After more than 30 years reporting their affairs, Derby's match against West Bromwich represented a routine Baseball Ground Saturday for sportswriter Neil Hallam... in all but one respect.
Instead of occupying his regular place in the press-box, Hallam's viewpoint was a pounds 12 seat in the grandstand. In the latest example of a club attempting to censor the media, the Derby chairman, Lionel Pickering, who has invested pounds 12m in trying - in vain - to win a place in the Premiership, has barred Hallam from press facilities at the club.
Pickering took exception, apparently, to the tone of Hallam's comments in his column in Derby's free newspaper, The Trader, even though he insists he has "bent over backwards to be fair to Jim Smith (manager since June) after the situation he inherited."
This is just a teensy bit rich. Hallam has been penning his observations no less outspokenly in The Trader since 1968, with the full backing of the man who started it... one Lionel Pickering, who recently sold the paper, as part of a thriving group, for an estimated pounds 26m.
"The irony is that he was a brilliant proprietor who could not have given more support," Hallam said. "Brian Clough once banned him from the ground."
With the major clubs absent until the third round, the real giant-killings of the FA Cup don't come usually until January - but history shows that the early rounds can be treacherous territory for a big name fallen from grace.
Coventry City's best days were still to come in November 1961 but, even so, defeat against King's Lynn, of the Southern League, caused heads to roll at Highfield Road, leading directly to the appointment as manager of Jimmy Hill, who turned out to be the architect of their rise.
And, lest anyone at Molineux should think the current crisis is deep enough, remember 24 November, 1986 and this first round, second replay scoreline: Chorley 3 Wolves 0. The highest point in Chorley's history was possibly the lowest for Wolves, who had been in Europe six years earlier. Newly relegated to the Fourth Division and deeply in debt, the outlook was bleak. Just as well that, during the same week, the manager, Graham Turner, took on an unknown cast-off from West Brom by the name of Steve Bull.
Bruno loves the rough stuff
Andrea Silenzi may be champing at the bit but not so the other Serie A exports seeking to settle in Britain. Ivano Bonetti, the Forest striker's former Torino chum, turned in another sparkling show for Grimsby on Saturday, while the likelihood of Pasquale Bruno signing for Hearts moved a step closer.
After three trial matches, Bruno, another ex- Torino player more recently with Fiorentina, is already at ease with the Scottish game. "It is a battle - but that's what I like," he said. "In Italy the game is too technical - you can't make a tackle any more." He should know. Having missed 50 games through suspension, his reputation at home is roughly on a par with that of Vinnie Jones.
But he is not without an appreciation of culture. "I love Edinburgh," he said, "it is like Florence." One cannot quite imagination Grimsby having a similar lure for Bonetti, but who knows?
`Better side' loses 11-2
What do you say to a team who have just lost 11-2? Not a lot, according to Roly Howard, the manager charged with lifting the spirits of poor old Marine, of the UniBond League, after their FA Cup drubbing at Shrewsbury Town.
"To be frank - and you couldn't say this beforehand - with the side we put out it would have been a miracle if we'd got anything from the game," Howard said, "although that's not an excuse. I've just told them to take Tuesday off and we'll start again on Thursday."
The players held an impromptu wake back home in Crosby, the mood at which was not helped by Match of the Day mercilessly showing all 11 goals with "Always look on the bright side of life" as a soundtrack - but, in fact, the choice could not have been more appropriate.
"It may sound daft," Howard said, "but until we let in those three goals just before half-time I thought we were the better side."
Matthew Harding grew up on Chelsea's terraces and will soon make an emotional return there - albeit enforced by Ken Bates. The landlord of Stamford Bridge reacquainted himself with the hustle and bustle of the paying classes at Alvin Martin's Testimonial match between West Ham and Chesea at Upton Park on Saturday Photograph: Allsport
Fact and fiction from the Sunday papers
While the News of the World trumpeted a "world exclusive" story of a "secret" meeting between Bruce Rioch and banned agent Rune Hauge - in a hotel restaurant in Norway - the Sunday Mirror claimed that Rioch's disgraced predecessor, George Graham, will become manager of Chelsea if Ken Bates wins his boardroom showdown with Matthew Harding.
Bates, their story says, is dissatisfied with Hoddle's performance as manager and feels that he is siding with Harding in the struggle for power.
As if Stan Collymore's widely reported threat to quit was not enough, the People reckons that Liverpool have another rebellious crew member on their hands in Neil Ruddock, who is reported to be seeking assurances about his future after losing his first-team place.
The People also claims a pounds 3m bid by Arsenal for Blackburn's Graeme Le Saux, although Ray Harford does not want to sell, and suggests Paul Ince will become a pounds 6.5m capture for Newcastle this week.
Meanwhile, the News of the World reckons that Lee Sharpe, unable to hold down a place with Manchester United, has enlisted agent Dennis Roach to help him find a new club, possibly in Italy.
Take a bow
"Some lunatic fans who had a go at him earlier in the season now think he's brilliant, but he's useless when he plays for 90 minutes. So I'll keep using him as sub."
The number of minutes Paul Moody took to score three of Oxford's nine, the fastest of six Saturday hat-tricks.
The full-house crowd at
Livingston's first match at Almondvale Stadium, compared with 238 for their final game at Meadowbank.
The goals shared on Saturday by the Sturridge brothers, one for Derby's Dean, three for Stoke's Simon.
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