Last updated : 14 January 2004 By Editor
Sam Allardyce sums up the spirit of the cup after fielding a second-string side, making 10 changes from the side that had beaten Blackburn 4-3 on Saturday, as Bolton lost to Tranmere last night. Afterwards he said:

“I am glad we are out because we simply don't have a big enough squad to cope with the different demands of three competitions.

“If we'd gone through we'd have had to have played Luton between the Carling Cup semi-final legs against Aston Villa.

“But the reality is we couldn't cope with the extra games. Injuries and suspensions are making life difficult for us so in that respect I am happy we are out."

Apart from hypocrisy of the press in blaming United for ruining the FA Cup (when the FA themselves all but forced United into going to Brasil) whilst ignoring incidents such as this, surely a manager admitting he was happy his team were beaten raises serious questions about the integrity of the game?

The Times reports that Emile Heskey is wanted by European Champions AC Milan. There’s hope for us all:

Emile Heskey is wanted by AC Milan for one of the most extraordinary transfers since Luther Blissett went from Watford to the San Siro 21 years ago. A more likely destination for the England striker is Middlesbrough, but it is the interest of the European Cup holders that has intrigued his agents, who flew to Italy this week to discuss a loan deal.

Milan have offered to take Heskey until the end of the season. It is not easy to see where he would fit in at the San Siro alongside Andrei Shevchenko and Filippo Inzaghi, but the Serie A club evidently have a need for a big target man.

Self-proclaimed world’s best and all round publicity whore David Seaman has quit football after he realised even he was too shit to keep City’s goal.

The Divs have announced Calamity James as his successor though he is yet to pass a medical.

Oliver Holt in the Mirror:

I was on holiday when Gary Neville said he had been 'sickened' by the eight-month suspension imposed on Rio Ferdinand, so I didn't see the headlines the next day. I didn't see the picture of him yelling out an instruction next to the question "Is This The Biggest Mouth in Football?".

The thing is, as you are probably aware by now, I disagree pretty much 100 per cent with Neville's opinion. I believe Ferdinand deserved a long ban for skipping a drugs test. And I believe the Manchester United board handled - and continue to handle - the whole case with appalling arrogance and bone-headed ignorance.

But if we are talking about being sickened by something, what about the reactionary garbage so widely spouted now that it is impertinent for footballers to dare to offer an opinion? It is the worst kind of haughtiness to suggest that players should stick to playing and not be allowed a voice.

I mean, what do we want in our players? Someone like Neville who has the intelligence and the independence of mind to challenge authority when he believes something is wrong? Or wordless morons trawling hotel bars and nightclub dance floors, either too timid or too stupid to articulate their feelings.

Do we want men like Neville who retain a keen sense of responsibility for their fellow professionals despite the riches they earn? Men like him and Alan Shearer and Frank Lampard and David James and Thierry Henry, who conduct their lives as consummate professionals. Or do we want players who seem to have lost all awareness of acceptable bounds of behaviour in a normal society?

Do we want players like Neville who stood up for the rights of the lower division players when the PFA was battling the Premier League for a fair share of television revenues last season? Or do we want blinkered, spoilt brats who have cut themselves loose from the needs of others and spend their gilded youth on one long hedonistic rampage.

What does it say about us that just because the guy stands up for what he believes in, he gets called 'Red Nev'? It reminds me of all the stick and innuendo Graeme Le Saux used to get because he was such a freak that he read The Guardian.

I'll say it again: I don't agree with Neville over Ferdinand. I don't agree with Gordon Taylor, either, but that doesn't stop me admiring him for the way he fights for his members' interests and the way he refuses to kneel before authority.

It seems madness to me to be intent on attacking someone who puts as much back into the game as he takes out. Let's not forget that the comments he made about Ferdinand's suspension were a small part of a fans' forum he was taking part in for MUTV. He answered supporters' questions for an hour, a rare kind of accountability in a modern footballer, and yet his reward in the media is insults.

One other thing I'd mention, too. A friend of mine was sent to jail last week. I'm not proud of what he did to get there but I'm still proud of him and I wouldn't think of not sticking by him. And I know all his friends feel the same way. And I suppose that has made me think even more about what Gary Neville is doing. He's sticking up for a friend, sticking up for him to the bitter end. Why that should make anyone loathe him rather than admire him is utterly beyond me.