Football: Viennot flies flag for female officials

Phil Gordon sees Scotland's cause undone by the sharp eyes of the law
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The Independent Online
FRANK McAVENNIE would have been in his element in the Toftir Stadium yesterday. The man recently voted football tottie's favourite tipple could have combined his two loves: the beautiful game and birds.

It came as little surprise to people within Scotland that Macca was revealed by Channel 4's Football Unzipped programme as the top trophy for any groupie worth her salt. The former West Ham and Celtic striker is legendary north of the border for his exploits, to the extent that the Glaswegian is parodied in a BBC comedy show complete with the catchphrase, "Where's the burdz?"

Far from being embarrassed, McAvennie laps up the small-screen notoriety, giving an interview to the Channel 4 crew from his seat in a West End bar, with a bottle of champagne nestling in a nearby bucket before picking up his "win bonus", a blonde who was desperate to meet him.

One can only wonder what Macca would have made of seeing a linesman who was a woman. Madame Nelly Viennot was making her international debut, but if the French girl hoped to get by without being noticed, then her luck ran out the minute Matt Elliott clobbered Todi Jonsson off the ball in the 44th minute and forced the referee, Philippe Kalt, and 4,000 other pairs of eyes to look her up and down. Elliott went into Kalt's little black book before receiving a red card, but McAvennie would have made sure he slipped Nelly his phone number on his way to an early bath.

Actually, the female form out on the pitch would have ruined McAvennie's career. It was the one place he could ignore his ravenous appetite, memorably scoring the goal which sent Scotland to the 1986 World Cup finals, before spoiling it all in Melbourne when the then manager, Alex Ferguson, caught Macca and Mo Johnston sneaking a couple of girls into their hotel room, which saw Johnston axed by Fergie for the tournament in Mexico.

If there was anything ugly in the Toftir Stadium, it was the play of Allan Simonsen's team. "Let's Get Physical" was the philosophy, and it bore no resemblance to the Olivia Newton-John video with the leotard. The thrashing of bodies would have given a nightmare to every Premiership and Premier League manager who had loaned a player to Craig Brown. Julian Joensen nearly took Tom Boyd's head off with a first-half challenge that was as subtle as McAvennie's chat-up lines. As a result, the match never flowed. It was grunt and sweat, though how anyone can ever do the latter in the Faroes defies belief. It may have said June on the calendar, but the clothing in the stadium was pure winter.

The only person defying the cold which swept in off the sea was one bare- chested Scottish fan, complete with Viking helmet. Brown huddled into his manager's jacket while the goalkeeping coach, Alan Hodgkinson, kept on goalie gloves for the entire game.

This was the penultimate match in Toftir, before the team move to a new stadium in Torshavn, the biggest town. It seems surreal. The empty terracing behind Neil Sullivan's goal had hills that reminded you of Glencoe, while the rock face behind the other end provided shelter from the winds whipping in from the blue yonder.

Scotland could have done with McAvennie out there. Scorers of his calibre - on the pitch - are rare these days for Brown's team. Sunderland's Allan Johnston did the business but Hans Frooi Hansen did not just spoil Sullivan's clean sheet in injury time, he left the Scots' Euro 2000 hopes looking very limp indeed.