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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

Fighting Talk

‘MEMBERS of the FA disciplinary committee had better watch out. When Roy Keane vows to the Express that he will go into his hearing (on disrepute charges) fighting, the first image that springs to mind is of the rabid Irishman chinning a bunch of suits.

Sven indicates the number of fit players he has

In which case, Sir Alex Ferguson would no doubt immediately leap to the defence of his captain, claiming that most of the punches were pretty innocuous and saying what a shame it was that 82-year-old Dufton Bufton went to the floor so easily.

Fergie is under attack from other quarters in the rest of the papers, however, over his ”insulting” decision to play Paul Scholes only 24 hours after claiming he was unfit for international duty.

The Mirror says Sven Goran Eriksson is to lay down the law, demanding that every single England player turns up for future internationals, whether they are injured or not.

Ferguson’s decision to pull both Scholes and David Beckham out of the squad for Saturday’s friendly against Portugal at Villa Park has destroyed the Swede’s trust in the top managers and the FA is now talking tough.

If the FA really wants to play hard ball, however, there is a simple remedy. Leave players who feign injury or do not report for friendly internationals out of the competitive games.

It may have a cost in the short term, but players like Scholes will not put up with Ferguson’s reluctance to release him for long if it threatens his international career.

Graham Thorpe’s international career is currently on hold as the England batsman tries to sort his head out following the break-up of his marriage.

But the good news for England fans is that he will be available to tour Australia this winter. The Mail says the 33-year-old is likely to be handed a provisional place in the 17-man squad when it is announced next week.

He has spoken to all four of the selectors ”and is believed to have gone most of the way to convincing them that his state of mind is much improved following the traumas of his divorce”.

Thorpe, however, will not be taking the field this morning as England and India meet in the series decider at the Oval.

India have not won a series outside of their country since 1986, and Nasser Hussain’s men have a fight on their hand to ensure that they don’t succumb.

As the Mail headline says, ”The Ashes can wait, England’s priority is to save the summer”.

Posted: 5th, September 2002 | In: Back pages | Comment


A Bright Future

‘SIR Bobby Robson thinks England’s performance against Brazil in the World Cup was a shambles and he accused the team of lacking fight.

Sharpshooter

Roy Keane reckons England’s players were overawed and simply looking forward to swapping shirts at the end of the match. Vinnie Jones reckons England ”will always be the nearly bunch”. ”They will get a result against Germany or Argentina,” he allows, but England ”will never win it”.

Nor did Sven Goran Eriksson exhibit much fighting spirit, even with half an hour left against 10 men. One England defender remarked that the team ”needed Winston Churchill and got Iain Duncan Smith”.

Of course, Eriksson was appointed precisely because Kevin Keegan’s combination of passion and tactical ineptitude proved fatal in Euro 2000.

The Swede was supposedly the opposite: ice-cool and tactically shrewd. The problem is that at significant moments, such as the second half against both Sweden and Brazil, he appeared to be neither.

He looked nervous and displayed an astonishing reluctance to address obvious problems on the pitch.

His first post-Japan squad hasn’t exactly gone to plan either. His inclusion of Bowyer and Woodgate has caused predictable protests, while the mysterious absence of Paul Scholes and now David Beckham will not only wreck the England midfield, but will also fuel suspicions of a feud between Eriksson and Sir Alex Ferguson.

Meanwhile his remarks about the length of the English season are not only an unconvincing excuse for England’s fading efforts against Brazil, but have also put him at risk of losing face when his plea for a winter break is rejected, as it surely will be.

He seems to be holding back on the big pronouncements, which is wise, but Michael Owen has already said that England will have a two or three times better chance of winning in 2006, where conditions will be cooler.

”There are some great players in the England squad,” he enthuses, ”and so much reason for optimism.”

If so, he must be the only one to see it. The fact is that there is just one England player who has proved himself in World Cups – and that’s Owen himself.

The rest have either under-performed or not yet had the chance to prove themselves. One proven world-class player does not a winning team make.

But then England are always favourites to win every tournament except the one that’s actually happening. So as this experimental squad prepares for its Euro 2004 qualifying campaign, the talk is already of Germany 2006.

Good times, as ever, are just around the corner – and if that’s not a good reason for celebration, then what is?

Posted: 5th, September 2002 | In: Back pages | Comment


Paul The Other One

‘WHEN Manchester United are talked about as being the biggest football club in the world, it means that not only are they more high profile than Real Madrid, Barcelona and AC Milan, but that they are a bigger draw than international teams, and that includes England.

United team doctor issues players with emergency guide on how to avoid broken nail trauma

And to prove the point, the Paul Scholes that was unfit to play for England in Saturday’s friendly with Portugal is the same Paul Scholes who last night played in United’s 1-0 win over Middlesbrough.

The Mail and Mirror say that the move has ”humiliated” watching England manager Sven Goran Eriksson, whose face was set to redden all the more when David Beckham was brought off a minute from full time. ”David has had a calf injury all week,” explained Alex Ferguson. ”He’s not been able to train. We’ve had to withdraw him from the national team.” Well, it’s the only sensible option, isn’t it?

And while we curse the cruel luck that sees the England captain limp of a pitch in the dying moments of a game his side are winning, Arsenal’s Patrick Vieira offers a few curses of his own. And, apparently, he likes to aim them at referee Andy D’Urso. So says the FA, and so reports the Sun, which says that the French dynamo is facing a two-match ban for his outburst.

Such tirades used to be called ”industrial language”, and managers and players would chortle about it afterwards. But that was before television made the game into a form of entertainment for all the family, and before the camera zoomed in on players’ mouths. It’s CCTV evidence that’s to blame.

And mindful of that, the Sun takes a look at he Leeds kids who can ”rule the world”. And the players who can, according to no-nicer-ex-pro-than Norman Hunter, are ”Paul Right” Robinson, ”Rated” Danny Mills, ”Hotshot” Alan Smith, ”Superb” Lee Bowyer” and, get this, ”Class” Jonathan Woodgate. Class! Right on.

As Hunter says of Woodgate: ”But this boy has got the lot and I think he is different class.” Class none of it – he’s a whole different category, Norman. ‘

Posted: 4th, September 2002 | In: Back pages | Comment


United We Fall

‘FIRST, Alex Ferguson began to go off the rails. He started talking about his side being the best on paper, and how everyone knew that they were the real number one, even though they had finished at number three in the league.

Keano, Edwards and Fergie sense no harm in their actions

He had said he was going to quit, to do a Cantona, a Borg, a Graf and get out of his sport while still at the top. But he forgot to go and instead signed for another three years. And then he signed £80million of talent in Van Nistelrooy, Veron and Ferdinand.

The new recruits demonstrated the board’s faith in their manager, and how the train of talent that had produced Beckham, Giggs, Scholes and Neville had run dry.

But the club is bigger than one man, and if another one who shows signs of wear and tear is needed, we can take a look at Martin Edwards. Mr Edwards, former chairman and senior director of the club, is in the spotlight for his allegedly pervy ways. It’s been written in the papers of late that Edwards has taken his eyes off the ball and placed them under the doors of women’s toilet cubicles.

Police are looking into allegations of peeping, and while they’re at the ground they might like to have a word with the team captain, Roy Keane. Having courted controversy in his book, the player whose vengeance once stretched to labelling people prawn sandwich fanciers, has been seen of late elbowing national team-mate Jason McAteer in the head.

And to make matters worse, Keane, who was apparently so incensed when Alf Inge Haaland accused him of feigning injury that he launched a vendetta against his tormentor, shakes his head and wags a finger in a way to say that McAteer was making a meal of it. Big Roy doesn’t always take his punishment – on this occasion a straight red card – like the hard-jawed man of literary fame.

And when he gets to the touchline, he is greeted by Sir Alex, who tells the press: ”It’s always sad when a player goes down quickly.” But not nearly as desperate as watching Keane’s slow, inexorable slip from grace.

Perhaps United should stop looking elsewhere and begin taking a hard look at themselves. And if Mr Edwards wants it, yes, why not do so in a ladies’ toilet. Because United are showing signs of stress.

The once cohesive face of a great team has been distorted into the snarling visage of Roy Keane, a purple-headed manager who should have gone and an executive of questionable mores. It all begins to look like the beginning of the end of an era.

Today, United are far from gone and will challenge all the way this season. But new faces are needed, and if they don’t arrive soon, the club could have a long wait until it’s hype once again lives up to its reality. ‘

Posted: 4th, September 2002 | In: Back pages | Comment


Operating Theatre

‘LAST night’s brilliant match at Anfield, in which Newcastle came back from 2-0 down to salvage one point (and almost stole all three), was a timely reminder of why so many millions of people are infatuated by this game.

Hip-Hip Hooray

It is sometimes worth reminding ourselves, especially when the back pages of this morning’s papers are concerned with everything but events on the pitch.

Mostly, it is all about Manchester United skipper and all-purpose lunatic Roy Keane.

The Mail headlines its piece ”Keane Cracks”, which we half expect to be followed by a fellow-player’s cheekbone. But it is actually Keane’s mental state that is under examination, with the paper claiming that manager Sir Alex Ferguson has decided to leave his mini-me out of the match against Middlesbrough tonight because of his state of mind rather than the state of his body.

But it is the state of his body that concerns the other papers, with the Sun reporting that Keane will undergo a hip operation today which will rule him out for three months.

”That means,” the paper says, ”the Manchester United skipper will be able to serve his FA ban for being sent off at Sunderland on Saturday and the expected misconduct rap following revelations in his book – while he recovers.”

The Express makes the same point, saying Keane has effectively outwitted the FA with what it calls ”Operation Freedom”, although as he is expected to miss 19 first-team games it is a curious type of freedom.

England play their first game since their World Cup quarter-final exit to Brazil on Saturday, but will do so without the services of either Steven Gerrard and Kieron Dyer.

The Mirror says Sven Goran Eriksson’s plans for the friendly against Portugal are in tatters following last night’s double blow, although anyone who say Dyer run around so ineffectually for 90 minutes last night will not lose too much sleep over the midfielder’s shin splints problem.

It is a different matter with Gerrard. His absence from England’s World Cup squad cost the country dear – but would it have made any difference to the final result?

With criticism of Sven Goran Eriksson’s laid-back attitude during the campaign under fire from certain players – in particular the complaint that when the players needed Winston Churchill at half-time against Brazil, they got Iain Duncan Smith instead – the Swede has challenged the players to voice their concerns at a showdown tomorrow night ahead of the friendly at Villa Park.

Eriksson told the Star: ”If someone could guarantee we would have played better if I had shouted and screamed at the players, I would have done.”

And it is fair to suggest that if the players are not able to motivate themselves for a World Cup quarter-final against the most famous footballing team in the world, then they should look to themselves for the reasons for their dismal second-half performance, not the manager.

Posted: 3rd, September 2002 | In: Back pages | Comment


Roy Who?

”’ROY WHO?” That was the headline on the front page of one sports supplement yesterday, accompanying a characteristically scary-looking mug shot of hardman-turned-actor Vinnie Jones, football’s answer to gangster-turned-actor John Bindon.

Roy Race – aka Psycho

The gist of Jones’s interview was that Roy Keane isn’t half as hard as he and everyone else seems to think.

But this isn’t just an opportunity to remind the world of his own status as the top boy of the modern era. On the contrary, Jones is happy to give credit where it’s due: Jimmmy Case and Graeme Souness would also ”sort you out”, no problem.

It’s easy to mock today’s tough guys, of course. In an age when you can be cautioned for hurting someone’s feelings, let alone his cruciate ligament, the red card has inevitably been devalued as a badge of shame.

All the same, Keane has done his best to keep up standards. Although his first red didn’t come until 1995, it was worth waiting for: a vicious and wholly unprovoked stamp on Gareth Southgate in a 1995 FA Cup semi-final replay against Crystal Palace.

This was made still more impressive by the circumstances in which the game took place – in a half-empty stadium boycotted by Palace fans after one of their number was killed in fighting on the day of the first match.

This in turn had been a consequence of the bad blood between the clubs following the Cantona incident. Not only that, but both managers had appealed for calm in a public appearance on the pitch before the game.

So Keane’s wild behaviour set a high standard right from the start, and since then he has raised the bar still higher with the Haaland ”tackle”.

Yet although Keane’s total of 11 reds is impressive, there is another Roy who still leads the field.

”Roy who?” Roy McDonough, aka Red-Card Roy, that’s who. Roy (who uses phrases such as ”the so-called hard man Tommy Smith”) set a record of 13 dismissals during his spells with Walsall (one red), Exeter (two), Colchester (three) and Southend (seven).

It will no doubt be beaten soon, but it is unlikely to be bettered in these softly-softly days.

”I’m not the sort who’ll hurt people on purpose,” says Roy, in traditional fashion. But he admits that ”if it gets a bit naughty, it brings out the best in me”.

Roy didn’t let retirement stop him causing mayhem either. While watching his brother play a Sunday league match that was getting ”naughtier and naughtier”, he ran on to the pitch to avenge an attack on his sibling by a tasty centre-half – at which point, all hell broke loose, leading to a 22-man punch-up. Or rather, 23. The match was abandoned.

”After that there was deadly silence,” recalls Ray. ”I was so embarrassed. My mate Ian Atkins was shaking his head and my girlfriend was just standing there. ‘Look,’ I say, ‘I’m so sorry. I don’t know what happened’.

”Ian went to see the referee in his room and said, ‘I’m ever so sorry, ref, he comes to watch us every so often.’

”The referee looked at him and said: ‘Bollocks, I know who he is – that’s Roy McDonough. He’s a raving lunatic.”’

Posted: 3rd, September 2002 | In: Back pages | Comment


Keane’s Eire

”’NOW is the time to debunk the myth that Roy Keane is indispensable to Manchester United,” writes the Telegraph’s Paul Hayward. He then goes on to explain why, but all he need do is draw a bold arrow to divert readers’ attention to the picture alongside his article. For there is Roy Keane tussling with referee Uriah Rennie.

Sunderland – August 31, 2002

Having messed with the face of Sunderland’s Irish international Jason McAteer in Saturday’s 1-1 draw, Keane wanted more. But between he and his quarry stood the ref. Had it been Andy D’Urso, a former Keane target, who was to send Patrick Vieira from the field in Arsenal’s 1-1 draw at Chelsea, Keane would most likely have whirled his arms and spat vengeance.

But this was a man called Uriah, and even a hardened mad-eyed street fighter like Keane knows not to mess with anyone with a strongly biblical name, especially when he is roughly twice your size.

And after grappling with one mighty man, Keane is now strangely at odds with another. The Sun reports that Alex Ferguson has ”condemned” his captain for elbowing McAteer, and is ready to fine him a club record £180,000. And so the latest chapter in the life and times of Roy Keane goes on, covering the first three pages of the Sun’s sports coverage.

And that includes a picture of the ballistic one posing with the skull of a tiny bird. And the reason for the picture? No idea is offered – you’d have to read yesterday’s Observer Sports Magazine to understand why. And even then, you’d probably be none the wiser – some things and some people are just out of reach.

And so it is with Michael Schumacher, who is so far ahead of the Formula One pack that most other drivers have only ever seen his exhaust pipe roaring off into the distance. We, though, courtesy of the Mirror, get to see the cheery sight of the world champion German celebrating his tenth win of the F1 season.

His victory in yesterday’s Belgian Grand Prix meant that he eclipsed the nine-wins-in-a-season record he had shared with Nigel Mansell. Mansell was at Spa to see the race, and offered what may well have been his hearty congratulations to the new record holder. ”Achievements are there to be surpassed,” says Nigel. And those are sentiments that we can all applaud. ”Good luck to him,” he adds.

And with excitement and controversy like that it’s not overly hard to see why Roy Keane’s face is over all the back pages. Now if he could just put his collar up a bit and learn some charm… ‘

Posted: 2nd, September 2002 | In: Back pages | Comment


A Ray Of Hope

‘ON Saturday afternoon at around one minute after the full-time whistle had blown, I received a phone call. At first, it sounded like a long distance message, but the interference on the line was not the crackle of static but the rare noise of jubilant Tottenham fans.

Will Spurs fans ever see the likes of Crooks again? We can only hope not

”Have you seen it?” asked the voice. And before I could ask ”What?” I was told. ”We’re top of the league.” ”We” are Tottenham, and it should be said that I am not. That message was punctuated with an ”Aaaaahhhh”, a quintessentially football sound which used to be followed with a ”How d’yer feel?” I felt fine, and told the lunatic on the other end just so.

”You ‘ate it,” he said. Then he sang ”We are top of the league” a few times at me and said he had to go, no doubt to join the thousand-strong conga down Seven Sisters Road.

Meanwhile, at the other end of the same road, at Arsenal, all was peaceful. Birds were still singing, fully-stocked shops and pubs were still selling the finest kebabs and lagers and the sun was in the sky. Because it was still August, and, according to my official Arsenal calendar, that meant there were another nine months to go ’til season end.

I could be cruel at this point and point out how in the Spurs time zone, the season ends around Christmas, and with just four months to go, the lads in white are in with a shot of glory. I could, but I won’t, because to do so would be to admit that what I was being told has affected me in some way.

So instead I congratulated the voice on the phone. ”Well done,” I said. ”Enjoy it. Make the most of it. Live it large.” And it wasn’t me being disingenuous, it was me being genuine. I wholeheartedly wanted him to enjoy it.

And why was I not spitting blood? Why had I not slammed down the phone, or at least laughed at him? Why had I not verbally patted him on the head and told him, as George Graham had told me before he was carted off by the authorities, that the game is a marathon and not a sprint? Because he had shown that he cared.

He cared deeply enough to call me, a fan of the enemy, at his moment of joy. After years of affected indifference (it’s been three since Spurs were last top), of saying countless times how he and his like were ”bored” with football and ”who cares who wins the league”, he had finally played his hand. And I knew at once the pain he must have suffered over the past years and the pain, in truth, he is likely to feel at the end of this season.

But I also know that to laugh too hard is to set myself up for a fall. All rivalries, and few are more intense that the north London version, are based on fear. And my fear is that one day Spurs will rise again and Arsenal will fall from Wenger’s lofty pedestal.

And come that day I will sit and nod and say how football has lost its interest for me and that, although Spurs have won, they are an average side whose success says so much about how football has been corrupted by greed and fiscal pragmatism. And the voice at the other end of the phone will say: ”Never mind. Perhaps now Ray Parlour’s your new manager, he’ll bring the good times back.”

And, if he wants to really hurt me, he’ll say it without a hint of laughter or malice in his voice.

Posted: 2nd, September 2002 | In: Back pages | Comment


Paper Talk

‘A HAT has been thrown into the ring, and judging by the smart little feather on the side, it looks like a German headpiece. And indeed it is. Inspecting the label, we find that it is a size 8, made by Apfelschafft & Muller for customer 2986 Herr Kalus Toppmoller.

Hats off to the cheeky Herr Toppmoller

And inside the hat is an envelope addressed to the board of Manchester United PLC. ”GIVE ME FERGIE’S JOB”, it says. At least, that’s what the Sun seems to think, for it reports that the Bayer Leverkusen boss is keen to replace Sir Alex Ferguson at Old Trafford.

If that sounds rather cheeky, then that’s largely down to the way in which the paper has chosen to present the story. Read on, and you discover that Leverkusen and United have been drawn together in the same Champions’ League group.

In the course of the usual press conference flattery about United being the biggest team on the planet, Toppmoller admitted that he would be his dream to succeed Fergie when the great man takes up his pipe and slippers in three years’ time.

Of course, Fergie might as well pack it all in now, because United have no chance of European glory this year. Why not? Because Alan ”Exclusive” Shearer has already announced that ”Toon Army will scream us to glory in Europe”.

Taking a break from mending a hole in his garden fence, the Geordie maestro dismisses the threat of Juventus, Feyenoord and Dynamo Kiev, who Newcastle will face in Group E. ”They’re rubbish and they know it,” he scoffs. ”We’ll give them a footballing lesson like they’ve never had.”

And Shearer is equally dismissive of United. ”Well past it” is his verdict on Fergie – the man who tried repeatedly to sign him. ”I turned United down because I wanted to join a club that played positive football. For me, United are basically spoilers, and this year they’ll be found out big time.”

Of course these quotes are simply our intepretation of Shearer’s words. The actual Sun article tends to shy away from spelling these things out, preferring instead to publish a series of respectful compliments directed at Newcastle’s opponents, and predictions that United, Liverpool and Arsenal will all succeed.

But you know Shearer doesn’t mean a word of it. Like the Toon Army, he anticipates great things, and there’ll be tears down the Auld Gallogeet – and in Shearer’s garden shed – if Newcastle fail to meet their date with destiny. ‘

Posted: 30th, August 2002 | In: Back pages | Comment


Aiming Low

”’TWO years ago, we would never in our wildest dreams have imagined we’d be here,” says Bobby Robson in Monaco, scene of yesterday’s Champions League draw.

Sir Bobby was, as ever, optimistic about their chances

”It’s exciting, it’s great, it’s everything we worked so hard for last season. It’s demanding, it’s exhausting, but we can’t wait for it to start.”

It’s also another episode in the mawkish life of Newcastle United football club. Robson’s rheumy-eyed chatter is infested with all the ingredients that go into making Newcastle United the team most likely to induce feelings of nausea.

It’s the hilarious belief that in this modern era of football, when winning is everything, Newcastle operate as a Corinthian throwback. Manchester United, Arsenal and the rest can chase the mighty euro, but good old Newcastle are just happy to be in there, and, hey, who knows, they might just trip up a few big shots and fancy dans on the way (twinkly-eyed wink to camera).

This bilge has been seen before, notably when Newcastle did become a well-loved team under Kevin Keegan. But under Robson, the Magpies are nothing special. Their fans are not a breed apart, but the same as all others: hungry for success, happy when they’re winning and upset when they don’t.

They do posses a terrific captain in the form of local boy Alan Shearer, who has yet to win anything. But beyond him, true Geordie boot boys are thin on the ground. They have tried to be all things to all people and ended up winning nothing.

But the team that could have won the Premiership is now the team that is happy just to be taking part. And looking at the money they’ve spent in the past few years, can that really be good enough? Bobby, at least, thinks so.

”I kept saying to the chairman,” Bobby tells the Times today, ”give us Barcelona, give us Barcelona.” Why Barcelona? Barcelona have never won the Champions League, are a team in turmoil and are overshadowed by Spanish giants Real. As it is, Barcelona are in another group, and Bobby has to do with some others.

”Juventus, Feyenoord, Dynamo Kiev – all great names, aren’t they?” says Sir Bobby, encouraging an answer to the affirmative. ”But we’re no mugs either and we’re going to enjoy it.” Why not just stick on a hard hat and grab a Tommy gun while you’re at it, Bobby?

Listening to Bobby Robson anyone would suppose Newcastle were a Europe-bound Wimbledon, who had risen from nowhere to give the big boys a bloody nose. They are not. They are part of large public company that wants to make money – and lots of it.

And the reason they are in Robson’s fairytale land is less down to them and more down to the success of Manchester United, Leeds and Arsenal, whose relative successes earned another berth for an English team.

It’s just a shame that it was Newcastle and not a side of genuine no-hopers, rather than the Magpies’ perennial doe-eye failures.’

Posted: 30th, August 2002 | In: Back pages | Comment


Missing Persons

‘IT IS NOW week two of the first season of my post-Crystal Palace season ticket life. A friend phones up. Like me, he gave up his season ticket, though many years earlier. A conversation develops about various building projects taking place in our respective homes, and for a while it is unclear why this discussion is taking place. Then he drops in a casual comment about listening to the Portsmouth game on the radio while up a ladder.

”I bought this new the last time Palace were on the telly”

With the score at 2-0 to ”us” (we are still bonded indelibly at some profound level to this bunch of red-and-blue no-hopers), the friend had moved on to some other task away from the radio. The following day, during a conversation with another Palace fan, he enquired casually about whether the score remained 2-0. Quite why he was shocked to learn that we lost the game is unclear, given Palace’s previous track record. The point was, it still hurt.

This is a team comprised almost entirely of players he had never even seen, yet something nonetheless gripped his heart and shook it.

On Tuesday night, I have taken the cold turkey route, refraining from all sources of information regarding the score. In fact, I only learned the result during the aforesaid conversation. When I say cold turkey, I can’t claim to have undergone any psychological or physiological trauma. Cold turkey sandwich with a cup of tea would be closer to the mark, in terms of emotional intensity.

In fact the experience was quite pleasant, and certainly a lot less boring than listening to the commentary from one of the capital’s other games while waiting for three-minute-old ”news flashes” from Selhurst Park. In fact, I didn’t watch any football at all, save for a brief snippet of half-time chat during Manchester United’s walk in the park with Zalaegenszeg.

When I finally got round to reading the match report, complete with Trevor Francis’s customary gloss on events, I might as well have been listening to a politician discussing transport policy on Question Time. ”What’s my motivation here?” I would have asked, had I been able to muster the enthusiasm to do so. If animals can lose their maternal instincts towards their young within days, maybe I can lose 33 years’ loyalty to a football club in two weeks.

They say when people stop believing in god, they’ll believe in anything. But when you stop believing in Palace, you start believing in DIY and weekend shopping. Whether this is a good thing or not, it’s too soon to tell. ‘

Posted: 29th, August 2002 | In: Back pages | Comment


Ref Chops Souey

‘THERE is always something vaguely pathetic in seeing a manager ”sent off”. With a player you can understand how it happens – a couple of mistimed tackles, telling Graham Poll where to go, punching Dennis Wise… But all a manager can do is shout a bit, have a scuffle with the fourth official or step outside his ‘coaching zone’.

Unlike Hoddle, Souness only throws teacups

So when Graeme Souness was sent off during Blackburn’s 2-2 draw with Liverpool last night, you might have thought he had reason to be embarrassed. Not a bit of it. The Star says Souey congratulated Steve Bennett for the decision, claiming it was the only one he got right all night. ”If you don’t get emotional, you might as well stay at home,” the former Anfield hardman said – with evident pride.

Leeds United’s new boss, Terry Venables, might have wished he had done just that after he left Elland Road to a chorus of boos last night. Even after the 1-0 home defeat to Sunderland, his team are fourth in the table – but that is not enough for the inhabitants of God’s Own Country.

As the Mirror notes, it has only taken El Tel three games to feel the wrath of the fans, but the man himself is remarkably unconcerned. ”If that’s how they feel they should react, that’s OK with me,” he said, no doubt recalling that Des Lynam never gave him such a hard time in the ITV studio.

One man who has swapped the pressures of the middle for the comfort of the commentary box is former England cricket captain Mike Atherton. And this morning he casts his mind forward to the day when Nasser Hussain relinquishes his captaincy, and backs Mark Butcher to take over.

Athers was at a lunch in London to promote his new autobiography and, in the absence of any Roy Keane-like confessions, his best shot at creating controversy is advising the England selectors to overlook Marcus Trescothick and Michael Vaughan in favour of Butcher. ”Mark has a good cricketing brain and is in fine form as a batsman,” he tells the Mail. ”He is old enough to have seen some of the vagaries of the game, on and off the field, and to have gained in experience from them.” Strong words, you’ll all agree.

But not, one suspects, as piquant as some of the revelations likely to come out in David Beckham’s autobiography. FA chief Adam Crozier is clearly worried that Becks’ tales of heavy drinking, hard drugs and endless womanizing are likely to bring the game into disrepute and, through the Mail, advises the England captain to run a draft past him prior to publication. Someone at FA HQ, it seems, is having trouble getting to sleep at night…’

Posted: 29th, August 2002 | In: Back pages | Comment


The Real McCoy

”’WHERE were you when Inamoto won the Intertoto?” the patrons of Fulham will ask each other in years to come.

”It’s OK for him – I’m knackered”

Many were at home watching EastEnders, but around 13,000 did actually see the Japanese boy wonder Junichi Inamoto score a hat-trick that helped Fulham win the season’s first silverware.

The Times shows Moto holding the Toto, a cup that only makes any sense when, as the paper reminds us all, it becomes a passport to the Uefa Cup.

That’s nice for Fulham, but in the great scheme of things football, the Uefa Cup is the European League Cup, and the big prize is the Champions’ League.

And last night Manchester United booked their berth in the continent’s premier contest with a 5-0 demolition of Hungarian outfit Zalaegerszeg.

And like the result, the headlines are predictable. ”Five-star United,” say the Telegraph and Times, while the Sun goes for the pugnacious, ”A bunch of fives”.

But in the numbers game, jump jockey Tony McCoy rei(g)ns supreme.

Having plastered the sports pages with pictures of Manchester United’s overpaid and over-hyped players in various stages of ecstasy, it’s a great pity that the work of Tony McCoy is buried deep within the Times, 10 pages inside the Sun’s back page lead and 12 pages within the Express.

So we turn to the Telegraph’s main sports page, where readers learn how yesterday McCoy became the greatest jump jockey of all time when he rode his 1,700th winner, Mighty Montefalco, to victory in the Uttoxeter sunshine.

”He’s a man in a million, easily the best I’ve seen,” says legendary jockey, and trainer of McCoy’s record-breaking mount, Jonjo O’Neill.

As for the 28-year-old McCoy, well, the likeable Ulsterman is as modest as ever. ”I’m lucky to have a job that doesn’t feel like a job and I’d hate to feel people were trying to retire me at 30 – I may not have reached my peak by then.”

Spoken like a true sportsman, in every sense of the word. And strangely at odds with the likes of footballer Robbie Savage, who, as the Sun reports, is to launch an appeal against his £10,000 ”Jobbiegate” fine.

”The whole thing is ridiculous,” says Savage of the continuing fall-out from his decision to use the referee’s toilet before a game last season. ”I’m appealing.”

And in a way he is, but in so many more ways he isn’t. Football and footballers have much to learn about what is to be a winner and a good sport from the likes of Tony McCoy.

Posted: 28th, August 2002 | In: Back pages | Comment


Ole For United

‘FROM the moment Ruud Van Nisterooy slipped the first goal under Sasa Ilic, there was never any doubt that Manchester United would cruise into the Champions’ League proper.

Paul Scholes takes the news of his injury well

In fact, the 5-0 victory over Zalaegerszeg had all the features of a typical United victory – a David Beckham free-kick, a dodgy penalty (including dodgy sending-off) and a late – and beautifully taken – strike from Ole Gunnar Solksjaer.

But it is certainly true that United will not play a worse team in Europe this season nor that they will have to play a lot better than they have done in the first fortnight of the season if they are to reassert their domestic supremacy, let alone claim European glory again.

Despite drawing 2-2 at Upton Park at the weekend, it is Arsenal who have started the season better of the two, their 5-2 victory over Premiership whipping-boys West Bromwich Albion taking the Gunners to the top of the league.

And amazingly for the richest club on the planet, United’s squad is looking threadbare in places.

The injury to Fabien Barthez has shown up the club’s lack of cover in goal and the departure of Andrew Cole, Dwight Yorke and Teddy Sheringham in the past 18 months has left them depleted up front.

Of course, while they can afford the luxury of Solksjaer on the bench, this is not much of a problem – but injuries and suspensions could easily conspire to leave Sir Alex Ferguson embarrassed by his lack of cover in certain areas.

The injury to Paul Scholes last night just emphasises this, for Scholes can cover in midfield as well as up front. He was replaced by Diego Forlan, who is a decent player but still has not scored in a competitive game for his club.

Apart from Forlan, Ferguson’s options are limited. He can play Ryan Giggs up front, but that often tends to unbalance the side by removing United’s most potent weapon down the left, and – besides – Giggs is not a great goalscorer.

While all the talk has been about United’s defence, it is perhaps going to be their attack that lets them down this season unless Ferguson can bring someone in before the end-of-the-month transfer deadline.

Even after going 3-0 up in the first 20 minutes last night, United did not press home heir advantage as they might have done a few years ago.

This may seem like quibbling in a game that had already been won, but it could pose problems for a team that has traditionally thrived on its ability to suffocate opposition defences, especially at Old Trafford.

The problem stems from the fact that both Roy Keane and Juan Sebastian Veron like to play quite deep, thereby allowing opposing midfields some breathing space.

Whether by dint of team strategy or the fact that he is getting longer in the tooth, Keane does not get forward as much as he used to, and Veron’s style of play does not make him a substitute for Scholes in the more advanced midfield role.

Of course, United still have a formidable first team and high-class cover in many areas of the field. If they are lucky with injuries, none of this might matter. After all, the last time United had to pre-qualify for the Champions’ League, they won it.

But it would only take a bit of bad luck for United to end this season as they did the last – trophyless. And then the pressure really will be on Sir Alex…

Posted: 28th, August 2002 | In: Back pages | Comment


Same Old Story

‘PAPER talk – dontcha love it? Well they certainly do down at the Lane, where Tottenham’s dreams of glory flourish most bountifully during the summer months in between football seasons.

”Do you want to swap these instead?”

And the stuff from which Tottenham’s dreams are woven? Big name transfers, the men who will really turn things around and put the cockerel back on his perch, crowing over north London.

Yet autumn arrives and once again the dressing room is bare. The cries of ”Glory, glory Tottenham Hotspur” become more muted, and the Spurs go limping on.

This season the torture has continued through the start of the season, with Lazio’s Hernan Crespo held tantalisingly in front of the Tottenham faithful. The Express reports that Spurs ”will try to conclude an audacious bid” today, but there is an obvious reluctance to take anything for granted, and the paper adds that Robbie Keane is being lined up as a replacement.

On a positive note, Crespo has said he wants to play for Hoddle – although whether he will be able to dislodge Les ”young at heart” Ferdinand from the spearhead of Spurs’ attacking machine is another matter altogether.

Elsewhere, another reputation is enhanced, as Manchester United are dubbed ”A BUNCH OF BAD LOSERS” in the Sun. Players from Hungarian club Zalaegerszeg, who tonight face United in the second leg of their Champions’ League qualifier, have accused Beckham and co of being ”cold” and refusing to swap shirts after they lost the first match.

But they would gladly forgo their shirts in return for a lucrative draw tonight, which, in the words of coach Peter Bozsik, ”would sort out our problems for two years”.

Finally, Peter Ridsdale tells the paper that he ”wonders about people’s mental state” when he reads some of the abusive letters sent by Leeds fans complaining about the sale of Rio Ferdinand.

”It’s a reminder of how passionate fans can be – in a negative way,” he concludes. And that can’t be good for the game, can it?

Posted: 27th, August 2002 | In: Back pages | Comment


Now You See Him, Now You Don’t

‘JIMMY Floyd Hasselbaink’s two English employers – Leeds and Chelsea – can at least content themselves with the knowledge that they have seen more of the Dutch striker than any of his other clubs.

”See ya!”

Indeed, Hasselbaink is in serious danger of notching up 100 appearances for Chelsea – a feat that could soon spark talk of ‘loyal service’ if the tree trunk-thighed striker is not careful. Which is no doubt why there is talk that he could be on his way before next week’s transfer deadline – off to Barcelona to team up with his former international manager Louis Van Gaal.

Hasselbaink’s agent claims not to know anything about the matter, saying: ”Jimmy loves Chelsea and loves the fans and London is a great city.” But his player offers a slightly different story, happy to talk up the prospects of a move.

”At my age, when a great club like Barcelona knocks on your door you do not say `no’,” he told the press. ”You look at the offer, evaluate it and decide on the best course of action.” And chances are that the best course of action means a return to Spain, where he scored an impressive 32 times in his 41 starts for Atletico Madrid.

Chelsea fans can’t really grumble. Up to now, Hasselbaink has not played for the same club for more than the two seasons he survived at Leeds – and he has certainly seemed to have a keen eye for a dollar (or a euro).

Why are Chelsea likely to be different? After all, they cannot claim to have enjoyed much success in the two years the Dutchman has been at the club, in spite of Hasselbaink’s contribution of 55 goals at a very impressive 0.61 goals a game.

Barcelona may not have had much more success themselves in that time, but they do represent a definite step up from the Blues and they should easily be able to match Chelsea for cash. The only question is likely to be whether a deal can be completed before the transfer deadline. It is only a week away and Chelsea could easily stall negotiations if they chose.

It would certainly represent a big blow if they do lose their star striker. Not only would it be a hard job to replace someone who averages a goal every other game throughout his club career, but time is very tight. The good news, though, is they should save on the cost of a gold clock… ‘

Posted: 27th, August 2002 | In: Back pages | Comment


Chelsea Blues

‘OFF the pitch, it’s not been a good start to the season for Chelsea. For starters, there was the little courtroom drama involving John Terry and Jody Morris, charged with affray over a brawl with a nightclub bouncer.

Ole!

Yesterday the two were cleared, but ”Stamford Bridge legend” Peter Osgood has warned them in the Sun that they ”risk destroying their careers if they do not learn from their Crown Court escape”.

”Both players have got to grow up and live up to their responsibilities,” he says. ”They must realise that they can’t go out drinking at night and acting like normal fans.” But even most fans probably avoid such incidents if they can help it.

”They are paid so much money and people look up to them,” adds Osgood. ”They’ve got to be careful where they go.” Their team-mate, Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink, is hoping to go to Barcelona, and not just for the sangria, either. The Mirror writes that last night the player ”dropped a bombshell on Chelsea by insisting he wants to join Spanish giants Barca”.

”The Dutch striker claimed he would be ‘enchanted’ at the prospect of moving to the Nou Camp as he threw his Chelsea future into major doubt,” says the Mirror. But can we believe him? After all, when has a footballer ever used the word ”enchanted”, in public or otherwise?

With the club in debt to the tune of £97.7m, Chelsea may be tempted to sell their prize asset, but Hasselbaink’s plea in the Star to ”Flog me to Barca” is hardly going to help their preparations for tonight’s clash with Manchester United.

One man not likely to budge for some time is India’s star batsman, Rahul Dravid, who notched up his second century of the summer against England at Headingley yesterday.

The Independent writes that yesterday’s play ”was a throwback to a bygone era when runs and wickets were given away resentfully”. It might not have been a thrill a minute up in Yorkshire, but there was still some great play, almost all of it from Dravid.

”For the second Test match in a row Dravid was in brilliant form,” says the Indy, which sees his ton as a potential matchwinner. Couldn’t the press at least see more than the first day’s play before writing off England’s chances? ‘

Posted: 23rd, August 2002 | In: Back pages | Comment


That Friday Feeling

‘IT started with Sunday matches, then we had Monday matches, Saturday morning matches – and today we have a Friday match. How long can it be before there are Premiership games on every day of the week?

Crowd scenes on a Friday night

Sky may be limited under their current contract as to how many live games they can show during the course of a season, but they are in a strong position when it comes to renegotiation.

At the moment, football needs TV and it needs its money more than ever. And unless the BBC or ITV decide to take a massive gamble and bid for the rights when they next come round, that means they need Sky. Clubs have effectively mortgaged themselves against Murdoch’s money and it would be a disaster if there was a massive drop-off in revenue.

When Sky first won the rights to broadcast live Premiership games, the relationship was reversed. The fledgling TV channel needed viewers and it needed them quickly – and it was to football that it turned to persuade people to buy a dish. When the deal was renegotiated, football was hot property – and (following Sky’s success on the back of it) regarded as a goldmine by broadcasters.

But some of the lustre has worn off. The market is close to saturation, TV advertising is not bringing in the same bucks and there is a realisation that Sky probably overpaid last time out. The upshot will undoubtedly be greater power to the broadcaster in future – the ability to show more live games, more pay-per-view games and more rearranging of the fixture list to suit the demands of the schedule.

And that can only be bad news for fans. Friday night is not for football. In the past, only Tranmere regularly played on Fridays and that was to step out of the shadow of the two big Liverpool clubs.

But, if Sky get some decent viewing figures tonight, we can expect more big games to be moved in the coming years. Which means trouble for fans, especially those who have to travel the length of the country to get to the game.

Home fans may have to sacrifice their after-work pint on one of the very few nights when there is something good on TV. But away fans face the prospect of having to take a day off work to follow their team or giving the game a miss altogether.

It is a dangerous road to go down. In the longer term, it is surely better to stand up to the TV companies than to further alienate the people on whom the future of the game depends – the long-suffering fans. ‘

Posted: 23rd, August 2002 | In: Back pages | Comment


Let Him Be

‘WHY is it that Ireland can produce a unifying rugby union team but when it comes to football, the nation is split into Northern Ireland and the Republic?

New Northern Ireland kit unveiled

Whether or not it’s something to do with the respective popularity of the games, the kind of people that follow them, or something yet more unfathomable can be debated, but one thing that cannot be argued is that the internecine divide has dealt a devastating blow to Neil Lennon.

The Mail leads with the story of the Catholic Northern Irish player who ever since he signed for Glasgow Celtic, a team with a strong Catholic fan base, has been the victim of a hate campaign. But that still did not prevent his national team manager Sammy McIlroy from making him his captain.

Last night was to be Lennon’s first outing as skipper but in the pre-match build up the player was issued with an ultimatum: play and die. The threat delivered in a phone call to BBC Belfast by an anonymous bigot was all it took to ruin what should have been Lennon’s proudest moment. As it was, the game went on without him, the Irish Province drawing 0-0 with Cyprus.

At around the same time, the Republic were enjoying a fine 3-0 win over Finland. That game’s first goalscorer, Robbie Keane, can be seen celebrating his strike in the Sun, following his customary somersault with a sharpshooters quick draw flourish to the crowd – a not overly sensitive celebration in light of events north of the border.

But if the more narrow-minded Irish want to learn how to enlarge their field of vision they could do worse than look to the Telegraph’s story of Sachin Tendulkar. Yesterday, the world’s best batsman made a surprise appearance at the opening of Headingley’s new East Stand.

But not nearly as surprising as his first appearance at the ground, when in April 1992, the then callow 19-year-old became the first overseas player to turn out for Yorkshire in 129 years. Now, as the paper reminds its readers, Yorkshire have the likes of the Australians Darren Lehman and Mathew Elliott to call upon, but back then Tendulkar was breaking down doors.

And the pocket dynamo was a hit, causing one of the East Stand’s new boxes to be named after him and Chris Hansell, the county side’s chief executive, to say: ”He’s one of us, an adopted Yorkshireman.”

And if an Asian can be taken to the heart of the Yorkshire Republic, there is hope that an Irishman can one day play for the country of his birth without being in fear of his life. ‘

Posted: 22nd, August 2002 | In: Back pages | Comment


The Mask Slips

‘WE HAVE long suspected that behind his loveable avuncular facade, Sir Bobby Robson is a seething mass of bitterness and resentment. When he appeared on a recent documentary about Sir Alf Ramsey, he spoke with feeling of the shameful way that England’s most successful manager died in an NHS ward after years of living in straitened circumstances, seemingly forgotten by his former employers at the FA, and by the football world in general. It is possible that Sir Bobby still feels the pain of wounds inflicted upon him during his own reign as England boss.

”Glad to hear that Bobby’s doing the same”

In particular, it must be strange to be feted by the very same newspaper hacks that conducted a merciless campaign against him during his World Cups and European campaigns. Now he has used his column in the Newcastle United programme to air his views on the performance of England under the current boss, Sven Goran Eriksson – who just happened to be in attendance at St James’s park, and will no doubt have perused his complimentary copy while the assembled Geordie nation sang its unintelligible songs about the Auld Gallogeet, the Bleed’n Reeces and the Fog on the Teen.

And he may not have been too happy about what he read. ”I must say I did fancy us to beat Brazil,” says Sir Bobby, speaking of England’s meek submission in Japan. ”When England went one up we were on the verge of glory. But then we were awful in the second half. We’d conceded the equaliser right on half-time and then we went behind following David Seaman’s error. From the moment we went into deficit we never had a shot at goal and never looked like creating a chance.

When Ronaldinho was sent off we should have been able make the numerical advantage count yet we couldn’t and didn’t. We simply didn’t know how to open them up. We seemed to lack the urge and intelligence to win and that disappointed me.” Ouch. Full marks for observation, as Big Ron would say.

But in all that agony, do we detect a cry from the heart – a cry that says ”mea culpa”? For despite all his criticism – delivered, it must be said, in uncharacteristically concise style – Sir Bobby goes on to say that England returned ”with their reputation intact”. Hmm. Which reputation would that be, then? Their reputation for losing games that they should have won?

And when was that reputation acquired? In the years 1986, 1988 and 1990, we’d suggest. Mentioning no names, of course. ‘

Posted: 22nd, August 2002 | In: Back pages | Comment


Foul Play

‘FOR every action there is a reaction, as Roy Keane and Ashley Cole are discovering. In the Sun, we find that Keane is facing a ban of up to four games after admitting in his autobiography that he deliberately fouled Manchester City’s Alf-Inge Haaland.

”Surely that handstand deserved two points?”

”The FA will charge Keane with misconduct as soon as the player’s controversial autobiography goes on sale in a fortnight,” it writes. The FA takes ”a dim view of what they see as glorifying the incident in his book”, and is under pressure from City and Haaland – who are also pursuing legal action against Keane and United – to penalise Keane further.

”In a bid to send out a strong message to the rest of football, they intend to impose a ban on Manchester United’s captain rather than a fine,” says the Sun. Good to see that the FA has finally learned the lesson that fining sportsmen who make more in a week than most people make in a year isn’t exactly acting as a deterrent.

But will Keane learn his lesson? And what about Ashley Cole?

The Mirror reports that ”Cole faces cheat rap” and could be hauled before the FA after referee Mike Riley rescinded the red card given to Birmingham’s Aliou Cisse on the weekend.

Riley watched video replays of ”Cole’s theatrical response to Cisse’s attempted challenge” and overturned his decision, and now senior figures at the FA are considering taking action against the young England player.

”There is a growing feeling that a stand has to be taken on incidents where players are deemed to have deliberately engineered bookings and dismissals for opponents,” writes the Mirror. ”And Cole, whose reputation has been sullied by a series of accusations over the past 12 months, now faces the shame of being the first player charged on video evidence this season.”

Kanukai Jackson, winner of two gymnastics gold medals in Manchester, has also been reviewing videos – but to rate the weekend’s goal celebrations for the Guardian.

Scoring eight out of 10 is Newcastle United’s Lomano Lua-Lua, who has ”set a high standard for the rest of the Premiership to follow” but needs to work on his backflip technique. His team-mate Alan Shearer’s ”very dull routine” only scored him one point, despite his experience in celebrating goals.

Robbie Keane scored five points for his celebration after scoring for Leeds, though Jackson notes that his combination round-off and handspring would be ”bordering on an illegal move in competition”. He recommends that Robbie add a bit more variety to his routine.

Meanwhile, Liverpool’s John Arne Riise notched up four points with the judge for swinging his shirt during his goal celebration, but comes in for the harshest criticism.

His performance, says Jackson, was veering ”towards rhythmic gymnastics – which I’m sorry to tell him is strictly for women”. ‘

Posted: 21st, August 2002 | In: Back pages | Comment


Same Old Story

‘I LOVE July. There is something brilliant about the coming season. All the teams are equal on points – or rather no points. You have bought a couple of players who are going to complete the jigsaw – plug the holes in defence or provide that killer touch up front. This is your year.

Roeder gets a disturbing sense of deja vu

And then comes August. The big kick-off. Suddenly, the Slovakian under-21 international who had been sold to you on the promise that he had scored goals for fun for Dynamo Bratislava looks like he’d struggle to get in your Sunday league side.

And it turns out that the Polish centre-half, who you were told was wanted by half the clubs in Europe, is actually only wanted by half the police forces in Europe.

Yes, August is all about the shattering of illusions – and they don’t get shattered much more rudely than they did for us West Ham fans at St James’s Park on Monday night.

Okay, so we may have been missing a couple of players, especially Frederic Kanoute – but three of the starting XI had been out in the Far East over the summer. And we had Edouard Cisse making his debut.

But this season was going to be different. We weren’t going to capitulate away from home as soon as the first goal went in as we did last season. Were we?

Oh yes. In half and hour, a decent (but far from spectacular) Newcastle side had scored no fewer than four times – sending them to the top of the table and the Hammers to the bottom.

Suddenly, thoughts of improving on last season’s seventh place and perhaps challenging for a Uefa Cup place were replaced by thoughts of survival. Only 37 games left in which to achieve the magical 40 points.

We could, of course, blame World Cup fatigue, but the West Ham trio only played for just over three hours in total in the course of the competition. The fact is that, just as Chelsea will underachieve again this season and Spurs will be rubbish but keep pretending they are a big club, certain characteristics will never disappear.

And one is that West Ham will get tonked away from home – as they did on several occasions last season and to teams a lot worse than Newcastle – on a handful of occasions during the course of the season.

Another is that they will win a lot of their home games and achieve a respectable mid-table position – low enough to ensure that we don’t qualify for anything too serious and high enough to ensure that come next summer Glenn Roeder will make those two signings to propel us this time to greatness. ‘

Posted: 21st, August 2002 | In: Back pages | Comment


Mum’s The Word

‘THE Sun has a story this morning that is guaranteed to embarrass the England coach no end. Like an anxious mother rushing to defend her son from the loudmouth bully in the playground, Sven Goran Eriksson’s mum has blasted Alex Ferguson for ”trying to wreck England’s chances”.

”I asked her not to say anything, I swear!”

Granny Ulla Eriksson, 76, has ”revealed her son’s stormy relationship with the Manchester United manager”, to the undoubted amusement of the tabloid and its readers.

”Alex Ferguson is a threat to my son,” claims Ulla. ”Sven once told me during a phone conversation that it is pointless having national team games in April or May because Ferguson, in one way or another, always makes sure that his players aren’t fit.” Could it be that Fergie was really the one who broke Becks’ metarsal?

”She reckons Fergie puts club before country every time his United stars are called up for friendlies by the England chief,” says the Sun. Of course he would – after all, it’s not his country they’re going off to play for.

The controversy continues in the Mirror, where Sven himself is having a crack at Fergie. The Swede has told Sir Alex ”he should play David Beckham in central midfield – so he can follow suit for England”.

”I think those people who say Beckham should play inside in midfield might be right,” he tells the paper. ”But it’s not up to me to test that, it’s up to Alex Ferguson. My job is to select the right players and to let them play in positions they already play in at their clubs.”

We can imagine what Fergie’s reply to such a suggestion might be, and doubt it consists of any more than seven letters.

The expletives were probably flying around St James’s Park last night as well, where, the Telegraph reports, Newcastle United hammered the Hammers 4-0. Lomana Lua Lua – ”so good they named him twice” – was so good that he also scored twice.

Alan Shearer and Nolberto Solano also chipped in with goals, while Kieron Dyer had to be content with merely being ”a font of energy and ideas”.

Moving reluctantly away from the football pitch, Graham Thorpe ”looks certain to miss this winter’s Ashes tour after the troubled batsman told Surrey officials he would be unavailable for the rest of the county season”.

The Telegraph says it ”now seems inconceivable that Thorpe will make the Australian trip, the centrepiece of what should have been the biggest cricketing winter in his life”.

Instead, it looks set to be a winter of discontent, not only for Thorpe but also for his erstwhile team-mates, who could do with a batsman who averages 45.74 in Ashes tests and whose surname isn’t Gilchrist, Hayden or Waugh.

Posted: 20th, August 2002 | In: Back pages | Comment


Kick And Tell

‘IT is surprising that in a world where brains are routinely found in feet, sportsmen and woman still like to lend their names to books.

How Vinnie convinced publishers a sequel would be good

Apart from ‘Ten O’Levels’ Trevor Brooking, Martin O’Neill and Gary Bailey, few footballers have ever read anything from cover to cover. This is perhaps why football managers read the riot act to them, because if Dave and Steve had to read it, they’d get stuck on the first word.

And let’s not get too involved with the writing act itself. I was once in the players’ lounge at Arsenal when a certain player began to scratch his name in a child’s exercise book. The fountain pen he had been given was being held the wrong way round, point to the rear.

”Not to worry, ***,” said the autograph hunter’s dad to his son, ”you can always go over it in crayon later.”

But such tales are the stuff of asides and gossip. What players want is to write a weighty tome that says, ”I was a professional footballer and that someone else other than me remembers that goal I scored in training and what I said to such and such”.

For that reason, people like David Batty, John Barnes and Andy Cole all call their books ‘The Autobiography’. It’s just not trying. It makes them sound grand, as if this is the last word on their lives. But, in reality, their lives have not been that interesting, and the headline suggests nothing to the contrary will be found within the covers. Even Roy Keane’s use of the eff word shows more imagination than that.

In essence, the authors of the ”The” autobiographies (and include: Peter Schmeichel, Dennis Wise and Ruud Gullit) have had a successful career, great adulation and adoring fans, but have nothing to say. If it weren’t for football, it’s a decent bet none would have earned a mention in the local free advertiser, let alone the national press.

Vinnie Jones published ‘Vinnie – The Autobiography’ in 1998, but has since thought himself worthy of more comment and released a sequel in 2001, called ‘My Life’. The intervening three years had been interesting, but one would hazard a guess much more so for him than the rest of us.

But he did at least recognise his idiosyncrasies, and knew that Vinnie was a better title than Mr Jones or Vincent.

Using the nickname or the football moniker in place of storytelling ability and the perceived need to develop a character on the page is a trick that has been tried by Stuart Pearce (‘Psycho – The Autobiography’), Barry Fry (‘Big Fry – The Autobiography of Barry Fry’) and Harry Redknapp (‘Arry – The Autobiography of Harry Redknapp’).

But this tactic carries risk, and you can end up looking like an even bigger joke than you already are and calling your book ‘Hell Razor – The Autobiography of Neil Ruddock’. Not just Razor, but Hell Razor, as if being overweight and cumbersome presented a danger to anything other than your heart and children.

If Ruddock wants to tell a good yarn he could do far worse than take a leaf from the likes of Garry Nelson’s ‘Left Foot Forward – A Year in the Life of a Journeyman Footballer’ or Tony Cascarino’s truly excellent ‘Full Time’.

Neither player is the most famous name in football, but they create convincing pictures of what it must be like to be them, slightly above average footballers.

Cascarino’s book is a particular gem, in which rather than employing the high and mighty attitude of a Roy Keane (who appears to be a man surrounded only by people who tell him how great and right he is), establishes a tome in which he can be the butt of the jokes.

Only just into the book, and our hero has been called a ”useless big bastard” by a Celtic fans (his then club). Two lines later, and Cascarino’s playing at Chelsea, where he is booed on his debut.

He is then asked – or is it told? – by his six-year-old son, who has just retuned from school, where his dad had been the topic of conversation: ”You’re not very good, Dad, are you?” At football, not bad, but not all that good. But at telling a story, especially of his own life (the hardest tale of them all), he excels.

It’s just a shame Cascarino isn’t playing for Ireland now. His chapter on Keane would be more illuminating than anything currently being provided by the foul-mouthed one or his current apologists. ‘

Posted: 20th, August 2002 | In: Back pages | Comment


It’s Been Emotional

‘JUDGING by the headlines in today’s back pages, Ashley Cole is playing the wrong sport – perhaps he ought to swap his Arsenal kit for a pair of speedos after a diving controversy during the team’s win over Birmingham City yesterday.

Ashley Cole in action

Birmingham’s Senegalese World Cup star Aliou Cisse was sent off after a second yellow card for the challenge on Cole but, as the Sun reports, ”England man Cole went down in a heap but TV replays showed no real contact”.

”Highbury legend” David O’Leary, with plenty of time on his hands now that Leeds have been taken off them, blasts Cole in the Sun. ”Ashley Cole has conned the referee,” he says. ”His conduct out there was disgraceful. It’s a hard enough job being a referee and Cole’s reaction has not helped him. He is a great player but he’s getting in the habit of getting people sent off.”

Birmingham boss Steve Bruce is set to appeal against the referee’s decision. ”It was a big game for Cisse, his Premiership debut, and it has ended with him being sent off for two very harsh offences,” he tells the Mirror. ”I’m very disappointed with the way it has worked out, and I will ask the referee to take another look at what went on.”

The incident marred an otherwise perfect start to Arsenal’s season, notching up their 14th consecutive win with their 2-0 win over Birmingham. Liverpool also got off to a flying start, defeating Villa 1-0 at Anfield, with John Arne Riise scoring in the second half.

There were clashes off the field as well, with Villa manager Graham Taylor involved in what the Mirror calls ”an angry slanging match with a fan” after his team’s defeat. The Sun prefers to describe the story as ”Taylor in f-word fury”.

Taylor says he will not be issuing an apology. ”Somebody in the crowd used some language at me and I thought he deserved it back. It was wrong of me but we are all emotional people.”

In another case of fans turning on their own, the Sun also reports that ”David Beckham was sworn at and accused of being more committed to England than his club in a confrontation with Manchester United fans”.

Fans at Budapest airport began chanting, ”It’s just like watching City” as the team departed after their Champions League defeat. One supporter told Becks: ”You play better for England than United”, while another told him in a rather rude fashion to leave.

”Emotions were running high,” a bystander noted. Emotion as part of football? Paul Gascoigne has a lot to answer for.

Posted: 19th, August 2002 | In: Back pages | Comment