LONDON — The words many football-loving married men in Britain would love to hear from their wives today are: “I have some bad news for you. . . . an old school friend of mine is in town. . . . I said I would see her tomorrow to catch up on things. . . . I’d ask you to come along but we’ll be talking about old times. . . . You don’t mind, do you?

Suppressing delight would be as big a challenge for the home-alone husband as making his “of course not” reply sound genuine.

Tomorrow is one of the Super Sundays of the season, time to become a couch potato for seven hours of back-to-back football.

The hors d’oeuvres, served at 11:15 is Swansea vs. Cardiff. For those who like their football raw, more brawn than brain . . . more passion that passing . . . this is the ideal start to more sophisticated things to come. The reason for the early kickoff is to try to ensure those watching one of the most bitter rivalries in British football are as sober as possible.

I’ve no idea what the scoreline will be but I predict with confidence at least one red card will be shown in a match that could decide which city owns the Welsh bragging rights.

At 1:30 comes Manchester City vs. Manchester United with City manager Mark Hughes locking horns with his former boss Sir Alex Ferguson for the first time in charge of the Reds’ city rivals.

City has had the better of United in this fixture in recent years and confidence is high at Eastlands — or Middles Eastlands as it is now known — after the £210-million takeover by the ironically titled Abu Dhabi United group.

Speculation has been rife that City will be signing just about every top star in world football in January and Wayne Rooney admitted the game against their nouveau-riches rivals has an added edge now, as if it needed this.

The United striker said: “This is a massive match. For the players, the fans and the club especially after the City takeover.

“It will be nice to show them who are the kings of Manchester. I’m not bothered that City are getting all the publicity. If they were winning trophies, it would worry me but while they are still lingering in mid-table I’m really not too concerned.”

City is sweating on the fitness of Robinho, who is looking a bargain even at a British record fee of £34.2 million from Real Madrid. The Brazilian has scored eight goals in 11 games, most of them gems, but he missed Thursday’s UEFA Cup tie against Schalke 04 with an ankle injury.

Perhaps saving the best till last Sky Sports will broadcast a tasty London derby between Chelsea and Arsenal at 4 p.m. First vs. fifth and Arsenal has not won in its previous six visits to Stamford Bridge — victory for the Blues would widen the gap between the sides to 13 points.

The focus will be on William Gallas, the former Chelsea defender stripped of the Arsenal captaincy last week after critical (if mostly valid) comments about his teammates. Gallas, a loose cannon Gunner who threatened to score an own-goal if he didn’t get his move to Arsenal, was seen as breaking ranks so the armband was passed to Cesc Fabregas, but the new skipper showed a diplomacy lacking in the brooding Frenchman.

“Whatever happened with William is in the past, said Fabregas. “We beat Dynamo Kiev and want to continue at Chelsea. William showed he is a fantastic professional and played fantastic for me against Dynamo. He’s been superb for us and I’ve learned a lot from him.”

Chelsea was poor as it drew 1-1 in Bordeaux on Wednesday, a result that means it must beat FC Cluj in their final Champions League group game to guarantee reaching the knockout stages.

Under Jose Mourinho, Chelsea was pragmatic — usually unexciting but effective. Luiz Felipe Scolari’s Chelsea has been brighter and the Brazilian has made the club more popular with its open style and the manager’s endearing personality. However, defeat for the Blues after last weekend’s goalless stalemate against Newcastle would put a pressure on Scolari he could not have expected.

At the end of what is sure to be an intriguing, roller-coaster, magnificent seven-hour armchair marathon coach potatoes will be ready to welcome back their wives, saying they “just watched some football on TV while you were with your friend.”


* * * * *

WE SHALL never know what the intentions were when Sheffield United’s Chris Morgan challenged Barnsley forward Iain Hume for a high ball. What we do know is that Hume needed surgery on his fractured skull after

Morgan’s elbow caught his opponent in the head during Barnsley’s 2-1 home loss to their Yorkshire rivals at Oakwell on Nov. 8.

Hume, a 25-year-old Canada international, was readmitted to hospital during the week after complaining of feeling unwell at home in Oldham but returned the following day.

As the laws of libel can prove costly, I shall just say the challenge looked bad. Very bad. The media, pundits, observers, phone-ins almost unanimously condemned Morgan, whose disciplinary record leaves much to be desired.

Hume’s injury is career-threatening and legal action by Barnsley on behalf of their player is being considered.

The foul was worthy of a red card (even crimson) but unfortunately the referee, Andy D’Urso, saw it only as a cautionable offense. Under Football Association regulations that is the end of the matter. Once the referee takes action, the F.A. is powerless to do anything more.

So Morgan, who would probably have incurred a six- or even an eight-game ban had he been sent off, was in effect let off. This column generally backs referees and does not like to see the game replayed in an F.A. disciplinary office. But whatever the rules and regulations there should always be a natural sense of justice. D’Urso made a mistake but Morgan should not be allowed to get off the punishment he deserves because of a human error and F.A. regulations.

The F.A. should be able to correct a clear and obvious refereeing mistake. Its red tape should be given the red card but as ever, the F.A. is equally in favor of progress as it is reluctant to make changes.

Christopher Davies covers the Premier League for the London Daily Telegraph.

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