A Different Week – Why always them? Rocketman Balotelli, Ferguson’s vanishing tickets, Terry and the snake and a celebrating ref

Regardless of whether or not Mario Balotelli had been chosen to front Greater Manchester’s campaign for firework safety prior to last weekend’s impromptu pyrotechnics display from his bathroom, the irony of a deadpan Super Mario holding up a poster urging young people to follow the firework safety code was surely not lost on anyone.

Fire-fighters were called to the Manchester City striker’s Cheshire home in the small hours of Saturday morning to tackle a serious blaze started after a firework was fired out through the bathroom window. However, the controversial Italian, whose list of high profile misdemeanours should make for a cracking autobiography one day, claimed that, for once, he was innocent.

I didn’t set any fireworks off,” he insisted to reporters. “It was a friend of mine. I didn’t know anything about it until I heard shouting coming from the bathroom…It was a really stupid thing to do.” Speaking at the campaign launch, Balotelli was able to remind his pal: “It is important children should not mess with fireworks. They can be very dangerous if they are not used in the right way.” Such as launching them from someone’s toilet.

Not that Balotelli’s explosive exploits seemed to have any negative effects on him as, 24 hours later, he scored two goals and turned in a dazzling performance as Manchester City inflicted a crushing 6-1 defeat on bitter rivals United, their heaviest ever Premier League defeat and their worst loss at Old Trafford since 1955. Sir Alex Ferguson described the thrashing by their ‘noisy neighbours’ as his “worst ever day” at the club, but unfortunately for Fergie there was more bad news to come his way, as he was this week named in the court case of a gang of Old Trafford ticket touts after it was revealed that some of their stock had come from his own personal allocation of complimentary tickets.

The four men all pleaded guilty to selling tickets without authorisation for a number of United home games last season, including 16 tickets which had the Old Trafford boss’s name printed on them. Detective Constable Paul Walls, who led the operation to collar the gang said: “I must condemn those registered ticket holders who have allowed their tickets to be used in this scam.” Sir Alex, who was not accused of any wrongdoing, said he had passed the tickets on to friends and had no idea they had ended up in the hands of touts.

Someone else who didn’t come too well out of one of Sunday’s derby matches in more ways than one was Chelsea captain John Terry and with defeat to West London rivals QPR followed by allegations that he racially abused Rangers defender Anton Ferdinand, JT’s public image could do with a fair old leg-up right now – and what better way to redeem oneself to the masses than opening a reptile pet shop in Surbiton? With Monday’s launch of Reptile Kingdom near Chelsea’s Cobham training ground, it was allegedly organised through a mutual friend of Terry and the store owner that the England captain would appear to cut the ribbon at 2pm.

250 people, mostly Chelsea fans, duly pitched up, some as early as 12.30pm to show their support for their under-fire skipper. 2pm duly came and went and Terry was nowhere to be seen. By 4pm, it became apparent, if it hadn’t been for a while already, that the guest of honour wasn’t going to show. “He’s the snake,” snapped one angry parent, whose anger thankfully wasn’t so clouded that she couldn’t rattle off a good pun for the Press. A spokesman for the shop assured reporters that Terry had “a very good reason” for not turning up, which later turned out to be that he had apparently never agreed to it in the first place. “I had not agreed to attend the opening of this or any other shop today,” said the England captain in a statement, “I had been asked if I would consider the opportunity and declined on two separate occasions…Any advertising or announcements to say I would be attending were made without my knowledge or consent.

Inexplicable behaviour perhaps, but not as inexplicable as the actions of Czech referee Tomas Fidra, who was breathalysed by police after sending off three players for no reason and spending most of the game on the floor. Fidra, who had been celebrating his birthday before the game, reportedly “smelt like a brewery” when he took to the field to oversee the game between Jestrabi Lhota and Tynec-nad-Labem and having spent the opening minutes of the first-half staggering about the pitch and falling over, then decided to dismiss three Jestrabi Lhota players for no apparent reason.

As there is no rule to stop an intoxicated ref from officiating a game and with the clubs fearing sanctions if they walked off the pitch, the match was allowed to continue its descent into farce, with Labem sportingly agreeing not to attack their eight-man-strong opponents. A Lhota spokesman confirmed, if confirmation were needed, that the ref was four sheets to the wind, that Fidra, who had a 1.94 promille blood/alcohol level: “…didn’t try to hide that he had been celebrating.” The game ended 1-1 and was later declared void by the regional football authority. Fidra is now set to receive a 12-month suspension.

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