Brian Viner: Sex, death and trivia... football must be back

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The Independent Online

The headmaster at my sons' school is a West Bromwich Albion fan of impeccable, long-suffering pedigree. Last Saturday he was at The Hawthorns as usual, for the game against Wigan Athletic. Beforehand, he made his habitual visit to a nearby pub, The Desi Junction. At a time when racism and thuggery at football matches seems to be on the increase, he tells me, The Desi Junction is "a little pocket of hope". Before every home game it is filled with men, women, children, Sikhs, Hindus, Christians, all wearing Albion shirts.

Last Saturday, however, there was a small handful of dirt soiling the little pocket of hope. As ever, his spirits were lifted by the sight of Baggies-inspired inter-racial harmony, but they couldn't quite soar, because the big screen in The Desi Junction was showing Norwich City v Plymouth Argyle at Carrow Road, when what he yearned to watch was England v Australia at The Oval. And this feeling of deprivation accompanied him to the ground, where, for the first time in decades of supporting Albion, he felt emotionally semi-detached. Moreover, he wasn't the only one. Even when Albion took the lead, the ground didn't buzz like it did when the half-time announcer conveyed the news that it was still raining at The Oval. Which, when you think about it, is utterly, mind-bogglingly bizarre.

Like many devotees of both sports, I too was unable to embrace the football season while the Ashes were still in the balance. For an Evertonian this was psychologically rather handy, and even by Thursday I hadn't quite shaken the feeling off, so my team's Uefa Cup mauling in Bucharest left me only wanting to scream, or perhaps weep, but not wanting to slit my throat. The imagery of death has been commandeered by cricket. Yesterday someone told me he was feeling bereaved now that there was no more Test cricket to watch, which might have been pitching it a bit strong, but I knew what he was getting at.

I've been searching for analogies too, although I prefer sex to death, which I think is a healthy preference. The Ashes have been like a wonderfully torrid but adulterous love affair (not that I write from experience), with the football season as a previously blissful marriage in need of rekindling.

Anyway, the rest of this column represents an attempt to rekindle my own enthusiasm for football, and perhaps yours, too. After all, we need to remind ourselves that in certain areas football still rules, and it is peerless as a breeding-ground for trivia.

A few columns ago I invited you to send me your favourite sporting trivia questions, and I got a wonderful response. They weren't all football-related by any means, and my thanks to those who asked me to name the first Yorkshire captain to tour Australia. It was Captain Cook, apparently. I was also keen on the tennis question: who was the first German-born player to win a post-war men's singles title at Wimbledon? That was John McEnroe. And I am particularly indebted, as Cyril Fletcher used to say on That's Life!, to Trevor Parry for acquainting me with this corker: which are the four places in Scotland to share names with Formula One racing drivers? The answers are Stirling (Moss), (Johnny) Dumfries, (Eddie) Irvine and Ayr town centre (Ayrton Senna).

Football reigns supreme, however, and congratulations to those who met my challenge to find 26 alliterative footballers, although for really tricky letters such as Q and X I permitted entries from other sports. The winner was Jon Russell, a football trader at Sportingbet.com, who gets a bottle of something alcoholic, but not Double Diamond, for coming up with the following list: Alan Ainscow, Bosko Balaban, Colin Cameron, Didier Drogba, Erik Edman, Fabrice Fernandes, Gary Gillespie, Hossam Hassan, Ivar Ingimarsson, Jermaine Jenas, Kevin Keen, Larry Lloyd, Massimo Maccarone, Noureddine Naybet, Oluwaseyi Olofinjana, Phil Parkes, Qu Qing (of Adelaide United, apparently), Ray Ransom, Steve Sims, Tommy Taylor, Ugo Ukah, Victor Valdes, Werner Weist, Xu Xiang (of Shanghai Zobon), Yevgeny Yordanov, and Zlatko Zahovic.

Mr Russell asked whether he deserved extra points for including five Wolves players in his list and not using Zinedine Zidane, and I decided he did, which made all the difference.

Anyway, I'm about to vacate this column for two weeks to concentrate on writing a book about sport in the 1970s, so I'll leave you with these questions to mull over, starting with one, aptly, about a footballer capped by England in 1977 who was on the books of all four big North-West clubs - Everton, Liverpool, Manchester United and Manchester City. Who was he?

Furthermore, which is the only club in the Football League with the first five letters of the alphabet (in any order) in its name? Of all league clubs in both England and Scotland, which one is unique in having a letter that no other club has? Name seven post-war England internationals with an X in their surnames. And who was the only player capped by England under Graham Taylor to share the manager's initials? Happy mulling.

b.viner@independent.co.uk

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