Brian Viner: Villa to sack Houllier? If they do, you heard it here first. If they don't, I never said a word...

The Last Word

The sports columnist is a professional hostage to fortune. Predict great things from team A, and see them eclipsed by team B. Exult in the promise of player C, and watch him slide into obscurity, overtaken by player D.

I learnt this lesson the hard way, robustly writing in August 2007 that, such was the dreary dominance of football's Big Four, as Manchester United, Chelsea, Arsenal and Liverpool then were, I would conduct a naked conga through Soho Square if none of them reached the last four of that season's FA Cup. Portsmouth, West Bromwich Albion, Cardiff City and Barnsley duly contested the 2007-08 FA Cup semi-finals, a quartet that absolutely nobody could have predicted, although no one else put their dignity on the line quite as I did. I can tell you that it's cold in Soho Square, without any clothes on, at 4am.

The one enduring certainty is that sport has a way of confounding the expectations of even the best-informed observers, which I suppose is why we all love it so, and why bookmakers prosper. Conversely, when sport does obligingly meet our expectations, sports columnists in particular like to remind folk of their prescience. After all, credibility, in our game, is almost as important as readability.

So, while it might be a little early to sound the death knell for Gérard Houllier's career as Aston Villa manager, and while I might yet be embarrassed to have said I told you so, I look back now to what I wrote on this page on 11 September last year, and reckon that I got it right. "It could be," I asserted, "that [Villa owner, Randy] Lerner and his splendidly named sidekick, General Charles C Krulak, will prove to have pulled a masterstroke by bringing Houllier back into top-flight management. But I doubt it, somehow. And it seems to me both a tremendous shame and, less forgivably, a mistake, not to have appointed a young, upwardly mobile British manager, full of ideas and zeal and promise. That strategy can backfire, of course, as it did with Paul Ince at Blackburn Rovers. But it can also reap the kind of dividends that I just don't see Houllier delivering."

Maybe he still will. However, there are already rumours that Rafa Benitez will succeed him. Someone should probably remind Lerner, a sophisticated fellow by all accounts, of the words Oscar Wilde gave to Lady Bracknell, that to lose one parent may be regarded as a misfortune, but to lose both looks like carelessness. So it might just be with appointing foreign managers whose finest days are behind them, and overlooking the claims of the best and brightest of British.

And speaking of the best of British, let me switch sports and make myself a hostage to fortune again. Tonight, at York Hall in Bethnal Green, 26-year-old Mancunian boxer John Murray defends his European lightweight title against a tough, ambitious little Spaniard, Karim El Ouzaghari. Murray has just switched to Frank Warren's camp, where they are touting him as the best British boxer we've never heard of, and to be sure there are no others who can match his formidable record of 30-0.

I haven't seen Murray fight, but I'm told that he's an all-action operator, not unlike Ricky Hatton in his pomp. I'm also told that Warren intends to get him a crack at a world title this year, possibly against one of the top-drawer Mexicans in the division. Whatever, I predict that Murray's relative anonymity will soon be a thing of the past. Remember, you read it here. Unless it doesn't happen, in which case you read it somewhere else.

When we deny fans' right to scream and shout, game will die

At north Liverpool Community Justice Centre last week, a 57-year-old Everton fan called David Sibson pleaded guilty to "racially aggravated threatening behaviour" during Everton's match against Stoke City earlier this season.

A season ticket-holder at Goodison Park for 30 years, with no previous convictions, he was fined £300 and banned from attending football matches until 2014. His crime, according to the Liverpool Echo, was to call Louis Saha, presumably rather loudly, "a fucking useless lazy French bastard". This was uncomfortably close to something Ron Atkinson more famously said in another context about Marcel Desailly, with the significant difference that there was no reference in Mr Sibson's harangue to Saha being black.

Now, even as an Evertonian who holds Saha in the highest esteem as a footballer, it's not for me to sit in judgment, either over Mr Sibson, or the judge who imposed the punishment. I happen not to think that the word "French" amounts to racial aggravation, but more than anything, and without knowing Mr Sibson's circumstances, this case reminds of a story the comedian and diehard West Brom fan Frank Skinner once told me. Close to Skinner in the crowd at The Hawthorns some years ago, was a man who relentlessly through the match abused the Albion players, swearing prolifically and at great volume. Eventually, another man nearby could stand it no longer. "Pipe down, mate, will you?" he said. "There are kids in this crowd."

At this, the abusive fan wheeled round, and loudly pointed out, effing every second word, that he worked all week in a factory, taking home very little pay, most of which went to his ungrateful wife and ungracious children, and that his 90 minutes every Saturday watching the Albion was the only chance he got all week to let off steam, so he would continue to do so, thanks very much. "And I thought, 'actually, that's fair enough,'" said Frank Skinner.

Similarly, I'm all for cracking down on anti-social behaviour at football matches, but when we curb the freedom of paying spectators to air or even bellow their opinions, we hack at the roots of the game.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Sport
David Moyes gets soaked
sport Moyes becomes latest manager to take part in the ALS challenge
Life and Style
techCould new invention save millions in healthcare bills?
Voices
A meteor streaks across the sky during the Perseid Meteor Shower at a wind farm near Bogdanci, south of Skopje, Macedonia, in the early hours of 13 August
voicesChuck Hagel and Martin Dempsey were pure Hollywood. They only needed Tom Cruise, says Robert Fisk
News
peopleEnglishman managed quintessential Hollywood restaurant Chasen's
Life and Style
food + drinkHarrods launches gourmet food qualification for staff
Arts and Entertainment
Michael Flatley prepares to bid farewell to the West End stage
danceMichael Flatley hits West End for last time alongside Team GB World champion Alice Upcott
News
Members and supporters of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender (LGBT) community walk with a rainbow flag during a rally in July
i100
Life and Style
Black Ivory Coffee is made using beans plucked from elephants' waste after ingested by the animals
food + drinkFirm says it has created the "rarest" coffee in the world
Arts and Entertainment
Jamie T plays live in 2007 before going on hiatus from 2010
arts + entsSinger-songwriter will perform on the Festival Republic Stage
Life and Style
food + drinkThese simple recipes will have you refreshed within minutes
News
Jermain Defoe got loads of custard
i100
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Day In a Page

All this talk of an ‘apocalyptic’ threat is simply childish

Robert Fisk: All this talk of an ‘apocalyptic’ threat is simply childish

Chuck Hagel and Martin Dempsey were pure Hollywood. They only needed Tom Cruise
Mafia Dons: is the Camorra in control of the Granite City?

Mafia Dons: is the Camorra in control of the Granite City?

So claims an EU report which points to the Italian Mob’s alleged grip on everything from public works to property
Emmys look set to overhaul the Oscars as Hollywood’s prize draw

Emmys look set to overhaul the Oscars as Hollywood’s prize draw

Once the poor relation, the awards show now has the top stars and boasts the best drama
French connection: After 1,300 years, there’s a bridge to Mont Saint-Michel

French connection: After 1,300 years, there’s a bridge to Mont Saint-Michel

The ugly causeway is being dismantled, an elegant connection erected in its place. So everyone’s happy, right?
Radio 1 to hire 'YouTube-famous' vloggers to broadcast online

Radio 1’s new top ten

The ‘vloggers’ signed up to find twentysomething audience
David Abraham: Big ideas for the small screen

David Abraham: Big ideas for the small screen

A blistering attack on US influence on British television has lifted the savvy head of Channel 4 out of the shadows
Air strikes? Talk of God? Obama is following the jihadists’ script

Air strikes? Talk of God? Obama is following the jihadists’ script

The President came the nearest he has come yet to rivalling George W Bush’s gormless reaction to 9/11 , says Robert Fisk
Ebola outbreak: Billy Graham’s son declares righteous war on the virus

Billy Graham’s son declares righteous war on Ebola

A Christian charity’s efforts to save missionaries trapped in Africa by the crisis have been justifiably praised. But doubts remain about its evangelical motives
Jeremy Clarkson 'does not see a problem' with his racist language on Top Gear, says BBC

Not even Jeremy Clarkson is bigger than the BBC, says TV boss

Corporation’s head of television confirms ‘Top Gear’ host was warned about racist language
Nick Clegg the movie: Channel 4 to air Coalition drama showing Lib Dem leader's rise

Nick Clegg the movie

Channel 4 to air Coalition drama showing Lib Dem leader's rise
Philip Larkin: Misogynist, racist, miserable? Or caring, playful man who lived for others?

Philip Larkin: What will survive of him?

Larkin's reputation has taken a knocking. But a new book by James Booth argues that the poet was affectionate, witty, entertaining and kind, as hitherto unseen letters, sketches and 'selfies' reveal
Madame Tussauds has shown off its Beyoncé waxwork in Regent's Park - but why is the tourist attraction still pulling in the crowds?

Waxing lyrical

Madame Tussauds has shown off its Beyoncé waxwork in Regent's Park - but why is the tourist attraction still pulling in the crowds?
Texas forensic astronomer finally pinpoints the exact birth of impressionism

Revealed (to the minute)

The precise time when impressionism was born
From slow-roasted to sugar-cured: how to make the most of the British tomato season

Make the most of British tomatoes

The British crop is at its tastiest and most abundant. Sudi Pigott shares her favourite recipes
10 best men's skincare products

Face it: 10 best men's skincare products

Oscar Quine cleanses, tones and moisturises to find skin-savers blokes will be proud to display on the bathroom shelf