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Is Sir a sport? The truth about Paul McCartney and Tom Jones

4 Mar

Can you imagine a young Paul McCartney beetling around the country following his favourite football team? I certainly can’t.

That’s not to say that sport and music don’t mix – just that Mac the Knight seems about as steeped in the beautiful game as old codgers like myself are besotted with rap music.

Yet various websites would have it that Sir Paul is a keen Everton fan.

The reality, however, is not exactly engraved in blue-and-white stone. ‘‘Here’s the deal,’’ the great man explains. ‘’My father was born in Everton, my family are officially Evertonians, so if it comes down to a derby match or an FA Cup final between the two, I would have to support Everton.

“But after a concert at Wembley Arena I got into a bit of a friendship with Kenny Dalglish, who had been to the gig, and I thought ‘You know what? I am just going to support them both because it’s all Liverpool and I don’t have that Catholic-Protestant thing.’

“So I did have to get special dispensation from the Pope to do this but that’s it, too bad. I support them both.

“They are both great teams. But if it comes to the crunch, I’m Evertonian.”

Personally, I would have thought that master musicians of McCartney’s talent would be too driven by their first love to be sidetracked by such trivialities as football. And it’s clear from his comments that Paul is a bit of a sporting fence-sitter, anyway.

At least his explanation sounds marginally more sincere than fellow Beatle Ringo Starr’s assertion that he’s a Liverpool supporter because ”I like the colour red”, which  presumably he also bangs the drum for every red-shirted team from Arsenal to Aberdeen. Well, I love the colour purple but that doesn’t mean I support the team they call the Royals – be it the monarchy or Reading FC.

The only celebrity I actually KNEW before he was famous is another shining knight, Tom Jones (yes, I am that old!). I gave him his first-ever write-ups in the Pontypridd Observer a couple of years before he hit the big-time – in the days where he sang around the South Wales clubs under his stage name of  Tommy Scott.

Tommy Woodward aka Tommy Scott aka Tom Jones

Great Scott: Tom Jones as I remember him

Whilst Tom may have been built like a sportsman, I can assure you he never showed the slightest interest in football, rugby or any other sport. And believe me he definitely was neither gay nor a wimp.

Cardiff City, the nearest professional football club to Pontypridd, were in the old First Division – the equivalent of the Premier League. But although I was a keen Bluebirds fan myself, the only birds Tom was interested in were certainly not blue. Nor had he any time for Spurs, Manchester United Spurs or any of the other big-name teams of that era.

The sporting fraternity sometimes wheels the great man out onto the green, green grass of home to sing at the occasional Wales rugby international and what have you. But while the old Jones heart may still beat for his homeland, I doubt that Sir Tom’s head really cares about match results, whatever the shape of the ball.

Having said that, many celebrities are completely smitten by sport – and particularly football. Some to the point that their names are synonymous with their favourites – for example the oasis of Gallaghers at Manchester City and Mick Hucknell’s simply-red love affair with Manchester United.

Others, I am convinced, just attach themselves to the mast of the big-name clubs for effect. Teams like Manchester United and Arsenal, for example, have such large fan bases that showing token support for them might just persuade a few extra fans to buy their CDs and albums.

Conversely, when I was young (and there aren’t many people alive who remember that!), major pop stars  were rarely linked with sports teams. Presumably with professional footballers no better off financially than miners or postmen, there was no glamour spin-off for the marketing people.

Indeed, I can’t remember Elvis Presley, the biggest name in music during that era, having any particular sporting allegiance. And the only British top-tenner I recall with strong football ties was Gerry Marsden of Gerry and the Pacemakers fame.

Until he came on the scene, if you weren’t a fan of Hollywood musicals, the song You’ll Never Walk Alone would have meant nothing to you.to the vast majority of people.

Now Marsden’s name is likely to live as long in the Anfield memory as those of Bill Shankly and Dalglish.

And thereby hangs a tale – because some sources insist that until Liverpool fans adopted his 1963 smash hit as their club anthem, Gerry was in fact an Evertonian.

Perhaps it’s time he had a chat with Macca and Ringo.

Tevez, Rio and Benayoun: The ugly truth about top footballers

28 Feb

Men who take their football seriously are strongly advised to read no further. Likewise all those male chauvinists who feel women have no right to comment on sport.

Hopefully the only fans left are those who, like me, prefer the game to be a bit of fun as well as a great adrenalin kick at weekends or whenever your team is in action.

Anyway, I’ve just been having a giggle at players’ looks (or occasional lack of them) rather than their onfield skills (or usual lack of them). And I’ve come up with two teams – the Donna Uglies and the Donna Dreamboats.

My sincere apologies to the Uglies – I know only too well that you can’t help the way you look and that, unlike us girls, don’t have the benefit of being able to wear makeup to hide the hideous bits. (Well, not unless you want to get kicked all around the dressing room and branded a fairy).

But I do question why men blessed with masses of money but few natural attributes other than twinkling feet don’t invest a few thousand in improving their appearance.

Carlos Tevez and Ronaldinho, for example – they took years to find a good dentist and I’m not sure whether the Brazilian has got it right even now. Perhaps he should ask Nottingham Forest striker Robert Earnshaw, who looked like a modern-day Bugs Bunny until he had his gnashers seen to a couple of seasons ago. Either that or the Wales hitman found a miracle cure for unattractiveness.

Carlos Tevez

Poor Rio Ferdinand doesn’t so much need a tooth job – even a ton of collagen couldn’t help the lipless one.

Not that the Manchester United captain is bothered, I’m sure. He could probably bed half the women in the city should he wish to – though I suspect the vast majority would have their eyes tightly shut throughout the ordeal.

Before you start telling me I’m no oil painting myself, I’d like to put you right on that one because a young guy told me last week ‘‘Your looks grate.’’ As he’s a Geordie I took that as a compliment.

As for footballers taking stick about their looks, well, not all of them can look like former Spurs and Newcastle pin-up boy David Ginola. But at least they can hide their deficiencies by plastering £100 notes all over their faces. Anyway, this is my squad for the Ugly XI , based on players who have featured in European football over the last 20 years.

Fabien Barthez (was he Donald Pleasance reincarnated?), Gary Neville, Rio Ferdinand, Anton Ferdinand, Carlton Palmer, Yossi Benayoun, Ronaldinho, Ivan Campo, Peter Beardsley, Jason Koumas, Iain Dowie and Franck Ribery. The chairman would be Eggert ‘The Vulkan’ Magnusson (former owner of West Ham) and the manager Harry Redknapp.

Yossi Benayoun: Not a pretty boy

Harry’s no oil painting for sure but he must have the world’s most beautiful wife. Otherwise how did his son Jamie get his good looks? Now for the best-looking team (are you reading, girls?).

I apologise for most of them being forwards, but my Dreamboat lineup would be Kasper Schmeichel (or David James if you fancy someone more experienced), Warren Barton, David Beckham, Gary Speed, Kaka, Cristiano Ronaldo, Eidur Gudjohnsen, Michael Owen, Fernando Torres, Harry Kewell and David Ginola. Oh, and the manager has to be a special one, namely Jose Mourinho.

As for the chairman, are there any good-looking ones? So as a lifelong Cardiff City fan I’ll go for the Bluebirds’ Malaysian chief Dato Chan Tien Ghee. He’s not good looking – but he might just give me some complimentary tickets!

So there you have it, a team of Uglies against a team of Dreamboats (even if the good lookers would have no chance of beating anyone with only one specialist defender in Barton).

So much for the important stuff. Now I’ll get back to cooking the roast…

Brit-grit Blues show where England should be looking

27 Feb

I used to hate Birmingham City when they were owned by the seedy David Sullivan. But their Carling Cup Final victory over Arsenal had me cheering.

That’s because Alex McLeish’s glory boys proved at Wembley that British footballers can compete with the best in the business. And also that Premier League clubs do NOT need to spend a fortune on continental imports rather than buy the finest young talent from England’s lower divisions.

Anyway as a lifelong footy fan, I thought the Blues fully deserved their victory, even if I could have scored Obafemi Martins’ winning goal myself. I said could have, not would have! To me it was a special occasion when the British bulldog spirit conquered supposedly one of the best club teams in the world.

The experts predicted an easy win for Arsenal – and instead saw them sunk by a Churchillian effort from the boys from the Midlands

Wembley war was won by the true grit of a Birmingham team whose starting line-up included EIGHT players from the UK and Ireland. And that is rare indeed for a Premier League team, the majority of which are packed with megabucks signings from overseas.

Please don’t label me a racist, because that is the last thing I am. But while I love the way Arsenal play – indeed I think they are the best side in the Premier League – they are not an English team.

They are a World XI that just happen to be based in London. Sometimes Arsene Wenger’s team take the field without a single Brit but on Sunday the Frenchman’s World XI did at least have Jack Wilshere in the line-up. (OK, I accept that if Theo Walcott had not been injured, there may have been two Englishmen in the side).

I believe England’s flop in last year’s World Cup was largely due to the fact so few homegrown players feature in the top club sides. And I am convinced things would improve if Premier League bosses stopped buying abroad and started investing in the Championship – the second tier of the English game – which is packed with talented youngsters.

Birmingham centre-back Roger Johnson, one of Sunday’s bruised and battered Carling Cup heroes, is an example of what I mean.

Not because he was my hero before my beloved Cardiff City sold him for £5million a couple of years ago – and not because of the 6ft 3in defender’s special courage in the face of giant odds at Wembley.

Unable to train all week, he hobbled defiantly through the last half-hour after taking a knock that would have seen many lesser players carried off. The fact is that Johnson turned in consistently brilliant performances for Cardiff week after week – yet until Birmingham came in for him, he might as well have been playing on the moon.

Not that we Bluebirds fans were complaining at the lack of interest, of course. While the big boys were looking abroad to strengthen their defences, Roger was lifting us towards the Premier League.

Now, after less than two seasons strutting his stuff at St Andrews, he is probably rated at £20m and being touted as a future England centre-back. What I want to know is why was Johnson not poached by any of the Premier League giants much earlier when he was turning in consistently brilliant performances week after week for Cardiff?

Ironically, a few months before Roger’s move to Birmingham, Wenger had forked out £5m himself for Cardiff teenager Aaron Ramsey. Yet the names of the players that have since moved in at the Emirates continue to be as unspellable as ever. At least Arsenal’s sorry losers still have something to celebrate after their Carling Cup misery.

European Union law is apparently standing in the way of the desire by FIFA President Sepp Blatter and his UEFA counterpart Michel Platini to impose limits on the number of foreign players in a team.

Perhaps the solution would be a friendly agreement between the Football Association and Premier League clubs to field no more than five or maybe six overseas players in the team at any given time.

But I’m a woman. What do I know about football?

Six areas where sports writers go wrong – the inside story

19 Feb

Having edited the work of leading British sports writers for more years than I care to remember, I can tell you that their articles are not always as well-written as you might think.

That is because, certainly in the tabloid world, the readability of a newspaper article is often down to a sub-editor’s fine-tuning rather than the author’s literary gifts.

In my early days as a Daily Express sub, we had a football reporter on the staff who regularly came up with great exclusives. But although he’d type up the news as an ‘article’, it was usually little more than a clumsily-written fact sheet.

Nobody cared, though, because the only thing that mattered was the story itself – and turning it into a back-page lead was usually a routine job for an experienced sub-editor.

In more recent times, one or two of Fleet Street’s top sports hacks had a reputation in the business for churning out pure gibberish rather than acceptable copy. And whilst I am not going to name the paper or writer concerned, I had the misfortune to be saddled on several occasions with subbing the investigative reports of one of the best known drivellers.

All I can say is that reading the final flowing version of his ramblings in the following morning’s edition was for me just about the ultimate in job satisfaction. Even if I still wasn’t sure what it was all about!

Sub-editors are what I call ‘desk reporters’ – journalists who work in an office environment editing and honing the work of those out in the field (or in the press boxes, to be more accurate).

Almost without exception, the subs have spent lots of time out there reporting before moving on into the sub-editing arena. It is rare indeed for someone to START his or her journalistic life as a sub-editor.

More often than not, the changeover is a conscious decision by writers with particularly high grammatical skills and a desire to work office hours rather than be farmed out on stories at all hours, day and night.

So what advice can I give to embryo sports journalists? What is the perception of someone who has been there and done it all towards the errors made by young writers developing their skills out in the big wide sporting world? Where do the reporters go wrong?

1/ Not checking the facts: Many writers just churn out copy off top of their heads and THINK they remember accurately. In the old days, reporters used reference books – it is so easy these days to carry out a quick internet search to establish the facts, but how many people actually bother to do it.

2/ Over-estimating the reader: Another common error is for the writer to assume readers know more than they actually do. I have edited match reports where the reporter hasn’t even included the score! So always think when you are writing whether you are providing everything the average reader would want to know.

3/ Spelling: This is usually the big difference between a reporter and a sub. With the sort of back-up subs provide, it doesn’t usually matter too much if a reporter can’t spell too well, as long as he or she is not completely dyslexic, of course! However, a sub who can’t spell would be as useful as a lifeguard who can’t swim. So if God hasn’t given you the gift of being able to spell (and word recognition IS a gift, not something that can really be learnt), then forget about ever becoming a sub-editor.

4/ Grammatical errors: Most people are aware that the infinitive and the verb should never be split, but how many people use expressions like ‘to brilliantly save from…’ or ‘to angrily remonstrate with the referee’? Those variances with correct grammar don’t really matter because few people realise it should be ‘to save brilliantly from’ or ‘to remonstrate angrily’. However, some expressions do grate – for instance, I find the phrase ‘‘in the back of the net’’ ludicrous. I mean, if the ball is in the back of the net, where is the FRONT of the net? The ball is in the net, end of story.

5/ Getting too technical: You’ll often find people writing about a football match as if it’s a game of chess – presumably to convey the impression they understand its complexities as well as those who coach and play at the highest level. Basically, football is a very simple exercise, though from reading what some of the so-called expert journalists churn out, you’d think it was rocket science.

6/ Amateur experts: Following on from the previous point, some writers think they know more than the REAL experts – namely the managers and the players. A writer is in a privileged position but if he has never played the game, is he REALLY qualified to slag off players for making mistakes? You can make an argument for saying ‘yes, anyone is qualified to criticise’, but it’s a debatable one. This is presumably why the TV channels use former professionals almost exclusively as their critics and summarisers – be it for football, rugby, cricket, tennis or whatever.

The above article, part of which I wrote during my time as managing editor of the Sportingo.com website, embraces my thoughts after 35 years of reporting, editing and headlining hundreds of sports stories for newspapers like the Daily Mirror, Daily Express, The Sun, Daily Star, Sunday People and News of the World. I just hope it helps the next generation of sports writers in some small way…

TEN scrummy rugby tales that prove sport can be a real laugh

13 Jan

During  more than three decades in Fleet Street, I heard more 0ffbeat tales about sports celebrities than I care to remember – many of them first-hand from colleagues who witnessed the event. These 10 anecdotes are just a few  of the funnies I picked up from rugby players and journalists  (both union and league). And whilst I suspect one or two of the anecdotes  may be apocryphal, does it really matter as long as they tickle the laughter buds?

DON’T CALL US: During their 1978 tour of Australia, the great Welsh team of that era tried all sorts of devious methods to get freebie phone calls through to their wives and loved ones back home. The players resorted to tricks like asking restaurant proprietors if they could use the phone – and then calling the other side of the world when the proprietor thought they were ringing a local number. Prop forward Charlie Faulkner – a not-so-bright member of the legendary Pontypool front row – opted for a different tactic at the reception that followed the first Test match in Brisbane. He picked up the house phone, got through to the hotel switchboard and barked out his home number in

Charlie Faulkner got his lines crossed

Newport. ‘’To whom do I charge the call?’’ asked the operator. ‘’Err…Mr Dawes. John Dawes,’’ mumbled Charlie, figuring he could get the tour coach to pick up the tab. ‘’Please remain by the phone for a moment, Mr Dawes, and I’ll call you back,’’ came the reply. Charlie replaced the receiver and got back to the business of drowning his sorrows after a rare defeat. By the time the call came through a few minutes later, he was in another world. ‘’Ullo,’’ said Charlie. ‘’I have a call to South Wales for Mr John Dawes,’’ confirmed the operator. Charlie took a quick look around. ‘’He’s not here,’’ he barked – and hung up.

GUMETH THE HOUR: Cliff Morgan, the rugby maestro who later became a commentator and eventually head of BBC TV sport, vividly recalls his first broadcasting experience. Wales had just beaten Ireland 14-3 in Dublin on their way to the Triple Crown and Grand Slam when BBC radio commentator Sammy Walker asked the great man what he remembered about the match. ‘’My father losing his teeth,’’ said Cliff. ‘’When Ken Jones scored our second try, dad was so excited that his dentures flew out of his mouth into the crowd and he hasn’t seen them since.’’ Some years later, Morgan was recounting the tale to Tony O’Reilly, who played 29 times for his country before becoming a mega-rich international businessman and head of the Heinz empire. O’Reilly, who was renowned for his great wit, feigned surprise at the news. ‘’Your father’s, were they?’’ he said. ‘’That’s amazing. I know the guy in Cork who’s still wearing them.’’ On another occasion, O’Reilly had to make a brief trip to a Dublin hospital after being involved in a minor traffic accident. With medical treatment in Ireland charged on a sliding scale according to income, the nurse who was filling in the details on his behalf asked: ‘’Mr O’Reilly, do you earn more than 10,000 punts (pounds)?’’ Quipped Tony: ‘’Now that depends on whether you are talking about the hour or the day.’’

HEADS WE WIN: Wales coach Clive Rowlands was giving his customary pre-match talk before an all-important international at Cardiff Arms Park. As usual, the players were locked into Room 338 at the nearby Angel Hotel – and the emotive Rowlands was pounding them with reasons why they had to grind the opposition into the dust. By the time he had finished working on their emotions, the wound-up stars were ready to die for their country – literally. ‘’What are you going to do?’’ Rowlands bellowed as the electric atmosphere reached fever pitch. ‘’WIN!’’ yelled the players. ‘’What are we going to do?’’ echoed Clive. ‘’Win, win …WIN!’’ It was all too much for second-row forward Geoff Wheel. The big man from Swansea worked himself into a frenzy and, screaming ‘’Kill, KILL!‘’, he charged at the door to Room 338 – and butted a hole clean through it.

A FATE WORSE THAN BREATH: After four years in the England team, veteran prop Paul Rendall had seen it all. So it was only natural he should want to put new boy Paul Ackford’s mind at ease as they prepared to face Australia at Twickenham. ’’Don’t worry,’’ Rendall assured police inspector Ackford in the changing room before the match. ’’The game will fly by. You’ll find the first half seems like three minutes and the second half four minutes.’’ England went on to produce a dazzling performance and were within five minutes of a memorable victory when Ackford staggered up to Rendall during an injury stoppage. ‘’You’re a f***ing liar!’’ gasped the 6ft 6in second row. ‘’I’ve been out here for four-and-a-half hours and the game’s still not over.‘’

LATE MOMENTS IN SPORT: The British Lions were given a fearful runaround by the Orange Free State outside half during a particularly traumatic 1980 tour match. In the end, Lions centre Ray Gravell could stand no more. As the South African danger man made yet another break, the Welsh tough guy hit him with a fearful tackle long after he had parted with the ball. The referee angrily called the Llanelli star over and proceeded to dish out the severest of reprimands. ‘’That was the latest tackle I’ve ever seen!’’ he stormed. Replied wisecracking Gravell: ‘’Sorry ref, I got there as quickly as I could.’’

STICKY WAGER: It certainly wasn’t the weather that took York Rugby League coach Bill Reilly and Aussie scout Arthur Clues to Batley. The Mount Pleasant ground was anything but pleasant as the wind howled, the rain sheeted down – and the teams made a forlorn attempt to play rugby in a mudbath. With scarcely a minute left to play, neither side had scored a single point. Then Batley, playing up the hill and into the gale, won a penalty way out on the touchline. As their fullback lined up an ambitious pot at goal, Yorkshireman Reilly turned to Clues and wagered: ‘’I bet you a dollar he kicks it.’’ ‘’You’re on,’’ replied Clues. The kicker squelched through his run-up, only to slip in the quagmire at the moment of contact – and the ball trickled just a few inches forward as he plunged onto his back in the mud. ‘’I told you he’d kick it,’’ said Reilly, holding out his hand for his winnings.

ARMS AND THE MAN: There was no question of injured Tommy Martin making his own way off the field. The Leigh and Great Britain second row needed a stretcher after taking a bad knock on his ankle – but the one and only St John Ambulance stretcher was already occupied by another player. As Martin lay writhing on the ground and the fans bayed for the action to restart, desperate officials grabbed an office chair from the clubhouse and dashed on to the pitch with it. Martin was lifted gingerly into the seat, and with one embarrassed committee man either side, the chair was hoisted into the air by its arms. With the crowd roaring their approval, Martin was steered tentatively towards the dressing room . Five seconds later, there was a huge crack and the committee men were left holding a chair arm each as the seat and legs tipped Martin out – straight onto his damaged ankle.

GRIN AT THE DEEP END: To celebrate Leigh’s feat in avoiding relegation, coach Tom Grainey took his strugglers on holiday to Majorca. Some months later, his assistant Colin Clarke was reflecting on the break in the changing room at Hilton Park. ‘’Remember it, lads?’’ he mused. ‘’All that sun and San Miguel…and old Grainey up on the top diving board doing a double somersault with pike?’’ With that, prop forward Derek Pyke chirped up: ‘’Hey, it weren’t me. I were out on a training run.’’

WIGAN’S BIG ‘UN: The groupie girl outside Wigan’s Riverside Club eyed up the town’s new Rugby League hero – and liked what she saw. ‘’Hiya, big boy,’’ she said to burly South African Nick Du Toit, her eyes settling on the most personal part of the 6ft 3in forward’s anatomy. ‘’Tell me, are you built in proportion all over?’’ ‘’Listen, lady,’’ replied Du Toit in his clipped Afrikaans tones. ‘’If I was built in proportion, I’d be 12 foot ten!’’

AN ED FULL OF NOTHING: Tough-guy Eddie Szymala was in the wars again. And after the beefy but intellectually-challenged Barrow forward broke his jaw in a match against Oldham, coach Frank Foster was quick to pay tribute to the wounded hero. ‘’Eddie doesn’t know the meaning of the word fear,’’ Foster told the assembled press. ‘’Mind you, there are a million other words he doesn’t know the meaning of, either.’’

From Liverpool to Leeds: Ten hilarious football tales

3 Jan

During my 30-plus  years working for national newspapers in the UK, I heard more 0ffbeat tales about sports celebrities than I care to remember – many of them first-hand from colleagues who were there at the time. You’ll find links to a whole series of anecdotes on the Home Page of  this website – but here are a few tasters to get your laughter buds baying for more. And yes, I do suspect one or two of the stories may be apocryphal. But who cares as long as they make people smile…

LATE NIGHT EXTRA: Legendary Liverpool manager Bill Shankly was fuming on the night several of his superstars arrived back at their Belgian hotel 45 minutes later than the boss. ”Where do you lot think you’ve been?’’ blazed Shanks as international quartet Ron Yeats, Ian St John, Roger Hunt and Ian Callaghan returned from a drinking session well after the boss’s midnight curfew. ”That’s it!’’ he ranted at Yeats, St John and Hunt. ”You’ll never play for Liverpool again – and you can forget about international football as well. You’re finished!.’’ Then, turning to his blue-eyed boy Callaghan, he added: ”And I’m going to tell your missus about you.”

DON’T CRY FOR LEE: Manager Gordon Lee wanted a word with his Newcastle chairman Stan Seymour. He marched into the club chief’s office, only to be told by a secretary: ‘’Mr Seymour is not available. He’s gone to see Evita.’’ Lee retorted: ‘’I don’t think so. He wouldn’t go and watch a foreign player without telling me first.’’ When Lee moved on to manage Everton, the Merseyside media soon discovered his geographical knowledge matched his familiarity with Andrew Lloyd Webber musicals. After a dismal showing in a home Cup Winners’ Cup leg against Standard Liege, defiant Gordon looked ahead to the return in Belgium and rapped: ‘’Just wait until we get them in Standard!’’

EMMY AWARD: Hard-man Tommy Smith had two pet hates in football – Leeds United’s Allan Clarke and his own skipper at Liverpool, Emlyn Hughes. And not necessarily in that order. When Hughes clashed with Clarke in a goalmouth melee and old squeaky voice Emlyn found himself on the deck with blood pouring from his nose, Smithy showed himself in his true colours. ”Maybe that Clarke’s not such a bad bloke after all,” muttered Tom the compassionate.

CROTCH OF THE DAY:
With manager Jock Stein in hospital, Celtic No.2 Sean Fallon was dealing with press enquiries at Parkhead. When one reporter phoned to enquire about an injury to Scotland full-back Danny McGrain, Irishman Fallon admitted: ‘’I don’t think he’ll make Saturday’s game. He’s suffering from a Grain stroin.’’

GENTLE-MAN JIM: It threatened to be a bloody battle. Spurs and Burnley had fought out a particularly vicious FA Cup stalemate – and the replay promised to be even more physical. The teams were kicking in before the game when Jimmy Greaves, who was never noted for his ball-winning ability, approached his equally timid-tackling opposite number Jimmy McIlroy. ‘’Hey Jim, why don’t we mark each other?,’’ said goal-king Greavsie. ‘’Then neither of us will get hurt.’’

TOM AND JURY: Tommy Docherty was always the first person to poke fun at himself – as with his version of the

Tommy Docherty: Success as a failure

infamous court case in which he was accused of perjury – and acquitted. ‘’I admitted to the judge I’d lied on oath, but he didn’t believe me,’’  is one of the one-time Manchester United boss’s classic quips. Tongue-in-cheek Tom is also particularly proud of his dubious achievement as manager of Rotherham United. ‘‘I promised the chairman I’d get them out of the Second Division (now the Championship) and I did,’’ he recalls. ‘’I took them into the Third.’’

EIRE RAID WARNING: League of Ireland champions Shamrock Rovers were convinced they had the answer to mighty Honved of Hungary in the European Cup, The lads from Dublin trailed 2-0 from the away leg, but on the eve of the return manager Jim McLaughlin unveiled a unique plan for beating the magnificent Magyars. ‘’We’ll be concentrating on all-out attack…mixed with caution,’’ he insisted. No prizes for guessing who won the tie 5-1 on aggregate.

BETTER BY CALF: England legend Nat Lofthouse reckons he was frightened of his own Bolton teammates in his playing days. Well, two of them anyway. Full-backs Roy Hartle and Tommy Banks had such a fearsome reputation that striker Lofthouse maintained: ‘’When they were playing behind me I used to put shin guards on the back of my calves.’’

THE BALD TRUTH: Rival Midlands bosses Ron Atkinson and Jim Smith decided to travel together to a dinner they were both attending. Their teams had been having mixed fortunes, with Atkinson’s West Brom near the top of the old First Division (the Premier League’s predecessor) and Smith’s Birmingham seemingly heading for relegation. They pulled their vehicle into a multi-storey car park near the function venue, left it on the top deck, and got into the lift. Big Ron turned to the Bald Eagle and quipped: ‘’You’d better press the button because it’s you who’s going down.’’

NO WAY TO TREAT A LADY: Peter Withe’s whip-round was apparently for the driver taking the Aston Villa players to their pre-season friendly in Dusseldorf. But the man behind the steering wheel didn’t get a pfennig. Withe invested the money in an inflatable rubber sex doll, which was duly named Doris and went on to become part of Villa folklore. The obliging lady was adorned with the number 12 on her back – and the name of newlywed Colin Gibson’s wife across her torso. She was then left in a suitably compromising position in Gibson’s room at the team hotel. Gibbo was not amused – and poor Doris proved no match for him or the pair of scissors with which he cut her to shreds.

FOR MORE OF DONNA’S SPORTING ANECDOTES, CLICK ON THE SPORTS FUNNIES LINKS ON THE RIGHT OF THIS PAGE.