Outside the Box: Sunday best bettered? It could have made all the difference


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Eight goals may seem a significant margin by which to win a title, as Manchester City did, even if they cut things a little fine in the end.

But without Manchester United's 10 men collapsing towards the end of the 6-1 home defeat by City in October, things would have been very different. As a reader points out, a 2-1 win that day (which was the score until the 69th minute) would have left the clubs equal at the end of the season on points, goal difference and goals scored.

Under Premier League regulations, when that happens at the top of the table or in the relegation zone a play-off is required with "one or more deciding League matches on neutral grounds". So this afternoon it could have been City v United in a one-off at Anfield to decide the title.

Supercalifragilistic Sunday?

Keane in the very crosshairs

Talking of United – and television spectaculars – did Roy Keane not once say, pace Sir Steve Redgrave, if he was ever found pontificating on TV, "shoot me"? No one has yet dared produce a gun, despite his appearances on ITV.

In London last week his update was: "I've only been doing it a few months. If I'm still doing it for the next three or four years you can shoot me."

Courtesy is kicked into touch

It had to happen at some stage of an important game, and it did so in Norway last weekend. In a key fixture between the strugglers of Lillestrom and Brann, the visitors were 3-2 up when a Lillestrom player kicked the ball into touch so an injured team-mate could receive treatment. From the restart Brann's Erik Mjelde punted the ball a long way downfield, where it bounced over the head of the home keeper and into the net for a 4-2 lead.

The home crowd booed and most Brann players then allowed Lillestrom a clear run at goal to score in reply, although their keeper – who had congratulated Mjelde on scoring – made considerable efforts to stop the attempt. Fortunately for fair play and the avoidance of a riot, he failed, and the game finished 4-3 (you can see the clip on YouTube).

Shelling out for a shilling

The official match card for the 1909 FA Cup final between Manchester United and Bristol City features an advertisement that says: "Keep this programme as it is worth one shilling to your children."

It proved rather more valuable than that to the lucky seller at Sotheby's last week when a British collector paid £23,500, which is believed to be a world record. The previous highest was £21,850 for the 1889 final programme between Preston and Wolves.

Original programmes from the 1966 World Cup final (there have been two reprints) go for in excess of £100, as do two more recent FA Cup finals in short supply: the 1993 replay between Arsenal and Sheffield Wednesday and the 1996 game between Liverpool and Manchester United.

Boomer cocks snook at Stoke

The rivalry between Port Vale and Stoke City is easily underestimated by those not familiar with the strength of local feeling.

Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain's father, Mark, was the last notable player to move between the two Potteries clubs, as long ago as 1982, but on Sunday a true Vale stalwart will turn out at the Britannia Stadium – the club's mascot, Boomer (sorry to spoil this for any children, but actually a man called Gavin York, who dresses as a Staffordshire Bull Terrier).

Boomer has been going strong for 16 years, and unlike the players he works throughout the summer and is much in demand for charity events and opening fêtes. He even "gave away" a bride last year at the wedding of a Vale-supporting soldier.

This weekend he will help entertain the crowd in the build-up to a match in aid of Gordon Banks' cancer appeal fund featuring various soap stars. One Vale fans' message board – hardly in the spirit of the occasion – has urged Boomer to cock a leg over both goalposts at the Boothen End and suggested he will have to go into quarantine before being allowed back at Vale Park.

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