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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

Over The Roon

Quotes Of The Day

“I have never used my father for nepotism to boost my career” – Serbia & Montenegro’s Dusan Petkovic, son of team manager Ilija

“Wayne Rooney will be fit to play some part in Germany 2006” – FIFA give England fans hope

“The taller they are the harder they fall” – Paraguay’s Roque Santa Cruz on England’s Peter Crouch

“A penalty shoot-out is like Russian Roulette. It is a brutal way and there has to be a winner. We just hope we won’t meet Germany in a shoot-out” – David Beckham looks forward to another painful defeat

“The English know we have always been more successful than them in tournaments. That is instilled in the back of their minds” – Germany’s Jens Lehmann says Germany have the edge over England

Puns Of The Day

Wayne Rooney’s return to fitness:

“Over The Roon” (Mirror)

“Roojoice!” (Mirror)

“Toe news is good news” (Sun)

“Here we toe” (Star)

“World War Toe” (Sun)

“Swede dream” (Star) – Rooney to return for Sweden game

Posted: 8th, June 2006 | In: Back pages | Comment

Poles Apart

It is only in the interests of reporting and context that the Times is forced to mention that line, as delivered by Basil Fawlty to a table of German tourists.

Indeed, the Times is nothing if not thorough and in this era of journalism for all and blogging, it is good to see a venerable old newspaper giving over a section to the scene in which the proprietor of a hotel in Torquay commands his staff, “Don’t mention the War.”

But things have moved on. Now the order of the day is for harmony, and not “two egg mayonnaise, a prawn Goebbels, a Hermann Goering and four Colditz salads”.

The Times says that John Cleese, who brought Mr Fawlty to the world, is a Germanophile who is backing projects designed to foster unity and banish bigotry.

Says Cleese: “I’m delighted to help with trying to break down the ridiculous anti-German prejudices of the tabloids and clowns like Basil Fawlty, who are pathetically stuck in a world view that’s more than half a century out of date.”

Of course the “Achtung! Achtung” headlines of the tabloid press the preceded England-Germany encounters and songs about Ten German bombers are old hat. And we pity those anachronistic types among us who saw Basil goose-stepping in his hotel and laughed at the German guests and not the Britisher’s inability to let go of the past. Shame on you.

But Cleese is hopeful of making us look to the brave new tomorrow, and he’s backing a new song those jingoistic types on the terraces can sing.

Lay down your inflatable spitfires, stop the Escape To Victory theme tune and give full throat to Don’t Mention The War.

The song includes such lines as: “They might have bombed our chipshop 60 years ago/ But a billion pints of lager later, here we go (come on then!).” And: “Bend that ball round the wall Instead of saving Poland we are scoring goals/ After 40 years of extra time and bacon rolls (bacon rolls!)”

It cannot fail. As Wolfgang Ischinger, Germany’s football-loving Ambassador, says, the World Cup aims to “show that the clichés and stereotypes of the old days are no longer relevant”.

And anyone who says otherwise is sad and pathetic and deserves to be taken outside and shot…

Posted: 2nd, June 2006 | In: Back pages | Comment

Footing The Bill

Mistakes are easily made. Had Prince Harry worn a swastika to a friend’s fancy dress party in downtown Munich he would have been fined.

What passes for comedy in these lands will earn you a swift telling off and more bedsides over there.

So anyone walking the streets of Berlin, raising an arm to point out interesting masonry work on such and such a building while rubbing an index finger across their top lip in thoughtful contemplation should take care. Your actions may be misconstrued.

And there is more. The Mirror has printed a handy tear-out-and-keep guide to what various activities in Germany will earn you.

The section is headed “Yob footie fans face list of set fines”.

A breach of the peace will cost you £107. Causing actual bodily harm to another will set you back £850. Being drunk or urinating in public costs you £100, far in excess of the proverbial penny. And dropping litter is met by a fine of £50.

Readers should note that this is not meant to be a price list. Travelling England fans are not to view the list as some kind of menu from which to select the yobbery du jour.

Gangs of lads high on hooch and fuelled by gigantic sausages should not club together and afford their designated representative the ‘treat’ of beating a fan of a foreign team to a bloody pulp.

A price tag of £850 may be reasonable, and no more than the price of a standard ticket to watch Chelsea, but it is bad form to smash people’s faces in.

That said, forearmed is the hooligan who goes equipped to the match, ensuring he has enough cash left over from buying beer, more beer and David Hasselhoff T-shirts to pay off the German judiciary should he get pinched taking a leak in the street.

Lastly, we see that streaking on the pitch carries a fine of £8,000.

Whether or not this represents good value for money depends on timing. Get it right, and you and the crime will pay for itself as you appear on daytime TV and your own website.

Time it badly, say, when David Beckham is all set to take a crucial penalty and the ensuing mass brawl could earn enough fines to bankrupt the country…

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

Don’t Mention Culloden

There will be no Tartan Army wandering about Germany behaving well and doing their best to show that they are not English. The Scots are not a bit like those jingoistic England fans. Well, not when they are abroad and the English are watching.

Scotland will be tuning in to Big Brother when Theo Walcott trots onto the pitch in Berlin and lashes home the winning goal in the final.

The Scots will be trying to forget the English but the English will be remembering the Scots. As the Telegraph reports, the BBC has selected Judas Maccabeus, Handel’s oratorio, for its World Cup theme.

Handel is seen as suitable because the composer was born in Germany and became a British citizen.

But keen followers of classical music will quickly realise that this stirring piece includes a tribute to the Duke of Cumberland – See the Conquering Hero Comes. They and historians will note that he inflicted defeat on the Jacobite army of Bonnie Prince Charlie at Culloden.

Rob Gibson, a Scottish National Party member of the Scottish Parliament, notes the work’s significance. Says he: “How can they possibly encourage people [in Scotland] to support England when we are exposed to symbols of oppression like this?”

We could interject and say that many Scots make a point in major sporting events of not supporting England, going as far as cheering on the Germans in penalty shoot outs against the auld enemy.

But we must let Gibson continue. “At a time when multi-culturalism is being celebrated, I can’t understand how they can be so insensitive. It’s an Anglo-centric view… of the world and of music.”

Hamish Husband, of the Tartan Army, is appalled. He tells the paper: “Normally it takes a few minutes after England kick off for a commentator to start talking about 1966 before I start going off England. This time they’ve done it five weeks early.”

Happily, Hamish, Rob and many other Scots can ignore Handel and stick with Paul Oakenfold’s Big Brother theme tune, and their dreams of a German penalty.

Posted: 11th, May 2006 | In: Back pages | Comment

Putting The Lag In Lager

‘“GOERING. Goering. Gone.” And so another point of Spitfire beer (“The Bottle of Britain”) is poured down the neck of an English patriot.

The other is in the Albert Hall

And there is more. “ALE MEET AGAIN,” says the Star, picking thought its dog-eared dictionary of World War II puns. Spitfire Ale has been “accused of goose-stepping over the mark”.

How so? The Star produces a montage of posters produced by Shepherd Neame, who produce the drink. There’s a shot of Adolph Hitler, a famous non-drinker, and the message “Spot the ball”.

Another advert has free drinking and smoking Winston Churchill giving the “V” for Victory salute and ordering “Two more pints please”.

But now there is something else. Beneath a picture of runners taking part in the London Marathon is the image of Hitler. He is wearing a T–shirt bearing the message: “I DIDN’T RUN THE WORLD.”

This is big news for The star – “Your Official World Cup Paper”. And it has reached the ears of the Germans.

An official at the German embassy in London tells the paper: “This would never have happened under our laws. You would go to prison for that in Germany.”

Putting the lag in lager, so to speak…’

Posted: 29th, April 2006 | In: Back pages | Comment

Uber Alles

‘“YOU’RE the first in my life/ To make me think/ That we might just go all the way…”

And one World Cup

That’s a verse from the official England World Cup song by Embrace. It might sounds like some adolescent teen dreaming of losing his virginity, but it is a football song sure to inspire the lads to score on the pitch.

But the Sun thinks something more dynamic is needed. So it has published its own anthem. It’s based on the theme tune to the TV show Dad’s Army, a series set in World War II.

The song includes the “catchy” lyrics “Who do you think you are kidding Jurgen Klinsmann? If you think we’re on the run…”

Clearly the song is utterly dreadful. But there is better to come. And it mentions the war in more overt ways.

The writer of this tune is Justin Hawkins, lead singer of Queen tribute band, The Darkness. The Sun says that Justin is “horrified” that England’s official anthem ignores our 1945 victory over the Bosch.

“Why can’t we commemorate all those men who gave their lives in the name of freedom in the war?” asks Justin. “And, of course, in this case – to bash The Hun. It’s a national sport.”

Well, if you can’t beat them at football, you can at least out sing them.

So take it away, Justin: “We fought them on the beaches now we’ll pay them on the field. Once again the world will surely yield.”

And then there’s the middle bit. Justin’s chorus is based on the German national anthem. Justin says the word “England” in time to the oompah band’s Teutonic beat.

It is nothing less than inspired. But will it be enough?’

Posted: 27th, April 2006 | In: Back pages | Comment

Joking Apart

‘“WE haf ways of making you laugh,” says the Sun’s headline, a twist on the old German staple. “GERMANS TO SHOW FUNNY SIDE.”

If Germans did humour…

How can the Hun fail to laugh as the Sun’s St George mounts his trusty steed and rides into Berlin?

One of the old enemy even manages to make what may well be a joke. Says German fan Udo Schneider: “The horse would walk into our team.”

Of course, given the current palsied state of the German national aide, Herr Schneider may just be stating a fact.

But while German fans chant “Three World Cups and one world Pope”, Germany’s new ambassador to Britain says that he will prove that Germans have a fine sense of humour.

Wolfgang Ischinger, for it is he, says Germans “love to have parties and they have parties more than most people”, like the Austrians and Swiss.

“The tournament gives us the perfect opportunity to present a new image of our country. This is the year for us to show that the clichés and stereotypes of the old days are no longer relevant.”

No longer relevant? Now he really is joking. Although beating the Germans on penalties would make a welcome change…’

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

Ein Song Fur Europe

‘“ZING VEN YOU’RE WINNING,” says the Star, a finger shoved under its nose as is stifling a derisory snort.

‘Ve von ze Cup’

The paper says that “Foreign Office bigwigs” have told England’s brave supporters to sing songs in German at the World Cup.

Singing in German will, as the Foreign Office advice runs, enable the 100,000 England supporters expected to descend on the land of the Hun to bond with their hosts.

As FO Minister Lord Triesman says: “On our website there will be translations of England football songs that might be a bit of fun.”

But before you look up the German for “You’re going home in a St John’s ambulance”, “Dambusters” and the “Ten Bombers” chant, Lord Triesman says, “There is no need to do anything gratuitously offensive.”

Indeed, there is not. There is no need, but sill we expect that lots and lots of England fans will cause offence.

Still the Sun has a go at following this diktat. “Drei lowen auf einem hemd, Jules Rimet noch glanzendes,” says the Sun, getting into the party mood with a German version of Three lions of a shirt, Jules Rimet still gleaming.

And there is more. “Sie singen nicht mehr” (You’re not singing anymore), “Jetz gehts England!” (Come on England), “Fueen Sie den Schweden ab” (Sack the Swede) and “Sind Sie Schottland in derVerkleidung?” (Are you Scotland in disguise) are all given full throat.

But surely this is all unnecessary. As any English football supporter who has ever witnessed a German crowd in full voice knows, the old enemy often sing in fluent and immaculate English.

There is a real danger that some of England’s more obedient supporters will be the only ones belting out a tune in the German language.

It’s a happening that could lead to all sorts of ramifications, not least of all when other less enlightened England fans mistake these singers for Germans and decide to set about them with inflatable aircraft and fists…’

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

Goering Up

‘IS it pronounced ‘Goering’?

You’re Goering home in ein St John’s ambulance…

We are unsure, and just ask England football supporters to take care when ordering their new “GER-ENG TRANSLATOR” T-shirts, less they invoke the spirit of Nazi leader Hermann Goering and upset their World Cup hosts.

As the Star reports, the “England 2006” T-shirt is available from the Asda chain of supermarkets, and features some key phrases to get the most Europhile England fan understood.

Helpfully, the German phrases are printed on the T–shirt’s back thus giving lads something to study as they queue up for “zehn pints von larger bitte, barman”.

This is just great. And, as the Star says, this mobile, man-sized phrasebook forms just one part of the “wacky products” “hordes of spectators stampeding over to watch the World Cup” will carry before them.

Other items include World War 2 hats bearing the legend “Come On England” – or “Vorld Vor Zwie Hets”, as England’s German speaking fans are wont to call them…’

Posted: 10th, April 2006 | In: Back pages | Comment

We’re No. 1

‘WHEN Wimbledon FC were in their prime, they used to frighten the opposition by taking a radio into the dressing room and blasting our hardcore techno house music.

Vinnie Jones and a dance partner

Vinnie Jones and his team-mates might have hated the din, but they knew that the opposition hated it more. Victory was theirs. They charged onto the field of play – hearts racing at 200 beats per minute – ready to do some damage.

Such a policy might also work for the English national side. Team England are always slow starters in tournaments (and too-quick finishers), and the idea of Sven dispensing with his pre-match whispers to blare out Funk D’Void’s Volume Freak is worthy of consideration.

In Euro ’96, while we sang Three Lions on the terraces, better had the lads stuck on Black Grape’s England’s Irie in the dressing room, a song that features the threatening lyric “Cut the trigger, I fire like this”.

But you can talk and talk and talk and still the FA will produce (How Does it Feel To Be) On Top of the World, the disastrous 1998 song featuring the Spice Girls and Ian McCulloch.

Of course, as Kevin Keegan assured us back in 1982, this time it will be different. This time England will be cheered on by Embrace.

As the Times says, this band have an affinity with the national game. BBC TV’s Match Of The Day uses their song Ashes to spice up the Goal Of The Month competition (“I’ve waited and given the chance again/ I’d do it all the same but either way/ I’m always out played up on your down days/ I left in the right way to start again”.) And the band’s Gravity was used as the theme for the film Mike Bassett: Manager.

Which means that the FA’s search for a song is over. Tom Harold, the FA’s marketing manager, is relieved. “With only 75 days to go until England’s first game, against Paraguay, everybody has been asking who will get the gig. We’d like to think we’ve pulled off something of a coup by bagging such a great band,” he tells the Times.

Sure, the FA would like to congratulate itself. But before the blazers order champagne and secretaries all round, they should consider what it is they hope to achieve by the song.

Do they want the fans to hum the official anthem in their cars and sing it in the ground? Or do they want it to stir the team into a state of rare excitement and passion – and for the Brazilians, Germans and Dutch to hate it?’

Posted: 28th, March 2006 | In: Back pages | Comment

Who’s The Singer In The Black?

‘“ALL across the nation. You can taste the expectation. Finish what we started, England the lionhearted.”


There’s more.

“Every single player (woe oh oh). Holds our destiny (woe oh oh). And they’ll all be heroes on plasma screen TVs.”

Such are the lyrics for the song that could yet become England’s official anthem at this summer’s World Cup. The Sun says that version of Tony’s Christie’s (Is This The Way To) Amarillo is the Football Association’s No.2 choice.

The only thing the blazers at football headquarters would like more is Baddiel and Skinner’s Three Lions. We all now how it goes; and it will need reworking to make an impact. Perhaps the introduction of a bevy of scantily clad FA secretaries would help repackage the tune?

Third choice is a song by a band called Kasabian. The band have already written music for television football shows Match Of The Day and Sky’s Soccer AM.

They have form. They might get the gig. And, then again, they might not.

One other option is to use the Man In Black. The Times says that the late Johnny Cash is achieving a fame of sorts on the terraces at Liverpool.

It seems that Liverpool fans have been humming the tune Ring Of Fire at games. It’s even become a kind of mating call. To check if there are other Liverpool fans in the area, a Scouser sings out “Du, du, du, du, du. Dah, Dah, dah” and waits for the responsive echo.

Of course, Scousers run the considerable risk of sounding like Sting fans, something which should be avoided at all times.

On the plus side, it is an all purpose tune. England cricket fans like it. Ring Of Fire might yet become a universal anthem for all sports.

So let us take a look at the Times and see how the Barmy Army’s rendition. In India to watch England escape to victory, the lads are giving full throat to: “Grit…is a splendid thing/ That’s how…we dealt with Harbhajan Singh/ We…improved our statures/ Defying a ring of catchers.”

There is more. You want more? You sure you can handle it? Ok. Here goes…

“I fell into a baptism of fire/ When Vaughan went home our plight seemed dire/ But I turned, turned, turned/ The series around, The series around.”

Enough? You betcha. It might not be the song that wins the day, but it is the fans’ own chant – at least it was before the Press got wind of it.

And that’s the thing. Whatever the official anthem is, the fans will come up with a better one. It might be an awful song, but it will be their awful song.’

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

They Predict A Riot

‘“I PREDICT A RIOT,” chant the Kaiser Chiefs, Britain’s new and highly praised Oi band.

The Kaiser

And so it was that the English Football Association believed they had found the act to sing the team’s official World Cup anthem.

This time, more than any other time, this time, England would get it right. The team would love it, and back home we’d sing loud and long into the night. But when the idea was put to the group, they shook their heads.

As the Sun reports, the boys have released a statement explaining their reasons for turning down their country in its time of greatest need. It reads: “We have no plans to write the England football team’s Wold Cup song. We are sorry to dispel the myth.”

Back in FA headquarters, the protectors of the national game have taken time out from playing keepy-uppy with secretaries to put their heads in their hands. As the paper says, FA chief executive Brian Barwick is “gutted” by the band’s decision.

A source at the FA says: “It’s a bit of a sickener.” Indeed. “They think it doesn’t fit in with their image.” And that is the image of a band that supports Leeds United and is named after the team former Leeds captain Lucas Radebe once played for in South Africa

But there is no use complaining. The FA must press on and find a band able and willing to provide the musical accompaniment to England’s great adventure. But who?

Sources say McFly could get the nod, reworking their song Home Is Where The Heart Is. Or they could not.

At the time of writing, things are like Team England’s Plan B – up in the air…’

Posted: 16th, March 2006 | In: Back pages | Comment

Hitler Youth

‘“STOP ZIS MENTION OF WAR,” says the Star in its best sitcom German. Too much talk of the war is no good at all. For you, the war is over etc.

A modern German, and friend.

This, of course, is not the paper’s view, but that of Dr Keith Crawford. Yes, that Dr Crawford, of Edge Hill International Centre in Liverpool. That’s the place the Star claims “trains more secondary teachers than anywhere else in Britain”.

What a secondary teacher is, we are unsure, but Edge Hill trains lots of them, and being experts in matters secondary, Dr Keith is ideally placed to talk about the war.

Says he: “For the British, defeating Germany on the battlefield and on the football pitch are comparable national triumphs”. We refer you to the popular ditty ‘Two world Wars And One World Cup (doo-dah, doo-dah)’.

But it must end. Such behaviour is detrimental to good education. As Dr Crawford continues: “Our research shows pupil understanding of Germans and Germany is totally negative from quite a young age.” (At which juncture in the piece the Star produces an illustrative shot of a typical German, who may or may not look like Adolf Hitler, speaking to the dewy-eyed German masses.)

Such a narrow view of a country and its peoples is, as the Star says, damaging the campaign to tackle hooliganism at the World Cup. So it must end.

But Dr Crawford does concede: “We are not suggesting we ignore the obscenities of war.” That would be wrong. It is just that we stop talking about it.

And instead of illustrating stories about Germany with shots of Hitler and his Herrenvolk, we must choose images of other Germans.

Like Eurovision Song Contest winner Nicole, that footballer with the curly hair who got spat at, Hans Tilkowski, Horst-Dieter Höttges, Willi Schulz, Wolfgang Weber, Karl-Heinz Schnellinger, Helmut Haller, Franz Beckenbauer, Wolfgang Overath, Uwe Seeler, Siegfried Held, Lothar Emmerich and Harald Schumacher.’

Posted: 16th, March 2006 | In: Back pages | Comment

Dutch caps

‘IT is not only the English who are unable and unwilling to forget the war. The Dutch are finding it hard to move on.

Never again

To keep the memory alive, they have taken to wearing Nazi helmets, like the ones worn by the Germans who invaded their country between World Cup 1938 and World Cup 1950. Only these ones are orange.

Understandably, modern Germany is unimpressed. Supt Andreas Morbach, the joint head of the German police’s national football intelligence unit, says: ‘The helmets are a potential provocation.” He goes on: ‘It is not nice to have a sports event compared to war and to wear this helmet in such a way is not to cause a joke, it is to cause offence. All references to the war cause unpleasant feelings.’

Quite so. We could not agree. Mentioning the war is arcane, unenlightened and hurtful, even if it our right as free citizens not enslaved under the burden on unspeakable tyranny to do so.

And the Dutch FA agrees. Football’s governing body in the Netherlands, the KNVB, has banned the helmets, saying they are offensive.

‘We don’t see the joke in wearing these helmets and think they are in bad taste,’ says KNVB spokesman Frank Huizinga. ‘A lot is possible in Holland, but we will not accept everything.’

And the ban has not passed unnoticed among the Dutch. As a direct result of the ruling, sales of the helmets have trebled. “We are now selling three times the previous average daily volume,’ says the helmet’s producer Florian van Laar. ‘We are thinking of sending the KNVB a gold helmet in thanks.”

The plastic hats don’t only come in orange and gold. Laar’s company makes them in the national colours of Australia, England, Germany, France and Italy.

And the news is that although they are banned in Holland, the manufacturers claim German police recently informed them they will allow fans to wear the helmets during the games because they were not adorned with Nazi symbols.

As helmet designer Weno Geerts puts it: “Germany should prepare for an invasion.”’

Posted: 14th, March 2006 | In: Back pages | Comment

Ho Ho Jose

‘IF you can gauge your success by the calibre of your enemies, Joe Mourinho is either very successful (fans loyal to the mighty Barcelona hate him) or languishing in the relegation zone (Mourinho says Bryan Robson of West Bromwich Albion has been insulting Chelsea’s players).

Go down, Jose! Go down!

In what is routinely called a strongly worded statement, Mourinho celebrated another functional win by his pragmatic and increasingly soulless looking Chelsea side by moaning and posturing.

By now we have realised that the presence of other teams in the Premier League is an inconvenience to Mourinho and his highly paid team. But – come on – can’t he at least pretend Chelsea are in the same league as these other less worthy sides?

It seems not. Having refused to speak to the press after the match, Mourinho wanted us to dwell on his every word without the inconvenience of a journalist asking him questions and debating his answers. Forget the post-match interview. Be quiet and listen.

The statement reads: “After 57 seconds he [Bryan Robson] was out of the dugout accusing Duff of diving and shouting at the referee and the general trend continued.”

Good job Mourinho was there to be superior. And we got to see just how much better Mourinho is than the West Brom manager when in leading his team out late for the second half, and so further riling his opposite number, he turned away and smirked.

Is there anything more guaranteed to get the general public to look sympathetically on Robson’s tirade then seeing the supposed victim smirk?

Would Mourinho, had he been capable of playing for a good enough team, have smirked at former England captain Robson on the field of play? And, had he done so, would Robson have responded with a post-game statement or something more instant that still managed to speak volumes?

Or, just perhaps – and here we are really fantasising – Mourinho would have done as Chelsea’s Arjen Robben did a couple of weeks ago, and his team-mate Didier Drogba did at West Brom, and take a dive.

In our dream, Mourinho would recover from his grotesque brush with a blade of grass in time to look up at the red-carded Robson and smirk. Or, better yet, Mourinho would be the bigger man and offer Robson his hand to shake. No hard feelings. And no Christmas cards…’

Posted: 7th, March 2006 | In: Back pages | Comment

War Balls

‘THERE’S not long to go before the World Cup gets underway in Germany, and the papers are desperate to avoid any mention of the war.

He’s got the whole world in his hands

Problem is that the war keeps invading the sports stories.

Last week, in an informative and knowing article in the Star on the 95-room Schlosshotel Bühlerhöhe close to Baden-Baden, where team England will be hard at it during the tournament, Hitler made a shock appearance.

“SVEN WE NEED A GHOULKEEPER,” said the headline over a story that the five-star hotel in Germany’s Black Forest is haunted by the spirit of Adolf Hitler.

The Star heard locals say that guests had woken in the night to see Hitler’s “screaming ghost in a ball of flames”.

We don’t want to mention ze var but then neither do we want our brave boys to be confronted by the last word in night lights.

And there’s more. The Sun says that English fans caught goose-stepping, straight-arm waving and rubbing the index fingers under their noses will be arrested.

For purposes of instruction, the paper illustrates its cultural travel guide to Germany with a front-page shot of Basil Fawlty putting considerable effort into not mentioning the war.

This is sensible reporting. Forewarned is forearmed. So, when in Germany, keep your forearms bent at the elbow at all times. If you find yourself struck by a sudden desire to point at something high up, like an airplane, a cloud or David Beckham’s penalty from Euro 2004, use a branch or a small child for the purpose.

There is a strong desire not to offend the hosts. So keen is it that the Sun, pricked by a sense of European brotherhood, feels compelled to tell the German police that their logo looks like, well – you guessed it – Hitler.

It’s as if the Germans are fixated with the man. Will they never let him go? If they’re not letting him run amuck in hotels, they’re sticking his head on a football.

For your education, we’ve reproduced said logo on this page. As the Sun notes, the character wears a military-style cap and balances the world on his finger.

All very innocent. Until you notice the black smudge. As a spokesman for Germany’s National Football Information Point tells the paper: “The position of the black panel is unfortunate if you look at it in a certain way. But it is arguable whether people would think it was Hitler – unless the resemblance was pointed out.”

So lest you think the logo looks like some demented snowman, the Sun points out the image’s resemblance to the Nazi leader (with an arm bent to the point of deformity).

It also hears from a national police spokesman. He adds: “We are very disappointed and cannot understand how somebody could think this smiling face is the dictator.”

Indeed. But facts are facts. One German cop’s happy football is a tabloid writer’s grinning despot.

But at least we all understand that football is just a game. So long as we don’t mention ze var…’

Posted: 10th, February 2006 | In: Back pages | Comment

Inflaming Passions

‘MORE Nazi-tendentiousness in action now as the Sun reports on how “We’ll fight them on the terraces”.

“We”, for the purposes of the article, are England football fans, and we are travelling to Germany armed to the teeth with a squadron on inflatable Spitfires.

Now, to accompany the lone gunners who rise meerkat–like from their seats to strafe the enemy with ack-ack fire are 1,000 fighter aircraft.

Complete with RAF emblems, but not live rounds, the 3ft-long Spitfires are sure to tickle the hosts’ funny bones.

Or so you would have supposed. But no. A spokesman for the German World Cup organising committee is concerned. “You mean Spitfires – like those from the war?” he asks. We fear so. “No. This is not a good idea at all. They might seem a joke but could be seen as inflammatory.”

For sure. But if we are aiming at historical accuracy, we would like to point out that Zeppelins are inflammatory. Doodlebugs are inflammatory. Spitfires are inflatable…’

Posted: 10th, February 2006 | In: Back pages | Comment

No Need For Common Sense

‘AS the nation’s football fans gorged themselves on the ridiculously busy festive schedule, the period was once again peppered with contentious refereeing decisions and unfair dismissals. Inevitably the TV pundits once again railed about refereeing competence. Yet at this time of peace and love, let’s spare a thought for the much-maligned ‘b*****d in the black’.

With Sky Sports employing almost as many state-of-the-art cameras at matches as there are people in the crowd at the Riverside, along with their hi-tech graphics and trainspotter stats, the poor old ref is scrutinised in more detail than an Iraqi asylum seeker. And as well as having to decipher complex new directives handed out by the FA, referees are also expected to implement the laws of the game with ‘common sense’, a vague concept that inevitably leads to even more contention. After all, one man’s common sense is another man’s utter lunacy. Just ask William Hague.

This refereeing common sense is a theme peddled by numerous pundits who, while prattling on about the inconsistent implementation of the laws of the game berate officials who simply go by the book.

Football experts such as Andy Gray are particularly prickly when it comes to referees dishing out cards early into a game. In their self-inflated view early bookings ‘set the tone’ for the rest of the game and therefore players should be given some time to get into the game and no doubt kick the crap out of their opponents without reproach.

Imagine if the police force decided not to arrest as many people in the morning, as it might set a bad tone for the rest of the day? Murder someone before midday and you’d get off with a slap on the wrist.

The football authorities also add to the confusion, continuing to peddle the ridiculous ‘interfering with play’ diktat in terms of the offside rule. Surely if a player is on the pitch he is interfering with the play. Again referees and linesmen are put in a position where inconsistencies are inevitable.

Fulham boss Chris Coleman is the latest manager to appeal for video technology to be used to help referees after the Welshman saw his side succumb to a number of bad decisions against Chelsea on Boxing Day. The utilisation of a Sky Sports-esque technological armoury would without doubt be beneficial to all the interested parties – managers, players and referees. However, one wonders how Gray would feel about having his toys used by the very targets of his criticism.

Let’s face it, the quality of refereeing in this country does need to be improved, and a number of officials need to have their ego’s pruned back a little. Indeed we may never actually like those ‘b******s in the black’, but the fewer grey areas there are for referees to deal with, the better and more consistent their performances will be and the less whinging we’ll have to put up with from the pundits.

? Alan Duffy 2005′

Posted: 4th, January 2006 | In: Back pages | Comment

The Liver Birds

‘GOD-LIKE geniuses come around in football only very occasionally. However, in former Valencia boss Rafa Benitez, Liverpool may well uncovered someone with powers not seen on earth since the days of Jesus Christ.

The soft spoken Benitez may not have been born in a manger or spent his early years on the run from the Romans, yet in turning Djimi Traore (amongst others) into a European champion, he made the changing of water into wine or the raising of Lazarus look like child’s play.

That spectacularly dramatic and unprecedented Champions League victory over the mighty Milan back in May also managed to persuade the previously want-away Reds captain Steven Gerrard to eschew a move to runaway Premiership champions Chelsea and stay in his hometown.

However, with a blank-chequebook in the back pocket of his cashmere coat, Jose Mourinho turned to Michael ‘bite yer legs’ Essien with a nonchalant shrug of his shoulders and the Blues continued where they had left off the previous season.

The self-appointed ‘special one’ along with Chief Executive Peter Kenyon spent most of 2005 like a pair of west London Goodfella’s, paying little heed to the authorities or traditional notions of fair play and provoking the ire of everyone from UEFA to Arsene Wenger.

Wenger, along with United boss Alex Ferguson could only stand and watch as their places atop the Premiership pecking order were taken by the nouveau riche Blues. Shorn of Patrick Vieira, Wenger’s blind faith in pre-pubescent imports has failed to worry anyone at Stamford Bridge. While the arrival of the Glazer family and the departure of Roy Keane has left Fergie angry and confused, accusing everyone of hating United like some paranoid mad old tramp who talks to the pigeons.

Another veteran boss who has enjoyed an interesting year is saggy faced veteran Harry ‘pretty-boy’ Redknapp. The twitchy Cockney pulled off a reverse turn even Johan Cruyff would’ve been proud of, returning to Portsmouth after leaving them for south-coast rivals Southampton less than a year ago. Who says loyalty is dead?

On the international front, Swedish loverman Sven will be sleeping a lot easier at night after being handed a piddly World Cup grouping alongside Sweden, Paraguay and Trinidad & Tobago.

It’s only a few months since English suffered that hideously embarrassing defeat at the hands of the mighty Northern Ireland, yet already the nation’s media have blanked out the Three Lions woeful qualifying campaign and are bigging up England’s chances of lifting the trophy come June.

One player who will be hoping for a decent World Cup will be impish England hitman Michael Owen. His excitement at returning to the Premiership after a reasonable period in Madrid turned to horror when he realised that Newcastle were the only big club interested in signing him. A repeat performance of France ’98 and Owen will be hoping for a move to a club with a chance of actually winning something.

Never one to eschew the chance of a party himself, the great George Best finally stumbled his way past the bouncers at the Pearly Gates leaving Paul Gascoigne to take over the mantle as the nation’s favourite footballing alcoholic.

With the former England idol out of work again after controversially losing his managerial post at Kettering Town, Gazza’s future looks anything but predictable. Maybe Rafa Benitez can resurrect his career, too?’

Posted: 22nd, December 2005 | In: Back pages | Comment

Winning At Last

‘NO-ONE could have predicted that in 2005, Lord Sebastian Coe would once again find himself the toast of the nation. Yet the former Olympic champion’s work in stuffing it to the French and bringing the 2012 games to London surely outshines even his two Olympic golds.

London property developers, politicians and the entire construction industry danced in the streets at the good news in July. And Coe pulled off a second incredible feat by appearing to be even smugger than usual.

(Sadly, the Olympic joy soon paled into insignificance with the horrific terrorist attacks in the capital the following day.)

England’s heroic cricketers also gave us something to cheer about when they finally wrestled the Ashes from the hands of their Aussie counterparts.

Although the ensuing media frenzy – comparing the victory to that of 1966 – may well have been down to one too many Pimms in the newsroom. The comparison would have been apt if the World Cup was played every couple of years and only England and Germany took part.

Still, suddenly everyone wanted to be a paid up member of that ‘crazy’ and ‘mental’ barmy army, wearing khaki shorts, dock shoes and reading the Daily Mail.

Local parks were packed to the brim with youngsters eschewing their Playstations for the satisfying thud of leather on willow. Many others, young and old, took inspiration from Andrew Flintoff, and got on with some serious binge drinking.

Flintoff’s post-Ashes, red-eyed debauchery was cheered by the media – but one wonders if the same treatment would have been given to Wayne Rooney or John Terry.

No doubt many of the barmy army are also regular visitors to Wimbledon’s Henman Hill. This year, however, Tiger Tim was outshone by a new kid on the block in the gangly form of Scotland’s teenage whirlwind Andrew Murray.

The charismatic youngster’s mix of unreserved passion and all-action play was a breath of fresh air for British tennis. His momentous victory over the ageing and morbidly uninteresting Henman in Switzerland signalled an overdue changing of the guard in the domestic game.

In the Six Nations rugby, some more Celts were making waves, with the Welsh side bagging their first Grand Slam since 1978.

However things didn’t go so smoothly for the British & Irish Lions in New Zealand. Indeed, the bizarre double act of Sir Clive Woodward and Alistair Campbell contrived to turn the tour down under into an unmitigated disaster.

No clumsily contrived photo opportunities or self-deluded excuses could mask the embarrassment of it all. In Woodward’s case, the Lions loss is Southampton FC’s gain. Or is it the other way round?

One British sportsperson who did successfully negotiate her way around the choppy waters of the Southern Hemisphere was the ubiquitous Ellen MacArthur. The diminutive Derbyshire yachtswoman bagged herself yet another record, this time for the fastest solo circumnavigation of the globe.

Yet arguably the most memorable sporting moment of 2005 may well belong to the nation’s sweetheart Paula Radcliffe. The sight of our head-bobbing track queen performing her one-woman dirty protest in the middle of the London marathon before going on to win the race was both disgusting and inspiring.

A bit like Chelsea…’

Posted: 20th, December 2005 | In: Back pages | Comment

Board In The Extreme

‘WITH a couple of Olympics gold medals, not to mention the Holy Grail of British sport – a BBC Sports Personality of the year award to her name – our dear Dame Kelly Holmes has decided to jack in the early mornings and niggling injuries and retire from the track for good.

Holmes’ 800m and 1500m victories in the Athens Olympics amounted to Great Britain’s only two individual track golds and with the Beijing games now only two and a half years away, and the London games scheduled for 2012, the race is now well and truly on to find the next generation of British sporting talent.

Ex-army trainer Holmes has herself been busy trying to promote athletics among the nation’s youth and flush out the next Paul Radcliffe, Jonathan Edwards or Denise Lewis. However, no matter how much encouragement children are given to put on their spikes or pick up their javelins, the likelihood is that most kids will still be happier hanging around shopping centres sneering at the elderly, indulging in happy slapping and getting in our way with their skateboards.

So with our once svelte youth now piling on more pounds than Fern Britten at a pie-factory lock-in, maybe the time has come to ditch the traditional sporting fair and focus on the likes of skateboarding and BMX. Admittedly the phrase ‘Extreme Sports’ does make one think of irritating Beavis and Butthead-esque ‘dudes’ high-fiveing each other until their hands fall off.

Yet these ‘radical’ pursuits are now an integral part of our youth culture. And while the thoughts of representing your school in the Discus on a wet and cold Saturday afternoon is unlikely appeal to the cynical adolescent, the chance to show off on a skateboard would inevitably carry with it a lot more street cred.

In Olympic terms, elitist pursuits such as ‘Dressage’ and ‘Modern Pentathlon’ continue to take pride of place in the games, yet, excluding members of the Royal family, just how many of us spend our weekends teaching our horses how to trot properly?

Although maybe once long ago, Dressage itself was considered and underground sport, with bored youths still waiting for the invention of rock ‘n’ roll and Playstations spending their free time hanging around street corners on horseback, practising the ‘leg-yield’ and the ‘half pass’ while off their heads on pink gin and eccles cakes.

The subject of skateboarding in the Olympics is currently a hotly debated topic in the skate community – a positive sign that 50-50’s, ollies and grinds may yet be gracing the games in the not too distant future.

Indeed, maybe we will get to see the kind of teenager currently demonised in the media and slung out of shopping centres wearing their hoodies with pride as they take their place on the Olympic podium. And when you consider that the likes of live pigeon shooting, the aquatic obstacle race and tug of war have all been, at one stage or another, Olympic sports, nothing is impossible.

With Snowboarding and Mountain Biking already accepted into the mainstream Olympic movement and BMX set for its debut in Beijing, the time is surely right for skateboarding to take its deserved places in the Games. And as ‘Extreme Sports’ carry with them more than a faint whiff of drug-taking and illicit activities, they’ll fit right in with the Olympic movement.

Alan Duffy’

Posted: 10th, December 2005 | In: Back pages | Comment

Stop The Clock

‘THE stopwatch is clicking. Alex Ferguson’s career at Manchester United is moving deep into injury time.

Fergie poses for his statue

Of course Fergie will want a few more minutes, as ever he did. But the papers are adamant that time is almost up for Fergie.

“It’s Premiership or bust now for the United boss,” says the Mail’s backpage headline. But that’s not much of a choice. Chelsea are miles ahead in the league. It looks like bust for Ferguson.

The race for the league title is all but over. Ferguson might as well go now, before another season at old Trafford ends without silverware. It might get worse – Ferguson’s reign might end with the club’s debut in the InterToto Cup.

But when Ferguson goes who will replace him? Helpfully, the Telegraph profiles a list of candidates. All the usual suspects are there: Roy Keane, Steve McClaren, Sven-Goran Eriksson and Martin O’Neill.

But the Sun sees a favourite. It’s not a dream team of Phil and Gary Neville. The Sun says Gus Hiddink is the man to restore glory to United.

But whoever gets the job the Sun’s headline seems to say it all: “Your arrogant reign is over.” Ferguson is being given the full hairdryer.

It’s clear that not everyone will miss the red-faced one, not least of all the poor groundsman who has been picking up the chunks of chewing gum Ferguson aggressively tosses to the ground after matches.

Elsewhere in sport, all eyes are on the fight between Audley “Fraudley” Harrison and Danny Williams, the man who beat Mike Tyson when the former baddest man on the planet was making his umpteenth comeback bid.

Somewhat amazingly, all tickets for Saturday’s Commonwealth title about have been sold out. When most sports fans will be glued to the box to see if Darren Gough can move into the latter stages of Strictly Come Dancing, 15,000 people will be sat in the ExCeL arena watching a fight.

The rest of you can watch it on ITV after the X Factor, a contest every bit as important as this bout…’

Posted: 9th, December 2005 | In: Back pages | Comment

Down It Like Best

‘“WHEN I grow up I want to be like George Best,” says the little Geordie lad in the replica kit. And so it is that Paul Gascoigne grew up, kicked a ball and got drunk.

When did it all go wrong, Gazza?

But Gazza missed the important bit about Best’s life. He didn’t get sozzled with a Miss World – he got inebriated in Kettering.


Given that Gazza was Kettering FC’s manager, his training methods must be called into question. Especially when we read that the former England player was once so well oiled he fell out of the team’s bus.

But why did he do it? As the paper tells its readers, Gazza has admitted to drinking before a match in memory of George Best.

Has there ever been a more valid reason to have a drink than in order to salute the man whose liver earned him as many headlines as his sublime ability with the football?

So Gazza drank. And now Gazza is gone. And he joins Harry Redknapp on the game’s sidelines.

Harry didn’t have a drink, although he may well have had a bottle of champagne on ice, ready to pop the cork when he regained his old post at Portsmouth.

But now, as the Express says in its back-page headline: “HARRY’S OUT IN THE COLD.”

The plan was for Redknapp to resign his post at Southampton and take over at Portsmouth. The first part went fine. Harry cleared his desk. The second part has proved to be more problematic.

The Saints demanded £200,000 in compensation for Harry’s defection. Portsmouth’s Chairman, Milan Manderic declined. The Telegraph says Southampton chairman Rupert Lowe was offered a “derisory” £50,000, and an additional £75,000 should Redknapp keep Portsmouth in the Premier League.

No deal. Now asked if Redknapp is on his list of potential managers, Mandaric tells the Express: “No.”

“I’m still hopeful that something can be sorted out but it is looking more unlikely,” says Redknapp.

It’s just as unlikely that Audley Harrison and Danny Williams will take their places in the pantheon of boxing legends.

In readiness for Saturday’s fight, the two British heavyweights have been talking a good fight.

Williams tells the Sun that “Harrison has only fought journeymen”. While the Telegraph’s Sue Mott dubs the bout “Fraudley v Has-Been”.

But even with such an unexciting card, all seats to see the fight have sold out. The bout has been hyped. And the hype has paid off.

As Mott says: “Somebody somewhere has been very clever, and it probably isn’t Harrison or Williams.”

Fighting talk, indeed…’

Posted: 6th, December 2005 | In: Back pages | Comment

We All Love A Bad Boy

‘AS the new 24-hour licensing laws kick in nationwide, the excitement of it all seemed too much for poor George Best. After years of living the high-life and battling with the bottle, the original playboy footballer has sadly drifted off to sporting heaven, no doubt to be greeted at the Pearly Gates by Sir Matt Busby, Duncan Edwards and a bevve of buxom blondes.

Despite the Irishman’s wanton wasting of his own talent, not to mention a previously owned liver, Besty will forever be remembered with fondness by the vast majority of the nation.

Indeed, for the simple act of appearing on Wogan in 1991 and proclaiming that he “likes screwing”, the man deserves respect. We may, according to the press, be witnessing the end of civilisation – what with ‘booze Britain’, ‘yob culture’ and ASBO’s – yet despite the current climate of moral outrage, you can’t escape the fact that we all love a bad boy.

Just ask Gary Barlow, about to go back on the road with a Robbie-less Take That. Maybe if he and not Robbie had cultivated a public penchant for hard drugs and rampant promiscuity, we’d now be referring to him simply by his first name – the ultimate sign of stratospheric success, rather than his cheeky former band-mate. Instead ‘Gary’ could now just as easily mean the dodgy geezer down the road with the go-faster stripes on his Fiat Ritmo.

The final whistle for George Best also comes less than a week after the messy departure of another United bad boy. Shrinking violet Roy Keane still has all his organs in tact, but to Sir Alex Ferguson, the Cork-born star is dead in all but name.

Yet once again, despite ‘Keano’s potent mix of inspirational leadership and alleged pre-meditated violence (just ask Alf-Inge Haaland), this Irishman will forever be viewed with a (grudging) fondness. Nasty and vindictive he may be, yet his outbursts directed at everyone from Mick McCarthy to his United team-mates to the Old Trafford prawn sandwich set, coupled with his rottweiler performances on the pitch have ensured his legendary ‘rebel’ status.

Not surprisingly, Keane rarely indulged in the current vogue for applauding even the most woeful attempt at a pass from a team-mate. And rightly so. This hollow attempt at ‘team spirit’ is the equivalent of an American saying “have a nice day”. (They really don’t give a monkey’s what kind of day you have, but they’ve been brought up to repeat it, almost mantra like, as it apparently constitutes ‘manners’.)

Indeed, maybe sometimes sportspeople can be too nice for their own good. After all, whether we like it or not, sport is ultimately all about winning. And where would the likes of Diego Maradona, Michael Schumacher and, indeed, new United icon Wayne Rooney be without their mean streak?

While the recent cricket pitch–tampering pirouettes of Pakistani golden boy Shahid Afridi and the gymnastic diving of a myriad Premiership glamour boys can never be condoned, there is no bigger turn-off than a goody-two-shoes, on or off the field of play.

Just ask yourself who you’d rather meet for a pint – Michael Owen or Paul Merson..?’

Posted: 26th, November 2005 | In: Back pages | Comment

More Prawns?

‘DESPITE losing their sheen of invincibility in recent weeks, cheeky Latin heart-throb Jose Mourinho and his team of fantasy footballers continue to dominate the Premiership.

However, biting at the heels of the loadsamoney west Londoners are not the usual suspects of Arsenal, Liverpool or even Manchester United.

Instead, it’s Premiership new-boys Wigan Athletic who are giving the champions a run for their bottomless pit of money. Only six points behind with a game in hand, Paul Jewell’s upwardly mobile charges have made light of their first season in the English game’s top tier.

And while their fairytale start to the season may not last too much longer, they’ve given small clubs in the Championship and below a bag full of hope.

However, while clubs in the lower divisions will be looking at Wigan’s success story with a mixture of pride and jealousy, for a certain section of the footballing world the ‘big-time’ is something looked upon with suspicion. For, with success, come the horrors of nouveau fans, cleaner toilets and family enclosures.

Like music fans who only liked the Smiths before “they went commercial”, football’s snobbish elite hark back to the apparent good old days of rampant hooliganism, turd-like cups of half-time Bovril and pissing down a rolled up programme while standing on the terraces.

For these elitists, fans should have to pass a lengthy exam before gaining their place in a football ground at the weekend. It’s not simply a form of entertainment to be enjoyed by the public at large – it’s a private members club. It’s the sporting equivalent of a Star Trek convention. Don’t know your LDV Vans from your Intertoto and you can feck off.

It’s not that the growth in corporate boxes and billionaire owners is not worrying. The financial imbalances in the game do need to be urgently addressed.

However, have a go at the likes at Roman Abramovich if you think you’re hard enough, not the family travelling to Stamford Bridge at the weekend, resplendent in new Chelsea shirts and only partially au-fait with the intricacies of the three-man midfield system.

Indeed, if you are lucky enough to have the time and the money to actually see your heroes in the flesh, don’t sing and cheer if you don’t want to, whatever the ’real fans’ say. You’ve paid your money so do what you bloody well like. Put on your iPod and play Sudoku for the entire 90 minutes if it floats your boat. And bring a whole hamper of prawn sandwiches, too.

Bill Shankly famously said that football isn’t a matter of life and death, it’s more important than that. Well, frankly Mr Shankly, that’s a load of horse manure. Footie may well be an intrinsic part of our culture, it may well provide a welcome home for the pseudo-tribal yearnings of the working-class male, but hey, it’s a game – a game for everyone, whether or not we can recite the entire contents of the 1981-82 Rothmans yearbook.

Alan Duffy’

Posted: 11th, November 2005 | In: Back pages | Comment