Outside the Box: Expect Diouf to get a mouthful from Celtic fans in Old Firm tie

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The Independent Online

It is arguable that not since Rangers signed Maurice Johnston, a catholic and former Celtic player, more than 20 years ago, has any new player divided the club as much as the recent recruit from Blackburn Rovers, El Hadji Diouf. That adds extra edge, as if any were needed, to today's Old Firm Scottish Cup tie at Ibrox.

Like Johnston, Diouf is a hate figure for Celtic fans, in his case after spitting on a supporter during a Uefa Cup match at Parkhead with Liverpool in 2003. Rangers fans have been less united about the merits of a player whose history is littered with spiteful moments.

"I have severe reservations about it," said John Macmillan, general secretary of the Rangers Supporters' Association.

"His reputation cannot be hidden. I don't know whether he is a robust player on the park or not, but anyone who spits at people is despicable."

Yet just as Johnston soon won the fans over by scoring the only goal of an Old Firm game, when Diouf appeared as a substitute against Hearts last Wednesday, he received a warm welcome. It seems that many, while unimpressed with his previous behaviour, were prepared to overlook that.

The Rangers manager Walter Smith appeared to be among them: "I was pleased with the way he played, seeing as serial killers get better publicity than he did."

Finances pass £1bn

The accountants Deloitte are predicting that in their new Annual Review of Football Finance, to be published in June, the sport's contribution to the Exchequer's finances will pass £1 billion per year.

The latest published figure, for the 2008-09 season, was £957m, with an annual increase of 11 per cent expected to go up even further since the new rate of 50 per cent income tax for higher earners was introduced. Although the VAT paid on transfer fees – amounting to £40m in the January window alone – can eventually be reclaimed, the Treasury has once again done well from the increased salaries that will be paid to so many of those players who have moved clubs.

The point was well made in an article in the sports pages of the Daily Mail last Wednesday, which also illustrated in some detail how fees like the £75m paid by Chelsea for Fernando Torres and David Luiz are passed on down the football pyramid to other clubs (at least that is what Newcastle's Alan Pardew has been promised).

All the stranger, then, that the same day's Mail should contain a rant by the paper's City editor about how "football's greed coarsens Britain". The Premier League have taken particular exception to the article and are preparing a riposte.

Called to the bar

Talk of transfer fees and wages will feature when Parliament's select committee inquiry into football governance hears from its first witnesses on Tuesday. Eleven MPs will initially quiz Professor Stefan Szymanski, Sean Hamil from the Birkbeck Sports Business Centre and the sportswriter Patrick Collins; next up are three former Football Association executives in Lord Triesman, who has kept a dignified silence since resigning as chairman, Graham Kelly and Lord Burns.

Questions the inquiry will consider include whether there is too much debt in football, whether the current fit-and-proper-person tests are adequate and whether supporters' trusts are the way forward for club ownership.

The committee's chair, John Whittingdale, says: "The Government has said it will encourage the reform of football governance rules to support the co-operative ownership of clubs by supporters, and there is widespread concern that the current governance arrangements are not fit for purpose."

A cock and bull story

Still no news from Inspector Morse's successors at Thames Valley Police about the Case Of The Painted Statue at Oxford United's Kassam Stadium ( Outside the Box, last week). His former sidekick Lewis is clearly baffled.

But one mystery that appears to have been solved concerns the identity of the animal in question. The statue, which for no obvious reason was covered in pink paint two weekends ago, has generally been known as Olly the Ox, that being the only obvious connection with Oxford.

As several correspondents have pointed out, however, oxen are castrated, whereas this one has quite clearly been sculpted in all the right places. It is therefore a bull, which clearly puts jealous Hereford United fans in the frame. Get to it, Lewis.

s.tongue@independent.co.uk

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