The Sweeper: Chester first to fall into chasm

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The Independent Online
CHESTER CITY, the club who gave the world Ian Rush, are poised to go into receivership. Debts are mounting fast and the manager, Rush's former Wales team-mate Kevin Ratcliffe, had to fork out pounds 5,000 of his own money recently to prevent the water being cut off at the Deva Stadium.

Last month the players' wage cheques bounced and this month they were told by the chairman, Mark Guterman, that they would have to wait 10 days for their money. And yet it has not prevented the players from getting on with the business for which they are not being paid. On Tuesday, after passing around the bucket at half-time, they dumped First Division Port Vale out of the Worthington Cup 4-3 on aggregate, Vale's donation being an 82nd-minute own goal by Mark Snijders.

For Ratcliffe, who led Everton to League championship, FA Cup and Cup- Winners' Cup successes, it has been a real eye-opener to how the other half live. "We don't have own training ground and we have to scrimp and save for bibs and balls - it's different in every way you could imagine from Goodison," he said. A winding-up petition brought by the club's solicitors, at Manchester County Court last week, was adjourned until October.

In the recent annual review of football finances, by the accountancy firm Deloitte and Touche, it was predicted that between 10 and 15 clubs from the lower divisions were in "imminent danger" of collapse as the financial divide between the Premier League and the Football League turned from "a gap to a chasm, to an abyss".

WHETHER OR not West Ham fans decide to go ahead with their plan to wave 10,000 red cards at David Beckham today, they should not be surprised if Public Enemy No1 turns around and waves one back at them - or something very similar. One would hope, though, that that is all he does if he takes The Little Book of Stress to heart as well as with him onto the Upton Park pitch. The publishers of the book - about the size and colour of a red card - describe it as "a guide on how to increase the level of stress in you and those around you," adding "it's probably just what David Beckham needs before the game in front of the famously welcoming, forgiving supporters of Upton Park - so we've sent him a copy, just to get him in the right mood". The tome advocates stress in order to function properly - "calm is for wimp, get real, get stressed," it says. Every page carries a maxim. "Really tense up all your muscles," says one. "Try to stay this way all day. If this proves impossible you have yet again failed a really simple task." Another says: "Always make sure you have the last word. Raise the stakes by making that last word dickhead."

EVERTON'S MICKAEL Madar has apparently taken exception to rumours that his days at Goodison Park are numbered after his No7 shirt was exchanged for a No 18. So imagine the Frenchman's fury when - before a pre-season tour match - he found his name bottom of the list of substitutes alongside No 99! In the circumstances it was hardly surprising when he went on he began kicking anything that moved and was sent off. Come in No 99, your time is up.

THEY SAY television has destroyed the art of conversation, which may explain why Des Walker, the Sheffield Wednesday and former England player, has always been a fairly uncommunicative sort of fellow - his Nottingham home has 12 television sets. What you might call a box-to-box player.

MICHAEL OWEN has scooped most people's awards over the last 12 months for young players, but there was one which he was no doubt happy not to win - Match of the Day magazine's X-rated Fouls of the Season. Goalscorers usually require an devilish streak and Owen is no different, his tackle on Ronny Johnsen at Old Trafford last April earning him third place in the horror category. Top marks went to Feyenoord's Paul Bosvelt for his challenge on Manchester United's Denis Irwin while Don Hutchison, of Everton, was runner-up for his lunge at Arsenal's Emmanuel Petit.

BARRY WELSH, a Sunderland fan, is not a happy man. His Vauxhall Cavalier, painted red and white and replete with replica shirts as seat covers and pictures of Peter Reid in the windows, is a familiar sight on Wearside. Unfortunately, when he returned to his mobile shrine the other day he found it had been sprayed black and white by Newcastle fans and had a Magpies shirt adorned across the windscreen. It took him five hours and six gallons of turps to restore the car to its previous condition. "They made a right mess of it," he said.

RANGERS TOOK no prisoners as they beat Alloa Athletic 4-0 in the Scottish League Cup in midweek. Alloa's Willie Irvine will have been relieved at that. It was only last season that the part-time prison warden was held hostage for 48 hours at Cornton Vale prison in East Stirling, causing him to miss a Third Division match. He took more stick over that that than the Rangers defence were able to give him - Cornton Vale, one should point out, is a women's prison.

As You Were

IN AUGUST 1983, the 19-year-old Gianluca Vialli (above, left) was preparing to play what would be his fourth and final season with Cremonese in Italy. In England, the 75th Charity Shield saw that year's FA Cup winners, Manchester United, beat the First Division champions, Liverpool, 2-0. Chelsea, meanwhile, were in the Second Division. Vialli moved to Sampdoria in 1984, where he spent eight years, then Juventus, where he spent another four. In 1996 he moved to Chelsea, a club where the words "bizarre change in fortunes" would not come close to describing the path his career has followed since. From being a little used Stamford Bridge squad player in 1996/7, he found himself as the player-manager manager on Ruud Gullit's departure this spring. He has since led the Blues to a League Cup and a European Cup-Winners' Cup, not to mention the purchase of pounds 34m of new players. Perhaps that's why he has lost all his hair (above).

The price is right

THE HEFTY weight of expectation proved just too much for Blackburn's Kevin Davies last week but that will not deter us from tipping him to be the first goal-scorer again in his match this weekend, against Leeds on Monday. The contest could well be tight, and a 1-1 draw at 90 minutes is forecast.

In tomorrow's match, Aston Villa - minus Dwight Yorke - may not be too threatening (yet not threatened either), and a 1-1 draw again seems the most likely outcome. Paul Merson, especially at 9-1, is as good a player as any to back to score the first goal.

Today, a number of games look like possible score draws, including West Ham against Manchester United, but Charlton against Southampton is the preferred Desmond (2-2). Both sides suffer from porous defences at times, yet both can score goals - the ideal mix.

SWEEPER'S STAKING PLAN

SATURDAY `DESMOND'

(Game expected to end 2-2)

Charlton v Southampton

(pounds 1 at 14-1, generally available)

SUNDAY

Aston Villa v Middlesbrough

(Correct score tip: 1-1 (pounds 1 at 6-1 with the Tote); First goal-scorer: Merson (pounds 1 at 9-1, Tote)

MONDAY

Leeds v Blackburn

(Correct score tip: 1-1 (pounds 1 at 11-2, generally); First goal-scorer: Davies (pounds 1 at 7-1, Ladbrokes/Tote)

WILD CARD EXTRAS

Emile Heskey will score the first goal in the Leicester v Everton match today (pounds 1 at 11-2, Tote). As insurance against this week's Desmond failing (unlikely, but possible), betting on Mark Hughes scoring the first goal in a 3-0 win for Southampton (25p on the permutation at 125-1, William Hill) or a 4-0 win (25p at 275-1, Corals) is unlikely to help matters, but what the hell.

ORIGINAL BANK: pounds 100.

CURRENT KITTY: pounds 94.28.

TOTAL WAGERED TODAY: pounds 7.09 (including 59p tax paid on).

ON THE BOARD

Name: Greg Dyke.

Position: Non-executive director of Manchester United plc.

Form: Ex-head of TV-am and London Weekend Television. Chairman of Channel 5 and chairman and chief executive of Pearson Television.

Big Ideas: His major successes to date include bringing Roland Rat - TVam's saviour - and Blind Date to television. As a consultant at United, his main task will be ensuring MUTV is as classy as a fluffy rodent and that United and any European super league make a lorra lorra money together.

IN T'NET

Found on the Web: Wimbledon fans' hopes and fears

WILD HOPES: "That Ronaldo will get knocked out after running past all the players on the pitch during a top game and suddenly have a desire to put on a Wimbledon shirt."

HOPES: "That no one laughs at me again when I tell them that I support Wimbledon all the way."

FEARS: "That we end up in either Dublin or Selhurst Park permanently."

WILD FEARS: "We get relegated from the Third Division and are not allowed in the Conference as we have to re-use Plough Lane as it stands at present."

http://www.netkonect.co.uk/b/brenford/wimbledon/

MY TEAM

ALEX SALMOND

heart of midlothian

The leader of the Scottish National Party

"I entered the world on Hogmanay 1954 and to celebrate my birth, my Dad went to the following day's Ne'erday match. Hearts won, and from that day forward there was only one team I was ever going to support. The current squad are as exciting a group as I have seen in a very long time. For years Hearts were a team that came close but never quite delivered. After the Scottish Cup win last year all that has changed - the key now is turning winning into a habit, and from moving from a runner-up spot to pole position. In that regard at least, there is a similarity between my team and my Party."

Seen But Not Bought

THE EXTREMELY useful `Fan in a Can', from the Aston Villa gift shop, is as remarkable as it is beautiful. The "fan" - a small rag doll in a Villa kit - will amuse babies and small children, while the can - a tin in Villa's colours - cunningly doubles as a money box. At pounds 14.99, the ensemble is as competitively priced as Dwight Yorke, and as useful as the Villa self-inflating seat cushion (pounds 7.99) and the Villa Mug & Sock Set (pounds 6.99). Hurry now while stocks last. Or alternatively, don't.

Who Ate All The pies?

THE PREMIUM food at Chelsea, like the premium season tickets, is "ambitiously" priced. Faggots, peas and mash in the Shed Bar costs pounds 6, while fish, chips and mushy peas in Fishnets restaurant will set you back pounds 10. Do not despair, though - the traditional footy fare of artichoke and asparagus gateau with slow-roasted tomatoes, parsleyed potatoes and a warm herb dressing can still be had at the Chelsea Village Hotel - for only pounds 15 plus 12.5% service.

They're Not all Dennis Bergkamp

Unsung foreign legionnaires No 2

MICHEL NGONGE:

The 31-year old Zairean striker who moved to Watford in June for nothing after leaving Samsunspor in Turkey because they had not been paying his wages and he had a get-out clause. A dual national of Belgium and Zaire (now the Democratic Republic of Congo), Ngonge played club football in Belgium for five sides, the last being Racing Club Harelbeke, whom he left in 1996 to go to Samsunspor. Has played 11 times for Zaire, scoring four goals. Was bought by Graham Taylor on video evidence alone and has signed a three-year deal. Known for his pace, he used to run 100m in 11 seconds, and scored the winning goal against Bradford last week.

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