Anorak

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Premier League news. Stories from the newspapers and BBC sport – sports news from tabloids Daily Mail, Daily Express, Daily Star, the Guardian, Daily Mirror, the times, daily telegraph

1968 And All That

‘FOR all England’s talk of success in Euro 2004 or, more probably, the 2006 World Cup, the fact remains this morning that we haven’t beaten Sweden for nigh on four decades.

Portugal-bound?

Sweden are a decent side, but they cannot claim to be one of the giants of European football, let alone the world game.

And if apologists say that England are a different side in competitive matches than they are in friendly games, well, so are Sweden, whose 1-0 win last night was their first in 16 such matches.

The Telegraph suggests that England are too reliant on their first-choice players – such as David Beckham, Ashley Cole, Gary Neville, Sol Campbell and Michael Owen, all of whom were absent.

“If England are close to full strength in Portugal, they have a chance of reaching the semi-finals,” it says.

“Any debilitating injuries to key tempo-setting or defensive personnel on the eve of the tournament and England’s odds plummet.”

True enough, but reaching the semi-final can hardly be regarded as a great achievement.

England are the four best team on the continent, according to the official Fifa rankings and, of the teams above them, both Spain and the Netherlands are renowned as being flaky.

France are undoubtedly the best team in Europe, a position built on 14 straight wins until last night’s 0-0 draw in Rotterdam.

The papers do find solace in certain performances, with Jermain Defoe the one who really stands out.

And, says, the Indy Sven Goran Eriksson can take comfort from the fact that his team were comfortably the better side until Sweden scored in the 54th minute.

“Defoe came on and did very well,” the Swede told the Times after the game. “I could see that he’s a big talent. He’ll be even better in the future because he’ll be physically stronger, but I like what I saw.”

Coincidentally, the year in which England last recorded a win over Sweden was the year in which England last recorded a series win in the West Indies.

But such is the optimism within the country after Michael Vaughan’s men took a 2-0 lead in the four-match series that it is spilling over into overconfidence.

The Guardian’s Matthew Engel hears one punter set off to Barbados with the words, “I hope we don’t beat them too badly”.

“Not beat them too badly!” Engel chunters. “When England suffered two successive blackwashes in the mid-1980s, did any West Indian say: ‘Don’t beat them too badly, Viv mon’?”

Who knows? A first series win in the Caribbean since 1968 and the England football team might even beat Sweden…’

Posted: 1st, April 2004 | In: Back pages | Comment


Bonus Balls

‘ENGLAND may have found the money to keep Sven Goran Eriksson in charge of the national team until a better offer comes along, but the players are feeling the pinch.They are apparently unhappy that the FA has cut their Euro 2004 bonuses, with incentives on the table only for reaching the semi-final or beyond.

The manager says a semi-final exit in Portugal “would not be a disaster”, suggesting (says the Times) that the last four should be considered par for this squad.

In which case, one wonders why the players should be upset at not being rewarded for a below-par display.

However, the Times does suggest that with the recent upheavals surrounding Rio Ferdinand and Alan Smith, it is in everyone’s interests to conclude negotiations well before the tournament starts.

Not that tonight’s friendly against Sweden is likely to give much indication of England’s prospects in the summer.

Steven Gerrard has been chosen as captain of a side that is far from England’s first choice XI, including (or so the Indy believes) Alan Thompson and Owen Hargreaves in midfield and Phil Neville and Jamie Carragher at full-back.

The Telegraph reports that it is an opportunity for fringe players to play their way into the squad for Portugal.

“I have until June 3 to change my mind,” said Eriksson.

Oh no! He’s not off to Chelsea again, is he?’

Posted: 31st, March 2004 | In: Back pages | Comment


Two True

‘THERE’S some connection between Sven Goran Eriksson and second-hand Saabs that quite escapes us.

David James hadn’t noticed the Pot Noodle spilt on his head

Ken Bates tells the Sun that he wouldn’t buy one off the England manager; the Express says the Swede will get a £14m payout if he’s sacked by the FA, ”which should lower the price of second-hand Saabs”.

Are we missing something? Is Eriksson actually a second-hand car salesman during the hours when he is not involved with England, Chelsea or a blonde TV presenter?

Or is just that the only thing the papers know that comes from Sweden is the Saab.

(We, of course, know that Volvos are also from Sweden, as are, er, naked women.)

But even the more serious papers seem determined to cause trouble for the England boss, despite the fact that he has done what almost everyone wanted and signed a new contract.

David James reported that Eriksson’s first words to the squad when they met up at their Hertfordshire retreat yesterday were: “You’ve got me for another couple of years!”

And Henry Winter, of the Telegraph, is not alone in reading into that confirmation of the suspicion that he won’t hand around after the 2006 World Cup.

The Independent makes the same observation. “No player,” it says, “pointed out the contract was supposed to be for another four years.”

And yet the extension to the contract, which Eriksson signed at the weekend, was for another two years – a reasonable explanation perhaps of the “couple more years” remark.

Eriksson’s desire to stay in international management will certainly not be helped by the number of withdrawals from the squad through injury.

The Telegraph reports that Wales have lost 10 players (including, of course, Ryan Giggs), Scotland and Northern Ireland seven and the Republic of Ireland six through injury.

Arsene Wenger yesterday pulled Patrick Viera and Robert Pires out of the French squad.

And England yesterday lost David Beckham for their friendly against Sweden, victim of a knock described even by Real Madrid as “not serious”.’

Posted: 30th, March 2004 | In: Back pages | Comment


A Turnip For The Books

‘SVEN Goran Eriksson has turned down the chance to make millions as manager of Chelsea to stay on as (the admittedly very well-paid) head coach of England.

‘Have you heard the one about the Swede, the Russian and the Englishman?’

More than that, he has actually signed a two-year extension to his contract.

And yet he is branded “sneaky”, “slippery” and likened to an eel in today’s papers.

Journalists who are happy to trade papers as soon as a chequebook is waved under their noses are happy to pan the Swede for doing no more than listening to offers of alternative employment.

In the reaction of the more hysterical arm of the Press to the revelation that Eriksson had met Chelsea chief executive Peter Kenyon lies a major reason why the man is considering jumping ship.

As Richard Williams points out in today’s Guardian, when Eriksson agreed to manage England he was accepting a job, not answering God’s calling.

But he now knows that to manage England’s football team “you have to take a monastic vow of poverty, chastity and obedience”.

You might think, he adds, that people would be delighted not only that Eriksson has decided to stay put but also that England have a manager coveted by the top clubs in Europe.

But it seems not – and the Sun and the Express joyfully report the unlikely news that it was only the threat of the sack that forced the Swede’s hand.

Having got it so wrong with regards to the Chelsea job, you might have thought the papers would demonstrate some humility today.

Far from it – the Star even announces that shocking news that Sven could still quit his job.

His contract has apparently not been signed in blood and the FA have failed to take any member of Eriksson’s family hostage as a precaution against him leaving.

As for events on the pitch, Arsenal were held to a 1-1 draw by Manchester United yesterday – a result which gave the Gunners a record 30-game unbeaten start to the season.

But, says the Telegraph, “seldom has an historic moment been greeted with so little joy” as Thierry Henry rumbled down the tunnel with a face like a tropical storm.

If it is too early to predict the decline and fall of Arsenal on the basis of one home draw, it appears that the same is not true of England’s rugby players.

To be beaten by three points in Paris is hardly a disgrace, but the undertakers are out in force to carry away the body of the world champions.’

Posted: 29th, March 2004 | In: Back pages | Comment


Box Of Tricks

‘MARSEILLES’ players may be “indecent” in the mind of Liverpool manager Gerard Houllier, but they form a more decent outfit than his Reds.

Wednesday’s man is full of woe

The Independent leads with news that Liverpool are out of the Uefa Cup, having lost the game in France 2-1, the tie 3-2, and with it any chance of lifting silver this season.

And Houllier is aggrieved. “The penalty was an outrageous decision,” says he of the French side’s successfully taken spot kick when trailing 1-0.

And it was a dubious decision, as Marseilles’ Steve Martlet made sure he fell in the penalty box under pressure from Liverpool’s Igor Biscan, even earning the Croatian a red card for his foul.

But in football much that goes around comes around, and what went for Liverpool at Yeovil and Portsmouth in the FA Cup now goes against them in the Uefa.

Meanwhile in football some things just do not change. Ken Bates might have exchanged the Chelsea lion for the Sheffield Wednesday owl, but he’s still fighting anyone and everyone.

The Telegraph says that Bates has been accused of “losing his marbles” following his claim that the Wednesday board has yet to release financial date on the club, so stalling the bearded one’s £10million investment.

This has led to the Yorkshire club’s chairman, Dave Allen, questioning Bates’ motives. He says he has given the full books to Bates and that Bates “is obviously trying to destabilise the club and create a lot of problems”.

And that includes Bates turning on the club’s current coach, Chris Tuner. “I don’t know of a successful manager who has ever played as a goalkeeper,” says Bates, “and that’s one of the problems.”

The other problems, Bates will get to – and possibly exacerbate in the fullness of time…’

Posted: 26th, March 2004 | In: Back pages | Comment


Screaming Blue Murder

‘“YOU’LL have to kill us,” Chelsea manager Claidio Ranieri said, warning Arsenal that drastic measures would be necessary to see off his side after last night’s 1-1 draw at Stamford Bridge.

‘One down, ten to go’

Technically, that isn’t true. Arsenal could progress to the next round of the European Cup either by beating Chelsea at Highbury or even by holding them to a goalless draw.

Indeed, killing Chelsea might be counterproductive – in its determination to clean up the game, Fifa is taking a hard line on extra-judicial killing of any sort.

Arsene Wenger would be gutted to guide the Gunners to the European Cup semi-final for the first time in the club’s history only to find most of his players serving suspensions.

“Do Or Die,” says the Mirror headline, taking up this same rather macabre theme.

It reckons that Robert Pires’ headed goal, which equalised Eidur Gudjonsson’s excellent opportunist strike, has put Arsenal in charge of the tie.

But the Express thinks that Chelsea are, in the words of its headline, “Still In With A Gud Shout”.

Certainly, they are in a better position than Monaco, who scored first (and last) against Real Madrid last night but unfortunately conceded four times in between.

However, the Star has news that Real manager Carlos Queiroz could return to Old Trafford as Alex Ferguson’s number two if he gets the sack from Madrid.

Why exactly Queiroz should get the sack with his club top of La Primera Liga and well on its way to a European Cup semi-final is not explained.

But football is a game in constant flux and so it is we hear rumours in the Mail that Ken Bates is to return to football as chairman of Sheffield Wednesday with Dennis Wise his choice as the Owls’ manager.

Graeme Souness is linked by the Star with a return to Rangers, a club that is the target of a takeover. As is Aston Villa, which, the Mirror says, is the target of former Manchester City player Ray Ranson.

And finally Arsene Wenger could replace Sven Goran Eriksson as England manager, but only on a part-time basis (according to the Express).

But with all this going on, it is good to know that there are some things you can rely on – and the Sun has news that Newcastle striker Craig Bellamy is in trouble again.

This time, it apparently involved a “hotel row” with fans.’

Posted: 25th, March 2004 | In: Back pages | Comment


Whitewash?

‘THERE was a time not so long ago that any England win against the West Indies in a Test match was a cause for national celebration.

‘Will you be here next season, Claudio?’

But such is the decline in the fortunes of the side that dominated cricket in the 1970s and 1980s that England’s feat in retaining the Wisden Trophy does not even lead the Telegraph’s sports section.

It took the visiting batsmen just 23 minutes yesterday to get the 28 runs needed for victory and take a 2-0 lead in the four-Test series.

It is the first time England have retained the Wisden Trophy for 35 years – since the last time they won a series in the Caribbean in 1968.

“We expected to come here and win,” said England skipper Michael Vaughan, “but to be 2-0 up after only two games is beyond where we thought we’d be at this stage.”

The Times says England’s success is die to their having a better fast bowling attack than their hosts, a more cohesive team and “to judge by Brian Lara’s decision to demote himself in the order, the tougher and more confident leader”.

Back in England, however, all interest centres on tonight’s all English clash in the Champions’ League quarter-final at Stamford Bridge.

And all eyes are on Claudio Ranieri, Chelsea’s soon to be ex-manager.

The Times says the Italian is resigned to getting the sack irrespective of results between now and the end of the season – “a victim of Chelsea’s ruthless new hierarchy”.

But he “will fancy himself as a martyr if he knocks out Arsenal over the next fortnight and is shown the door”.

Such is the incompetence and insensitivity with which Chelsea have handled their manager’s situation that Ranieri is the focus of all the pre-match build-up.

The Indy likens him to a “dead man walking”, the horrific expression used in the United States to describe a prisoner on his way to execution.

Meanwhile, the Guardian reports that Ranieri’s employers have made an audacious bid to sign Rio Ferdinand, the suspended Manchester United and England centre-half.

United have apparently turned down the offer, as they have done similar bids from other top European clubs – but the paper says it is unclear whether that will be enough to deter Chelsea.

Meanwhile, the one-man brawl that is Craig Bellamy has apparently been in a scrap with the team coach ahead of Newcastle’s Uefa Cup trip to Real Mallorca.

Only by reading on do we understand that it was the Geordies’ first team coach John Carver rather than the bus used to transport the team to the airport.

With Bellamy, you never know…’

Posted: 24th, March 2004 | In: Back pages | Comment


Jones Steam

‘THE Sun, which prides itself on getting football scoops, leads with news that Claudio Ranieri is a goner.

Jones follows through with an uppercut

That which was rumour is still rumour – but it’s now at least a rumour laced with some degree of fact as the paper reports on how the Italian called together his team to say goodbye.

Ranieri called a meeting after training and told his players that he will be sacked at the season’s end.

The speculation over his tenure at the club has got to the gregarious Italian, who argues that if the club really want him to stay they would dismiss talk of his successor with a firm denial.

“The club should do something to defend the coach,” he says. “If they don’t want to, I cannot say anything more.”

So Ranieri is out, to be replaced with…well, just about anyone – or what about everyone?

Given Chelsea’s drive to purchase anything in boots, they might take on a handful of managers and rotate them during the game.

While Ranieri’s lament cannot help Chelsea as they prepare for their Champions’ League quarter-final with Arsenal, one team with a firm sense of direction occupy the Telegraph.

The team are the England cricket side and they are heading towards victory in the second Test against the West Indies, having already won the first rubber.

What Steve Harmison did in the that first encounter, the Times watches Simon Jones try to do in the second, as the fast bowler took five wickets for just 57 runs.

But not all is rosy, and the Telegraph says that Jones behaved rather less like a gentleman and rather more like a player when giving two of his victims a vulgar send-off.

His boorish behaviour will most likely earn him a fine for breaking the International Cricket Council’s code of conduct.

But will it, as the paper says, take the gloss of England’s scheduled victory?

Answer: no. The idea of England going 2-0 up in the West Indies is so notable an achievement that the history books will have little or no time for Jones’s show of pique.

If you want to win, aggression is needed, and the Independent says that just such a quality has been located in Tim Henman.

The tigerish one is now the world’s eighth best player, according to the latest tennis rankings, and the paper is of the opinion that Henman’s re-emergence as a tennis force is down to his “new-found aggression”.

On the eve of the Dubai Open, Henman appears to be in uncharacteristic bullish mood.

Reminded by the paper’s John Roberts of his poor record against Lleyton Hewitt, Henman turns on his inquisitor.

“Let’s get this straight,” he says. “If I was 7-0 against you, then I’d start to worry…

“If I was losing seven times in a row against a guy ranked 75 or 100 in the world, then there would be a question mark.”

Henman seems to have reached the conclusion that he is a talented player – and he is.

But his repeated failure to win the matches that matter stymie any further move up the rankings board, aggressive or not.’

Posted: 23rd, March 2004 | In: Back pages | Comment


Claudio Hanging Over Blues

‘CHELSEA lie second in the Premiership with the fifth highest points total at this stage of the season ever, as well as being in the quarter-final of the Champions’ League.

Out!

At the weekend, they beat neighbours Fulham for their 20th league win of the season.

But once again, all the talk in the papers is about the future of manager Claudio Ranieri, the popular Italian who has been undermined at every turn by the Stamford Bridge board.

“What’s new?” shrugged Ranieri, when asked about it by the Express. “I’ve been in this position since Eriksson visited Abramovich, so I can’t see what changes there are in the situation.”

The Mail says the sacking of Ranieri will provoke dismay among Chelsea fans, but the man himself seems resigned to his fate.

“Even an unlikely Champions’ League triumph against Arsenal this week will not be enough to save him,” it says.

However, Chelsea are becoming impatient with their chosen successor, Sven Goran Eriksson, and want him to make up his mind whether he will stay on as England boss beyond Euro 2004.

If he does decide to stay with the FA, Chelsea will turn to alternative candidates “believed to feature” Ottmar Hitzfeld, Fabio Capello, Carlo Ancelotti and Martin O’Neill.

As for Ranieri, the Mirror says he wants to stay on in the Premiership when he finally does get the sack.

“Should the situation arise,” says agent Jon Smith, “I know he would prefer to stay in this country.”

For those of us who thought that the tennis season lasts only two weeks and is called Wimbledon, the Sun has news from Indian Wells where Tim Henman wilted in the burning Californian sunshine and lost to World No.1 Roger Federer in the final of the Pacific Life Open.

However, the Brit picked up £115,000 as runner-up, as well as cementing his place within the Top 10.

And Federer had some encouraging words for those who still harbour hopes that Henman could one day end Britain’s years of failure in the one grand slam event that really matters here.

“Tim is always difficult to play against, he’s very dangerous and I think he’s figured out his own game now,” the Swiss ace said.

“He knows what to do now and the results show.”

Federer won the match 6-3, 6-3.’

Posted: 22nd, March 2004 | In: Back pages | Comment


No Defence

‘FOOTBALLERS earn an absurd – and many would say obscene – amount of money, so how is it that they seem to be so badly advised.

United’s defence is resting

Rio Ferdinand yesterday lost his appeal against his eight-month ban for failing to attend a drugs test and with it his chance of appearing for England in Portugal in the summer.

And however much the Sun might try to excite sympathy for the Manchester United centre half this morning, one suspects that Ferdinand is somewhat fortunate that the length of the ban wasn’t increased.

With better advice, Ferdinand would have held up his hand to his offence at the beginning, probably received a lenient sentence and would now be looking forward to arriving in Portugal refreshed and raring to go.

As it was, both he and his club have fought what is essentially an open-and-shut case every step of the way and, whatever the Sun’s Shaun Custis thinks, got what he – and they – deserved.

However, even Ferdinand’s rejected appeal has to take second place in most papers this morning to a piece of history at Cheltenham where Best Mate won the Gold Cup for the third year in succession.

Only three horses, including the legendary Arkle, have achieved the feat before.

And, says the Telegraph, Arkle’s admirers are quick to defend their equine hero, saying that the winner of the Gold Cup in 1964, 1965 and 1966 would start as odds-on favourite were he alive today.

Best Mate’s trainer Henrietta Knight (who was too nervous even to watch the race) refused to get drawn into what is always a fatuous argument.

“Arkle was a great horse, Best Mate is a good horse – let’s leave it like that,” she said.

Similarly, comparisons between this England cricket side and the last England cricket side to win in the Caribbean are pointless.

But after their victory in the first Test at Sabina Park, Michael Vaughan’s men know that they have a great chance of emulating the 1968 team.

Much will depend on the toss and the Times says England are hoping to reverse their recent abysmal form in that department and take an early stranglehold on the match.

Much will also depend on West Indies skipper Brian Lara, who will be playing on his home ground and will be desperate to avenge last week’s humiliation.

However, as the Times points out, his average in Trinidad is only 40 – 10 less than his overall average and, until last year, he had only scored four Test fifties on the ground.

England’s bowlers, meanwhile, can only hope that their appeals meet a more favourable reception than did Rio Ferdinand’s…’

Posted: 19th, March 2004 | In: Back pages | Comment


The Eyes Have It

‘ACCORDING to the official Chelsea website, Sebastian Coe is a fan of the club.

Appealing for leniency

But surely that cannot have any bearing on his call for Rio Ferdinand’s eight-month ban for missing a drugs test to be upheld.

The Express says that on the morn of Ferdinand’s appeal, the former athlete and former Tory MP thinks the ban was right.

“My gut view is that the ban was probably proportionate,” says Coe. “Missing or failing to take a drugs test is a doping offence.”

Meanwhile, the Sun hears that Ferdinand is hopeful that his ban will be reduced on appeal.

He tells the paper’s Shaun Curtis that he has never taken drugs. “No way, drug-taking is just stupid,” says the player.

“So I stared hard into his eyes and asked him: ‘Have you ever taken drugs?’” writes Curtis.

“Ferdinand’s stared straight back and without a flicker of his eye, rapped: ‘Never.’”

“I warned him that if he ever had, it would come out. Someone, somewhere would tell the story.”

Perhaps Curtis is right. But he should stare into a mirror and thus his own eyes and ask himself why, if Ferdinand has never been accused to taking drugs, are you asking him if he has?

And if he has taken drugs, why do you think it would come out, given the player’s inability to be tested and therefore proof to be found?

Elsewhere, away from football’s gutter, Michael Owen scored a goal last night. “Take that!” says the headline in the Mail. “Owen and Beckham answer critics and England lift for 2004.”

The Beckham is Day-vid Beckham, and he also scored a goal last night, a 30-yard free kick for Real Madrid, so confounding his, er, critics.

And if you know who any of those critics are, please let us know, since we’ve been labouring under the impression that Beckham has done no wrong and is universally loved in Spain, England and everywhere else.

As for Owen, well, he has been struggling to score in the proverbial brothel, so news of his two goals is indeed a fillip to his club (Liverpool beat Portsmouth 3-0) and his country.

Of course, one decent performance doesn’t really change things, something Claudio Ranieri is mindful of as his side prepare for the season’s run-in.

Whether he wins anything or not this term, the Mirror says that the Chelsea manager with the voice of an Italian Del Boy is on his way out.

His replacement will be one Ottmar Hitzfeld, a German and the current manager of Bayern Munich.

“At the moment I want to see out my contract at Bayern which runs until 2005,” says Hitzfeld.

Which in football speak means pretty much nothing, especially for a man whose side have just crashed out of the Champions’ League.

Although if we really want to know the truth, we should stare hard into his eyes and then ask him. And if Paul McKenna’s not available for the job, best get Shaun Curtis…’

Posted: 18th, March 2004 | In: Back pages | Comment


Europe Trembles

‘IT’S becoming less that no-one likes Millwall per se and more that no-one likes playing them in the FA Cup.

A real two-pointer

The Sun reports that last night the Lions of South East London booked their place in the last four of the oldest knock-out cup with a 2-1 win over Tranmere Rovers.

That’s set up a semi-final clash with Sunderland and leaves Millwall one step away from bringing European football to the New Den.

“It’s great for the fans and great for the players,” says the team’s manager, Dennis Wise. And he’s right, but how good it will be for Anglo-European relations remains to be seen.

While the Foreign Office gets its apologies ready for the arrival of Millwall fans on the continent, Michael Owen is at an all-time low.

Speaking in the Express, Owen says the day he missed a penalty at Portsmouth in Liverpool’s FA Cup tie on the south cost was just awful.

“I was just so low I just wanted to wrap the season up there and then,” says the former boy wonder.

“I remember thinking: ‘I wish someone would just give us that fourth place and we could finish it all now.’”

That’s a pretty telling indictment on how far things have slumped at Anfield, when the club’s biggest star sees fourth as the height of his and his side’s ambitions.

Very soon third or fourth in the Premiership might be the limit of Manchester United’s target such has been the slide in their form of late.

But Thierry Henry says in the Sun that United are a great side and will be back.

Not so, says former Old Trafford stopper Jaap Stam in the Mail.

“Arsenal and Chelsea have moved forward quickly, while United have stood still,“ says the Dutchman who formed part of United’s historic treble.

He has a point, but United have not been helped in their efforts to rebuild a winning side by the departure of Rio Ferdinand, their best defender.

However, things may soon change when, as the Mail reports, the player gets his appeal heard.

Tomorrow, Ferdinand will stand before the FA and explain why he missed a routine drugs test. And, so the story goes, he will offer up a hair from his head for testing in a bid to prove that he is clean.

But the follicle test is not one recognised by the authorities, and he might antagonise things further, resulting in an extension to his eight-month ban.

He has, as the paper points out, not been banned for failing a drugs test but for not taking one in the first place.

What he does now comes too little and too late to save his season – or that of his team…’

Posted: 17th, March 2004 | In: Back pages | Comment


Horses For Courses

‘THE Sun marks the arrival of the annual Cheltenham racing festival with a special insert.

Thaksin Shinawatra adopts Liverpool’s familiar prayer position

All the riders and racing personalities are profiled. There’s Paddy ‘The Fixer’ O’Hallohan, Jimmy ‘Dead Cert’ Jameson and Paul ‘Can’t Fail’ Sorene.

It’s an indispensable guide, although it can be thrown away with some disgust when the jockey riding the horse you’ve just backed stops off for a graze and to remove something from his shoe halfway round the course.

The only thing missing from the welter of information and betting advice is a large pin and Mystic Meg’s predictions as to what will happen.

If you do win big, however, you can always gazump Thailand’s billionaire Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra and buy a large stake in Liverpool FC.

The Express leads with news that a consortium led by the man has agreed to buy 25 per cent of the club’s shares for £50m.

This is seen as being good news by the paper, which says how the Reds have “landed a whopper” in a deal that was done and dusted in a Bangkok fish restaurant.

It’s hard to see what the new money will do to Liverpool, although selling shirts in Asia appears to be one of the more achievable goals.

Meanwhile the Sun hears that Manchester United’s plan to dress the world in their colours is coming apart at the seams.

The paper says that Old Trafford insiders fear Roy Keane is ready to quit the club and Ruud van Nistelrooy is packing his bags for life in Real Madrid.

The Mirror adds to the list and says that Ryan Giggs, Diego Forlan and Nicky Butt are all to be offloaded at the season’s end.

So long as the deportees are replaced by top players of rare talent the United fans will not be too downhearted. And buoyed by the news that Phil Neville will be staying.

Phew!’

Posted: 16th, March 2004 | In: Back pages | Comment


Barmy Harmy

‘ONE hopes that the person who described the England bowling attack as “the worst in living memory” is sitting down this morning to breakfast on his words.

Don’t worry, Brian, England know how it feels

Steve Harmison and the rest of the England attack certainly did a pretty good job yesterday of throwing the insults back at their critics as they bowled West Indies out for 47.

Not only was that West Indies’ lowest ever total in a Test innings, Harmison (who finished with figures of 7-12) returned the best ever figures at Sabina Park.

And before we cast too many aspersions on the quality of the West Indies’ batting, let’s remember that Brian Lara is officially the best batsman in the world, while the likes of Shivnarine Chanderpaul and Ramnaresh Sarwan boast healthy Test records.

The Times prefers to praise England’s attack than castigate the West Indies batting, saying they made “sensational use of the new ball and a pitch that, kept fresh by showers, had retained its pace and bounce”.

“For its consistency and unrelenting menace, Harmison’s spell brought back immediate memories of the match-winning performance by Bob Willis at Headingley in 1981,” it says.

In that instance, England bowled Australia out cheaply in the fourth innings to become the first ever team to win a Test after following on.

Yesterday, England cantered to a 10-wicket win and took a 1-0 lead in the series. West Indies, says the Times, will have to defy longish odds if it is to repeat its 2000 feat and win the series from this position.

Proving that the sports world really has turned upside down, Manchester United – for so long the benchmark of excellence in English football – yesterday slipped to an embarrassing 4-1 defeat.

It was made worse by the fact that their opponents were local rivals Manchester City and the result at Ewood Park the day before where Arsenal had won top open up a 12-point gap over their rivals.

United have a comfortable 15-point cushion over Charlton in fourth place, otherwise one might wonder about their ability even to qualify for next season’s Champions’ League.

The Guardian follows the example of the United manager in blaming his defence in what was the tenth game in a row without a clean sheet.

“Simple defending is the most effective,” the Scot said, “and we’re not defending very realistically at the moment.”

However, Alan Hansen in the Telegraph reckons it is United’s weakness in midfield that is really costing them dear.

With David Beckham, Paul Scholes, Roy Keane and Ryan Giggs in the middle (with Nicky Butt as an alternative, “the opposition often looked beaten before the match had even begun”.

“The lack of strength that United have in that department is killing them at the moment,” he says.

“Teams no longer fear them and City had few problems getting among them yesterday.”

It looks like the end of an era at Old Trafford.’

Posted: 15th, March 2004 | In: Back pages | Comment


Beck To His Roots?

‘THE award for the biggest punt in this morning’s papers goes to the Sun, which claims that David Beckham is on his way back to England…and to Stamford Bridge.

England expects

The paper says that Chelsea’s billionaire owner Roman Abramovich has made Beckham his No.1 target and is preparing a huge offer for the star.

That may be true, but why would Beckham – who gives every indication of being happy in Madrid – want to return to England?

The Sun suggests that Victoria’s inability to settle in Spain and her fears for her husband’s safety are the reason why the Beckhams have decided not to renew the lease on their £4.5m Madrid house and axed plans to enrol Brooklyn into Madrid’s top English-speaking school.

And Real, it says, “may be sympathetic to letting the Gallatico move if they felt the strain of missing his family was too much”.

The Mail suggests that Beckham may also be on his way back to England, saying Real officials “are preparing to receive a transfer request from their star midfielder”.

And it says Real would allow him to leave for slightly more than the £17.2m the club paid Manchester United up front.

Homesick or not, why Beckham would want to trade Real Madrid for Chelsea is beyond us, and we fully expect to see him turning out for the Madrilenos next season.

Meanwhile, another Spanish club, Real Mallorca, were on the end of an English drubbing last night, falling 4-1 to Newcastle in the first leg of their Uefa Cup fourth round tie.

“Rampage,” says the Mail of the 17-minute second-half burst in which the Geordies came back from a goal down to take charge of the tie.

The same cannot be said of Liverpool, who were held 1-1 by Marseille.

The French celebrated the result with a singsong in their dressing room after the game, which clearly rankled Liverpool boss Gerard Houllier.

“They have done my team-talk for me,” he said.

There was no doubt that England fast bowler Simon Jones was fired up on his return to the Test side after a 16-month absence through injury.

And he celebrated by taking the wicket of West Indies skipper Brian Lara with his 13th ball as England had a decent first day of the Caribbean series, reducing the hosts to 311-9 by stumps.

The Sun blames a loss of discipline among the England bowlers in the middle of the innings for the West Indies revival from 101-4 to 281-5, courtesy of 108 from Devon Smith and 84 from Ryan Hinds.

“But the pitch is good,” says Jones, “and I still think we bowled well together as a unit.”

Let’s hope they bat as well as a unit later today.’

Posted: 12th, March 2004 | In: Back pages | Comment


All Gunners Blazing

‘IT is easy to go overboard when looking at Arsenal’s performances in recent days.

A one-man Spanish lesson

First the demolition of Portsmouth and now the defeat of Celta Vigo – and with that passage into the last eight of the Champions’ League – have marked the Gunners out for special attention.

And where there is hyperbole, there is ever the Sun, which leads with a shot of Arsenal’s Thierry Henry, who scored a brace in his team’s 2-0 victory over the Spaniards, and news that the Gunners can go all the way.

The Sun lets it be known that bookies have installed Arsenal as their favourites to win the Champions’ League, offering them at 5-2.

This is nonsense, given that the Gunners have never progressed past the quarter-finals and are in an octet with such luminaries of the European scene as AC Milan and Real Madrid.

Arsenal might well be, as the Telegraph’s Paul Hayward puts it, “becoming unplayable, unanswerable”, but fortunes in sport can change in an instant.

Just listen to Gary Neville, speaking in the Mirror. “A few weeks ago we were top of the Premiership, four points clear, with the best defensive record,” says he.

“Now, all of a sudden, we’re a shambles everywhere, nine points behind Arsenal and out of the Champions’ League. We’re devastated.”

But what to do? Well, buying back David Beckham is an option, just as getting rid of some of the current Old Trafford crop offers another.

As the Telegraph’s Henry Winter says, “no real glamour pervades Old Trafford now, no box-office darling parades up and down the pitch in the magical manner of an Eric Cantona or David Beckham”.

There is Phil Neville and his even more intelligent brother Gary. And there is Alex Ferguson.

The question is: which one will leave first?’

Posted: 11th, March 2004 | In: Back pages | Comment


Any Porto In A Storm

‘MANCHESTER United never lose. They are always victims of the referee, the watch and the speed of the earth’s rotation. Never do Alex Ferguson’s team lose to the better outfit.

Gary Neville wipes away a tear

And today things are just as they always are as the Mail says how United were “ambushed” by Porto and the linesman who incorrectly disallowed a Paul Scholes goal.

But there was nothing wrong with Costinha’s goal – other than that is went against United and nature – which gave the Porto team a 1-1 draw on the night and a 3-2 victory over the two legs.

And while “Fergie counts the Costinha” (Express) and

mulls over United’s departure from the Champions’ League, elsewhere in the paper we learn that Ken Bates is suing Chelsea for £2m.

The bearded one has issued a writ against his former club for breach of contract after he left Stamford Bridge before his contact was up.

The sum is, of course, small change to the new man at the Chelsea helm, one Roman Abramovich, someone who has splashed out millions on such things as a Joe Cole and a Juan Veron.

In light of those purchases, a couple of million quid to keep Bates happy – and away from Stamford Bridge – looks like a bargain.

Abramovich could perhaps dip into the cash pot that Chelsea reaped from progressing to the last eight of the Champions’ League, a route than took them past German side VFB Stuttgart.

“This was success without soul,” says the Telegraph’s man on the spot, “a display of “straight-jacket football.”

In reaching the quarter-finals without scoring a goal (Chelsea’s winning strike was an own goal), the Blues did little to suggest that they will win the most prized pot in European football.

But they are there, United are not, and hoping to join Chelsea in the latter stages are Arsenal, who, as the Star says, are planning to emulate the Ajax side of the 1970s.

“I like my teams to play well and give the same kind of enjoyment, but we are a long way from that Ajax side because we have not won the European Cup once,” says manager Arsene Wenger.

He’s right, but a good performance against Celta Vigo tonight should see the Gunners inch one step closer to their goal.’

Posted: 10th, March 2004 | In: Back pages | Comment


This Sporting Life

‘MICKY Adams, the Leicester City manager, says he felt a “moral obligation” to resign his post in the wake of his players’ trip to La Manga.

A man’s game?

The Telegraph hears Adams talk of these being his “darkest days”, as three of his side languish in a Spanish prison amid allegations that they forced themselves on three German women.

He says that he could have done more, chiefly to have put his team on a curfew. “I treated them like adults and I expected them to behave like adults,” he said.

He should have known better. Although the players have been proved guilty of nothing, mud sticks and Adams might have noticed that a couple of years back Leicester City’s adults disgraced themselves in the same resort.

And while Leicester is sullied, the entire sport of racing is in the mire.

The Guardian marks a black day for the sport, when yesterday the Jockey Club charged four people with running a horse they knew to be lame and then backing it to lose.

On the same day, Kieren Fallon was being banned for 21 days for his performance at Lingfield, when his mount, Ballinger Ridge, lost from a winning position.

Such is the damage done to the credibility of the sport of horse racing that the Guardian sees events at Fontwell through suspicious eyes.

In contention with the race leader, Sean Fox and his ride Ice Saint appear to take the ninth fence with ease only for Fox to find that he cannot stay in the saddle. He slips off.

Nothing much in that, until the Guardian shows us how the odds on Ice Saint winning the race drifted from 10-11 overnight to as high as 6-1 on the day.

The results is that Ice Saint lost, and, as the Times says, Fox was found guilty of “stepping off” his horse and banned for 21 days by local stewards.

You can, of course, get much slimmer odds on Manchester United beating Porto tonight in the Champions’ League.

The Sun hears Gary Neville, Rio Ferdinand’s apologist-in-chief, calling Porto a “bunch of girls” in the Sun.

“They were supposed to be men we were playing,” he said, “yet they were rolling round the pitch like they had been shot and that is not good for football.”

Quite so. And how much we were cheered to see football restore its image when Gary pushed his head into Steve McManaman’s face and Roy Keane extend his studs into an opponent’s chest.

More like them, and the game will be back where it belongs…’

Posted: 9th, March 2004 | In: Back pages | Comment


Wise After The Event

‘IT’S easy to be wise after the event, especially if your name happens to be Dennis Wise.

No one likes him

But the Millwall player-manager was said to be furious with himself for allowing skipper Kevin Muscat to take a penalty in yesterday’s FA Cup quarter-final against Tranmere.

Needless to say, Muscat missed the spot-kick, the tie ended 0-0 and the Lions face a difficult replay at Prenton Park.

Ray Wilkins, Wise’s assistant, told the Star: “Dennis is disgusted with himself that he did not take the penalty, but Kevin just grabbed it and you cannot fault any player who has the courage to do that.”

To the untrained ear, it might sound as if Wilkins has done just that – but football, as Jimmy Greaves has never tired of reminding us, is a funny old game.

If Millwall do win the replay, they will face either Arsenal, Manchester United or Sunderland in the semis.

If it is Sunderland, who yesterday had Tommy Smith to thank for booking their passage with a 1-0 win over Sheffield United, then we will be guaranteed a non-Premiership club in the final.

However, the Sun says Manchester United are looking to bolster their squad, irrespective of how they fare in the FA Cup.

Alex Ferguson has apparently been sending his brother Martin to watch Porto right-back Paulo Ferreira and is lining up a £6m summer swoop to shore up his dodgy defence.

If that means Gary Neville’s place is under threat, then it is nothing compared with England’s rugby players who must fear a big post-World Cup shake-up after their defeat to Ireland on Saturday.

Scrum-half Matt Dawson tells the Express that “none of the players was particularly proud of the way they played” in the 19-13 home defeat.

But least proud, one imagines, was hooker Steve Thompson who had a nightmare with his line-out throwing.

“The hardest thing to stomach for me is the feeling that I’ve let the nation down as well as myself,” he tells the Mail. “There are worse things in life, of course, but to be one of the major contributors to England’s first defeat as world champions is not easy to live with.

“It had to be one of the worst days of my life in rugby.”

Sunday had to be one of the worst days of Kieren Fallon’s life in horse racing with the News Of The World alleging that he was involved in a race-fixing scam.

But the Mail says the champion jockey is to receive only a two-month ban after failing to win a controversial race at Lingfield last week in spite of being 10 lengths clear and cruising to victory.

The defeat was made worse by the weekend revelations that he tipped Rye, the heavily backed horse that pipped his mount on the line, to win.

But the Mail says Fallon will only be charged with bringing the sport into disrepute – a far less serious charge than selling information for money.’

Posted: 8th, March 2004 | In: Back pages | Comment


Fox Hunting

‘IT’S not as if Leicester footballers are any good on the pitch, so you think they would manage to behave off it.

Leicester City sully the name of Fabrizio Ravanelli

But, whatever the outcome of the Spanish police’s inquiries into events at a La Manga hotel, the bad name of the Premiership has once again been dragged through the mire.

“Slip another image into the portfolio of shame,” writes James Lawton in the Independent – and it was already a bulging book before this latest incident.

Where is the sense of responsibility among hugely rewarded footballers, he asks. But where also is the rage – “rage that this most pampered generation of sportsmen should so repeatedly disfigure a national game that has heaped upon them wealth and celebrity to the point of financial collapse”?

“What do they [the fans] think now when they look up from their factory benches or office desks? Do they feel part of a football dream? Or perhaps more likely, the victims of fraud?”

Or are these the same kind of fans whose sense of perspective is so lacking that they send death threats to the manager and star player of their own team?

The Guardian says Liverpool’s Michael Owen has followed Gerard Houllier in admitting that he has received death threats, which he admits are becoming “part and parcel” of the modern game.

“To be honest, although it is unfair and awful, nothing surprises me any more,” the England striker said yesterday. “It shouldn’t happen and it is not acceptable but it is almost part of the game nowadays.”

Owen already knows the more sinister side of “the beautiful game” as his sister was the victim of an attempted kidnapping in January.

And so does Houllier, who turns up to the club’s Melwood training ground to read graffiti which says things like: “Hope you die of Aids, Houllier”.

Even what is supposed to be a celebration of the game on the pitch cannot pass without controversy.

Pele’s choice of the 125 greatest living footballers has, in the words of the Telegraph, opened up to ridicule the man widely regarded as the greatest ever player.

“While any list is bound to attract controversy,” it says, “the inclusion of his namesake Abedi Pele (Ghana), El Hadji Diouf (Senegal) and Hong Myung-Bo (South Korea) smacks of political correctness rather than sound football judgement.”

Certainly, one wonders how they rank ahead of Jairzinho, who in 1970 became the only player to have scored in every round of a World Cup, Gerson and Tostao.

Another list that appears on the back of the Independent is bound to raise a few eyebrows, not least in Manchester.

In a rating of the top 11 European clubs, Premiership champions Manchester United scrape in at the very bottom, while Chelsea lie in ninth position and Arsenal sit pretty in second.

The rankings are, of course, completely meaningless – but if they serve to enrage Sir Alex Ferguson they are not completely in vain.’

Posted: 5th, March 2004 | In: Back pages | Comment


Turning Walter Into Whine

‘WITHOUT wishing to cast too may aspersions on the managerial nous of Walter Smith, his promotion to Alex Ferguson’s No. 2 at Old Trafford comes as something of a shock.

Desperate times, desperate measures

The Mirror (“FERGIE’S ROCK”) says that Smith’s arrival at Manchester United is a “desperate last-ditch attempt to salvage Manchester United’s season of turmoil”.

The Mail also uses the world “desperate” in its assessment of events and the man who has not coached at the highest level since he was sacked by Everton two years ago.

Of course things could be worse: Manchester United could have Gerard Houllier in charge.

At this slight, Liverpool fans can colour all they like, but they must know that Houllier’s plans for the future are all still very much in the future.

But taking the adage that a team is only as good as its last result, the Express tells how the “Rampant Reds” did well in seeing off the Uefa Cup challenge of Levski Sofia.

Also in the hunt for the Carling Cup of the pan-European game are Celtic, who beat a Czech outfit called Teplice, and Newcastle, who saw off tiny Norwegian club Valerenga.

But the biggest story – even bigger than British clubs beating a bunch of part-timers – is found in the Sun and the world of horse racing.

The proverbial mug’s game is under the spotlight following what the paper calls “THE £1.5 MILLION STINK”.

Jockey Kieren Fallon was ten lengths clear of the field on his mount Ballinger Ridge at Lingfield Park yesterday when he eased off the reins, was caught napping and finished second.

There is no suggestion that Fallon cheated, but the story is that, in losing from a commanding position, he made two punters (who had bet against him) £1.5m richer.

Such is the weight of the story that it makes it to the paper’s Sun Says column.

“But isn’t racing a sport where the sweetest smells often come from the stables,” it says.

Perhaps. But the reek of money does have a certain charm…’

Posted: 4th, March 2004 | In: Back pages | Comment


The Dead Pool

‘GIVEN the condition of Gerard Houllier’s heart, the death threat he received by letter might have its desired effect.

‘I didn’t hear him shout ‘Fore!”

In “HOULL DEATH THREAT”, the Sun says Houllier has been sent a letter in which he is invited to get out of Liverpool or be killed.

The missive claims that the would-be murderer knows the whereabouts and layout of the Frenchman’s home.

British football has learnt a lot from the foreign game in recent years, and now its seems the spirit of the Colombian system has finally reached our shores.

But while Houllier sweats it out and Liverpool fans get behind their manager (so lulling him into a false sense of security), the Mail casts an eye at England’s cricketing preparations in the West Indies.

News is that in a match against Jamaica, England’s Mark Butcher has fallen victim to a “freak” fall, one the paper says “appeared comical”.

The incident occurred when bowler Steve Harmison was returning to his mark. Nasser Hussain tossed the ball to Rikki Clarke at extra cover.

Butcher, who had run round from point, back-pedalled and stretched to catch it. In doing so, he fell over and twisted his ankle.

The thought of taking a catch – any kind of catch – is too tempting for an England’s cricketer.

It is painfully easy to get injured in sport, as Tiger Woods is hoping to prove as the Times watches him smack golf balls from the rooftop helipad of Dubai’s Burg Al Arab, the world’s tallest hotel.

In town for the Dubai Desert Classic, Woods can be seen standing 1,053ft above the ground, slamming golf balls into the distance.

Meanwhile, some thousands of miles away, Michael Vaughan has been knocked unconscious by an unidentified flying missile and Gerard Houllier’s stuck in a bunker…’

Posted: 3rd, March 2004 | In: Back pages | Comment


Singing The Blues

‘THERE are two men who have good reason not to roll out a red carpet and welcome young PSV Eindhoven forward Arjen Robben to these shores.

Robben – not a red breast

One is Sir Alex Ferguson, from under whose nose the Sun says Chelsea have signed the £13.5m 20-year-old (despite being given a guided tour of Old Trafford only a couple of months ago).

The other is Joe Cole, whose days at Chelsea now look numbered and who is pleading in the Star to be allowed to leave Stamford Bridge and look for first-team football elsewhere.

The Times reports that Robben will be the 13th player to arrive at Chelsea since Roman Abramovich took over in July with a total outlay of £134m.

But his is the first deal to be conducted by Peter Kenyon, the chief executive who walked out on Manchester United in September and is now involved in gazumping his former club.

Why United need to buy another forward when most of their problems stem from a porous defence is anyone’s guess.

Chelsea, on the other hand, seem to be working on the theory that they are as well served by denying their rivals a player regarded as one of the best youngsters in Europe as they are by strengthening their own team.

At the other end of the age spectrum, the Guardian has news that 35-year-old Jason Leonard has been dropped from England’s rugby union squad to face Ireland at the weekend.

That, one would normally think, would spell the end of the old stalwart’s international career were it not for the fact that 35-year-old Neil Back is recalled, if only to the bench.

The paper says there is no doubting the power and potential of Matt Stevens, the 21-year-old called in to replace the world’s most capped prop, but wonders what Leonard has done to deserve the chop.

“Not since he was dropped to the bench after England’s grand slam defeat in Dublin in October 2001 has Leonard’s form or fitness been remotely questioned,” it says, “and Woodward could not have raised more eyebrows had he chosen a couple of part-timers from Pertemps Bees after their stunning Powergen Cup win over Wasps on Sunday.”

The same could not be said of England’s cricketers, although their West Indies tour got off to a good start owing mainly to an 82-ball century by captain Michael Vaughan.

However, the Mirror has bad news for the England opener – his ton may be written out of the record books because it was scored against 12 fielders.

Vaughan didn’t seem particularly upset, arguing that playing 12 a side allowed his team to get more match practice than they otherwise would.

If only they could be allowed the same leeway in Test matches…’

Posted: 2nd, March 2004 | In: Back pages | Comment


A Wait Off Their Mind

‘IT was only the Carling Cup but, after 128 years without a single piece of silverware, Middlesbrough were not going to quibble.

Middlesbrough party likes it 1876

The whistle that brought to an end yesterday’s match also, in the words of the Telegraph, “blew away bitter memories of failed finals, liquidation, relegation and decade after decade of frustration”.

The scoreline was 2-1 after 90 “pulsating” minutes of what the paper says was arguably the best final in this competition since Luton beat Arsenal 16 years ago.

But it was not without controversy, as the Guardian publishes stills to confirm Bolton manager Sam Allardyce’s claim that Middlesbrough’s second goal should not have been allowed.

And not for handball, offside or any of the usual reasons, but because while taking a seventh minute penalty Bolo Zenden actually struck the ball twice.

The Dutchman slipped as he took the kick, “keeling over so that his left foot struck the ball and knocked it against his right”.

Somehow the ball still found the back of the net, but the paper says the double contact should have resulted in an indirect Bolton free-kick rather than Boro’s second goal.

There was something pretty dodgy about Arsenal’s two goals against Charlton on Saturday, the first of which was certainly offside, but there is no escaping the fact that the Gunners are running away with the Premiership title.

Arsene Wenger’s men are now nine points clear of Chelsea and Manchester United and still on course to go through the whole season unbeaten.

We could tell you how Robert Pires and Thierry Henry put their side 2-0 up within five minutes, how Louis Saha scored for United against his old club and how Chelsea’s Eidur Gudjohnsen stole three points against Manchester City.

But, knowing that the average football fan can’t digest acres of verbiage, the Times has helpfully condensed each game into a single sentence.

For Arsenal, this reads: “Memory of lost title fresh enough to keep team focused”; for Manchester United: “Manager made to pay for taking opponents lightly again”; and for Chelsea: “Iceland striker happy to settle for second best”.

For some matches, this brevity is a blessing. Once we learn, for instance, that “relegation nerves lead to ugly encounter” in the goalless draw between Leicester City and Wolves, we are not tempted to read further.

But that would be a mistake because in the account of the match in this morning’s Mail we discover that Leicester’s Paul Dickov has been labelled “football’s most irritating player”.

It is an accolade indeed, especially with such stiff competition.

Indeed, so upset is Robbie Savage to have lost out, rumour has it that he has threatened to sue.’

Posted: 1st, March 2004 | In: Back pages | Comment


World Cup Shame

‘SPEAKING to the Sun, Rugby World Cup hero Jonny Wilkinson is in self-effacing mood.

As any Australian will tell you, real men don’t dance

Recalling the last seconds of the World Cup final, England’s fly-half is critical of his reaction to victory.

“It’s pathetic,” says he, ”but I just shouted ‘World Cup, World Cup’, and started running around and jumping on people.”

But you can forgive winners most things, and Wilkinson’s acts of joy might have been forgettable but they were delivered with good grace.

That’s a quality often lacking in Alex Ferguson, the purpled faced Manchester United manager whose good sportsmanship has been questioned by Porto coach Jose Mourinho, in the Sun.

He says that Fergie called one of the Porto players a cheat (well, United did lose) and had simulated a foul. Mourinho told him to look at the TV footage before passing comment.

“But when he sees the replay and finds our player did not cheat, I want him to apologise.”

Chances are the Porto man will have a long wait for that moment of contrition, although if United go on to win the tie over the full two legs, you can imagine a smiling Fergie placing his arm round his opposite number’s shoulders and wishing him all the best in the future.

Ah, the future. What will it bring? What will happen to Alan Sharer who, as the Telegraph reports, was left on the bench for Newcastle’s Uefa Cup match in Norway last night?

The game ended with scores locked at 1-1, but even with the precious away goal in the bag, Shearer is not best pleased.

He says he was “surprised”, “disappointed” and “angry” at being dropped from the starting XI.

But football is full of shocks. And Shearer’s demotion, though newsworthy, will pale into insignificance should Alex Ferguson learn to lose or, indeed, win with anything approaching good grace…’

Posted: 27th, February 2004 | In: Back pages | Comment