kippax humour, of course, is well known, as Coronation Street's Curly, alias Kevin Kennedy, told listeners on Jim White's Radio Five programme, Dream Team, on Monday. He recalled an occasion when Terry Phelan was once substituted and the Kippax, in tune to "That Loving Feeling", sang: "We've lost that Terry Phelan" - and as he was replaced by Michael Vonk, added: "...and now he's Vonk, Vonk, Vonk..."

IT'S MORE about top of the table than top of the pops in the Conference today when new leaders Rushden & Diamonds receive Cheltenham Town, the pair being quoted at 11-10 joint favourites by Ladbrokes to win promotion to the Third Division next season. But for their 3-2 defeat at Hednesford last week, Steve Cotterill's side would have been travelling to Nene Park buoyed by an unbeaten away run of nine games. Brian Talbot's Rushden are unbeaten at home in six.

As you were

A SUCCESSFUL Liverpool team in Europe? Now that is going back. Some 15 years to be exact to when Liverpool (above with the European Cup) were an open-topped limousine of a side who, with the unflappable Mark Lawrenson (third from right, back row) at the heart of their defence, cruised past opposition without a care. With today's Liverpool possessing the killer instinct of a lightly tossed salad, the duty of bringing the ultimate club prize back to England has fallen on the shoulders of Manchester United, who take on Juventus in the first leg of the European Cup semi- final on Wednesday. Lawrenson, meanwhile, has transferred his laid-back manner from the pitch to the television studio where his playful banter with Des and Alan is as easy on the eye as his defending ever was.

The price is right

THE PATRIOTS were out in force last Saturday after England had beaten Poland by three goals (two of which were not handballs) to one and poor minority groups such as the "long-term value-seeking punter society" (of which The Sweeper is president) came in for unfair persecution from jingoistic brain doners. We'll be back - there's still more chance of The Sweeper doubling the kitty to end the season on pounds 200-plus than there is of England winning Euro 2000. And while things have assumed a shape not dissimilar to that of a pear on the betting front in the last few weeks, we're still more than a nifty pounds 50 up after tax, with a portfolio of tasty ante-post bets still running. Let's give the bookies six of the best today, starting with Chelsea, who can make it an unhappy Valley for Charlton. Leeds can inflict more misery on Nottingham Forest at Elland Road, while Liverpool may be held to a draw by Everton in the Merseyside derby at Anfield. Strugglers Sheffield Wednesday and Coventry may also fight out a draw at Hillsborough, Arsenal - who we've got pounds 3 on at 5-1 for the title - can gun down Southampton at The Dell but Manchester United may only draw at Selhurst Park against Wimbledon.

LIBERO WAGER

(20 pounds 1 trebles with Stanley): Chelsea to win at Charlton (4-6); Leeds to beat Nottingham Forest (1-3); Liverpool to draw with Everton (9-4); Sheffield Wednesday to draw with Coventry (12-5); Arsenal to win at Southampton (4-6); Wimbledon to draw with Manchester United (5-2).

ORIGINAL BANK: pounds 100.

CURRENT KITTY: pounds 150.90!

TODAY'S BETS: pounds 21.80 (inc. tax).

Mascot on the mat

Name: Marvin the Moose

Club: Cambridge United

Appearance: Six foot amber and black moose

Crime sheet: These are heady days at the Abbey Stadium and Marvin just can't get a grip of his emotions. This unmissable moose has been the recipient of many stern lectures from the powers that be after encouraging - by use of a rapid moose-hoof gesture - the fans to speculate about the referee's favourite solo hobby. Never one to hide his disgust with officialdom, he also has a predilection for suggesting the referee is in the same league as Stevie Wonder in the being-able-to-see-what's-going-on department. Marvin's over-elaborate goal celebrations are also incurring the wrath of the stadium manager. In the running for Groundsman of the Year, he is sick of repairing moose belly-slide damage covering his otherwise pristine turf.

In mitigation, your Honour: Moose are a rare species this side of the Atlantic and the elk, their closest relative in Europe, is used for little more than throwing in front of speeding Scandinavian cars to test their steering, so the fact that Marvin has landed a job as a Third Division football club mascot must be slightly confusing for him.

My Team

Tom Watt

Arsenal

Writer and actor appearing in No exp req'd at Hampstead Theatre Club

"I grew up in Holloway in the days when you supported your local team. My mates were all going to Arsenal so I made my dad take me. In 1971 I saw us win the Double and then got season tickets. I've been in that seat ever since. My greatest hero is Liam Brady, who would walk into any team anywhere at any time. Watching today's team is a genuine delight and Arsene Wenger is almost a divine being - except he signed Gilles Grimandi. I would like more local boys in the side but that will change. The future isn't necessarily in foreigners. The atmosphere changed with the all- seater. When you stand you participate; when you sit you spectate."

In t'net

Found on the Web: Statto.com

IF YOU'RE partial to a little flutter on the weekend footy but don't want to associate yourself with shady far-eastern businessmen or unscrupulous ground staff for your inside information, pay a visit to Statto.com. This site, which covers all the clubs from the English and Scottish leagues, is geared to putting a stop to the "pin the tail on the donkey" method of gambling. There are comprehensive home and away form guides and tables for all competitions. You can uncover the highest scoring team on the road or the leakiest defence at home. There are even club versus club guides, all at the click of a mouse. Plans are also underway to add forecast fixed odds and available spread bets for forthcoming games so that you can waste your hard-earned cash accordingly. Statto.com has all the intelligence you need to make your first million within a week. William Hill must be quaking in his boots.

http://www.statto.com/index.html

Seen but not bought

THE MIDDLESBROUGH Easter Teddy bear comes with a a bar of milk chocolate and a chocolate football to boot (or eat) - all for just a tenner or, alternatively, two for pounds 20.

They're not all Dennis Bergkamp

Unsung foreign

legionnaires No 33

SIGGI JONSSON: The 32-year-old former Sheffield Wednesday and Arsenal midfielder is plying his trade north of the border, sweeping behind the Dundee Utd defence. An Icelandic international with more than 50 caps - despite being the victim of an over-zealous Graeme Souness tackle in his early days - Jonsson is captaining the side which, after holding the World Cup-winning French team and thrashing the less than mighty Andorra, are handsomely placed in their Euro 2000 qualifying group. Although old father time has eroded Jonsson's ability to get from box to box, his footballing brain is in full working order. A bargain from Orebro, Sweden in 1997, Jonsson, calm and sophisticated, brings a ray of sunshine into a dull and dreary league.

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