The Sweeper: Referee with an unbalanced view

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The Independent Online
WHEN PUSH comes to shove, it would seem that Paul Alcock is not the steadiest man on two feet. After Paolo Di Canio's much publicised attack on the Kent referee at Hillsborough a fortnight ago it came to light that Frank Sinclair, the former Chelsea defender, had also sent the official tumbling in a separate incident while on loan to West Bromwich Albion, earning himself a nine-match suspension. Now this week yet another player has come out of the woodwork to protest that he, too, was the victim of Alcock's poor equilibrium.

Three and a half years ago Wayne Biggins, the former Norwich and Stoke City striker, was adjudged to have knocked Alcock to the ground while playing for Stoke in a match against Southend at Roots Hall, an offence which effectively cost him his career at the Victoria Ground. Biggins was suspended for six weeks - in effect the rest of the season - after which he was released on a free transfer.

Needless to say Biggins, 36, remembers the incident vividly. "Paul Alcock did exactly the same with me as he did with Di Canio and said I assaulted him," said Biggins, who now plays not far from Hillsborough, in the Unibond League, for Stocksbridge Park Steels. "We were 3-2 down at the time when with a few minutes to go I crossed the ball and a Southend player handled it in the area. I appealed for a penalty and when Alcock did not give it I shook his arm and he went down on the floor. He said I shoved him double-handed in the chest. I wish there had been television cameras there because they would have proved that I did not."

Alcock had to have a police escort to the changing-rooms after sending Biggins off in a match Stoke eventually lost 4-2. Biggins was reported to the Football Association under rule 26a - the most serious breach of the rules for an assault on an official - and suffered dearly for his indiscretion.

His manager at the time, Lou Macari, is still supportive of Biggins's view of the incident. "I remember it well and Wayne was very hard done by," he said. "I went to the referee and asked him what was going on afterwards. He was adamant that the player had pushed him but I certainly didn't see it that way."

Of the Di Canio incident, Biggins said: "He should not have done what he did and I think the FA will throw the book at him, but any other referee would have handled the situation in a different way."

QUEEN'S PARK Rangers fans may feel that their club is going down the pan but at least their toilets are rated among the best of the 92 clubs in the Premiership and Nationwide Football League whereas Aston Villa, heirs apparent to the throne, are far from flushed with success in this department. Arsenal, on the other hand, most definitely are. So says the new edition of the Football Fans' Guide (Harper Collins, pounds 9.99), whose Most Awful Toilet in the League Award goes to Darlington. "Yes, Darlo, after years of despair have finally won something," say the book's authors, Janet Williams, Victoria Bennett and James Hilton. "There were no close rivals to this one."

The Most Embarrassing Loo Award went to Macclesfield Town for the toilet door in the female WC "which was out of reach of the sitting occupant and swung open to reveal a view of the entire away terrace." Just the job, eh, when 6,000 Manchester City fans are looking in. Loos apart, the guide also tells fans how to get to grounds, where to park and the general facilities inside and outside stadiums.

SECOND-PLACED Sunderland managed to turn the tables on First Division leaders Huddersfield last weekend when Peter Reid, their manager, came home some seven minutes ahead of his Yorkshire counterpart, Peter Jackson, in the Great North Run. Jackson, a former Newcastle favourite, had been given a hero's send-off when the half-marathon began on Tyneside while Reid received only jeers, but their reception was reversed at the finishing line in South Shields, which is predominantly Sunderland territory. Despite conducting interviews en route, Reid still managed to finish ahead of his rival, in 1hr 47min compared to Jackson's 1hr 54min. Could this be a clue as to how the First Division race will unfold? When Kevin Keegan competed in the Great North Run in 1981, long before he became Wor Kev, he decided not to take any chances on offending anyone and wore a shirt that was half black and white stripes and half red and white stripes.

THE DUKE of Edinburgh is championing the cause of women in football, not that too many people know about it. Yeovil Town's press officer, Greg Tesser, achieved something of a coup by obtaining a response from the Duke to a question and answer which the Football Conference club ran in last Saturday's programme for their reserve match. Asked if there was any reason why a woman should not officiate at the highest level, Prince Phillip replied: "I can see no reason why women should not make equally good referees and umpires." And as for women playing the game, he replied: "Women are also playing rugby and why not? Women have so much more leisure time these days."

As You Were

CRAIG BROWN has a BA, a Diploma in Physical Education and a career as a teacher behind him. Given his cerebral leanings, perhaps it is no surprise his career as a football player - including a short spell with Rangers - was less than illustrious. Brown's life in academic management flourished and he became been a head teacher and then a lecturer, often mixing schoolwork with football, as in the early Eighties when he was both manager of Clyde FC and a lecturer at Craigie College (above). His highest-profile work has been with the Scottish national football sides and his successes greatest with the younger players, guiding the Under- 16 side to the World Youth Cup final in 1989 (they lost on penalties to Saudi Arabia) and the U-21s to third place in the 1992 European Championships. These days (right) Brown draws on his experience as a teacher to coax the best from his players.

The price is right

SWEEPER IS, and always will be, a pat-riot. He wears Union Jack Y-fronts, will never accept the Euro as legal tender and still can't talk about the away win at the Battle Of Hastings in 1066. But, when it comes to betting, value is his nationality. As his impecunious followers will readily attest, Sweeper never falls into the trap of trying to back the winner. England showed in France 98 they can mix it with the best, but, with no Beckham and no Ince, and coming into the game on the back of that dismal effort in Sweden, the Hod squad are no certainties to beat Bulgaria today. The Bulgarians cut no ice in France 98 and, with an experimental line-up, were on the wrong end of a 3-0 thumping by Poland at home recently. But they have restored some veterans to their line-up and are value to get a point. Alan Shearer is back to his best, but Michael Owen has been a peripheral figure for Liverpool of late. Perhaps Hristo Stoichkov - he might deflect one in off his Zimmer frame - is the best value to score first in a 1-1 draw. Channel 4 screen Italy v Switzerland live tonight and Juventus's Filippo Inzaghi can score first in a 2-0 win for the home side.

England v Bulgaria

Result: Draw (pounds 2 at 3-1, Coral & Stanley)

Score: 1-1 (pounds 1 at 7-1, Ladbrokes).

First goal: Hristo Stoichkov (pounds 1 at 10-1, Coral, Ladbrokes & W. Hill).

Italy v Switzerland

Score: 2-0 (pounds 1 at 7-1, Coral, W. Hill, Tote).

First goal: Filippo Inzaghi (pounds 1 at 4-1, Coral & Tote).

ORIGINAL BANK: pounds 100.

CURRENT KITTY: ER...pounds 75.01.

TODAY'S BETS: pounds 6.54 (inc. tax).


Name: Pat Nevin.

Position: Chief executive of Motherwell FC since last month.

Form: Born in Glasgow in 1963 and made his professional debut for Clyde. Played for Chelsea, Everton, Tranmere Rovers and Kilmarnock before moving to Motherwell for a pounds 100,000 fee and buying a five per cent stake in the club (for pounds 125,000). Between 1992 and 1997 he was chairman of the Professional Footballers' Association, and has worked as a journalist and art critic in his spare time. Has been capped 28 times by Scotland.

Big Ideas: As the first chief executive-player in British football, Nevin's job will be a balancing act. The ambitions of his long-time friend and Motherwell owner, John Boyle (who bought the club in the summer), will be paramount in his mind as he tries to build the club's profile. Experiments with ticket price-cutting have already seen gates of over 10,000. The average did not rise above 10,000 even during good times such as 1991, when Motherwell won the Scottish Cup, so maintaining a high core audience would be a major success. Nevin's most delicate task will be balancing his roles as player and chief executive. The situation may be most difficult for the team manager, Harri Kampman, who will have to decide if and when to play one of his employers. The team have not had a good start for the new regime, with their last win being at the end of August. Boyle - who made his money in the travel industry - has said: "The product we supply is football and we have to get that right." It is only one of the things in Nevin's portfolio.


Gail McKenna


Sports presenter on Channel 5

"In Liverpool you support who your dad supports, so I was indoctrinated from a young age. I remember my dad going to European finals in the 70s and seeing him off. With two kids, I have other commitments myself on Saturday afternoons, but I do have tickets for a game in December. This season is looking OK, with the crown jewels up front and Jamie Redknapp in blinding form. I think Liverpool have got the best strip ever. That totally red strip. When they come running out it gives me a buzz. It's not a weak brown or yellow or anything. It's all red and that's Liverpool."


Found on the Web: a printable joke from Portsmouth about Southampton - something of a rarity.

A burglar is stopped by a policeman outside The Dell.

Policeman: "You've just robbed that place haven't you?"

Burglar: "OK, it's a fair cop, I have."

Policeman: "You didn't take any of the cups

did you?"

Burglar: "No officer, I didn't get as far as the canteen."

Seen But Not Bought

THE BRENTFORD range of computer mouse mats is enough to tempt any Bees fan, especially when emblazoned with the club crest and on sale at just pounds 8.50. Whether anyone will be tempted to fork out for a Ron Noades customised mat (now possible, according to the club, because of their "magic touch system" that can put pictures on anything) is less certain. "They'd be pounds 8.50 too," said a spokeswoman. One must ask - why have none been sold?

They're Not all Dennis Bergkamp

Unsung foreign

legionnaires No 9

ALEX MARINKOV: The 30-year-old French left-back is at Scarborough on a one-year contract, having previously spent over a decade in the nether regions of the French league. He started at Alberville, then moved to Anecy (where he gained promotion out of the Third Division), Martigue, Limoges (another promotion from the basement) and Roan L'Tap (where the club experienced two promotions and two relegations). A trial at Scarborough a year ago did not work out but he was given a second chance this summer and is currently - with three goals - the club's second-highest goalscorer. Marinkov (definitely not spelt `Mirankov' as the shy defender found the courage to tell his club only last week), is also now Boro's penalty-taker. "He's good in the air," said a local follower of the game. "He's brilliant, a lovely lad," said a Boro secretary.