That was the weekend that was

Click to follow
The Independent Online
























Why Keegan puts his trust in the Green grass of home

It all looks so easy, doesn't it, this business of winning the Premiership: you just buy the best centre-forward in the country, fix him up with a couple of tasty wingers, then sit back and watch it happen.

But there is much more planning than that behind Newcastle's off-like- a-train start. Kevin Keegan may come across as an easy-going, win-some- lose-some, ever-so-sporting kind of chap... but the facade masks meticulous attention to detail, right down to the length of the grass on the pounds 400,000 St James' Park pitch.

Head groundsman George Green worked for six managers in 14 years from Bill McGarry to Ossie Ardiles, before Keegan came along. To most of them, it seemed a pitch was a pitch was a pitch - but not Wor Kevin.

"He takes much more interest than any of the others did and discusses what he wants," Green says. Essentially, so his close-passing game can work to maximum efficiency, that means "nice and short and a little bit slick on top".

So there you have it. For sure, Ginola's feet and Ferdinand's head are key weapons in the Tyneside armoury - but so, too, is George Green's mower.

Turn back

the clock

Julian Dicks may feel aggrieved at his punishment over the John Spencer incident - but October has often been a bad month in which to fall foul of the authorities.

The West Ham full back, still on a mere nine career dismissals (plus 54 cautions) after keeping his head down on Saturday, might count himself lucky not to have been offending officialdom a quarter of a century ago.

In October 1969, Graham Rathbone, of Grimsby, and Scunthorpe's Don Welbourne were each banned for eight weeks after being sent off for fighting. Later the same month, the Football Association suspended Derek Dougan of Wolves for the same period. It marked the start of a clamp-down on violence that re-emerged the following October when Dicks' fellow Hammer, Billy Bonds, was banned for five weeks.

'Yellow fever' grips Boro

No Juninho yet at Middlesbrough's imposing Riverside Stadium - but the lively trade in Brazilian shirts, scarves and green and yellow face paint witnessed on Saturday bore testimony to the way Juninho fever has Teesside in its grip.

The club's sales staff are facing an explosion of business, the limits of which they cannot predict. "We are geared up to meet the demand but, commercially speaking, we are into a league we've not been near before," commercial director Graham Fordy said.

"Last week, Umbro recalled hundreds of replica Brazil shirts and sent them here - their entire United Kingdom stock. We sold the lot," he added. "We've now taken delivery of more than a thousand nostalgia shirts from the 1970s."

Shock waves are being felt even in Italy, where kit manufacturers Errea have their Parma factory working non-stop to meet the demand for Juninho's No 25 shirt.

Red card


Cheered by howling Wolves

Given that nothing cheers a West Bromwich fan more than to mock a Wolves team in trouble, it is a good time to be a Baggie in the Black Country. Andy Hunt's last-gasp winner against Portsmouth kept Albion in second spot in the Endsleigh League First Division - 14 places above Graham Taylor's struggling troops.

Saturday's match marked the completion of a remarkable 12 months in charge for manager Alan Buckley, who took over a team that was worse off last October even than Wolves are now - second from bottom with just two wins in 13 games.

Since then Buckley, who steered Grimsby to promotion two years in a row, has turned a team of relegation candidates into one with genuine play- off prospects.

What is more, while Graham Taylor has been reducing Sir Jack Hayward's fortune in multiples of pounds 1m, Buckley has spent pounds 375,000 - in total.

Take a bow

Stafford Rangers


Fact and fiction from the Sunday papers

Leeds manager Howard Wilkinson is ready to respond to the latest Elland Road crisis with a pounds 4.5m move for in-form Queen's Park Rangers winger Trevor Sinclair, according to the News of The World, which claims that Wilkinson is ready to offload David White, Rod Wallace and Phil Masinga to raise cash. The same paper suggests that Arsenal and Manchester United are rivals in a pounds 2m chase for Auxerre midfielder Corentin Martins.

The Mail on Sunday names Dario Gradi as a candidate for the FA's new pounds 180,000-a-year post of technical director, replacing Howard Wilkinson as the top English-born contender, with former Scotland coach Andy Roxburgh and the Frenchman, Gerard Houllier, as outside possibilities.

Middlesbrough's signing of Juninho could be under threat, according to the People, which claims that the FA is looking into the possible involvement of unlicensed agents in the pounds 4.75m transfer. The same paper says that Bryan Robson's hopes of forming a Brazilian double act with Juninho's Sao Paulo teammate Caio will fail because the latter's status does not qualify him for a work permit.

The Sunday Express links Sheffield Wednesday with a pounds 1.3m move for Luton's Scott Oakes.

Suitably autumnal it may be, but the brown and white of the Bundesliga club, St Pauli, does convey a certain lack of imagination, dare one say a typical Teutonic austerity. At least they won't be out of place in the relegation mire. For a club situated in the heart of Hamburg's Reeperbahn, red would surely have been a more fitting choice.

Excuses, excuses

We are not in the position we should be in. We should be high up in the league, but there are certain things out of a manager's control.

Graham Taylor, the beleaguered manager of Wolves, after Saturday's improved performance at Watford brought only a point

Vital statistics


The number of red cards shown in the English leagues so far this season, following Saturday's total of 12.


The number of minutes it took Les Ferdinand to notch up his hat-trick against Wimbledon on Saturday.