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5 March 2010 ~

The Premier League clubs have rejected the idea of a play-off for the fourth Champions League place. The result was 11-9 against, with 14 votes required for it to be accepted. The Big Four clearly voted in their own interest, but the clubs who joined them might even have been demonstrating some common sense. You can guess who was in favour, however. "There was a feeling in the room," said David Gold, "that a play-off could make the league more exciting. But the Premier League is the most exciting league that the world has ever known, and no one is looking to damage that." So if West Ham continue to struggle this season, expect to hear the Premier League 2 idea revived by one keen club owner in east London.

Badge of the week
Many find the meaning of Interblock Ljubljana's badge opaque, but close scrutiny of the five figures in this image is rewarding. Beginning at the top, in the 12 o'clock position, the figure here is bowling a leg-break in a round-armed fashion. This may be called a no-ball and is sending the message to the opposition that Ljubljana are a patient, cerebral side with a questionable action. Rule-breakers, firestarters. In the second picture, travelling clockwise, the figure is clearly checking his shoe for traces of dog turd, alerting the opposition to the fact that this lot are house-proud while effortlessly retaining their masculinity. It also says that these are an outdoorsy type of people. The next image, in the five o'clock position, shows the figure in mid-Charleston, swinging the arms and legs and kicking up a storm. This speaks of the need for all of us to let go occasionally and dance in a loose-limbed fashion like a jazz-era flapper. The following image has our man impersonating Atlas, the primordial Titan who held the very world up with his hands. In Slovenia, impersonating ancient deities is a more common leisure pursuit than in other countries. In the fifth and final image, the figure is poking his head round the door to ask if anyone would like a cup of tea. Because, for all their strengths, this club is a hospitable one and likes to make people feel at home. Cameron Carter

from Damien Blake
"After Mark Thompson's proposed spending cuts at the BBC, I have a money-saving suggestion for the corporation. It was recently revealed that Alan Shearer's limo from his home in Newcastle to London and back costs the BBC £580 a week, while Alan Hansen's trip from the north-west is a further £470, though he apparently sometimes shares with Lawro. A BBC spokesman defended these payments by saying 'We want the best pundits in the business and they don't all live in Shepherd's Bush'. But they haven't got the best pundits, they've got Alan, Alan and Mark. Three random people from Shepherd's Bush would provide more insight and they'd surely do it for the price of a couple of BLT baps and a frappuccino."

Getting shirty
Notable kits of yesteryear

River Plate home, 1995-96
River Plate's shirt is one of the most recognisable in club football, but there's never been a lot of variety in its layout. Popular myth has it that two of River's early players, deciding their plain white kit needed livening up a bit, stole a bunch of red bunting from a market stall in Buenos Aires and encouraged their team mates to tie it over a shoulder. A couple of matches later, the red had been sewn permanently on to the shirts.

This model is leant its magic by Enzo Francescoli. Best known in Europe for being a young Zinedine Zidane's idol thanks to his time at Marseille (France's favourite Algerian even named his son Enzo), the Uruguayan forward is revered by River fans as the man who lifted the club's long-awaited second Copa Libertadores. And he did it in this shirt, in 1996 – a decade after missing their first victory in the competition having moved to France before the first leg of the 1986 final.

The badge is altogether more sharp-edged, shiny and less characterful today – in 1986 there was no badge, only a bizarre picture of a lion sitting in a tiny stadium. The sponsor has changed too, from Quilmes, Argentina's best-selling lager, which claims to be made in the world's largest brewery, to Petrobras, a Brazilian petroleum company. But the real difference, River fans will feel, is in the calibre of player wearing the shirt. River aren't in the Copa Libertadores this year. Francescoli's achievements are a distant memory. At least – badges aside – the club's design department are consistent. Sam Kelly

Buy this shirt and hundreds of others at Classic Football Shirts

from James Potter
"Last week's Howl featured a match report referring to Clark Carlisle's appearance on Countdown. The programme got several more mentions after his inept performance in Burnley's subsequent home defeat by Portsmouth, notably by the Observer's Tim Rich: 'Carlisle played with the uncertainty of man unsure whether to choose a vowel or a consonant.' But it's Rich's introduction to his report that I'd like to draw attention to: 'HMS Hood was a Portsmouth ship and what impressed those watching from the Bismarck as she broke in two and plunged beneath the grey waters of the north Atlantic was that her guns fired a final salvo. This was a kind of sporting equivalent.' Kind of, I suppose. But when the waters of the north Atlantic are invoked, aren't they usually 'icy' rather than 'grey'?"

This week in history ~ Division Two, March 6, 1954


The promotion places were tightly contested throughout the season – after a defeat at Forest in late January, Leicester dropped from first to fifth but regained top spot after their next match. They clinched the title on the final day with a 3-1 win at Brentford. Centre-forward Arthur Rowley, who got one of Leicester's goals against Bury, still holds the record for career goals in the Football League – 434 from 619 games.

Blackburn were second for most of the run-in but a 4-0 defeat at Leicester in their penultimate match left them trailing Everton by a point. The latter clinched the second promotion spot with a 4-0 win at Oldham on the final day. This ended a three-year spell in the Second Division for Everton whose average crowd of 44,493 made them the fourth best supported team in the country.

Fulham striker Bedford Jezzard was the division's top scorer with 38 goals. His form won him an England call-up but he made his debut in their record defeat, 7-1 in Hungary in May 1954, and only won one more cap. Second to Jezzard on 33 goals was Ronnie Burke, who got a hat-trick in Rotherham’s 7-0 defeat of Oldham. Burke, who began with Man Utd, was one of many players who lost half their career years to the Second World War – he didn't make his League debut until he was 25.

Two of Leeds' goals in their defeat of Brentford were scored by Welsh international John Charles who could play as either a striker or central defender. He left for Juventus two years later and is still regarded as the most successful British export to Serie A.

Oldham were bottom for almost the entire season and were joined in Division Three by Brentford who dropped below fellow strugglers Plymouth after losing three of their last four matches. Since 1953-54, Brentford have only spent one season in the second division while losing in third level play-offs six times.

Notable names playing this season included Grenville Hair (Leeds), Harry Troops (Lincoln City), Cyril Lello (Everton), Arthur Lemon (Forest) and Billy Dare (Brentford).

The recent vogue for football novels, notably The Damned United and the Worst of Friends, which fictionalises the relationship between Joe Mercer and Malcolm Allison, has given us an idea for a new genre – detective fiction featuring football management duos. There's enough material for an anthology. Arsène Wenger and Pat Rice, for example, could look into mysterious disappearances among residents at the old Highbury Stadium. Pat does the legwork, including wearing workmen's disguises, while Arsène stays at home and has moments of intuitive brilliance while being plagued by self-doubt.

There could be historical ones: Alf Ramsey and Harold Shepherdson help a group of Mods investigate a supposedly haunted funfair in 1965; Bob Stokoe and Arthur Cox solve a series of murders among holidaymakers on the Costa del Sol in 1973. And a whole series just about Clough and Taylor re-examining old cases such as the Jack the Ripper murders and the Princes in the Tower ("Henry Tudor was a wrong 'un, Pete, I can feel it"). Literary agents – give us a call.

Stickipedia A mine of information constructed from sticker cards

Stuart Taylor, Aston Villa Shoot Out Trading Card 2006-07
While Robert Green, Scott Carson and Ben Foster have all been tipped to become England's number one at various times, another goalkeeper from their generation seems content to be a reserve. Stuart Taylor will be 30 this year. In his career to date he's played 68 League games: 18 with Arsenal, 12 for Aston Villa and the remainder while on loan with a further five clubs; he has yet to start a league match for his current team, Manchester City.

Having featured for England in the 1999 World Youth Cup, the 19-year-old Taylor played his first league match later that year on loan at Bristol Rovers. Three years on he made his Arsenal debut, going on to play ten times in 2001-02 while also being capped for England Under-21s. But Taylor only got his chance because David Seaman was injured and another keeper, Richard Wright, failed to establish himself. When Seaman left at the end of the following season, Arsenal bought Jens Lehmann as a direct replacement.

Taylor missed 2003-04 through injury, then spent a further year on the bench before joining Villa as understudy to Thomas Sorensen and then Brad Friedel. Last season his only first-team matches were on loan at Cardiff. He made his Man City debut in their FA Cup tie at Scunthorpe in late January. If Taylor had opted to join a Championship club he could have become a regular – and possibly got the chance to return to the Premier League as a first choice. As it is, you would hope that he's used all that spare time fruitfully.

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