Sport In a stew: Downing is counting on a Cup win to build confidence

Being known as a "Cup team" is a mixed compliment, implying the ability to raise your game for one-off occasions, but never to sustain it. If Wigan Athletic, FA Cup winners relegated within a week, are newcomers to the genre, West Ham United have been at it rather longer.

Hurst strikes vexed note in oddball show

Mike Rowbottom finds the 1966 World Cup roadshow having some trouble attracting a crowd

Ethelred ready to save England's day

St George's Day came and went last week and the backlog of unslain dragons continues to grow. This applies particularly in sport where he has long neglected his work and the thought is irresistible that if only England hounded their patron saint like they do their managers they might get some results of a more encouraging nature.

diary : Free grog ... Lord Lumberjack ... spot the ball

Ahoy! Today the Captain brings you more exciting news from New Labour, the party for patriots. You may remember a certain lofty derision on the Left at a Tory suggestion that May Day should be replaced as a bank holiday by Trafalgar Day. But that was then. Now, and it warms an old Captain's heart to tell you, Nelson is New Labour. So much so that John Spellar, the shadow defence minister, has demanded to know what plans the Government has for 2005, the bicentenary of Trafalgar. And the scandalous answer: none. Spellar, mindful of "this great historical figure", demands that something be put in train before it is too late. He is open-minded about what. When the Captain puts forward his Big Idea - a free shot of grog for every man, woman and child in the country, he does not entirely rule it out, which no doubt means Mr Tony Blair will be on the blower shortly, telling him off. Meanwhile, in the interests of truth and curiosity, I telephone Labour HQ at Walworth Road to discover what plans the Party has to celebrate May Day this year. And the interesting answer: none. I'm finding it a bit difficult keeping up.

England closer to goal

Ian Ridley says that criticism of Terry Venables is both unfair and unhelpful

Hand over at Waterloo reunites Hurst and ball

Geoff Hurst was reunited yesterday with his hat-trick ball from the 1966 World Cup final. Unless, of course, it wasn't.

World Cup ball bounces back from '66

In a move that would delight every Euro-sceptic, England's World Cup winners of 1966 are asking the Germans: "Can we have our ball back?" With the 30th anniversary of English football's most famous day fast approaching, a frantic search has been launched for the ball with which Geoff Hurst scored a hat-trick when Alf Ramsey's team beat Germany 4-2 in the World Cup final.

Hitch-hiker's guide to the Channel

Getting a lift via Le Shuttle is the easy part. Landing in France is another story. By Simon Calder

TELEVISION 999 (BBC1)

Michael Buerk knows all about rescues; 999 saved his career.

Bruno's flashback to the future

Harry Mullan questions the Briton's belief that he can alter the course of history

Tranmere lead chase for Rush signature

Tranmere Rovers, of the First Division, are preparing to move for the Liverpool striker Ian Rush.

The global village people down at Upton Park

Norman Fox assesses one club's attempts to stay ahead in a game of changing rules

CHRISTMAS radio Trumpton Riots

Trumpton Riots

England move with the times

INTERNATIONAL VERDICT: Venables' vision takes shape n Brown's basic appeal n Republic on the rocks n Wales await new blood

ENGLAND'S CAUSES FOR CONCERN; FOOTBALL

While the country's rugby union team continues to evoke national pride, its cricketers and footballers are still subject to endless speculation. After a topsy-turvy weekend, Independent writers test the temperature of our national games; Glenn Moore says poor technique and defensive confusion led to downfall of Vena bles' team at Wembley

Is Scargill the one to save the British apple? apple farmers

MY FRIEND Ken has been bemoaning the fate of Britain's apple farmers. Six thousand acres of orchards have been grubbed out this year, and the Cox has all but disappeared from southern England.
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Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: Drifting and forgotten - turning lives around for ex-soldiers

Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: Turning lives around for ex-soldiers

Our partner charities help veterans on the brink – and get them back on their feet
Putin’s far-right ambition: Think-tank reveals how Russian President is wooing – and funding – populist parties across Europe to gain influence in the EU

Putin’s far-right ambition

Think-tank reveals how Russian President is wooing – and funding – populist parties across Europe to gain influence in the EU
Tove Jansson's Moominland: What was the inspiration for Finland's most famous family?

Escape to Moominland

What was the inspiration for Finland's most famous family?
Nightclubbing with Richard Young: The story behind his latest book of celebrity photographs

24-Hour party person

Photographer Richard Young has been snapping celebrities at play for 40 years. As his latest book is released, he reveals that it wasn’t all fun and games
Michelle Obama's school dinners: America’s children have a message for the First Lady

A taste for rebellion

US children have started an online protest against Michelle Obama’s drive for healthy school meals by posting photos of their lunches
Colouring books for adults: How the French are going crazy for Crayolas

Colouring books for adults

How the French are going crazy for Crayolas
Jack Thorne's play 'Hope': What would you do as a local politician faced with an impossible choice of cuts?

What would you do as a local politician faced with an impossible choice of cuts?

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Ed Harcourt on Romeo Beckham and life as a court composer at Burberry

Call me Ed Mozart

Paloma Faith, Lana del Ray... Romeo Beckham. Ed Harcourt has proved that he can write for them all. But it took a personal crisis to turn him from indie star to writer-for-hire
10 best stocking fillers for foodies

Festive treats: 10 best stocking fillers for foodies

From boozy milk to wasabi, give the food-lover in your life some extra-special, unusual treats to wake up to on Christmas morning
Phil Hughes head injury: He had one weakness – it has come back to haunt him

Phil Hughes had one weakness – it has come back to haunt him

Prolific opener had world at his feet until Harmison and Flintoff bounced him
'I have an age of attraction that starts as low as four': How do you deal with a paedophile who has never committed a crime?

'I am a paedophile'

Is our approach to sex offenders helping to create more victims?
How bad do you have to be to lose a Home Office contract?

How bad do you have to be to lose a Home Office contract?

Serco given Yarl’s Wood immigration contract despite ‘vast failings’
Green Party on the march in Bristol: From a lost deposit to victory

From a lost deposit to victory

Green Party on the march in Bristol
Putting the grot right into Santa's grotto

Winter blunderlands

Putting the grot into grotto
'It just came to us, why not do it naked?' London's first nude free runner captured in breathtaking images across capital

'It just came to us, why not do it naked?'

London's first nude free runner captured in breathtaking images across capital