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News & Comment

Outside the Box: Wembley farce means life's a pitch for Vase finalists

Pity the finalists in the FA Vase (Whitley Bay and Wroxham), the Blue Square play-offs and the League Two play-offs. They are the unfortunates who must play the biggest match of their season (or their history) on Wembley's horrible pitch the day after an even more important fixture has taken place; namely the FA Trophy final, FA Cup final and League One play-off. And all that within the space of three weeks. Even England have to play their penultimate World Cup warm-up match against Mexico two days after the Championship play-off final.

Ram speed

An unusual venue for Derby County's pre-match press conference ahead of yesterday's game against Crystal Palace: platform six at the local railway station, where a new locomotive, "Derby County", was christened. It is the second train to be named after the club, the first, a steam engine, having run from 1936 to 1959. Football teams have proved popular names for locos in the past, especially those on the east coast main line of the old London and North Eastern Railway region; hence Darlington and Doncaster being honoured as well as more celebrated clubs. Manchester United refuseniks will be pleased to know their handsome LNER No 2862, built at Darlington, was in green and gold. Once the steam engines disappeared, some clubs salvaged the nameplate; Norwich's and Tottenham's are both on display at their grounds.

More athletic than Fulham

Forgive Oldham Athletic's players from two decades back if they aren't overly impressed with talk of such supposedly gruelling seasons as Fulham's. A book published this week reminds us that Joe Royle's side played 65 League and cup matches in 1989-90. Seven players appeared in 60 or more and defender Earl Barrett was an ever-present. Local journalist Tony Bugby has called his book 'Pinch Me Not' (Daniel Publishing, £14.99) in recognition of how fans used to say they were pinching themselves as their club reached the Littlewoods Cup final and FA Cup semi-final in the same spring.

Boing Boings to yo-yo?

West Bromwich Albion have turned down Sandwell Council's offer of a civic reception to mark promotion. The official reason was that there were three remaining home games left to celebrate with their supporters. Perhaps there is also a growing recognition that the hard bit is only just beginning; in four previous seasons in the Premier League, Albion have avoided relegation once (by a single point after the Great Escape of 2005). Those hard-headed, hard-hearted bookies are not optimistic this time either: Ladbrokes say 4-6 to go down, 11-10 to stay up.