Outside the Box: It's grim up north for official England supporters' club
Such is the level of disenchantment with the England team since the 2010 World Cup that membership of the official supporters' club, englandfans, is now understood to have dropped by two-thirds in recent seasons from a high of 27,000 to some 9,000.
Reasons cited include the high cost (up to £75 a year for two years for adults, £45 for juniors) and few benefits. "I accept there needs to be some sort of control on who travels," said one older fan, "but in terms of benefits, there's nothing that appeals to my generation other than £5 off a home ticket."
Contrary to popular belief, and banners seen at games like last Wednesday's in Sweden, Manchester United (2,543) and Liverpool (2,488) have most registered England fans but – more stereotypically – they do not appear to come from the North-west; other than West Midlands, the main regions for membership are London, Kent, Essex and Surrey.
While appreciating that relations between Edinburgh's big two, Hibernian and Hearts, can be almost as delicate as the Old Firm's, do we detect a sense-of-humour failure in the decision to sack the former's public address announcer?
His sin, at a time when Hearts had been served with a winding-up order over unpaid PAYE and VAT bills, was to play the Beatles' "Taxman" at half-time during the home game with Dundee United. No laughing matter, say Hibs, who claim "he deliberately breached the terms of the instructions the Club had given".
Their po-faced statement continued: "What is important is that those delivering official communications on behalf of Hibernian FC act in a way which the Club sees as both appropriate and professional."
At John's Beck and call
The tactical substitution made by Stockport County's manager, Jim Gannon, after only 15 minutes of their ignominious 4-1 defeat by Forest Green Rovers raised the question of whether there has ever been an earlier one.
Gannon, who has had something of a chequered career in charge of Motherwell, Peterborough and Port Vale, took off central defender Jordan Fagbola, who had been at fault for both the opening goals, a decision he said was to protect the former Rochdale defender's confidence. But those who remember the name of John Beck, master of the long ball and cold shower (for visiting teams) at Cambridge United, will be unsurprised to learn that he was not one to wait as long as quarter of an hour into a game before making changes.
When his Lincoln City team met Swansea in March 1998, he quickly discovered that the opposition, whom he had been expecting to play with three forwards, had packed their midfield instead. So Lincoln's bemused club captain Grant Brown, a central defender, found himself replaced by midfielder Steve Brown after precisely two minutes' play. It was by a distance the shortest of the former's 407 appearances – a club record.
Beck, who now manages financially stricken Kettering Town, was sacked before the next game and Lincoln went on to win promotion.
Cup run on the banks
While big clubs tend to field weaker teams in the FA Cup and Capital One Cup, some of those closer to grass-roots level are doing the opposite by resting key players in league games so as to maximise their chances of making money from the prize funds available in cup competitions.
One such team are Sholing, from Hampshire, whose FA Trophy run came to an end last weekend with a 1-0 home defeat by Oxford City, watched by a "crowd" of just 68; attendances tend to be adversely affected when nearby Southampton are at home.
According to their (unpaid) manager, Dave Diaper, this approach "has certainly paid off", bringing in more than £17,000 from the Trophy and FA Cup this season. The downside, as he points out, is being bottom but one of the Southern League South-West Division, in which Sholing have up to seven games in hand on some teams, but he says: "I can sleep at night knowing we can carry on paying the bills".
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