Football: The Sweeper

Bruce set to thrill with killer stories

STEVE BRUCE, Huddersfield Town's manager, has branched into literature and written a novel, Striker!, which tells the tale of a retired footballer, Steve Barnes, who manages the fictional Leddersford Town.

"Steve's not TS Eliot or Samuel Becket, but the book's a damn good read," Reggie Sharp, of the publishers, Paragon Press, said. "It's full of twists and turns, excitement and cliff-hangers," he added, "and it's written in popular, simple, language." Sharp said that the book will appeal to "anyone from 14 to 56, men and women", although he did not elaborate why a 57-year-old may find the book unsuitable reading.

The 128-page Striker! is to be released on 17 December, and will be, according to Sharp, the first of three novels in the next four months by the former Manchester United defender, who is currently the First Division's Manager of the Month. Striker! involves the murder of a young player, and our hero, Barnes, becomes the chief suspect. Next week we'll reveal more (bet you can't wait) about the plots of the next two books, Sweeper! and Defender!

Bruce obviously possesses a fertile imagination. How long, we wonder, before he writes the fictional tale of a former Old Trafford star who bides his time at a smaller club before staging a coup to oust the knighted incumbent?

AUSTRALIA'S WOMEN'S football team has agreed to change its controversial calendar featuring full-frontal nude shots of some players following pressure from the Australian Olympic Committee.

The AOC had no problem with the nudity, just the use of the word "Olympic" on the front of the calendar. Apparently this contravenes the licensing regulations put in place ahead of Sydney 2000 to protect the organisers' copyright.

The 15,000 football calendars which are already on the market will be allowed to stay on sale. The Women's Soccer Association has agreed, however, that for from the next print run, the word "Olympic" will join the players' clothes in being removed.

ONLY IN Japan. The organisers of the 2002 World Cup have ditched the traditional cuddly mascots of yore (who could not love England's World Cup Willie or even France's Footix?) and opted instead for three computer- generated aliens.

The yellow, blue and purple creatures, which resemble Gremlins coated in snot, will even star in their own film. Those wanting a peak at the animated merchandising tools in action (playing a heading game, on the moon, primarily with their ears) should go to Fifa's website. www.fifa.com

THERE MUST be something about the name surname Ferguson that brings out the best in young footballers. Keith Ferguson, the head of the PE department at Notley High School in Braintree, Essex, has seen six of his current students taken up by league clubs, including three by Colchester and one each by Leyton Orient and Ipswich. Nick Eyre, meanwhile, has been snapped up by Tottenham, and despite being only 13, he is already talking about taking Ian Walker's No 1 shirt.

"He's not big-headed at all, though," said Ferguson. "Young Nick really believes he can make it and, to be honest, I'd be surprised if he doesn't." Peter Suddaby at Spurs' academy added: "He has great potential and we're aiming at him joining us full-time at 16."

Ferguson said that there is no secret to Notley's success, apart from a forward-thinking PE department and the boys' devotion to the game. If only such simple techniques showed such dividends at international level.

"THREE LIONS Roar! takes a look at all the qualifying stages of England reaching Euro 2000, featuring highlights of all the qualifying games," says the PR blurb for the official FA video of England's fraught campaign. Surely it must be the shortest football tape ever?

JUST BEFORE the English Press played their Scottish counterparts in Glasgow recently, the away team realised they had no kit. A frantic search resulted in the hacks buying 11 England strips, intending to take them back after the game for a refund. Unfortunately, Peter Beardsley was playing as the England "ringer". When asked after the game where his top was, he replied: "One of the groundsmen asked me for it. I signed it and gave it to him." Proof, indeed, that the pint-sized striker is such a nice bloke he'd give anyone the shirt off his back.

Song Sheet

Man Utd

Chanted this week at bemused Japanese neutrals in Tokyo, who no doubt wondered: "Eh?"

Hello, hello,

We are the Busby boys,

If you are a City fan,

Surrender or you'll die.

We will follow United.

Tune: Manc traditional

Don't dodge the draft. Send your contributions to The Sweeper.

By post:18th Floor, I Canada Sq, Canary Wharf, London. E14 5DL

By fax: 0171 293 2894

e-mail: sport@independent.co.uk

20th Century Icons

As the new millennium approaches, The Sweeper celebrates football icons of the 20th century. Today, Len Shackleton, the maverick inside- forward who broke the British transfer record when he signed for Sunderland for pounds 20,000 in 1948. Capped five times for England, the so-called "Clown Prince" (above, left, playing for Sunderland in 1954) was not averse to juggling the ball or even sitting on it to deceive opposition defenders. His prolific strike-rate hit its peak when playing for Bradford Park Avenue during the war, when he scored more than 160 goals in six seasons. Chapter nine of his autobiography was entitled `The average director's knowledge of football' and consisted of a single blank page Hulton Getty

The Price Is Right

ASTON VILLA have been struggling but their 4-0 victory over Southampton in the Worthington Cup suggests they may be turning the corner. They face a fair test in Bobby Robson's improving Newcastle today and the Villa Park fixture could end in deadlock. Bradford are on their way back to the First Division, but should be up to containing their visitors, Middlesbrough, at Valley Parade. This morning, the invariably-hard-to-beat Leicester could grind out a draw with Arsenal at Filbert Street, while on Monday, following their dismal Worthington Cup exit, Tottenham may be held to a draw by West Ham at White Hart Lane.

THE SWEEPER'S NET pounds 100 TREBLE CHANCE WAGER

Four x pounds 3 trebles with Stanley: Aston Villa to draw with Newcastle (9-4); Bradford to draw with Middlesbrough (9-4); Leicester to draw with Arsenal (9-4); Tottenham to draw with West Ham (12-5).

BALANCE: -pounds 118.30.

TODAY'S BET: pounds 12 STAKED.

In T'net

Found on the Web: Innovative Darlington

THE DARLINGTON site is likely to be carrying some fairly upbeat items in the near future after the club was given a second chance in the FA Cup. A taster comes with an item entitled "Quakers to win the Cup. Here we go." One good feature of this site is the "Time Line", which details the major points in the club's history using an extensive vertical scroll mechanism. Potentially the best feature, however, will be the "live commentary system", where fans can log on and listen to games. The system is still at a trial stage but if you go to the news section, look under "Archive" and follow the links, there are details of how you can sign up for the trial. Eventually the club hopes fans will subscribe to this service, for around pounds 3 a month, but for the moment it is free of charge. A few bigger, richer, clubs could do worse than develop the same technology.

http://www.darlingtonfc.net/index.html

Read Of The Week

STAYING UP by Rick Gekoski (Warner Books, paperback, pounds 7.99).

GEKOSKI, AN American Coventry City supporter since 1971, was granted access for the 1997-98 season to the chairman, manager, players and staff of his beloved Sky Blues. This perceptive and laconic inside account (just released in paperback) captures daily life at a club which, despite surviving in the top flight for 30 years, seems addicted to flirting with relegation. Having finally won over a sceptical Gordon Strachan, Gekoski is allowed to travel and socialise with the players and they eventually accept this wide-eyed fan into their fold. It is here that his naivety shines through, as he is disappointed when the players fail to love the club as much as he does and finds that they are, on the whole, self-obsessed young men preoccupied with clothes, pranks and gadgets. The book contains some richly comic characters, not least Strachan himself, whose manner veers wildly from brusque and incoherent hostility to intelligent and lucid gregariousness.

Courtesy of Sportspages bookshops, 94-96 Charing Cross Road, London (0171 240 9604); & St Ann's Square, Manchester (0161 832 8530). www.sportspages.co.uk

Fan Power

Your chance to reclaim the game

LAST MONDAY, the Football Supporters' Association held a successful parliamentary reception run jointly with the union, MSF, concerning the problem of racism in football. Speakers at the reception highlighted the role that football fans and trades unionists had in taking action at their own clubs. Although racism appears to be less of a problem at larger clubs, it continues to be a major issue at both amateur and professional clubs up and down the country. The FSA is working with the national anti-racist campaign Kick It Out to produce a free anti-racist fanzine to be distributed at as many clubs as possible in the near future. If you can help or your fanzine could carry articles, please get in touch.

AT THE reception itself, FSA officers spoke with the MP Tom Pendry about the possibility of a Private Members' Bill calling for an independent regulator for football. Mr Pendry has come second in the ballot for tabling Private Members' Bills and, although Mr Pendry has been under pressure to introduce a bill about fox-hunting, both the FSA and the Coalition of Football Supporters have agreed that an independent regulator is needed as soon as possible. If you agree, tell us, but more importantly, write and tell Tom Pendry, at House of Commons, Westminster, London, SW1A 0AA.

Football Supporters' Association: PO Box 11, Liverpool, L26 1XP. Tel: 0151 737 2385. Web: www.fsa.org.uk

Coalition of Football Supporters: Tel: 0113 237 4545. Web: www.cofs.co.uk

Unsung Heroes

No 18

MIKE RADFORD: The Exeter City youth team manager has been at the club "for donkey's years", writes Andrew Long, the supporter who nominated him. "He's paid a pittance but has been immensely loyal," he adds, "and has produced lots of players from a generally unpromising area, including one Premiership winner and an England Under-21 captain." The pair referred to are the aptly-named defender, Nicky Marker, formerly of Blackburn, and Chris Vinnicombe, now of Wycombe, respectively. Both are Devonians. "Exeter, with a limited squad, desperately need their youth products, and seven have played in the first team so far this season, including the captain," writes Mr Long. "The budget that Mike works with? Well, he'd be glad if it was a shoestring. But he's always polite, cheerful and grateful for any support he's given." As figures released this week testify, Exeter can hardly claim to be among the nation's richest sides, being ranked in 82nd place in the country with a turnover of pounds 1.73m for the year 1997-98. Their annual chance of glory will arrive next weekend, when they play host to Everton in the third round of the FA Cup. Should they prosper - and even losing by a goal or three would be counted as prospering for a team in lower half of the Third Division - it will be due, in no small part, to Mike Radford. So modest is he, that when we contacted him to arrange a photograph yesterday, he said only: "You're 'aving a laugh, aren't you?" and put the phone down.

Do you have an unsung hero to recommend? A "one club for life" man, perhaps? An octogenarian groundsman? A hospital radio team? A super tea lady or a programme seller who has not missed a match in 50 years? Let us know.

Sign Of The Times

From The Sweeper's autograph collection from the late 1970s and early 80s. Who are they?

ONE BLUE went south to be a Saint and an Eagle, the other became a leading London valiant.

Answers next week. Congratulations to Richard Opallea of London who was the first of many to correctly identify QPR's Stan Bowles and Ernie Howe last week. His prize is entry to the season's-end draw (open to all published Sweeper contributors) for a rare double-volume 1,500-page, original copy of England's 2006 World Cup bid prospectus.

Just Imagine...

... in the wake of the AXA wild card, what the next FA Cup innovation will be.

n The AXA "night game", with a 4am kick-off to satisfy the demands of Rupert Murdoch's TV customers in the Far East and Australia.

n The AXA FA Cup competition, a tournament that is taken seriously by all the eligible teams.

Thanks to Gordon Winder. For next week, The Sweeper invites you to imagine which football ground is most suitable for conversion into an Olympic arena and why. Addresses as above.

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