Back pages | Anorak - Part 70

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Premier League news. Stories from the newspapers and BBC sport – sports news from tabloids Daily Mail, Daily Express, Daily Star, the Guardian, Daily Mirror, the times, daily telegraph

Sporting Chances

Portsmouth plan to offer £12m to bring back Yakubu from Middlesbrough (Mirror)

Harry Redknapp also wants Celtic’s Stilian Petrov (Sun)

West Brom will pay £2m for Wigan’s Jason Roberts (Sun)

West Brom are all set to sign John Hartson (Mirror)

Fitz Hall has signed for Wigan (Mirror)

Middlesbrough want to take Sporting Lisbon’s Rudolphe Douala on loan (Star)

Liverpool are threatening to withdraw from the deal for Seville winger Dani Alves (Sun)

Posted: 26th, June 2006 | In: Back pages | Comment

New Balls

“ENGLAND babes are rated the hottest on the planet.” So says the Star with understandable pride.

The paper has seen a survey by a company called Carma, and notes that the World Cup Wags have attracted more media coverage than any other nation’s Wags.

(Just yesterday, England’s decisive goal against Ecuador was marked by the BBC’s cameras honing in on Victoria Beckham hugging one of her sons.)

But the girls are under pressure. Their crown may slip from their hair extensions. Their fake orange tan may run. For they have competition.

Summer is here and leggy lovelies have begun to wander around Wimbledon in short tennis skirts.

The Star produces a photograph of Maria Sharapova. The paper says that Wimbledon spoilsports have ruled that girls competing in this year’s tournament must wear only white.

So here’ a shot of Maria in her pink baby doll-style tennis dress. There’s a peek at “Tasty” Tatiana Golovin’s black knickers and a look down Maria Kirienko’s beige top. “Volley gosh,” says the paper and we agree.

It’s much the same over in the Sun. In “You setsy thing”, readers hear that to go with the all-white dress code, players must not wear clothing “deemed too sexy or too low-cut”.

This is a “glaring fault”. Maria peers seductively over one of her golden shoulders and invites us to check the length of her skirt.

And there’s Daniela Hantuchova looking “ace”; Elena Dementieva bending over; and another shot of tennis “Smasher” Kirilenko.

It’s pretty clear the Wags have their work cut out. Look out for Posh and her tangerine team wearing tennis skirts. And grunting…

Posted: 26th, June 2006 | In: Back pages | Comment

The Double Bluff

GIVEN that football is about getting the ball into the opposition’s net, reading on the Mail’s front page that England are “CONFUSED” is more than a little worrying.

Thus far things have been very straightforward for England. The team have stripped the game down to its barest of bones. England get the ball. They then get it as quickly as possible to a) Peter Crouch, who scores, or b) Wayne Rooney, who scores. The one piece of trickery is when England get the ball to c) an opponent, who forgets what he’s doing and scores in his own net.

But now the squad are getting confused because, as a source tells the paper, Sven Goran Eriksson intends to introduce Michael Carrick as a holding midfielder. If he does, then this will be the third different formation England have tried in four games.

And now the players are in a state of “REVOLT”. According to the People, “players fear Sven hasn’t got a clue what he’s doing.” A source looks at the latest formation and says: “It doesn’t make mush sense to the players.”

But the cunning things is this: if it doesn’t make sense to England – and remember that Frank Lampard has nine O-levels, including two As and an A-star – it makes even less sense to England’s opponents.

“Ecuador plans thrown into confusion as Eriksson springs midfield surprise,” says the Telegraph’s headline. And at once we see the genius of Sven’s plan. Just listen as Ecuador’s assistant coach Armando Osma fields a question about Michael Carrick. “We know very little, very little,” says he. “We just know that he is very quick and strong like all the English players, but that is all we know.”

Michael Carrick is not quick. Granted, he is quicker than most of the population, and would be expected to finish in the top half dozen in a race involving the country’s MPs, train drivers and supermarket checkout girls. But in the world of football, Carrick is not quick, much less “very quick”.

Osma is wrong. But he does know something. “What we do know,” says he, “is that England will play 4-1-4-1 and we therefore obviously have to look for a solution that will be a surprise to them.”

And at once Sven is the master tactician. Ecuador have been knocked out of their stride. They are now trying to second guess England.

And what if it’s all a bluff? Sven might just keep it at 4-4-2. Carrick might not play. The Ecuadorians will look foolish when they set out their stall to counter a 4-1-4-1.

Of course none of this really mattes. Don’t tell Ecuador, and whisper it to Sven, but whatever the formation, the England game plan remains simple: a) get it to Crouch; b) get it to Rooney; c) get them to score an own goal.


Posted: 25th, June 2006 | In: Back pages | Comment

Kissing Up


The German police have been a marvel. And now they have helped a young American fan find his hotel. After the Poland v Costa Rica match the American abroad wandered round Hanover for six hours. He eventually told police his problem and they spent an hour driving him through the city until he spotted his hotel.

Should they beat Ecuador, England could face all of the South American teams in the World Cup finals. Having seen of Paraguay, if they beat Ecuador and win any quarter-final against Portugal or Holland, England could face Brazil in the semis and Argentina in the final.

It’s been one long party for the Wags, the England players’ wives and girlfriends. On Friday night, they spent £5,000 during a seven-hour drinking session at Garibaldi’s bar in Baden Baden. The ladettes worked their way through 30 bottles of champagne mixed with strawberry syrup, 20 flaming sambucas, 12 Amarettos, 16 Double vodka Red Bulls, 6 double vodka and Cokes, 8 large white wine spritzers and a £3,000 dinner.

Should they beat England, Ecuador’s player will receive a herd of cattle each from their country’s president.

Togo players have finally got their money. Having threatened not to play unless their pay was sorted out, the lads have each pocketed about £50,000. Every player was given a suitcase with the cash inside.


The whole world is not watching the World Cup. In Bangladesh the games are hard to see. Football fans in that country formed a human chain round the government secretariat in downtown Dhaka demanding that the state-operated TV station shows more matches.

Oliver Bierhoff, who once led the line for Germany and is now on Jurgen Klinsmann’s management team, has complained that families of the players are not being good enough seats. But shouldn’t they be shopping?

Diego Maradona has fallen foul of royal protocol. He has kissed the lips of Maxima, the Argentina-born wife of Crown Prince Willem-Alexander of the Netherlands.

Posted: 25th, June 2006 | In: Back pages | Comment

Dropping Off

Quotes Of The Day

“We cannot tolerate a situation where an association participating in a World Cup causes a kerfuffle that they [Togo] have” – Fifa president Sepp Blatter displays good use of the word kerfuffle

“There were times when he even picked me when I wouldn’t have picked myself” – Joe Cole thanks Sven for picking players on past form

“My players always end up falling asleep” – Spain coach Luis Aragones explains why he has not show his team any videos of their opponents playing, especially England

“Here’s Kalac – a goalkeeper I know from old. He was the goalkeeper when I arrived at Leicester City. He’s now reserve goalkeeper at Milan and I would never have believed that to be perfectly honest” – Martin O’Neill on Australia’s butterfingered Zelijko Kalac

Puns Of The Day

“I’m Roo hot to handle” (News of the World) – Wayne Rooney is hotter than the weather

“Roo must be joking” (NOTW) – Wayne laughs

“Shin-ply the best” (Daily Star) – Joe Cole says his lucky shinpads are to thank for his goal against Sweden

“Joe’s Shin-credible” (NOTW) – More on Cole’s lucky kit

“Ice Cold Becks” (People) – England players will take half-time ice batch to keep cool

“Beware the flying Dutchmen” (Telegraph) – Holland look good

Posted: 25th, June 2006 | In: Back pages | Comment

Duff Deals

Spurs are looking to sell Jermaine Defoe and sign Obafemi Martins (People)

West Ham are winning the race to sign Fulham’s Steed Malbranque (News of the World)

Spurs will bid £7m for Chelsea’s Damien Duff (Sunday Mirror)

Manchester City and Chelsea are both chasing Spanish international Fernando Torres (Sunday Mirror)

Newcastle are preparing to offer £12m for Charlton’s Darren Bent (News of the World)

Dutch striker Dirk Kuyt is wanted by Newcastle (Mirror)

Manchester City are to sign Reading midfielder Steve Sidwell (Star Sunday)

Liverpool and Chelsea are both interested Benfica’s Samao (Star Sunday)

Real Madrid will bid £13m for Chelsea’s Dutch winger Arjen Robben (Daily Star Sunday)

Portsmouth want Newcastle’s French defender Jean-Alain Boumsong (People)

Reading want Ghana defender John Mensah (Star Sunday)

Posted: 25th, June 2006 | In: Back pages | Comment

Sven’s Lucky Seven

“WAYNE’S ready. Are you?” Who needs the former twinkle-eyed BBC presenter Des Lynam to deliver inviting teasers onto the box when you can have headlines like that, and on the front page of the Times, no less?

Of course, Wayne Rooney is not ready. He is only half ready. England’s good parts and bad parts in their last two matches have coincided with Rooney’s arrival on the field against Trinidad & Tobago and his departure from it against Sweden.

As another headline in the Times says: “ON TO GLORY WITH ROONEY…OR OUT.”

Rooney’s role in the England set up is pretty clear. But for those of you who imagine the plan is more cunning than “Get it to Rooney”, the Express produces a graphic. It’s called “Letting England off the leash” and features all manner of arrows snaking from the feet of Gerrard, Lampard, Beckham and Joe Cole. That all these arrows should point toward Rooney illustrates the tyro’s importance to the team.

That none of the arrows emerge from the feet of England’s faltering back four and jittery goalkeeper is more wishful thinking than any attempt to make the game with Ecuador a five-a-side contest.

Not that England need even five players. All they need is Rooney and Beckham. In the Express, readers hear the England captain outline his plan for tomorrow’s big match. “The way to get the best out of me is to give me the ball,” says David. “If I get the ball and have got a yard of space I will deliver it to someone to score a goal.”

Of course, this is David being diplomatic. His “someone” is merely a more inclusive way of saying “Rooney”.

It’s a great plan. And while Becks wanders deeper and deeper into his own half to find that precious yard of space from which to deliver a big diagonal pass to Rooney, the Mirror says that it England will win the match. Indeed, England will win the World Cup.

Why? Because the number 7 says so, that’s why. “In “7 REASONS WHY WE’LL WIN THE WORLD CUP” the paper says: This is England’s 7th finals appearance since 1966; the words winners, England and captain all have 7 letters; England finished top of their group with 7 points; England have had 7 full-time managers who have not won the World Cup; Sven’s full name is Svennis, which has 7 letters; David Beckham wears the number 7.

Oh, and “the final’s on Sunday, the 7th day of the week, in July, the 7th month of the year.” Or not. Sunday is the first day of the week. England need to find another lucky number 7 lest the magic fail them.

Perhaps they should start the game with seven players. Sure, it is a lot more than the two players they need to win the match – Rooney and Beckham – but needs must.

And then we have it. The Mirror says the Wags (those footballers’ wives and girlfriends) have been on a “7-hour bender”. Hoorah! Who still says taking them to Germany was a waste of time?

Posted: 24th, June 2006 | In: Back pages | Comment

Hitting The Bar


Flavio of Angola has won a special prize for scoring his country’s first ever goal in a World Cup finals. He is now the proud owner of a new house. The house is worth £100,000 and was donated oil tycoon Elias Chimuco. Which is nice.

Pub landlords in the UK expect to pour 32 million pints during the England v Ecuador match. Let’s hope England fans aren’t left crying into them.

Landlord James Banbury has turfed the inside of his pub, the Old Swan in Kibworth, Leicestershire, for the World Cup. “It took me a few hours to do, but the response I’ve had from the punters has been good,” says Banbury. “Everyone who has walked in and seen the grass has burst out laughing.” So keeping it watered.


The Ghanaian foreign minister has apologised to Arab ambassadors after his country’s footballer John Paintsil celebrated a gaol against the Czech Republic by pulling an Israeli flag from his sock. Paintsil plays for Hapoel Tel Aviv in Israel. Newspapers in Egypt called Paintsil a "Mossad agent", said he’d been paid to do it and branded him “ignorant and stupid”. Painstil says it was “a sign of appreciation to my God and fans in Israel”.

The Costa Ricans performed fairly well at the World Cup. Granted, they did not win a game. Sure, they did not win a point. But they were there. And they tried. But when they arrived back home the team were jeered. “Coffee pickers needed,” read a sign that greeting them at the airport. “The only requirement: lack of shame.”

Posted: 24th, June 2006 | In: Back pages | Comment

Snapping Up Camera

Newcastle are interested in signing Wigan striker Henri Camera (Star)

Neil Lennon has agreed to remain at Celtic for another season (Mirror)

Ruud van Nistelrooy wants to meet Manchester United manager Alex Ferguson to talk about his staying at Old Trafford (Sun)

Blackburn defender Lucas Neill is being looked at by Barcelona (Star)

West Brom have rejected Wigan’s £10m offer for Curtis Davies, Zoltan Gera and Nathan Ellington (Sun)

Fulham want Portsmouth defender Matthew Taylor (Express)

Posted: 24th, June 2006 | In: Back pages | Comment

Talking Shop

Quotes Of The Day

“Although David Beckham is the skipper, he isn’t the most vocal player. That’s normally Gary Neville… But that lasts for no more than a couple of minutes. Then Sven steps in, tells everyone to it down and listen to what Steve McClaren has to say” – An England player (unnamed) tells us what life’s like at half-time in the dressing room and what Sven does for his money

“Rivals try to offend me due to my teeth, but it doesn’t bother me. It is not a problem, I’m a footballer not a model. For some people, these things are important, but I am more than my teeth” – Ronaldinho isn’t kidding

“If we pray to Almighty God, we will beat Brazil 2-0” – Ghana fan Joseph Chukwu fails to realise that unlike God, Brazil have Ronaldinho

“That Michael Beckham is one of the most overrated players I have ever seen” – An American summariser shows the big impact football has had on his people

“He’s gone from silver fox to golden retriever” – Daniel Galvin on Terry Venables’s barnet

Puns Of The Day

“Ghost busters – England must stop ex-Saint Delgado being latest premiership flop to come back and haunt us” (Mirror)

“I’ll Muller the scoring record (but I’d rather win the World Cup again)” (Mirror) – Ronaldo has equalled Germany Gerd Muller’s all-time record of 14 World Cup finals’ goals

“They think it’s Poll over” (Star) – England referee Graham Poll is finished at the World Cup

“Fool Poll’s coming home” (Sun)

“Four-midable” (Express) – A look at Argentina’s Saviola, Crepo, Messi and Tevez

“No more Bexcuses” (Sun) – David Beckham says the time is now

Posted: 24th, June 2006 | In: Back pages | Comment

Poll Axed

Old Mr Anorak can remember a time when England regularly failed to qualify for international tournaments, and in the absence of a national team to support we had make our own entertainment. One of the most popular methods among the commentating community was to follow the progress of the English referee, who was always “in with a chance of being awarded the final”.

Last night, old Mr Anorak tuned in to watch Australia v Croatia, and was surprised to hear the commentator boast before the kick-off that match referee Graham Poll of England was indeed in with a shout of the final. He even suggested that Poll might be the only Englishman who actually wanted the national team to be knocked out, in order that he should be granted the honour of adjudicating in Berlin on the 9th of July.

Perhaps Poll overheard him. Perhaps, overcome with anger at having his patriotism impugned, he vowed to rule himself out of the running by turning in a performance that took the concept of the “English eccentric” to new heights. Whatever his motive, last night’s performance not only put paid to any fanciful notions of getting the final, but might well have achieved the rare feat of being kicked out of the tournament before his own national side.

The warning signs were there early on, when Poll failed to notice Croatian captain Josip Simunic dragging down Mark Viduka in the penalty area. At this point old Mr Anorak turned to his Australian wife, who was shearing a sheep by the fireside. “He’s is a lucky chap to get away with that one,” he remarked. “Should have been a yellow card and a penalty.”

Later, after Poll had awarded a penalty against Sjepan Tomas for handball, the same defender handled in the area again, but got away with it. “He’s another lucky one,” said old Mr Anorak, whose conversation tends to be rather limited these days.

Then Simunic finally got a yellow. “He’s a lucky chap,” said old Mr Anorak. “He should have had one before, and this one should be red.”

Then Simonic got another yellow. “He’s off!” cried old Mr Anorak. But Mr Poll had other ideas. He booked Simunic again but failed to spot that this was his second booking. Then Simunic got a third yellow. “He’s off!” cried Mr Anorak again, and this time he was right.

In the meantime, Poll had sent off two other players and awarded Australia an offside goal. When Australia scored a winner, Mrs Anorak hurled her sheep at the wall in delight. But no – Poll had blown for full-time, Clive Thomas-style, as the ball was crossing the line, and the goal was disallowed.

Old Mr Anorak recalls that Mr Poll recently appeared on Match of the Day 2 to comment on the “top five” worst refereeing decisions of all time, one of which was Clive Thomas’s infamous decision to blow for time as a Brazilian shot was headed goalwards. Poll declared he would never do such a thing, but he proved last night that anything is possible in the heat of the moment.

At full time, old Mr Anorak threw his plate of Chocolate Olivers in the air, clapped his hands and declared it the best entertainment since the Millwall riot at Luton in 1984.

The papers, however, are less amused. “POLL’S THREE CARD THICK,” scoffs the Sun. “He loses plot in World Cup farce.” The Times points out that Poll is facing “the humiliating prospect of being sent home from the World Cup for a second time”. This refers to Poll’s dismissal from the 2002 World Cup after just one match, during which he disallowed two perfectly good Italian goals. Their opponents that day happened to be Croatia, so maybe Poll was indulging in a bit of subconscious “evening up”.

The paper recalls that Poll tried to make light of the situation at the time, saying that he wouldn’t have been able to officiate beyond the last 16 because England had progressed to the quarter-finals. Let’s hope for his sake that they do so again, and his sacrifice is not in vain.

Meanwhile, the FA is already looking ahead to the post-Eriksson era, which could be upon us any time from Sunday onwards. The Mirror reports that Terry Venables will be back on board, as part of a “Three Lions Dream team”. No word yet from Keegan and Thomas, but fingers crossed…

Posted: 23rd, June 2006 | In: Back pages | Comment


Quotes Of The Day

“He became shorter whenever he tried to jump” – Peter Crouch’s former team-mate Alex Solderberg dissects the England forward’s style

We don’t fear anyone. Who’d have thought it two weeks ago?” – Franz Beckenbauer looks at a German team reborn

“Kasey is very intelligent. When he is not playing football he wears glasses” – An American commentator mistakes Casey Keller for Clark Kent

“Wayne Rooney is obviously a very good player, everyone knows that, and he is someone I love to play against. But the fact he is probably still not totally fit gives us a boost. Perhaps I can give him a bit of a kick to test it out, although I don’t want to end up with a red card. But I will certainly be doing my best to see whether he is 100% or not" – Ecuador’s Ulises De La Cruz prepares to scupper England’s plan A. B, C, etc.

“[I] am not married to David Beckham, even if you think I am. I’m not even engaged to him” – Sven Goran Eriksson confronts accusations that he will pick Beckham no matter how badly he plays

Puns Of The Day

“Kav-a-go hero guns for Sven” (Star) – Ecuador’s Ivan Kaviedes, who likes to pull on a Spiderman mask, says his team will win

“ROOyal Ascot” (Sun) – Racegoers cheer on Wayne Rooney

“We’re Ghana shock Brazil” (Mirror)

“Sven: I’m no Poshover” (Sun) – Sven says he is not afraid to drop Beckham

“Ess oh Ess” (Sun) Michael Essien is delighted by Ghana

“EN-GER-TANNED!” (Mirror) – Footballers’ partners fly three beauticians to Germany to give them fake tan

“Backlash” (Star) – Sven tells his defenders to shape up

Posted: 23rd, June 2006 | In: Back pages | Comment

Klose Run Things

Anorak Gossip

Liverpool are in for Sevilla’s Brazilian Daniel Alves (Express)

Germany’s Polish-born striker Miroslav Klose’s is wanted by Manchester United (Mail)

Arsenal goalkeeper Jens Lehmann wants Arsene Wenger to take Klose to Arsenal (Mirror)

Blackburn want to sign ex-Tottenham and Egypt striker Mido (Mirror)

West Brom’s Zoltan Gera wants to quit the club (Mirror)

Spurs are all set to complete the £6m signing of Ivory Coast’s Didier Zokora (Sun)

Dutch forward Dirk Kuyt wants to leave Feyenoord after the World Cup (Independent)

Middlesbrough have offered to swap Franck Queudrue for Fulham’s Steed Malbranque (Sun)

Wigan are interested in signing Crystal Palace’s Fitz Hall (Telegraph)

Posted: 23rd, June 2006 | In: Back pages | Comment

Going Ape


The scores so far – brought to you in conjunction with German tabloid Bild – now follow: Coleen McLoughlin is the top spending Wag (footballers’ wives and girlfriends) so far. She has spent £2,290 on: a Fendi handbag (£1,440), Gucci sunglasses (£154), a pair of Roberto Cavalli shorts (£300) and two Louboutin stilettos (£395). Wine and other alcoholic beverages are not included.

German striker Miroslav Klose has been getting in his eye for goal by hitting a ball at light switches in his home. Klose says the switches are quite big, but not big enough to stop him breaking a vase and a picture.

A priest in Oberhausen, Germany, has kitted out his church with goals and artificial turf. Father Bernd Walhard says the “worst thing that can happen is for a candle-holder to fall from the altar”. As the saying goes: “Jesus Saves! But Satan heads in the rebound.”


Baboons at Merseyside’s Knowsley Safari Park have been getting in the spirit of the World up by snapping England flags off cars driving through their compound. “This is hardly surprising,” says the park’s manager. “All the baboons were born on Merseyside so they are probably as football-mad as everyone else.” (Insert terribly unfair, cruel and misguided joke about them not being able to reach the tyres here.)

Nancy Dell’Olio has had to step in to stop the bitching among the Wags. She hosted a banquet at a mountain-top castle and told the girls: “Sven’s got the men fighting as one – we must do the same.” Of course, the men all have to wear the same thing – what happens when the girls see one new top that all want? It could be carnage.

Posted: 23rd, June 2006 | In: Back pages | Comment

A Dead End


Who says the Corinthian spirit is dead? Not Petr Cech, the Czech Republic’s very tall goalkeeper. He wants Fifa to rescind the yellow card dished out to Ghana’s Asamoah, who took a penalty without the referee’s permission. “He heard a fan blow a whistle behind the goal,” says Cech. “He is not guilty.”

Luiz Felipe Scolari, aka ‘Big Phil’, has achieved a new record of leading a team to ten successive wins as a coach at the World Cup.

The schoolchildren who missed out on watching Ghana play the Czech Republic in an alleged ticket scam have been given tickets. Thanks to Fifa, the pupils will now fly out to watch England play in the quarter-finals on July 1. Or Ecuador.


Two England fans parked their car in a Cologne street. Ever the Boy Scouts, they took care to write down the name of the street. Sadly, on their way back to the car they became lost. They asked the locals, who responded by laughing at them. How cruel they thought. No matter, the police would help them. So they asked them. And they too laughed. But why? As the police told them, “Einbahnstrasse” means one-way street in German.

According to the New York Times’s man in the know, Mogadishu is not the best place to watch the World Cup. As he writes: “A week ago, when Mexico and Iran were still playing the first half of their World Cup soccer match, gunmen allied with the Islamic courts burst into a tiny theatre in the Hiliwaa neighborhood of north Mogadishu, condemned the place as ungodly and angrily switched off the television set.” Coincidentally, Iran were losing at the time…

A boy of seven was attacked for wearing an England kit while playing football with his dad in a Scottish park. Hugo Clapshaw was playing in Edinburgh when a man in his twenties approached and punched him on the head. The loser then punched the boy’s father.

Posted: 22nd, June 2006 | In: Back pages | Comment

The President’s Man

Anorak Gossip

Real Madrid presidential candidate Juan Miguel Villar Mir says Arsene Wenger will join the Spanish giants after the World Cup (Mirror)

Arsenal want Argentina striker Javier Saviola (Mirror)

Barcelona will not try to sign Chelsea’s Frank Lampard (Sun)

Manchester United have offered £14.2m for Michael Carrick to (Sun)

Manchester United are looking to sign Villareal’s Marcos Senna (Times)

West Ham have signed Manchester United’s Jonathan Spector (Telegraph)

Bolton Wanderers have bid £1m for Argentine defender Leandro Gioda (Express)

France’s nippy Franck Ribery has turned down approaches from Arsenal and Manchester United (Guardian)

Fulham wasn’t to sign Lilian Thuram from Juventus (Mirror)

Portsmouth are to sign Steaua Bucharest’s Mirel Radoi (Sun)

Everton hope to build a 55,000-seater stadium in Kirby (Telegraph)

Posted: 22nd, June 2006 | In: Back pages | Comment

Sven The Pelvis

Quotes Of The Day

“He’s the same size as me” – Fifa president Sepp Blatter reveals why Wayne Rooney is one of his three favourite players at the World Cup

“If Brazil is the best team in the World Cup, then I’m Geri Halliwell” – Elton John

“There must be changes in personnel. We may be forced to act” – Polish Prime Minister Kazimierz Marcinkiewicz mixes football and politics

“When Wenger told David Dein, the Highbury vice chairman reacted like a hyena and did not like it at all” – an “associate” of Villar Mir, campaigning to be the next president of Real Madrid, says Arsene Wenger is on his way to Spain

“That’s a good question. We talked about it. At half-time we talked about it again, saying ‘come on, come on, come on’ and so on” – Sven Goran Eriksson reveals the essence of his, er, motivational half-time pep talks, and Elvis Presley impersonation

“Everyone’s gutted he won’t play again in the World Cup" – England Paul Robinson gives the reaction to Michael Owen’s injury

Puns Of The Day

“Slack four” (Times) – The problems with England’s defence

“We’ll Cruz past Sven’s men” (Star) – Ecuador’s Aston Villa defender Ulises De la Cruz looks is undaunted by facing England

“I wanna Joe all the way” (Sun) – Joe Cole wants to win the World Cup. No, really, he does.

“He’s got the Cole world in his hands” (Mirror) – Joe Cole is just great

Posted: 22nd, June 2006 | In: Back pages | Comment

Fair Play To Him

“THERE’S no awful pain, but you can feel the crunch.”

Right, hands up anyone who knows the source of that quote. Yes, you at the back in the bath chair… Oh, sorry, didn’t recognise you for a moment, sir. (Old Mr Anorak sometimes gets his nurse to wheel him into the news room for a surprise visit.) No, sir – good guess, though. (Old Mr Anorak thinks it’s taken from the fondly remembered advertisement for Super Wernets denture fixative – the one where the man in the pub says that he would love to have try a ploughman’s lunch, but can’t risk it because of his loose gnashers.)

Here’s a clue. He’s a famous footballer. One of the elite few known by a single name, like Pele and Maradona. That’s right, it’s “Michael”, the only Englishman ever to be afforded the one-word treatment by Alan Hansen and his fellow pundits.

The quote is used as the headline for The Times’ exclusive interview with the crocked England striker, who has returned to England holding a pair of crutches in each hand instead of a Golden Boot and a winners’ medal. As you would expect, he isn’t too happy about it. More surprisingly, he insists that his mood is not one of self-pity, but of guilt.

“I feel really guilty when I think of the people at Newcastle United. I think of the chairman, Freddie Shepherd, who has invested all that money, and Glenn Roeder, the manager, who has kept in touch through the tournament and been very supportive. And those great fans who have only seen me for 11 matches.”

But he’s philosophical, and reminds us that “worse things happen to people every day. When I told my daughter that Daddy had hurt his knee, she just asked me to put on Postman Pat.” You’re right, Michael, even worse things than that happen to parents every day – we suggest you avoid CBeebies during your recuperation. But we take your point: you are not going to sit around feeling sorry for yourself; you are going to sit around feeling sorry for the lads in Germany, as they stumble on without their top goalscorer.

Michael sums things up with admirable fortitude, referring to himself in the third person, as great players do, but using his full name, as befits the Paper of Record. “My World Cup is over,” he announces, “but there will be more big tournaments for Michael Owen.”

In the meantime, the people he thanked are responding in their own different ways. The Star reports that Newcastle United are getting ready to “sue FIFA for £25 million”. Glenn Roeder tells the Sun that people will now understand “why Sir Alex Ferguson was jumping up and down about the Wayne Rooney situation”, although he insists that “my first thoughts were for Michael”.

The players, on the other hand, are taking their lead from the Boys of ’70, who promised to “give all we’ve got to give for the folks back home” – especially folk on crutches. The question is how they are going to give all they’ve got to give.

There is a growing feeling that it would be better if David Beckham gave a bit less, as all he’s got to give is long balls into the box. “GERRO BECKS BUST-UP,” claims the Sun: “Stars in training clash over too many long balls. Apparently "Gerro” complained to Becks, who then “had a pop back and the pair had a frank exchange over tactics in front of the other squad members”. The paper reports that the coaching staff were “not overly concerned” – and why would they be, given that they are employed by Eriksson as part of his sinister plot to get England eliminated from the tournament?

Meanwhile, the defenders are taking a long hard look at themselves after the set-piece shambles against Sweden. Rio Ferdinand and John Terry hold their hands up in the Star, and Terry promises that “the manager will go through it with us”. That, of course, is exactly what we were afraid of.

“I am not worried about the goalscoring situation at all,” Sven tells the Star, which seems to confirm our fears. With the front-line and midfield now in chaos, he can now devote his energy to ruining the one part of the team that has – until Tuesday, at least – been working properly.

Michael Owen has vowed to be back in Germany on 9 July to collect his medal. Unfortunately, it looks likely to be another Fifa Fair Play gong to add to the collection.

Posted: 22nd, June 2006 | In: Back pages | Comment

The Plot Thickens

YESTERDAY we suggested that Sven Goran Eriksson is in fact an agent working on behalf of an international conspiracy to eliminate England from international competitions. We said we would be watching the Sweden match closely for signs of positive effort by England’s players, and more importantly, their manager.

We didn’t have to wait long to have our suspicions confirmed. A minute into the game, Eriksson’s boffins activated the telescopic studs fitted to Michael Owen’s boots. These gripped the turf like claws, causing the fun-size striker to twist his knee and collapse in agony. As he fell, the studs instantly retracted, preventing the TV cameras from revealing the ruse.

“OW-NO,” says the Star, above a picture of the crocked goal-machine. “Sven’s striker chaos as Toon ace is KO’d.” Sven could hardly contain his delight when asked his opinion afterwards. “I don’t know which knee it is – his right or his left,” admitted the beaming Conspirator-in-Chief. “But whichever one it is, it is not good.”

Eriksson’s squad selection baffled those observers who were not aware of the conspiracy. It included two injured strikers plus Theo Walcott, who won his place in the squad in a sponsors’ competition for children. (When asked about the prospect of Walcott playing, Sven always reacts as if the questioner is mad, and says that the lad is not ready to play in a World Cup.)

Once Jermain Defoe had been sent home, it left Peter Crouch as the only experienced, fully fit striker. Owen’s latest injury and Rooney’s lack of match-fitness now leave England’s attack looking threadbare.

Once Owen had been carried off, England got on with the serious backs-to-the-wall business of scrapping for a plucky draw against a team they have not beaten since the days when Alf’s boys were reigning world champions. It was a heroic peformance, but not without casualties: Rooney off in a tantrum after tiring in the second half, and Rio Ferdinand withdrawn after suffering a groin injury.

When England drew their opening match 0-0 in 1966, Alf Ramsey reassured his players that if they kept a clean sheet throughout the tournament, they would win it. In this tournament too, England fans have consoled themselves with the thought that however badly the team plays, they are keeping clean sheets.

But now the full extent of Sven’s plan becomes apparent. What with all the furore surrounding the strikers, nobody has been paying much attention to the defensive foundations. Perhaps it’s time we did. Half the back four (Ferdinand and Neville) is now injured. Cole and Campbell are not really back to their best after injury. And the previously rock-solid Terry and Robinson both had poor games yesterday. In the words of the Sun’s Shaun Custis, “it looks like we have forgotten to defend as well judging by the second-half shambles.”

As well as conceding two goals, the England bar was struck twice, a shot was cleared off the line, and there was a good shout for a Swedish penalty. “WOE DE COLOGNE,” announces the paper’s back page, and for once this is not mere hype.

But every cloud has a silver lining, and the Mirror has found it. “JOE DE COLOGNE,” it grins, referring to the one England player who showed true class yesterday. It describes Cole’s volleyed goal as “stunning”, and this too is no exaggeration. The paper shines as a beacon of optimism amidst the doom and gloom, and even goes so far as to plot “ENGLAND’S ROUTE TO THE FINAL” on the back page.

That route begins on Sunday, and by tomorrow the England media bandwagon will be up and rolling again, and looking past the group of 16 to the quarter-finals. So before all perspective is lost, it is worth noting a small story about the Ecuador match, headed: “We’ve got nothing to worry about.” The Sun quotes Ecuador’s Aston Villa defender Ulises de la Cruz, who says: “I don’t see any reason why we can’t carry on with a shock against England.”

He may well be proved right – especially if Sven’s exit strategy is also timed for 25 June. But he is wrong in one detail: it takes more than a last-sixteen defeat to shock us, senor.   

Posted: 21st, June 2006 | In: Back pages | Comment

Ghana Go

Portsmouth want Arsenal and England defender Sol Campbell (Sun)

Watford have bid £1.4m for West Brom defender Paul Robinson (Independent)

Portsmouth chairman Milan Mandaric says his club want to sign Benfica’s Nuno Gomes (Independent)

West Ham will bid £4m for Charlton’s Luke Young (Times)

Newcastle United and Middlesbrough are chasing Fulham’s Steed Malbranque (Guardian)

Reading have put in an offer for Ghana defender John Mensah (Express)

Wigan have denied making an illegal approach for Birmingham’s Emile Heskey (Mirror)

Posted: 21st, June 2006 | In: Back pages | Comment

The Hot Seat


French striker Djibril Cisse’s father, Mangue Cisse, says his boy should get treatment for his broken leg in Africa. “He should return to his roots to get his form back and to be at peace with himself. We are Africans and there are things known only to us.”

South Koreans have go the best fans in the world. Having sung and danced throughout their side’s match against France, the supporters then cleared up after themselves. “Thanks to them our cleaners finished two hours earlier than usual,” said a city spokesman in Leipzig.

Ghana has declared a national half day holiday on Thursday so that everyone can watch the team play the USA.

So many people turned on their TVs in Ghana to watch their side play that the country’s gold mines were told to temporarily cut their power usage for fear of there being blackout.

Six of England’s footballers’ wives and girlfriends, the so-called Wags, spent an impressive £57,000 in an hour’s shopping in Baden Baden.


A villain who stole a ticket for Australia’s match with Brazil got a shock when he took his seat in the ground…next to the victim’s husband.

Security staff in Leipzig were amazed that despite all the bag checks and frisks, the French supporters still managed to smuggle a live cockerel into the ground for their country’s game against South Korea.

Gary Neville “entertains” his team-mates by playing Elton John songs on his guitar.

Posted: 21st, June 2006 | In: Back pages | Comment

German Jokers

Quotes Of The Day

“I am a joker but the jokes on the live radio are below the belt and I think I am entitled to seek legal advice” – Germany’s Polish-born striker Lukas Podolski fails to get the German joke

“What’s that all about? Put it this way, I wouldn’t want him up on stage with me” – Prancing Mick Jagger fears Peter Crouch’s robot dance

“In this World Cup one could be forgiven for gaining the impression that the boys are in the business of ‘out-statting’ each other” – Des Lynam delivers reason 1459B on why he is needed at the World Cup

“I’m not saying England play primitive football. Let’s just call it typically English” – German ‘legend’ Gunther Netzer builds bridges

"If they make noise or cheer as they watch, they will lose their monkhoods" – Phnom Penh leader Non Nget tells Buddhist monks in Cambodia to calm down

"It was really difficult for us playing in the midday sun with that three o’clock kick-off" – David Beckham gets in a muddle (BBC)

Puns Of The Day

“Klose encounter” (Mail) Miroslav Klose scores two for Germany

“Woe de Cologne” (Sun) – England are woeful

“Kicked Up The Lars” (Sun) – Sweden’s Henrik Larsson scores against England

“Flipping Ecuador” (Sun) Miroslav Klose does a flip to celebrate one of his goals against the South Americans

“Joe de Cologne” (Mirror) – Joe Cole scores for England

“What a Cole!” (Times) Joe Cole scores again

Posted: 21st, June 2006 | In: Back pages | Comment

The Best Laid Plans Of FIFA & Sven

Sven Goran Eriksson, we are told, is a national hero in Sweden. Indeed, such is the Swedish infatuation and awe for the English game, and so honoured are the Swedes that we have chosen Sven to be our Leader, that many choose to support England against their own country when the two sides meet.

Apart from giving a possible insight into Sweden’s infamous suicide rate, this old chestnut sounds distinctly dubious. It is one of those irresistible self-flattering stories that we love to hear, like the one about every foreign footballer growing up “dreaming of playing at Wembley”.

Well, judging by today’s Sun, one Swede is obviously in the mood for slaying such sacred cows. “OBSCENE,” screams the back page: “Swedish boss lashes ‘greedy Sven.’” The name-caller is Sweden coach Lars Lagerback, who with a name like that should definitely have got the England job. “If I had the same pay, I would be ashamed of myself,” he claims.

The paper points out that Lagerback’s annual £100k salary is the equivalent of Sven’s weekly remuneration by the Football Association. “No one – and I mean no one – is worth that kind of money,” he adds.

We should add that this is not a personal attack on Eriksson, whom the paper describes as “a close pal” of the modestly rewarded Lars. Cheers, Lars.

England fans might take a different view. Many would no doubt be happy to add a dozen noughts to Sven’s salary if he steers the team to a World Cup triumph – or at least gets them playing as if they want to win. The team’s exits from the last two tournaments, when they played as though they were coasting to victory in meaningless group matches, has raised serious doubts as to whether Eriksson is in fact an agent working on behalf of an international conspiracy to eliminate England from international competitions.

The blatant nature of England’s previous failures appears to have unnerved Fifa, which is worried that Eriksson is making the conspiracy too obvious. “FIFA WARN ENGLAND: PLAY TO WIN,” announces the Telegraph. The coded message from the game’s highest body obviously doesn’t mention The Plan. Instead, it refers to the possibility that if Germany finish second in Group A, then England might deliberately not win, in order to avoid playing them in the next round.

If one leaves aside the conspiracy, and pretends that Sven is straining every nerve and sinew to win the tournament, then there are good reasons for wanting to win the group – chief among them being the strong likelihood of avoiding Argentina until the final. But these carefully planned routes to the final are fantasies that rarely come true. The draw rarely pans out the way one expects: unfancied teams can spring shocks and giants can be slain.

As Martin O’Neill argues in the Times, the trick is not to worry about future games, but to concentrate on the here and now. O’Neill is not Mr Anorak’s favourite football man (that honour goes to the fondly remembered Alec Stock – a true gentleman), but he is right about this.

Strangely, his article is placed next to Daniel Finkelstein’s complicated guide to every possible permutation of England’s route to the final. Finkelstein reckons that the best possible outcome for England would be to finish second in Group B, with Germany finishing second in Group A. According to his projection, this would mean a quarter-final against Argentina, whom most people would consider to be the toughest possible opponents on present form. But for some reason Finkelstein reckons this overall route (which would then be expected to serve up Italy or France in the semis and Brazil in the final) would be England’s best chance. He quotes various statistical probabilities, which may or may not be a joke, and appears to be sincere.

As we said before, there is no point in worrying unduly about opponents, and the chances are that you will have to meet the best at some point. Indeed, many of us prefer to play the best teams, because the whole point is to prove yourself the best, not to squeak your way through lucky draw after lucky draw.

But if you must bring it down to probabilities, than the longer you avoid the best team, the more chances there are for someone else to catch them on a bad day and knock them out. And giant-killers are themselves usually culled soon afterwards.

In the meantime, we will be watching closely for signs of positive effort by England’s players, and more importantly, their manager. Anything less than ten goals will be regarded as highly suspicious.

Posted: 20th, June 2006 | In: Back pages | Comment

West Ham & Porkies

Quotes Of The Day

German journalist to T&T midfielder Densill Theobald: “So, Densill, do you miss the beach?”
Theobald: “What are you talking about? I play in Falkirk”

“Goalkeepers never like the ball. The only time they’d be happy is if it was square and heavy” – USA coach Bruce Arena

“I nearly singed Shevchenko when I was playing at West Ham but Lee Chapman was playing well at the time” – Harry Redknapp saves some money

“But don’t forget, we are tiny Trinidad and Tobago and there is no way that the referee (Toru Kamikawa) was going to blow that whistle and disallow the goal” – Trinidad and Tobago defender Brett Sancho says Peter Crouch fouled him for England’s opener

“To go on in the tournament they need to demonstrate some more patience, using Crouch as one option, but not the only option. When they play stronger teams they will need to start using the goods guys in midfield. It’s not criticism just free advice” – T&T coach Leo Beenhakker assesses England’s long-ball game

Puns Of The Day

“Late balls of fire” (Sun) – England leave it late to beat T&T

“Nice to see Roo” (Sun) – Wayne Rooney plays again

“Glee lions” (Sun) – England fans celebrate win

“Through Lions” (Mirror) – England are in the next round

“We’re ThROO” (Star) – Rooney and England move on

“Roo dares wins” (Star) – Rooney again

“Crouching lion, hidden Owen: England win but it’s a struggle” (Guardian – headline as Laboured as England’s performance)

Posted: 20th, June 2006 | In: Back pages | Comment

West Ham & Porkies

Quotes Of The Day

German journalist to T&T midfielder Densill Theobald: “So, Densill, do you miss the beach?”
Theobald: “What are you talking about? I play in Falkirk”

“Goalkeepers never like the ball. The only time they’d be happy is if it was square and heavy” – USA coach Bruce Arena

“I nearly singed Shevchenko when I was playing at West Ham but Lee Chapman was playing well at the time” – Harry Redknapp saves some money

“But don’t forget, we are tiny Trinidad and Tobago and there is no way that the referee (Toru Kamikawa) was going to blow that whistle and disallow the goal” – Trinidad and Tobago defender Brett Sancho says Peter Crouch fouled him for England’s opener

“To go on in the tournament they need to demonstrate some more patience, using Crouch as one option, but not the only option. When they play stronger teams they will need to start using the goods guys in midfield. It’s not criticism just free advice” – T&T coach Leo Beenhakker assesses England’s long-ball game

Puns Of The Day

“Late balls of fire” (Sun) – England leave it late to beat T&T

“Nice to see Roo” (Sun) – Wayne Rooney plays again

“Glee lions” (Sun) – England fans celebrate win

“Through Lions” (Mirror) – England are in the next round

“We’re ThROO” (Star) – Rooney and England move on

“Roo dares wins” (Star) – Rooney again

“Crouching lion, hidden Owen: England win but it’s a struggle” (Guardian – headline as Laboured as England’s performance)

Posted: 20th, June 2006 | In: Back pages | Comment