Q & A: How shirts can colour a team's form . . . and the grand Tour

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The Independent Online
Q. Has any football club ever had such a huge travelling support that they have attracted the largest crowds on every opponent's ground through an entire season? I suspect Manchester United will be deprived of this record this year thanks to Blackburn knocking down their main stand just before United's visit.

A. Aldershot Town achieved such a feat in the Diadora League Third Division last year. In fact, the Shots' fanatical away support ensured that at most grounds attendances were five or six times as high as normal, and at three clubs - Bracknell, Camberley Town and Petersfield - the attendance was higher than the combined total for all their other 18 home games. The average attendance for Aldershot away matches was 960. This compares with an average attendance of 105 for matches not including Aldershot.

At home, the support was just as impressive, with an average of 2,090 at the Recreation Ground. By comparison, the highest Diadora Premier League total was 940. - Andy Potter, London N22

Q. Has the psychological influence of the colours of clubs' playing strips ever been empirically researched? Does 'aggressive' red (Liverpool, AC Milan, the Wigan rugby league team) usually engender success? Has a colour-change ever dramatically altered a club's fortunes?

A. On arrival at Leeds United in March 1961 Don Revie inherited a side close to relegation from the then Second Division. Among a number of initiatives, Revie changed the club strip from blue and gold to the white of a club he greatly admired - Real Madrid.

By the end of the 1963-64 season Leeds were Second Division champions, and the following year lost the First Division championship to Manchester United on goal average by 0.686 of a goal. During the next decade, however, until Revie left to become England manager, Leeds won all the major domestic trophies and the Inter-Cities Fairs Cup twice. If not quite emulating the great Real Madrid, Leeds became one of the most feared and successful teams in Europe. - Michael A Singh, Lincoln

Q. In the heat and excitement of the action, how do rugby league players manage to keep count of the sixth tackle rule? Does the referee signal it in any way?

A. All the way through the six tackles the referee will shout out the number of tackles made. On the fifth and last tackle not only will he shout this, but he will raise his arm with palm open to signal the fact to the players and the spectators.

If during the six tackles a player from the defending team touches the ball, the referee will take the tackle count back to tackle No 1, and will signify this by holding up his hand and waving it from side to side - known in the game as wiping the slate clean. - Brian Simpson MEP (Vice-President, European Parliament Rugby League Group), Warrington

Q. Why is the Tour de France sometimes extended to England and some mainland European countries? What was the original route?

A. The reason why the Tour de France visits countries outside the borders of France itself can only be explained as forms of 'marketing': for various reasons it's found to be lucrative, expedient, sporting or politically correct to do so, and so extend the Tour's command of publicity. All the stage towns pay a substantial fee for the privilege of receiving the Tour. In addition, it's one of the ways in which the Tour emphasises its superiority to the other great national Tours, which seldom cross their own frontiers.

The Tour was conceived as a publicity stunt by the proprietor of a motoring newspaper; its degree of commercialism is staggering even today, and it is difficult for the average British sports fans to grasp its scale and importance. Everything, literally, must give way to it. It has played an important part in French politics on a local and national level. Protesters who have used the Tour as a device for drawing attention to their grievances probably see it as an arm of the Establishment. Gino Bartali's 1948 win prevented the fall of the Italian government.

The first Tour (1903) was only six immense stages, all of much greater length than the stages in modern Tours, and run on alternate days. Maurice Garin won the first and longest stage, the 467km (290 miles) from Paris to Lyon, in just under 18 hours. The shortest stage was Toulouse-Bordeaux, 268km. The route was: Paris-Lyon-Marseille- Toulouse-Bordeaux-Nantes-Paris, and the identical route was used for the second Tour in 1904. These first Tours were around 2,440km (1,510 miles). In 1905 the distance went up to 1,860 miles.

The 1906 Tour added 1,000 miles to the total distance, making 2,800 miles in 15 days. This distance remained standard until the 1970s (when it was reduced to 2,400 miles), but after 1926 was spread over 21 days. The 1906 Tour crossed the German frontier into the 'lost' provinces of Alsace-Lorraine, and the Germans agreed to waive their speed limit. The 11th Tour of 1913 was the first to cross on to undisputed foreign soil when the 11th and 12th stages finished and started at Geneva. Geneva was a stage town on numerous occasions thereafter, including the Tours from 1919 to 1924 which all followed an identical route.

After the Second World War the Tour organisation adopted a deliberate policy of visiting bordering countries, or 'going outside the hexagon'. Belgium was first visited in 1947 (Brussels) and 1948 (Liege). In 1949 the Tour went into Belgium, Spain, Italy and Switzerland. Since then the Tour has remained inside the hexagon in only three years: 1972, 1983 and 1985.

The world success of individual riders has often led to the Tour visiting their countries. In 1962 a stage finished in the Belgian town of Herentals, home of the reigning World Road Champion, Rik Van Looy. In 1992 the Tour started from San Sebastian, near the home of Miguel Indurain, winner in 1991. The publicity and marketing advantages are obvious.

The Tour first started in a foreign country in 1954, from Amsterdam, and has since started in foreign towns or cities on nine occasions. In 1987 the Prologue and the two next stages were all run off in Berlin which was celebrating its 750th anniversary and allegedly paid pounds 1m to have the Tour.

In the early 1980s the Tour organisation seriously suggested that some stages might be held in the United States, then beginning to make its first mark in international professional road-racing.

A stage was run off in the UK in 1974, up and down the Plymouth bypass. Attendance was huge by British standards, disappointing by Tour standards, and the riders hated it. - Ramin Minovi, British Cycling Federation News, Birmingham


Q. Other than on a snow-covered pitch, when was the last time a brown football was used in a professional match, as opposed to a white one? - Adam Brown, Northampton

Q. Who has been the fastest winger in rugby? - David Pollock, Cardiff

Q. When was the last time both Everton and Liverpool were knocked out of the third round of the FA Cup? - Terry Moore, London SW20

Q. Which is the biggest all-seater stadium in the world? - Neil Carter, Norwich

Q. Why was the White City used as a World Cup venue in 1966 rather than the ground of a League club? - Simon White, Tidworth

Q. Which Football League club charges the least to watch matches? - Charles Booth, Nuneaton

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