20 APRIL 1991, Page 55


Division of labour

Frank Keating

IN SPITE of West Ham United's progress to the Cup final being cruelly sawn off by an inept moment of knee-jerk refereeing, a mundane soccer season in England has come to the boil at the last. Nottingham Forest and Tottenham Hotspur should provide a decent final in four weeks' time. Both of them play a bonny, attacking, error-strewn game. Brian Clough's first time at the Wembley carnival will ensure the tabloids have enough crackpot babble to be going on with; ditto the city pages on the possibility of Terry Venables buying his in-hock Hotspurs as well as coaching them.

Soccer men heartily fed up with the tiresome touting of Paul Gascoigne, a Geordie podge who seems to have a slate loose under his pudding-basin hairdo, were having to hide behind the sofa after the opening ten minutes of Sunday's semi-final against Arsenal. In that time Tottenham's tedious dunderpate opulently destroyed the League champions elect. First, his coruscating whizzbang from 35 yards bil- lowed the Arsenal netting like a spinnaker in a gale; then his footpad's feint and dagger-sharp pass served up a second, so the Gunners were stir-fried to a frazzle scarcely before the thing had started. There is obviously more, far more, to this Richmal Crompton type of over-the- mooncalf than the gossip columns have told us.

The other contest at Villa Park was ruined just as quickly when the referee sent off a West Ham defender for an innocuous shove. The Hammers would probably have lost anyway — Clough's sides always play with a fresh, determined vibrancy — but at least the ref's red card and the resulting intensity and din of West Ham's grudge gave the splendid Stephen Bierley in the Guardian the chance next day to quote Southey: 'The noise of Birmingham is beyond description. The hammers never seem to be at rest.' If I'm anything to go by, he'd been saving that up for weeks. The weskit-buttons of the complacent and provincial Football League have been rudely popped by the Football Associa- tion's dramatic proposal to cream off the First Division's leading clubs, administer this 'Premier' competition themselves and let the remaining 74 clubs play among themselves. If the coup comes off, it will be no more than the pigheaded burghers of the League deserve. But a long way from my boyhood when the lowest divvy was broken up geographically into Third, north and south. One of my first heroes in the No. 9 shirt was a tearaway ginger-nut who played for Liverpool called Albert Stub- bins. His job was to head in centres supplied by the star winger, Billy Liddell. One season in the 1950s Liverpool were relegated to the Second Division.

Over comes a cross from Liddell. Albert soars, mistimes the leather, and his fore- head hits the crossbar with an almighty clang. He is stretchered off to the city's Royal Northern Hospital. Some hours later he comes to. A nurse at his bedside. `Where am I?' mumbles Albert. 'Don't worry, duck, you're in the Northern,' she says. 'We didn't', says Stubbins, 'stay long in the Second, did we?'

No old chestnuts about Liverpool now. Graeme Souness is a hard man. He went to the same bloody-nosed Edinburgh school, Carrickvale, as Dave Mackay, the centre- circle's most famed gangland boss. Thir- teen winters ago, young Souness first joined Liverpool as a player. The Reds' tough guy then was Tommy Smith. On day one, Souness borrowed Smith's hair-dryer without asking. Smith went for the kid's throat. 'Everyone is allowed just one mis- take with me,' he threatened. But it didn't take Souness long to see Smith off and out of Anfield. I fancy a few other big names will now be on their way from that same locker-room.