That was the weekend that was

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Walker: forgotten national hero

As an automatic choice for his club, he hardly qualifies as a "Missing Person", but the question might still be asked: whatever happened to Des Walker?

Three years ago, an England team without him would have been almost unthinkable; now his name is rarely even discussed. He has not pulled on an England jersey since a certain night in San Marino two years and three months ago, and there is no suggestion he should steer clear of June when he makes this summer's holiday plans.

His performances for Sheffield Wednesday, where his standards remain high, seem to have passed unnoticed. But then on Saturday he lost the honour of club captaincy. David Pleat, the manager, desperate for more urgency on the field as Wednesday slide towards the relegation zone, took away the armband and gave it to Peter Atherton instead.

Granted, Walker might no longer have quite the pace that made him such a formidable opponent at his peak with Nottingham Forest, but at 30 he is hardly over the hill and it is still difficult to think of many central defenders in the Premiership whose abilities stand out more. Whatever went wrong?



'Nobody here is complaining. I liked what I saw of Asprilla. He's got a bit of fire in his body' - Manchester City's Alan Ball expressing sentiments regarding the weekend's flashpoint which may not be shared by all at Maine Road - Keith Curle for one.

'We kept hitting them but they just wouldn't lie down' - Ball on his own team's legitimate assaults on Newcastle.

'We scored five out of the six goals and still only got a draw. I didn't think that was possible - even for the Crazy Gang' - Wimbledon's Joe Kinnear trying to make sense of an improbable draw with Villa.

'I think Ruud put his AC Milan head on for that one. He was as cool as a cucumber' - Chelsea manager Glenn Hoddle eulogising about the skill of the Dutchman's winner at The Dell.

'I take one look at Gullit and and I can see that he made all the difference' - Southampton chief Dave Merrington appreciating class when he sees it.

'We seemed to be brain dead. Half a dozen of the players had stinkers' - Dave Bassett signifying that his honeymoon at the Palace might be over.

'I enjoyed the performances of both of them today. We couldn't afford passengers and we didn't get any' - Millwall's Jimmy Nicholl on improved performances by his two Russians, one of whom may find himself a passenger again if found guilty on a drink-drive charge.


Fact and fiction from the Sunday papers

If Ian Wright and Bruce Rioch finally reach a parting of the ways, the former England striker will not have to travel far to resume his career, according to the Sunday Express, who reckon that Chelsea are lining up a pounds 2.5m offer for the 32-year-old Arsenal idol - plus a pounds 1m three-year contract.

The paper also reveals a growing rift between the QPR manager, Ray Wilkins, and his former chum, Mark Hateley, with Wilkins reported to have hit his club record signing with a club record pounds 6,000 fine after the 34-year-old forward said he had not moved from Rangers to be a second-string striker.

Torino are poised to offer Liverpool midfielder Michael Thomas a contract worth pounds 700,000 a year, according to the News of the World, who suggest that under the Bosman ruling he could leave at the end of the season for nothing. He would also receive a pounds 250,000 signing-on fee from the Serie A club, they claim. Eat your heart out John Barnes?

The People, meanwhile, suggest that Wimbledon, having seen plans to relocate to Dublin and Cardiff come to nothing, now have their sights on Wigan, although no reason is given (nor, indeed, can be imagined!).

Missing person

NII LAMPTEY (Coventry City)

Having signed him twice - for Aston Villa and Coventry - Ron Atkinson clearly has a high opinion of the 21-year-old Ghanaian striker (right), although it has yet to translate to regular first-team football. It probably never will, given current attitudes towards work permit applications. Fortunately for City, the pounds 450,000 fee agreed with Anderlecht last summer is in three annual instalments of pounds 150,000, each dependent on permit renewal.

Watch out for...

PAUL MURRAY (Carlisle United)

Ambitious Carlisle chairman Michael Knighton has pledged to hang on to the Cumbrians' best young players, hence his rejection of a pounds 500,000 offer from Queen's Park Rangers for this 19-year-old midfielder. The Carlisle- born former England youth international is valued by Knighton at a minimum pounds 1m. "We've had half a dozen Premier League clubs and a couple of Scottish sides interested," the one-time Old Trafford ball-juggler says.

Turn back

the clock

The idea that one should never look back in the hope of recapturing past glories is clearly not a line of advice to cut much ice at Watford. Before they re-installed Graham Taylor amid a yellow mist of nostalgia last week, however, perhaps Elton John and company ought to have looked back at the history of managerial re-appointments. They might just have changed their minds...

Numerous clubs have been tempted by the notion of turning back the clock, but hopes have come to nothing with such regularity that the penny really should have dropped by now.

The example of Everton springs to mind. Only now, under Joe Royle, is the club recovering from the near- disastrous consequences of Howard Kendall's second spell in charge, when the two League titles and two major cups of his first tenure counted for nothing.

And Manchester City fans still shudder at the memory of Malcolm Allison's high-spending return in 1979, when far from winning any silverware, City had to contemplate selling some to stay afloat.

Tranmere's John King - sacked in 1980, rehired in 1987 - is one to have bucked the trend.

Red card


Take a bow


Barnes puts the boot into critics

The crowd at Ewood Park on Saturday had every cause to await the arrival of the teams with extra excitement. There were, after all, big issues at stake. Would Robbie Fowler outgun Alan Shearer? Or would Colin Hendry and Mark Wright win the day? And what colour boots would John Barnes be wearing?

Since he tripped out in gleaming white against Queen's Park Rangers two weeks ago, the individualistic Liverpool star has suffered no little ribbing. But he insists the footwear is no gimmick.

"Perhaps it was in the Seventies, when Alan Hinton and Alan Ball wore white boots," Barnes told Liverpool's Football Echo. "But fashion has nothing to do with it. The company I'm involved with produce good boots. It just happens that some of them are white."

It just happens also that Barnes, renowned as one of the Premiership's nattier designer-label dressers, has left Diadora for Valsport. And it just happens that the QPR match was on live television. The game at Blackburn, of course, was not; and - surprise, surprise - Barnes trotted out in boring regulation black.

The new footwear also comes in red, apparently. Perhaps the next time the cameras are about...

reasons why...

Georgi Kinkladze should be the footballer of the year

1 It would reward Alan Ball's courage in signing him unwatched.

2 He's the best player English League football has seen since George Best.

3 It would stop a Newcastle player winning the award.

4 It would stop a Manchester United player winning it.

5 It would stop a Blackburn Rovers player winning it.

6 An acceptance speech by a player who cannot speak English would be better than most recent efforts.

7 It would stop Alan Ball whining about his players being under-rated.

8 It might make him more sympathetic to England when he has the chance to run rings around them in World Cup qualifying matches.

9 It would show that players need to be giants only in skill and not in physique.

10 Manchester City players win the award only once in a blue moon.

n Having accused BBC football commentators of "mangling" the language in Parliament last week, John Butcher, Conservative MP for Coventry South West, took up a challenge to try his hand on a video of Liverpool v Nottingham Forest. Verdict? "Excrutiating," Radio 5 Live's Alan Green said. And Butcher? "You've got people gabbling away either don't know where your sentence is going sometimes."
























Programme notes

No 12: Everton

Price: pounds 1.50. Pages: 40. Heavy on nostalgia - two pages of "Down Memory Lane" and another two devoted to Duncan McKenzie - but plenty of current stuff, too, with an informative spotlight on Forest. A reader's letter describing Duncan Ferguson as "Everton's discovery" might raise eyebrows in Glasgow and Dundee.