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21 January 2011 ~

There has been a general media perception that Darren Bent is taking a step down by leaving sixth-placed Sunderland for relegation-battling Aston Villa. But that's not the view of Sky Sports News as presenter Charlie Webster asked: "Well, won't it be interesting to see how Bent adjusts to life in the Premier League?"

Badge of the week ~ Espérance Sportive de Tunis, Tunisia
Now, this badge displays the kind of citizen that former Tunisian president Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali presumably believed lived in his country. A cheery, placid young fellow, with no more thought of political dissent in his curly-mopped head than a badger might contemplate taking a taxi to the next field. Eager to Please is written all over his youthful face as he looks up towards his political leaders (out of picture), awaiting his next instruction. Unfortunately, after years of zero tolerance for any kind of oppositional protest or criticism of his regime, Ben Ali has found that there are among his population people with sterner countenances and less wavy hair who wish to be employed and also be permitted a little more freedom of expression.

This element, who likely do not dress in as colourful clothes as the pictured boy, has taken the country by surprise by marching around in large numbers and being rather uncivil. Some of them even went so far as to provoke their police into shooting them, simply by swarming around the place looking menacing. Perhaps, right now in a lonely hotel room, Ben Ali is wondering what became of the little stripy-topped smiley boy – at what point did he drop the plastic football and pick up a rock? Cameron Carter

from Nick Dunmore

"It's been over a year since the florid match reports on Dulwich Hamlet's website were mentioned in the Howl but the account of a recent win at Whitstable deserves to reach a wider audience."

Getting shirty Notable kits of yesteryear

Newcastle United home, 1990-93
The period when this shirt was worn coincided with a frightening decline on the pitch, culminating in Newcastle's worst-ever finish – 20th in the second tier in 1992. Ossie Ardiles' commitment to a combination of passing football and blooding youngsters came closer to casting the club into the abyss than any financial, managerial or other off-field turmoil ever has. To truly appreciate a high one must first have hit bottom, and the semi-miraculous survival that season under Kevin Keegan began the turnaround which continued with winning the second tier the next season, the final year for this shirt, and was later sustained all the way into the Champions League.

The shirt itself was a break from tradition with its asymmetric-width stripes and was initially unpopular. The manufacturers, Umbro, had experimented less obviously with previous shirts, the stripes having become marginally narrower over time. This was the only time in which the "barcodes" nickname used by fans of other clubs was an accurate description of the club colours.

Its contract up, Umbro allowed the next season's strip provided by Asics to be worn in the final game of the 1992-93 season. The Asics shirt, with its return to classic equal-width stripes, went on to become perhaps the most popular ever among fans as Newcastle established themselves in the still-young Premier League and football itself entrenched its new-found popularity. Mark Brophy

from David Leverton
"Apparently Jeff Stelling is known to routinely refer to Keith FC in the singular on Soccer Saturday, as if it's just one bloke. He's wrong – it's two."

from Ben Perry
"The latest issue of WSC mentions Mansfield Town FC and the ongoing legal battle between controversial former owner and landlord Keith Haslam, and current club owner John Radford. Imagine Mansfield fans' surprise when they discovered Keith Haslam, who you thought would want to keep a low profile, was a regular tweeter under the alias 'CalverCowboy'. Maybe Radford should follow CalverCowboy to help with negotiations and see where the rent for the ground Mr Haslam receives is being spent; mainly Asda it seems."

from Richard Sillett
"Having summed up sometime Torquay United chairman Chris Roberts's life and career to date, the last paragraph of his Wikipedia page runs:

Suddenly the article becomes a postmodern nightmare of self-referentiality and subjective discourse. Who is the real Chris Roberts? Can we as others identify him with just his own self-imagining to go by? Is his own self-edition the fiction of a malevolent third party? With Torquay now drawn against Crawley in the fourth round of the FA Cup I only expect these issues to become more pressing."

Stickipedia A mine of information constructed from sticker cards

Queens Park Rangers
FKS Euro Soccer 1975-76
Neil Warnock's current side may be the most popular at Loftus Road since the mid-1970s when by common consent, Rangers played the best football in the country. Dave's Showmen Storm In was the Sunday Express's backpage headline on the opening day of the 1975-76 season. The Dave in question was QPR manager Dave Sexton, whose stylish side had just defeated title favourites Liverpool 2-0. Their first goal, by Gerry Francis, went on to be voted the BBC's Goal of the Season.

The two teams were to contest the League championship. QPR were top of the table after completing their fixtures but Liverpool, a point behind, still had one match to play, at Wolves. The home side, needing to win to stay up, took the lead but Liverpool scored three times in the last 15 minutes to take the title. QPR made an impact in Europe the following season, losing on penalties to AEK Athens in the UEFA Cup quarter-finals, but the team declined quickly when Sexton left for Man Utd in 1977 and they went down two years later.

Sexton's side contained six players who were capped by England: goalkeeper Phil Parkes, full-backs Ian Gillard and Dave Clement, Gerry Francis and Stan Bowles in midfield, and winger Dave Thomas. Frank McLintock, the former captain of Arsenal's 1970-71 Double-winners, was a Scottish international as was midfielder Don Masson, while striker Don Givens played for the Republic of Ireland. The key players were Francis – who captained England before a back injury derailed his career – and the flamboyant Bowles, who ranks alongside 1960s hero Rodney Marsh as Rangers fans' favourite ever player. Bowles later revealed that QPR's failure to win the League had cost him the then huge sum of £6,000 at the bookmakers.

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