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SELINA SCOTT; Put a soccer in it.. Bosses carry can for thugs.

Byline: Selina Scott

WHEN soccer players seem more interested in socking people than tackling opponents and strikers are known more for the heads they've kicked than the footballs they've struck, could it be there's something rotten with the state of our national game?

Football has never been a sport for cissies, and with the huge money now on offer it's hardly surprising aggressively-fit young men want to kick lumps out of each other on the field of play.

But these days every news bulletin seems to carry stories of highly-paid footballers brawling in bars and nightclubs as well as in the goalmouth.

Hard on the heels - or rather the boots - of the Leeds players who were disciplined by the club after an Asian youth was nearly trampled to death in a vicious attack, we had Celtic's Neil Lennon with a bandaged head following an altercation in a Glasgow nightspot.

Then it was a couple of Chelsea stars charged with assaulting a nightclub bouncer. Former Clyde striker, Adam Proudfoot, now with Wolves, is just the latest to be charged following an alleged nightclub brawl.

Celtic boss Martin O'Neill has warned his players to walk away from trouble. I'm sure there are plenty of envious young thugs in nightspots, all too keen to wind up what they see as overpaid, over-hyped soccer stars.

But when the team bosses can't even control themselves, how do they expect their players to tame the pumping testosterone?

Last week, we had the undignified sight of Cardiff owner Sam Hammam whipping his fans into a frenzy and causing a pitch invasion.

And while Jim McLean was all smiles as he swept back into Tannadice last week after winning a boardroom battle, this is the same McLean who resigned as Dundee United's chairman only 15 months ago after thumping BBC reporter John Barnes.

His reappearance, however temporarily, is a stain on whatever good name Scotland's national game may once have enjoyed.

If the people who run football aren't prepared to hammer those who are supposed to set an example, how can they slap fines on errant stars and expect them to stump up, far less mend their bruising ways?

It seems that at least one soccer rebel has found himself on the wrong end of a beating up. Dundee's Italian star Patrizio Billio, who is in dispute with the Tayside club, was taken to the city's Ninewells Hospital after being attacked by a skinhead in Tannadice Street.

The way I see it, Italians always look like they're more into making love than war.

It's not that I'm casting aspersions here, you understand, but surely there's an obvious suspect.

The balding McLean photographed in the same Tannadice Street looked a lot like a skinhead to me, and we all know how handy he is with his mitts. You don't suppose Jim mistook the dishy Italian for a TV reporter, do you?

HAREM SCAREM

WHILE we're on hair and soccer, it was good to see pictures of the increasingly follicly-challenged Craig Brown, lathering up with his girlfriend Louise Port in a London carwash.

While Louise looked on, former Scotland boss, Craig, 60, was spraying her car with the same aplomb he used to spray passes.

Was it my imagination, or when 23-year-old Louise took her turn on the jet spray did her expression say, "I'd like to wash this guy right out of my hair...if only he had some."

Sean's R&A pals are so faraway from reality

AT a time when his second favourite golf club, Lyford Kay in the Bahamas, is reputedly feeling the effects of the US recession, the greatest- living Scotsman, Sir Sean Connery, will doubtless be glad to know that his all-time favourite club, the exclusive Royal & Ancient at St Andrews, is becoming even snootier.

The R&A, which numbers Prince Andrew and various American presidents among its members, is undergoing a multi-million pound facelift which will mean that sweaty, T-shirted golfing types will no longer use the same entrance as the blazored tie-wearing crowd who sip their gins and tonic in that big room overlooking the 18th green. There will also be swanky new office accommodation for the R&A staff who, if anything, look even grander than the members.

Where Lyford Kay is closing one of its restaurants and making the members pay for breakfast, the R&A is actually opening another restaurant in a spanking new ancillary building overlooking the infamous Valley of Sin and the 18th green.

For the first time in its history, lady guests will be allowed with members into this extension to the venerable club. Sir Sean has already complained about the drop in standards at Lyford Kay. "Any person who brings the club into disrepute is an enemy of the club," he thunders.

How he will react to women invading the sacred domain of the R&A is unclear.

But my spies tell me that if the new restaurant doesn't offer his favourite tipple or food he will refuse to darken its door, electing instead to eat with his fellow misogynists in the woman-free old building.

Dining with women is one thing, but to be denied his Sancerre white Loire wine and Pittenweem haddock (battered not breaded) and chips would, I'm told, be quite another.

WHODUNIT?

AS Dundee United chief Jim McLean, top, always punched his weight - as BBC man John Barnes, right, knows to his cost. So does baldy Jim's form then make him a prime suspect for the recent street attack by a skinhead on Dundee's Italian star Patrizio Billio, left?

Dark side of living under the spotlight

WHEN I wrote about the festive blues last week of course I had no idea that cycling star Graeme Obree had tried to hang himself just days before Christmas.

Graeme, who lives in Irvine, was only saved when a farmer's daughter on the remote farm where he chose to commit suicide found him hanging in the barn.

Thankfully Graeme is likely to make a full recovery.

But when a former world champion cyclist with a lovely wife and two young sons feels his life is no longer worth living, it highlights the depths of depression even high achievers can sink into.

The fact is that depression often blights the lives of those who are apparent successes.

Time and again we read of celebrities and other well-known figures who believe they are living a lie and that somehow they are undeserving of our high opinion.

Actor and writer, Stephen Fry, who allegedly has one of the highest IQs in showbiz, has written movingly about his nervous breakdown after the critics savaged a West End play he was starring in.

Between the lines, it's obvious Fry gave himself a far tougher roasting than the critics ever did.

Tony Blair's director of spin, Alastair Campbell, has also broken his silence about a breakdown he had in his earlier career as a political journalist.

Scots actor John Hannah almost cracked up under the pressure of success.

Hannah, who plays tough cop, Inspector Rebus in the TV series, has admitted he could only combat his demons after intensive therapy.

We all have our breaking points. It's estimated that one in every 100 Scots suffers from manic depression.

And even macho Scots are now prepared to bare their souls to therapists.

Of course, all of us want to be loved. But it seems the hardest job for the therapists these days is teaching us how to love ourselves.

NHS failings a Spain in neck

UNDER a government scheme to cut NHS waiting times, the first group of British patients will be sent to France for surgery this week.

Meanwhile, hundreds of Spanish nurses have been recruited by the British government to help bail out our long-suffering health service.

But it seems conditions are so bad in UK hospitals that many of the nursing senoritas are planning a speedy return home.

In Spain, trained nurses are employed to do just that - to nurse patients back to health. But in Britain, apparently, they're also expected to do all the other unsavoury things normally done by auxiliary staff.

As well as inferior working conditions UK nurses' pay is not as good as in Spain, so it looks like 'hasta manana' to yet another attempt to reform the NHS on the cheap.

Instead of spending so much time in faraway places such as India and Africa (venue for his next overseas trip) why doesn't Tony travel somewhere much closer to home, like Barcelona or Madrid, and find out for himself how a modern health service is meant to work? Spain and France are the envy of Europe in healthcare provision.

And to think us Brits once had the gall to describe scams involving false claims for work as 'Spanish practices'.
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Title Annotation:Selina Scott
Publication:Sunday Mail (Glasgow, Scotland)
Date:Jan 13, 2002
Words:1464
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