Rovers do the decent thing; THAT WAS THE WEEKEND THAT WAS

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The Independent Online
After the debacle of the Football Association's cynically timed England kit launch, football's commercial men have come under renewed attack from disgruntled parents, accused of taking their impressionable young customers to the cleaners.

So one can imagine that there were some long faces worn by mums and dads in the Blackburn area when it was revealed that Rovers had asked the Premier League to let Chris Sutton swap his No 16 shirt for Alan Shearer's vacated No 9.

Initially, the League rejected the request, but last week Blackburn successfully appealed in time for their back-in-favour centre-forward to wear No 9 against Wimbledon on Saturday.

However, lest anyone should suspect a plot to catch the last 10 days of pre-Christmas replica kit sales, Blackburn have moved quickly to declare themselves above such practices.

Asking only for proof of purchase, they have promised supporters who have bought this season's No 16 shirt from the club's Rover Store a replacement No 9 free of charge.

n On the subject of shirts, or at least what is worn beneath them, there is, apparently, an explanation behind Robbie Fowler's baffling T-shirt legend, "God's job's a good 'un", revealed after his second goal on Saturday.

It is a phrase seemingly favoured by someone called Bez, a one-time performer with the Happy Mondays, a popular singing group.

No, it wasn't much help to me to know that, either.

Battle of the mascots

Every match day on every ground, it is the moment that makes someone's day, the moment when the little lad (or lass) in the full replica strip receives the nod to fulfil his duties as mascot, shake hands with the captains and officials and pose to have his picture taken with his heroes.

It is a heart-warming moment. Not a matter, one would think, for rows and resignations.

For the Reid household in the Potteries, however, the position has become an issue to prompt precisely that.

For the past three years, 10-year-old Martin Reid - the son of the club secretary - has been the sole mascot for his local Carlsberg North West Counties League club, largely, one supposes, because being the mascot at Eastwood Hanley does not have quite the same cachet as trotting out at Manchester United (nor even, possibly, Stoke City) and hence did not attract much competition.

This season, things have changed. Now there are three other mascots bidding to share Martin's modest limelight. To avoid congestion in the centre circle, however, it was deemed that while all four could kick in with the lads, the handshaking duties would remain Martin's alone.

But it seems that the other boys did not agree with the ruling, ignoring the committee's instructions and forever putting Martin off his stroke. It was all too much for John Reid, the secretary, who resigned after 10 years in the post, along with his elder son, Andrew, and daughter, Fiona, who are both committee members.

"Eastwood are close to my heart, but family had to come first," John said.

MISTAKEN

IDENTITY

Gianfranco Zola

Thanks are due to reader Dennis Rumbold for pointing out that Zola's ability to place free-kicks where no dead-ball specialist has gone before may have less to do with practising against the wall of wooden defenders (borrowed from Middlesbrough?) erected on Chelsea's training pitch than the Italian's origins on the planet Vulcan.

Take a bow

MARK BRIGHT

Last week's Missing Person, this week's goal hero. Sheffield Wednesday's 34-year-old striker, fearing he had been written off as too old by David Pleat, marked his debut on loan to Millwall by finding the target after only 11 minutes. The only pity (for him) was that Bournemouth equalised.

Red card

MIKE WALKER

Who might have been more careful expressing his thoughts after his Norwich players brawled with Crystal Palace. "In a way I'm glad our lads showed a reaction, which is more than they've done in our last four games. At least it shows they were committed to the cause." You know what he means, but...

Rumours...

fact and fiction from the Sunday papers

The People and Sunday Mirror reckon that Middlesbrough have been offered three reinforcements - goalkeeper Luca Bucci, left-back Roberto Mussi and centre-back Luigi Apolloni - as part of an pounds 11m swap deal to take Emerson to Parma. Blackburn's efforts to land Sven Goran Eriksson as their manager will depend on agreeing a pounds 50m transfer kitty for the current Sampdoria coach (People), part of which may be spent on Roberto Mancini (Mirror). Roberto Baggio's hints that he wants to leave Milan could be the signal for Manchester United to move for the pounds 10m-rated striker (News of the World). Chelsea are eyeing up Teddy Sheringham as a replacement for Mark Hughes, according to the People, who name Stoke's Mike Sheron as a West Ham target. The News of the World, however, reckon Grimsby's Clive Mendonca is top of Harry Redknapp's wanted list, at a fee approximately one-tenth of the pounds 8m the paper says Leeds have offered Milan for Marco Simone.

Missing person

Ian Bogie (Port Vale)

With what happened to Everton last season in mind, Blackburn will view their FA Cup third round tie against Port Vale with trepidation. They may not, however, have to contend with Ian Bogie, who claimed Vale's last-gasp equaliser at Goodison and scored again in the victorious replay. Bogie resumed training last week as he recovers from a broken leg, but the 4 January tie looks likely to come around too soon.

Watch out for...

Jeff Whitley (Manchester City)

Although only 17, the left-footed midfielder and youth team captain already has a pounds 1.25m price on his head after interest from Everton after his winning goal for City against Bradford. The Zambian-born but England-qualified youngster is viewed at City as potentially a "new Paul Ince".

Good boys

THE PREMIERSHIP'S

LEADING SCORERS

Ian Wright

(Arsenal)

Premiership 13;

Coca-Cola Cup 5; Europe 2.

Robbie Fowler

(Liverpool)

Premiership 9;

Coca-Cola Cup 5; Europe 3.

Fabrizio Ravanelli

(Middlesbrough)

Premiership 9;

Coca-Cola Cup 7.

Les Ferdinand,

Alan Shearer

(Newcastle)

20

17

16

11

After watching the destruction of Middlesbrough, Nottingham Forest spies at Anfield on Saturday may well fear that history will repeat itself tomorrow, when the Premiership strugglers return to the scene of one of their worst nightmares.

It was on a Tuesday evening in April 1988 that Liverpool - who had defeated Forest in the F A Cup semi-finals the previous weekend and had not, according to Alan Hansen's account, stinted on the celebrations - produced what some have claimed to be their best 90 minutes of all time.

Liverpool won 5-0, but by most accounts their opponents were let off lightly. Tom Finney called it an exhibition of football "that will never be bettered".

Hansen, who described the match in his book, Six of the Best, does not go quite so far, pointing out that Forest, already weakened by injuries, lost Des Walker after 15 minutes. But he admits that "some of our football was exceptional".

Peter Beardsley was pulling the strings at the heart of a pageant of fast-moving one-touch play that cut Forest's defence to shreds time and again. Forest's attempts to construct passing moves threatened to explode in their faces each time they lost possession.

Ray Houghton opened the scoring after a one-two with John Barnes. Then John Aldridge, Gary Gillespie, Beardsley himself and Aldridge, again, put the finishing touches to goals that matched the performance.

It was just as well for Forest that Ian Rush was on sabbatical in Italy at the time.

THE SEASON'S RED AND YELLOW CARDS

1 Middlesbrough

Two bookings in three matches for Derek Whyte.

2 Chelsea

Steve Clarke booked yesterday.

3 Arsenal

4 Leeds

Two more cautions against Tottenham

NOISES OFF...

It was a fitness decision, nothing to do with any reaction from the fans. John had not had a competitive match for four and a half weeks and I decided from the word go that he would not play.

Gerry Francis after omitting Tottenham's new recruit from the team to play Leeds, the club Scales snubbed.

It was one of the most blatant penalties I've seen. Ruel was through but it is difficult to carry on running with someone climbing on your back.

Francis on being denied a penalty.

When a front player runs across a defender there is often a tangle. It looked like a good decision to me.

George Graham, the Leeds manager, who was not able to agree.

It was a disgusting thing to do, but what do you expect from a bonehead like that. He'll do anything for a pound note and there are always journalists willing to throw money at him.

Joe Kinnear on the published indiscretions of his captain Vinnie Jones.

Coming to Anfield and conceding a goal within 30 seconds was obviously going to make things difficult.

Bryan Robson, somewhat understating his team's nightmare start at Liverpool.

The nicest thing was that he looked like he had forgotten the things people have written and said about him, and the kicks up the backside from me, and was actually enjoying his football.

Roy Evans, on Liverpool's goal-creator, Stan Collymore.

All I could see was a mass of players getting their handbags out - one of those incidents where the referee either sends everyone off or lets everyone off. But he chose to dismiss Ray [Houghton] and he's gutted because it is the first time in 18 years he has been sent off.

Dave Bassett, the Crystal Palace manager, on the brawl at Carrow Road

Reports about my health are barmy. I've got a gammy leg but otherwise I'm fine.

Brian Clough, attending his first match in three years, after his health was reported to be "in rapid decline".

PREMIERSHIP TEAM OF THE WEEK

Nigel Martyn

LEEDS

Sol Campbell

TOTTENHAM

Neil Ruddock

LIVERPOOL

Lucas Radebe

LEEDS

Kevin Ball

SUNDERLAND

Paul Bracewell

SUNDERLAND

Oyvind Leonhardsen

WIMBLEDON

Stig Inge Bjornebye

LIVERPOOL

Stan Collymore

LIVERPOOL

Robbie Fowler

LIVERPOOL

Craig Russell

SUNDERLAND

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