Hun's the word in game of the absurd

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The Independent Online
Pre-Event promotion may be a necessary part of modern sport but the publicity for the 2006 World Cup we have had to endure during the past week has been ridiculous. Many of us are sick of the tournament already. At least, after Friday's meeting between the Football Association and Uefa, we can calm down the Colonel Blimps and pack away the gun-boats. The bad news is that the affair is likely to drag on until April or even longer.

One hesitates to ascribe the art of statesmanship to anyone in football but someone turned up at that meeting with a cool head and a reassuring smile. It is the sort of thing to which a foreigner would stoop but whoever was responsible succeeded in taking the steam out of the ears. Having given Germany the silent nod about hosting 2006, Uefa have now agreed to withdraw that assent and allow England to make a rival bid. Then, in April, they'll give it back to Germany again.

It is not difficult to be flippant about a subject which, I suspect, found the majority with a long list of matters far more worthy of worry. But, in a way, it was fascinating to know that the old country can still bristle with the best of them when the occasion calls for a spot of indignant defiance and there is no more reliable fuel for starting the yeoman hearts of England beating furiously than a mixture of football and Germany with an added dash of continental chicanery.

The World Cup of nine and a half years hence, as everyone seemed to know in Lancaster Gate and Whitehall, belonged to England as of right. After all, they hadn't hosted the greatest tournament in the world since 1966 and considering that Euro 96 had proved what dab hands the English are at organisation they convinced themselves of the justness of their claim.

Just in case there were any waverers out there in the European wastelands, the Prime Minister, John Major, invited the Uefa executive committee to lunch. If a drop of Brown Windsor at No 10 didn't clinch it, nothing would.

When Uefa broke the news that such extravagant lushing up was pointless you could feel the twitch of a million moustaches. Long-deaf former air- raid wardens felt an irresistible urge to scan the sky, tabloid headline writers asked each other: "How do you spell Kraut?" John Major fumed and Tony Blair growled: "It's a cosy stitch-up."

What followed was not to the credit of England. Anyone wondering why we have proved so good at spawning hooligans need only study the posturing of those who rushed to express their patriotic fury about the fact that as far back as 1993 Uefa had concurred that a Germany bid for 2006 was a sound idea. Their memories are very short. Even four years ago, the prospect of exposing that most majestic of competitions to the mercies of the massed ranks of English yobbery was unthinkable.

Indeed, it is only through the kindly tolerance of Uefa and our continental neighbours that England still had a presence in these top competitions. Far from complaining about a unified Germany being nudged ahead of us in the World Cup queue we should be grateful that any country is prepared to contemplate being invaded by the English hordes.

We were relieved when Euro 96 was unscarred by crowd trouble and it is this that has emboldened England to ask for more. I am also happy to note from the latest figures that arrests at our football grounds are down by 20 per cent. But I am also aware that only two years ago this week, English fans smashed up Lansdowne Road, in Dublin, and caused the abandonment of the Ireland-England international.

Instead of working themselves up into a lather about 2006, Messrs Major and Blair would be better occupied in ensuring that when France host next year's World Cup we will not cheerfully send over the usual demolition squads. When you consider England's contribution to European football over the past 20 years, we've got a bloody cheek to ask for anything.

MUCH chortling has greeted the news that England's cricketers are to be accompanied on their walk to the crease by their favourite song being blasted over the Tannoy. New Zealand's cricket authorities believe it will add a touch of gaiety to the forthcoming series of one-day internationals.

Most of the choices involve pop songs which would be as complete a mystery to MCC members as they are to me. Fleet Street's finest have had great fun matching their own titles to England players past and present and it has provided much harmless hilarity. Any old toffee that fills a column is all right by me.

But beneath the belly laughs was an unnoticed paragraph stating that the England and Wales Cricket Board is also considering visual and audio entertainment at one-day matches this summer and will be closely watching the signature tune experiment.

If there is not a chill travelling down your spine there should be. They won't stop at songs. Consider how the players are plastered with advertising names and signs and how the most hallowed of our cricketing turf is emblazoned with the sponsor's name. Once we are used to the music while a batsman is walking out, they are not likely to let a minute of valuable attention time to be wasted on some incoherent warbling.

"Michael is wearing a light cream Umbro shirt with a slightly flared sleeve stopping just short of his special Timex cricketing watch. The matching trousers are measured to drape perfectly over the sculptured top of his Reeboks. He is carrying the latest Kookaburra bat and his fluent walk is in no small way due to the silky comfort of his Boxer shorts which come with or without a slot for the box. His reinforced socks..."

If you think that scenario is far-fetched just remember that in an official match very soon an England player called Jack Russell will march to face the opposition to the song "How Much is That Doggy in the Window".

FOOTBALL Association officials are studying plans for a technological revolution that will remove much of the controversy that surrounds decisions made by referees.

Within three years, electronic equipment could be laid under the pitch and attached to the soles of the players' boots to provide instant and unquestionable evidence of offside. Gadgets in the goalposts will signal if the ball crosses the line. Cables in the lines around the pitch will denote the ball going out of play. The referee's watch will be linked electronically to the stadium clock so that the crowd know how much stoppage time is being played.

All these ideas and more are the brainchild of Professor Nigel Allinson of the University of Manchester Institute of Science and Technology and, if his recommendations are adopted, the ref of the future will be wired up like a robot and clued up like never before.

Another suggestion is a link between the linesmen and the ref by which they can attract his attention by pressing a button on their flag. The ref feels a vibration via a pad strapped to his arm. This is the most fascinating development of all and I'm laying bets on the first manager to be prosecuted for plugging it into the mains.