Derek Davis' Championship Chatter

EVERY now and again football throws up a story of such improbability and romance that supporters in no way connected with the central characters become enchanted.

EVERY now and again football throws up a story of such improbability and romance that supporters in no way connected with the central characters become enchanted.

Such is the fairytale of Gretna.

For the club that four years ago was playing in the Unibond First Division, it is an incredible journey that has seen them win at Hampden Park and secure their place in the UEFA Cup next season, no matter what happens in their historic clash against Hearts next month in the Scottish Cup Final.

Gretna are already the Scottish Division Two champions, a year after winning the Third Division title, and now they are aiming for an improbable league and cup double.


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Leading scorer Kenny Deuchar has been promised an Aston Martin car if he scores in the final, to be paid for by Gretna managing director and benefactor Brookes Mileson. If Gretna's story is amazing, then so too is the background of Mileson, a multi-millionaire son of a machine-worker, brought up on a council estate in Sunderland.

Now 58, Mileson has faced adversity virtually all his life. He broke his back and hips after being trapped in a sand avalanche in a quarry when he was just 11 and was told he would never walk again. Nine years later he won bronze in the world junior cross-country championships. A sufferer from ME, Mileson has amassed his wealth, estimated at around £36million from insurance, construction and security businesses. An animal lover, he has more than 250 roaming his estate north of Carlisle, including emus, ostriches and wallabies.

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Mileson looks more like an ageing Status Quo tribute guitarist in a pub band who prefers denim and a ponytail, to the sharp suits usually worn by club directors. He also prefers to sit with the supporters - and he paid for 7,000 of them to get into Hampden Park on Saturday, when they beat Dundee. He is also a chain-smoker who guzzles Lucozade.

So improbable, so romantic, for a town of Gretna's size to reach the cup final and play in Europe - it is akin to Wivenhoe Town making it.

All it needs is money, aptitude and determination - and more money.

Incidentally, Mileson's £36m wealth is dwarfed 10-fold by Town shareholder Michael Spencer. Blues fans will hope Mr Spencer, or a similar soul, is watching how much Mr Mileson is enjoying his ride and want to get on a similar journey.

IT really wasn't an April Fool's Day gag. People have been asking me if my story about Owen Garvan being bitten on the backside by a dog on his way to training on Friday and needing a tetanus injection, was a gag.

Hand on heart, no. It was true, although Owen, thankfully, was fit to play at Luton, on Saturday but had a ruff ride.

IT appears that Manchester United bet on red and the ball landed on black after losing out on a sure-thing £70m pay-out from a gambling company. Poker giants Mansion last night announced it had terminated talks, at a very late stage, with the Old Trafford club after it discovered they had been holding secret talks about another sponsorship deal with another company.

Sounds like United were just hedging their bets to me.

GEORGE Burley is planning a double raid on a couple of players who served him so well at Ipswich, with Richard Wright and Tommy Miller in his sights.

Everton are looking to off-load Wright, who has not enjoyed the best of times at Goodison Park, while Miller's dream move to his hometown club Sunderland has not been all he hoped for.

Miller will wait and see what is going to happen on the management front but if Kevin Ball stays, he is likely to go.

Sunderland are subject to a takeover with former player Niall Quinn heading a consortium to buy out Bob Murray.

Before securing new players at Southampton, Burley has to survive yet another boardroom battle, although word is the people who are close to ousting Rupert Lowe as chairman are happy enough with the Scot.

Southampton businessman Michael Wilde is understood to be close to completing the coup after recently purchasing a larger stake in the club and, along with others, is ready to move for enough to complete a buy-out.

The Saints have already suffered a blow after being told sponsors Friends Provident will not be carrying on the deal and will end their seven-year involvement.

Meanwhile, the two goals Ricardo Fuller scored for the Saints against Cardiff at the weekend will make it even harder for the Blues to secure his services, with a Premiership club also sniffing around the Jamaican international.

The brace also took him back to the top of the Saints' goal-scoring charts - with five. See, it is not just Ipswich.

The one thing Town have in their favour is he was still getting grief from Saints fans and that Fuller loved his brief spell at Portman Road, telling friends he wants to come back.

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