THIS column is not designed for straddling the fence, but there have been a couple of disputes this week where the need for compassion has clouded the issue.

Firstly, the Wycombe footballer who was sent off for rapturously removing his shirt when they scored the winning goal in the FA Cup quarter-final at Leicester.

It earned him his second yellow card and generally I have not a shred of sympathy for footballers who are either still unaware or, more likely, choose to ignore that this is a bookable offence.

But Steve Brown wanted to reveal a T-shirt which carried a message to his 15-month old son Maxwell, who has had around 20 operations after being born with his stomach unconnected to his throat.

Maxwell was Wycombe's mascot for the day, and it would be perfectly understandable if the emotion of a wonderful moment persuaded his dad to say "hang the consequences."

The ref wasn't to know the circumstances, of course, but there's a clear case for leniency here and hopefully Brown's yellow card will be rescinded.

Secondly, small-time racehorse trainer Julian Poulton was told by an owner that his horse would be taken to another stable if it did not run at nearby Plumpton on Monday. At the same time the trainer was ordered by his landlord to stay at home.

Quite a dilemma, but on reflection I side with the landlord, and the fear of eviction duly outweighed the threat of losing one horse, which was withdrawn from the race.

The racing industry is apparently the sixth biggest employer in the country, which is no doubt the main reason why it is deemed safe to continue at some courses, despite the cries of "scandalous" from across the Irish Sea.

Although you would have thought horses and farming were closely linked, there's no doubt some horse lovers lead a very blinkered existence. They can speak in extremely plummy and authoritarian tones yet know next to nothing about what's going on outside their own little world.

Ah well, at least that's got me off the fence.

FOLLOWING last week's observation about the sudden surge of Singhs in the sporting world, another one emerged this week when Harbhajan of that ilk took a hat-trick against Australia.

A 20-year-old Sikh from Jullundur, the off-spinner went on to finish with 13 wickets in the match as the Aussies' 16-match winning run came to an astonishing end.

It seemed the hat-trick had been to no avail as the man who watched from the other end while Ricky Ponting, Adam Gilchrist and Shane Warne fell to successive balls is the greatest backs-to-the-wall batsman of his generation.

Given a choice between Steve Waugh and Graeme Hick to dig you out of a hole at No 6 would be like choosing between Tommy Cooper and Ben Elton to give you a laugh.

Waugh's 25th Test century - most of them forged in adversity - carried Australia from a slightly rocky 269 for eight to 445 all out, while Hick contributed 16 runs in the match to England's second Test win against Sri Lanka.

He must now have proved beyond all doubt that he can't stand the heat of Test cricket and hopefully Michael Vaughan will cement his place to face the Aussies this summer.

It's hugely reassuring to find they are not invincible, although it's doubtful whether we can find a track flat and easy-paced enough for one of our batsmen to make 281.

THE usual etiquette for a football chairman, on hearing his club has been awarded an international, is to declare that he's absolutely over the moon.

Newcastle's Freddy Shepherd, however, chose to label it a "disgrace" that England had not been back to St James' Park for 63 years.

He's right, of course, and perhaps when the Geordies raise the roof and inspire Sven's men to a big win the proposed rebuilding of Wembley will look even more farcical.

The latest brainwave from the men in suits in our gridlocked capital is to build a stadium on Hackney Marshes to stage the 2012 Olympics. Make it 3012 and we might be ready on time.

AS Michael Schumacher and the rest of the Scalextric team start to rev up for another jaunt in Malaysia this weekend I hear someone has invented a car which will run off rotting vegetables.

As one of my gripes about motor racing - apart from it being so boring - is that it's a disgraceful waste of fuel, I look forward to the day when pit-stops are enlivened by a highly-trained team of mechanics shovelling piles of half-decayed carrots, turnips and sprouts into the tank.

A LETTER sent to members of the Cricket Writers' Club last week ended with the words: "Cricket continues to be a civilised oasis in an increasingly philistine desert."

The sentiment is admirable; unfortunately the timing isn't