MANCHESTER UNITED'S withdrawal from this season's FA Cup, given full FA backing because of its desire to have an English representative in January's World Club Championship, has been poorly handled to say the least. As a result, the FA, one would think, would be at pains to ensure smooth progress in the competition from now on in. Think again.
As pointed out in the Gillingham fanzine, Brian Moore's Head, the solution to the odd number of teams now in the third-round draw would have been to adjust the qualifying rounds so that an additional club would progress past the second round. However, the FA, demonstrating a lack of forethought, allowed the competition to kick off with the original number of entrants.
A third-round bye had also been suggested for whoever comes out of the hat alongside United, but the FA rejected this, deciding that it would be much more fun to allow a second-round loser to re-enter the third round as a wildcard.
A ridiculous idea, as the fanzine points out. Should, for example, Gillingham and Brentford draw in the second round they would then both enter the third-round hat. Should the wildcard turn out to be the loser of the Gillingham v Brentford replay it is then possible that they could be drawn against the winners of... Gillingham v Brentford.
That should make for an interesting match - and not a small amount of egg on the faces of the architects of such a hare-brained scheme.
NEVER LET IT be said that Everton lack a cutting edge. A scissors-wielding Englishman has left the Scotland World Cup flag, the treasured possession of their kit man, Jimmy Martin, in shreds at the club's training ground.
Walter Smith and Archie Knox, their Scottish managerial duo, are determined to uncover the culprit. However sources suggest that this Bluedunnit is merely the tip of an Evertonian iceberg as tension mounts ahead of the Euro 2000 play-off between England and Scotland.
With an unusually high concentration of Scots in Smith's squad - six, including three who will face England - the pairing of the auld enemies was greeted with excitement. Training matches have become bitter struggles between "England" and the "Jocks". The English have reportedly had legitimate goals disallowed by referee Mr W Smith (Dumbarton), who sends them on long runs if they protest. The Scots have found brochures on their dressing- room pegs advising: "Book your holidays now for the summer of 2000."
Tomorrow, by a quirk of the fixture computer, Everton Divided visit Newcastle United, for whom England's captain just happens to play. For Smith's Caledonian contingent, the temptation to give Alan Shearer what the pros euphemistically term a tickle will be strong. Then, perhaps, we'll see who cuts up roughest.
PERHAPS IT was the volcanoes, glaciers, lava fields and geysers of North Staffordshire which attracted a bunch of Icelandic geezers to Stoke City. Maybe it was the Potteries passion for cod, or the population of 250,000 being close to that of the North Atlantic outpost. Whatever the truth, a Reykjavik consortium is to spend pounds 3.5m on a controlling interest in the debt-stricken club.
The deal will take ownership out of local hands for the first time in Stoke's 136-year history. "It's like being taken over by aliens, who we are waiting to step from their spaceship," said the supporters' club chairman, John Lawson.
IN THE MEANTIME, speculation will centre on whether Stoke's manager, Gary Megson, will be usurped by Iceland's national coach, Gudjon Thordarsson. Megson would be sorely missed, if only for a willingness to eschew the usual post-match platitudes. Recent examples, highlighted in the latest issue of The Oatcake fanzine, include non-PC complaints about players "fannying around" and producing "blousy football", plus a topical tirade (in these days of wall-to-wall Chris Evans and Geri Halliwell) about a female fourth official being "anti-ginger".
THE SPARTAK MOSCOW vice-president Grigory Yesaulenko, the man at the centre of the Sir Alex Ferguson "bung" claim, has been nominated by his club - and is one of six candidates - to be president of the Russian Professional Football League. Yesaulenko, formerly agent for Andrei Kanchelskis was accused by the United manager of offering him a pounds 40,000 bribe in 1995 to force through a proposed move by the player to Everton.
Allegedly, as the bribe attempt failed, Yesualenko screamed at Martin Edwards, United's chairman: "If you don't transfer him, you will not be around much longer."
A little Highbury number that may be given an airing should the Frenchman attend Lee Dixon's testimonial on Monday
Who needs Anelka
when we've got Kanu?
Tune: Chim-chimeny (Mary Poppins)
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No 1: BARRY WILLIAMS
THIS WEEK The Sweeper launches an occasinal section which delves into the world of match programme player-profiles. Footballers are peculiar little packages, and we aim to uncover just what makes them tick.
We kick off with Barry Williams of Nuneaton Borough who, judging from his recent admissions, is about as peculiar as they come. Williams, who openly admits to having the nickname "Superbaz", lists as his favourite hobbies "lying and sitting down". He dislikes "bad road surfaces" and discloses that his likes consist mainly of "good road surfaces". Interesting chap.
Many footballers are superstitious - Paul Ince insists on being last down the tunnel for example - and Williams is no exception. Unfortunately opening his eyes is his biggest fear. Under the heading Greatest Luxury Bought, Williams, rather worryingly, responds with "My girlfriend" and more worrying still his favourite musical outfit are Rusedski's Polka Combo. A talented act, no doubt.
Arsene Wenger, the Arsenal manager, may have his ideas about grilled vegetables prolonging careers, but Williams, a fine figure of a man, dines on curry and Guinness. A school teacher by trade - a disturbing thought for today's children - Williams has, despite his unusual lifestyle, been a great success at Nuneaton, where he helped the team gain promotion from the Dr Martens League last season.
Does your club have a player with such a diverse and interesting published profile? Let us know at the above address.
No 14: STEVE WALSH
Steve Walsh joined Leicester City from Wigan Athletic for a mere pounds 100,000 back in 1986. Since then the left-footed central defender has gone on to enter the club's top five in terms of appearances made and in doing so has earned cult status at the club where his approach epitomises their no-frills work ethic.
Walsh, who turned 35 last week, is just returning to full fitness following a groin injury sustained on the opening day of the season at Arsenal and is again vying for a place in Martin O'Neill's starting eleven.
He captained the team to their most recent silverware - the 1996 Coca- Cola Cup victory over Middlesbrough and led them to Wembley again last season. He is also Leicester City's most prolific goal-scoring defender, having hit the target 61 times in over 430 appearances for the club. Indeed, none have been more important than his two goals as a make-shift centre forward in Leicester's 2-1 victory in their First Division play-off final against Derby County at Wembley in 1994.
Walsh's sendings-off and operations count are both into double figures but he is still as committed and determined as ever and as a result was awarded a testimonial in the 1996-97 season.
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? Let us know.
20th Century Icons
As the new millennium approaches, The Sweeper celebrates football icons of the 20th century. Today, Gordon Banks OBE, the former England, Leicester and Stoke goalkeeper who won a then record 73 international caps during the 1960s and '70s. He was a key figure in England's 1966 World Cup-winning side, but is pictured making that save, travelling, from near to far-post in an instant to get down and turn over Pele's vicious downward header in the 1970 World Cup finals in Mexico.
The Price Is Right
BRADFORD'S TENURE in the Premiership looked more like a short- let than ever when they went down 3-1 to Liverpool at Anfield on Monday night, but the Bantams are surely capable of holding Coventry to a draw at home on Saturday. Moderate Middlesbrough could hardly have picked a worse time to entertain the in-form Sunderland but, spurred on by home advantage and the heady derby atmosphere, the Riversiders can hold the Wearsiders to a draw. Newcastle, who weathered Arsenal's guns at draw at Highbury last week, can repeat the dose at home to the improved Everton tomorrow, while the big London derby between Tottenham and Arsenal at White Hart Lane may also end all square.
THE SWEEPER'S WIN pounds 100 TREBLE CHANCE WAGER
Four pounds 4 trebles with Ladbrokes: Bradford to draw with Coventry (12-5); Middlesbrough to draw with Sunderland (9-4); Newcastle to draw with Everton (11-5); Tottenham to draw with Arsenal (9-4). TODAY'S BET: pounds 16 STAKED.
Sign Of The Times
From The Sweeper's autograph collection from the late 1970s and early 80s. Who are they?
WE RECEIVED no correct answers in last weeks bulging mail bag despite Peter Beardsley's best attempts to print his name. Never mind. This week's pair have turned to management. One is popularly supposed to possess "a monkey's heed", while the other recently took over at a club he used to play for.
Answers next week. Last week's answers were Carlisle United's Peter Beardsley (shock) and Phil Bonnyman, now manager of the Highland League team Huntly.
... which players might make interesting switches in national identity.
n Nwankwo Kanu (Japan).
n Eyal Berkovic (Wales).
n Neil Ruddock (France).
For next week, The Sweeper invites you to imagine which non-league teams might make it all the way to FA Cup final victory and into Europe next season and who they might be drawn against. Addresses as above.
Found on the Web: Des Lynam: The God of TV Sport
THE FIRST stage of the Champions' League came to an end on Wednesday and it is a further three weeks until its return. Unfortunately, as a result, our screens will be Des Lynam-free zones for that period. Match Of The Day used to provide us with our weekly Des fix, but since the smooth one's defection to the "other side" we may have to go cold turkey for a bit. Or so we thought. For those of us who are in too deep, help is at hand with this Des Lynam appreciation site.
All the latest Des-related news is provided as well as a detailed biography of the the moustachioed maestro which includes a list as long as Jimmy Hill's chin of his many journalism awards. Also available are Des's best one-liners including his famous greeting ahead of England's World Cup match last summer: "Good afternoon, shouldn't you be at work?"
Read Of The Week
A MATTER OF OPINION by Alan Hansen with Jason Thomas; Partridge Press, hardback, pounds 16.99
THIS NEW autobiography from the celebrated Match Of The Day pundit covers far more ground than his previous attempt. He had not retired from the game when Tall, Dark and Hansen originally appeared so it is understandable that he was reluctant to disclose his pessimism about Liverpool's prospects, his shyness, his dislike of the sound of his own voice and his neurosis about Billy Whitehurst, the journeyman Oxford centre-forward.
Although there are many more predictable revelations such as his views on Bob Paisley, Kenny Dalglish, Sir Alex Ferguson, Des Lynam and his reflections on Heysel and Hillsborough, this book has more depth. It is a bit of a strange hybrid at times as he offers his uncompromising views on the game today as well as his playing days but all in all it is an enjoyable and frank account of a glorious career.
Courtesy of Sportspages Bookshops, 94-96 Charing Cross Road, London, 0171-240-9604; & St Ann's Square, Manchester, 0161-832-8530. Website: www.sportspages.co.uk