The Sweeper: It's on the cards for Carrow's three kings

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The Independent Online
CHRISTMAS CARDS can tell you a lot about their senders, so what do this year's football greetings say about the clubs that dispatched them? Manchester United's is a self-congratulatory affair, emblazoned with a one-word pun, "Goel", below three identical photos of the treble- winners' trophies. One is in sharp relief in the middle, and the other two flank it in soft focus. Naff is too kind a description.

Tottenham have George Graham dressed as Santa (tres classy), while Chelsea's card has a cartoon of Zola on a snow-clad training pitch. The diminutive maestro is curling a free-kick round four snowmen. Lazio's chic card, meanwhile, bears only the words Vola un augurio nel cielo or "Yonder flys the augury in the sky". Molto bene.

The Sweeper's favourite is Norwich City's. The picture has a typical nativity-esque town in the background and a signpost, with two pointers, to the fore. The arrow on the right reads "Bethlehem" while the other indicates "Carrow Road". There are also the three Magi on camels, one heading to the town, and two to the footy. The caption reads: "It was at this point that Melchior and Caspar began to wonder just how wise Balthazar really was."

WITH WEMBLEY due to be knocked down next year, there are 10 current league clubs still to play there. Every month, The Sweeper will track their attempts to reach the Twin Towers via any of the four possible routes left. As the table below shows, things look less than promising.

Pos FA Cup W Cup AWS

Barnsley* 5 (D1) out out n/a

Walsall* 23 (D1) 3rd rd out n/a

Wrexham* 18 (D2) 4th rd out out

Chester** 24 (D3) out out 2nd rd

Exeter** 17 (D3) 3rd rd out 2nd rd Halifax** 9 (D3) out out 2nd rd

Hrt'pool** 10 (D3) out out 2nd rd

Hull** 19 (D3) out out 2nd rd Lincoln** 13 (D3) out out 2nd rd Rochdale** 11 (D3) out out 2nd rd Pos= current position in league.

FA Cup=progress in FA Cup; W Cup=progress in Worthington Cup.

AWS =progress in Auto Windscreens Shield (next round to be played 12 Jan).

* denotes must finish third to sixth to have a chance of reaching Wembley.

** denotes must finish fourth to seventh to have a chance.

THIS COLUMN'S campaign to win Morocco the right to host the 2006 World Cup received a boost recently, as the following (Moroccan) report of Moroccan lobbying in Tokyo testifies. "A great number of Japanese dignitaries and journalists, as well as African ambassadors did appreciate Morocco's message, based on `moral code, legitimacy and credibility'. Mr Shun-Ichiro Okana, who is president of the Japanese Federation of Football, took advantage of this event to announce his official support in favour of Morocco."

With England and Germany set for a bid-spoiling ruck in Charleroi at Euro 2000 and South Africa descending into violent football-related madness, Morocco must have 2006 in the bag.

STEVE BRUCE, the Huddersfield manager, will no doubt be on tenterhooks at the moment, waiting for the first sales figures of his first thriller, Striker!, released yesterday. It is the highly plausible tale of a manager- turned-sleuth, Steve Barnes, who must find the killer of one of his players while attempting to keep control of his team. Personally, we can't wait for the sequels, Sweeper! and Defender!, due in the new year. The latter is a probe into the case of a missing South American defender. "He might be dead, or suffering from amnesia, or simply shirking his contractual responsibilities," says the advance PR blurb of the plot. The Booker beckons for Brucie, we say.

JEFF WHITLEY, Manchester City's Zambian-born midfield tiger, had a run- in with felines of an altogether nastier sort this week. Whitley and his fiancee visited nearby Knowsley Safari park and had their pounds 30,000 BMW ripped apart by angry lions and then picked off by a band of chimps. "It was huge and sunk its teeth into my bumper," Whitley said of the lion that led the attack. "I tried to drive off but I could see in my wing mirror that he was holding on as we moved along."

Whitley jumped out of the battered car at the nearest safe point - but his problems were not over. He'd parked near the chimps compound and when he got out, the windscreen wipers had been removed by the animals. Cheeky little monkeys.

THE PERFECT Christmas gift for Aston Villa's John Gregory has arrived. "For genuine Villa fans," says the leaflet from the club's insurance services department, sent out with Villa's seasonal catalogue. "Full breakdown recovery service and homestart from just pounds 34." If only the homestart included the gift of inspiring the team to start winning at home. Or anywhere, for that matter.