SHAKE IT OFF
Eager to be seen to be doing something to help prevent the spread of coronavirus, however useless it might be, the Premier League and Football League have decided to dispense with the “Fair Play handshake” between players and match officials until further notice. Despite obvious concerns that the absence of these mandatory, utterly insincere and tokenistic pre-match pleasantries, introduced 16 years ago for reasons that still remain unclear, could result in a nationwide pandemic of “unfair play”, the two governing bodies are pressing ahead with an anti-social initiative that will be severely tested during Sunday’s Manchester derby at Old Trafford.
Finally looking like something resembling a half-decent team following the January arrival of Bruno Fernandes, United host bitter rivals City, whose boss Pep Guardiola has been flying in the face of medical experts by blowing smoke up his opposite number’s nether regions in the buildup to what could be a decidedly spicy encounter. “From what I saw they follow [Ole Gunnar Solskjær] absolutely,” trilled Pep. “They’re getting better. Right now is maybe their best moment of the season.”
Asked if he was concerned about the likelihood of trouble at the game, after United midfielder Fred was hit by a missile thrown from the stands during the closing stages of their win at the Etihad in December, Pep was more circumspect. “We have to try to behave good as managers and professionals and then as supporters,” he tooted, as mobile phone footage of cerebrally challenged knuckleheads – who’d taken time out of their evening to wait by the United team coach and relentlessly eff and jeff at Jesse Lingard, while also appearing to racially abuse the midfielder, following his side’s FA Cup win at Derby County – circulated on assorted social media disgraces.
While it remains unclear whether the troglodytes in question are home or away fans, United are understood to be furious that their player was subjected to such appalling brickbats. They plan to enlist the help of both the Rams and local constabulary in a bid to identify the culprits, who are hopefully trembling with fear in their parents’ spare bedroom as they contemplate whatever unpleasantness is about to be visited upon them. You don’t need to be a virologist to know that washing their filthy pottymouth mouths out with soap and water might not halt the spread of such toxic abuse, but it might help to slow it down.
QUOTE OF THE DAY
“Following unacceptable behaviour of the Ultras supporters group over a number of games this season we have taken the decision to ban this group from home games. They will be able to gain entry individually if accompanied by a parent” – as pay-offs on club statements go, this from Fort William is quite the zinger.
The latest Football Weekly Extra podcast is right here. Meanwhile, tickets are also on sale for the next live show in London.
“If John Caley (yesterday’s Fiver letters) is unhappy at the repetition of tired jokes aimed at easy targets, then I would suggest The Fiver isn’t for him. Although, interestingly, he appears to have been fine with the main body of the article, containing ‘fresh’ material such as ‘Lovren’s not very good’, and ‘Devon Loch’, and only seems to have taken offence when the ‘humour’ was directed at his club” – Matt Dony.
“I’ll understand if your offering is a bit tardy today, what with the celebration. I hope no one died” – Neil Austin.
“Eric Dier’s (apparently) admirable detour into the stands (yesterday’s Fiver) might have been dramatic, but he’s got a long way to go to beat flamin’ Australian Rules footballer John Bourke” – Gary Walsh.
“So half of yesterday’s Fiver was spent describing a Spurs player who arrived about 10 minutes too late to avert potential danger. Surely that’s not news?” – Justin Kavanagh.
“In yesterday’s Still Want Mores, you had a story around Billy Gilmour, noting him as next off the Frank Lampard’s Chelsea conveyor belt. Given that Gilmour spent eight years at the Pope’s O’Rangers before joining FLC in 2017, can it really be called a FLC conveyor belt, or would it be more like a stepping stool?” – Paul Dixon.
Send your letters to [email protected] And you can always tweet The Fiver via @guardian_sport. Today’s winner of our letter o’the day is … Paul Dixon, who bags a copy of Premier League Nuggets, by Richard Foster. We’ve got one more to give away, so get scribbling.
NEWS, BITS AND BOBS
Matches in Denmark are the latest to go behind closed doors due to coronavirus, while an Everton suit reckons the spread means the Premier League matches may follow. “We feel it is quite likely it may happen in the coming weeks,” said Sasha Ryazantsev.
Big Phil Neville put a very Big Phil Neville spin on England’s 2-0 defeat by USA! USA!! USA!!! in the SheBelieves Cup. “It feels as if we are so close but yet so far at this moment in time,” he blathered. He then said this of 19-year-old Lauren Hemp: “She’s literally a bull.” He really did.
Manchester United can beat City in the derby if they don’t lose it like they did in the Rumbelows Cup, according to Ole Gunnar Solskjær. “For 15 minutes definitely, our heads went for a spell there … we’ve learned from that,” he soothed. Meanwhile, a City medical bod will prod Kevin De Bruyne’s shoulder-knack to see if he is fit enough to play on Sunday.
Barça boss Quique Setién has apologised to his squad for the choice language (you really will want to click on this transcript here) used by his assistant manager Eder Sarabia in the clásico. “We apologised to everyone [in our squad], we cannot behave like that,” sniffed Setién. “This situation has affected me a lot, because I am concerned about the image of the club.”
Mikel Arteta will sit down for a cosy chat with Pierre Emerick-Aubameyang at the end of the season to see if he can stop him from legging it out of the Arsenal door marked Do One.
And Mr Roy, 178, has extended his Crystal Palace contract until the end of next season. “Everyone knows how I feel about the club that I supported as a boy,” he Robbie Keaned.
STILL WANT MORE?
“In Scotland people sweep sectarianism under the carpet”: this Steve Clarke interview by Ewan Murray is well worth a read.
Suzanne Wrack on why there is something for England fans to be cheerful.
Where’s my 10 things to look out for in the Premier League this weekend, you ask? Relax, it’s here.
After Eric Dier snapped, it’s time to turn the spotlight on the pieces of work dishing out abuse too, writes David Hytner.
Norwich, Sheffield United and two divergent paths this season. By Paul Wilson.
Playing in Europe expands your football horizons. And Eni Aluko should know.
Lee Bowyer and Jonathan Woodgate will set their friendship aside when Charlton and Boro meet in a relegation dust-up on Saturday, reports Louise Taylor.
Oh, and if it’s your thing … you can follow Big Website on Big Social FaceSpace. And INSTACHAT, TOO!