Outside the Box: Thank God Butcher didn't have to hand over Maradona trophy

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The Independent Online

Diego Maradona is unlikelyto forget his debut as an international coach after the hero's welcome he received in Scotland, which included being presented by the 'Daily Record' with a crystal glass trophy of a ball being touched by a hand, inscribed "Scotland's Footballer of the Year, 1986". It was eventually handed over at a training session at Parkhead, the great man's bodyguards having kept him away the previous day from the paper's chief football correspondent, Keith Jackson, and Rangers' Spanish-speaking striker Nacho Novo at Glasgow's Radisson Hotel. Mark Hateley, a columnist for the 'Record' who was a substitute in the famous game 22 years ago, managed to get close enough for a handshake but was spared the embarrassment of having to hand over a trophy commemorating one of the most painful days in his country's football history. Whatever would Terry Butcher have said to him?

Ghana long way for nothing

Liverpool may have been miffed at Steven Gerrard having to make the journey from Merseyside to Watford and back so that England's doctors could ensure the club were not pulling a fast one over his groin injury, but at least it was a shorter trip than the Ghana Football Association forced upon the Hearts midfielder Laryea Kingston. Having missed the Jambos' previous five games with a thigh injury, Kingston was still told he had to fly 4,000 miles from Edinburgh to Accra to be checked out for last week's friendly against Tunisia. And Gerrard thought the M6 was bad.

Czech out the gates

Contrary to the impression given by some newspapers – notably the one already referring to the 2018 World Cup bid as "doomed" – not everything the Football Association touch turns to dust. Credit where it is due for the marketing of Under-21 matches, as sensible selection of venues and prices continue to attract excellent attendances. Tuesday's game against the Czech Republic at Bramall Lane drew a crowd of almost 19,000 to see Stuart Pearce's team complete an unbeaten calendar year that begun with 31,473 at Southampton and 28,178 at Wolverhampton. The first Under-21 game England ever played was also at Molineux, back in 1976, when the gate was a less impressive 4,389, and the same ground registered one of the lowest attendances at this level when a bomb scare delayed kick-off against Poland in 1996 until almost 10pm; only 3,183 hardy souls stayed on to watch. Even that beat the 2,146 who turned up at White Hart Lane six years earlier – it was Poland again.

Unmatched predictions

It is normally around the time that the first cuckoo of spring is heard that a 'Match Of The Day' pundit assures us that one or other struggling team, having just managed a decent performance in front of the cameras, will be safe from relegation. This then continues with a different team most weeks, until the realisation dawns that three clubs actually have to go down. Spring came early to the studio settee this season when supporters of Fulham and Bolton were awarded the time-honoured "they'll be fine" last weekend. That was the same Fulham side who in five away games had scored two goals and gained one point; and a Bolton team lying one point above the bottom three. Watch this space for further sightings.

s.tongue@independent.co.uk

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