Jokers from the deck of cards

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The Independent Online
THE image-makers have their hands on almost every aspect of football: how come they have neglected Christmas cards? In an age when strips, "leisure wear" and even grounds are redesigned relentlessly every season, the greetings cards sent by footba ll clubs remain defiantly naff.

A few examples from Almanack's bulging Christmas postbag: the Liverpool FC card arrived in a double envelope and was one of those flash card-within-a-card jobs, copperplate printing on thick paper within, cursive "Greetings" on embossed silver with metallic holly without. From QPR, an idealised (and rather oddly proportioned) view of Loftus Road with a Santa 'n' Reindeer border, and greetings "in association with Compaq". The Spurs card looks gaudy: shiny metallic colours on a deep blue background, but they score points for leaving off their sponsor's name and for plonking a party hat on the cockerel on their crest.

Sadly, there are absentees from Almanack's mantelpiece: Chelsea, who would only send us a Christmas card if we sent them a stamped addressed envelope (so much for Uncle Ken's Santa Claus looks), and Leicester City. Why no card from Filbert Street? "Well,we had a spot of trouble," the nice lady said. "We did have one, but it had the old manager on it. Then we had to wait for a new manager to arrive. I think they've settled for a caricature of one of the players now, but the cards still aren't ready, I'mafraid."

Wimbledon did best, we reckon, with the splendid nativity scene which we reproduce above. Some may find it a little blasphemous, but it is too far-fetched to be offensive. Sam Hamman a humble carpenter? Joe Kinnear a virgin?

LET it not be said that Almanack ignores sport at the grass roots: this story is all about them. The roots in question are in Barcelona's Camp Nou, and any Catalonian worth his salt will know why they are newsworthy. Indeed, the length of the roots is the subject of prime-time television coverage in Barcelona, where the football club doubles as a mystical symbol of the Catalan nation.

The trouble started when Football Club Barcelona decided to drop the level of the pitch a few metres to add even more seats to the gigantic stands. But the new grass - French grass, some have been quick to point out - failed to take root. In fact the frequently examined roots shrank from 18 centimetres back to 10, despite being pampered, coaxed and even ventilated with oxygen.

The result: by half-time in every game the pitch is a mass of divots ripped up by the players to reveal the sand underneath. The players, in particular the star striker Hristo Stoichkov, are miffed, and have said so. The club physio has blamed the alopecoid pitch for a spate of injuries. Josep Luis Nunez, the club president, said he'd fire the lot of them if he heard another peep about the grass.

Now the great turf trauma has a political angle: Marta Ferrusola, the wife of the president of Catalonia - who also happens to advise Barcelona on plants and grass - let slip in a television interview on Thursday that the club had ignored her advice and started playing on the new grass too early. Nunez, tight-lipped, said the important thing was that a great building project has been completed. The players know where they stand, or slip - and are silent. Camp Nou root-length latest: 15 centim etres, thanks to a bout of warm weather.

More foreign news: Franz Beckenbauer has slagged off the emerging Eastern European nations, saying: "Games against countries like Moldova are a slight to the German national squad. They're just stupid." Germany play Albania today; the Albanian colours are red, black and white, should any of you wish to join Almanack in sporting a rosette.

A TALE of booze and money- laundering from the world of hockey: last week sneak thieves broke into Grimsby Hockey Club and made off with the safe, which contained £1,000 and several bottles of whisky. The safe was found nearby, with the money inside: soaked in whisky from bottles which had broken in the chase. Club President Mr John Moody said: "When we got it open there was a right cocktail of booze and money. It looked such a mess we decided we ought to give it a wash before banking it."