In much the same way as it is increasingly difficult to read any article concerning anything to do with New Zealand that doesn't mention hobbits, wizards or orcs, no self-respecting preview of any football match involving Montenegro is published without mentioning the age, size and population of the host country: six, smaller than Wales and 632,261. Now that the Fiver has got its obligatory narrative cliche out of the way, all that remains is for us to say hello to Carlton Cole (hello!) and find out what Montenegro boss Branko Brnovic has been saying ahead of tomorrow night's Big Game in Podgorica (687, about the size of the Westfield shopping centre, 156,169). At this morning's press conference, it seems he caused quite a palaver by labelling England arrogant hoof-merchants who are running scared of his team.
"We respect and appreciate the English team, but even more so we appreciate our own qualities," scoffed Brnovic, whose side are 9-2 long-shots to win tomorrow night despite being at home, rather good at football and two points clear of England at the summit of Group H. "I'm sure we'll make the most of them tomorrow. I've read statements from some English players about the way the pitch will look. As far as I know, the English have always favoured long passes, so who should complain about this? Us, with [Mirko] Vucinic, [Stevan] Jovetic, [Marko] Basa, or England? They're also intimidated by our fans. All these stories are coming from their side. That shows they're more scared of this game than we are."
Although the Fiver took advantage of a rare football-free weekend to steadfastly avoid reading statements from England players about the way the pitch would look, if weather reports emerging from Podgorica this afternoon are anything to go by it may well look rectangular, greeny-brown and with a see-through watery type surface-glisten. "I'm not saying we can't lose the game tomorrow, but England will really have to toil to beat us," said Brnovic, who went on to address Alan Shearer's concern that Montenegro's players will try to get a reaction from Wayne Rooney by "kicking, shoving, scratching and abusing" the England centre-forward. "As far as I know, Rooney was the one who attacked our player last time, not vice versa," he said, issuing the mother of all slap-downs and prompting the chastened BBC pundit to clamber, sulking, back into his box.
"Naming a train is the traditional way of showing support for excellent achievement in the railway industry, and it's an event reserved for truly special occasions – the last train we named was in honour of the Diamond Jubilee" – c2c head suit Julian Drury reveals the company's plan to name a train after Southend United. How about the Telling Paul Sturrock He'll Be Sacked But Can Still Manage The Team At Wembley In A Shambling and Rambling Club Statement Before The Only Way Is Phil Brown Rolls Into Essex Express?
"Perhaps the most intriguing aspect of the West Ham stadium picture (Friday's Fiver) is not where David de Gea is looking but what has happened to the goal at the other end? Or the Hammers' keeper? Or any of his defenders? That screen above where the goal should be is also dangerously within Fernando Torres-bothering proximity" – Tony Crawford.
"I feel I can write to you about an Apple problem as the Guardian, generally, are cheerleaders for the formerly hip but now overbearingly overbearing Californian corporation. As you advertise html training and have a back-up staff of 1,057 to correct any mistakes, would you mind telling me if there is any html that can get your video links to work on my old Mac Pro running Snow Leopard?" – Chris King.
"The 'y'know' phenomena (Fiver letters passim) isn't just restricted to the great and good of football punditry (and Andy Townsend), it's one which permeates the fan base, too. As a frequent listener of local football radio phone-ins in the West Midlands, I sometimes have the misfortune to come across a gentleman called Paul, the Birmingham City fan, who could put whole civilisations to sleep with the monotone glarp of his voice. This fingernails-down-a-blackboard sonic ramble is made even worse by his tendency to place 'y'know' into his thoughts every three seconds. He's a constant presence on the BBC Radio WM sports phone-ins and I suspect that the more ubiquitous he gets, the more he thinks plonking 'y'know' into his tedious verbal performances is a sort of trademark upon which he is recognised and perhaps even famed. It is quite deliberate – at one point in a recent call to WM, he mispronounced a word and slipped in a swift 'y'know' to overcome the difficulty. More interestingly, some months ago, after the Blues had put in a dreadful losing performance, Paul put in a call of seething anger, unable to contain himself. His tirade was unusually 'y'know' free, thus revealing the facade he had created. Paul continues to phone in and offer his thoughts, complete with a record brace of intentional 'y'know's to emphasise the Paul brand. It doesn't, however, stop him being a Grade-A, bona-fide, powerfully irritating and overwhelmingly-dull berk who could easily step into the breach if Nytol suddenly went into liquidation. I'm glad he's confined to regional airwaves – if his voice were unleashed upon a national stage, it would need a battalion to prevent him being chucked into the nearest ocean by a giant mass of irked populace driven mad by his sensibility-destroying drawl and the avalanche of 'y'know's accompanying it. I feel much better now" – Ian James.
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Chelsea, Roman Abramovich's spokesman and the FBI have all denied reports that the Russian has been arrested in the US. That 'arrest' lasted longer than most of his managers …
Newcastle United have invited Wigan Cosmos to St James' Park after a group of away fans caused damage during a game involving the amateur club. The response has been incredible, it's heartwarming really," said Cosmos manager John Pendlebury. "It shows what genuine football fans are capable of and the passion they have for their club. Newcastle should be proud of their real fans."
Giovanni O'Trapattoni has named Derby goal machine Conor Sammon up front for the Republic O'Ireland's World Cup qualifier against Austria in Dublin, presumably after An Unidentified Fan was ruled out with calf-gah!
Fifa is studying a protest from Costa Rica in the wake of their defeat to USA! USA!! USA!!! in a World Cup qualifying blizzard. "Ball movement became impossible," complained the Costa Rican Football Federation, which wants a replay.
Aberdeen have confirmed Derek McInnes as their new manager on a two-and-a-half year deal.
And Gillingham chairman Paul Scally rewarded the 28 visiting Accrington Stanley fans who watched their team lose 1-0 at the Priestfield on Saturday with free meals. "I called my safety officer, in the crowd control room, and told him to go and get burger and chips and a cup of tea for all," said Scally. "I would have liked to have done more for them but at least we could send them home with something to warm them up."
There are still places available for the next of Big Paper/Website's 'How to be a football journalist' masterclasses on 6 April. If you're interested, you can sign up here.
Spare a thought for Zestafoni forward Boti Demel – and/or just kick back and enjoy it – after this open-goal miss-of-the-season contender in Georgia.
If you have Valeriy Lobanovskyi on your Jonathan Wilson bingo cards, then your luck is in with this piece on Montenegro's plan to park a bus in defence and rely on two Ferraris in attack.
Sean Ingle explains why the power of one is overhyped in football.
If England qualify for next year's finals, they will be heading for a luxurious stay at a hotel by the Copacabana, reports Jonathan Watts with a big if. What could possibly go wrong?
And Jeremy Alexander popped down to Torquay to take in the latest League Two dogfight.