If the IRA did do that bank job, would they really be laundering the money through Cheltenham? That was the suggestion before the start of the Festival but giving it to the bookies seems a rare way to recycle your money. And in the event of your winning anything, wouldn’t they be keen to hand a lot of those hot Northern Irish bank notes everyone’s looking for straight back to you? I suspect the usual slander here against the Irish nation and would suggest the matter be put into the hands of my learned friends Messrs Rabbitt, Smurfit and Hare for their appropriate action.

* There must be a push on at Highbury to sell you another extraneous piece of kit. Why else would Arsenal, in unfamiliar blue shirts for that cup match at Bolton, have nice blue gloves to match? Till then I was under the impression that those who wanted to wear them just picked up any old stray pair they had. It’s further evidence of the end of footballing civilisation as we knew it. We saw more of that, of course, when Bolton’s striker brushed shoulders briefly with keeper Jens Lehmann and had the Arsenal players around him as if he’d committed serial murder. Nat Lofthouse must have been sitting in the stands laughing his head off. But back to the gloves, why was Freddie Ljungberg wearing them? I can understand players from Senegal or Cameroon finding Bolton a bit far north, but Ljungberg comes from where the Gulf Stream doesn’t flow. Freddie’s getting flakey; something has to explain that miss of his in the last minute, which was probably the worst, or best, most of us have ever seen.

* The case of Anders Frisk raises the question of whether fans are more bone-headed now than they’ve ever been. In a poll run by someone like the Independent or the Guardian back in the early days of the Premiership, Chelsea’s came out the dimmest in the division (at that time, Wimbledon’s were the brightest, apparently). But having sat in the front row of the Clock End for the Arsenal’s recent home match against Portsmouth, I found few likely candidates for a scratch University Challenge team. One guy waxed briefly lyrical on the ‘beautiful game’, saying it had to be that because why else would we sit in the sleet and pay £33 to watch? But in the course of the entire time I was there, I heard no single comment about any even vaguely technical aspect of the game we were viewing. Crowds are probably no more thick now than they ever were, but just feel they have more licence to show it.

* Are we just out to get Jose Mourinho? He shouldn’t have blown kisses to the Barca crowd but he’s hardly a Neanderthal. What he’s whipping up is the sense throughout Europe that it has all come to him too quickly; he hasn’t served his apprenticeship of not winning things, or even of having been a player himself. He also seems to have cracked it, found the formula, and it’s all so simple: do your research, give your players a plan, and they’ll perform week after week to get the necessary points. Give or take the redeployed resources of Mother Russia, it reminds me of Bertie Mee and the Arsenal double side of ‘71.

* I was glad not to have jinxed Welsh 6 Nations grand slam hopes last week by mentioning their success. Ireland should have won, too, at the weekend but began to believe everyone’s press about them being the best team around this year. Wales didn’t dare believe anything, so deep has been their rugby depression over the last 20 years. Hence their disappointment even after the Scotland result; ‘scrappy’ victory, said the FT’s Huw Richards, a hard comment to make about a team that got nearly 50 points on the board. My colleague within these offices, Mike Neill, meanwhile, remains optimistic that with the pressure off, the Irish can win at the Millennium stadium this weekend. It’s a game my Mexican stepson will be at, incidentally; with a Welsh girlfriend, he’ll be attending with her family to take in the atmosphere and sing along with “There’ll be a welcome…” The only problem is that he’s about a quarter Irish.

* Whatever happened to the great Derek Dougan? Watching Lawrie Sanchez in his dodgy pin-stripe shaking hands with Sven this week made you realise that there’s little hope for Northern Irish football. Not Lawrie’s fault, nor the pin-stripe, though Dougan was a bit of a stylist in his day. The moment the Northern Ireland game died was - Guadalajara ‘86 - when that long shot from the Brazilian right-back sailed over Pat Jennings head. Pat was old, and so was the team, and that was it. But Dougan - striker ex of Blackburn, Villa, Wolves et al - always said the team should be part of a united one from Ireland, just like the rugby squad. Vested interests always got in the way, old boys and officials who wanted the honour of travelling with the team, regardless of whether they won anything, and who there wouldn’t have been as many tickets and receptions for if they had to share. But surely in this of all Irish weeks, and with the North’s game against England approaching, it’s fair to say Dougan was right all along.


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