Review of the week
The star of Sunderland's win over Liverpool got more column inches than Nelson, with predictable headlines such as 'Life's A Beach' and 'Liverpool Deflated' appearing in tabloids and broadsheets alike.
The Sun mocked up pictures featuring the inflatable in historic events, including the last voyage of the Titanic (captain swerves to avoid beach ball and misses iceberg). Meanwhile The Spoof website suggested the ball was going to be appointed director of coaching at Anfield, before later claiming it was actually Sammy Lee in a cunning disguise.
Such was the volume of interest, I wouldn't be surprised to see said ball turn up at a glitzy movie premiere with a girl on each arm before appearing as one of the guests on the Jonathan Ross Show (it would certainly have more to say than Meg Ryan on Parky.
Pepe Reina: "I went for the red ball instinctively"
The unwelcome intruder was bought from the Liverpool club shop as a part of a cut-price £10 beach set, which also included a bag and a towel (although Rafa might need a snorkel and flippers to steer his side out of the murky depths they currently inhabit - that's four defeats on the bounce now).
The poor lad who threw the 'outside agent' (football laws' description, not mine) had his identity protected, although this viral doing the rounds purported to show the real culprit.
United messageboards have been awash with users instructing fans to "bring your beach balls this weekend", for the short journey along the M6, complete with instructions on how to "smuggle them in your socks" (presumably before they have been inflated). Expect a few to find their way on to the Anfield pitch, while a chorus of 99 Red Balloons rings out from the away end.
Something clearly needs to be done to arrest Liverpool's worrying slump (not least because it's making my other half very grumpy) and Rafa could do worse than call on the services of Iain Dowie - a man who knows all about bouncebackability.
In non-beach ball news (there was some, believe it or not), Gareth Southgate got the old heave-ho from Middlesbrough after winning a game and taking his side to within a point of the top.
The biggest shock was most-agreeable-chairman-in-football Steve Gibson shedding his Mr Nice Guy image to reveal a cold, calculating side as he ruthlessly despatched his manager. It was like hearing Cliff Richard had trashed his hotel room and thrown his TV out of the window.
At least Gibson has been consistent with his appointment of Gordon Strachan, who shares the same initials as his predecessor (apparently Graeme Souness and Gordon Sumner were also in the frame). While feeling sympathy for Southgate, it's great to have a character like Strachan back in English football - you can guarantee he won't be short of a quip.
While at Coventry, ironically after a defeat by Boro, he was asked: "In what areas do you think Middlesbrough were better than you today?" Quick as a flash he replied: "Mainly that big green one out there." And during his time at Southampton, the Scot recalled the time Claus Lundekvam was stretchered off against Leicester: "Someone asked me if he was unconscious, but I didn't have a clue. He's always like that."
My particular favourite came when a reporter asked if he could "have a quick word". "Velocity" came the reply as Strachan continued walking.
As for Southgate, I'd go along with fellow-blogger Robbo's assertion that he was simply too weak (especially when it came to taking penalties). Ray Parlour, who played with and under the former England midfielder, appeared on Sky last weekend where he recounted a tale of Southgate's first meeting as manager.
"All the canteen staff, everybody involved in the club at the time, were in this room, so for Gareth it was a bit awkward. He said 'You can call me Gareth, boss, gaffer...'. It all went quiet and then we said: 'What about big nose?'"
In the Premier League, the battle at the top is getting more and more like a meeting of the Society of Reformation for Manners - after you, no after you.
Chelsea were the latest to surrender top spot with a 2-1 defeat at Villa Park, where the only thing Nicolas Anelka connected with was Martin O'Neill - catapulting him into the air as the boss's concerned back room staff did their best to give him a helping hand - not easy when it's clamped over your mouth to suppress a fit of the giggles.
Villa striker Emile Heskey barely got a look-in and was probably still recovering from the rollicking dished out by England coach Fabio Capello the week before. The Italian apparently flipped when he caught Heskey breaking the rules by fiddling with his phone under the dinner table. It's not clear what application the big man was using, but my money's on the RAC Routeplanner, searching for directions to the back of the net.
Birmingham are apparently interested in re-signing Heskey and new chairman Carson Yeung was involved in a classic Lost In Translation moment when a reporter asked him: "Is Alex McLeish's job safe?" "Not at the moment," came the reply before his translator quickly set the record straight.
Elsewhere, Blackburn beat Burnley in the Lancashire derby, although the Clarets claimed a moral victory in the build-up by dressing the statue of Jack Walker in a Burnley shirt and wig. After the 3-2 victory, Sam Allardyce said: "It's my birthday tomorrow, so obviously that was an early Christmas present from the lads."
Harry Redknapp also suffered a touch of foot-in-mouth disease, asserting that his Spurs side were "hanging on for grim life" at old club Portsmouth, while the following Sky Sports News ticker caught my eye: "Hartlepool midfielder Willie Boland retires after long-standing knee injury."
Adel Taarabt celebrates his wonder goal against Preston
Non-football headline of the week concerned a 70-stone man under the banner 'World's Fattest Bloke Lives In Ipswich'. Roy Keane could do worse than plonk him in goal for the six-pointer at Plymouth on Saturday, safe in the knowledge that NOTHING would get past him.
And finally, I've kept schtum about my lot for the last couple of weeks but after 13 goals in the last three home games I think I'm allowed to get a little excited. Having missed the 4-0 tonking of Preston to look after the kids, I was bombarded with texts informing me it was the best performance for a decade and I'd missed the goal of the season. Thanks for that, fellas.
Fortunately I witnessed us putting another four past Reading on Tuesday and will be watching the Derby game on the Beeb from the armchair, while being acutely aware of that old saying Pride Park comes before a fall.
My four-year-old - eager to jump on the bandwagon - got her hands on some of those new football cards that are doing the rounds. She very kindly saved one for me and announced: "You'll like this Daddy because he's wearing blue like QPR" - before handing me a picture of....Michael Ballack. Oh well, back to the drawing board.