When the Premiership's decision must be final

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Manchester United had a case for an extension to the season simply because sending out a team to play four matches in eight days seems no way to decide a Championship that should be about quality rather than quantity. They have less of a case, however, for what followed the Premiership board's rejection of that argument.

The first reaction of the United chairman, Martin Edwards, to the Premiership's standpoint - a valid one, it has to be conceded, that rules cannot be changed mid-competition, and certainly not for one club - was that his club were considering legal action.

Even assuming that the judicial process could move swiftly, when it remains more Bleak House than a house on fire, such a move would surely be counter- productive and ill-advised, with Uefa threatening to ban from European competition any club which invokes the law. It would also be contrary to the spirit of an agreement to which Manchester United are party.

One of the strengths of the Premiership under its departing chief executive, Rick Parry, has been its unity, with previously diverse interests remarkably drawn together. An element that made it possible was the Chairmen's Charter and among its articles was a consent not to rush to law. However, the fact that Parry's replacement, Peter Leaver, is a QC says much about concerns in the game these days.

Football has never looked especially good in court ever since the days when Don Revie sued the Football Association. It tends to be the focus of farce, with judges wondering who this Gazza is ("a popular beat combo I believe, m'lud") and such witnesses as Dennis Wise informing barristers that "it's no good getting the 'ump with me".

Perhaps as much was on Middlesbrough's mind when considering their position after the three-point deduction was upheld recently.

The fact that Boro appear to have resigned themselves to their punishment should act as an example to United. If you sign up to play in a competition, you agree to abide by its rules and decisions, especially when you have had some input in establishing them. Any appeal to the FA is surely also doomed.

Besides which, Alex Ferguson has always liked a cause, something that enables him to set the wagons in a circle and helps him to rouse his charges. This perceived injustice could yet prove a motivating point.

THE Newcastle United right-back, Warren Barton, was allegedly caught urinating in a city sidestreet at 2.30am last Wednesday by police. It is thought that something about a leaking defence was uttered - by whom it is not certain - and, no doubt to Barton's further relief, he was released with a caution.

PLAYERS in the lower divisions interviewed for an academic paper by Craig Gurney, a sociology lecturer at the University of Wales, apparently lamented that the public's view of the game seems to be that all players have too much money, which they then use to excessive bacchanalian effect.

This "Shearerisation" and "Gascoignisation" of the game, Mr Gurney concludes, is a long way from the truth. "Footballers are mundanely like workers in other occupations," he says.

Of course they are; just like all people in jobs that require two hours out in the fresh air four days a week and having thousands of people paying to watch you doing something you dreamed of as a kid (calm down lower- division scousers; we know all about the drawbacks and the community work). Then again, perhaps, they were casting wistful eyes towards Shearer and Gazza. Jealousy can be a terrible thing.

THE Arsenal coach, Arsene Wenger, has advanced an interesting reason for his team's patchy home form compared to their away results, which give them the best record in the Premiership with 29 points from 17 games.

The pitch at Highbury, he says, is among the smallest in the League. Consequently Arsenal's new passing game can be more easily pressed and suppressed, favouring teams with long and high-ball styles. Indeed at 110 yards x 73, Highbury is smaller only than, surprisingly, Leeds and, predictably, Southampton (110 x 72). The largest area, incidentally, is Nottingham Forest's at 116 x 77, closely followed by Manchester United's at 116 x 76. The widest is Everton's at 78 yards.

Wenger may well have a point, even if Liverpool proved an exception a few weeks ago. The team with the best record at Highbury over the last 10 years are Wimbledon, which does not augur well for Chelsea in today's FA Cup semi-final.

Though he never explained nor apologised, it seems that George Graham knew a thing or two. The narrow confines of Elland Road have already braced themselves.

National joke: Rebuild Wembley

A Birthday treat for a seven-year-old last Sunday involved taking him to the Coca-Cola Cup final between Leicester City and Middlesbrough at Wembley. "Been a bad boy then, has he?" a friend asked.

When not privileged to go as a football writer, it is somewhat disturbing to see what has to be endured at the supposed national stadium, despite improvements, certainly at its surrounding stations and approaches.

Inside, however, the views even at pounds 48 a ticket (no concessions for young ones, of course) can be irritatingly restricted. In the crammed-in cheap seats bolted on to the old terracing with its inadequate graduations, people often have to stand to see properly. Most to be pitied, though, were the women in the 20-yard queue for the toilets.

Outside, meanwhile, cars in the multi-storey parking often dangerously delayed the exit flow because they had to reverse to negotiate ramps with corners too tight and narrow. Then comes a ludicrous one-way "traffic management" system that sends you in the opposite direction to where you want to go.

An enjoyable saving grace was the Football League's lively pre-match entertain- ment programme but the sooner everything other than the trademark twin towers is demolished and rebuilt the better.