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16 December 2011 ~

With the Europa League draw imminent, Manchester City will be getting ready to launch their range of EL merchandise. Hurry to snap up the heavily discounted Champions League products – we particularly liked this "Ultimate Stage" T-shirt that commemorates the club's failure to progress beyond the group stage of the competition.

Badge of the week ~ OC Safi, Morocco
One of the more enigmatic badges. There are many interpretations as to what Safi's central image represents. To some it is suggestive of a boll weevil on its back, symbolising the struggle for us all to find our feet in this world. The boll weevil, in particular, is a mysterious figure even among its fellow insects on account of its habit of appearing in non-residential areas of town late at night, apparently in a hurry. Others see here a warning in the shape of an overweight rabbit, representing the state of domesticated crapulence that bedevilled Ancient Rome in its last days before the empire tilted into self-destruction.

The badge is saying: "Train hard, live and work in the Spartan manner, do not descend into the Sodom and Gomorrah of owning six cars and turning up for post-match interviews with expensive headphones dangling from your neck." Some see neither a boll weevil nor a rabbit, but a half-forgotten walnut. Other commentators see the wink of a dark-eyed beauty, daring them to follow her across the street and away from the city, towards the distant, blinking lights of the hill-dwelling Romanies. Incidentally, in tests, these commentators score highest in areas such as "optimism" and "work-life balance". Cameron Carter

from Peter Gaskell
"The manufacturers of the Beard Beanie 'the all-in-one facial hair solution' – are hoping it will take off with football fans. 'Depending which colour combination you go for,' says the press release, 'you could be kitted out in your team colours. A Blackpool FC fan will find it hard to resist the tangerine lumberjack hat with coffee-coloured beard and tache.' Well, I'm a Blackpool fan and I'm resisting it with some force."

What to do when you can't find a picture of the MP for Ochil and South Perthshire at short notice? Mention his namesake in the text and use a photo of him instead.













from James Morgan

"Perusing a Gillingham online forum at work today I was reminded of a little-known fact regarding the all-too-brief football career of Michael Van Wijk (aka Wolf of Gladiatorsfame). In October 1994 he played 73 minutes in a reserve fixture for the Gills against Cambridge United.

One forum contributor suggested that Mr Van Wijk, in keeping with his animalistic moniker and demeanour, had viciously broken the leg of an opposing player. Another suggested that he was innocent of the crime, injuring the player accidentally when the Cambridge player's brittle, insect-like legs clashed with Mr Van Wijk's 'unbelievably large thighs'.

Alas, Sky had elected not to televise this enthralling reserve fixture, so the mystery of Wolf and the broken leg will probably remain unsolved forever. Unless of course Wolf subscribes to the Weekly Howl."

from Justin Marques

"It's tempting to start a match report with some festive references at this time of year. The Times' Neil Harman shows why the temptation should always be resisted."











He can't escape









Getting shirty
Notable kits of yesteryear

Everton home, 1995-97

This shirt worn by Everton between 1995 and 1997, with a slightly darker shade of blue than usual but no features particularly garish or attractive, lingers only briefly in the memory for its aesthetic merits. But it dates from a time when Everton seemed poised to recapture former glories, only to fall back to the mediocrity that plagued the rest of the 1990s.

The kit was introduced shortly after Everton won the FA Cup in 1995, and was paraded that August by Andrei Kanchelskis, a £5 million signing from Manchester United. By the time it was replaced at the end of the 1996-97 campaign Everton had been knocked out of the FA Cup by Bradford City, finished two points off the relegation zone and Kanchelskis had been sold to Fiorentina.

Kanchelskis features prominently in connection with this shirt. Parents cursed when their child wanted the winger's name printed on the back (you had to pay per letter), while supporters celebrated a Kanchelskis double at Anfield that beat Liverpool and were delirious when he netted another brace as Southampton were demolished 7-1. A sixth-place finish in 1995-96 appeared to herald a new era but it took Everton the best part of a decade to reach that point again, inspired by Mikel Arteta. With Arteta now at Arsenal, Everton will hope it doesn’t take them another ten years to trouble the top six. Andrew Tuft

This week in history ~ Division Three, December 18, 1971











Aston Villa made a moderate start to their second season in Division Three, which included home defeats by Mansfield and Rotherham. But they went top early in the new year during a run of 11 wins in 12 games and took the title by five points. Their home game with Bournemouth on February 12 drew the division's biggest ever crowd of 48,110 (a record broken by the Sheffield derby at Hillsborough on Boxing Day 1979). 

Villa's winning goal against Bolton was scored by Scottish full-back Charlie Aitken, who still holds the club's League appearance record of 561 games. One of the other scorers, Ray Graydon, got the only goal in the 1975 League Cup final. Other notable members of the championship squad were centre-back Chris Nicholl, midfielder Bruce Rioch and goalkeeper Jimmy Cumbes, who also played County cricket for Worcestershire among others. 

Division Four champions the previous year, Notts County led the table at Christmas but eight games without a win in the spring damaged their promotion push and they finished fourth. Centre-forward Les Bradd scored two of their goals against Walsall with the third from his striker partner Tony Hateley, father of Mark, who was playing in his last full season. 

Bournemouth were in the top two for most of the season but five draws in their last ten matches proved crucial; they were overhauled by Brighton who clinched the second promotion spot with two games to go. It was only the second season in management for Brighton boss Pat Saward, a former Villa player and coach at Coventry. He was sacked shortly after Brighton's relegation the following season and never managed another League club.

Bournemouth striker Ted Macdougall was the division's joint top sorer with 35 goals – shared with Shrewsbury's Alf Wood – and also got an FA Cup record nine goals in his side's 11-0 first round victory over non-League Margate. Macdougall later had short spells with Man Utd and West Ham before a successful reunion with his former Bournemouth boss John Bond at Norwich. 

Bradford City and Torquay finished joint bottom, four points behind the other relegated clubs, Mansfield and Barnsley. Tranmere were in 22nd place when most clubs had completed their fixtures but they still had three games in hand. They stayed up – albeit only on goal average – thanks to a 2-1 win over Bristol Rovers in the 44th fixture with the decisive goal scored by their player-manager, former Liverpool centre-half Ron Yeats.

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