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IT doesn't happen often but occasionally a footballer pops up to remind us what a beautiful, simple game it is that drives tens of thousands wild every week.


Last Saturday at Tynecastle, 38-year-old Russell Latapy did just that in Hearts' 0-0 draw with Falkirk.

For although the Jambos faithful did not like it at the time, they were witnessing a virtuoso performance from a player who, according to the coaching manual, should have been washed up many seasons ago.

And all he did was get back to that old cunning ploy you may remember from a distant age -controlling the ball with your feet and passing it to a player wearing the same colour shirt as you.

They don't teach that at Largs now.

It's all about channels, blind sides, back sticks, zones, second balls and set plays - although I'm sure there is nothing wrong with that.

Russell cannot be put in a category except perhaps the one which would have him placed on the freed list, once his off-field habits were weighed against ability.

 One of his first things he does when he leaves the pitch is to have a fag, and it's no secret that the Trinidad & Tobago star is partial to a small libation - on the altar of friendship, of course.

He was famously sacked by Rangers after Alex McLeish had taken him from Hibs along the M8 for turning up late for a match - apparently the traffic had been busy that day.

Falkirk manager John Hughes has been shrewd, pragmatic, decisive and criminally under-rated by some.

At his advanced years in football terms, the errant Latapy is still the centrepiece around his energetic and skilful team-mates.

And Latapy (above) certainly needs them, for his central midfield beat does not extend much beyond 12 yards in either direction of the centre spot. Even when he ghosts past an opponent there is no electric Jimmy Johnstone type dash and flourish, just a quiet shake of fluid hips and a stride to take him on and past the opposition.

Passes come in all shapes and sizes - the quick one-two, which leaves him with more time than originally, the long diagonal straight to the toe and the difficult through ball to engineer a scoring chance.

Who in the class remembers Alf Tupper?

He was the comic book hero of yesteryear who defied all the critics to win trophies from the Olympics to the local Highland Games.

Alf did everything wrong off the pitch, was written off a hundred times by the sporting establishment, but always came up with the goods against the odds.

Russell Latapy is our Alf Tupper. We had one fairly recently in Andy Goram, who was as stunning with the cricket bat and snooker cue as he was in goalie gloves.

Russell is an enigma. To some, he's a disgrace to professional standards, a maverick and a lovable rogue. But he is a wonderful footballer - let us settle for that.