Power to the distaff side: ALMANACK

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The Independent Online
ENGLAND international footballers in the bath after training. you know the form: splash splash splash, bit of a joke, bit of laugh, whoops, let's duck so-and-so, splash splash splash. Something funny here, though - the internationals were in bikin is.

We were gazing through the window of the swimming pool at the Maidenhead Holiday Inn; and in the jacuzzi, cooling down after a training session for today's European Championship semi-final first leg against Germany, were four of the England women's football squad.

Maidenhead is the kind of place you drive past. Shopping precinct, car parks, nice little bit by the Thames, nothing happening. Perhaps that's why the FA choose it as the regular pre-match hide-out for the women's team: not much in the way of distraction. Quite what the navy-suited Mondeo pilots who are the Holiday Inn's usual clientele make of Tracy, Kirsty, Debbie and Co is another matter. A fair few widget deals must go mysteriously awry in Maidenhead.

Not that the team are badly behaved. Far from it. Ted Copeland, their manager, is a former PE teacher and not the sort to put up with indiscipline. What's more, the captain, the veteran miniature midfield dynamo Gill Coultard, makes sure that her playersare aware of their responsibilities. ``At the end of the day,'' she said (she says things like that), ``you've got to remember who you are and who you are representing.''

This is Gill to a T. She is thoroughly at ease with her duties, though touchingly unsure of her place for today's game. ``If selected,'' she said, modestly, ``it'll be my 78th cap.'' She plays for Doncaster Belles, for years the dominant team in England.Recently, personnel changes and injuries have seen the Belles in what Gill calls ``a transitional period'' and what others would call a bit of a slump. ``They write us off,'' she says, ``but we bounce back.''

Nobody is writing off England for today's game, which is to be played at Vicarage Road, Watford, but Germany will start favourites. When the teams last met at this stage of the championship, Germany won 4-0, but England have recently qualified for the World Cup and are playing, according to their captain, with a new-found confidence and relaxation. ``I've just got the feeling that we could sneak this one,'' Gill said, in her down-to-earth, Castleford way. ``One-nil will do nicely.''

Ted Copeland denies charges of a long-ball policy, but concedes that his team relies on ``getting the ball forward as quickly as possible and then supporting the play with quality passing". Sadly, his team will be without their regular goalkeeper this afternoon: Pauline Cope has pulled out, citing the demands of her job as a butler. It is not the kind of excuse that Terry Venables is used to hearing.

Such conflict between work and play (or work and work) causes constant problems for Gill Coultard and her team-mates. But they persevere, surely inspired by their captain`s professionalism. She even has the sound-bite down pat. On the way back from our meeting, we heard her on Radio Five Live. ``At the end of the day'', she told the interviewer, ``it's 11 on 11, and hopefully we can come out on top.'' Beat that, David Platt.

THIS is becoming a trend. A few weeks back we mentioned the giant Canadian rugby player Norm Hadley's intervention in an incident on the tube. Now rugby players everywhere are joining the fight against crime. This time it was the Blackheath and Kent players Matt Griffiths and Mick Harris, who spotted a couple of yobs attacking an elderly gent. The two were on their way back from a drink after Kent had beaten Oxford 62-0, so they were in feisty mood.

The 6ft 4in Griffiths tackled one of the muggers, knocking him to the ground. Harris pounced on the other one. As if the two delinquents' luck wasn't lousy enough, who should happen by but an off-duty detective, who helped the rugby players subdue their captives until forces arrived to arrest them. A police spokesman said: ``'The suspects obviously didn't bank on exerienced rugby players being around.'' Well you don't, do you?

MORE bizarre basketball news. Last week we reported short persons demanding their own leagues. Now animals are ready to muscle in. A basketball game was scheduled recently at the Bishop's Finger, a Canterbury hostelry, between two teams of white rats.

The animal trainer George Jacobs was responsible for instructing the rodents, but he was forced to cancel. ``Rats are intelligent creatures,'' he said. ``But I have had death threats from people claiming to be animal rights activists.'' Or basketball activists?

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