Outside The Box: England's attendance: when low is high and high is low


The Football Association's insistence that last Tuesday's attendance for England's game against Ukraine would be the highest in Europe, if not the world, that day was duly borne out by an official figure of 68,102.

It was also 21,000 down on the crowd for the less attractive opposition of Kazakhstan in the first home game of the last World Cup, when everything in the garden of English football seemed a little rosier.

France's 55,000 against Belarus was the next highest on Tuesday, although Austria (48,000 v Germany) and Poland (38,000 v Moldova in Wroclaw) were among those achieving higher percentages of capacity. So was Switzerland against Albania, although not the 38,500 widely reported; the Lucerne stadium where the game was played only holds 17,000.

Younger readers may find it hard to credit that in May 1989 only 15,628 turned up to watch Bobby Robson's England play a goalless draw against Chile.

Webb: A Miller's Tale

And where was Howard Webb, World Cup final referee, during the big international weekend? Standing with 753 fellow fans of Rotherham United in a white baseball cap watching his team at Port Vale, where they were four goals down in half an hour and lost 6-2.

Webb began his career in local Rotherham leagues and officiated in United's first match at their new home, the New York Stadium, in a pre-season friendly against Barnsley. It would be interesting to know his views on the club's manager, Steve Evans, for whom the word "controversial" hardly suffices. Formerly at Crawley, where he was once given a touchline ban of 10 matches, Evans was last week banned by the FA from attending any ground where his team are playing for six match days after being found guilty of offensive behaviour towards a female steward last season.

Foreign trade-off

Rarely is a League One fixture postponed because of call-ups for international duty, but that was the case with last weekend's scheduled game between Doncaster and Oldham, when the latter had three players in action. Their South African captain, Dean Furman, a former scholar at Chelsea, found himself in Sao Paolo rather than the Keepmoat Stadium, playing in a 1-0 defeat by Brazil, and Northern Ireland had two Latics with their Under-21 side. There could be more in future: Paul Dickov's cosmopolitan squad also includes two Australians, a French youth international and Youssouf M'Changama, a full international with the Comoros Islands, whose World Cup, sadly, is already over following defeat by Mozambique as long ago as last November.

Football League games may be postponed if one club have three or more players away.

Sirrel on the bill

William Ivory, who wrote the well-received screenplays for Made In Dagenham and the recent TV drama Bert and Dickie (about two British rowers in the 1948 Olympics) has now written Diary of a Football Nobody, which opens at the Nottingham Playhouse on 5 October. The play is based on the book Steak... Diana Ross by the 1970s Notts County player David McVay, now a freelance journalist.

The star role is that of the late – some would say, legendary – County manager Jimmy Sirrel, although Eric Richard, who plays him, may have to work on the broad Glaswegian accent – he comes from Margate and was Sgt Bob Cryer in The Bill for 20 years.

Intelligent footballers?

Fans of BBC4's fiendishly difficult quiz programme Only Connect must have raised an eyebrow at the billing for last week's episode, which had "Footballers" pitted against "Second Violinists". It promised to make Moldova against England look like a close contest. In fact, the team of three "footballers" were no such thing, but turned out to be supporters of Huddersfield, Middlesbrough and Nottingham Forest respectively, which the presenter, Victoria Coren, might have pointed out is not quite the same thing. They included a psychology graduate and civil servant and duly upheld the sport's intellectual credentials in romping home by 18 points to 11.


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