Sven Goran Eriksson may have been fooled by a fake sheikh, but the former England manager's fabled roving eye was never likely to be tricked into believing the two stubbly cross-dressers in the Notts County players' lounge after the 1-1 draw with Burton Albion were of the opposite sex.
Kitted out in short skirts, high heels, padded bras and lipstick, the daring duo were not, as one fellow spectator in the Derek Pavis Stand mischievously suggested, Ulrika Jonsson and Faria Alam, but the avowedly heterosexual footballers Rob Purdie, of Oldham Athletic, and father-of-two Neil Austin, from Hartlepool United.
Having been invited by County's Ricky Ravenhill to watch him play in the Football League's newest derby, they had decided, for the hell of it, to spring a sartorial surprise on their old Darlington team-mate – and try to get a snap taken with the Swedish schmoozer for good measure.
Eriksson has been director of football at the ambitious League Two outfit for barely seven weeks, so it is a little early, perhaps, to question whether their union is the real deal. But given the moral victory which Burton, the League's latest members, achieved against its oldest club, a week after County's chastening reverse at Barnet, how long before County's ambitious Middle Eastern owners Munto Finance press Eriksson to give more hands-on help – or even replace the incumbent manager Ian McParland?
It seems perverse to employ Eriksson as a recruiting sergeant rather than tapping in to the tactical acumen of a coach who won trophies with Lazio, Roma, Sampdoria and Benfica, as well as guiding England to within touching distance of the World Cup semi-finals. The one big name he has attracted so far, Sol Campbell, is reportedly being paid £10m over five years (although he revealed in the matchday programme that he had signed up "for the romance"). However, when McParland was asked when the former international defender would be fit to make his debut in the fourth tier of the English game, he replied curtly: "Don't know."
Eriksson, meanwhile, was apparently taking in England's defeat of Slovenia on television somewhere within the Meadow Lane offices. As he watched players who were the core of his Three Lions side – Frank Lampard, Steven Gerrard and Wayne Rooney – he may have reflected that on the equivalent Saturday in 2001 he was about to oversee the 5-1 rout of Germany. The new dawn promised by that night in Munich – "Even Heskey scored" as the song has it – would prove as false as the extravagant bust sported by one of Saturday's extraordinary spectators.
Now, after spells in charge of Manchester City and Mexico, Eriksson must endure repeated quotes by England players about how different – that is how much better, particularly discipline-wise – the England set-up is under his old Serie A adversary Fabio Capello. His public appearances since arriving in Nottingham do not suggest a man who is pining for the past – the capacity to charm is undiminished – but the task of spearheading County's rise to the Championship by the end of his contract in 2014 will be as taxing as anything he has done in football.
As an attendance of less than 9,000 – bolstered by 1,258 Burton fans – demonstrated, County's potential is strictly finite, especially with Forest, and their more illustrious trophy collection and far greater fan-base, just a walk across the Trent. McParland spoke of bringing in "two or three" loan players. County certainly need them, for despite the Scot's protestations to the contrary, a Burton team fresh from the Blue Square Premier and battered 5-1 at home by Chesterfield in midweek started and finished the stronger.
Paul Peschisolido's side looked set to pay for a failure to exploit the openings they crafted, largely due to Kasper Schmeichel's excellence in the home goal, when Karl Hawley ghosted into a huge gap behind Burton's back four before chipping Artur Krysiak from 18 yards soon after half-time. Johnnie Jackson twanged the Pole's bar with a free-kick but the Campbell-sized captain Guy Branston and his cohorts resisted County's siege before coming forward again.
Richard Walker appeared as a substitute to hit a fierce, angled equaliser five minutes from time after being allowed to turn in the penalty area. It could have been worse for McParland, Burton's Jacques Maghoma drilling an 87th-minute shot that came back off the post.
The mutton dressed as lamb was in the stand on this occasion, but Eriksson's experience with an intrusive press will be telling him County could be cast in similar terms if they fail to build on a moderate start.Reuse content