THAT WAS THE WEEKEND THAT WAS

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Scots in pleas for clemency

While it may have left Paul Ince unmoved, Robbie Fowler's celebrated act of sportsmanship seemed to have provoked a wave of international goodwill at Rugby Park, Kilmarnock on Saturday.

Despite the importance of the Group Four qualifying match to their dream of reaching next year's World Cup finals, every foul by an Estonian saw Scotland players falling over one another to lodge appeals for clemency with the referee, Bernd Heynemann.

At no point was this more evident than when Estonia's Andres Oper, chasing a 50-50 through ball, somewhat recklessly followed through on Scotland's Jim Leighton.

The veteran goalkeeper needed lengthy treatment, which is normally the cue for players to besiege the referee, pointing accusing fingers or, in the modern fashion, waving imaginary cards. It was strange indeed, then, to see a deputation led by Colin Calderwood pleading with the German official on Oper's behalf.

Sadly, their motivation was not exactly altruistic, it transpired. Indeed, it turned out to have been a calculated plan driven unashamedly by self- interest.

"The last thing we want is to see Estonia weakened by suspensions when they play Austria and Sweden," Craig Brown, the Scotland manager, explained. "That's why we were doing the Robbie Fowler bit and asking for the player not to be cautioned."

Calderwood would rather like to see similar sportsmanship from the Austrians at Celtic Park on Wednesday. Should he or Gary McAllister be cautioned in that game they would miss the crucial confrontation with Sweden in Gothenburg on 30 April.

Olney's dream nightmare

Sammy McIlroy's Macclesfield Town took a sizeable step towards clinching the GM Vauxhall Conference title by winning at Stevenage on Saturday, dealing a demoralising blow to fading rivals Kidderminster.

But for one player among the Worcestershire side's perennial nearly-men, the former England under-21 forward Ian Olney, failure may be a cloud with a silver lining. Kidderminster might have to nurture their promotion dream for another year - but at least he will not need to find another club.

Olney has been at Aggborough since last summer, patiently rebuilding some sort of life in the game after injury ended his professional career at Oldham.

The trouble is that when he left Boundary Park he exercised his full retirement pension rights - lump sum pay-off included - on condition that any football he might subsequently play would be outside the Nationwide League.

Olney, forced to quit by knee trouble, is now developing a second career as a financial adviser. He linked up with Kidderminster through contacts made during six years with Aston Villa. On a regime of light training, he has managed to become a regular member of Graham Allner's team.

"I knew when I joined that they were looking to win promotion but my situation was not something we discussed at length," Olney said. "It would be a shame but I suppose if we did happen to get into the League I'd just have to resign myself to looking for another club."

MISTAKEN

IDENTITY

Many thanks to Patrick Cremin, of London SW11, for pointing out that Liverpool's ace striker has apparently been nipping off after training to film episodes of Coronation Street. At least the Saturday scheduling of England's match with Mexico spared him an awkward fixture clash.

Rumours...

fact and fiction from the Sunday papers

Who will step into Joe Royle's shoes as manager of Everton? Amid a universal acceptance that Bobby Robson is chairman Peter Johnson's first choice, the Mail on Sunday says that Jurgen Klinsmann has ruled himself out but that Johnson is considering the claims of ex-Real Madrid and Ajax coach Leo Beenhakker, currently youth coach at Vitesse Arnhem. The Sunday Express reports that another Dutchman, the 1970s "Total Football" star Willem van Hanegem, has applied for the job. On the transfer front, the People's supposedly exclusive revelation of Lazio's pounds 60 million move for Ronaldo - jewel in Bobby Robson's Barcelona crown - makes almost every back page, with the News of the World endorsing the People's claim that the Italians want Tottenham's Teddy Sheringham as well. Arsenal, meanwhile, are closing in on Milan's George Weah (Mail), Roma's Abel Balbo and Bayern Munich's Christian Nerlinger (People), as well as 17-year-old Guiseppe Motta, of Juventus (News of the World). Presumably, they will be in for Les Ferdinand, too, if the Mirror's prediction of a summer departure from Newcastle for the England striker proves correct.

Missing person

Michael Vonk (Sheff Utd)

One of Howard Kendall's earliest signings at a bargain pounds 350,000, the Dutch-born former Manchester City defender has played no part in his side's promotion challenge since November. Nor is he expected to reappear this season after undergoing a third knee operation last month.

Watch out for...

Martin Bullock (Barnsley)

The 5ft 5in midfielder scored a spectacular Cup goal against Oldham in January and Barnsley manager Danny Wilson has no doubts over his potential. But he is still more likely to put the 22-year-old on the subs' bench than play him from the start. "You want to be protective and use him sparingly," Wilson said.

Good boys

THE NATIONWIDE'S

LEADING SCORERS

Graeme Jones

(Wigan)

Third Division 29, FA Cup 1,

Coca-Cola Cup 1..

John McGinlay

(Bolton)

First Division 20, FA Cup 1,

Coca-Cola Cup 5.

Tony Thorpe

(Luton)

Second Division 23, FA Cup 1,

Coca-Cola Cup 2.

Nathan Blake

(Bolton)

First Division 18, FA Cup 2,

Coca-Cola Cup 3.

It is curious that Saturday's match at Wembley should have been so tepid since matches between England and Mexico have been traditionally anything but.

When they first met in Mexico City in 1959, the British press carried stories of a minor earthquake shaking the stadium during the match, although the England players were reeling so much from the heat they scarcely noticed. It was the first England game in which substitutes were allowed.

England lost 2-1 but it was at the end of an exhausting South American tour in which they had lost to Peru but beaten a Brazil side including Pele in front of a 150,000 crowd.

Revenge came handsomely at Wembley two years later when England won 8- 0. Jimmy Greaves was suspended for refusing to go on a club tour to Israel with Chelsea, a trip he regarded as pointless given that he had signed for AC Milan. In his absence, Aston Villa's Gerry Hitchens celebrated his first cap by scoring after 90 seconds and Bobby Charlton notched his only international hat-trick on home soil. Charlton scored again when England beat Mexico 2-0 at Wembley in the World Cup finals of 1966.

More recently, England returned to Mexico City in 1985 in a World Cup warm-up tournament but brought the wrath of the press on Bobby Robson's head by losing 1-0. After losing to Scotland at Hampden and Italy in Mexico, England had suffered three defeats in a row for the first time since 1959.

A 1986 rematch in Los Angeles produced a 3-0 victory in a contest notable for Peter Beardsley's first England goal and Bryan Robson's first dislocated shoulder.

THE NATIONWIDE'S RED AND YELLOW CARDS

1 Gillingham

Four players - Hessenthaler, Chapman, Green and Bryant - each booked seven times

2 Hartlepool

Five yellows, two reds for Chris Beech

3 Bolton

Eight yellows each for Alan Thompson and Per Frandsen

4 Lincoln

Mark Hone on five bookings, two dismissals

NOISES OFF...

I didn't think it was a penalty. My instant reaction was that it wasn't one.

Glenn Hoddle, on the challenge by Pavel Pardo on Paul Ince that led to England's opener against Mexico.

I will not talk about the referee but it is an important question to ask and I think you know the answer.

Mexico coach Bora Milutinovic, asked the same question.

I was going to do a Robbie Fowler and say, 'it wasn't a foul - I fell over.' Not really. He made contact - he swung his foot and caught me. It was a penalty.

Paul Ince, insisting his was an honest view.

I understand that no Scottish player has ever been to the World Cup finals on four occasions, so France is very much on my mind.

Jim Leighton, veteran goalkeeper, with no plans to stick on 77 international caps.

The spirit in the team has always been good but there was a real determination today. They are all ambitious to get to France.

Scotland manager Craig Brown.

It is so easy to blame Bobby Gould - he is an easy target. If I thought Bobby was no good I would say so. If they sack him I will not play for Wales again.

Neville Southall pledges his support for the beleaguered manager of Wales

Not so long ago we would have looked upon a draw with Portugal as a good result but we are disappointed to have only a point. It shows how far we have come in a short time.

Northern Ireland manager Bryan Hamilton after a result that increases the odds against his team's qualification

There is no such thing as a friendly in international football. I've played in them, so I know.

Glenn Hoddle.

Take a bow

JOHN ALDRIDGE

The 38-year-old Tranmere player-manager, whose goal against Southend on Friday enabled him to equal Jimmy Greaves' tally of 357 career League goals, a milestone which prompted him to announce that this would probably be his last full season.

Red card

THE FOOTBALL ASSOCIATION

For the nonsensical decision to suspend hostilities in the Premiership at the most critical stage of the season for an international match that Saturday's Wembley action proved to be meaningless, no matter how much Glenn Hoddle tries to pretend otherwise.

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