Often as an incentive for fans to attend their home games, clubs offer freebies like hot dogs, beers or team-branded car air fresheners to those who turn up, but reigning Russian champions Zenit St Petersburg have gone down the most 2020/21 route imaginable: between now and the end of their season on May 2nd, they will offer free Covid-19 vaccines to any ticket-holders over 18 who are up for a jab.
It is, naturally, the Russian Sputnik V vaccine, which The Lancet said last month gives 92 per cent protection against Covid-19. The operation began on Saturday ahead of the game against Akhmat Grozny, the vaccinated spectators’ day made complete by a 4-0 win that kept Zenit top of the table.
In light of our own struggles to get hold of a sufficient supply of any vaccine, the temptation might be there for us all to book a trip to a Zenit game, but, alas, you need to bring a Russian passport and national health card with you. Still, it’d be enough to make you apply for dual nationality.
Quote of the week
“I would describe Jack as our Queen rather than King. That is the strongest piece on the chess board.” - Aston Villa boss Dean Smith on former future Irish legend Jack Grealish. To which Jack might have replied, ‘check....mate?!’
By the numbers
268: That's how many Bundesliga goals Robert Lewandowski now has after scoring against Werder Bremen on Saturday to put him second on the all-time list. Only 97 to go to catch the mighty Gerd Muller.
Hacks surrender to a new acronym
Many thanks to the kind chap who got in touch to let us know about a recent Soccer Writers Association of Ireland meeting where the issue up for discussion was whether they should change their name to Soccer Writers Ireland.
What was the problem? Well, the acronym SWAI is shared by some other organisations, including, for example, the Spa & Wellness Association of India and the Sleep-Wake Activity Inventory, but most relevant to an Irish body, it’s also shared by the Sex Workers Alliance Ireland.
The fear of the two organisations being confused would, you’d imagine, have been a bigger issue for the Sex Workers Alliance Ireland, but in the end, our informant told us, “the hacks have surrendered, they are now SWI - in the old days, they’d have merged.”
Word of mouth
“If you ask me if one day I’d like to coach Arsenal, then yes. If one day I’d like to be Arsenal’s kit man, then yes. If one day I’d like to cut the grass at the Emirates Stadium, then yes. But it’s a massive utopia. Would I have liked to sing like Lionel Richie? Yes, but I don’t sing like Lionel Richie.” - Would Thierry Henry quite like a job with Arsenal? All night long.
“He had a long run when he didn’t score, but maybe we have the ketchup bottle phenomenon - long time nothing, then everything comes.” - Southampton manager Ralph Hasenhuttl on Che ‘Heinz’ Adams scoring in successive games having fired a blank in the previous sixteen.
“I look up, I don’t look down.” - José Mourinho miaowing a response to a question about his thoughts on Arsenal, a bit lower than Spurs in the table, ahead of the north London derby.
“You’ve got to give a lot of credit to that AC Milan team, we thought they’d sit in and just be happy to be here, embrace the occasion, but they were fabulous.” - BT Sport’s Owen Hargreaves talking about Milan like they were the Dog and Duck XI after their Europa League draw with Manchester United.
“I went to eat with him in a fancy restaurant. All of a sudden, he grabs his glass and bites into it, without flinching. He had pieces of glass all over the place. He starts laughing. I didn’t understand it at all.” - Leicester old boy Ritchie De Laet on his rather unique old team-mate, Marcin Wasilewski.
Pundit of the season so far
We’ll go with former Italian international Antonio Cassano for his feather-ruffling qualities (“For me Paulo Dybala is not a champion - when the pressure’s on him, he shits himself”, “Romelu Lukaku doesn’t have good technique, he’s not one of the best strikers in the world”) and his, eh, consistency.
February - Cassano: “Ronaldo can decide games, but he doesn’t participate much. He’s selfish. I think he’s done badly these years at Juventus. He lives to score and in this moment the situation is getting worse. The years pass for everyone and he is having difficulties.”
March - Cassano: “I am amused seeing certain people are doubting Cristiano Ronaldo - it’s madness. Madness!”