Jim Smith's annoyance at the disruption the international fixture programme is inflicting on the Premiership only intensified when his young defender Matt Carbon returned to the Derby squad preparing for yesterday's match with Middlesbrough.
Carbon was a member of an England Under-21 side whose journey to Georgia as the supporting cast to Glenn Hoddle's senior team involved a 200-mile internal flight which, by all accounts, will have frightened the life out of whichever company underwrites the insurance on such expeditions.
According to a relieved Carbon, whose story has been corroborated by other members of the party, the aircraft used reeked of aviation fuel and players had to use seats that were either broken or without proper seatbelts.
If the Derby manager had his way, however, such extraordinary risks would not be taken. He has devised a plan which would have benefits for clubs also, reducing the number of blank weekends and removing the necessity of starting the season on the second day of August, as has been proposed, absurdly, for next year.
"These new football countries want a chance of fame but I can't see much point in Spain playing the Faroe Islands, or Holland meeting San Marino," Smith said. "The minor nations should have their own tournament to qualify for the groups.
"Fifa should decide who plays in which groups on facilities as well as quality. Then perhaps our players would not need to fly in dodgy aircraft."
Breath of fresh air
Those silly little strips of plaster that some footballers insist on wearing across the bridge of their nose have become almost as commonplace as the zinc cream cricketers now feel is an obligatory accessory.
If you are still puzzled as to what exactly is their purpose, the UK manufacturers, 3M Healthcare, have helpfully issued a reminder by way of a response to counter-claims that the strips are, in fact, a useless waste of space.
Professor Tom Reilly, a sports physiologist at John Moores University in Liverpool, has called for evidence to support the supposed beneficial effects of the strips, while a study at the University of Alabama found no apparent link to improved athletic performance.
But Dr Bruce Cawdron, a medical advisor to 3M Healthcare, has struck back.
"Confusion seems to have arisen about Professor Reilly's understanding of our claims," Dr Cawdron said. "Trials have demonstrated that Breathe Right nasal strips can influence recovery time and heart rate as well as shifting the anaerobic threshold.
"The explanation is that, during intensive exercise, 10 per cent of energy is used to breathe, therefore any reduction in airflow resistance will decrease the energy requirement for breathing and provide greater energy for muscular activity for the sport in question."
So there you have it.
"TV work? I'd love some," the Derby manager told his agent, relishing the chance to put his wealth of knowledge to profitable use. Team captain on Call My Bluff, however, may not have been quite what he had in mind. Then again, maybe Alan Coren could write his programme notes...
Coca-Cola Cup 6.
Matt Le Tissier
(Southampton - Premiership 8; Coca-Cola Cup 2)
and Robbie Fowler
(Liverpool - Premiership 4; Coca-Cola Cup 3; Europe 3)
Take a bow
For his goal in Leicester's triumph at Aston Villa. Apart from bringing joy to a former Birmingham striker in silencing the Holte End, the goal had additional distinction as the 301st in this season's Premiership, which is producing an average of around 2.5 per match.
Who seemed rather too quick to see the angry Peter Schmeichel's side of the story after the Manchester United goalkeeper's eyeball-to-eyeball with Ian Wright. It did appear, on television at least, that on this occasion the booked Arsenal striker went for the ball.
fact and fiction from the Sunday papers
Troubles pile up, apparently, for Middlesbrough, with the News of the World raising the spectre of a pounds 12m bid by Manchester United for Fabrizio Ravanelli. The same paper claims that Bryan Robson has offered to match Paul Ince's pounds 1.5m salary with Internazionale to persuade his former Manchester United chum to help him out. Meanwhile, in the Mail on Sunday, Bobby Robson, the Barcelona coach, denies tapping up Emerson. "I would never do that to my old skipper," the loyal former England coach protests. The Sunday Mirror say that Brian Little's top target is not Stan Collymore but Andy Cole, reporting that Aston Villa have had a bid rejected by Manchester United, while the People say Roma have joined Perugia in seeking to take Savo Milosevic off Little's hands. The People report a pounds 4.5m offer by Arsenal for Manchester City's Georgi Kinkladze, curiously headlined: "Wenger wants to get Kinky".
Marc Hottiger (Everton)
The Swiss right-back must wonder why Everton fought so hard to secure a work permit when he joined them for pounds 750,000 from Newcastle in March. After just two starts this season he may struggle to obtain another. Joe Royle will listen to offers, apparently.
Watch out for...
Damien Duff (Blackburn Rovers)
The name might not sound enormously promising, but the 17-year-old Dublin- born winger was tipped for a bright future by Blackburn's former manager Ray Harford after a pre-season tour to the Netherlands. Now caretaker manager Tony Parkes is pushing him towards a senior debut.
As Brighton struggle for survival, the FA Cup comes merely as an unhappy reminder of better days. Given the club's current plight, it scarcely seems possible that it was only 13 years ago that Jimmy Melia's extraordinary relegation-bound team captured the country's imagination by going all the way to Wembley.
Brighton's fantasy run took off in the fifth round, when they followed up their elimination of Manchester City by winning away to Liverpool, courtesy of a late goal by their current manager Jimmy Case, of all people, against his former club. Next they put out Norwich, before defeating Sheffield Wednesday to reach a dream final against Manchester United.
Despite the absence of their suspended captain Steve Foster and the knowledge that relegation was certain, Brighton played composed and relaxed football. They took a 14th-minute lead, went 2-1 behind in the second half, but deservedly forced extra time when Gary Stevens levelled with three minutes to go.
The title of the club's fanzine serves as a constant reminder of what happened next. "And Smith must score..." - the words are etched upon the soul of every Brighton supporter, a haunting echo from the replay, which United won 4-0, through to the present day.
THE SEASON'S RED AND YELLOW CARDS
A booking on his debut for Frode Grodas
Five booked at Old Trafford
No goals but another yellow card for Ian Rush
Paul Stewart sent off for the second time this season
Peter said at half-time he was having a nightmare, but I'll settle for a nightmare when he plays with that kind of enthusiasm.
- Kevin Keegan, hailing Newcastle's match-saver Peter Beardsley.
A lot of people come here as visitors, to sit and admire and enjoy their weekend holiday. But that's no good to me or the players. You need support like we had today, with 55,000 cheering you on.
- Alex Ferguson, testing another innovative excuse.
It's the best team performance I have ever played in or had the pleasure of witnessing.
- Nick Barmby, on Everton's magnificent seven.
We were lucky to get away with a six-goal deficit.
- Graeme Souness, without an excuse at Goodison Park.
Ian seemed a bit lost in the wide role. He looked desperate to score.
- Roy Evans on Ian Rush. A memo to George Graham?
That's our fifth home win in a row and we are up to seventh in the league so there don't seem to be too many problems.
- Gerry Francis, desperate to satisfy Tottenham's critics.
We look like scoring goals but we don't. We look like keeping a clean sheet but we don't. I can understand the fans' frustrations.
- Stewart Houston, looking for answers at Loftus Road.
Emerson has a slight problem with his girlfriend and as a football club we are going to try to help the lad as much as we can and especially help his girlfriend. We're going to try and make it as comfortable for them in Middlesbrough as we can, because the last thing we want to do is lose a player of his quality.
- Bryan Robson on pampering Brazilians.
PREMIERSHIP TEAM OF THE WEEK
Stig Inge Bjornebye