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Sports news, sport betting, featuring football and Premier League teams, players from Arsenal, Chelsea, Liverpool and Manchester United. And David Beckham. Rugby World Cup. Backpage stories from the newspapers and BBC sport

Pills And Thrills

‘ONE day on from Arsenal’s pain in the Ukraine and the papers are awash with how great English football is.

Rio hears his offer on a new house has been accepted

The Star leads with news of Chelsea’s Champions’ League win over Lazio, and the Express hails Claudio Ranieri’s “British Bulldogs”.

The paper hears Chelsea’s Italian manager praise the fighting spirit of the British players in his team, a spirit that enabled the Blues to overturn a one goal deficit to win 2-1.

Last time we looked, Adrian Mutu, scorer of the game’s winning goal, was from Romania – although Chelsea did employ four British players last night, which goes some way to backing up Ranieri’s claim.

And from British grit to the ‘Battle of Britain’, the headline adopted by all the papers every time two British teams play each other in European competition.

This time, the Mail reports, the spoils went to Manchester United, who defeated Glasgow Rangers 1-0, thanks to a goal from Phil Neville, that most unlikely of champions.

The player, who looks like Albert Steptoe’s less bright son, even prompts the Sun to launch the headline “Phil The Thrill, a tribute to “the most important goal” of Neville’s career.

At least the headline is not ‘Rio The Pill’. Today, as the Mail reminds us all, is the day when Rio Ferdinand will learn his fate for missing a dope test.

The paper links the England defender’s name with that of Dwain Chambers, the athlete who tested positive for the so-called designer steroid, THG, and who tells the Mirror that he’s innocent of all charges.

The Mirror says that ever since his naming Chambers has been “crying his eyes out”. If found guilty of cheating, he faces a lifetime Olympic ban and a two-year suspension from athletics.

With so many endorsements and cash in athletics, it’s no wonder Europe’s fastest man is feeling down.

But others might soon be sharing his tissues, as the paper explains how up to 20 American athletes – including past Olympic champions and world record holders – are said to have tested positive for banned anabolic steroids.

And now the International Association of Athletics Federations has decided to retest all 400 samples taken from athletes at August’s World championships.

And if many cheats are sprung it could be brighter news for British athletics. With the top seven runners in each final race sacked, the spoils might go to an unlikely source.

We might just win some medals, after all…’

Posted: 23rd, October 2003 | In: Back pages | Comment


Chambers Of Horrors

‘IT will take something of a miracle for Arsenal to qualify for the next stage of the Champions League.

‘Who’s been a bad boy, then?’

All the papers lead with the news that the Gunners last night lost 2-1 to Dinamo Kiev.

The team the Mirror calls the “English Kings” now have a less-than-mighty one point from three games played and are bottom of their group.

The club’s manager, Arsene Wenger, tells the Sun that his boys gave everything and there is still much to play for.

But when you’re relying on winning three matches on the trot, including an away tie at Inter Milan, things are not overly promising.

But at least Jens Lehman, who was, as the Mail says, at fault for Kiev’s second goal, is not Dwain Chambers.

The Express brings us the news that the British sprinter has tested positive for what the paper calls “the new designer anabolic steroid drug”.

By way of information for budding chemists and, one supposes, cheats out there, the drug is called tetrahydrogestrinone, or THG for short, and is available from all bad athletics coaches.

But, as is the way with these things, Chambers has the right to demand a second test be done on his sample and then, perhaps, remember that on the day of the test he drank a Ginseng tincture, freshened his breath with a spray and/or became the victim of a plot to do him down.

After so much hype and muck in sport, we have to search around for a sports story that sticks to the subject.

Looks like it‘s back to the Mirror and its sighting of Tim Henman making it to the second round of the Davidoff Swiss Indoors event in Basle.

“I’ve had lots of success here, and it’s given me confidence coming here,” says the tigerish one in light of his straight-sets win over Dutchman Martin Verkerk.

Sure, it might be a tournament few people have ever heard of, but it is a small reminder that sport is not all about football and drugs.

Just nearly all of it.’

Posted: 22nd, October 2003 | In: Back pages | Comment


Red Faces All Round

‘FEW of us can challenge the assertion that Alex Ferguson is a fine football manager, but even fewer of us would ever want to meet the man.

‘What part of ‘fucking cheat’ did you not understand?’

The Scot’s charmless credentials have a new outlet this morning, as the Mirror reports that he has just been handed a two-match touchline ban by the FA, following his outburst at Manchester United’s match in Newcastle.

The Mirror uses a few asterisks to deliver to its readers the full Fergie invective, in which he called referee Uriah Rennie a “f*****g cheat” and fourth official Jeff Winter a “f*****g joke”.

Given that level of abuse, it is pretty unbelievable that Fergie’s first reaction to his punishment, as the paper claims, was to consider an appeal.

But this is football – a place where apologies are rare and admissions of failings are rarer still.

Take the Sun’s story, another about Manchester United, this time dealing with the Rio Ferdinand scandal.

Apparently, the Football Association are unhappy that Ferdinand has yet to supply his phone records for their perusal. But Maurice Watkins, United’s solicitor, says the records have been delivered to the FA’s London headquarters.

Looking from the outside in at this story, the one clear thing is that nothing about the matter is, er, clear. Things need to be made transparent – and quick.

Meanwhile we ask you to join us in prayer for fans of Leeds United football club.

“Dear Professor, please make the Star’s story that Glenn Hoddle is to be the team’s next manager untrue.

“We have already suffered a plague from Venables, and Reid was a poor selection, but Hoddle would be akin to the slaughter of the innocents. Let it not be. Amen.”

Sadly, if the Star is to believed, Hoddle might yet be on his way to Elland Road, a replacement for the soon-to-be-ousted Peter Reid.

Yorkshiremen should look out for golden chariots in the sky. Leeds players should look at their contracts.’

Posted: 21st, October 2003 | In: Back pages | Comment


Bloody England

‘“LIKE him, loathe him or both, you cannot ignore Sir Alex Ferguson,” writes Mick Hume in this morning’s Times.

Dallaglio reminds the South Africans who’s number one

And so we turn our attention immediately to rugby where England are still basking in their World Cup win against South Africa, which has opened up a clear route to the semi-final.

With 36 hours to digest England’s below-par performance, the Independent suggests that the team which will be most worried by the game in Perth are the All Blacks.

They will almost certainly come up against the Springboks in Melbourne on November 8 where the two sides “will write another chapter of the most compelling, not to say bloody, story this most myth-laden of sports has ever concocted for itself and its adherents”.

Certainly, England forwards coach Andy Robinson was happy to talk up South Africa’s chances.

“We had a strong idea they would be good,” he said. “As it turns out, they are back to their best.”

But England will also have a few things to worry about, most notably up front, where Phil Vickery struggled in the scrum and Lewis Moody conceded too many penalties and too much ball in the loose.

However, while England have a points-scoring machine in Johnny Wilkinson, the Telegraph insists they will be a side to fear.

South African captain Corne Krige said of the 25-6 defeat: “You can look at this two ways. Maybe we have managed to create a bit of doubt in their minds and so given other teams hope.

“But England showed that, under difficult circumstances, they can take the points. When it came to the crunch, we didn’t. It was a cruel scoreboard.”

Although Will Greenwood left immediately after the game to return to England to be with his pregnant wife Caro, there was good news for England after it was announced that Laurence Dallaglio would not face action for giving Springbok wing Thinus Delport “a bit of a slap”.

And so to football, and Mick Hume was right. It is impossible to ignore Sir Alex Ferguson – but only because the Guardian reports that the FA are fuming that Manchester United have not yet handed over Rio Ferdinand’s mobile phone records.

Two Sunday papers yesterday published details of the calls that the England centre-half made while he was supposed to be at a routine drugs test and while his phone was said to have been turned off.

“The FA is now considering charging Ferdinand with wilfully evading a drugs test without waiting for the phone records to be produced,” it says.

If convicted, a ban of at least a year seems inevitable.’

Posted: 20th, October 2003 | In: Back pages | Comment


Seeds Of Doubt

‘OK, here’s a problem for all you mathematicians, logicians and puzzle freaks out there – devise a seeding system for Euro 2004 in which the Czech Republic and Sweden are ranked higher than England and Italy. Or Spain and Germany.

Fans celebrate Uefa’s decision to award the Cup to Portugal

Give up? Well, there’s no point you thinking of applying for a job at Uefa, is there?

Indications are that, when the draw is made at the end of next month for next summer’s competition, the four top seeded sides will be holders France, hosts Portugal, Sweden and Czech Republic.

How so? Apparently, the seedings will be based on each country’s record in qualifying for the 2002 World Cup and for next summer’s championship.

Performances in Japan and South Korea don’t appear to count for anything, which is why England and Spain will not get any credit for reaching the quarter-finals.

And, more to the point, Turkey will get no credit for reaching the semi-final nor Germany for reaching the final.

If you are not already shaking your head in disbelief, try to get it round this.

The Czechs did not even qualify for the last World Cup, losing out to Denmark in the group stages and Belgium in the play-offs, and yet their qualification record is deemed better than, say, Italy and England, both of whom qualified for both events at the top of their group.

It takes a special kind of fool to come up with such an absurd system, but thankfully Uefa has them in abundance.

The Swedes have admittedly been impressive in qualifying, although it might be said that they have not had the toughest of groups.

However, even in qualifying, their record is no better than that of England, Italy and Spain (after adjustments made for the fact that they had a six-team group for World Cup qualifying).

All four teams posted 11 wins, four draws and a single defeat in the 16 matches that count.

So how does the Czech Republic fare so well? In its 16 counting games, it posted 12 wins, only two draws and two defeats – which adds up to 38 points, one ahead of the rest.

But the only reason why it ranks higher than the four teams mentioned is because it can discard its 0-0 draw with Malta in the World Cup qualifiers because Malta finished bottom of the group.

The whole thing is a complete and utter nonsense.

It is high time that Uefa – and Fifa – agreed a single, transparent method of seeding major tournaments and announced it before the qualifying has even begun.

Otherwise, it looks like what it is – a grubby little stitch-up.

For the record, according to current Fifa rankings, the top four seeds should be France, Spain, England and the Netherlands, assuming the Dutch and Spanish qualify.

The next four are Turkey (assuming they get past Latvia), Germany, the Czech Republic and Italy.

The four after that are Denmark, Portugal, Sweden and, if they beat Slovenia, Croatia. And the final four would be Greece, Bulgaria, Switzerland and the winner of Russia and Wales.’

Posted: 17th, October 2003 | In: Back pages | Comment


Testing Times

‘IT was only a matter of time before Manchester United started flexing their corporate muscle in anticipation of a lengthy drugs ban for their centre half Rio Ferdinand.

England fans hope to have a smashing time in Portugal

And this morning the Premiership champions are firing a warning shot across the FA’s bows, saying they will sue if they feel the player is punished too harshly.

With Fifa threatening to intervene if they feel Ferdinand is let off too lightly for failing to attend a drugs test, the FA are now very much between the proverbial rock and hard place.

The Mail says United will only accept an FA charge that the England international missed his test by accident, in which case a fine is the most likely punishment.

If Ferdinand is charged with wilfully missing his test and banned, United will take the matter to court.

Meanwhile, erstwhile villains Arsenal are determined to put their bad reputation behind them with club chairman Peter Hill Wood telling the Express that the Gunners will never again be involved in scenes like those seen at Old Trafford last month.

Would that it were the same story with the walking scum that are English football hooligans.

The Mail reports that Euro 2004 organisers in Portugal are preparing to deal with the meatheads among England’s expected 50,000-strong support by offering the hand of friendship.

“We believe in our natural capacity to receive people,” tournament director Antonio Laranjo says. “Even the hooligans.”

If the hand of friendship doesn’t work, can we respectfully suggest a firm hand in the small of the back and push the thugs into the cold waters of the Atlantic.

We certainly don’t want them back.

Looking at this morning’s back pages, you would be forgiven for not knowing that England face one of the most important rugby matches of recent years tomorrow.

The Sun is just about the only paper to take an interest in the showdown with South Africa, which is so crucial to England’s World Cup chances.

Win – and Clive Woodward’s team can look forward to a relatively easy path to the semi-final. Lose – and a quarter-final with the All Blacks awaits.

However, the Springboks’ former communications director Mark Keohane insists his team has no chance, saying the squad has effectively split into two after the recent race row.

Keohane resigned in the wake of the Geo Cronje scandal, in which Cronje refused to share a room with Quinton Davids, a Cape Coloured teammate.

What was that Spitting Image song again?’

Posted: 17th, October 2003 | In: Back pages | Comment


Spit And Turkish

‘GIVEN that we know what David Beckham does each minute of his life, the Independent’s news that we missed a few incidents is in itself a sensation.

A horrible little scrote

Helping us to plug these painful gaps in our Beckham vision is Turkish player Alpay, who appears to have been the only human alive to have seen David Beckham headbutt him and then spit on his shirt.

“If the spit had hit me on the head I wouldn’t have been annoyed,” says the Aston Villa defender, “but it hit the crescent and the star on my Turkey shirt.”

But let’s not feel too sorry for the patriotic lad, because if the story is true – and forensics can check it – that shirt is now worth a small fortune.

And on the subject of things small and unpleasant, the Times has a picture of Dennis Wise, the unlovely Millwall footballer who is in line to become the club’s unlovely new coach.

By way of an apprenticeship the club’s owner, Theo Paphitis, has made Wise the caretaker manager of team affairs following the departure of Mark McGhee.

No word is heard of the pint-sized friend to the London cabbie, but a cartoon in the paper seems to say so very much.

A Millwall player has retuned home and is telling his wife: “Training?…Oh fine, today we learnt how to wind people up.”

If only Dennis Wise could be made to play in England’s rugby union World Cup match against South Africa this Saturday. That would, as the football parlance goes, learn ‘im.

It is rare for rugby to make the move to the news pages proper but today it does just that in the Times, where the big game is profiled.

In “locking horns with the Springboks”, the paper picks over the fractured bones and the frayed flesh of past England versus South Africa clashes.

“We need fire in the heart and ice in the brain,” says South Africa’s captain Corne Krige, who also needs some luck and, if the past match between the sides is any guide, boxing gloves and a blind referee.

But, as the paper says, England are “not exactly choirboys”, although a few flying South African elbows and crafty fists might make them sound so on Saturday.’

Posted: 16th, October 2003 | In: Back pages | Comment


Loyalty, Honesty, Fairness

‘HOLD the back page! Gary Neville, the slightly less slack-jawed half of football’s Neville brothers, is talking to the Times about his decision to support a fellow professional “found guilty without trial”.

One in the eye for English football

Oh, it is so very dramatic. Who would have thought that humble Gary would be such a champion of justice, helping to solve The Case of The Rio Drug Test?

He’s even penned the article in the Times himself – well, no one else has put their name to it, so he must have.

“Ask me what qualities distinguish the English and I would say honesty, fairness, hard work and loyalty,” says Gary, who tells us that the English football team live to those noble pillars of yeomanry.

And it follows – at least, to Gary it does – that Rio Ferdinand deserves a hearing before people started passing sentence. Sound fair? Loyal? Honest?

If you have not already come down on Gary’s side, then his line that “other players have missed drugs tests and not been banned” must see you four square behind England’s best defender in curly wig and silks.

Or not. What does he mean others have missed drugs tests? Who? And why have they not too been hauled before the FA’s beak.

Failure to take a drugs test when requested to is a breach of the rules. End of.

The FA is, as the Independent reports, not paying much heed to Neville’s impassioned defence of his mate.

It seems that the issue has taken on international relevance and Fifa will step in if they consider the FA’s punishment of Ferdinand too lenient.

That’s bad news for Gary Neville QC. Who knows what those pesky foreigners at Fifa HQ will do? They’re about as un-English as you can get. Rio will get the rope for sure.

One thing that is for certain in football is that Chelsea are very much in the hunt for the Premiership crown. Last night, as the Telegraph reports, the Blues drew 0-0 at Birmingham and climbed to the top of the table.

On Saturday they take on second placed Arsenal in a battle of English football.

To the winner, the spoils – the loyalty, the honesty and the fairness…’

Posted: 15th, October 2003 | In: Back pages | Comment


Action Replay

‘UEFA are likely to take a rather more objective view of a video of the half-time scrap between the English and Turkish players than have the tabloids over here.

Handbags and bad lads

Otherwise, they will have already decided that it was all the Turks’ fault and the English players were only responding to intolerable provocation.

The Mirror, for instance, publishes a still taken from the Turkish TV footage of Emile Heskey involved in a melee with what looks like Turkish officials.

“This is the moment England striker Emile Heskey sparked a furious tunnel bust-up after reacting to racial abuse,” it says (although what evidence it has for this assertion we are not told).

However, the Star is worried that Uefa will come down heavily on both sides.

“There is a chance players could be banned if they are charged and found guilty,” it says.

“And worryingly for England, any ban would come into play at the start of Euro 2004 – England’s next competitive matches.”

However, it is not only the English that have decided to make Turkish defender Alpay Public Enemy No.1.

The Turkish keeper Rustu Recber also blames his team-mate.

“As a result of Alpay’s stupid behaviour, we did not talk at all about tactics and how we were going to beat England at half-time,” he says.

Meanwhile, Rio Ferdinand is desperately trying to avoid a ban of his own for failing to attend a drugs test.

However, the Sun says the Manchester United defender could be saved with help from an unlikely source – Manchester City midfielder Eyal Berkovic.

The Israeli, who used to play with Ferdinand at West Ham, will be called upon to give evidence to his friend’s state of mind on the afternoon in question and how much effort he made to be tested after he realised his mistake.

Meanwhile, there was better news for England’s rugby players with the news in the Expess that Kyran Bracken will be fit for the Springboks match on Saturday and Matt Dawson may even make it.

The Mail isn’t so sure, suggesting that Dawson is definitely out, flanker Richard Hill is doubtful and second row Danny Grewcock will be only an emergency substitute after team-mate Ben Cohen accidentally trod on his foot and broke his toe.’

Posted: 14th, October 2003 | In: Back pages | Comment


Brawl Sports

‘LIKE after a playground squabble, England and Turkey are left squabbling over who started the half-time brawl that marred the countries’ Euro 2004 qualifier on Saturday.

Matt Dawson – one of England’s injured trio

But the English papers have no doubt who is responsible – Turk defender Alpay being variously described as “coward” (Sun), “disgraced” (Mail) and “berk” (Star).

All of which means that Alpay may be on his way from Aston Villa, where he has hardly endeared himself to the fans anyway.

He tells the Mirror that he is poised to quit the Midlands club after reading reports from supporters’ organisations that he is no longer welcome at the club.

Alpay incurred the wrath of English players and fans after taunting David Beckham for missing a first-half penalty in the 0-0 draw.

And he was then seen poking his finger into the England captain’s face as the two teams went off at half-time.

“Alpay’s thuggish half-time attack on Becks sparked a 50-man tunnel brawl in the Sukru Saracoglu stadium,” says the Sun.

And leading the charge for England was the youngest player on the pitch, Wayne Rooney.

The Mail says the 17-year-old Everton star, who was a boxer in his schooldays, landed a right-hand punch on Alpay’s nose during the fracas.

Ashley Cole also squared up to defend his team-mates, while Emile Heskey was said to have been incensed by a racist taunt.

However, no action is likely to be taken against either team by Uefa, despite the incident being described as “a mini-riot”.

The Mail says referee Pierluigi Collina “has mentioned it in passing in his report but has recommended no further action be taken on the basis that he had dealt with the incident at the time”.

As for events on the pitch, the point means that England will spend next summer in Portugal at the European Championship finals as long as their fans don’t misbehave between now and then.

And so will Sven Goran Eriksson, after he confirmed to the Star (at the fifth time of asking) that he would remain in charge of the team.

It was a mixed weekend for England’s rugby players, who thrashed Georgia 84-6 in their opening game of the World Cup, but managed to end up with all three of their scrum halves injured.

To make matters worse, reserve scrum half Austin Healey is also injured, meaning that coach Clive Woodward may have to call up fifth choice Martyn Wood for next week’s crucial game against South Africa.’

Posted: 13th, October 2003 | In: Back pages | Comment


Eff Off To The FA

‘SVEN Goran Eriksson will quit his job as England coach this weekend whether his side get the draw against Turkey that they need to qualify for Euro 2004 or not.

One big headache

That is the claim in the Express, which says the events of the past week have pushed the Swede over the edge.

Last night, a Swedish paper ran a story saying that Eriksson has already signed a pre-contractual agreement with Chelsea and it is to Stamford Bridge that he will go when he walks out on England.

The Mail agrees that Eriksson is now wondering whether his £3m salary is worth the strain.

“A revolt by his players, which led to spats between best friends David Beckham and Gary Neville, further bewildered a man not used to dressing room unrest,” it says.

The Sun says Eriksson has been offered a staggering £34m over four years to take over from Claudio Ranieri as boss of Chelsea.

If top footballers are obscenely overpaid (as the Mail claimed yesterday), what about top managers?

Meanwhile, the row over Rio Ferdinand’s exclusion from the England squad rumbles on, with the Sun suggesting that England’s stars are preparing to bankrupt the FA by refusing to co-operate in commercial activities.

The paper (which has cynically come down on the players’ side, having originally backed the FA) says the FA gets £20m a year from each of its five major sponsors – Umbro, Pepsi, Nationwide, McDonalds and Carlsberg.

“If they do not get any players, it is worthless and without the £100m there is every chance the FA could go bankrupt,” it says.

There is also every chance that fans’ patience with these preening prima donnas will finally run out if that happens and a bit of sanity may be reintroduced to the game.

How is it that, at whatever sporting event in which they appear, England manage to alienate the local population before the competition has even kicked off.

And so it is with the Rugby World Cup, where England have (in the words of the Mail) “scored an own goal” by refusing to take part in a public ceremony to mark the launch of the tournament.

All four of their pool rivals sent two players to the function in Perth, but England snubbed the invitation and then ignored pleas to change their mind.

A great way to make friends…’

Posted: 10th, October 2003 | In: Back pages | Comment


Berks v Turks

‘IF the England players were expecting sympathy for their show of solidarity with Rio Ferdinand, they find it in pretty short supply among today’s papers.

Sven Goran Eriksson has plenty to worry about

The sports hacks take pretty well the same view on the back pages that the news hacks take on the front, as demonstrated by Brian Woolnough in the Star.

“How dare our star footballers hold the country to ransom?” he asks, portraying Saturday’s crucial Euro 2004 qualifier as Berks v Turks.

Actually, with Michael Owen missing with a leg injury, it is probably more likely to be Becks v Turks – and in those circumstances the Turks have got to be hot favourites.

The Sun, whose early editions led with the headline “Heroes To Zeroes”, had a Damascene conversion halfway through last night and is now supporting the players.

As evidence, it quotes a Uefa official as saying that England could have played Rio Ferdinand if they had wanted to, while the Turks also said they would not have objected.

But the Sun’s support is only skin-deep – in fact, it only lasts a couple of pages into the paper where we come across Steven Howard blasting this “bunch of prima donnas”.

Meanwhile, the Mirror pays a visit to the Turks’ training camp and finds it “full of laughter, fun…and football”.

“The Turks were so relaxed as their build-up to Saturday’s troubled Euro 2004 qualifier intensified that they hosted a barbecue at the squad’s countryside training camp,” it says.

And it is England who can expect to be on the end of a skewer in jut over 48 hours’ time.’

Posted: 9th, October 2003 | In: Back pages | Comment


Rio Banned

‘IT is not exactly the most ideal preparation for what is undoubtedly the most important game England have played since last year’s World Cup quarter-final against Brazil.

Innocent until proven guilty?

All 24 members of the squad have apparently said they will boycott Saturday’s match against Turkey if Rio Ferdinand isn’t reinstated to the squad.

The Manchester United centre-half has been left out on FA instructions after failing to turn up for a random drugs test.

“Frantic negotiations were continuing last night,” the Sun says, “in a bid to resolve the row before the squad leaves for Istanbul in 24 hours.”

But so far FA chiefs have refused to back down and coach Sven Goran Eriksson is caught in the middle of an incredible stand-off.

“I could not imagine a worse build-up to a match of the importance of the one we face in Istanbul,” the Swede said.

But former England manager Graham Taylor believes the FA had no choice but to axe Ferdinand even though he has not yet been charged with any offence.

“It’s all very well asking if the FA can afford to do something – but the question is can they afford not to?” he says.

Not so, says PFA boss Gordon Taylor. “He’s been named and shamed without a positive test,” he claims.

Over in the Mirror, Oliver Holt lays into Ferdinand’s employers, Manchester United, and in particular chief executive David Gill, whom he accuses of offering “legalistic semantics” in his player’s defence.

“”What would you say if a Chinese swimmer drove off at high speed one day when the testers came calling?” he asks.

“Would you presume her innocence, would you say she was obviously preoccupied with doing the laundry or would you think she had something to hide?”

Meanwhile, the Express has more bad news for England fans with the news that Michael Owen is almost certain to miss the flight anyway because of his calf injury.

And an England game wouldn’t be an England game without an injury scare over David Beckham, so we are relieved to see the captain arriving for training with his thigh strapped.

Small wonder that Turkish striker Hakan Sukur says his team are laughing as England stumble from one crisis to another.’

Posted: 8th, October 2003 | In: Back pages | Comment


Football’s Shame

‘FOR a brief moment, it appeared that Sven Goran Eriksson may have a full squad of players to choose from for this weekend’s crucial match against Turkey.

Sven poses for next year’s Chelsea yearbook

But an injury to Michael Owen has been followed by the news that Rio Ferdinand failed to turn up for a random drugs test – and suddenly there is a familiar ring to proceedings.

As if that wasn’t enough, Eriksson is under fire from Liverpool boss who is concerned that the Swede may be using England get-togethers to line up players for a potential move to Chelsea.

The Express says the Frenchman’s views are shared by other Premiership managers, “who are also concerned Eriksson could have a hidden agenda”.

It is widely expected that Eriksson will leave his job as national coach to replace Claudio Ranieri at Stamford Bridge.

And, says the Mirror, “with Michael Owen’s future very much up in the air at Anfield, it has become an extremely contentious issue”.

As for the Turkey game itself, the Mirror’s Matthew Norman is surely not the only person hoping that England fans do misbehave and the country gets thrown out of Euro 2004.

“The major point,” he says, “is that football desperately needs a near-fatal shock – a dose of national humiliation so intense and dramatic that the ostriches who run the game and the country have to raise their heads at last and stare the problems in the face.”

Again, we turn to England’s rugby squad as an exemplar for the so-called beautiful game.

Not only is England’s travelling support not tainted by a group of far-right, racist knuckle-heads, but the team itself is a model of excellence on and off the pitch.

The Sun this morning publishes its 16-page guide to the Rugby World Cup, which gets underway this weekend, with a picture of captain Martin Johnson tearing apart a rugby ball on the cover.

If he can do the same to the Springboks in 10 days time, he will make a lot of Englishmen very happy.’

Posted: 7th, October 2003 | In: Back pages | Comment


Owen Stuffed

‘NORMALLY, a week before an important England game, we are all invited to rub a cut-out of captain David Beckham’s foot/groin/thigh* (*delete as appropriate) to try to speed his recovery.

Will he or won’t he?

But this morning it is Michael Owen’s turn to hog the back pages as the papers fret over whether the Liverpool striker will be fit for Saturday’s clash with Turkey.

The Star senses bad news, telling its readers unequivocally: “Owen Won’t Make It.”

But a second opinion is available in the Sun, whose headline, “Owen Goin’” suggests that the “injured star will be ready for Turks”.

No doubt the truth is somewhere in the middle, with both the Mail and the Express quoting official reports that he has a 50-50 chance of recovering from a calf injury sustained in Liverpool’s 2-1 defeat to Arsenal.

Also going to Turkey, according to the Express, is Kieron Dyer, despite being caught up in the gang rape case that has cast a pall over English football.

Dyer was yesterday named as the person whop booked the hotel room where the attack is alleged to have taken place, even though he strenuously denies that he was in any way involved.

Also going will be Paul Scholes, who returned for Manchester United in their 3-0 defeat of Birmingham and was, says the Mirror, the star turn.

Brum manager Steve Bruce poured praise on the midfielder, saying: “I cannot pay Paul a bigger compliment than to say that he is the most complete player in the country – the best bar none.”

Meanwhile, the normal war of words has started ahead of the rugby world cup, with the Springboks claiming that England skipper Martin Johnson is one of the dirtiest captains in the game.

But it’s not just the opposition that need worry about Johnson, his team-mate Ben Kay vividly recalls his fellow lock stamping on his face and hitting him while he was on the same side.

“Now I have come to the conclusion where Jonno is concerned – his problem is he is just plain clumsy,” Kay tells the Sun.

An interesting point of view, but one the opposition are unlikely to buy.’

Posted: 6th, October 2003 | In: Back pages | Comment


Cheer Up, Peter Reid

‘SINCE when has a football club like Leeds United ever cared what its fans thought, far less held off from sacking a manager because of pressure from the terraces?

Keeping the seat warm?

We have little doubt that the Mail is correct in its assessment this morning that Peter Reid was only spared the sack yesterday to save their manager-in-waiting from the start from hell.

In their next five games, the West Yorkshire club face Manchester United (twice), Arsenal, Liverpool and Blackburn – hardly the fixtures on which a new boss would like to cut his teeth.

The paper says costly compensation packages for Reid and whoever the new manager will be (with Nottingham Forest’s Paul Hart the leading contender) were also a consideration.

“But the biggest worry for the chairman, who yesterday refused to put a time scale on how long Reid would last, was the pressure he himself would be under if the new manager got off to a bad start,” the paper says.

Meanwhile, football continues to cover itself in shame with players’ behaviour on the pitch as much in the spotlight as their behaviour off it.

The Mail has started a campaign to name and shame the professional cheats, starting with Manchester United’s Cristiano Ronaldo, who was accused of diving for the second time this season by Stuttgart keeper Timo Hildebrand.

And the other papers report on how Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger stood to applaud a fan who told the club’s AGM that the Gunners had been brutalised by Sir Alex Ferguson’s team.

“Brutes,” says the Star headline, while the Sun hears Wenger tell shareholders that they should be proud of his brawling players.

If footballers want to know how to behave, perhaps they should tune into the rugby world cup to learn what highly skilled and motivated athletes can achieve.

The Mirror watches the England squad getting mobbed as they arrived in Perth, Australia, as the world No.1s.

Coach Clive Woodward thinks Australia are the team to beat, the bookies think the All Blacks are the favourites, but even the antipodeans know that England are a force to be reckoned with.’

Posted: 3rd, October 2003 | In: Back pages | Comment


Chelsea Basted

‘THERE was a time when we tried to convince ourselves that the Premiership was the best league in Europe – a claim that stretched credibility every time our clubs travelled abroad.

A crying shame

Manchester United may have won the European Cup in 1999, but no English team has got to the final since.

And the chances are no English team are going to get to the final this year after both Chelsea and Manchester United crashed to defeat last night.

The Sun says it was “a night of Champions’ League hellski” for Claudio Ranieri’s side of superstars, who went down 2-0 at home to Turkish side Besiktas.

And the puns don’t stop there – club owner Roman Abramovich, we are told, was left “besik as a parrot” as he watched his boys “Turk one hell of a beating”.

Over in the Mirror, there is a hint of the paper’s infamous 1996 front page in the headline “United Surrender”.

One wonders whether it would have chosen the same verb had the English champions lost to anyone but a German side.

As it was, manager Sir Alex Ferguson placed the blame firmly on his defenders, with Rio Ferdinand picked out by the paper as the main culprit.

That at least allows the Mirror to use the headline “Blame It On Rio”.

The mention of Rio inspires thoughts of Brazil, as did West Ham striker Jermain Defoe’s opener last night for the Hammers against Crystal Palace.

The Star said the highly-rated striker went one better than Pele, dummying the Palace keeper before collecting the ball and firing into an empty net.

The great Pele tried the same trick against Uruguay in 1970, but fired wide.

However, even though the Hammers went on to win 3-0, the Mirror senses trouble in the camp.

It said the uneasy relationship between the club’s three front men, Defoe, David Connolly and Neil Mellor, has “created a fascinating sub-plot to the club’s start to the season”.

Defoe angered Hammers fans at the weekend by failing to pass to Connolly when the Irishman was poised to knock the ball in.

And Connolly last night pointedly snubbed Mellor, walking away with not so much as a handshake, when the on-loan striker was celebrating his first goals for the club.

And the call it the beautiful game…’

Posted: 2nd, October 2003 | In: Back pages | Comment


Staying, Staying, Gone

‘IF Alex Ferguson were anything like his beloved Rock of Gibraltar racehorse, he’d be put out to stud, his seed used to rear a new legion of winners.

Bobby Robson c.1861

Images of the brusque Scot rutting are not pleasant at any time, and we apologise for any offence caused. But the Manchester United manager is no thoroughbred racehorse, and he has no plans to be put out to seed.

The Star says that talks are underway for Ferguson to remain at Old Trafford for a further four seasons, taking him to 2007.

It’s becoming increasingly evident that Ferguson doesn’t know when to let got, and the United board aren’t helping him to retire gracefully.

But in 2006, he’ll only be 66, and compared to Bobby Robson, who by then will be in triple figures, he’ll be something of spring chicken.

And the Sun has news that the rheumy-eyed old stager is staying as boss of Newcastle.

The only good news for Magpies’ fans is that his presence will mean that the itinerant and useless Peter Reid will not be coming to stay.

Where the blunt Reid is going does not overly concern the Express, which just says that he’s moving away from Leeds later today.

After just 15 games in charge of the Yorkshire club, the man who arrived to save them and restore some pride is to be shown the door.

The question, however, is not why he’s going but why he was even given the job in the first place.

Like Bryan Robson, Reid possesses an image that outshines his coaching achievements and abilities.

Perhaps he’ll end up at Spurs. After all, as the Sun says, Tottenham have been twice snubbed in their search for a replacement for the departed Glenn Hoddle.

A bid to lure Martin O’Neill to North London is failing, as is one to put Alan Curbishley in the White Hart Lane hot seat. The odds on Reid are shortening all the time.’

Posted: 1st, October 2003 | In: Back pages | Comment


Cheerio, Peter Reid

‘LEEDS United fans must be unhappy with their club’s start to the season. But things are about to get brighter, as the Mirror leads with news that Peter Reid is facing the axe.

The end of the line?

Reid is not one of the world’s great mangers, or even one of its mediocre ones.

He is a poor coach, a truth illustrated by Sunderland’s inability to kick a ball straight under his tutelage and Leeds’ developing ineptitude.

Reid will now throw teacups, as is his wont, and say how football has become a haven for myopia.

His performances should be judged after an entire season, he’ll say – at which time Leeds will probably be heading for Division One.

If short–sightedness is a trait of the modern game then Arsene Wenger must epitomise things.

But tonight Wenger is looking to the future as he includes the names of three new faces in his squad to face Lokomotiv Moscow in Russia tonight.

The young lads will surely be keen to take their rare chances to shine in the Champions’ League, a game the Star says is “Hit Or Bust” for the Gunners.

The Mail puts it in stronger terms – “Gunners know it’s do or die in Russia”.

Anything other than a win tonight will not help Arsenal’s Champions League’ challenge. Defeat would be disastrous.

But from every tragedy a little silver doth fall. And the Mail hears that a bidding war is taking place for the rights to publish Stan Collymore’s autobiography.

Few players have thrown away quite so much, and Collymore’s story should include some interesting passages.

But it’s hard to counter the Mail’s opinion that it’s the footballer’s relationship with Ulrika Jonsson that will prove most lucrative. Especially is it’s as Honest as her effort.

Another whose autobiography cannot be too many years away is Tim Henman. At an age when he’s thinking about life after tennis, Henman says he plans to take up coaching.

To begin this transition, the tigerish one is fronting a new Find A Star programme directed at schools throughout the land. It’s a project Tim says “is close to his heart”.

And so it should be. After all, if it weren’t for it and other failed programmes like it, Henman would most likely not still be Britain’s best tennis player by a mile.

And then how many books would he sell?’

Posted: 30th, September 2003 | In: Back pages | Comment


A Schu-In

‘ONLY a freak result in Japan can now stop Michael Schumacher winning a record sixth Formula 1 title after the German won a rain-affected US Grand Prix yesterday.

The German wins

Indeed, for 17 laps yesterday, Schumacher was the 2003 champion, but Kimi Raikkonen came back to take second place and so ensure the championship will go to the wire.

However, such news is predictably overshadowed by the news that David Beckham may miss England’s crucial Euro 2004 qualifier in Turkey with a foot injury.

We seem to go through this every time England have a match these days and it is hard to believe that a sore right foot will keep Beckham away from Istanbul in 12 days times.

As the Indy points out, Beckham was struggling with a groin injury before the matches against Macedonia and Liechtenstein and of course broke his metatarsal just before the World Cup.

And given that Beckham was yesterday talking about being fit to play for Real Madrid in Wednesday’s Champions’ League game against Porto, one must expect the injury to have cleared by Saturday week.

To events on the field and, as an ex-Manchester United player, Beckham will have been glad to see two of the club’s bitterest rivals losing yesterday.

Liverpool were undone by a hat-trick from Kevin Lisbie, while Leeds United went down 4-0 to Everton, with Steve Watson scoring a hat-trick.

The Guardian points out that it is little under a year since Leeds manager Peter Reid was sacked as boss of Sunderland and his position is once again under threat.

“Any more displays as feeble as this,” it warns, “and, for all the financial implications of dismissing him, Reid’s position will become untenable.”

If Peter Reid needs inspiration, he should look to golf and Lee Westwood, who yesterday confirmed his rehabilitation after three years in the golfing doldrums.

The 30-year-old Englishman won the Dunhill Links Championship – his second victory in a month – to show that he is back to where he was before his slump.

And, says the Telegraph, it showed that his ability to handle the pressure of the closing stretch was undiminished.

“Some people are confident when they’re in the lead and some aren’t,” he said. “Luckily, I’m one of those who is.”

Unluckily for Kimi Raikkonen, so is Michael Schumacher.’

Posted: 29th, September 2003 | In: Back pages | Comment


Infamy, Infamy

‘IT must have been some kind of guarded ‘sorry’ for his team’s behaviour last Sunday by Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger because only one paper seems to have heard it.

Wenger shows his players what to do next time they are upset by someone cheating

But even the Mirror says the apology, after 52 red cards and 148 match bans during his seven years in charge, was just the precursor to a declaration of war on the FA.

“I back aggro six all the way” aren’t the exact words of the Highbury boss, but that is the Star’s interpretation of what he said.

He is to ask the FA for personal hearings for the six players who have been charged after what is now becoming known as the Battle of Old Trafford.

Of course, that might be a tactic to stagger any bans the players might receive rather than a belief in their innocence, but with the myopic Wenger it is hard to tell.

In the Mail, Wenger seems to be claiming that Sky were the real culprits for screening the brawl.

“It is a Sky trial,” said the increasingly absurd Wenger. “There is one guy in a lorry who decides whether to show something again or not. It’s not the FA.”

Over in the Sun, Wenger has widened his attack to include the whole of England.

“We should not have reacted like we did, but I find the sensitivity of this country very selective,” he said.

“Suddenly, the whole of England is so shocked as if there is never any violence in your society. I find that surprising.”

Of course, Wenger is an expert on selectivity, managing to see with 20-20 vision any offence to his side and his eyesight so often failing him when the boot is literally on the other foot.

And his argument is ridiculous anyway – just because everyone has sex doesn’t mean the odd eyebrow wouldn’t be raised if Prince Charles and Camilla Parker Bowles had a quick knee-trembler during the Last Night Of The Proms.’

Posted: 26th, September 2003 | In: Back pages | Comment


In The Dock

‘THE Guardian’s back page reads like a module at maths GCSE. The case of Arsenal has thrown up so many numbers that you need a calculator and help from an adult to work things out.

‘What, me?’

Helpfully the paper adopts the mantle of educator, saying how the Gunners have been slapped with an unprecedented 12 charges following Ruud van Nistelrooy’s histrionics at Old Trafford last weekend.

And we have distilled things still further and bring you news that Arsenal’s right back Lauren should be free to play once more on April 17 2009.

The paper lists the six players in red and white who are up before the FA’s beak in a series of mocked-up prison mugshots. How proud Tony Adams would have been!

But while Manchester United and Chelsea rub their hands in glee, and that irritating Dutchman pats himself on the back (just as so many Arsenal players did on Sunday), the Times sees some football being played.

Last night Michael Owen became Liverpool’s record goalscorer in European competitions, striking his 21st goal in his side’s 1-1 draw with Uefa Cup challengers Olimpija Ljubjana.

Given that Liverpool have such an enviable record in European competition and so many great players have worn the red shirt, Owen’s achievement is remarkable.

Is he really better than the men who have gone before, like Ian Rush and Roger Hunt? Or did he just start younger, play more matches and win more penalties?

Meanwhile we bring some Chelsea news, courtesy of the Telegraph property section.

Roman Abramovich, the billionaire Chelsea owner, has sold a big stake in a Russian oil company for many millions, so relinquishing some of his interests in his native land and setting up a move to Britain.

The question as to where he will live can best be viewed from the air, where we have spotted a compact and bijou green space halfway down the Fulham Road in trendy SW3.

And while Chelsea prepare to play in Roman’s back garden, or some other new location, Spurs march back to greatness.

Last night the Lilywhites went to Coventry and thrashed the Sky Blues by three goals to two. David Pleat, the club’s caretaker boss is a hero.

The return of the old kerb crawler is sure to enliven Tottenham. Until the big lads from down the Seven Sisters Road come and beat them up…’

Posted: 25th, September 2003 | In: Back pages | Comment


The Entertainers

‘WE are indebted to Susan Mellor, whose letter to the Independent has caught our eye.

Ben Johnson, seconds before he was knocked to the ground by Martin Keown

Among the miles of words written about how Arsenal are the pariahs of the entire planet (it being the team supported by Osama bin Laden, Frank Bruno and Prince Harry), Ms Mellor makes the point that most fans “rather enjoy incidents like this”.

She is, of course, right, although it’s not just supporters who like a good on-field bust-up – journalists like it too and, alongside Ms Mellor’s letter, the Indy’s James Lawton bangs on about the need to get tough on they who transgress football’s gilded laws.

There can be little doubt that Arsenal’s fans, as a group, are far from appalled by their team’s behaviour.

Did United’s legions swoon in horror when Cantona flew into the Crystal Palace crowd? Think hard before answering. Think of Andy D’Urso recoiling from the Red Devils…

From sportsmanship, gamesmanship, call it what you will, to outright, stone-cold cheating, as the Times shares a cup of something interesting with Ben Johnson.

Those who recall the men’s 100m final at the 1988 Seoul Olympics will recall the name of Johnson with ease. He was, after all, the one who produced the most blistering run of all time.

Shame that it was aided with pharmaceutical rocket fuel.

But enough of us, let’s listen to Johnson. “Regardless of what I did, I am still the best sprinter of all time. Most people loved the entertainment and know the game.”

As for ‘knowing’ the game, we suppose Johnson refers to the nature of athletics, a sport which has, apparently, too often turned a blind eye to the competitors’ use of banned substances.

As for the entertainment, we must offer a wry smile. Like the Arsenal-United fracas, Johnson has given us all much to talk about. Of all the runs in history, his is the one scorched on the memory.

And so it is in a way with Frank Bruno. He was never undisputed heavyweight champion of the world, but he did give us a night to remember when he was beaten up by Mike Tyson.

We cheered as a nation that night. We knew he was most likely going to lose but we hoped that some luck would see him win the day.

Now, as the Guardian says, Bruno is fighting with himself. We wish him well. And thank him for giving us all so much to talk about…’

Posted: 24th, September 2003 | In: Back pages | Comment


Ruud Boys

‘ANY team that takes so many early baths – 52 under Arsene Wenger’s administration at the last count – cannot be dirty.

‘A monkey’s head, eh?’

That’s the conclusion of this column, and it’s one we are sticking to. Despite much evidence to the contrary.

The rumblings after Sunday’s match between Manchester United and Arsenal fill a large section of the sports pages. All have a take on the events at Old Trafford, with the Telegraph donating a two-page special to matters tribal.

The long and short of things is that Arsenal look set to be punished by the FA. Given that they have been punished before, the Gunners will take their medicine with masochistic glee.

What doesn’t kill us makes us stronger runs the motto at Arsenal these days.

However, judging by the team’s reaction to Ruud Van Nistelrooy’s petulance, a swift chopping of the Dutchman’s head would make Lauren, Keown, Cole, Vieira and Parlour happy lads.

But while Arsenal rock and rumble, Tottenham fall to bits. What is it about Spurs that, even when their big local rivals are in the mire, they up the stakes?

Arsenal explode and Tottenham self-destruct.

The Independent hears words from Glenn Hoddle, former Messiah of the Lane, the man who was supposed to give the Spurs fans their Tottenham back.

He expresses his “shock and disappointment” at losing his job. Note his lack of both feelings in his inability to mould a winning team. Just his shock at being sacked.

The feeling is very much that the great ego that is Hoddle will find others to blame for his demise. After all, he can do no wrong.

He does, though, praise his “great squad”, the one he has built, and say that the “turning point” will come very soon.

And when it does, should it be tomorrow or ten years from now, Hoddle will the first to pat himself on the back for a job well done.

Beyond football, over in the Guardian, Great Britain are seen losing to Morocco in the Davis Cup. Greg Rusedski lost to Hicham Arazi and, with that defeat, Team GB are “doomed” to the Euro-African zone until at least 2005.

Around the time Arsenal will be allowed to play football again…’

Posted: 23rd, September 2003 | In: Back pages | Comment


Brawl For One

‘TWO reasons for Arsenal to celebrate – Ruud Van Nistelrooy’s last minute penalty miss that gave the Gunners a share of the points at Old Trafford and the sacking of Glenn Hoddle by their North London rivals.

Sky TV pictures clearly show Arsenal stabbing and then skinning Ruud Van Nistelrooy

But the papers are most concerned by the behaviour of the Arsenal players, who attacked Van Nistelrooy at the end of the game in what the Star describes as “disgraceful scenes”.

“As ref Steve Bennett signalled the end of the game, Van Nistelrooy was sent spinning as Keown leapt into the air, coming down on the United striker’s shoulder,” it says.

“Then, the startled Van Nistelrooy was barged in the back by Cameroon international Lauren and hit by the flailing arm of Ray Parlour.”

The Arsenal players were furious that the Dutchman had over-reacted when Patrick Vieira had kicked out at him (without making contact) and had got the visiting skipper sent off for a Premiership record eighth time.

If the Star’s headline (“YOBS”) shows what it made of the incident, the Sun’s headline (“CHEAT”) indicates that it has some sympathy for the Arsenal players.

Vieira certainly blamed the Dutchman rather than the ref, telling the Sun: “He made more of the challenge than he should have and he cheated. He tried to stamp on me.”

Meanwhile, Celtic boss Martin O’Neill has emerged as favourite to replace Hoddle, whose tenure at White Hart Lane was ended by Saturday’s 3-1 home defeat to Southampton.

Ironically, Hoddle walked out on Southampton two years ago to manage Spurs.

Some might call that karma, Glenn…’

Posted: 22nd, September 2003 | In: Back pages | Comment