Football: The Sweeper

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Blinding debut of a fluorescent ball

WHILE THE advent of the back-pass rule caused nothing but aggravation for goalkeepers, it did seem that the introduction of a fluorescent yellow ball would be to their distinct advantage, particularly in an English winter when visibility is poor. But Mitre, who developed the Fluo Flare Ultimax ball, had not bargained for colour-blind goalkeepers, which was what they got the very first time the ball was used, in a recent Third Division match at the Field Mill Ground.

Ian Bowling, the Mansfield Town goalkeeper, had got by with his deficiency during a career which has taken him to four League clubs but he was filled with trepidation before the game against Barnet. "It took me all these years to get used to the pink ball," he said. Fortunately for him it was his opposite number who ended up being bedazzled, as Mansfield ran out 5-0 winners.

Afterwards Mitre approached Bowling with the offer of a glove deal, but according to his agent, Garry Dickinson, a sponsorship of a different sort might be appropriate. "Considering his condition, maybe we should seek a deal with an optician," he said. "In fact, I've always been suspicious about Ian's taste in clothes and now I know the reason why."

WHATEVER ONE may think of the footballing application of the English- based Croatians - Slaven Bilic and Igor Stimac - since the heady days of last summer's success in the World Cup, there is no doubting their commitment towards their own people who make applications to enter the country. One Croatian fan by the name Goran Derek had an immigration officer at Heathrow to thank, too, when he arrived in this country virtually penniless and claiming to be a friend of Stimac's.

Fortunately for aspirant visitor, one of the officers on duty at the airport at time of his arrival was a Derby fan who took the trouble to contact the player in order to verify the story and then drove the young man up to Pride Park to watch his hero in action. He was then put up by Stimac in an hotel for a few days before being flown back to Zagreb.

THE PREMIER League has chosen not to intervene in the dispute between Chelsea and Tottenham Hotspur over ticketing for next Saturday's London Derby game at Stamford Bridge.

Spurs had protested that Chelsea's insistence on pre-payment, rather than sale-or-return as operated by most clubs, had made it impossible for them to risk taking an extra block of 1,500 tickets over and above their original allocation of 1,400.

"It's a difficult one to call," the League's chief spokesman, Mike Lee said, "but it is our view that Chelsea have acted in a way that is not inconsistent with custom and practice and their need to organise stewarding and policing."

GUESS WHERE David Batty's first game for Leeds United was on Wednesday following his pounds 4.4m transfer? Yes, you've got it, Newcastle. Fortunately for the England midfielder that was Newcastle-under-Lyme as opposed to the upon-Tyne variety he had, somewhat acrimoniously, just forsaken. Leeds' Pontins League opponents, Stoke City, play all their reserve matches at Newcastle Town FC in the North Western Trains League. Talking of non-League, that is where one of Geordieland's most famous sons can now be found performing: Chris Waddle. Following his departure from Burnley, the former England winger - who will be 38 on Monday - can be found turning out for Hilltop in the Wragg Over-35 League in Sheffield. And to think that Batty was threatening to retire at a mere 30 years of age!

THE HOME draw against Sheffield Wednesday the other week was nothing compared to the shock Chelsea fans got when Tango, Wednesday's best-known fan, did his party piece - on his 36th birthday - of stripping to the waist at Stamford Bridge. It was not so much the act of undressing on a freezing afternoon which took them aback as the sight of the suddenly slimline Tango. "I've lost two stone," said the once ample one. "I'm down to 15 stone. People will just have to call me Diet Tango now."

OUT OF the Cup a trifle prematurely they may be, but Conference clubs Stevenage and Kidderminster have not gone empty-handed following recent dealings with their supposed Football League peers. Fulham's purchase of Barry Hales for pounds 2m from Bristol Rovers has earned Stevenage pounds 250,000 as part of the original deal which took the striker to the Memorial Ground while the progress of West Bromwich Albion's Lee Hughes has meant a never- ending success story for his former club Kidderminster. A further appearance- based payment of pounds 50,000 to the Worcestershire club took their proceeds from his sale to pounds 330,000 - and it could reach pounds 1m if he makes the big- money move to the Premiership, as anticipated. So much for the poor relations of non-League football.

FEELING RATHER less monied last week were the players of Telford United after their hard-earned 1-1 draw at Hednesford. While they had been relieving their Conference rivals of a couple of valuable home points, someone else had been relieving them of pounds 575 from their jackets and trouser pockets in the changing rooms. Jim Bentley, the club captain, said: "One player after another walked into the bar afterwards and volunteered to buy drinks only to discover that he did not have a penny to his name." The excuses some people will come up with.

The price is right

THE SWEEPER'S STOMPING CERTAINTIES

"DON'T MESS with my Tutu." Middlesbrough 2, Newcastle 2. We knew. If anyone can break down Parma's brilliant defence it's goal machines Roma but the hosts, fancied to win Serie A this term, can prevail 2-1 on C4 tomorrow. Enrico Chiesa may score first. Who'll win the FA Cup? Spurs, Villa, the Hammers, the Foxes or the Saints, of course. Get on.

n SATURDAY LIBERO WAGERS

(4 x pounds 2 trebles with Stanley): Blackburn to draw with Newcastle (12-5); Derby to draw with Chelsea (9-4); Everton to draw with Southampton (5- 2); Tottenham to draw with Manchester United (9-4).

Middlesbrough v West Ham

First goal/correct score double: John Hartson/2-2 (50p at 75-1, Stanley).

Aston Villa v Arsenal

First goal/correct score double: Dion Dublin/2-0 to Aston Villa (50p at 40-1, Stanley).

n SUNDAY SKY MATCH

Wimbledon v Liverpool

Score: 1-1 (pounds 1 at 11-2, William Hill, Ladbrokes, Stanley & Tote).

First goal: Efan Ekoku (pounds 1 at 7-1, Coral, Ladbrokes, & Stanley).

n SUNDAY C4 ITALIAN JOB

Parma v Roma

Score: 2-1 (pounds 1 at 15-2, William Hill, Stanley & Tote).

First goal: Enrico Chiesa (pounds 1 at 5-1, William Hill).

n MONDAY SKY MATCH

Leeds v Coventry

Score: 3-1 (pounds 1 at 10-1, Coral, Stanley & William Hill).

First goal: Lee Bowyer (pounds 1 at 12-1, Stanley & William Hill).

n FA CUP ANTE-POST PORTFOLIO

Aston Villa (pounds 1 at 8-1, William Hill, Ladbrokes & Stanley).

Tottenham (pounds 1 at 14-1, William Hill & Stanley).

West Ham (pounds 1 at 20-1, Ladbrokes).

Leicester (pounds 1 at 28-1, Stanley).

Southampton pounds 1 at (pounds 1 at 50-1, Coral, Ladbrokes, & Stanley).

ORIGINAL BANK: pounds 100.

CURRENT KITTY: ER...pounds 84.04.

TODAY'S BETS: pounds 21.80 (inc. pounds 1.80 tax).

Where in the World?

IF GABRIEL BATISTUTA thinks he is the top striker in Europe he had better think again. "Batigol", deified by hordes of Fiorentina fans in Florence, has scored an amazing 12 goals in 12 games to help his club top Serie A, but that tally does not even get the Argentine international into the top 10 goalscorers in European Premier leagues. Sigurd Rushfeldt of Rosenborg Trondheim, who narrowly failed to qualify for the quarter-finals of the European Cup when they went down 2-0 to the mighty Juventus on Wednesday evening , leads the way with 27 goals.

TOP SCORERS IN EUROPEAN PREMIER LEAGUES

Goals

11 Sigurd Rushfeldt (Rosenborg Trondheim) 27

12 Oleg Veretennikov (Rotor Volgograd) 22

13 Rune Lange (Tromso) 20

14 Jostein Flo (Stromsgodset) 19

Petter Belsvik (Stabaek) 19

16 Arild Stavrum (Helsingborg) 18

17 Ionel Ganea (Gloria Bistrita) 17

18 Rikardur Dadason (Viking Stavanger) 16

18 Andreas Lund (Molde) 16

10 Chris Hermansen (AB Copenhagen) 15

10 Mario Jardel (Porto) 15

MY TEAM

Ainsley Harriot

Arsenal

Celebrity chef and all-round wit

"A FRIEND of my mum's called Guy Francis came over from Jamaica. I was into Brazilian teams, but Guy said he wanted to watch Arsenal. I went with him and, of course, that was the year that Arsenal won the Double for the first time. Pat Rice was starting out and we had this long haired left-back, Bob McNab. My best moment supporting Arsenal was when Michael Thomas scored that goal. It was my first date with my girlfriend, who's now my wife. We were going to have dinner in her flat, but she could see what a state I was in so she said: "sod the dinner" - not literally mind - and let me watch it."

IN T'NET

Found on the Web: Europe's football.

THE HOME of Uefa - football's European ruling body, - on the web, is a good place to keep up to date with what's happening in all Europe's major club competitions and qualifying for Euro 2000, as well as look back on all past results and reports. There are features and profiles of European clubs, the women's game, and - supposedly - a selection of polls. Unfortunately, a number of links appear to be still (like much like the England team) under construction.

http://www.uefa.com/index.asp

Seen But Not Bought

TEMPTING THOUGH it might be to nip down to Highbury and snap up the Arsenal Champions' League Sweater - a bonanza of a bargain at pounds 19.99 - Gunners fans should be warned quite how silly they might look if they did so. Clearly emblazoned across the chest, next to the club badge and the words "Champions' League" are the damning numbers 1998-99. Now it's one thing being partisan, but walking around with a jumper which says you'll still be in a tournament next year when you've quite obviously already been eliminated is plain idiocy.

They're Not All Dennis Bergkamp

Unsung foreign

legionnaires No 17

FRANcOIS KELLER: The 25-year-old French utility player is one of the newest recruits to British football's overseas contingent, having joined Second Division Fulham from Strasbourg on Wednesday for pounds 30,000. The brother of West Ham's Marc, Francois was on trial at Craven Cottage in November and impressed Kevin Keegan the Fulham manager, sufficiently to make him dip into Mohamed Al-Fayed's small change and make the move permanent. Francois, said to be "a pacey fella, who can play in defence or anywhere really," according to a Fulham spokesman, only recently finished his compulsory national service across the Channel, the highlight of which was being the captain of the French army team.

As You Were

TREVOR FRANCIS has done much to improve Birmingham City's fortunes in recent times, but he hasn't yet felt it necessary to employ the defensive methods used at St Andrews in 1969 (above), when four young ladies were tempted from a local shop to keep opposition strikers at bay. Oh, all right, that's not strictly true. They were brought in by the club to provide "pre-match entertainment" but their presence did set a precedent for the involvement of women. These days, Karren Brady (left), the Blues' managing director, is regarded as one of the most successful people in her position in the sport and has helped Birmingham to make substantial progress financially.

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