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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

The Gold Rush

‘WE love the Commonwealth Games. Every four years we can pretend we’re world-beaters as we dominate the likes of St Kitts & Nevis, Nauru and Wales in the medals table.

England expects…

In turn, of course, we get thrashed by Australia, but that is a price worth paying for all those gold medals we rack up.

Yesterday, the following names were added to the British sporting pantheon: Craig Fallon (Under-60kg judo), Georgina Singleton (Under-52kg judo), James Warren (Under-66kg judo), Nathan Morgan (long jump), Karen Pickering (200m freestyle), the men’s table tennis team, the mixed badminton team and, last but most certainly not least, the women’s bowling team.

Remember those names – because you’ll be tested on them later. The Sun doesn’t care whether the medals are won in the egg and spoon race [where, sadly, we trailed in fifth after a clash with the Cayman Islands just after the start], as long as they are English. And this morning it celebrates England’s great eight with the headline, ”Goldilots”.

The Mail claims England’s performances in the pool stole the limelight from Aussie swimming sensation Ian Thorpe, although one doubts whether Karen Pickering and Zoe Baker feature ahead of Thorpedo in today’s Sydney Morning Herald or Melbourne Age.

Thorpe had a quiet day in the pool yesterday, winning just two golds, setting one world record and one Commonwealth record. But we had a world record of our own, courtesy of Zoe Baker – although, as it was in a semi-final, it did not mean gold. Yet.

All of which excitement almost overshadows the news that the start of the Premiership season is only just over a fortnight away, and football is beginning to creep back into its rightful place in the sport pages – everywhere.

The news in brief is that Juventus have been given first crack at Freddie Ljungberg if the midfielder decides he wants to leave Highbury (Star); Brazilian Kleberson could become the third World Cup winner to join the Premiership after he was offered to Leeds for just £4m (Mirror); Turkish World Cup star Ozalan Alpay could be the man to replace Rio Ferdinand at Leeds (Sun); and Leeds boss Terry Venables has given his striker Alan Smith licence to carry on kicking after the man who could start a fight in an empty phone box was sent off in a pre-season friendly in Bangkok (Express).

In speedway yesterday, Isle of Wight beat Rye House 55-34, while Reading edged out Trelawny 46-44.

And anyone remember who won the Under-66kg Judo again?’

Posted: 31st, July 2002 | In: Back pages | Comment | Comments RSS feed:RSS 2.0


There Used To Be A Football Club Here

‘GEORGE Best is still alive as this is being written. With luck he will be on the road to recovery when this is being read. Already the news programmes are running mini-obituaries; everybody seems to fear the worst.

”It’ll all be different this year…”

We shall hold our fire until the time comes, and with a bit of luck, that won’t be for some considerable while. Instead we’ll turn our attention to another case of long-term decay: the slow but inexorable demise of Tottenham Hotspur Football Club.

Tim Sherwood has been fined £30,000 for making critical remarks about the club’s transfer policy. The traditional transfer policy at Spurs is to sell its stars and spend the summer dropping heavy hints that the club is about to sign X, Y and Z – none of whom ever arrive.

Although Spurs fans should know better – and do in their heart of hearts – they still buy their season tickets, full of hope, if not expectation, of better things.

The club motto should be changed to ”Jam tomorrow”, or ”Light at the end of the tunnel”, or ”Every morning brings a new day”. Because Tottenham’s glory is always about the past or the future, never the present.

Even the transfer talk isn’t particularly optimistic. A Chinese international is lined up, but there’s precious little else to cheer about.

The rebellious Sherwood described the club as ”a million miles away from the championship”. Would that this were true! The unpleasant truth is that the Premiership trophy – and the FA Cup – are currently residing just a few miles down the road at Highbury.

And while the Arsenal players are preparing to compete with the cream of Europe, their Tottenham counterparts are polishing their Worthington Cup runners-up medals and thinking about what might have been.

Spurs are now to Arsenal what Everton are to Liverpool and Manchester City are to United. Except that Tottenham’s glory days are even further back in history.

It’s now more than 40 years since Spurs won the league championship. Even their cup reputation is fading fast: their last FA Cup win was in 1991, since when Arsenal have won it three times without even getting particularly excited about it.

Sol Campbell’s transfer said more about Tottenham’s problem than Tim Sherwood ever could. But that doesn’t mean Sherwood isn’t right. His folly is to imagine that things could possibly be any other way.

Spurs are not a great club; they are a formerly great club. The sooner the supporters come to terms with it, the better for their long-term mental health.

”There used to be a football club here,” said Keith Burkinshaw when he left as Spurs manager 20-odd years ago. How prescient he was! ‘

Posted: 31st, July 2002 | In: Back pages | Comment | Comments RSS feed:RSS 2.0


The Worst Penalty In The World…

‘WHAT are the worst penalties of all time? Most people’s answers to that question will be dependent not upon the penalty kick itself, but rather its significance. The more important the result of the kick, the more it is remembered, and the more its quality is questioned.

NASA was pleased with the result of installing a camera on Waddle’s penalty ball

This is clearly unscientific, not to mention unfair. Penalties cover a broad spectrum. At one extreme there are powerful shots accurately placed in the very corners of the goal, where it is effectively impossible for the keeper to reach them.

These are very difficult to execute even on an empty training ground with no goalkeeper, let alone in a high-pressure game with millions watching. Alan Shearer was a master of this art, and Gary Lineker was another you would be happy to bet your life on.

Then comes a huge band of penalties which are good, pretty good, or poor, but which manage to beat the keeper. All of these are treated as good penalties because they went in, yet even the best of them will be regarded as poor if it is saved – even if the save was a one-in-a-hundred combination of guessing the right way, diving early, and the ball happening to strike a leg and stay out of the goal.

So when Stuart Pearce hit his 1990 World Cup semi-final straight down the middle, he was a villain because the German keeper blocked it. But when David Beckham did the same against Argentina in the summer, the keeper dived away from the ball and Golden Balls was a hero.

Other important misses are a combination of so-so kicks and lucky guessing, or – cruellest of all – good kicks and great saves. But the most entertaining variety are the absolute stinkers – the kind of high, wide and handsome effort that Chris Waddle produced in 1990, when he put the first ever football into orbit and left a nation heartbroken.

Until this week, Chris Waddle’s penalty would have been the third-worst I have ever seen. Number two would have been that amateur video clip that is trotted out from time to time on sports comedy shows, in which the penalty taker stubs his toe into the ground, falls over, and the ball trickles along for a couple of seconds before coming to rest about a yard from the spot.

And number one would of course have been Diana Ross missing the open goal from about two yards during the opening ceremony of the 1994 World Cup, whereupon the goal mechanically split in two as though blasted apart by the shot which Ms Ross was supposed to have smashed into it.

But now a new candidate has come straight in at number one, and candidate is the operative word.

Edmund Stoiber, the Conservative candidate for the German Chancellorship, decided to play the football card by taking a penalty in a football ground.

His kick not only missed the goal altogether, but smashed into the face of a woman standing some way behind the goal, knocking her glasses aside and cutting her face so badly that blood poured from the wound.

For poor technique and high drama, we defy anyone to beat that. ‘

Posted: 30th, July 2002 | In: Back pages | Comment | Comments RSS feed:RSS 2.0


Summer Holiday

‘LIKE many off us have a tendency to do at this time of year, Graham Thorpe has decided to take a bit of time off. Most of us, however, were not expected to be one of England’s top run scorers in the current Test series against India.

Rawlinson can’t stomach the thought of this just now

After the breakdown of Thorpe’s marriage last year interrupted his tour of India, he and the England management have agreed that taking a break is, according to the Times, ”the wisest course of action both to sort out his personal life and to recharge his batteries”.

Having notched up scores of just 4 and 1 in England’s impressive victory against India at Lord’s, now seems as good a time as any to take a break from the game.

”I am feeling very worn-down and burnt out by events off the field which have become a major distraction and prevented me from fully focusing on my cricket,” he tells the Sun, which, despite his insistence that retirement is not on his mind at the moment, is concerned that Thorpe may never return from his mini-break.

The tabloid writes that, having made himself unavailable for either England or Surrey, his Test career is ”on the line”.

Chris Rawlinson was another Englishman on the line yesterday – first in the 400m hurdles at the Manchester Commonwealth Games. Athletics’ male answer to Paula Radcliffe, Rawlinson (says the Telegraph) has had a career ”punctuated by a series of misfortunes and calamities” and ”could never seem to get it right on the big occasion”.

In the run-up to yesterday’s event, he tried extremely hard to sabotage his own success once again, succumbing to a bout of food poisoning 10 days ago after eating pieces of chicken left for two days in the back of his car.

”I didn’t think I’d make it to the start line in Manchester,” he admitted after winning gold. ”But everything has finally come right for me at last.”

Posted: 30th, July 2002 | In: Back pages | Comment | Comments RSS feed:RSS 2.0


England On A Winning Run

‘UNLESS something goes badly wrong today, England will go 1-0 up in their four-match Test series against India and underline the progress they have made under Duncan Fletcher and Nasser Hussain.

England on a better wicket

The fact that it has been achieved in this match without the services of four first-choice members of their starting XI only emphasises the increased strength in depth of the team and the confidence that comes with winning Test matches regularly.

Neither Sri Lanka or India have the strongest bowling attack in the world and too much can be made of England’s recent batting performances which have seen them score over 450 in an innings in each of the last four matches.

However, what has been impressive is that, even when a couple of the top-order batsmen have failed, the others have shouldered the responsibility and posted big scores.

In those four matches, England players have posted no fewer than nine centuries and ten 50s.

In Test match cricket, even against somewhat anodyne attacks, players are always vulnerable at the start of their innings. The key for Test players is to make the most of the opportunities when they get in – and this is one of the big changes from a couple of years ago.

Another is the contribution of the middle and lower order. With Andrew Flintoff batting at No.7 and Craig White at No.8, the pressure on the top order is reduced. Both players have the talent to score runs against better attacks than India and Sri Lanka, if required – and they will be required in the winter when England tour Australia.

However, it is the bowling that has been the real revelation. Both Sri Lanka and India are good batting sides and the fact that they have been bowled out by a depleted England attack on good batting tracks is testament to the discipline and skill of players who might be expected only to play a bit part in England’s fielding performances.

It is by no means a great attack. Matthew Hoggard is no Glenn McGrath, Ashley Giles is no Muttiah Muralitharan and Simon Jones is not Shoaib Akhtar, but by sticking to a plan and concentrating on what they do best they have proved they can be a match for the world’s top batsmen.

What is more, the competition for places in this England side is (in most areas) now more intense than it has been for years. Players who underperform know that reputation will not save them in the long run.

This can only augur well for the future. ‘

Posted: 29th, July 2002 | In: Back pages | Comment | Comments RSS feed:RSS 2.0


Who Stewards The Stewards?

‘ON the pitch, almost everything has gone right for England’s cricketers in their first Test against India at Lord’s.

Pitch invasions used to be more genteel affairs

Off it (or occasionally straying onto it), it has been a disaster with the visitors launching a furious protest last night after a spectator got onto the pitch and accompanied the world’s top batsman Sachin Tendulkar off the field as stewards stood and watched.

As if that wasn’t enough, Indian commentator Harsha Bogle claims he was heckled and assaulted by a steward as he left the ground on Saturday night.

The Mail explains that Bogle, who works for ESPN, was giving a live radio update by mobile phone when he was unceremoniously bundled out of the ground by a drunken steward, while a supervisor looked on.

”I am not on duty and you can’t touch me,” the steward is alleged to have said. ”Tomorrow morning I will be back on duty and you can’t do anything. I will be here when you are dead.”

With the MCC launching an investigation into the incident, unless Bogle is hit by a bus in the next 24 hours, the steward is likely to find that that is not entirely true.

The two incidents have somewhat taken the shine off a great England performance on the pitch, which leaves them on the verge of victory today. India are still 354 runs behind with only four second-innings wickets remaining – and, unless something goes seriously wrong, England should wrap up the victory early on this morning.

The Sun salutes Matthew Hoggard, who broke the back of the Indian innings with the wickets of Sachin Tendulkar and Sourav Ganguly in consecutive deliveries.

But the Mail puts England’s recent improvement down to skipper Nasser Hussain, who Graham Otway describes as ”a modern Brearley” and says should claim the man-of-the-match award not only for his first-innings 155 but for the way he has led the team.

There was better news for England in Manchester yesterday after the debacle of the Commonwealth Games 100m when Paula Radcliffe, Jonathan Edwards and Mick Jones all grabbed gold medals.

Radcliffe is the darling of this morning’s papers after running the fifth fastest time ever in the 5,000m to shatter the Games record by well over a minute.

”It feels brilliant, as if a weight has been lifted off my shoulders,” she tells the Express after her first major championship win. ”It has been hanging round my neck a bit.”

Now the only thing hanging round her neck will be a gold medal. ‘

Posted: 29th, July 2002 | In: Back pages | Comment | Comments RSS feed:RSS 2.0


Flat Stanley

‘THERE is little denying that football finances are in the doldrums. Looking past the only big money signing of the close season, money has not been the big news it once was.

‘And we’ll trhow in this delightful football ground for free…’

Real Madrid have bought no one of any note; Lazio and Roma have four more days to solve their debts – or else be barred from the forthcoming Italian league season; rumours abound that PSG, France’s most glamorous club, is to be sold by its owners Canal Plus to raise much-needed funds; and even players’ agent Sports Entertainment And Media Group has warned that a lacklustre transfer market would hit its results.

And if the top end is looking less than glossy, the bottom end of football’s ladder is faring worse. The effect of the debacle over ITV Digital is still being felt, and nowhere more keenly than Burnley, where the entire squad has been put up for sale.

Immediately after the television rights issue went sour, Stan Ternent, Burnley’s chairman, put six of his team on the transfer list. But reality has begun to bite hard, and now the rest of the team are anxiously eyeing the door marked ‘EXIT’.

But what’s on the other side? If Burnley, a good-sized club that did quite well in last season’s Division One, is in the mire, what hope is there for the likes of Stockport County and Bournemouth?

Very little. Players are released, but their kindly owners are letting them go on the hard shoulder of the M1. But needs must, although Stan Ternent gilds the poison chalice in a conversation with Sky Sports.

‘We are not desperate but after what happened with ITV Digital, we budgeted for £3million and we only got £700,000 so we’ve had to address that.’ He continues: ‘I have a pretty strong squad of players and I would have liked to have strengthened, but in light of what’s happened I could have to sell, we’ll see what happens.’

And of the players? ‘Somebody could offer a lot of money but maybe the player would want to stay – at the end of the day it would be the player’s decision.’

Of course it is, Stan. And in the real world, which clubs are going to pay big money for average players who play for a club that needs the cash? Oh, for more in the mould of David O’Leary, eh Stan?

And Stan’s current players might cast their eye at the departing Paul Gascoigne. Gazza, who played for Burnley in 2002, is off to earn a reported £5,000 a week in the US’s Major Soccer League retirement home.

The ‘Major Soccer League’. Hmm, with a name like that it must be good. Not the Minor League or the Mid-sized League but the Major League. The game is football, but the name of the game is marketing. And the down-at-heel British version could take a tip from its American variant.

Anyone for the Phoenix League? Or what about the Great League? Yes, that’ll do it. The Golden Fleeced League it is. ‘

Posted: 26th, July 2002 | In: Back pages | Comment | Comments RSS feed:RSS 2.0


Old Boys’ Club

‘POOR old Terry Venables. He phoned Peter Lorrimer, Norman Hunter and the rest of the Leeds old boys, but they all had other commitments, what with the pubs, the after-dinner speaking, the golf and the local radio.

Darren was happy to sign for Leeds – as long as Terry signed his cast

So in desperation, he reached into his suit pocket, took out his trusty address book, and looked up ‘S’ for ‘Sicknote’. And lo and behold, Darren Anderton signalled that he was available, with the normal proviso that he would be covered for all accidents and medical emergencies, and would be driven everywhere with a qualified paramedic.

Then he looked under ‘G’ for ‘Good old Barmby’. And Nick said ‘Sure, boss’. And – if you believe the Star, which millions do – the two Spurs old boys are on their way to Elland Road.

How Leeds fans will react is anybody’s guess. Without wishing to disparage either player, both of whom have proved their quality down the years, this can’t be seen as a particularly progressive move.

Both players are getting towards the end of their careers, and won’t be figuring in the club’s long-term plans. It is a stop-gap measure at best, and will be seen by some as smacking of desperation.

Of course, sometimes these things work gloriously, and a blend of youth and experience, coupled with astute coaching and management, suddenly produces great results. But both players are notoriously injury-prone, and it’s a hell of a risk.

Meanwhile, Leeds still have Lee Bowyer on their hands. The ‘troubled’ midfielder refuses to sign a new contract because he is angry at comments made by Leeds chairman Peter Ridsdale, who said that he would never have signed Bowyer if he had known more about him.

The Express reports that Bowyer believes Gerard Houllier was right to pull the plug on his transfer to Liverpool. He is now with his teammates in Australia on a pre-season tour, and presumably having a wonderful time.

Brits won medals at yesterday’s Commonwealth Games swimming events: a silver for Tony Ally and a bronze for Jane Smith in the diving. Smith, a former TV ‘Gladiator’, pronounced herself ‘over the moon’. ‘

Posted: 26th, July 2002 | In: Back pages | Comment | Comments RSS feed:RSS 2.0


Manchester Rains Supreme

‘IT’S the first day of the Lord’s Test between England and India, the start of the Commonwealth Games and still Leeds United are the sporting subject uppermost in the Mirror’s mind.

The South African marathon runner got hopelessly lost

With Rio Ferdinand gone and Lee Bowyer in limbo, it’s now Nigel Martyn’s turn to spot the door marked ‘Exit’. In ‘Stay-away Martyn axed by Tel’, the Mirror tells how Nigel Martyn has been replaced as Leeds’ first choice goalkeeper by Paul Robinson following a row with Terry Venables.

More disappointing news for Leeds fans comes on the back page of the Sun and the news that Brett Emerson, the £12m-rated Australian, has rejected a move to Leeds in favour of wearing the red of Liverpool.

And while all of Leeds weeps, the Times writes that ‘Manchester’s conversion into the sporting capital of the Commonwealth nears completion’. Until Yorkshire declares itself a full-blown Republic, that puts Leeds further into the sporting backwaters.

And so to Manchester the sports writers go to watch today’s opening ceremony and catch up with a few British medal prospects.

The Sun leads with a moody shot of Dwain Chambers, favourite to win the 100m. ‘I don’t fear anybody,’ says Chambers, fearlessly. ‘There are going to be a lot of fast times and world records may even be broken.’

It’s all upbeat stuff in the Sun, a mood not shared by the Mail. While the Sun tells the stars to ‘grab your golden chance’, the Mail describes it as the ‘last-chance saloon for our Olympic bid’.

Unable to enjoy the moment, the Mail begins a preview to the big show by talking about the rain. Odd then that on Page 1 the Mail’s Michael Henderson should write: ‘Let us enjoy the hoopla and a few days in the sun, and maybe it’ll help cure the city’s ills.’

That must be the proverbial sun, and the proverbial ‘hoopla’, as to our knowledge, it always rains in Manchester and the fairground game has not been made an official Commonwealth sport – yet.

And neither has cricket. Which is odd, since the only countries that really play the sport are ones touched by Britain’s imperial forces. But the Games can do without such a violent sport in town, especially if the Mirror’s headline is a guide.

‘Lord’s alert after 12-inch knife found,’ screams the legend, alongside a three-inch high picture of a blade. The bigger knife was confiscated from a spectator at the recent England v India one-day final. In all, 900 items were seized by security services that great day, including small blades, fiendish musical instruments and flags that could easily have taken someone’s eye out.

And Alan Baxter, head of security at Lord’s, remains vigilant ahead of toady’s clash. ‘If spectators try to bring banned items in the ground they will be taken away from them for the duration of the game and can be picked up later.’

Which means that the man with the 12-inch knife will have to wait until after the match to slice his rustic loaf of bread, his mature cheddar cheese and whatever else his wife has hidden in his picnic hamper. So there. ‘

Posted: 25th, July 2002 | In: Back pages | Comment | Comments RSS feed:RSS 2.0


Getting Their Kicks On Route ’66

‘ENGLAND’S footballers will be looking forward to the round of pre-season friendlies that will allow them to put the disappointments of the summer behind them and look ahead to the busy schedule of the next 10 months.

They thought it was all over…

But while Beckham, Owen and co will be competing in Champions League fixtures and Euro 2004 qualifiers around Europe, another bunch of England internationals will be working their way through a fixture list of corporate hospitality and after-dinner speeches the length and breadth of the land.

They are ‘The Boys of 66’, and every time the Three Lions whimper out of another tournament, their stock rises. And although they want England to win as much as anyone, there is no doubt that when Sven’s men lose, Sir Alf’s inevitably gain.

The Boys of ’66 say that not a day goes by without someone mentioning their World Cup victory – and they aren’t talking about the professional nostalgia business of which they are a part. Their triumph on 30 July 1966 has shaped their entire lives, just as it has, to a lesser extent, shaped the lives of millions of English football fans.

It is relived mentally on a daily basis, and it is doubtful whether a week, or even a day, goes by without one of the key ‘iconic’ images being shown on national TV.

But this backward-looking habit is not just a symptom of the national team’s subsequent failure; it is also the cause of it. Sir Alf’s triumph was arguably the worst thing that ever happened to English football.

That is not to denigrate him, or even to blame him. On the contrary, his achievement was magnificent. He took a bunch of no-hopers, who had been booed off the Wembley pitch at the beginning of the year and organised them to win the World Cup. And he did so using the talents that had enabled him to achieve the even more extraordinary feat of leading tiny Ipswich Town from the Third Division to the league title.

The problem was that the victory tended to exacerbate problems that already beset the English game. In winning the trophy, Ramsey had enjoyed a fair amount of good fortune, including home advantage, some dubious refereeing throughout the tournament, and various other lucky breaks.

He knew that his players could not play like Brazil, and he cut his coat according to his cloth, creating a team that was efficient, hard-working, and well-drilled in Ramsey’s innovative but cautious tactics. He proved that if you win, you don’t need to play ‘crowd-pleasing’ football to please the crowds.

The problem is that the victory set in stone the very disadvantages that Ramsey had overcome. Ramsey had made vices of necessities. He had utilised English strengths such as work-rate, and minimised the risk of his players’ technical deficiencies being exposed.

His success allowed these problems to go unaddressed. Players like Colin Bell would always be favoured over Alan Hudson and the other talents who were wasted in the following decades.

Today, we find ourselves in a situation where the men who coach our top schoolboys say there are no natural footballers among them. The Brazil side that won the World Cup this summer was lambasted beforehand for its negative, flamboyant-free ‘European’ style. What England would give for a bit of that negativity!

The fact is that if England had played like that, Sven would be regarded as a god. As it was, his team was as workmanlike as those of any previous manager – that is, until the final half-hour of the quarter-final, when his workmen didn’t even work hard.

So we look back once more to The Boys of ’66, and the whole thing starts again. ‘

Posted: 25th, July 2002 | In: Back pages | Comment | Comments RSS feed:RSS 2.0


Daft Brush Off

‘SO almost farewell Paul Gascoigne – belcher, Mars bar enthusiast and woman beater. Gazza’s off to ply his unique brand of football at DC United, a less than household name in the United States.

The star wears the stripes

For those of you who went to school with Ian Draper (the former Aston Villa star who once stated a desire to play in Italy for Barcelona), DC play in Washington DC, District of Columbia. (And yes, Ian, that is the Colombia that’s in South Africa).

Gazza and his agent Ian Elliot plan to fly to the US today. On Friday, the pair will watch DC train, then see them play on Saturday. After that, Gazza will train with the DC squad on the following Monday and Tuesday.

Come Wednesday, Gazza will know what he wants to do. And the chances are very high that he will remain in the camp. But why? Elliot explains: ‘He’s always wanted to play in the States and it’s a standard of football he will be comfortable in.’

No joke. Football in the States is a standard of football George Best – and that’s the current Bart Simpson-hued George Best – would be ‘comfortable with’. The national side did do fairly well in the World Cup – as well as England did – but the overall level is average at best.

Anyone doubting that might like to consider Elliot’s assertion that Gazza will need just a few training sessions before he’s ready to play six or seven games of the remaining season. He will then, as Elliot continues, be ready to take a full part in the 2003 campaign.

Those of us who have watched Gazza deteriorate over the past decade hazard a guess that the daft one will be fit to play seven or so games in 2003, and for the rest of this season be best employed as a T-shirt autographer and forgetful cheerleader. (‘Give us a D! Give us a C! Put them all together and what do you have?’ ‘CD!’)

DC’s coach Ray Hudson might be unaware what he is getting. It’s hard not to imagine a meeting similar to Marlowe’s coming together with Kurtz in the dark heart of the Congolese jungle.

‘You’re a legend,’ says Marlowe-Hudson. ‘The Gazza! The Gazza! The Gazza!’ mumbles the bedraggled, bloated figure as he collapses in a heap, his old Tottenham fatigues worn ragged by years of neglect.

But Gazza won’t care much about reputation, an image that was dealt a low blow when Sheryl got on the wrong end of his ready banter. And Gazza will arrive, and, one imagines, stick out his tongue, bare his backside and all in all perform in the mode of some buffoonish character who owes too much to two other British exports to the US – Mr Bean and Benny Hill.

Thankfully, the DC official website includes not only a list of players’ names but a guide to how their names should be pronounced, thus saving Gazza further embarrassment.

In America, saying Bryan Namoff (‘Bryan is always fired up and enthusiastic. His go-go attitude is his main strength. Bryan is still refining his overall game, but is very eager to compete and learn’ – Ray Hudson) any way other than ‘NAME-off’ is an incitement to class action.

So Gascoigne (‘GASS-coin’) it is. And Gascoigne it will always be. Just not here, and not quite what he once was. And to think, he’s only 35 – three years younger than David Seaman. ‘

Posted: 24th, July 2002 | In: Back pages | Comment | Comments RSS feed:RSS 2.0


Madness

”KOP ARE MAD ON BAD FAD’ declares the Sun. Eh? Come again?

Denis dreams of the day he will don the Old Gold

Well, it’s not the best – or most accurate – headline ever, we’ll give you that. And to be honest, it’s not much of a story. But these summer weeks are the dog days of football journalism, and the hack pack are sniffing around for any scraps that they can find.

The gist of this particularly poor piece of gristle is that the ‘KOP’ (not actually the Kop, of course, but the Liverpool FC management) are ‘MAD’ keen to sign a player with a criminal record.

The fact that they were previously in talks with Lee Bowyer, who has also been in trouble with the law, thus constitutes – in the fevered imagination of the Sun’s subs at least – a ‘BAD FAD’.

The bad boy in the Reds’ sights is Senegal star Khalilou Fadiga, who has been in jail (briefly) for hitting a fan – not much of an offence, really – and was arrested for stealing a cheap necklace before the World Cup.

He claimed that this was a prank, and the charges were dropped. In other words, the sort of thing that could happen to anyone, as Bobby Moore would have told you.

But if you thought that the Sun’s first headline was weird, how about this on page 52: ‘JOINING WOLVES IS A DREAM COME TRUE’.

What’s odd about that? Nothing, if, as you might suppose, it came from a young lad from the Wolverhampton area who has just been cherry-picked from the local non-league side. But it’s not the sort of thing you expect from a player who has spent the last 12 years as a Manchester United first-teamer, and is the most decorated player in the club’s illustrious history.

Denis Irwin has a European Cup winners’ medal, a European Cup-Winners Cup winners’ medal, seven Premiership medals, and two FA Cup winners’ medals – to name but a few of the honours he has picked up. Not only that but Sir Alex Ferguson declared himself ‘honoured to have had him on my staff’.

Yet as a lad in Ireland, young Denis dreamed of Molineux. Now he is living proof that if you work hard and live clean, then dreams really can come true. ‘

Posted: 24th, July 2002 | In: Back pages | Comment | Comments RSS feed:RSS 2.0


Couture Club

‘THERE are headlines and then there are headlines. And in the latter batch falls the one that appears on the Mirror’s back page: ‘Wise axed by team-mates.’ What initially sounds like a cruel blow is softened by the realisation that the Wise one on the butcher’s block is Dennis Wise, pint-sized pugnacious foe of cab drivers everywhere.

Leeds United unveil new first team kit

But the axe in the headline is not a reference to a literal blade but an allusion to the metaphoric chop, as Wise is shown the door by his employers at Leicester City.

An internal investigation has discovered that Wise was behind an attack on team-mate Callum Davidson that left the victim with a double fracture of a cheekbone. And the rest of the squad at the first division club don’t want to play ball with Dennis any more.

But as one career comes to a sticky end, another heads for the top. Yes, folks, there’s a ‘day’ in the day today and that means it’s time for a story about Rio Ferdinand. In what is sure to be a quotidian update on Rio, the papers now focus on what Rio wore to his first day at his new job.

Fashionistas can expect to see lots of red in the coming months, but for now it’s all white. Clearly hankering after the kit of his last club, Rio steps into the back pages clad in a white suit and black shirt. The Sun lines up Rio alongside a John Travolta in full disco mode, while the Times observes Ferdinand’s ‘distinctive taste in couture’.

But the Star has the scoop, showing Rio’s other half, girlfriend Rebecca Ellison, in an outfit that manages to combine Pride and Prejudice with Footballers’ Wives. It looks like the ‘distinctive taste in couture’ extends to Rio’s lovers too.

And while we thrill to what Rio will do next, it’s almost possible to overlook the arrival of the Commonwealth Games. Manchester might be Rio’s new home, but it’s also the preferred destination for athletes from around the globe (or, at least, that part of it lucky enough to be civilised by the great British Empire).

And chief agonist is triple jumper Jonathan Edwards. News in the Mail is that when the spikes no longer fit, Edwards plans to launch a new career as the BBC’s new religious affairs correspondent. ‘I need to do something real as a real person,’ says the man who wants to be on television.

Of course, he could just stay in Manchester, acting as Rio’s conscience. After what Rio and the Leeds United board have done to the fans of the Yorkshire club, a conscience could be the one thing Rio needs more than a stylist. ‘

Posted: 23rd, July 2002 | In: Back pages | Comment | Comments RSS feed:RSS 2.0


A Word To The Wise

‘OUR cup floweth over. On the same day that Jeffrey Archer learnt that his appeal against his four-and-a-half year sentence for perjury had been thrown out, we learn that Dennis Wise’s football career may be at an end.

Dennis considers a new career as a key fob

The would-be Fagin gang member is now 35 and on that steady fall through the divisions to retirement. And Leicester are happy to give him a push, after he attacked team-mate Callum Dvidson on the club’s pre-season tour of Finland.

Davidson suffered a double fracture of a cheekbone in the bust-up, which took place after a late-night card game – and the club have decided they’ve had enough. Wise is on his way out of Filbert Street, either by free transfer or, more humiliatingly still, by having his contract cancelled.

For years, Wise has been getting the benefit of some very considerable doubt. He is referred to as ‘cheeky’ by the Press, when what they really mean to say is that he is a nasty piece of work.

Nothing illustrates Wise better than when he got Nicky Butt sent off at Chelsea a couple of seasons ago. As the two got up from the ground following a challenge/foul by Wise, the poisonous little midget could be clearly seen pinching Butt’s thigh. Of course, the referee didn’t see it, but he did see Butt’s retaliation – and the Manchester United midfielder gets his marching orders, while Wise congratulates himself on a job well done.

That is the kind of player Wise has always been – biting, pinching, kicking his way through the game. The kind of player every member of the opposition would love to lay out with a single blow, but knows that that is just what Wise wants.

But, of course, Chelsea fans loved Dennis. Not because he was a great footballer – he wasn’t – but because he was Chelsea made flesh. For all that Chelsea fans drool over the skills of Gianfranco Zola and, before him, Ruud Gullit, it is Dennis Wise who is the embodiment of the club.

Let us hope that this latest bust-up marks the end of a career that won’t be mourned outside a small area of West London. And what a fitting end it would be – thrown out of a club because his own team-mates don’t want to play with him. ‘

Posted: 23rd, July 2002 | In: Back pages | Comment | Comments RSS feed:RSS 2.0


Tiger Or Els

‘LET’S get the other news out of the way first before we return once again to the ins, outs and shake-it-all-abouts at Leeds United FC.

What’s a South Afrian Ern?

South African Ernie Els won the British Open golf yesterday evening, giving sports editors a welcome rest from their normal Tiger puns and opening up a whole new lexicon.

”Els bells!’ exclaims the Sun. ‘Ernie’s won the Open.’ ‘Heaven and Els,’ proclaims the Mirror, referring to how the popular 32-year-old needed five extra holes to win the title after almost throwing it away in normal time.

The Star’s eyes are on the £700,000 first prize as it opts for ‘nice little Ern-er’, while the Express picks up on Els’ nickname, The Big Easy, with its headline, ‘It’s so Easy the hard way’.

But what is going on at the Mail? Clearly still traumatised by Tiger Woods’ third-round 81 (which ruined his chances of a Grand Slam this year), they can do no more than erase Tiger’s name and replace it with Els.

‘Els roars back to triumph in Open,’ says the back-page headline, clearly intended for the World No.1.

But beyond the punfest, we get to read all the excitement of what the Express describes as ‘the closest finish in the history of golf’s greatest showpiece’.

Els was leading comfortably with only six holes to play but a bogey at 14 was followed by a disastrous double bogey at 16, leaving him a shot behind the trio of Thomas Levet, Stuart Appleby and Steve Elkington.

A birdie at the long 17th secured Els’ place in the first four-man play-off in Open history and he eventually triumphed as they came up the 18th hole for the third time that day.

All of which gives the papers plenty to fill the pages that are not devoted to the most boring transfer saga of recent times. Will Rio go to United? How much for? What will happen to Lee Bowyer? Does anyone outside the M62 corridor care anymore?

For the record, the latest news seems to be that Rio has signed for United (although estimates of his price vary wildly from £29.1m in the Sun to £50m in the Express), but Bowyer won’t be going to Liverpool.

The Sun says the United of Manchester will pay the United of Leeds £14.9m upfront to help clear Leeds’ debts, £14.2m in 12 months time and could cough up a further £4m depending on the Red Devils’ future performances.

And it has the fax and Manchester United chief executive Peter Kenyon’s appalling handwriting to prove it.

So now we move on to the identity of Ferdinand’s replacement at Elland Road and the Mail is already lining up former Manchester United defender Jaap Stam… Yawn! Yawn!

Posted: 22nd, July 2002 | In: Back pages | Comment | Comments RSS feed:RSS 2.0


There Could Be Trouble Ahead

‘YOU could say that hundreds of thousands of disgusted Irishmen voted with their feet and stayed away from Roy Keane’s first football match on Irish soil since his dramatic early exit from the World Cup.

Roy Keane plays keep-ball

On the other hand, tickets sold out in two hours, and 11,000 lucky ones filled Tolka Park to watch Keano lead Manchester United out against Shelbourne.

Roy had a bodyguard whose weight in pounds was probably equivalent to the United skipper’s monthly salary, but his services weren’t required.

Nor was the local police’s ‘Operation Fortress Tolka Park’, which involved sealing off all surrounding roads for four hours before the kick-off and putting bouncers in monkey suits on all the entrances.

The papers report that T-shirts were on sale with twin pictures of the Republican martyr Michael Collins and the other rebel, Roy Keane, bearing the legend: ‘Two great Cork leaders shot in the back’. You couldn’t make it up.

The crowd shouted his name, and the League Of Ireland champions were grateful to have him and his side there to bring in the red-shirted United fans and the accompanying cash bonus.

United strolled to a 5-0 victory, although Keane made it a growling, snarling stroll as he bossed the midfield and exhorted his team-mates in time-honoured fashion.

There was good news for United all round. Ruud van Nistelrooy, who looked exhausted by the end of last season, has had a World Cup-less summer in which to recuperate, and helped himself to a hat-trick.

Diego Forlan scored his first for United, after a frustrating first season in which he did everything but score. And Irish defender John O’Shea got a rare start. Even Dwight Yorke appeared, and duly got his name on the score-sheet.

It was a solid United crowd, and a solid United performance. There was nothing there to encourage the Reds’ rivals, and precious little to cheer Mick McCarthy either.

Meanwhile, three books are due to hit the stands – one about the spat, one by Keane, and one by McCarthy. The whole affair will then start again, just in time for the build-up to the Republic’s Euro 2004 qualifying match against Russia.

Those weeks could decide the international future of both men. ‘

Posted: 22nd, July 2002 | In: Back pages | Comment | Comments RSS feed:RSS 2.0


The Unkindest Cut

‘RONALDO, the world’s most in-demand player after Rio Ferdinand and Clinton Morrison, has, in the words of one national newspaper, ‘taken a stand against the financial crisis engulfing European football by urging his club, Inter Milan, to cut his wages’.

Vieri’s accoutants keep healthy with new fitness regime

Along with team-mates Christian Vieri and Alvaro Recoba, he has offered to take a 10 per cent reduction in earnings. ‘We spoke to each other and decided to do something to make our president understand that we care about Inter, and we want to make Inter bigger and stronger,’ said Vieri, whose idea it was.

‘Everybody likes to earn a lot,’ said Recoba, ‘but if a club can’t pay players, then we need to be honest and accept a pay cut, for the good of everybody.’ Everybody including the club president, it seems. ‘The president has supported us in every moment,’ remarked Vieri. Well, he would, wouldn’t he?

But although Vieri’s motives were probably perfectly genuine, and it would be wrong to accuse him of cynicism, it would nevertheless be a mistake to interpret his actions as being entirely altruistic. Aside from the fact that he and his cohorts earn more than £100,000 a week, not including sponsorship, there are other aspects to consider.

In a sense, their position is not that different from their president’s. Unlike journeymen pros, they are superstars whose fortunes are bound up in the same business interests as their employers. Although they may superficially appear to be on different sides vis-a-vis wage negotiations, they are both on the same side when it comes to the commercial funding of their sport.

The players’ gesture is more akin to a fat cat waiving his annual bonus at a time when employees and shareholders are feeling the pinch. As Vieri says, it is not the specific amount of money that counts: ‘What is important is to take the initiative.’ This is good PR, for both the players and the industry.

Italian football is in financial crisis, and the broadcasting companies that have invested so heavily in it are suffering from a big shortfall in pay-per-view revenue. Far from entering a bidding war for TV rights, they are talking about mergers.

Other players have seen which way the wind is blowing, and followed the same path as Vieri and co. Already the players’ union has agreed to an automatic pay cut for players at relegated clubs.

Downsizing is the buzz-word in football, and the cutting back of the bloated Champions League will lead to a cutting back of bloated squads across the European game. But don’t expect too many stars to suffer.

When everyone is asked to take a step down, the brunt will, as ever, be borne by those on the bottom rung. ‘

Posted: 19th, July 2002 | In: Back pages | Comment | Comments RSS feed:RSS 2.0


Justin’s Time

‘GOOD old Leeds. Not words you often hear in sporting circles beyond the bounds of Elland Road, but if it weren’t for the Yorkshire club, this summer’s post-World Cup sports pages would have been as empty as David Seaman’s hands.

Tim celebrates a new arrival to the hall of glorious British sporting failures

Every tabloid begins its sporting round-up with a story that, in truth, has not yet happened. Rio Ferdinand has not yet moved to Manchester United, and that means the papers are still full of speculation.

But the Sun at least has the word from the pony’s mouth, offering an exclusive interview with the want-away star. In ‘Rio: Why I asked for a transfer’, the current Leeds United captain says: ‘I did it for the good of my career.’ Rio goes on to say how he craves Champions League football, something he might have experienced at Leeds in the season to come had he scored a few more goals and stopped a few more going against his side.

Which is a similar argument to that put forward last season by Arsenal’s man of letters Peter Hill Wood when Patrick Vieira was bemoaning his lack of club medals. Then as now Manchester United were chief predators, and that makes Arsenal’s manager well qualified to offer an opinion on Rio’s move.

Speaking to the Mirror, Arsene Wenger draws parallels between the Vieira and Ferdinand situations, and says that Leeds made a mistake when they hesitated in showing desire to keep their star man, ‘and once you show hesitation it means you lose the player’.

And so the situation goes on, until readers are four or five pages into the body of the paper. But one event does detract attention from Rio, and the Telegraph chooses to lead with the 131st Open at Muirfield. What is of less surprise than the exclusion of Rio Ferdinand is that the paper’s lead picture shows not just Tiger Woods but Justin Rose, England’s great young hope, too.

The duo, who played the opening round together, are both in the running, Woods on one under par and Rose on a healthy three under. After a summer of British sporting disappointments, the papers are clearly hoping that the 21-year-old golfer provides some success. And in the Mirror ‘Tiger’s tipping Justin to snatch Open glory’.

‘A great talent,’ says Tiger of Rose. ‘If he continues to execute the kind of shots he did today then he’ll be fine.’ So, if he keeps playing well, he’ll do well? ‘Don’t bet against him,’ continues Tiger. ‘Justin certainly has the talent to win the tournament this year.’ And having walloped a huge load of expectation of the Englishman’s shoulders, Tiger looks an even stronger favourite than ever.

Rose might be earning his stripes, but Tiger’s still the number one. ‘

Posted: 19th, July 2002 | In: Back pages | Comment | Comments RSS feed:RSS 2.0


Sweet PFA

‘IF history is a lesson, Rio Ferdinand’s move between the Uniteds of Leeds and Manchester will result in another glorious period for the Red Devils. Last time such a transfer was enacted, the player involved was a certain Monsieur Cantona, and we know what happened to United after he arrived.

‘I wouldn’t put a deal to bed for anything less’

But at least should Rio cross the Pennines, Leeds will have their fall from football’s top table cushioned by a huge mattress of cash. The Mirror looks at what could be a £35m transfer, the largest in British football history. And Leeds chairman Peter Ridsdale wants the lot.

Speaking to the Mirror, Ridsdale states that the Old Trafford club’s initial offer of £20m for Rio was ‘derisory’, going on to say how he has a duty to his shareholders to ‘maximise the value of our assets’. In simple terms that should mean winning pots of silver. But, in football’s meat market, money can be made from trading in human flesh.

Not that the objects of desire are not well recompensed. And that goes for the game’s officials to. While Rio contemplates an increase in his personal fortune, players’ union supremo Gordon Taylor flicks though his extra £165,000 per year.

The Mail catches the chief executive of the Professional Footballers’ Association talking on the phone to what must either be a) a happy wife; b) a delighted bank manager; or c) an ecstatic and willing mistress. The hike in Taylor’s salary takes his overall annual package to a not inconsiderable £623,227. That’s not bad for a man who doesn’t actually get to kick a ball, and at a time when the fallout from the ITV Digital debacle has led to players scraping around for any cash they can get.

‘650 players on the scapheap… Clubs are facing extinction… Television money is drying up… But Gordon Taylor gets a £165,000 pay rise,’ says a slack-jawed Mirror. And on this day of union action, there is something unsettling about a union representative earning such vast sums.

But sport is not all about money – really it isn’t. It’s about playing the game. And today’s game is golf. It’s the start of the 131st Open Championship, and the Times has positioned itself on the first tee, where early this morning Justin Rose turned to his playing partners, Shigeki Muruyama and Tiger Woods, and said: ‘Play well.’

It’s a custom that goes back to the first Open Championship and represents a gentle reminder that the pleasures of sports are chiefly in its playing. And when you’re playing with Tiger Woods, you take what success you can. ‘

Posted: 18th, July 2002 | In: Back pages | Comment | Comments RSS feed:RSS 2.0


The Red Devil Within

‘RIO Ferdinand has pretty much burnt his bridges after his agent announced that the England centre-back was looking to play for ‘a bigger and better club’. It may be true, but fans don’t need to hear it – and Pini Zahavi’s rider that his client ‘is very happy at Leeds’ will cut little mustard.

Leeds United fanzine: Rio models new Leeds shirt

It is not a question of whether the proposed move to Manchester United goes ahead. As one fan said: ‘I don’t think he realises what he has done – he will get more abuse than even Eric Cantona did when he played at Leeds for United in 1993.’ Note the use of the word ‘has’. It’s not a question of what he is doing or what he is considering doing, but what he has done.

There is nothing fans hate more than a player, whose massive wages they have effectively been paying, disrespecting their club. That is why West Ham fans hate Paul Ince. Not because he moved to Manchester United, but because he was posing in a Manchester United shirt before the deal had even been done.

On the face of it, there is nothing wrong with Rio Ferdinand wanting to join Manchester United. Most players in the Premiership would jump at the chance to play at Old Trafford, even if they were too diplomatic to say it.

When Paolo Di Canio was being courted by Sir Alex Ferguson last season, Hammers’ fans at least understood why he would want to go. With West Ham, the best he could ever hope for is a domestic cup and maybe a run in the Uefa Cup.

But what Ferdinand has done wrong – or, at least, what his agent has done wrong – is to state his ambition in too clear terms. ‘Rio wants to be competing for titles and medals,’ Zahavi said, the implication being that he can’t do that in West Yorkshire.

Leeds want to believe they are as big a club as Manchester United. They want to believe that they can challenge for the Premiership title and repeat their European Cup run of two seasons ago. And they don’t need their club captain telling them otherwise.

In truth, such is the hatred of Leeds fans for their more illustrious neighbours on the other side of the Pennines that anyone moving from one to the other could expect a bad reception. What had Cantona done to deserve the boos in 1993 when the man the crowd should have been railing against was Howard Wilkinson who sold the Frenchman for a paltry sum?

When Ferdinand returns to Elland Road as a United player (and it surely is a matter now of when, not if), he knows what kind of reception he is in for – and he should know that he is partly responsible. ‘

Posted: 18th, July 2002 | In: Back pages | Comment | Comments RSS feed:RSS 2.0