THAT WAS THE WEEKEND THAT WAS

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Doncaster's not so sad farewell

COMPARED with the demise of Hereford a year ago, when the West Country club's fateful win-or-bust match against Brighton attracted widespread attention, the passing of Doncaster Rovers on Saturday went almost unnoticed.

A 2-1 defeat at Chester, coinciding with Hull City's victory over Hartlepool by the same scoreline, confirmed that Rovers will play in the GM Vauxhall Conference next season, some 97 years after their debut in the Football League.

Players wept as 200 travelling followers shared their grief at Chester's Deva Stadium but the welter of printed words that bade farewell to Hereford was conspicuous by its absence.

The club would do well to prepare for problems today, when Rovers face Third Division champions Notts County at Belle Vue. The Doncaster Rovers Mailing List, a message board Internet site on which fans air their thoughts - mainly about club owner Ken Richardson - contains many suggestions as to how protests might be conducted, among which the idea that supporters should chain themselves to the goalposts is fairly mild.

All in all, the club is in a pretty bizarre state. Their manager, Mark Weaver, is a former member of the commercial staff and has never played professionally. All other coaches have been sacked and training for the club's seven full-time players is an activity they must organise between themselves. Richardson is awaiting a court appearance on a conspiracy charge following an arson attack at the club in 1995.

Still, in some respects it could just be worse. At least the 31 defeats Rovers have suffered contain only a few real embarrassments - unlike, for example, the Highland League side Fort William, who went down by a record scoreline of 17-0 against Peterhead on Saturday.

Shearer's happier times at Highbury

ARSENAL'S back four may be renowned for its longevity but of the side that beat Newcastle on Saturday only Nigel Winterburn might recall the significance of one match in which he played almost 10 years ago to the day.

As on Saturday, the opposing line-up included Alan Shearer. The game was auspicious because it marked the senior debut of the future England striker, who rose to the occasion in spectacular style by scoring a hat- trick. At 17, Shearer was both the youngest player to chalk up a hat-trick in the top flight and the youngest to hit three in his first game in any of the divisions.

Southampton won 4-2 and Shearer jokes now that after launching his career with an average of three goals per game he has been going downhill ever since.

He also confesses to have compromised his squeaky clean image at the first opportunity as he bathed in the afterglow of his feat.

"I was determined not to let such an occasion pass me by without a celebration and I have to confess I indulged in a spot of under-age drinking," he told Newcastle journalists last week. "It was just a couple of lagers and I am certain no one begrudged me that after such a momentous day."

It was a debut that marked down the Newcastle teenager as a player to watch and Chris Nicholl, the manager who introduced him to the wider world, was soon being tempted by mouth-watering offers to take Shearer elsewhere. The player himself, meanwhile, had set standards which would take some maintaining. "I made things difficult for myself with a debut like that," he said, "and expectations of me since have always been high. But I have learned to live with that."

Winterburn apart, Arsene Wenger might struggle to recall many of the other Arsenal players on duty that afternoon in a line-up that read: Lukic, Winterburn, Sansom, Williams, Caesar, Thomas, Rocastle, Davis, Smith, Groves and Hayes.

GOOD BOYS . . .

THE PREMIERSHIP'S

LEADING SCORERS

Andy Cole 23

(Manchester United)

John Hartson 22

(West Ham United)

Chris Sutton 20

(Blackburn Rovers)

Dennis Bergkamp 19

(Arsenal)

Dion Dublin 19

(Coventry City)

Jimmy F Hasselbaink 19

(Leeds United)

. . . and BAD BOYS

THE SEASON'S RED AND YELLOW CARDS

Leeds United

Everton

Arsenal

Chelsea

Bolton

67

4

66

4

62

3

61

3

59

5

Missing...

Efan Ekoku

(Wimbledon)

SAVE for one failed comeback attempt in January, last season's top Wimbledon marksman has not played since November because of an ankle injury and there had been fears he could not only miss the remainder of this season but also France 98, in which he has a good chance of appearing for Nigeria. His recovery has gone well, however, and after appearing in a reserve match against Tottenham last week the 31-year-old striker is eager for first-team action and a chance to prove his fitness before the summer. "I played in the qualifying competition and I don't want to miss out on the finals," he said.

Hasney Aljofree

(Bolton Wanderers)

Manchester-born Aljofree will remember his first East Lancashire derby for a long time - and not just because it ended in a potentially vital victory for Bolton against Blackburn at the Reebok Stadium. It was also the 19-year-old former England youth international defender's first senior start after impressing manager Colin Todd with the quality of his performances at reserve team level for the Wanderers.

Remember Paul Walsh, the straggly haired ex-Liverpool and Manchester City striker whose career was terminated by ligament damage two years ago? He is now a players' agent as well as, apparently, a soul singer, taking his stage name from one Lancashire team he did not represent.

FAMILY

TREE

GARY and Phil Neville had so much in common as children they even enjoyed the same fifth birthday treat, although two years apart. As Manchester United fans, only a trip to Old Trafford would suffice. However, it took a little more than that to shape their destiny.

Indeed, much as he enjoyed football, Phil - at 21 the younger by two years - might have pursued a career as a cricketer. A useful right-handed batsman and left-arm bowler, he captained Lancashire and England Schoolboys and was given a run-out in the Lancashire 2nd XI at just 14, the youngest boy ever to do so.

Others saw in him different skills and, encouraged by his teachers as well as mum and dad, he decided to concentrate his talents on the winter game.

That his parents should be so keen on football is not surprising. Apart from guiding Gary towards the elevated status he enjoys now, they have careers of their own in the game. The boys' father - interestingly christened Neville Neville - is commercial manager with First Division Bury, where their mum, Jill, is club secretary. And Phil's twin sister, Tracey, has represented England under-21s at netball.

When they represented England together against Belgium a year ago, they were the first two brothers to be selected for the same England squad since the Charltons - Bobby and Jack - more than 30 years previously.

PREMIERSHIP TEAM OF THE WEEK

MARK BOSNICH

Aston Villa

REMI GARDE

Arsenal

MATT ELLIOTT

Leicester City

MARK FISH

Bolton Wanderers

MICHAEL BALL

Everton

DENNIS WISE

Chelsea

PATRICK VIEIRA

Arsenal

DON HUTCHISON

Everton

NICOLAS ANELKA

Arsenal

ASHLEY WARD

Barnsley

DWIGHT YORKE

Aston Villa

Rumours

Fact and ction from the Sunday papers

Jaap Stam apart, Manchester United's summer shopping list may include Zvonimir Boban, according to the Express, who link the Croatian captain with a pounds 5m move to Old Trafford after an apparent sighting in a Cheshire restaurant. Or it could include pounds 3m-rated French midfielder Frederic Dehu, named as a target in the Mirror. However, the News of the World reckon they can cross off Alessandro del Piero, reported to be staying with Juventus on a contract worth pounds 2.5m.

United may lose Teddy Sheringham, whom the People says is unsettled in the North-west, unhappy at his current exclusion from the starting line- up and keen to return to London. West Ham are said to be monitoring his situation.

The Mirror says Chelsea are lining up a pounds 4.5m move for Lazio's Italian international Pierluigi Casiraghi but Gianluca Vialli could say goodbye to outspoken goalkeeper Ed de Goey, reported by both the Express and People to be poised to join Rangers.

While the People reckon Liverpool are set to give Roy Evans one more season - plus pounds 10m - to bring a title to Anfield, the Mirror says he is to be moved aside in favour of Coventry's highly regarded manager, Gordon Strachan.

Should he stay, Evans will continue to chase Celtic's pounds 3.5m former Bolton defender Alan Stubbs, according to the News of the World, who also claim Kenny Dalglish wants to recreate his Blackburn partnership with Ray Harford by luring the QPR boss to Tyneside.

The Mail on Sunday says Aston Villa contract rebel Steve Staunton could move to Tottenham on a free transfer and pocket pounds 6m himself, while the People links Terry Venables with a return to management in Spain at Real Madrid.

The First XI

The 11 players sent off at Bolton's Reebok Stadium this season.

Pallister (Man Utd) 20 Sep

Blake (Bolton) 20 Sep

Collymore (Aston Villa) 4 Oct

Andy Todd (Bolton) 4 Oct

Fowler (Liverpool) 1 Nov

Benali (Southampton) 10 Jan

Hartson (West Ham) 21 Feb

Ullathorne (Leicester) 28 Feb

Bergsson (Bolton) 28 Feb

Keown (Arsenal) 31 Mar

Wilcox (Blackburn) 11 Apr

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