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Back pages | Anorak - Part 87

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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

Jonny Is Good

‘THERE is no doubt who the papers think is responsible for England’s place in next weekend’s Rugby World Cup final – Jonny Wilkinson makes it onto the front page of all the broadsheet papers this morning.

Can England finally win on penalties?

But the sports pages offer a more balanced opinion, with the Guardian awarding Matt Dawson and Phil Vickery higher marks than the magical number ten.

These post-match player ratings are so subjective as to be completely worthless but they are interesting only as evidence that all of us watch a different game from everyone else.

The Indy, for instance, gives Neil Back top billing, while captain Martin Johnson (with whom, in the Guardian’s eyes, it looks like time is catching up) is “feisty and fiery”.

What is agreed is that England were highly impressive in subduing the in-form French side in appalling conditions in Sydney.

The fact that they failed to score a try is of interest only to the Australian media, who seem to have forgotten that in far better conditions on Saturday the only Aussie try was a 75-meter interception.

The Times calls England’s 24-7 victory “so accomplished and expertly executed that they rendered their shaky early-tournament form almost irrelevant”.

The Telegraph praises England’s character and resolve while suggesting that France “all but disintegrated” in the Sydney monsoon.

And it does mean that we have the dream final, the one that England coach Clive Woodward has always wanted and predicted – England v Australia.

We are sure that next weekend England’s rugby players will show far more character and resolve than their footballers did yesterday in losing 3-2 at home to Denmark.

Once again, Sven Goran Eriksson’s team have shown that they do not know how to play friendly matches, their excellent record in competitive games contrasting sharply with some fairly appalling results in friendlies.

Twice England led but Denmark equalised twice before scoring a deserved second-half winner in a match whose relevance is already open to question.

In the Telegraph, Alan Smith (not the banned Alan Smith) suggests that the performance of Joe Cole was a big plus.

The Times is not so sure, suggesting that Cole’s game still lacks depth and maturity – a thought echoed by Eriksson himself.

“The quality he has is unbelievable,” he said. “He is a great, great talent, but needs to learn things about the game.”

The same cannot be said of England’s massively experienced rugby players who next weekend hope to emulate the footballers of 1966 in becoming World Champions for the first time.’

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


Putting the FA in Farce

‘ALAN Smith is used to incompetence – he is surrounded by it on the pitch at Elland Road and has seen it at close quarters in the Leeds United boardroom.

Coming or going?

But proving that it is a big step up in class between club football and international football, the striker yesterday learnt that there is nothing that Leeds can do that the FA can’t do worse.

In fact, the organisation that put the FA into FARCE is again a laughing stock this morning after an amazing blunder which saw Smith sent home from the England squad four hours after being called up.

The reason was that Smith had been arrested for throwing a plastic bottle into the crowd at a recent Carling Cup game against Manchester United.

However, the arrest took place five hours BEFORE the 23-year-old was called up.

The Sun says the FA is now facing another player revolt ahead of this weekend’s friendly against Denmark.

“Players rep Gary Neville, with the backing of the whole squad, contacted PFA chief executive Gordon Taylor to organise a battle plan,” it says.

When Smith gets back to his club, he will understandably be confused about who his next manager will be.

The Star has the exclusive news that the porcine David O’Leary is so desperate to get away from Aston Villa and return to West Yorkshire that he is prepared to stump up the £2m compensation figure himself.

However, an exclusive in the Star’s sister paper, the Express, says the exact opposite – namely, that Leeds have offered the piggy one a £600,000 golden hello, but O’Leary has chosen to stay at Villa.

All of which leaves us little time to hear from the Mail that England rugby coach Clive Woodward has taken the biggest gamble of the World Cup by picking Mike Catt and Richard Hill in his starting XV to play France on Sunday.

When you consider that the two have 120 caps between them, it might be suggested that it isn’t such a massive gamble after all.

And it is even less so for Woodward, who has been told that his job is safe even if England go down to France.

To underline England’s experience, Jason Leonard will become the most capped player ever if he comes off the bench in Sydney and Dorian West will likewise become the oldest to appear in a World Cup semi-final.

However, England have eight players in their starting XV who are under 30 – only one fewer than France.

Allez Les Blancs, as they don’t say in either Paris or Sydney.’

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


Over The Hill

‘RICHARD Hill!! Yes, folks, THE Richard Hill. You’ll all know who he is because ever since injury stopped him from playing the papers have been talking about Hill being the key to England’s chances of lifting the Rugby World Cup.

Passed fit

So let’s give a big hand for Richard Hill, the flanker who the Telegraph says has been included in the England’s starting line up to face the French in Sunday’s semi-final.

This is encouraging news for England, although Hill might be a wary starter given the praise that has been heaped upon him during his enforced absence from the team.

But if Hill had not have made it back in time, England could have done far worse than get on the phone to Bangladesh and call up Andrew Flintoff.

Bigger of shoulder than Hill, and every bit as hard a hitter, Flintoff is the toast of the Independent following his latest performances against Bangladesh.

Not content with taking two wickets for just 32 runs with the ball, Flintoff than smashed his way to an impressive 52 runs not out from a mere 39 balls.

Included in that fiery innings was the six he needed to overhaul Ian Botham’s record of 44 sixes by an England player in limited overs cricket.

Andrew Flintoff, as the Times says, is now England’s “sixiest” ever one-day player.

That is something of a bad joke. And if you want to hear another one, the Times has the news that David O’Leary is heading towards the exit door at Aston Villa.

But hold your laughter for the punchline. A roll on the drums, if you please. When or if he leaves the employ of Doug Ellis, the Villa chairman, he will be in line for a return to Elland Road.

That would certainly eclipse the return of Richard Hill…’

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


More Whine, Garcon

‘HERE’S a question for you. Which country’s sporting teams can be described as “professional”, “reliable” and ”arrogant”?

‘And now you’ve got my shirt dirty’

Yes, it’s us. No, it’s not the Germans. Well, it is, but it’s now the English as well. As Martin Samuels writes in the Times, Clive Woodward’s England are the Germany of rugby union.

Of course, being the new Germans you might expect the French to love us, to open their arms out wide, to build huge boulevards through which we can parade our might.

But they are not. The Telegraph hears that they think we are lower than George Gregan’s knees.

“We have always felt a lot of arrogance coming through from England players and their supporters,” says France wing Aurelien Rougerie.

Oh dear, oh dear! It’s clear that England have got right under the skin of their opponents.

And the French reaction gives an added option to the question ‘what is a Frenchman’s favourite whine?’ Is it a) White; b) Red; or c) That Englishman’s looking at me funny?

And so it goes on, as France lock Jerome Thion says how the English are just so, well, arrogant.

He invites us to go and ask the Australians what they think – “I don’t think they have much love for the Poms as they call them.”

You might have thought the Australians had little love for the French, but given their common ability to moan and whinge, it looks like the beginnings of a great holiday romance.

Looking past the sniping and the Guardian’s shot of brave French skipper Fabien Galthie jumping clear of a small wave on Bondi Beach, the paper reminds us all about Rio Ferdinand.

You’ll remember that Ferdinand was not so long ago the scourge of English football. He’d missed a drugs test and that was very bad. And weeks on, he’s still playing football.

And this has got to change. So from next season, as the paper says, players in Rio’s situation will be suspended immediately. They will not be allowed to play on while they protest their innocence and lawyers and clubs cloud the issue.

In addition, the Football Association says that from next season any player given a red card will be banned for the following game.

If this sounds like sensible stuff to you, as it does to us, send a letter to the FA and ask them what they are up to. Sense has never been the FA’s stock in trade.’

Posted: 12th, November 2003 | In: Back pages | Comment


Cockerel & Bull Story

‘AS things stand, the only place Leeds United are marching onto is the first division and administration.

‘Get two big oeufs, comme ca…’

However, manager Peter Reid is marching onto the job centre, although with around a £1m pay-off in his hands it might be more of a slow amble, taking in a Caribbean winter break and a nice meal on the way.

Marching the other way is Paul Hart. Well, he might be, since his is the name the Independent links with the now vacant manager’s post at Elland Road.

The other option, as cited in the Telegraph, is for Leeds to return to pastures old and hire George Graham, who led the team before David O’Leary.

But Hart’s name crops up again, and the paper reminds us that he used to play for the club and says it would only cost Leeds £200,000 in compensation to prise him away from his current tenure at Nottingham Forest.

It’s pretty amazing to think that a club crippled by debt would even consider paying such an amount to get a new manger. But this is Leeds, and what’s a couple of hundred grand when you’re almost £80m in the red?

While things go from worse to terrible for Leeds, Team England are looking forward to their Rugby World Cup semi-final against France.

“It’s a little perplexing at the moment,” says the team’s coach, Clive Woodward, of the English performances of late. “We did look a bit slower compared to the Welsh team.”

But someone not slow to the pitch is Bernard Laporte, the France coach, who is taking up the cudgel the Australians and South Africans have used to beat England with of late.

“A lot of people have seen how Mike Tyson fights,” says the bespectacled Frenchman. “It’s doesn’t mean they will get in the ring and beat him.”

But before Ben Cohen chews someone’s ear off, Laporte would like to endear himself to the whingeing Aussies with some more anti-English rhetoric.

“Most people hate them [the English],” says Laporte. ‘Personally I don’t have much love [for them], but one has to accept that they are often the best in business or in sport.”

Although the French do make a nice omelette and the Australians are very good at moaning…’

Posted: 11th, November 2003 | In: Back pages | Comment


Frank Admission

‘CHELSEA midfielder Frank Lampard is telling today’s papers that after yesterday’s 5-0 thrashing of Newcastle the Blues now believe they can win the Premiership this season.

‘I will survive. Oh, as long as I know how to love…’

But England rugby coach Clive Woodward is saying the opposite, namely that his team have no chance of beating France in next week’s semi-final unless they improve dramatically.

The Mail says the team “stumbled from one World Cup crisis to another last night” with a tetchy coach and a growing injury list.

Following their unconvincing 28-17 victory over Wales in Brisbane, Woodward has called up Austin Healey as cover for Josh Lewsey and Iain Balshaw, both of whom are injured.

But there is some good news for the coach, “whose curt and dismissive replies angered French journalists” at the post-match press conference.

Flanker Richard Hill expects to be fit to face France next weekend, although England fans who have heard the same health bulletin every week for the past month may be excused if they are a bit sceptical.

No such scepticism is in evidence at Stamford Bridge where Chelsea became the Premiership’s highest scorers with a 5-0 victory over Newcastle.

And Lampard, who scored the third goal from the penalty spot, tells the Star that belief within the squad is growing.

“For the first time we honestly believe we can win the title,” he says. “That’s what we’re looking to do.”

Manchester United, who beat Liverpool 2-1 at Anfield yesterday, and Arsenal, who scraped through 2-1 at Highbury against Spurs, also believe they can win it.

But Liverpool manager Gerard Houllier concedes to the Mail that his side (currently in eight place) are fighting for fourth.

That doesn’t stop the Frenchman hitting out at referee Graham Poll for not giving his side a penalty that would almost certainly have earned them a draw.

“There was no doubt it was a penalty,” he said. “I spoke to Florent [Sinama-Pongolle] afterwards and he said there was definite contact.

However, TV replays showed that in fact it was a brilliant tackle by Rio Ferdinand and the decision was a correct one.

Let’s hope Houllier’s countrymen have something more substantial to complain about next weekend.’

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


Chambers Faces The Music

‘IN this sanitised sporting environment, when every blade of grass is checked by a hundred cameras and combed upright, the Sun brings news that things in some parts are just as they used to be.

Running out of excuses

In “Mudness”, the paper reports on Liverpool’s Uefa Cup match in Romania against local boys Steaua Bucharest.

The picture shows the Reds’ Emile Heskey covered in mud as he tries to stay on his feet, which, incidentally, appear to be immersed in about a foot of water.

The match ended in a 1-1 draw, but that hasn’t stopped the spiky Liverpool boss, Gerard Houllier, expressing his doubts about whether the game should have gone ahead.

He has a point, but there is nonetheless something heartening about watching football played as it once was before under-soil drainage put an end to the seasonal quagmire.

Of course, dirt is not synonymous with just football, and in the Mail readers get to hear about the increasing trials of Dwain Chambers.

Today is the day when the European 100 metres champion will be suspended from athletics following his positive test for the banned drug THG.

Sources have told the paper that the second test performed on Chambers’ sample matched the first. That’s sobering news for Chambers, and great news for sport as a whole.

Cheats must not prosper. The rule of the children’s playground must be the rule of the professional sporting world.

Indeed, if guilty of cheating, Chambers should made to pay back every penny he has even earned form the sport that has enriched him.

But back to football, and to the Express, which is helping non-flying Dutchman Dennis Bergkamp get his kit bag ready for the long drive to Milan.

The round tip of around 1,500 miles is being undertaken by the Arsenal player in a bid to help his team beat Inter in a couple of weeks time.

We wish Dennis well, and hope that the car taking him to Italy makes it unscathed – and no planes fall from the sky on top of it…’

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


Young King Cole

‘LAST night, as the Star reports, things got a “Cole Lot Better” for Arsenal’s Champions League prospects.

Cole ‘The Goal’

After 88-minutes of a game they dominated, the Gunners finally achieved the improbable and scored a decisive goal against Dinamo Kiev.

And that uncommon event is followed by the equally odd news that the goalscorer was Ashley Cole.

A Cole goal is great for Arsenal, and pretty darn terrific for the papers’ sub-editors, who are able to talk about “Cole Fired” (Express) and “Golden Cole” (Mail).

But what with his being football, news of unpleasantness can never be far away. And such things often involve the bellicose Alex Ferguson.

Having accused Arsenal and the FA of doing a deal over the melee at Old Trafford, football’s governing body want Ferguson to explain himself.

But that’ll have to wait until Manchester City’s manager, Kevin Keegan, has calmed down.

The Mail hears that Keegan is seeking urgent action from the overworked FA after City’s Christian Negouai was ordered to take a drugs test.

The story goes that, Negouai, a Muslim, as forced to drink water and in so doing break his commitment to the month-long fast of Ramadan.

The player is said to be “very upset” over the incident, although any Muslim called Christian must have skin as thick as a rhino’s nose.

And while Rio Muhammed Ferdinand seeks a new reason for his own drugs scandal, the Mirror shines its daily light on life in the rugby World Cup.

Down Under, Wales are preparing to do battle with the English in the quarter-final, claiming that they are in the best shape of their lives.

The team, whose fans rejoice to the tune “As long as we beat the English, we don’t care”, are said to be stronger and more powerful than at any time in the past few years.

Which means they should only lose by ten points. (Welshmen can complain of English imperialistic bias to the usual address.)’

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


In Gob We Trust

‘IF the old adage contains any truth, then going to Rome and doing as Romans do would see you spitting in people’s faces, calling black footballers monkeys and telling Jews to get back to the gas ovens.

‘That’ll stop him spitting’

Thankfully, the Romans of Lazio football club are not typical of the Italian capital city’s residents as a whole, and, indeed, many will point out that Lazio’s Sinisa Mihajlovic is Serbian by birth.

It’s a great shame that Chelsea’s memorable 4-0 win over Lazio in the Champions’ League last night should be soured by the odious actions of a thug.

So before that, let’s have a few headlines from the papers about the good things: “Roman Orgy” (Mirror); “Conquerors” (Mail); Roman Emperors” (Star).

That done, and deservedly so, the Express produces “Roman Scandal” and an unpleasant shot of the aforesaid Mihajlovic spitting into the face of Chelsea’s Adrian Mutu.

The Lazio defender should, in truth, never be allowed to play football again.

The first shock that he probably will is bolstered by the sensation that his actions last night went unpunished by the game’s referee.

But well done, Chelsea, And good luck, Arsenal, who, as the papers all agree, need that most precious quality in spades.

Tonight the Gunners attempt to do what is so hard for them and actually win a European game when they play Dinamo Kiev at Highbury.

And the Mirror hears the club’s manager, Arsene Wenger, calling on his payers to help Thierry Henry.

The paper is not wrong when it says that the Frenchman has been a virtual one-man goal machine for the Gunners, scoring seven of his side’s last 10 strikes in Europe.

If Henry fails to hit the target tonight, the Gunners will be out of the Champions’ League.

It’s a stark reminder that European football is a tough business. Which makes Chelsea’s win in Rome all the more fantastic.’

Posted: 5th, November 2003 | In: Back pages | Comment


Fight Night

‘IT’S Manchester United v Glasgow Rangers tonight in the Champions’ League. And that means… YES! It is the cue for the Sun to scream “Battle of Britain”.

Renaissance Man

Pavlov’s dogs, or whoever works as the sports sub-editor at the Sun, are wagging their tails like mad at the prospect of another fight for British footballing supremacy.

And a fight it is. The Sun talks about Roy Keane having “the bottle” and being the “ULTIMATE WARRIOR”. And the Star, never one to run from a scrap, wants Keane to “BITE ‘EM”.

But the biggest news in football is not the impending bout at Old Trafford, but the Mail’s story that Tony Adams has taken a job in football management.

Later today, the former Arsenal captain and prisoner at Brixton jail will be confirmed as the new boss of Wycombe Wanderers.

And if the fans of that club want to blame anyone for this decision they should look towards their former hero Martin O’Neill, who convinced Adams to make the move.

Perhaps the locals should worry less. Tony’s drinking and bed-wetting days are long behind him. These days he’s studying for a degree in sports science.

Sports science is a hot topic at the moment, and we’re interested to hear from Tony what he’s learnt. Dwain Chambers, Marion Jones and many other sportsmen and women might be interested too.

Meanwhile, in Australia, the Express cocks an ear to the goings on at the World Cup, now entering its seventeenth week of competition.

Having heard from the South Africans and the Australians, it’s now the turn of the French to say a few bon mots about England.

Olivier Magne, the France flanker, says that if England are to win the World Cup they will have to be more like France.

By inference, it’s not to hard to see that Magne thinks his own side’s chances of winning the big one are pretty high, and greater than England’s.

“It is difficult for England – it‘s not in their culture to play like that [with French flair] but in the last three or four years they have done so and played like France.”

And being so very much like the French has brought success.

So there you have it. If you want to win in sport, be like the French. “Hoof ze ball,” as Toni Adoms might zay.’

Posted: 4th, November 2003 | In: Back pages | Comment


England See Red

‘SAMOA managed to raise their game for their Rugby World Cup match against England but failed to find the same heights the next week against South Africa.

Wales are no soft touch

How England must be hoping that Wales do not play as well against them next weekend as they did yesterday against the All Blacks.

The Times, which watched Wales run in four tries against the tournament favourites before succumbing 53-37, suggests that England “will have felt distinctly uneasy at the growing freedom with which Wales played”.

On only two occasions in their history have the All Blacks conceded more points in a match, which Wales looked like winning in the early stages of the second half.

The New Zealand Herald said it was almost the greatest upset in the tournament’s 16-year history and has provided “an enormous reality check” to the New Zealand squad.

However, England were also rediscovering their form at the weekend, albeit against the part-timers of Uruguay as they ran in 17 tries in a 111-13 victory.

In the Telegraph, Paul Hayward sees in England’s performance “a welcome deflation of angst” as a second-string side showed exactly what they could do with ball in hand.

The only blemish on the day was provided by Joe Worsley who had to apologise for what the Telegraph describes as “a puerile gesture” as he left the field after being sin-binned for a high tackle.

The flanker raised his hands to applaud the crowd and made a mock bow while the victim of the tackle Joaquin Pastore lay prostrate on the turf.

In a country where the England rugby side appears to be as unpopular as a warm beer, this will have done little to endear the Poms to their hosts.

In what was a good weekend for English sport, Tim Henman roared to the best victory of his career when he defeated Andrei Pavel in straight sets to win the Paris Masters.

It was the list of players that Henman had beaten on the way to the final, however, that was really indicative of his form as they included World No.1 Andy Roddick, Wimbledon champion Roger Federer and Henman’s Wimbledon conqueror Sebastien Grosjean.

The Indy says the victory, achieved (says Henman) because he was “strong between the ears”, has propelled the 29-year-old from No.40 in the world rankings to No.14.

“Until now,” says the Guardian, “Henman has been better at talking about mental strength than showing it. Now it seems the penny has dropped.

“He looked more relaxed this week than ever and played with a freedom that has allowed his talents to thrive.”

If Michael Owen wants his talents to thrive, many observers believe he will have to leave Liverpool – but speculation that a £25m move to Real Madrid is in the offing have been downplayed by manager Gerard Houllier.

‘It’s about trust and care. Michael knows us, loves us and I’m convinced he wants to stay,’ Houllier tells the Sun.

‘This speculation will not get to him. I haven’t heard from Real Madrid but they can reverse the figures quoted and they still won’t get him.’

Owen may have other ideas.’

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


Fine and Dandy

‘FOR all the sport that is on the back pages this morning, they may as well be the court circular – except the court in this case would be a judicial one.

‘See you at White Hart Highbury’

So let us done a horsehair wig, pick up our gavel and see what sentences were handed down yesterday.

Order! The Mirror reports that Arsenal have been hit with fines totalling £275,000 for the post-match brawl at Old Trafford and seen four of the culprits banned for a total of nine games.

Lauren is hit the hardest with a four-game ban and a £40,000 fine, while Martin Keown gets a three-game ban and both Patrick Vieira and Ray Parlour a one-game ban.

Order! The Sun says that, while the Gunners suffered a “Halloween horror”, the FA got away with a £4,400 slap on the wrist for the half-time brawl in the tunnel in Istanbul.

The paper suggests that Soho Square chiefs were laughing all the way to the bank after making a £270,600 profit on the two incidents.

Order! The Express suggests that England’s rugby players got off as lightly as the footballers for fielding an extra man for 34 seconds of last weekend’s game against Samoa.

The paper says coach Clive Woodward was smiling after hearing of the £10,000 fine for sending Dan Luger onto the pitch while centre Mike Tindall was receiving treatment for an injury.

“The transgression had brought accusations of arrogance in Australia and demands by the Wallabies’ injured No.8 Toutai Kefu that England be docked points,” it says.

There was never any realistic prospect of that seeing as the transgression occurred in the 81st minute of a match in which by that time England were leading comfortably.

However, Woodward will no doubt be pleased that the matter is now over – a lot more pleased than Arsenal and Spurs fans will be when they read in the Mail that the two rivals may end up sharing a ground as the game’s cash crisis bites.

The paper suggests that “the nightmare scenario is moving closer” with Leeds United’s record loss not a problem that is confined to West Yorkshire.

Indeed, if Arsenal keep throwing money away like they did yesterday, both clubs could find themselves playing on Hackney Marshes instead.’

Posted: 31st, October 2003 | In: Back pages | Comment


Rio’s Sabbatical

‘POOR, old Rio Ferdinand. The Telegraph says that the Football Association have taken a tough line on the player, charging him with misconduct for missing a drugs test.

‘What’s the Caribbean like at this time of year?’

Or have they? They could have charged him with “wilfully” avoiding the test, a charge that carries a possible punishment of a two-year ban from the game.

As Gordon Taylor, the players’ union chief executive, puts it: “From Rio’s point of view, the charges are good news. It’s certainly a lesser charge and a lesser charge should carry a lesser punishment.”

There are no guarantees. However, as is the way with these things, the player will maintain his innocence whatever, his club will vow to fight his corner and football will beat its chest and say how it’s time to clamp down on drugs cheats.

It’s all just so pathetic, made even more so when you realise that, if Ferdinand does get a three-month ban (as many see likely), he will be paid a weekly fortune to do pretty much nothing but keep fit. As we say, poor Rio.

We would like to report that football is bigger than one player’s indiscretion.

But it’s hard to find support for that argument on a day when the papers relegate the draw for the fourth round of the Carling Cup to an afterthought.

But when you realise that the pick of the round, as revealed in the Independent, is Tottenham Hotspur versus Manchester City, you have to acknowledge that the League Cup is a minor issue.

The big issue, particularly if you are an Australian, is how to deal with the England rugby union team.

It’s clear to any Australian that what the Times calls “Lugergate” (Dan Luger briefly appeared as England’s 16th man on the field of play against Samoa) should result in England’s dismissal from the tournament.

A more sensible approach is found in the Times, where England face the more likely outcome of a financial punishment.

But since this incident is without precedent, they could get the wish of many South Africans and have points deducted.

Or be shot.’

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


Missing Link

‘IN recent years Manchester United have set many a benchmark in footballing excellence.

Police are worried that Paul hasn’t contacted home for three days

And now the Telegraph brings us tales of a new achievement. As the headline shouts: “Scholes missing for four weeks.”

Given the furore that met with Rio Ferdinand’s disappearance for a mere couple of hours, Scholes looks certain to get the papers’ tongues wagging.

But then we read that he’s missing because he’s had an operation on “both groins”. That sounds pretty painful.

But for footballing agony, readers should go to the Times and read about the “avalanche of debt” that threatens to “sweep Leeds into the abyss”.

Last night the Yorkshire club lost to Manchester United 2-3 in the Carling Cup – but it’s the club’s finances rather than their inability to win a football match that are most threatening.

Having published the club’s financial report just yesterday, the full horror of the Leeds chairman’s position is made apparent.

“Now you can see the size of the nightmare,” says Professor John McKenzie, who replaced Peter Ridsdale last season.

Not everyone is crying. Take Robbie Fowler, who by some quirk of idiocy at Leeds will be paid £500,000 a year by the club until 2006 – even though he now plays for Manchester City.

And then there’s Robbie Keane, who will pick up £200,000 a year – while he plays for Spurs.

If that makes no sense, then the Rugby World Cup won’t help your understanding of modern sporting matters.

Yesterday, Georgia lost to Uruguay by 24 points to 12. “Hurrah!” or “Curses!”, depending on your allegiances.

And that’s the thing with rugby union – aside from the southern hemisphere’s big three and England and France from the north, the game is very thin on talent.

It lacks the ability to cause an upset. Which makes it so very much unlike football – which seems to upset just about everyone…’

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


Baaad Sports

‘PHEW! The Telegraph leads with the great news that England’s footballers are in the clear over the tunnel dust-up in their game in Turkey.

Bleating like a lamb

That just leaves the London hotel rape case, the Leeds sexual assault case and the drugs case to clear up.

It’s clear that football is working hard to clean things up, and tomorrow we will learn the fate of one Rio Ferdinand, perhaps the only rich young man who doesn’t spend the better part of his day with a mobile phone glued to his ear.

The Independent says that the defender is likely to learn tomorrow what charges have been levelled against him by the FA. And Fifa, football’s equivalent of Interpol, are talking about the matter today.

The impression is very much that Ferdinand will face some kind of ban. It’s a likelihood that causes the Telegraph’s Henry Winter to speculate on what will happen next.

In his Seven Step plan, Winter begins, somewhat traditionally, with “Step One: Ban Ferdinand for three months.” It’s a nice idea.

But we call on Rio to write whatever sentence he gets on the palm of his hand lest he forget and accidentally turn up for a match, or even a drugs test. Oh, the irony!

But football is not all about drugs and sexual excesses. Really, it’s not. It’s about money. And today the Guardian learns of how little of it some clubs have.

To begin with, the paper says that Tottenham have just announced a loss of £7.1m. That’s pretty big, but is nothing when compared to the fortunes – or lack of them – of Leeds United.

A bailiff-style rap on the door now as the Guardian tells the world that today Leeds are expected to announce a yearly loss of almost £50m.

That is, the paper says, the worst in Premiership history.

It all makes for bad sports news. But if we are talking of bad sports, then we should look to the Times and its news from the Australian camp at the Rugby World Cup.

Eddie Jones, the Australian head coach, is calling for a tough punishment for the 34 seconds in which England accidentally fielded 16 players on the pitch against Samoa (albeit only 15 who were able to walk).

“They should be reprimanded,” says Jones. “It’s a very serious situation.”

Indeed it is. After all, how can it be that Australia can be so superior in minority sporting matters yet so worried by England that they need to bleat?

Anyone would thing they were looking for excuses already…’

Posted: 28th, October 2003 | In: Back pages | Comment


Not So Sweet Sixteen

‘ENGLAND’S rugby players look anything but world beaters at the moment, but at least they are still in the World Cup.

England must try harder

They were given an almighty scare yesterday by a Samoan team that played some sublime rugby at times to lead 10-0 midway through the first half and 22-21 midway through the second half.

In the end, England recovered to win 35-22, courtesy of two late tries, but the match has provided England with a much-needed “wake-up call”.

The mask of invincibility that has surrounded the No.1 ranked side has well and truly slipped and captain Martin Johnson was moved to admit after the match that they will struggle to beat Uruguay next week unless they pick up their game.

“England,” says the Telegraph, “were discordant through the midfield and flustered in their control of the ball.

“Their penalty count was once again far higher than their usual single figure target. England were lucky not to have a player yellow carded. The ledger of negatives was substantial.”

The only people who do not appear unduly concerned by the performance are the players themselves, most of whom seem to be writing a column for one paper or another.

Lewis Moody admits that England played right into the Samoans’ hands in the first-half but urges England fans to look at the broader picture.

“World Cups,” he says, “are won on the back of hard games like the one we had yesterday.” They are also lost in games like yesterday’s.

Scrum-half Matt Dawson says in his Telegraph column England got what they expected, which only makes their inability to handle it the more worrying.

Indeed, such was their difficulties in coping with 15 “highly motivated and very talented Samoans” that at one stage England had 16 players on the pitch.

And the Indy says World Cup organisers are to investigate how Dan Luger joined the action while Mike Tindall, the man he was supposedly replacing, was being treated for an injury on the pitch.

If England are to progress, they might need to slip a few extra players into their XV.

Elsewhere, Arsenal went to the top of the Premiership again after a 1-1 draw at Charlton took them a point ahead of Chelsea and two points ahead of Manchester United, who lost 3-1 at home to Fulham.

And in the Times Michael “Ned” Kelly continues his memoirs of his time as head of security at Old Trafford with tales of former chairman Martin Edwards’ fetish for looking under the doors of the cubicles in ladies’ toilets.

All of which is much more interesting than anything any of the England rugby players have got to say.’

Posted: 27th, October 2003 | In: Back pages | Comment


Cheats Prosper

‘“FACE it, cheating is a way of life,” says former England rugby player Stuart Barnes with reference to the World Cup currently being played in Australia.

Would anyone pick Alpay?

But his comment could apply across the sporting spectrum as the front of the Telegraph’s sports section makes clear.

From America, we hear that middle-distance runner Regina “I hope I’m a role model to other women” Jackson has become the latest athlete to test positive for the new designer steroid, THG.

Back here, Manchester United have been forced to deny that they have tried to cover up evidence crucial to the investigation into Rio Ferdinand’s missed drugs test.

But the main story is that Turkish centre-half Alpay has made an unceremonious departure from English football after his contract was terminated by Aston Villa.

Alpay, who is expected to join German club Hertha Berlin, blamed the English media’s obsession with David Beckham for his plight.

The former Fenerbahce player earned the opprobrium of English fans after goading Beckham following his penalty miss in Istanbul last month.

But he told the Telegraph (with good reason): “This wouldn’t have happened if the confrontation had been with any other player than David Beckham.” (If only it had been Dennis Wise.)

We now turn to the Independent in search of sporting action and all we can see is England’s cricketers sitting round on the pitch in Bangladesh after a floodlight failure brought a premature end to the third day’s play in the inaugural test between the two countries.

And we note in passing that Manchester United’s Paul Scholes is single-handedly flying the flag for England in Europe, having picked up more yellow cards in Champions’ League matches than any other player.

Scholes’ 20 cautions is four more than his closest rival, Luis Figo.

And in the Times we learn that Andrew Miller, the Japanese fly-half, became the first player in this rugby World Cup to record a “full house” – a try, conversion, penalty and dropped goal.

If nothing else, such information should come in useful in a pub quiz in the near future.

But if you don’t remember it, don’t worry – you can always do what everyone else does and use your mobile to phone a friend.

Cheating – everyone’s doing it these days.’

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


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