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01/02: Reports:

Nationwide Division One, 09/03/02, 3pm
Crystal Palace
Shooting yourself in the foot
By Matt Rowson

"I see from your application form that you attended George Heriots. The old Heriots FPs seem to be rather thick on the ground this afternoon".

"Actually man , ah've goat tae come clean here. Ah went tae Augie's, St.Augustine's likesay, then Craigy, eh Craigroyston ken. Ah jist pet doon Heriots because ah thoat it wid likes, help us git the joab. Too much discrimination in this town, man, ken, likesay ?...(snip)'s jist when cats see 'Craigroyston' oan the form they likesay think, well everybody thit went tae Craigie's a waster, right? But eh, ye ken Scott Nisbet, the fitba player, likesay? He's in the Huns... eh Rangers first team, haudin his ain against aw they expensive international signings ay Souness's, ken? The cat wis the year below us at Craigie man."

"Well I can assure you Mr.Murphy, we're far more interested in the qualifications you gained rather than the school you, or any other candidate went to. It says here that you got five O Grades."

"Whoah. Likesay, goannae have tae stoap ye thair catboy. The O-Grades wus bullshit, ken? Thought ah'd use that tae git ma fit in the door. Showin initiative, likesay, Ken? Ah really want this job, man".

"Look, Mr.Murphy, you were referred to us by the Department of Employmemnt's Jobcentre. There's no need for you to lie to get your foot in the door as you put it".

"Hey... whatever you say man. You're the man, the governor, the dude in the chair, so tae speak, likesay".


"What about weaknesses ?"

"Ah suppose man, ah'm too much ay a perfectionist, ken? It's likesay, if things go a bit dodgy, ah jist cannae be bothered, y'know? Ah git good vibes about this interview the day though man, ken?"

from "Trainspotting", by Irvine Welsh

Surely the greatest interview in literary or cinematic history. Things aren't quite as they appear, of course. The interview is merely a hoop presented by the DoE, an obstacle between Spud and the unemployment benefit that funded his Heroin habit. Even Spud wouldn't have gone into an interview tripping on Speed, forcing the lies on his application form down the throat of his interviewer, if he'd actually wanted the job.

Football supporters shoot themselves repeatedly in the foot to a similar extent on an astonishing number of occasions, however, without the defence of any ulterior motive. Consider the names of Tim Sherwood, Richard Johnson, Dominic Foley, Clint Easton, Jason Lee, Devon White, Jamie Moralee, David Holdsworth, Nigel Callaghan, Kerry Dixon, Iwan Roberts, Steve Butler, Marcus Gayle. All ex- or current Watford players, many of them successfully so, most of them successful at some stage of their careers and some to a dramatically extent. And all were, at least for a while, the targets of the Vicarage Road hate mob, made up of the sort of insecure individual who can see no path beyond association with success and distancing from (apparent) failure.

Football supporters can strike a blow for the opposition in many other ways, of course... baiting a member of the opposition, or becoming frustrated at a waning team performance for example, but at least these reactions are based on something explicable. Booing, chastising, barracking members of one's own team is the pit of stupidity. It can only prolong the phenomenon at which the behaviour is targeted.

Supporters of all clubs do it though, and Palace have just attained new depths of idiocy by turning on Ade Akinbiyi on the strength of his Leicester-based tabloid reputation. Astonishing.

Then again, even Palace fans can be forgiven for having their patience tested by recent developments at Selhurst. The meeting of Tricky Trev and the Eagles, such apparently ideal bedfellows, was greeted with some glee at BSaD and elsewhere... slightly worryingly Trev seems to be overegging the pudding to the extent that he appears to have alienated the entire Palace support so quickly that we may not have long to enjoy his tenure.

Following Palace's blistering start to the season under Steve Bruce, the level of performance has dropped dramatically. That Palace are still on the edge of the play-off pack owes more to the relative mediocrity of most of the division - something which makes our own failure this season even more of a frustration - than to lingering form. At best recent performances can be described as erratic; like us an impressive midweek performance last Tuesday - a solid win over Barnsley - was followed up by abject nonsense at Blundell Park where Grimsby won 5-2. Yes, Grimsby scored five goals.

The Palace goalkeepers dueling for position are current custodian Matt Clarke, arrogant and bullish, and Latvian Alex Kolinko, spectacular but unnerving and particularly uncomfortable on crosses.

In defence, Palace have problems. Groin injuries to two senior centre halves - Kit Symons and the Australian Tony Popovic, who broke down again in training this week - have lead to Hayden Mullins being employed in the centre. Although a gifted midfielder and potentially an effective sweeper in a back three, Mullins has repeatedly been exposed as one of a pair. His partner has been another Australian Shaun Murphy, whose loan from Sheffield United was extended by Tricky Trev this week. Hemel Hempstead-born Dean Austin, who hasn't always been a favourite at Selhurst, would seem to be advocated by fans to partner Murphy with Mullins in a more advanced role, although American Gregg Berhalter would be another option - he has been largely overlooked by Francis thus far.

Fullbacks are Curtis Fleming, never terribly highly rated at the Riverside by anyone but Bryan Robson, and Danny Granville, who has never quite worked at any of his many clubs since leaving Cambridge.

Another Boro discard, Craig Harrison, would be an alternative on the left, whilst Jamie Smith is the obvious deputy at right-back. He has been employed as a midfielder by Francis, presumably seeking to exploit his crossing ability, but Smith has been criticised for disappearing from games when the going gets tough. He forms part a fairly defensive looking midfield; Finnish International Aki Riihilahti impressed at the Vic last season but has done less so since - his industry often serves little purpose, whilst Steven Thomson's talent has been held back by his brittle confidence. Tricky Trev, master of psychology as illustrated at last season's play-off semi at Deepdale, will soon have him sorted out.

Left-sided Julian Gray is the one bright spark of the midfield at the moment - his fine free kick on Saturday was rather lost in the debris. Other options include the fitfully exciting Tommy Black, and the once worshipped but now dreaded David Hopkin. Long-serving Simon Rodger is likely to miss out with a back injury, whilst Jason Pollock, still knocking around, is interesting Swindon. This seems somehow appropriate.

Up front, the highly prolific and popular forward line of Dougie Freedman and Clinton Morrison has been supplemented recently by the arrival of Ade Akinbiyi - to less than universal acclaim, as has been discussed. American Jovan Kirovski, an "in the hole" sort of player, doesn't seem to fit and has been interesting his old manager at Birmingham. Steve Kabba, scorer of a hat-trick for the reserves recently, would be another possibility.

Trips to sunny Selhurst are not undertaken lightly, particularly when the outcome is largely irrelevant from our point of view. However the potential to enjoy someone worthy of stick getting what's coming to him is an undoubted attraction... and I'm not talking about Palace's new striker. As one messageboard correspondent reported after Saturday's effort:

"I wasn't wearing my lucky shirt, trousers, coat or shoes...apart from that, I blame Francis!".