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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

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


War Of The Words

‘SIR ALEX Ferguson, who ”sees nothing wrong” with Roy Keane’s autobiography, reckons that old Keno will ”make a top manager” when his leg-crushing days as a player are over.

Roy calmly dictates his biography to Dunphy

Presumably he shares Trevor Francis’s view of management. Francis is currently trying to rise above a farcical incident in which he hit his reserve goalkeeper, leaving him with a black eye and a sore nose (and when you’ve seen the size of Aleksandr Kolinko’s nose, you’ll know that’s nothing to be sneezed at).

Francis has already dismissed the incident as ”a clip round the ear” and ”a bit of fun”. Chairman Simon Jordan – who usually specialises in coining his own idiosyncratic phrases in situations like this – described it rather boringly as ”a storm in a teacup”.

He may well be right. Trouble is, others don’t see it that way. The police got involved straight away, alerting the fourth official (who sent Francis off) and then, in a bizarre twist, offering to act as ”mediators”. All of which goes to show how much energy is going into purging football of all its danger and smoothing down its rough edges.

This is what football types mean when they speak darkly of the ”current climate”. All of which makes the Roy Keane business increasingly bizarre.

How a man like Keane, who had already blown enough fuses to keep a team of electricians in business throughout the summer, was allowed to publish this book without Manchester United’s lawyers paying any attention to its contents is beyond belief.

But it slipped through the net and now we are being royally entertained, first by the revelations, and now by the frantic back-pedalling.

It seems that Eamonn Dunphy is preparing to take the can. This is amusing for many reasons. He made his name with his own groundbreaking warts-and-all account of his life as a footballer, which was admirable in its honesty and his readiness to take responsibility for his own opinions. Also, he wrote the thing himself.

Nowadays most players never even read their own ”autobiographies” which are usually ghost-written by sycophantic journalists who are expert in the use of euphemism and bland football-speak.

Given Keane’s character and Dunphy’s track record as a professional irritant, it is hardly surprising that this book has proved an explosive mix. But what are we to make of Dunphy’s attempts to take the rap for the Alf Inge Haaland section, in which Keane admits to setting out to injure his opponent?

Dunphy claims he used ”artistic license” and ”paraphrased” Keane’s own words. If he did indeed alter Keane’s meaning, then presumably Keane must have approved the manuscript. If he did so without bothering to read it first, then it’s his own fault. He had plenty of time to do so during the World Cup.

Keane has not claimed that the words were distorted. Dunphy claims that this is because he’s ”a man”: ”Fair play to him. No whingeing. No screaming. No ‘I didn’t say that; he made it up’.” Given that Keane is the biggest whinger on the planet when things don’t suit him, we can only conclude that Dunphy is simply trying to get Keane off the hook.

Keane, as he has shown many times before, doesn’t care if he’s on the hook or not. This ”**** the lot of you” attitude is his strength, but it could also prove to be his downfall. In this current climate he may find himself cutting his managerial teeth at Her Majesty’s Pleasure in the services of Lags Eleven.

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


United We Stand

‘RUMOURS abound that the Premier League football season starts this weekend, and that there is more than just one team entering. But these are just rumours, and some elements of the press doggedly stick to the belief that Manchester United are the only team involved.

As of this wekend, anyone not wearing this kit will be barred from playing football

The Sun, for instance, leads with ”Keane’s Double Rocket”, a story on how the charmless cove who captain’s the country’s only team ”could” be sued by Alf-Inge Haaland and Manchester City. Unfortunately, the story loses all power with that word ”could”. For it is just as possible that Keane ”could” not be taken to court; that Keane ”could” be innocent of setting out to cripple the Manchester City player; or, most fancifully of all, Keane ”could” act like a man and apologise.

That tale is followed by one about how the only Premiership side are to lose bit-part player Wes Brown for three months. Brown, the Sun laments, has a broken ankle. Inside the paper, readers get to hear of someone calling himself Ashley Cole. But we find out little about what he does and more of how he thinks ”United won’t get one extra point this years even with Rio”. It really is all about United.

And there is Rio Ferdinand on the back of the Mirror, being told by Leeds United chairman Peter Ridsdale that he was only signed as cover for Jonathan Woodgate – for, as events have shown, Woodgate could not rely on the existing ”cover” supplied by Michael Duberry. But Rio is at United, Keane is at United, the Sun’s journalists are at United, and we are all delighted, it would seem, to be United.

But there are pleasures to be had in sport other than reading about Manchester United, and young golfer Justin Rose could be providing armchair fans with such moments sooner rather than later. The Telegraph shows Rose in action at his first American major, the US PGA Championship at Hazeltine, and watches him mark his card with a first-round three-under-par 69, to go into the clubhouse a single shot behind leader Fred Funk. And for this blessing, Rose is ”very pleased”. ”There were a lot of tough tricky shots but I handled them well,” he says.

For readers who only see the favourites, news that there is a golfer other than Tiger Woods must be a shock, so the Times reminds readers that Woods could only manage a 71.

But the best sports news is saved for the Telegraph, which moves yet further away football and sees the Rolex Commodores’ Cup offshore race from Cowes. The race was won by Nick Hewson’s Team Tonic, news that’s followed by a round up of sport that includes some lawn tennis, bowls and equestrianism. All delivered a page before a story that says ”United will bounce back vows Keane”. Phew, thought you might have overlooked that one, boys. ‘

Posted: 16th, August 2002 | In: Back pages | Comment


End Of The Road

‘MUSTN’T grumble. In 33 years of supporting Crystal Palace I have never been ripped off. The players, by and large, have done their best, and the prices have never been extortionate. Over the past decade, while football has been experiencing hyper-inflation, with Chelsea and Arsenal fans forking out hundreds – even thousands – of pounds on season tickets and merchandise, Palace have been the opposite of reassuringly expensive.

”I might miss the odd goal or ten, but I’ll miss you more”

My season tickets have cost me around £120 a season. The beer is cheap, should you choose to avail yourself of the surprisingly luxurious new Holmesdale bar. Our record fee received for a player is the meagre £4 million-and-a-sack-of-coal paid by Birmingham City for Clinton Morrison just in time for the new season. The most exotic item in the club shop is ”P. Nut” – a small, modestly-priced model of a peanut wearing a Palace scarf. The most way-out item of clothing produced by the club was a t-shirt with a strange family of leering acid house-style faces above the legend: PALACE – THE FAMILY CLUB.

Admittedly, we had a few up-market sponsors: Virgin, TDK and now Churchill Insurance. We even signed the god-like Lombardo, who, if he achieved nothing else during his stay at Palace, at least became a cracker of a quiz question. (Which player who won a Champions league medal with Juventus, was transferred to Crystal Palace, becoming player-manager in the same season, was relegated to the Nationwide League and then transferred to Lazio, where he won the Italian Championship?)

In fact, the past decade or so, with its periodic crises (including receivership) has been the most successful in the club’s history. But in a way this has made the club’s ultimate failure even worse. The only trophy in the boardroom is Wimbledon’s miniature replica FA Cup – a constant reminder of our chronic lack of achievement.

We are a club that in 1979 had an attendance of almost 52,000 for a second division promotion game and yet we have been outperformed by a club with a supporter base a fraction of our size. Yet it’s not simply a matter of underachievement. We could have fulfilled our potential and ended up like Spurs or Aston Villa: clubs frustratingly close to the serious action but never in with a chance of winning.

And what’s the point of that? I supported Palace because I wanted them to win the league – something which, believe it or not, was just about plausible in the days when Derby, Ipswich and Forest were winning cups, league titles and even European honours. But now Palace have no chance of anything other than a place in the Premiership, where they will fulfil their allotted task of providing Arsenal and Manchester United with a tithe of six points each per season. Occasionally they will have a run in the FA Cup or – heaven forbid – the Worthington, and that’s it.

Who needs it? Not me – life’s too short. So I cancelled my season ticket and gave up this summer. On Tuesday I had the strange experience of listening to a home game on the radio, and although I could feel myself being drawn in, I managed to keep calm and affect an indifferent air. It’s a 12-step programme and I’m not cured yet. But I want to be, and I know that eventually I’ll prevail. ‘

Posted: 16th, August 2002 | In: Back pages | Comment


Dog’s Breakfast of Champions League

‘DAVID Beckham’s bottom lip is probably visible from space right now, so prominent is it after Manchester United’s shock loss in Budapest last night.

Pout, pout, let it all out

Beneath the headline ”Incredible Sulks”, poor Becks is doing a great impression of a toddler whose mum has just refused to buy him a bag of sweets. But it wasn’t merely Becks’ own contribution that saw his team go down to the Hungarian minnows Zalaegerszeg – it was a team effort.

Still, notes the Mirror, ”Sir Alex Ferguson blamed everything but his own players last night as Manchester United endured a disastrous start to their Champions League campaign”, which saw them concede a goal in the 90th minute.

”Fergie blamed the referee, the state of the pitch and the swirling wind for his team’s defeat but refused to acknowledge their clear failings against the Hungarian champions,” says the paper.

The game didn’t get off to the best start for the Red Devils, with Wes Brown injured in the second minute. The defender will be out for at least a month, joining Gary Neville and Rio Ferdinand in the casualty tent.

Ferguson may not be willing to look at his players’ performances for clues as to why they lost, but in the Sun, Zalaegerszeg coach Peter Bozsik has a plausible explanation. ”Manchester United are a fantastic side – but they took this match too easily.” Really? It’s not like Fergie’s boys to be complacent.

The Sun’s Neil Custis writes that Fergie is now ”staring at his worst nightmare”. ”After spending £80 million in a year in a bid to win back the European Cup, he may now not even get into the competition’s first stage.”

Newcastle United had better luck in Sarajevo, where Kieron Dyer struck a winner against Zeljeznicar in the 56th minute. Dyer’s first European goal puts Bobby Robson’s team on track to win a place in the group stages.

”I was telling the lads all week I was going to score,” said Dyer. His team-mates are especially pleased that he did it on the pitch. ‘

Posted: 15th, August 2002 | In: Back pages | Comment


Writing the Wrongs

‘IF Roy Keane’s autobiography were a true self-made tome, we would possibly expect it be called ‘Roy: Hard But Fair’, ‘Roy: Being Red – Seeing Red’ or ‘Roye’.

The sweet and gentle Roy

Instead, the much-hyped version being serialised in the national press offers just the simple ‘Keane – The Autobiography’. Simple man – simple title. But it isn’t just Roy’s work, as the book is collaboration between the genius of Keane and the writing know-how of Eamonn Dunphy.

Those unaware of Dunphy’s works will nonetheless be able to call to mind the dishevelled figure who spent the summer beaming in live from Dublin to explain how Roy Keane had been wronged and that the entire Irish team were out to get him. It was not Roy who had let the Republic down, went the argument, it was the team that had turned on their captain.

This was a hard position to defend. Dunphy was building an argument. And Dunphy knows what to say and when to say it. When required, the skilled writer can pull on the mask of ”in all seriousness” and say on RTL television the footballing gem: ”As a striker, you know better than anyone that a team can’t win unless they score goals.”

Dunphy’s skill is talking sense while keeping his words and structure in the sphere of football chat. And so in his new book lines like: ”I’d waited long enough. I ******* hit him hard. The ball was there (I think). Take that you ****” are delivered less from Keane’s foul mouth and more from Dunphy’s sensationalist pen.

So when we hear that Alf-Inge Haaland, the player on the end of that Keane tirade, is considering legal action, we should not make a beeline for the courtrooms. Even when it is noted that the words were delivered by Keane after he’d nobbled the Manchester City player.

If Keane has deliberately attacked another player, then any criminal case will involve the police. (Nowadays, Keane’s actions would result in an instant £80 fine for anti-social behaviour).

But the law regarding injuries occurring on the sports field is essentially a branch of the law of negligence, albeit encompassing the law relating to assault and battery. The onus falls upon the victim to prove that the player had gone into the tackle with the intent to injure.

This must be weighted against the risk of being a competitive, professional footballer. For example, Paul Elliot, when at Chelsea, lost his case against Dean Saunders and Liverpool FC (Dean Saunders, who was playing for Liverpool at that time tackled Paul Elliott, a Chelsea Defender. Elliott’s knee ligament was torn and sadly he was unable to play again).

The courts ruled that Elliott’s loss, however unfortunate, was in the course of normal play. But a court did decide in favour of Brian McCord, a former Stockport County player, when his career was prematurely ended due to a high tackle by Swansea City’s John Cornforth.

The court ruled that Cornforth’s tackle ”was an error which was inconsistent with his taking reasonable care towards his opponent”. An award of £250,000 was ordered to be paid to the injured party.

And in 1988, Gordon Watson of Bradford City sued Kevin Gray and Huddersfield Town after a high tackle left Watson with a fractured leg. Watson won, because, the court said, Gray should have known that the type of tackle he was making carried with it a significant risk of serious injury.

But what seems bad for Keane is tempered by the fact his words come in a book, and that they have been conjured with the help of a professional writer. Keane wants his book to sell; so does Dunphy. And that asks for a splash of scandal.

In any case, nothing will happen until the book has been published, and the words can be read in context. Then we might hear how Keane has breached the peace (see every game), acted in a threatening manner (call Andy D’Urso) and insulted the racial origins of the Irish team manager.

Alf-Inge Haaland had best get in line. ‘

Posted: 15th, August 2002 | In: Back pages | Comment


Rob Roy

‘THE Press should thank Roy Keane. They should get together and write an open letter to the Manchester United captain and thank him for creating news where there was none. With the transfer market flat, Roy first left the World Cup in a huff and now hogs the back pages thanks to his comments in the case of Roy ”Mustard” Keane versus Alf-Inge ”Ouch” Haaland.

”Dear Alfie, get worse soon. Lots of love, Roy”

And, although the non-fight is over, the war rages on. Players’ union chief executive Gordon Taylor tells the Mail that the spat could incite crowd trouble. Noting how Keane plays for Manchester United and Haaland for Manchester City, Taylor says that the ”vendetta” could ”incite trouble and tarnish the game”.

While Manchester hooligans wonder how a simple ice-cream dessert can cause a disturbance, Alex Ferguson stands by his man. Pictured in the Times, the brusque Scot says that Keane has no case to answer. ”There’s been a bit of to-ing and fro-ing between the two of them over the years,” says Fergie of Keane and Haaland, ”but most of it has come from Haaland, who always has plenty to say.” Especially to his nurse and the other medics who have been trying to save his career ever since Fergie’s boy gave him a good talking to.

But injuries are part and parcel of sporting life, and nowhere more so than in the English cricket camp. The Times watches as Craig White tears a side muscle and rules himself out of the third Test against India, joining a host of other players on the treatment table.

But in the Mirror the message is to leave them there. The cricket board should a take a leaf out of our alleged NHS practice and not bother themselves to repair the already ancient, choosing instead to concentrate on the young. And the message comes from Ian Botham. Except that it isn’t his message, not really. Sure Beefy says that ”this season has been all about promoting young talent”, but he then picks his own party to tour Australia, and includes the likes of Alec Stewart, Graham Thorpe and Andy Caddick. Not players who appear to be in the first flushes of youth.

But, then, the Mirror and Botham should not be too harshly treated – at least they are trying to talk about something other than Roy Keane. Oh, haven’t your heard? It seems that Roy has a bad temper. And remember, you heard that news here first. ‘

Posted: 14th, August 2002 | In: Back pages | Comment


The Gold Rush

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

England expects…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Posted: 31st, July 2002 | In: Back pages | Comment


There Used To Be A Football Club Here

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

”It’ll all be different this year…”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Posted: 31st, July 2002 | In: Back pages | Comment


The Worst Penalty In The World…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Summer Holiday

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

Rawlinson can’t stomach the thought of this just now

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Who Stewards The Stewards?

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

Pitch invasions used to be more genteel affairs

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


England On A Winning Run

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

England on a better wicket

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This can only augur well for the future. ‘

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


Old Boys’ Club

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Posted: 26th, July 2002 | In: Back pages | Comment


Flat Stanley

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Posted: 26th, July 2002 | In: Back pages | Comment


Manchester Rains Supreme

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

The South African marathon runner got hopelessly lost

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Posted: 25th, July 2002 | In: Back pages | Comment


Getting Their Kicks On Route ’66

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

They thought it was all over…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Posted: 25th, July 2002 | In: Back pages | Comment


Daft Brush Off

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

The star wears the stripes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Posted: 24th, July 2002 | In: Back pages | Comment


Madness

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

Denis dreams of the day he will don the Old Gold

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Posted: 24th, July 2002 | In: Back pages | Comment


Couture Club

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

Leeds United unveil new first team kit

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


A Word To The Wise

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

Dennis considers a new career as a key fob

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Tiger Or Els

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

What’s a South Afrian Ern?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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