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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

On The Right Track

‘HAVING beaten Zimbabwe twice in just six days of cricket, won back-to-back Tests by an innings for the first time in 18 years and recorded their third Test win in a row, England should by rights be looking forward to the rest of the summer.

Nasser can still bodypop with the best of them

No-one is under any illusions but that South Africa will provide a much harder test than their neighbours.

However, assuming that there are no major injury concerns between now and mid-July (which is, admittedly a big ‘if’, given recent history), England can pick from a position of strength.

In certain positions at least, England at last seem to have genuine competition for places – especially, in the fast bowling department.

If everyone is fit, they will have to pick three from seven – James Anderson, Andrew Caddick, Darren Gough, Steve Harmison, Matthew Hoggard, Richard Johnson and Simon Jones.

It is a rare luxury for selectors who in recent matches have been more likely to perform a headcount a couple of days before the Test to check whether they had three fit players to send out.

Assuming Andrew Flintoff’s shoulder has recovered sufficiently to allow him to bowl, there will be another dilemma at No.7.

Anthony McGrath has scored a fifty in both his Test innings so far and has bowling figures of 3-16 from the only six overs he has bowled.

The selectors could not have asked more of him, but whether he has done enough to retain his place is a very different matter.

Flintoff is in brilliant form with the bat for Lancashire this season, with a first-class average of over 100 and he is, when fit, a more penetrative bowler than McGrath.

Much, one imagines, will depend on their relative performances in the one-day games coming up.

Similarly, England will be hoping that at least one of the young batsmen chosen for the limited-overs games stakes a claim to a Test place.

Nasser Hussain looks in very poor touch at the moment, not helped by the lack of cricket he has played. And Robert Key may have exhausted his chances.

Key, at least, gets a chance with the one-dayers to show that he can score big runs at this level.

The one area where England do lag behind almost every other country in the world, however, is with spin-bowling.

English wickets may not be particularly conducive to spin (especially at this time of year), but that hasn’t stopped visiting spinners having a fair bit of success.

Ashley Giles, by contrast, took just a single wicket in the two matches – but is under no threat for his place because there simply isn’t anyone to replace him.

This is the area that really needs to be addressed if England are to field a team capable of unsettling Australia when they next visit in 2005.

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


The Beck Pages

‘ONCE upon a time, the back pages of the newspapers were just that – the back pages.

Next stop Mars

But in the past few years they have become the Beck pages as the sports hacks run a rule over every aspect of the England captain’s life.

The 28-year-old spent the weekend aboard a horse on a carousel in Disneyland, but that ride gets more attention than Kieron Fallon’s Derby win aboard Kris Kin on Saturday.

Of course, most of the speculation surrounds Beckham’s possible transfer, with Barcelona still the destination favoured by most of the papers.

The Express claims Beckham will make up his mind whether he is interested in going to the Nou Camp in the next 48 hours.

AC Milan have also thrown their hat into the ring, according to the Mirror, and have immediately jumped to the head of the queue.

But the Star says Manchester United will not sell to one of their European rivals for fear of a Beckham backlash in the Champions’ League.

”They know it would be a PR disaster for the club,” says the paper, ”and Sir Alex Ferguson would come under immediate pressure for forcing the fans’ favourite out of the door.”

Beckham is currently spending his summer break on a promotional tour of America and the Far East – and that, according to the Mail, has spelt the end of his Old Trafford career.

Ferguson, it says, had wanted to keep the midfielder at the club ”despite his disapproval of the player’s showbusiness lifestyle and a suspicion that he saves his energy for internationals”.

But his paternal instincts ”were stretched beyond breaking point” by Beckham’s summer plans – and he is now prepared to countenance his sale.

As for Beckham himself, the Sun claims that he feels betrayed by the club he has played for since he was a boy, saying he is being traded round ”like a piece of meat”.

”All he has ever done is give his best to the club,” a close pal says.

All of which sadly leaves us (and the papers) no space for the other sports news – how David Beckham inspired England cricketers to an innings victory, how David Beckham backed Kris Kin to win the Derby, how a swing tip from David Beckham put Gary Orr on track to win golf’s British Masters…

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


I Want To Be Beckham 2

”’HOLA,” as they will soon be saying on the back pages of the nation’s press. ”Bienvenido a La Liga.”

”I’ll be the new Beckham. Me!”

Such is the clamour to talk about all things David Beckham that his imminent move to Spain will surely be swiftly followed by a geographical realignment of the British media.

The massed ranks of the press will decamp to Spain for every game. The papers will talk of Barcelona and Madrid as they now talk of Manchester United and Arsenal.

How else can the Beckham story keep rolling?

But with budget constraints being what they are, the removal of Beckham from the country will surely mean his demotion from his usual lead place on the sports pages.

Will we really be interested in every Beckham act if he’s no longer in his homeland? Chances are not, so the hunt is on for the next Becks.

It could be the time from Arsenal’s Freddie Ljungberg to step fully into the limelight.

Freddie has threatened to be a media darling for a while now. He loves playing with his hair – just like Beckham – and the girls seem to like him.

The main difference is that Freddie is Swedish, which makes him better at speaking English than the England captain. But it’s nothing a shot of helium and a bossy girlfriend can’t fix.

And then there’s Michael Owen. He’s got a child; he’s nice looking; he’s young and lives a clean life.

The fashion, though, lets him down, and nice as Gucci kids clothes are, they fail to wrap the wearer in raw sex appeal.

So we are looking for the man to be the new Becks, to dominate the sport pages and the front pages. And we need your help.

To get the ball rolling, we’ll list a few of the other early contenders and their Beckham traits: Wayne Rooney (good at football); Joe Cole (Londoner); Thierry Henry (photogenic); Paul Scholes (owns Manchester United kit); Basil Fawlty (overbearing wife); Chief Buthelezi. (first name terms with Nelson Mandela); Joe Pasquale (squeaky voice) and so on…

Send entries on an e-mail marked ”I want to be Beckham 2” to the usual address.

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


Monty’s Revenge

‘NO sooner has Victoria located Madrid in Brooklyn’s Junior Shopper atlas, than the Express announces that her husband Day-vid is off to Barcelona instead.

Monty – armed and dangerous

While the Beckhams hunker down in search of the Catalan city, readers of the Express get to hear from Joan Laporta, Barcelona’s presidential candidate.

”He’s mine,” says Joan, a man with girl’s name. ”David Beckham is our man. We will buy him, we have an agreement with Manchester United”.

He goes on: ”I have looked at the prospect of signing him, I have tasted it and it tastes good to me.”

It’s a nice turn of phrase, but the Beckham transfer saga needs more than few words to keep the world interested. Players come and players go – that is footballing life.

Just as playing a slow game is part and parcel of cricket. The Sun claims that ”Zzzzzzimbabwe” gave a performance in the Second Test at Durham that was ”go-slow”.

England did rattle off a decent 298 runs for the loss of five wickets, with Alec Stewart scoring a fine 67 not out and Anthony McGrath an even finer 68 not out.

But the Sun thinks there is a story in how the Zimbabwe team bowled so slowly that that play ran 35 minutes past the scheduled close time.

Come, come. We know the Sun is a football-mad paper, and cricket is rarely is ever on the back page, but to take a team to task for playing slowly, for being boring, when the preceding pages are filled with half-cocked, turgid and dull football rumour displays a lack of understanding about what sport is.

We can only hope that when Beckham goes, other sports stories emerge from the shadows.

But the Express does have some exciting news, and it spots the normally genial Colin Montgomerie apparently threatening a photographer with his pitching wedge.

The golfing Scot lost his cool when he failed to get out of a ditch on the seventh hole at the British Masters. He had, the story says, asked the photographers to stop snapping.

They did not, and Monty lost it. ”I have got to be honest,” says the photographer caught in Monty’s line of vision, ”it was a bit scary.”

Hmmm, wonder what David Beckham would have done in the same situation? Perhaps the Sun can tell us…

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


Breaking Cover

‘ENGLAND’S 2-1 friendly win against Serbia & Montenegro will have achieved little except add three unlikely names to the list of people who have captained England.

Rooney must start against Slovakia

Still, a win is always better than a defeat – even in these pointless matches – and England should be looking forward to next week’s Slovakia game with some confidence.

With David Beckham missing, it seems likely that Sven Goran Eriksson will start with Steven Gerrard on the right and Phil Neville doing a holding job in midfield.

In fact, the team at the Riverside is likely to bear a close resemblance to the one that started the game at the Walkers Stadium on Tuesday night.

Wayne Rooney must surely start ahead of Emile Heskey; Joe Cole will fight it out with his former team-mate Frank Lampard for the left midfield spot; and John Terry could be preferred to Matthew Upson in defence.

But whatever line-up Eriksson chooses, it should be enough to secure the necessary three points against a side who have a difficult home match against Turkey to contend with this weekend.

Not that Slovakia are mugs – they won 2-0 in Macedonia against a side that held England to a 2-2 draw in Southampton.

But England, as they showed against Turkey, are a good side when they get into their stride.

The worry, however, is that with so many injuries and suspensions, the side that does turn out next week will not have time to get into its stride.

For all that’s said about England having a great crop of young players coming through, the truth seems to be that they are all competing for the same positions.

England are already blessed with three quarters of a world-class midfield with Paul Scholes, Steven Gerrard and David Beckham.

In Owen Hargreaves, Joe Cole, Jermain Jenas, Frank Lampard, Phil Neville and Nicky Butt etc., they have no shortage of understudies.

But is the cover so good in other positions? Is Danny Mills really the second best right-back in England – and is Jamie Carragher the third?

Was Emile Heskey, until the emergence of Wayne Rooney, the best person to partner Michael Owen up front?

Is there no better keeper in England than David James?

And in the absence of Rio Ferdinand and Sol Campbell, should we really not have anyone with a bit more experience than Matthew Upson and John Terry?

England’s first team may be a decent outfit, but where is the strength in depth?

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


Changing Faces

‘YOU can imagine the conversation at the Beckham breakfast table this morning.

Now showing on The Disney Channel

”Oh, Day-vid, it’s brilliaant. I always wanted to go to live in It-taly,” says she who must be obeyed. ”Yeah,” says Dave. ”Real Madrid’s got some great shops.”

Whichever country the Beckhams do end up in, the Sun says that David will be plying his trade for the Catalan masters next season.

If this is not shocking enough for Manchester Untied fans, the news that their new hero is to be the Brazilian Ronaldinho must be.

From the most photogenic face in football, the Red Devils have adopted Goofy as their poster boy. Look out for a new sponsorship deal with Disney.

The rest of the sports news is dominated by football transfer speculation.

”Kewell set for Leeds showdown,” says the Mirror; Spurs have tried and failed to buy Freddie Kanoute from West Ham (Mirror); and in the Express, we hear how Arsenal are set to replace David Seaman with Valencia’s goalkeeper, Santiago Canizares.

The Sun even spots Roy Keane planning a move of his own – from the pitch to the coaching staff. The Irishman has enrolled on a ten-day intensive training course at Warwick University in a bid to earn his Uefa B badge.

Could Keane be the next manager of Manchester United? It’s less likely than Cherie Blair taking charge of London’s bid to host the 2012 Olympics.

And that’s a move the Mail says would mean kissing the Games goodbye. Cherie’s lack of judgement and vanity would do any bid no favours.

But already she seems to have taken notice of her husband’s eager-to-please style and the Mail duly shows sportswoman Cherie hitting a tennis ball outside Number 10.

That’s enough to make her mad keen on sport – and a certainty for the job.

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


Cole The Goal

‘JOE Cole, the sloppy-jawed Went Ham captain, was hailed as the boy wonder of English football a season or so back.

Joe Cole was still learning how to take his shirt off

Since then his club have been relegated from the Premier League and he’s been at best on the fringes of the England team.

Last night, though, he came off the England bench to strike a terrific shot into the back of the net. His 25-yard freekick even triggers the Mirror to asks: ”Who needs Becks?”

The answer is simple: England. The national team need Beckham because without him the lack of cohesion and purpose has no-one to hide behind.

Too often Becks and not England is the story, a situation that makes displays without him especially awful to watch.

England did win the game against Serbia-Montenegro by two goals to one, a result that the Sun says is ”overshadowed” by the appearance of 43 different players – Serbia-Montenegro 22; England 21 – and no less that FOUR England captains.

There could have been five skippers on the night had David Seaman been playing, but the Arsenal and England goalkeeper has decided to call it day on competitive football and head for the Manchester City retirement village.

The Sun claims that the big guffawing Yorkshireman has agreed to sign for Kevin Keegan’s blues, seduced, no doubt, by their award-winning spirit of fair play and Premier League credentials.

And the small matter of a year-long contract that guarantees him what ageist Arsenal could not – first-team football.

Talking of not knowing when to quit, we now turn to the farce that is professional boxing.

In light of Audley Harrison’s challenge to Frank Bruno, the Sun hears reigning heavyweight world champion Lennox Lewis offer the panto prince £50,000 to stay out of the ring.

”If Frank needs the money that badly I’ll give him £50,000 just to stay out of the ring so that he doesn’t get hurt too badly,” says Lewis.

And before you say anything, no, not hurt by Harrison – by Lewis, who might be called upon to fight a resurgent Bruno.

”If Bruno comes back into boxing and fights me I would not want to be charged with murder,” says Lewis.

Although, the promoters would make something of a killing…

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


Captain Chaos

‘THE claim that there are no easy matches in international football clearly does not go for the players who turn out for England. How hard can it be to trot abound for 40-odd minutes?

”One breath, two breath…”

Last night’s game against Serbia-Montenegro was painful stuff – fitting really since Sven’s men were faced with a side hereon known as S&M.

Sven’s apparent desire to give everyone a game is a noble idea, very egalitarian and all, but it cheapens the whole experience of playing for your country, being considered one of the nation’s best.

Would Andy Gray, the former Crystal Palace player who turned out once for England, get a good price on his England tracksuit in today’s cluttered market?

No chance – it’d be on the rack with those belonging to Michael Ricketts, James Beattie, Matthew Upson, Ledley King and more.

And then there are the captains. Questions must be posed as to what exactly Eriksson thinks a captain does. Last night England had four men don the skipper’s armband.

In order of appearance they were: Michael Owen, Emile Heskey, Phil Neville and Jamie Carragher.

Can Carragher, the most blunt-footed defender on a dull, pragmatic Liverpool’s books, be mentioned in the same breath as Bobby Moore, Billy Wright and David Beckham?

And what of Emile Heskey? Sven said he thought it would be nice for Emile to be made captain in front of his hometown Leicester crowd.

If next time Emile brings his own ball, maybe Sven will give him free licence to score a goal.

And if you think that’s fanciful, ask yourself this: what odds could you have got on Phil Neville being made skipper of the national side before last night?

We’re unsure, but you’d be rich today.

Neville can barely manage to breathe with his mouth closed. Heap on this the expectation to lead the team and interpret the manager’s instructions – vital tools in any decent captain’s armoury – and a confused Neville might even forget which way he’s kicking.

It is all a sorry state. At least when Beckham recovers from injury, the also-rans and never-will-bes will have someone to take the attention off of them.

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


England Expects The Worst

‘HERES a headline to instil fear and dread in the hearts of England’s footballing foe: ”Neville is England linchpin.” And that’s Phil not Gary.

Phil won’t be taking over Becks’ modelling engagements

The Mail says that Phil Neville is the ”anchor” in England’s midfield. Tonight against Serbia-Montenegro, Phil will give the England team the cohesion and solid foundation they need to succeed.

Come on, take your head out of your hands. Phil’s not a bad lad – he’s a darn sight better that the yobs who follow the national side.

And they’ve been occupying the mind of England striker Michael Owen.

Speaking to the Star, Owen is concerned that the behaviour of England fans will see the side banished from Euro 2004.

”Just think what a summer it will be like if we missed out because we were banned,” says Owen.

People living in Portugal, where the Euro championships are to be played, will be excused of imagining a great summer – a season of joy, street carnivals of colour, culture and fun.

But for the English, who like their summers spent smashing up Lisbon, it would be a tragedy.

Of course, you don’t have to go abroad to be a public nuisance – not when you’re a boxer like Herbie Hide.

The Sun catches up with the man who caused mayhem at Audley Harrison’s last fight and asks him what’s what.

”I’m not denying that I’m nuts,” says Herbie, ”but, unfortunately for him it’s his job to box people like me.”

The ”him” is the aforesaid Harrison, who seems to have chosen to box Frank Bruno over Hide.

In any case, if boxing promoter Frank Warren has his way, Hide will be banned from boxing anyone.

”He is a bully,” says Warren, failing to say whether that is a good or bad thing in boxing. ”He should be banned from boxing,” he adds for good measure.

And so he should – hitting people and staring fights is just not on.

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


Fair’s Unfair

‘TO be fair to him, Kevin Keegan has already voiced his dislike of Uefa’s ridiculous Fair Play scheme that has seen Manchester City qualify for Europe next season.

Kevin Keegan tries to get the bonus point for a smile

But it would have been too much to ask for the club to have refused the spot offered in next year’s Uefa Cup.

Club chairman John Wardle was understandably delighted because the will no doubt bring much-needed revenue to the club.

”I can assure you we will be doing our utmost to do very well in Europe,” he said, after the news broke.

”It’s probably not the best way to get there but we’ll take it anyway. We’re all looking forward to it at the club”.

The Fair Play scheme, in which points are awarded on criteria such as positive play, respect for the referee and opponents and behaviour of the crowd, is a farce.

It is only the first step towards football matches being decided by something other than the respective number of goals scored by each side.

This weekend, we have already seen the farce of Wasps being crowned rugby union Premiership champions despite finishing 15 points behind Gloucester.

Only last week, Cardiff City chairman Sam Hamman rightly suggested that the end-of-season play-offs in the Nationwide Football League were the wrong way of deciding promotion.

Sport is all about competition. The 100m champion is the person who runs the 100m fastest, not the person with the best running style.

The person who shoots the lowest score over four rounds is the winner of a golf tournament, not the person who hit the most greens or who has the best swing.

Of course, Uefa are right to try to encourage fair play, but they shouldn’t do so at the expense of the basic rules of competition within the game.

Last year, we had the farce of Ipswich Town playing in Europe in the same year they were relegated on the back of the same fair play ruling.

Manchester City at least finished in the top half of the Premiership, but they finished below Everton who are not in the Uefa Cup.

Everton fans will be upset at that – and so should all football fans (even those who support Manchester City). It is time Uefa ended this absurdity.

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


Every Loser Wins

‘RUGBY union has achieved the seemingly impossible and crowned the team that finished 15 points behind the leaders of the Zurich Premiership as champions.

”Runners-up at last!”

This nonsense came about because the people who run rugby want it to become more popular and that means more big games.

So the play-offs were founded, giving Wasps the right to play Gloucester, who came top of the league, in a Twickenham final.

The result, as the Express says (39-3 to Wasps), ”leaves a bitter taste in the mouth”. But Wasps’ captain, Lawrence Dallaglio, seems to be coping. ”As players,” he says, ”we have to play to the rules.”

It is just a shame that the rules have changed so horribly.

But for real nonsense, the Sun has the pictures from Audley Harrison’s fight with Matthew Ellis, and better pictures of Herbie Hide’s fight with anyone who wanted one.

And the verdict is revealed in a Sun headline: ”Blame Beeb for The Riot”.

That’s right, folks, the Sun says that the BBC and neither Hide nor Harrison are at to blame for the ugly brawl that broke out after the Olympic champion’s latest bout.

The national broadcaster’s decision to invite Hide to watch the event is, apparently, the cause of the riot.

But before you form the belief that sport is all nonsense, the Mail salutes Juan Pablo Montoya, who yesterday won the Monaco Grand Prix.

This is great news for the Colombian, and great news for a sport which now seems to have rediscovered its competitive streak.

As it was, the once perennial winner, Michael Schumacher, had to make do with third place. Which in rugby terms makes him the runner-up – or is it the winner?

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


He’s Behind You

‘IT has been a boxing truism for an age that the crowds have all the best fights.

”You can run, but you can’t Hide”

Audley Harrison versus Matthew Ellis was never going to be a thriller – or even much of a fight. Those who had packed York Hall, Bethnal Green, were surely not all there to watch boxing history in the making.

Audley Harrison duly cruised to an easy win, and then looked into the crowd for his next opponent.

Having done away with a collection of cab divers, newspaper boys and brickies, Harrison wanted another member of Joe Public to make him look good.

With no-one forthcoming – at this point Hulk Hogan, Clint Eastwood or his pet orang-utan would have done – the Hendon Howitzer held a question and answer session.

Who would you like me to fight next? he asked. With the word’s ”my mum” ready to ooze out, Harrison qualified his question, stripping a world of big-money showdowns to just two – he’d fight Herbie Hide or Frank Bruno.

As if by magic, both boxers suddenly appeared near the ring. The crowd around Bruno cried ”Brun-o” and the rest of us screamed: ”He’s behind you!” Hide just screamed.

And at last we had a fight on our hands. Yes, it shames the sport does all this scrapping in the crowd. But who did Hide hit?

”Hide pushed a female fan to the floor,” says the BBC report. And that was that. Herbie hide beat up a woman.

But before you criticise, note that Hide has just stepped up a class.

In 1994, he scuffled with Michael Bentt and in 1999 he attempted to rile British champion Danny Williams into another besuited punch-up. This one actually looked like an impromptu event.

But the night was all about Harrison, the man who plans to be champion of the world by the time he’s 35 – he’s 31 now.

”This is the Audley Harrison Show,” said Harrison after the fight. ”I don’t know why Herbie Hide was sitting ringside.”

If you like that comment, get a load of this one from British Boxing Board of Control general secretary Simon Block: ”I said before the show it was not a good idea to have two boxers in such close proximity.”

Perhaps he was referring to Bruno and Hide? But this was an Audley Harrison bout – so he could have been talking about Matthew Ellis.

Remember him..?

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


New Beginnings

‘THE selectors have rather had their hand forced with the number of retirements and injuries, but there is an exciting look to the new England one-day squad.

Troughton gets the taste for success

Of the 15 players, six are untried at this level and two – Vikram Solanki and Chris Read – have had only a handful of outings between them.

We should not expect to see them all in action, certainly not at the same time.

The inclusion of Darren Gough shows that the selectors are keen to pick a balanced side, which will blend youth and experience.

However, now is the time to start blooding the youngsters to see which ones have what it takes to represent England in the 2007 World Cup.

Some will no doubt fall by the wayside between now and then, but others are likely to become household names.

Jim Troughton, hitherto as well known for being the grandson of a Doctor Who actor, is perhaps the one from whom most is expected.

However, international cricket is a very different game from county cricket, and often it is not the one who catches the eye at the lower level who makes the transition.

A lot has been said of the unremarkable averages of Michael Vaughan and Marcus Trescothick for their counties, but they have obviously had not only the ability but the temperament to make the step up.

On the other hand, players like Graeme Hick and Mark Ramprakash have never managed to establish themselves in the international scene, despite being two of the very best county players.

England will, of course, go into every match with a team that it thinks can win.

It would be irresponsible to throw a lot of youngsters in together to see which ones swim and which ones sink.

But they need to give as many players as possible a chance over the coming couple of years to make sure they have the best chance of doing well in the World Cup.

It is up to the players to take the chances offered to them…

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


Under The Hammer

‘THE West Ham fire sale has started, with the goalkeeper David James, midfielder Joe Cole and striker Freddie Kanoute all attracting offers this morning.

Spot the ball and win a West Ham player

The Mirror say that James is off to Barcelona for £2m, provided that coach Raddy Antic keeps his job at the end of the season.

Which is a big ‘if’, considering the Catalan giants are ninth in La Primera Liga at the moment – behind a group of British holidaymakers.

Joe Cole has attracted the interest of Chelsea, but the Hammers are not interested as yet, laughing off the £5m bid from West London.

The Mail says the relegated club described the offer as ”derisory”, but face a dilemma because their captain’s contract expires in a year.

”West Ham will continue to claim publicly that they will not sell to try to pacify supporters already enraged by relegation,” it says.

”But they must privately hope that demand for Cole will develop into an auction situation to thrust his price nearer an acceptable £8m.”

Meanwhile, the papers are still picking over Wednesday’s 0-0 draw in the European Cup final after Ronaldo – and the Spanish papers – branded it the world’s biggest bore.

Not so, says Mark Lawrenson in the Mirror, who claims it was ”the most fascinating, exciting and intriguing game that I have seen this season”.

And the Mail was also intrigued, calling it boring only in the same way that Bjorn Borg was a boring tennis player and Steve Davis a boring snooker player.

But the Spanish papers are not so happy, with Marca saying: ”They should prohibit two Italian teams from playing in a European final because, as Johann Cruyff has said, the presence of just one Italian football team is a tragedy for football.”

Not of course a case of sour grapes because Real Madrid had surrendered their grip on the trophy.

Both the Sun and the Express believe that Real could have a new manager next season – Arsene Wenger.

The Sun quotes controversial agent Marc Roger as saying that Wenger wants to coach Madrid, while claiming that the Frenchman is frustrated by cash problems at Arsenal.

The Express also talks to Roger, who say that Wenger will know his future in two to three weeks.

And just before anyone gets too worked up about what is – despite Bill Shankly – just a game, the Star reports on the sad death of Dave Jefferies, the top rider in this year’s TT race.

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


Kofi Time

‘IF the top headline on the page is the day’s biggest sporting story, then David Beckham is now bigger than even the European Cup final, at least in the Telegraph’s eyes.

Cheating Kaiser

The Beckham news that will have us gripped is that he has granted Kofi Annan, the United Nations secretary-general, an audience this summer.

Having recently yielded to Nelson Mandela’s pleas for a meeting, Dave will now spend one day of his summer hols putting the world to rights.

He’s a good boy is Dave. But not as good as Andriy Shevchenko, as the Telegraph calls the Ukrainian striker whose penalty won the Champions’ League for AC Milan.

The rest of the papers prefer to call him Andrei, although the acclaim heaped upon him is universal.

With the scores tied at 0-0, and the game’s periods of extra time at an end, it came to the dreaded penalties.

To help us understand the route to victory, the Guardian lists the 10 penalty takers, detailing with a cross they who missed and a tick they who scored. And of ten kicks, only five found their way to the back of the net.

While this tells all Englishmen that they are not the world’s worst penalty takers, it must be stated that not one of the strikes sailed over the crossbar or hit the corner flag.

All were on target, meaning that the goalkeepers made the saves that mattered, with AC’s Dida making one more than Buffon of Juventus.

But there is story in the Independent that shows how easy it is to throw a game of football.

German legend Franz Beckenbauer has hinted on German television that his Bayern Munich team deliberately threw a game to prevent city rivals TSV Munich winning the Bundesliga.

”I’m not saying that we lost on purpose but our resistance was limited to the minimum,” he said.

He was, however, unable to say whether in 1966 the ball crossed the line or not.

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


Zeds And Two Noughts

‘IF it hadn’t been for Clive Tyldesley’s constant reminders about how wonderful the match was I’d have been lulled into the mistaken belief that the Champions’ League final was plain boring.

David Trezeguet tries to get some shut-eye

The first ten minutes were great stuff, as the teams showed skill and application.

Hell, Juventus even tried to score a goal. But, then, the first ten minutes of the Royal Crown versus the Lamb And Kebab are normally a pretty spicy affair.

Surely it was too early for Clive to tell us in that all-knowing mocking way that we thought it would be dull. None of it!

With the ref’s whistle still moist from blowing for kick-off, Clive thought it was the right time to tell us how great the game was.

In the boorish tone of the true pedant – a tone usually reserved for talking about ”the wife” and ”the kids” to office sad sacks after work in the pub – Clive scoffed.

Thus told what was what, we were invited to sit back and drool. I for one drooled, as I often do before I nod right off. Indeed, it was only Clive’s droll delivery that kept me going.

Sarcasm is the lowest form of wit, as some really, really clever person once said, but Clive was taking it to new levels.

Milan’s Rui Costa, we were told, is a supremely gifted player. He had earlier missed the entire goal when it was clear in his sights. Clive can be so cruel.

Clive should not be condemned because the game was worthy of hardly any comment. So I took to researching a few facts – the few facts that Clive had not wanted to share with us.

The grass, which Clive told us had been cut no less and no more than four times on the morning of the game, had been sheared into ten neat bands in each half.

How the intricate Champions’ League logo was etched into the centre circle is a fact shamefully overlooked, but I’d wager my money on a stencil and some clippers.

Meanwhile a game of sorts was taking place. Juventus, who play football like basketball but without the excitement (I’m learning, Clive) were waiting to break.

After over 120 minutes they were still waiting. So we had penalties. And Milan won. So there.

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


More Balls Please

‘GEARING us up for another year of disappointment, the Telegraph leads its sports news with a shot of Tim Henman winning his first round match at the French Open.

Del Boy

Tim, racket cocked, eyes focused, looks ready to smash the ball back past former Wimbledon semi-finalist Vladimir Voltchkov on his way to a straight-sets 6-2,6-3,6-1 victory.

With the shouts of ”Go Timmy!” ringing in our ears, the Times also leads with tennis, choosing to produce a picture of Greg Rusedski ready to strike another blow for British tennis.

And another blow he stuck, losing in straight sets to Nikolay Davydenko.

But Greg is not unhappy to be out of that Grand Slam tournament; he’s happy just to have taken part after his nine-month injury-induced breather.

And while Timmy ploughs on, and Greg looks forward to Wimbledon and all that fast grass, the Independent has eyes only for tonight’s final of the Champions’ League.

Reminding us that ”stereotypes frequently have a basis in fact”, the paper tells us what to expect when two Italian teams meet.

It’s Juventus versus AC Milan and the outlook is for tight defences, tactical know-how and skill in attack.

Key men Alessandro Del Piero (Juve) and Milan’s Andrei Shevchenko are then profiled – the Independent listing the attributes of the two men who could deliver their respective sides the winning goal.

One key fact is that neither of the two is Scottish. Which is a shame, since Scotland, as the Guardian reports, is not overly blessed with gifted footballers.

Last night the Scots played and drew 1-1 with the footballing powerhouse that is New Zealand.

Sure, they didn’t lose to the antipodeans, like England did to the Australians, but ask yourself this: can you name one New Zealand-born footballer?

To help, the paper tells us the name of last night’s goalscorer for the Kiwis. Step forward and resist picking up the ball and running with it, Ryan Nelsen.

Next stop, White Hart Lane…

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


Sheep In Wolves’ Clothing

‘BIG city teams will always rise to the top in the long run. Newcastle, Manchester City and Chelsea have had dips, been in close proximity to the old second, third and fourth divisions, and returned to be in the Premier League.

Pack of Wolves

The bigger teams draw the crowds, giving gravy to the belief that they will rise again.

And so to Wolverhampton Wanderers, who have just been promoted to the Premiership, having beaten Sheffield United in the Division One play-off final.

Wolvers were one of the big clubs in the 1950s – a point that must be made to anyone under the age of 156. To anyone under the age of 19, the sight of Wolves even in the top flight is a new one.

It’s been a long road back to the top since the 1983-1984 season, when Wolves finished bottom of the then Division One table with a lowly 29 points.

To place this in some context, Wolves had finished 6th in 1980-81, only to be relegated from the Canon First Division in 1981-1982, along with Leeds and Middlesbrough.

In between then and now, Wolves’ successes have been rare and humble. The team finished runner-up to Queens Park Rangers in the old second division in 1982-1983, gaining promotion for an entire season before the trap door opened up anew.

In season 1987-1988, the Old Golds finished first in the Barclays Fourth Division, followed a year later by victory in the Barclays Third Division.

In 1992-1993, they found themselves elevated from the Barclays Second Division to the much grander sounding Barclays League Division One as the Premier League was born.

The Endsleigh League Division One and Nationwide League Division One made a change, albeit in name only, but Wolves never made promotion to the top level.

In that time, they spent heavily on players, upgraded the ground in readiness for much-delayed promotion and have been referred to as a sleeping giant.

They have maintained a sense of hope. And that’s the thing. With a large body of fans, Wolves would always return to the top one day. Big city teams always enjoy another day in the sun.

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


Blades Blunted

‘THE domestic football season came to an end yesterday when Wolverhampton Wanderers returned to the top flight after 19 years and 13 days in the lower divisions.

Happy like the Wolves

Thanks to a 3-0 win over Sheffield United, the Old Golds have hit the Jackpot, as the Guardian says.

The other story of the day is that United’s bellicose boss, Neil Warnock, was banished to the stands after a frank and free exchange of views with the game’s referee, Steve Bennett.

While we and the Guardian celebrate with Wolves’ Paul Ince, who is pictured ”doing” the Paul Merson (swigging back an imaginary drink) and then raising his fingers around an imaginary smoke, we cannot help but feel that Warnock would have been a welcome character in the Premier League stable.

But the play-offs are a hard business, as the season’s work is decided over 90 minutes. Of course, you can give your team an edge by waking up their opponents in the middle of the night.

The Times reports that Neil McNamara, 39, who was once employed as a minder for Cardiff City’s chairman, Sam Hammam, has been arrested following an incident at the hotel Queens Park Rangers

footballers were staying in on the eve of their Division Two play-off decider with, er, Cardiff.

It is said that the Cardiff City fan allegedly set off a fire alarm at 3am, thus causing the visiting team distress.

”The incident disturbed the sleep of our players,” says Nick Blackburn, the QPR chairman. ”If the person responsible did have anything to do with Cardiff City I would be very disappointed.”

It is, though, an intriguing story, worthy of the South Americans and Italians at their most poetic.

But when it comes to true poetry there is only sport that hits the heights – boxing.

And when we think of boxing, minds instantly turn to Herbie Hide, the former British and World Boxing Organisation heavyweight champion.

Tonight Herbie’s back in the ring for a bout with Zambia’s Joseph Chingangu. Last time out the African decked Hide in two rounds. But this time it will be different. Won’t it?

”Chingangu is a bum,” says Hide, who knows all about those, having been put on his last time the pair met. ”He won’t last a round this time.”

Hide then pays tribute to his own ”smooth face” and how the road to riches is open wide for him. We wish him well.

And if you want to know more, the Telegraph’s story includes a shot of the would-be champ’s T-shirt. ”WARNING,” says the message, ”I’m not crazy, but the voices in my head are driving me nuts.”

That’ll be Mike Tyson, then. And the bells…

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


England Expects

‘ZIMBABWE were as bad as we expected them to be in the first Test of the summer at Lord’s, so it is hard to make judgements on the England performances.

The new McGrath

However, we couldn’t be anything but encouraged by the fact that the batsmen scored over 450 again – for the seventh time in eight home Tests- even if it was against some pretty poor bowling.

And, as for the bowling, James Anderson is obviously someone who can lead the England attack for many years to come, injury and form permitting.

Steve Harmison bowled with far greater control than he did in Australia, but still didn’t look as threatening as he should.

For a start, he needs to make the batsmen play more deliveries; he doesn’t move the ball a lot, but he seems to lack a plan to get batsmen out with his main weapons, pace and bounce.

As for Matthew Hoggard, I thought he was the pick of the England bowlers in both innings and was unlucky to be overshadowed by Anderson on Saturday.

With Andrew Caddick and Andrew Flintoff both looking to regain their places after injury and Darren Gough looking for an international return, there is genuine competition among England’s pace bowlers for the first time in ages.

As for the batting, Marcus Trescothick looks a much better player now that he has reverted to his normal game.

The Somerset opener is not as technically gifted as, say, Michael Vaughan – but he has a good eye and a method that more or less works for him.

He will, we imagine, always be suspect against the best attacks, but in the meantime he will mash a few more average ones.

Mark Butcher has cemented his place as No.3 for some time to come with his second successive Test century.

Butcher’s average may be a modest 34, but since the beginning of last summer (and including a difficult Ashes tour) he has been averaging a much more respectable 48.

Robert Key will surely get another chance, but he needs to take one of them very soon and establish himself in the middle order if he is not to be overtaken by one of the other young pretenders.

With Nasser Hussain and Alec Stewart established in the side at least for this summer, the other question mark hangs over Anthony McGrath.

What do the selectors do when Andrew Flintoff is fit?

The Yorkshire captain’s debut could hardly have gone better, but it was against a very poor Test side.

Flintoff looks the better bet as a Test player, while McGrath’s international future will probably be confined to the one-day game.

No-one, however, can take away his fifty and three wickets on debut at Lord’s.

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


The Herd Mentality

‘AS soon as someone comes on the radio and says ”We’ve had a lovely day…” you know that their team has just lost a match.

The losers

Losers love telling everyone who bothers to listen about how they can put football into a wider context. Southampton fans worked this trick at the FA Cup final.

One after the other they went onto the talk shows and told the world that they had had a brilliant day out and had sang all the way through the game.

They had, though, lost, and since the entire focus of their wonderful day out was winning the FA Cup, the day was something of a wash-out.

They even stayed in the ground right to end, watching the Cup presented to Arsenal. This, we were told by the voices and nodding heads was a sign that they were great fans. They are what football is all about.

Only it is no such thing. Southampton fans stayed behind because it required less thought than leaving. When you’ve waited 26 years to get somewhere, racing off to beat the traffic loses its shine.

And Celtic fans have done much the same. It’s undeniable that thousands of their fans turned up in Seville with a song in the hearts.

The television bragged that, with only around 25,000 tickets to go round, there would be more fans in Spain without tickets than with.

And yes, these are the same TV commentators who usually bemoan the fans who travel without a ticket.

The thing is that Celtic painted themselves into something of a corner. Once seen as good blokes one and all, they could not then storm off in a huff, or worse.

The herd mentality works just as much for violence as it does for staying in the ground after closing time or being a gallant loser. Football fans do as they are expected.

It is, of course, an improvement to smashing the town centre.

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


A Bad Break

‘DAVID Beckham is a great example to the nation’s youth. Soon, courtesy of the England captain, they will be able to name all 216 bones in the human body.

”Ahh! Not me scaphoid!”

Last summer, Becks introduced us all to the metatarsal after contriving to break one of his and almost missing the World Cup.

Last night against South Africa, he broke his scaphoid, a bone located between his thumb and forefinger.

Even England manager Sven Goran Eriksson, who must be bright because he speaks at least two languages, learnt something.

”I fell very sorry for him,” said the Swede. ”If you gave me a million dollars, I don’t think I could have named the bone.”

A couple of coughs from a Welsh lecturer and all of us could probably have got that one right.

England won last night’s match – described in the Telegraph as ”a sparky friendly” – 2-1, but the injury count could be more important than the result.

Rio Ferdinand also had a scan on his knee and, says the Telegraph, with Chelsea’s John Terry also struggling with a thigh strain, Jamie Carragher has been called up.

While England’s footballers were beating one southern African team, England’s cricketers were playing themselves into a good position against another southern African side.

On a difficult pitch and a predictably rainy day, they had got themselves to 184-3 before rain bad light stopped play, with Marcus Trescothick and Mark Butcher both passing 50.

In the Times, Christopher Martin-Jenkins calls that a ”very respectable” start to the season, for which they can thank ”the experience of their first five batsmen and a fair amount of luck besides”.

But they were aided, he says, by the Zimbabwean bowlers’ inability to find the right line and length on a pitch offering considerable help.

”The consequence was that England did not so much wriggle off the hook as avoid it altogether,” he writes.

And finally to golf where Annika Sorenstam opened up as the first woman to play in a men’s PGA tournament for 58 years with a very respectable 71.

And had she putted better, it might have been a 66, says Martin Johnson in the Telegraph.

”She actually appeared to thrive in this claustrophobic environment,” he says, ”and broke into a warm smile at the first of many inevitable shouts of ‘Yo the woman’.”

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


A Friendly Too Far

‘DOES anyone know exactly why it was necessary for England footballers to prepare for their Euro 2004 qualifier against Slovakia by travelling to South Africa for a friendly match?

”Black” Beckham meets his grandfather

In footballing terms, the logic is baffling.

The players are surely already tired enough after a gruelling domestic season – and it is not clear what good this friendly match will do.

A number of the team that will line up at the Riverside on June 11 are missing and there are several players out through injury.

We can expect a repeat of the lacklustre performances in previous friendlies, most notably against Australia.

Had Sven-Goran Eriksson been judged on his team’s performances in friendly matches, he would surely be out of a job by now.

In competitive matches, by contrast, he has only lost once – and it is hard to draw a connection between the teams that line up for the two.

In that light, one has to wonder about the wisdom of playing friendly matches at all, particularly ones that involve a 12-hour flight.

It would appear, therefore, that the decision to play the match in South Africa has more to do with off-the-field requirements than the game itself.

Many of those are important – the encouragement of the game in southern Africa, demonstrating support for a 2010 World Cup bid (and looking for reciprocal support for an England bid at a later date?) and giving the players a chance to meet Nelson Mandela, for instance.

But it is the timing that is strange. After all, so soon after the FA Cup final means that Ashley Cole, Wayne Bridge and James Beattie have all been excused the trip.

South Africa is hardly en route to La Manga, where England will hold a training camp ahead of their friendly against Serbia-Montenegro and then match against Slovakia.

So, tonight’s game is, literally and metaphorically, a diversion. A draw and no injuries is about the best we can hope for.

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


Tourette’s In Nets

‘TODAY’S most interesting sporting news is found not on the back pages but inside the darkest recesses of the Mail.

Porto players play dead

The paper says that Manchester United are poised to sign disabled goalkeeper, the American Tim Howard.

It must be swiftly said that Howard’s disability is manifest not by a missing limb or poor vision but in Tourette’s syndrome.

Symptoms of this illness include nervous tics and an inability to control speech, ”leading to uncontrollable outbursts, often in swear words.”

Given the usual abuse dished out by footballers, it’s unlikely anyone in the game will even notice the player’s disability. And as for the tics, anyone remember Bruce Grobbelaar?

As it is, one of Howard’s possible future team-mates, David Beckham, was on the move himself yesterday, flying in to Johannesburg for a chance to meet Nelson Mandela.

The Sun looked on and noticed that the party that travelled for an audience with the great man did not include eight of the England squad.

Paul Scholes, Steven Gerrard, Gareth Southgate, Phil Neville, Danny Mills, Joe Cole, Paul Robson and Gareth Barry are the octet who dared to fly in the face of accepted opinion and decline the invitation.

To the Mail this is tantamount to heresy, and it moans loud and long about the ”PR fiasco” and how eight footballers chose to stay in bed rather than meet ”one of history’s great statesmen”.

At least Southampton’s James Beattie and Wayne Bridge had good excuses for not being in South Africa.

As the Sun says, they were excused the arduous trip because Sven Goran Eriksson wanted them to rest after the FA Cup final.

How funny then that they managed to pull on their kits yesterday for a game with Aberdeen, in something called the Friendship Cup.

But for sheer comedy nothing can top yesterday’s spectacle at the Uefa Cup final in Seville, where Porto’s players acted the clowns, falling over at the drop of an eyelash and writhing in mock agony to the delight of their fans.

Celtic boss, Martin O’Neill, whose side lost the Uefa Cup final 3-2 in extra-time, is not best pleased.

”I was not pleased with how the game was won,” he says in the Express. ”Loads of things were going on out there.”

He says fans of his club noticed the gamesmanship and showed their displeasure when Porto collected their winners’ medals.

”Celtic fans are the most fair-minded in Europe,” continues O’Neill, ”and you saw the reaction they gave which just about sums it up.”

Sadly, it does not. The best way to sum up a game football is by looking at scoreline.

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


Trouble Dogs Leeds

‘THE leader who turned grown men into babies is back in the biggish time. The Star reports that David O’Leary has been appointed as the new boss of Aston Villa.

Oink! Oink! Pigface is back

And he’s a changed man. ”I’ve learned a lot and I’ve made mistakes,” says O’Leary. ”The biggest one I made was that I became too opinionated in newspapers and you won’t be getting that any more.”

Readers will also recall how O’Leary became too opinionated on television and in his book, Leeds in Trial, and on radio and the Internet.

But he soon gets back to talking the usual stuff, about how he plans to make Villa into a top six club – ”where it belongs”.

It really seems that O’Leary has learned from his time at Leeds, chiefly that miracles cannot be worked over night and that ambition must be tempered with reality.

The situation at Leeds comes under more scrutiny in the Express, where we hear that ”Peter Ridsdale’s reputation as a football chairman sleeps with the fishes”.

Using a phrase borrowed from a gangster film would seem to suggest that not all is what it should have been at the Leeds Ridsdale built.

The club’s news chairman, Professor John McKenzie, is pretty damning of his predecessor’s regime. ”There’s been irresponsibility and indulgent spending,” he says.

”In my view, the place has been managed in an indulgent way,” he says, going on to criticise the ”frivolous nature of the expenditure”.

And so it seems to have been as the Express mentions the nearly £6m spent on paying off managers O’Leary and Terry Venables, the fleet of over 70 company cars, which cost £600,000 a year to run, and private jet travel for executives.

There is also the matter of the tank of tropical fish, which Ridsdale rented for a princely sum of £20 a month.

These are said to have been the first casualties of McKenzie’s purge on waste.

Meanwhile, the Mail gets ready for the final of the Uefa Cup, and Celtic’s chance to relive the glory of 36 years ago when they lifted the European Cup.

”I’ve told my players this is once-in-a-lifetime chance and they must grab it,” says Celtic manager Martin O’Neill.

Celtic play Porto tonight in Seville. We wish them the very best of luck.

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