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02/03: Reports:

Nationwide Division One, 11/01/03, 3pm
By Matt Rowson

There exists a widely quoted Sunday Times review which suggests that "The English-speaking world is divided into those who have read The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit and those who are going to read them".

Sadly, the latter group contains a subpopulation, my co-editor included, who wilfully resist any temptation so to do, thus denying themselves the best story ever told either in print or film, which is a bit of a shame. (Incidentally I've heard several of these deprived individuals snottily explaining that they were "discovering girls" whilst others were discovering Tolkien. It should go without saying that anyone who mounts such a defence is obviously a virgin...)

Anyhow, here, for those amongst you residing in a grey lightless universe, is a brief reprise of what has been filmed so far:

Firstly, there's a Ring. This much you've probably guessed, limited imagination or otherwise. The Ring was created by Sauron, the shapeless but powerful Master of evil (so a bit like Sepp Blatter without the waddle) and is in itself wholly evil, corrupting the mind of whoever possesses it.

The point about this, it is surmised, is that evil is not something that you either are or you aren't, rather that there are weaknesses inside everyone that can be exposed and inflamed by circumstances. This is easy enough to understand in all sorts of contexts, from the faceless bureaucracy that is responsible for so much malaise to the fate of those who had the misfortune to be born in Leagrave, Dunstable or Flitwick. What distinguishes you is having the strength of character to resist these weaknesses.

Anyhow, the narrative basically tells the story of a journey to rid the world of the Ring, largely undertaken by small creatures called hobbits. The two main characters are called "Frodo" and "Sam" in the film, although I'm sure they're Ray and Terry in the book. Anyway you're not too sure about them at the start but they turn out to be made of pretty tough stuff and overcome all sorts of things. Sauron sends Black Riders after them, the Nazgūl, ring-wraiths totally enslaved by their own greed for power and the Ring. Loosely modelled on the G14, I think, although there are only nine Nazgūl but then the book was written in the first half of the twentieth century so maybe some of them hadn't recognised their greater degree of equality by that point (although at any rate Wolves' glory days would have long gone).

The Hobbits have to navigate some mountains and end up having to go under the peaks to avoid the inclement weather - Torquay in the 1997 Auto-Windscreens this is not. Anyway they pass through the mines of Moria underneath the mountains, and scenes that will be familiar to anyone who's visited Selhurst Park, and are attacked by all sorts of beasts and nastiness including a cave troll (played in the film by Martin Keown).

The second film deals largely with the mischief of Saruman, a silken-voiced wizard once one of the good guys but now on the wrong side of the fence, played with melodrama by Des Lynam. He breeds this army of Uruk-hai to cause aggro at his bidding... interestingly, one of the many documentaries on the four-disc DVD set of "The Fellowship of the Ring" explains how the inspiration for the fabulous Uruk-hai in the films was the Luton - Millwall riot of 1985. (Naturally, however, things had to be tamed down a little for the U.S. audience, so the Uruk-hai are capable of coherent speech of sorts).

Meanwhile Ray and Terry are being led onwards by Gollum, a wretched slimy and conniving creature who was twisted and corrupted horribly by the Ring in the past. He can't remember his real name and is named "Gollum" due to the gurgling, choking noise he makes in his throat, although the tattoo which reads "Nothing left to prove at this level", visible in certain screen stills, should offer a clue.

The second film reaches a crescendo at Helm's Deep, besieged between Saruman's army in an episode which reads in the book, as was reported a few weeks ago, like our Play-Off Semi Final at St.Andrews in 1999 and has thankfully been superbly brought to life here.

The final film will relate the end of the journey towards the fiery mountain, but whether Sean Dyche's recent absence is due to him joining Wayne Andrews (true, bizarrely) in the ranks of Nationwide league film stars remains to be seen.

As for Millwall... very little has changed as far as background is concerned since the home game in August... except for the fact that the side's comparatively disappointing season, albeit not abetted by injuries to key players (Dolan, Cahill, Sadlier) and loss of form of others (Harris, Reid) has exacerbated the resentment which festered at the start of the campaign. The Lions had a decent November, but have fallen away badly winning only one game since, poor form culminating in an apparently fortunate ("gutless") 1-1 draw away at Cambridge in the Cup last weekend.

The 6'4" scouser Tony Warner will be in goal for the Lions, with Frenchman Willy Gueret likely to be on the bench as cover.

The Lions' defence has come in for a bit of criticism, and beset by injuries they will be fielding a far from first-choice line-up at the weekend. Joe Dolan, scuppered by setbacks for the last two seasons, now needs a knee operation. Stuart Nethercott, team captain, will miss his first game in over a hundred at the weekend having hobbled out of the cup tie at the weekend. Mark Phillips, the Lions' most promising young centre-back, is also out, David Tuttle's absence from first-team and reserve teamsheets suggests that he too is injured, and the gaping hole left by Sean Dyche's departure is oft lamented by Lions fans.

All of which means that the most likely central pairing on Saturday, should McGhee stick with 4-4-2 and not retry the 3-5-2 that proved unsuccessful at Portman Road recently, will consist of two familiar names - Darren Ward and Paul Robinson. Ward, of course, needs no introduction, and appears to have rediscovered some form of late after a spell out of the team. He still hasn't had a haircut. And this Paul Robinson is yet another version, an encouraging 21-year-old central defender by all accounts. The likeliest alternative to Robinson is Matt Lawrence, more regularly a right-back and one-time Player of the Year although his recent form has been less impressive. Irishman Robbie Ryan currently holds sway over Ronnie Bull for the left-back slot.

In midfield, David Livermore has managed to accumulate an impressive fourteen yellow cards so far this season, two of them in the earlier game at Vicarage Road. Christophe Kinet, a Belgian released with Dyche in the summer but re-signed later, appears to have ability but doesn't always choose to use it - he also appeared to pick up an ankle problem at the weekend. Irish International Stephen Reid, who played three times in the World Cup in the summer, can play anywhere across the midfield and is tipped in some places to replace current boo-boy victim Paul Ifill down the right, opening the door for young Scotsman Peter Sweeney down the left.

Two others who might come into contention on Saturday are the ever-charming Dennis Wise, who missed Saturday with bronchitis and didn't train until Wednesday this week, and Andy Roberts, equally if less famously abrasive, in his second spell with the Lions and also missing last weekend. Tim Cahill, highly successful and the subject of much speculation last season, has barely featured this time due to injury. Charlie Hearn, also highly rated, may make the bench.

Up front, Sadlier's absence is costly although he is back in light training and, like Cahill, could return in February. This leaves Neil Harris and Match of the Day pundit Steve Claridge without any serious competition - something which Harris in particular, it appears, might benefit from. With Kevin Davies back at Southampton since November, Belfast-born Kevin Braniff is likely to be on the bench.

With the team coming under considerable pressure from their own support, and apparently not relishing performing in inclement conditions, this looks like an away game that we might get something out of. A story with a fraction of the excitement of Tolkien's epic would certainly be worth the trip.