All quiet on West Ham front is not arrogance

There does seem to be an institutional resentment of Manchester United from which, arguably, even Match of the Day is not immune
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The Independent Online

Some weeks ago in this space, for reasons I can't quite remember, I invited readers to identify the single London Underground station which contains no letters in common with the word 'mackerel'. A belated thank you to Helen Cornish, Ann Kenrick, Steven Martin and others for taking the trouble to write in, informing me that the answer is to be found just down the road from Lord's - St John's Wood. And thanks too to the correspondents who enclosed some teasers of their own. Several of you asked which football league club shares no letters with 'mackerel', and as the newsreaders say, look away now if you don't wish to know the answer... which is Swindon Town.

Some weeks ago in this space, for reasons I can't quite remember, I invited readers to identify the single London Underground station which contains no letters in common with the word 'mackerel'. A belated thank you to Helen Cornish, Ann Kenrick, Steven Martin and others for taking the trouble to write in, informing me that the answer is to be found just down the road from Lord's - St John's Wood. And thanks too to the correspondents who enclosed some teasers of their own. Several of you asked which football league club shares no letters with 'mackerel', and as the newsreaders say, look away now if you don't wish to know the answer... which is Swindon Town.

Colin Price from Essex thoughtfully added a couple more. Which four racecourses have no letters in common with the word 'race'? Again, look away now if you want time to consider... they are Goodwood, Ludlow, Plumpton and Huntingdon. Mr Price also asks which Scottish footballer played for West Ham and Manchester United and had the same name as a flower? Like the old one about Joe Royle - which member of the royal family played football for England? - this is a question best posed verbally. The answer is Ted McDougall.

Mr Price's finishing shot was this: name four English and Scottish football clubs beginning with 'F'. I racked my brains but could think of only three - Fulham, Falkirk and Forfar. His fourth, which again works better verbally and indeed unexpurgated, was "effing Manchester United". I chortled, although I must piously add that I have never joined the craze for Man U-bashing. Yes, their domination of the Premiership is in many ways regrettable, but at least their most influential players - not counting the small matter of Cantona and Schmeichel - have tended not to be foreign mercenaries, but players forged in Manchester such as Beckham, Scholes and Giggs.

Moreover, I sympathise with Sir Alex Ferguson insofar as there does seem to be an institutional resentment of United, from which, arguably, not even Match of the Day is immune. On Saturday, for instance, Gary Lineker pointedly said in the aftermath of West Ham's heroic 2-2 draw that "no one from Man Utd was prepared to talk to us".

Most viewers probably reacted to this news, as I did initially, with hostility. Bloody United. They could surely have spared someone to express disappointment and give due credit to West Ham blah blah blah. Yet it was noticeable that neither Gérard Houllier nor Phil Thompson went before the camera, either, after Liverpool's collapse against Southampton. Was this because "no one from Liverpool was prepared to talk to us"? If not, why weren't they asked? If so, why didn't Lineker say so? Sometimes it's easy to see where United fans get their paranoia from.

Of course, it may be that Line-ker's sidekick, Mark Lawrenson, was left to speak on Liverpool's behalf. Yet when I interviewed Houllier some months ago, he actuallybemoaned the inordinate number of ex-Liverpool players regularlyemployed as media pundits, among them Lawrenson, Alan Hansen, Mark Wright, Steve McMahon, Ian St John, David Fairclough, Graeme Souness, Kenny Dalglish and Kevin Keegan. It magnified the pressure on him, he said, and I haven'teven mentioned Tommy Smith, who dives in, studs first, in the Liverpool Echo.

Smith hosts a letters column in the Echo, which this summer has been dominated by Nick Barmby's controversial journey from Goodison Park to Anfield. The rest of the country has perhaps been unaware of the fervour unleashed by Barmby's move across Stanley Park, but in Liverpool all hell has broken out. Even Houllier, a wordly chap who knows full well the depth of footballing passions on Merseyside, has been wrong-footed by the furore.

It is as if a man has changed religion, he says. Which in Glasgow, of course, is pretty much what these things amount to.

Even the Barmby row pales by comparison with the fuss that erupted up there in the late 1980s, when Celtic hero, Maurice Johnston, signed for Rangers. It was not a direct transfer, as Johnston had left Celtic for Nantes.

None the less, it seemed that he was returning from France to play for Celtic again. Manager Billy McNeill even paraded him at a triumphant press conference, but the deal broke down and Graeme Souness - with a wicked smile, I am told - duly unveiled Johnston at Ibrox.

I can think of numerous players, over the years, who startlingly have signed for their club's deadliestrivals. Certain names stand out, though, among them Denis Law and Pat Jennings. As for the biggestturncoat of this summer, it is not Barmby, but a player whose surname, coincidentally, has no letters in common with the word 'mackerel'. I would pay good money to be at the Nou Camp when Luis Figo trots out for Real Madrid against Barcelona.

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