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It's time to remind ourselves of that line from the old Ealing film classic, 'The Life of Brian Moore': "Just what has capitalism done for football?"

We know the answers: an improved standard of football, players from abroad we could only once have dreamed of seeing, better stadiums, McDonald's, pizza, and Coke served where before there were only Percy Dalton's roasted peanuts…. oh, and the most boring Premiership season in living memory.

That does not say a great deal, given that the Premiership is only a dozen years old, but the pattern is set. Last season we had Arsenal go through it unbeaten, with momentary excitement when a few draws suggested they might perhaps lose a game. This time Chelsea look set to defy gravity and do enough to win the title, and every other competition they have gone in for.

Their coach Jose Mourinho said at the start of the season that he saw no reason why a group of world class players, when told exactly what there roles were, couldn't conserve their resources sufficiently to keep on playing each and every match to the required level of success. So what we now see is even more two-dimensionally dull than when Liverpool dominated English football in the 1970s and 80s.

Furthermore, Chelsea have surely already qualified for next season's Champions League and it also seems unlikely that Arsenal and Manchester United could falter in that quest. Thus the Premiership contains its "superleague", that will join those from other countries - with few surprises as to which teams will be among them - that each year compete for the continent's top prize.

Thanks to the free market, football is imitating the inequalities that we see on a world scale. A few rich teams are at the top enjoying the big share of resources (and are always able to justify why they should have more), a significant group is caught in the purgatorial middle ground, with their hopes of rising matched by fears of sinking into oblivion, and the rest are at the bottom reduced to the status of collapsed states.

As someone once said: 'What is to be Done?' First, look across the Atlantic to where they know about the vagaries of the market's hidden hand. The United States instinctively understands that if the fantasy of "life as a game" is to be maintained, then, above all else, sport must be fixed to be upliftingly competitive. Safety nets might be hard to find in society as a whole - and in our post-welfare "Opportunity Society" are being withdrawn - but for sport they have to be guaranteed.

Just how the US idea of siphoning off players from the top sports' clubs each year to recycle them to the struggling teams ever slipped through the net of the Un-American Activities Committee, I'll never know. But it is something that should be adopted here before the fans en masse withdraw to Hackney Marshes and other ploughed parklands of the nation to watch a decently competitive level of the game.

How would the mechanics of it work? Who knows? Rich clubs would object to giving handouts to the poor - claiming, no doubt, that it would be the last thing the poor themselves needed, and wanted, to improve themselves - while top players spoilt by the bright lights of North and West London would object to moving to West Bromwich.

But the debate must begin. With neo-conservative thinking accepted as the casual norm these days, it is necessary for equally nutty ideas to rise up from what was once called the "Left" to match its influence. The harmless world of sport is a good place to start.

Mack's back

I made a point of settling into the sofa to watch last Saturday's racing from the wintry damp of Wincanton, a "nice little card", as the great man proclaimed it, and which welcomed back John McCririck to his rightful place on screen.

Personally I'd tipped him to be still in the Big Brother house, and remain surprised he didn't go on to win. Ratings plummeted with his departure, but it was McCririck's "in yer face" way of having a laugh that proved too much for the world of post-modern irony, with its preference for wind-up telephone calls and sneaking up on old ladies on park benches.

A lot of glee was had from the secret cameras in the dead of night picturing McCririck in his underpants picking his nose but, had he known he was being filmed, he'd have done it anyway. McCririck has been publicly humiliating himself for years and has maintained a lucrative freelance existence as a result.

I worked with him on the London-based part of the ITV team covering the 1988 Seoul Olympics. Neither of us had much to do and it was his idea to go out with a camera crew and film him dressed in British vest and scant shorts running around the cinder track in Regent's Park, as if winning the 1,500m gold.

It was never going to be pretty, and deteriorated when the crew was late in showing up. McCririck furiously expleted his way through the next half hour until it showed, shocking the crowd drawn to the track by a face that even then was one of the most recognisable in the country. Now he should find work for life.

The mutterings from the eminent Scudamore stable, suggesting that McCririck's Big Brother escapades disgraced racing, are taken by some as a sign that Channel Four might ease him out. Fat chance. Without McCririck, TV steeplechasing's attractions would be limited to the Grand National, the Cheltenham Gold Cup and muddy afternoons at Wincanton.

Over the Almunia

Sir Alex Ferguson was gracious in his refusal to slag off Manchester United's Tim Howard on Wednesday night after the keeper's "gaffe" had given the Carling Cup semi-final to Chelsea.

This may have been less a supportive than self-serving exercise, of course, given that Sir Alex's chopping and changing of his keepers has done nothing for their confidence. But we must take him at face value, and assume that he recognises that these days a goalkeeper's lot is near impossible.

As Howard's dilemma showed, the keeper now rarely knows when to come for a cross, given the bend that any player can put on the modern plastic ball. Had Howard advanced, inevitably - as he had anticipated - the briefest touch on the ball from an attacker's head would have directed it past him. As it was, everyone missed it and the ball looped straight in.

The willingness to build a keeper's morale by giving him a good run in the first team is presumably behind Arsenal coach Arsene Wenger's determination to stick with Manuel Almunia. But for how much longer?

There was a period late last year in the second half of Arsenal's important, and fortunately easy, Champions League home tie against Rosenborg of Trondheim when the demoralised Spanish keeper put in the most embarrassing performance of goalkeeping at Highbury that I have seen in getting on for 50 years.

Retired goalkeeping sources close to Arsenal tear their hair out on such occasions and wonder why Wenger has tried virtually every option available to him, other than give Stuart Taylor - currently languishing on loan to Leicester - a decent run in the team.


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