Outside the Box: FA confusion over when they can use Wembley after Games

 

A costly misunderstanding means that England's first international of next season, only three days before the opening Premier League games, will almost certainly have to be played abroad, further infuriating leading managers already upset at losing players at such an important time.

The preference was always to play at home, making more money and enabling players to return to their clubs as soon as possible. But the Football Association were wrongly informed that IOC rules precluded using Wembley so soon after it had staged an Olympic event (the football finals are on the preceding Thursday and Saturday).

Locog now say: "It is OK for the 15th. It will be the FA's decision whether to host a match that day."

Too late, insist the governing body, which has led to speculation that England could face Italy on neutral territory in Switzerland. Harry Redknapp remains the favourite to be in charge by then and, indeed, for the European Championships.

Club England officials are keen to scotch the bizarre notion that the caretaker Stuart Pearce would name a squad on 10 May, as he suggested last week, only for a new manager to take over afterwards and inherit someone's selection.

Battle for London pride

Whatever Chelsea were expecting from this eventful season, finishing bottom of the London derbies table would have come as an unwelcome surprise. Remarkably, the Champions' League finalists have not won a single one of the seven League games so far against Arsenal, Tottenham, Fulham and Queens Park Rangers and even if a victory is finally achieved at home to QPR today they will still be last in the unofficial table.

Their record to date is five draws and two defeats; all the odder in that they beat Spurs, QPR and Fulham in Cup ties, and last season had much the best record in the capital, losing only one of the eight games.

Unfashionable Fulham under Martin Jol currently lead the table with 12 points, though Jol's old club Spurs could finish top by beating them on the final day at White Hart Lane.

As Lancashire awaits the season's decisive derby tomorrow, results among the region's seven clubs have gone much closer to form. Manchester City have won nine of their 11 local spats, losing only at Everton and taking 28 points. United have 20 points, Liverpool 16, Everton and Bolton 15, Wigan 12 and Blackburn nine. As with the Manchester set-to tomorrow night, there will be rather more than local pride at stake in the last game, between Blackburn and Wigan a week later.

In an undistinguished season in the Midlands, West Bromwich and Stoke have finished far above Aston Villa and Wolves, the latter gaining just one point from their six derbies.

Rangers could drop to Third

Should the worst come to the worst for Rangers amid their financial crisis, they can always follow the brave example of Third Lanark, once their rivals in the top division and now playing in the Greater Glasgow Amateur League.

The "Thirds" (named after the Third Lanarkshire Rifle Volunteers) were founder members of the Scottish League who went into liquidation in 1967, only six years after coming third behind Kilmarnock and Rangers (and ahead of Celtic). Reformed as an amateur club, they held a reunion yesterday to raise funds for a proposed move back to their old ground, Cathkin Park, where much of the original terracing remains intact.

s.tongue@independent.co.uk; www.twitter.com/@stevetongue

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