Back pages | Anorak - Part 76

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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

Heads & Tails

‘ENGLAND duly lost the Third Test to South Africa yesterday, their first defeat in 14 months and the first such experience for two of their players.

Looking down and out

There was never much chance of England saving the game after the top order had fallen to a combination of poor luck, poor judgement and Shaun Pollock on Wednesday.

But what little hope there was vanished with the dismissal of Graham Thorpe to the new ball and it was only a gutsy effort from the tail-enders (with Steve Harmison top-scoring with an entertaining 42) that prolonged the innings to mid-afternoon.

While the papers line up to criticise England, Michael Vaughan is right to point out that a single defeat doesn’t make this a poor side.

As the Indy points out, Vaughan’s inability correctly to call the fall of a coin has been a massive factor.

The loss of the toss in this match was especially crucial, giving South Africa’s bowlers four days rest to England’s two.

But it wasn’t really the bowlers who lost this match (albeit Steve Harmison is nowhere near the same level at which he was operating last year).

It was a combination of brilliant batting from Jacques Kallis and the correspondingly poor batting from the England top order.

The Indy puts that down to a combination of complacency and lack of preparation.

Certainly, application seems to a problem – in Cape Town, batsmen reached double figures in 16 of the 22 visits to the crease but no-one went on to make 50.

All of which is put into perspective by the picture on the front of the Telegraph’s sports pages, which shows what until just over a week ago was the Galle cricket ground in Sri Lanka.

It’s worth reminding ourselves at times like that that cricket is just a game.

And it is worth reminding people like Robbie Savage that there are people a lot worse off than him.

That’s what Birmingham City chairman David Sullivan does in this morning’s papers, blasting his want-away midfielder a moaner and vowing that the club will not give in to his transfer demands.

Sullivan says Savage’s reason for wanting to move to Blackburn had everything to do with money and little to do with wanting to closer to his sick parents.

“I find his attitude sickening and depressing,” he says.

“He signed a new four-year contract and then, when he was offered more money by a rival club, thought he could ignore it and walk away on the cheap.

“We all have problems in life that we have to overcome.”

And some much bigger than others…’

Posted: 7th, January 2005 | In: Back pages | Comment

An Ideal Husband

‘VINKA Mijovic, 32, from Garas, Serbia did not want much from her husband. All he had to be was to a) be a man and b) be with her. Oh, and if he had a few quid to spare, so much the better.

And wealthy Miodrag Tomovic, 68, fitted the bill. He would never complain. He would never leave her. He would never even raise his voice in anger.

Mijovic had to have him. So she bribed a local registrar to sign a marriage certificate saying the couple had both turned up for the wedding, and bribed two friends to be the best man and a witness to the fake event

She had to bride them because her man had gone and died before he could be taken up the aisle.

She kept the death a secret for two weeks before suddenly announcing it and organising a lawyer to get his fortune turned over to her.

But the scam was exposed after relatives complained to police and the dead man’s signature was found to have been forged.

She’s now been jailed for 18 months.’

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

A Side Under Strain

‘AT the time of writing, England’s chances of saving the Third Test against South Africa are about the same as Abu Hamza carving out a career as a professional juggler.

And with him goes hope of an England recovery

And the news in this morning’s papers is decidedly gloomy for England fans with reports that Andrew Flintoff might not be able to bowl in the next two matches.

The Indy reports that the all-rounder is suffering from a side strain and was sent for a scan at the close of play.

“But,” it says, “bowling injuries in this area do not just go away and they can take up to six weeks to recover from.”

Coach Duncan Fletcher insists that it is just a bruise and is not the result of his being bowled too much.

But he will have been distinctly unhappy at the way in which England’s batsmen have played throughout this match.

If Andrew Strauss was unlucky to be given out lbw, then Robert Key (out stumped) and Michael Vaughan (caught hooking) have only themselves to blame for their dismissals.

There was certainly no need for a video umpire in either case, but in football the big talking point is again today over the use of technology to help referees.

The Telegraph canvasses a range of opinion in the wake of Spurs’ disallowed “goal” at Old Trafford – and predictably it is divided.

But referee Graham Poll comes to the defence of the linesman Rob Lewis, who failed to signal that, following Roy Carroll’s blunder on Tuesday night, the ball had crossed the line.

“His positioning was correct,” he argues, “his fitness enabled him to make up a lot of ground in the short time available and he was unable to say with any degree of certainty that the whole of the ball had crossed the line.”

If so, he must have been the only one of 70,000 people in Old Trafford who was unable to say so with certainty as the ball was at least a yard into the net.

Of course, the person with the best view was Carroll himself – and it is clear that he knew perfectly well that a goal had been scored.

If manager Alex Ferguson is so quick to accuse Bolton’s Tal Ben Haim of cheating in his reaction to Wayne Rooney’s push, then surely he should level the same charge against his keeper.

However, such is the mad world of football that Poll insists that, even if Carroll had admitted that the ball had crossed the line, the referee should not have given it.

In cricket, batsmen may get a lot of stick for not walking even when they know they’ve got a faint nick, but at least the ones who do walk don’t risk getting overruled by the umpire.’

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

It’s All Over

‘FOR almost 40 years, we have pored over TV replays and still pictures trying to work out whether Geoff Hurst’s second goal in the 1966 World Cup final actually crossed the line.

Like many of us, the referee refused to believe Spurs scored at Old Trafford

But you don’t have to be a Russian linesman to know whether the ball crossed the line at Old Trafford last night for what would have been a winning goal for Spurs.

All you need is a very long tape measure to calculate exactly by how much the ball was over the line before Manchester United keeper Roy Carroll scooped it out of his net.

The Telegraph, which includes a picture of the “goal” on the front of its sports pages, estimates that it was at least a metre.

But amazingly that wasn’t enough for the officials – linesman Ray Lewis and referee Mark Clattenburg apparently didn’t see the incident which followed a terrible mistake by Carroll.

Unsurprisingly, Spurs boss Martin Jol was furious.

“It was not just a couple of centimetres over the line,” he said. “It was a metre. It’s a disgrace. We feel robbed.”

More surprisingly, United manager Sir Alex Ferguson agreed.

“Technology should be used,” he said, “and we could start off with the goal-line thing.”

However, lose or draw Manchester United look to be out of the race for the Premiership title with Chelsea now enjoying an 11-point lead over then and a seven-point lead over Arsenal.

Nor does there appear to be any way back for England’s cricketers who have started off 2005 as poorly as they so brilliantly went through 2004.

The batting collapsed for the second time in a week, with England being bowled out for a lamentable 163 on what still looks like a decent track.

And the bowling didn’t fare a whole lot better as South Africa chose not to enforce the follow-on and built up a lead of 462 runs by the end of the day.

The Times thinks it sees an element of safety-first in the decision not to put England back in – but the result is likely to be the same.

As it says, five sessions on a dry pitch should be ample for South Africa to take the 10 wickets needed for victory.

While Ashley Giles explains the two collapses to the Guardian as “we’re not doing something right”, Geoff Boycott is rather more forthright in the Telegraph.

“It was like watching lemmings leaping over the cliff edge,” he says.

Or not quite over the cliff edge, as they say at Old Trafford…’

Posted: 5th, January 2005 | In: Back pages | Comment

Unhappy New Year

‘ENGLAND’S cricketers may have won 11 of the 13 Test matches they played in 2004, but yesterday they needed no reminding that this is a new year.

The arrows of outrageous fortune

And if they are not to start off 2005 with a first Test defeat since the third Test in Sri Lanka 14 months ago, they might need another Durban-like miracle.

A weary looking England subsided to 95-4 on a benign Cape Town pitch last night in reply to South Africa’s first innings score of 441.

And today they will struggle even to save the follow-on unless they can somehow rouse themselves after the best part of two energy-sapping days in the field.

The lost toss (Michael Vaughan’s third of this series and tenth in 12 overseas Tests as captain) suddenly looks even more costly after the exertions of Durban.

Derek Pringle, in the Telegraph, concedes that fatigue has been and may be today a factor in England’s sub-par performance – but it was the late wicket of Andrew Strauss that has really put England in trouble.

The Middlesex opener chopped the ball onto his stumps in the penultimate over last night soon after becoming the fourth quickest Englishman to 1,000 Test runs (after Herbert Sutcliffe, Len Hutton and Wally Hammond).

And with Robert Key out for a duck and Vaughan continuing his worrying run of poor form, England suddenly looked in trouble.

In circumstances like these, they should perhaps look to a man with a very similar winning record.

Phil “The Power” Taylor had before last night won 11 of the last 14 world darts titles – albeit spread not over a calendar year but a decade and a half.

And, although below his imperious best last night, he made it 12 out of 15 in beating Mark “Flash” Dudbridge 7-4 at the Circus Tavern in Purfleet.

“It was the most difficult win of the lot for me because it gets harder and harder as I get older,” the champion told the Independent afterwards.

“I practised very hard for this tournament but you can’t practise the pressure or the atmosphere.”

Something that Robert Key, for one, knows only too well…’

Posted: 4th, January 2005 | In: Back pages | Comment

Paying The Penalty

‘OKAY, so when have we heard this before?

Is it a bird? Is it a plane?

England qualify for the summer’s major football tournament with a brave 0-0 draw at the home of their major rival and come in to it full of hope.

They qualify from their group in second place, a late goal having deprived them of the top spot – as a young teenage sensation captures the world’s imagination.

They draw their first game in the knock-out stage 2-2, but only after a headed Sol Campbell goal had been controversially disallowed (by a referee who is then hounded by England fans).

And they lose on penalties…

Yes, there was more than a hint of the 1998 World Cup about this year’s European Championship failure, even to the pillorying of David Beckham in the aftermath.

Beckham’s fault on this occasion was not to get sent off – if only! – but to cap a series of lacklustre performances with a botched penalty.

The ground moved for the England skipper, not judging by his text messages for the first time that year, and he ended up sending the vital kick into orbit.

The Portuguese, on the other hand, all managed to overcome the shifting tectonic plates and retain their footing, dumping England out of Euro 2004 in the quarter-final stage.

There was a sense of déjà vu too about much of the sporting year as footballers disgraced themselves on and off the pitch, Phil “The Power” Taylor won the world darts crown and England’s cricketers carried all before them.

Sorry? Yes, it may be hard to believe but England’s much-derided cricket side won 11 out of the 12 Tests they have played this calendar year, including a record eight in a row.

This didn’t stop the Sun laying into captain Michael Vaughan in one of the most spectacularly inept bits of sports journalism of our time.

It’s a mad world when Vaughan, as the most successful England captain ever, can get pilloried, while Paula Radcliffe is lionised for failing to complete not one but two races.

Britain’s top athlete broke down in tears two-thirds of the way through the Olympic marathon and followed it up days later by pulling out halfway through the 10,000m.

But that was soon forgotten as Kelly Holmes made history in winning both the 800m and 1,500m, the men’s 4x100m team won an improbable gold and the men’s coxed four snatched a dramatic gold in the rowing.

All in all, it was a successful Olympics for Britain – which meant we got about half as many medals as Australia.

In tennis, Tim Henman gallantly failed to win any Grand Slams, but he did confirm his place as the best British man for half a century by reaching the semi-finals of the French and US Opens.

In rugby, England spent most of the year suffering from a thundering post-World Cup hangover, which they only started to shake off towards the end of the year.

In golf, Europe thrashed the Americans in the Ryder Cup by the kind of margin by which they used to beat us.

And Tiger Woods was knocked off the top of the world rankings by Fijian Vijay Singh.

But, as usual, darts provided the most enduring image of the sporting year when Andy “The Viking” Fordham pulled out of his showdown with Phil “The House” Taylor suffering from heat exhaustion.

Paula Radcliffe knows how he feels…’

Posted: 24th, December 2004 | In: Back pages | Comment

One For Sorrow

‘HOW Newcastle directors must be patting themselves on the back for getting rid of Sir Bobby Robson and bringing in Graeme Souness.

‘I know what we need – a new manager’

Now, at least, the fans will have something to get excited about right up to the last day of the season as they battle against relegation.

Whether Souness will still be there then is another matter – he admits in this morning’s Mail that his “neck is in a noose” after only three months at the club.

And there are no doubt many Magpies fans who would happily kick away the chair after a dismal run that has seen the club slip to 13th in the Premier League.

As usual, he is asking for time – and money to spend.

“In an ideal world,” he says, “my performance at Newcastle would not be held up to serious judgement until the end of next season, but I realise this is probably not a club where you have that luxury.”

Perhaps not, but it is at least a club with some money and the Star says Souness is trying to scupper Liverpool’s bid for Real Madrid striker Fernando Morientes.

It claims he will step in and offer £5m for the 28-year-old during the January transfer window in a move that will infuriate his old club, Liverpool, who have bid £3.5m.

Why Newcastle need another striker we don’t know. We would think that bringing in a couple of new defenders is far more pressing.

And as for Souness’s plea for more time, there are plenty of managers who would be more than happy with the resources at his disposal.

David Moyes, at Everton, would love to have some of the talent that is currently underperforming at St James’s – but news in the Mirror is that he is looking south to strengthen his team.

The Goodison club, riding high in third place in the Premier League, are apparently lining up a £5m bid for Southampton’s James Beattie.

Meanwhile, Arsenal and Manchester United are looking even further south as they prepare to battle each other for the signature of Seville’s new whizzkid Sergio Ramos.

The 18-year-old, who starred in last night’s 1-0 victory at Real Madrid, has been watched by scouts for both clubs and the Sun foresees a bust-up between Arsene Wenger and Alex Ferguson over the £8m-rated player.

England cricketer Andrew Strauss may not be worth £8m, but he has made history by being on the winning side in his first eight Test matches.

No England player has managed that before, and the Express has his recipe for success – clearing the brain.

The opener says he tries to make sure he is thinking about nothing when he is in the middle – a recipe that seem to come rather too naturally to many footballers…’

Posted: 23rd, December 2004 | In: Back pages | Comment

Eye Of A Storm

‘WHY football clubs still hold Christmas parties given the proven inability of players to hold their booze is quite beyond us here at Anorak.

‘You get fined peanuts…’

But it takes some special kind of idiot to do what Manchester City midfielder Joey Barton did at the club’s party on Sunday night.

After a drunken argument with reserve-team player James Tandy, Barton stubbed a lit cigar out in both of Tandy’s eyes.

The Mirror says trouble flared just before midnight at the fancy-dress party in Manchester’s Lucid club.

Barton, who was dressed up as Jimmy Savile, had apparently sneaked up on several of his teammates and burned them on the arm with his cigar.

But when Tandy responded by holding a cigarette lighter to the 22-year-old’s T-shirt, Barton erupted and pushed the cigar into the teenager’s face.

“As his victim screamed in pain,” relates the Mirror, “Barton is understood to have realised the severity of what he had done and attempted to apologise.”

Tandy, says the Mail, was taken to Manchester’s Royal Infirmary where he was treated for burns to the eyelid but is unlikely to suffer lasting damage.

Manchester City insist that it was an accident – but have nevertheless fined the player £110,000, or six weeks’ wages, for gross misconduct.

That is more than double what the Spanish FA were fined by Fifa for the racist chanting at the recent friendly against England.

And the Sun is not alone in thinking the punishment “feeble”. Making monkey noises at England’s black players, it seems, is worth peanuts.

No such problems in South Africa where England’s cricketers are seen celebrating their eight Test win in a row – the best winning streak in our 127-year history.

But as the Mail salutes England run machine Andrew Strauss, captain Michael Vaughan is far from satisfied.

“We haven’t played to the standards we’ve set ourselves,” he says.

“It’s very hard to play a 100% game, but there were periods where we were quite shoddy and that mustn’t happen again.”

The second Test starts in Durban on Boxing Day, where England will be aiming to make it nine wins on the bounce.

But they have a long, long way to go to match the Australians’ record of 16 Test wins in a row…’

Posted: 22nd, December 2004 | In: Back pages | Comment (1)

Eight In A Row

‘WHEN the papers went to bed last night, England’s cricketers were on the brink of a record-making eight consecutive Test match win.

Handy Andy

We can now happily report that they achieved that win this morning with hardly any fuss, courtesy mainly of a brilliant unbeaten 94 by Andrew Strauss.

However, it is Glamorgan paceman Simon Jones who takes centre stage in this morning’s papers after his four wickets that blew away South Africa’s batting resistance.

The catalyst for the collapse, which saw the hosts slip from 201-4 to 229 all out, was a brilliant catch by Jones to dismiss captain Graeme Smith.

He then came on and trapped Jacques Kallis lbw before removing three members of South Africa’s lower-order in quick succession.

“When the going gets tough, the Taff gets going,” the Mirror says of the Welshman’s performance.

“This was the day,” it continues, “when the Boks were rocked by the bionic boyo and had trouble keeping up with the Joneses.”

However, as the Mail acknowledges, the performance of Andrew Strauss has been crucial in the match.

He was the one who steadied England’s nerves after losing Marcus Trescothick first ball and Mark Butcher for nought.

Not only has he set a record by becoming the first batsman ever to score a ton in his first Test against three different opponents, but he now averages over 50 with the bat since he was called up at the beginning of the summer.

All of which takes our attention away from football for a while.

But the day’s headlines are these:

West Ham want to persuade Gordon Strachan to return to football in place of manager Alan Pardew (Mail).

Real Madrid want first refusal on Steven Gerrard in return for a cut-price Fernando Morientes (Mirror).

Manchester United have challenged Malcolm Glazer to make a formal offer for the club (Express).

Struggling Blackburn Rovers have made a £2.2m bid for Birmingham’s Robbie Savage (Star).

And Nicolas Anelka was punched by a boozed-up fan at Manchester City’s Christmas party (Sun).

Presumably not the same fan who squared up to Rio Ferdinand at United’s Christmas party the night before…’

Posted: 21st, December 2004 | In: Back pages | Comment

Sloppy England

‘ENGLAND’S cricketers may well be more professional than ever before, but they are still notably flabby round the middle order.

Caught in a trap

And so it is as we read the Independent’s back page story that tells how once more England have slumped in the middle.

True, a lead of 88 runs after one innings apiece in the first test against South Africa is none too shabby, but it should have been so much more.

Michael Vaughan’s side – who have won 10 of their last 11 Tests – were well placed to take a commanding lead when they lost four wickets for 12 runs in the course of a mere 15 balls.

This is pretty dire stuff, and took some gloss off a day when, as the Times says, Andrew Strauss became the first batsman to score hundreds against the first three Test opponents he has faced.

But as “sloppy England” (Times) and “careless England” (Telegraph”) allow the Proteas back into it, the Times spots a far rarer sight.

Yes, that is Sol Campbell, Arsenal’s mountainous centre back, lumbering up field and then launching a shot from a full 30 yards into the Portsmouth net – an event viewed over no fewer than five stills – and so giving the Gunners a hard-fought win over a spirited Pompey.

While Campbell ponders retirement – well, do you think he can do it again? – the Telegraph hears a few words from a more prolific striker of goals, one Eric Cantona.

MUTV, the in-house TV channel for Manchester United, is usually a bastion of sycophancy, hype and preaching to the converted. But yesterday it got more interesting. It went X-rated.

No live spit-roasting – not yet – just an interview with an old flame.

In a live interview on the station, Cantona offered viewers the delightful phrase “**** your mother”.

Asked whether he respected other people, Cantona was explicit in reply.

“Of course I respect everybody,” said the old trawler fisherman. “Any time I had a problem it is because people don’t respect me.

“I have to feel I am important. If I feel I am important, I don’t answer people, even if they insult me. They can say ‘**** your mother’ and I would say nothing because I am an example.”

An example of what is not specified. But answer in the form of a poem to the usual address…’

Posted: 20th, December 2004 | In: Back pages | Comment

Keeping Up Appearances

‘SINCE much of today’s version of football has more to do with celebrity than any ability with a ball, we turn first to the Mirror and “THE BADVERTS”.

One and a half twists with pike

And it’s bad news for David Seaman, the former England goalkeeper whose apparent mid-life crisis was manifest in his ponytail.

Advertising industry magazine Campaign has voted the Curry’s advert, in which Dave advertises electrical products, the worst ad of 2004 to feature a famous face.

The Yorkshireman was singled out for his “woodenness” in the role, a quality that allowed him to push David’s Beckham’s adverts for Gillette razor blades into second place.

“After an eternity of the same old drivel,” writes the magazine, “why can’t they come up with something better?” Perhaps next time, Becks should be shown shaving his sack, crack and back, as he is rumoured to do.

Such a sight might not be to everyone’s taste, but seeing smooth Dave cannot be worse than watching the behaviour of racist football Blackburn Rovers fans Shaun Baxter and Andrew Roberts.

We’d like to show you their faces, as would the Mirror, but on the way to and from court, they covered them up behind scarves and woolly hats, in a way they might like to imagine makes them look like gangters, or berks.

But the happy news is that we can tell you that the two losers have been banned from going to football matches for five years, having been found guilty of hurling racist insults at Birmingham City’s black player Dwight Yorke.

And the paper doesn’t stop and moves on to highlight Stephen Marsh and his boy, er, Stephen Marsh, two Portsmouth fans whose crushing lack of imagination caused them to scream racist abuse at their team’s own goalkeeper, Shaka Hislop.

They pleaded guilty to racially aggravated harassment and affray and will be sentenced later.

But – hold on! – Marsh Junior cannot racist, because as he is reported to have told a policeman at the time of his arrest that “he knew a coloured fellow”.

Well, if it works for Spain’s coach, Luis Aragones – who even says he’s eaten at the same table as black people – then why not give that line of defence a go?

Over in the Times, Arsene Wenger is talking up the £15,000 fine he’s been handed by the FA for his comments about Manchester United’s Ruud Van Nistelrooy.

In saying “’We know how van Nistelrooy behaves; he can only cheat people who do not know him well”, Wenger lined himself up for trouble.

And he got some – albeit a punishment that adds up to far less than a week’s wages.

Or course, the Times is right and he had to be censured – anything less that an official reprimand would have been tantamount to agreeing with the notion that the Dutchman does not play fair.

And we cannot have that.’

Posted: 17th, December 2004 | In: Back pages | Comment

Close Of Play

‘GOODBYE, cricket, you were a nice way to spend the afternoon. But now you’ve gone to Sky TV in a four-year deal worth in excess of £200m.

Richie’s been bowled a real ripsnorter

The Guardian brings the news that under the terms of a new deal for the sport, between 2006 and 2009, you’ll only be able to watch live cricket on satellite TV.

The money is good – and it’s hard to blame Channel 4 for not bidding more cash to retain the rights to broadcast the sport.

Especially since the report quotes a source as saying: “You can put a black-and-white movie on at a fraction of the cost and get the same audience and advertising.”

But cricket is the national summer game – and remains so despite the best efforts of an elongated football season.

So, we have some sympathy with Brian Close, a former England captain, who says that this deal will prevent many from learning about the sport.

However, highlights of the day’s play will be shown on Five, so allowing many to catch up on events, and perhaps give Richie Benaud something do to after Channel 4 pulls stumps.

Five has already shown that it can broadcast sporting events few others want – it’s not everyone who will know that last night the channel showed Middlesbrough progressing into the latter rounds of the Uefa Cup.

The Star leads with Boro’s fine 3-0 win over a decent Partizan Belgrade side, a result which meant Steve McClaren’s team won their group.

Congratulations to them. And best of British to Tony Adams, who has just got married for the second time.

This in itself is no big news story – former and current footballers get married all the time.

But what catches our eyes is the identity of his good lady wife, the lovely Poppy Teacher, who just happens to be a “whisky heiress”.

How wise it is for a reformed alcoholic to marry into booze we are not qualified to say, but there it is, and we’re sure the great-great-great grand-daughter of whisky firm founder William Teacher will make Adams happy.

Elsewhere, another who has worn the Arsenal colours is speaking out – Jose Reyes is telling the Sun that the Gunners can beat everyone.

Here is one of those non-stories which seem to operate on a rotation system – one day a Manchester United player talks up his team, then a Chelsea player does the same, then a Liverpool player and so on.

The only way this will ever become a real story is when a Spurs player starts saying his team are great and a paper like the Sun actually takes serious notice.’

Posted: 16th, December 2004 | In: Back pages | Comment

The Wright-Phillips Stuff

‘IS Shaun Wright-Phillips worth £25m? No, he is not. Of course, if someone is willing to pay the sum the Mail says Manchester City have put on their star turn’s head, then more fool them.

But whose shirt will he put on now?

Only, Arsenal and Chelsea, who are both said to be keen on the player, are not fools.

Indeed, one of the few teams that does pay over-the-odds for players is City – and, since they already have Wright-Phillips, the market is somewhat reduced.

But what City really mean, as their chairman John Wardle says, is that the club have no desire to sell their most exciting player.

“He is the heart and soul of this club,” says Wardle, “and we believe his heart and soul is in the club.

“He recently signed a four-year contract and we expect him to be here at the end of it and beyond.”

And the moon is made of a soft creamy cheese, Robbie Fowler and Steve McManaman are at City to challenge for major honours and Nicholas Anelka loves playing for Kevin Keegan.

Wardle would do well to consider the case of one Kieron Dyer, the man who was to have made England world champions a few seasons back.

Back when Dyer was hot – and not the petulant brat he has become – Newcastle demanded a massive fee for him when Manchester United came calling.

Back then, Dyer’s Newcastle were talking big – these days they’re downsizing.

Indeed, things are now so bad that, the Mirror says, the club’s manager, Graeme Souness, has cancelled Christmas.

The players had been due a knees-up in Scotland, but Souness is so worried about his team’s lack of form, so he’s ordered them to partake of a quiet drink instead – and preferably water.

“They had planned to go to Edinburgh, but I’m not having any of that,” says Souness. “Word would leak out where they were going and all sorts of people would be up there waiting for them.”

Whatever can he mean? Surely, Souness can trust his squad of well-paid, highly-trained, professional sportsmen to behave and not give into the temptations of a few celebrity shaggers and some cocktails.’

Posted: 15th, December 2004 | In: Back pages | Comment

Singing The Blues

‘REMEMBER that dream we had yesterday, the one about games of football finishing with the final whistle? Well, dream on.

”No, no, not the naughty boys’ nets”

It’s another slow news day in football land, and that means more nonsense about the Arsenal-Chelsea match.

And today it’s the turn of the Blues’ keeper Petr Cech to chip in with his comments about referee Graham Poll.

“Poll has cheated us,” says the player. “Maybe he is an Arsenal fan or it was just his failure… The referee presented Arsenal with a goal.”

And then we turn to the Express and hear that Chelsea fans have been accused of hurling racist abuse at Arsenal’s Patrick Vieira.

The offensive song – “Vieira, he comes from Senegal, his mum’s a cannibal” – is not very clever, although cannibal does have three syllables, which among Chelsea’s traditional legion of grunting fans is an impressive haul.

And Leo Mann of Kick It Out, the anti-racism group, says the chant is “quite obviously racist”.

“I am sure many Chelsea supporters were disgusted,” he added, “and I would urge supporters to come forward to ensure the morons get what they deserve.”

Like a clutch of talented international black players of their own and a Jewish owner. How the old guard at the Bridge must cry!

Meanwhile, a football match was played last night, and the result was a 1-1 draw between Fulham and Manchester United.

United had been winning, as the Sun says, and then they were not. So, given the unfavourable nature of the result to United’s cause, expect to hear lots of bleating, whining and moaning about that in the coming days.

Over in the Telegraph, the lead story is about a shambolic defeat for England’s cricketers in South Africa, as Michael Vaughan’s side lost by seven wickets to South Africa A.

“It’s a slight worry that we’ve been beaten convincingly by South Africa A,” says Vaughan, “but if we play like that over the next few weeks we’re going to get one hell of a surprise.”

That it should be a surprise that England’s touring side get thrashed says much about how far the team has come and the expectation that now surrounds it.

Not for nothing were the team ordered to spend some time after their defeat in what the paper calls “the naughty boy nets” – a phrase that, to our mind, contains more than a hint of public school boy perversion.

Which can only be good for the game’s grass roots…’

Posted: 14th, December 2004 | In: Back pages | Comment

Holmes’ Place

‘ENTER with us into a dream.

”So, Kelly, did you think it was a goal or not?”

There are two big teams playing a game of football. After 90 minutes, the final whistle sounds, the players collect their cheques and then go spit-roasting. That is it.

Now wake up and see the Mirror, on which we have the headline “POLL POTTY”.

It seems that referee Graham Poll, aka The Thing from Tring, in some way erred in allowing Thierry Henry’s quickly-taken free kick to stand in yesterday 2-2 draw with Chelsea.

How it can be “controversial” (Mail) to take advantage of your opponent’s foul play is beyond most of us – especially when we read that Henry said “please” to the ref in the prelude to his opportunist strike.

But still we have the papers banging on about Poll, and hearing from Chelsea manager, Jose Mourinho, who is always too keen to give the tabloid hacks something to scream about.

So, we get the Sun’s “WE WERE CHEATED” lead sports story, in which the increasingly trying Mourinho moans long and loud.

“I am more than unhappy,” says he. “Unhappy is a nice word. I can’t say the word I hear in my head and feel in my heart. I can’t say it. But the free-kick was unbearable.”

We are no mean linguists here at Anorak Towers, and suggest that the word Mourinho cannot bring himself to voice is “Goal”.

But he should be happy with winning a point at Highbury, which means the Blues are five points above the reigning champions and four points above a resurgent Everton.

Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger will also be happy, having been named as top coach at the BBC Sports Personality of the Year awards.

As the Mail reports, Wenger’s team – the so-called Invincibles – were pipped to the title of top team by the Britain’s Olympic coxless fours.

At this juncture, we’d like to mention how being a sports personality is something of a contradiction in terms, but we are stopped by the realisation that here at least is one moment when football is not the dominant force.

And if our eyes do not deceive us that is Kelly Holmes – a non-crying female athlete – taking the prize for being the biggest personality in the country’s sporting life.

Given the coverage given to Jose Mourinho’s moan or Wayne Rooney’s spots, it’s nothing less than a marvel that anyone outside football wins anything ever.

Although England’s cricketers are proving the point, as they slump towards defeat against South Africa A.’

Posted: 13th, December 2004 | In: Back pages | Comment

Coming Or Going?

‘NEVER let is be said that sports hacks don’t have a clue what they’re talking about.

That’s enough stretching, now for the pies

When the Star insists that Steven Gerrard will quit Liverpool in the summer, with Chelsea and Real Madrid leading the bidding for the midfielder, it does so on hard evidence.

It knows the 24-year-old’s mind and it knows the fact that the Reds are already 15 points behind Chelsea in the Premiership is “bugging” him.

But when the Sun says that there’s no chance that Gerrard will leave the club he has supported all his life, it also knows what it’s talking about.

It has Liverpool chief executive Rick Parry as a source, who tells the paper: “There is no chance of Stevie going in January. That just won’t happen. Our intention is that we will never let him go.”

Parry bases that confidence on his belief that Liverpool can satisfy Gerrard’s ambitions as a player.

And, if Gerrard’s ambitions are to battle it out every year for fourth place in the Premiership, narrowly squeak through the opening phase of the Champions’ League and occasionally win the Carling Cup, then we have no doubt he is right.

But the Premiership this year appears to be between Arsenal and Chelsea, whose clash on Sunday dominates the back pages.

And in the Express we hear from The Tinkerman himself, Claudio Ranieri, who says Chelsea’s current success is all down to…him.

“If I’d stayed at Chelsea this season, in all probability we’d have won the league,” he said.

“We were ready. I was the one who told Roman Abramovich to sign Didier Drogba and it was my idea to sign Arjen Robben.”

But while Drogba is mouthing off over in the Sun, claiming that Arsenal are scared of the Blues, the Gunners have a different problem in the Mirror.

It claims that Arsenal’s two keepers are at war and that Jens Lehmann has refused to support Manuel Almunia on the training ground since the Spaniard took his place in goal.

A source says the two used to get on well until Arsene Wenger preferred Almunia for last week’s game against Birmingham.

“Ever since then, Jens has gone out of his way to make things difficult,” he says.

When Marcus Trescothick goes out of his way, things seems to get difficult of their own accord for the England opener and vice-captain.

And the papers are this morning mulling over why it is that the left-hander boasts a Test batting average of 53.93 at home and only 32.84 away.

Banger, as he’s known, has made just two tons in his 26 matches overseas compared with six on his 28 matches at home.

And, says the Mail, he has followed Mark Butcher’s lead and taken up yoga to try to address the problem.

So, if you see Trescothick going into the Downward Dog during next week’s first Test against South Africa, you’ll know why…’

Posted: 10th, December 2004 | In: Back pages | Comment

Stevie Wonder

‘SO, all four English clubs have qualified for the next stage of the Champions’ League – but it is Liverpool who take the plaudits this morning.

The man in red

Having fallen 1-0 behind to Olympiakos at Anfield last night, the Reds needed to score three times to keep their European dreams alive.

And in a pulsating second half they did just that, victory capped by a 25-yard screamer from Steven Gerrard, which the England midfielder describes as the best goal of his life.

“Stevie Wonder” let fly in the last few minutes to cap what the Mail describes as “one of the greatest European nights in the history of the famous stadium”.

And it was a goal which the Star says has boosted hopes of him remaining at Anfield.

“Did I ever think we were down and out? I would be a liar if I said no,” he admitted afterwards. “At times I thought that scoring three goals against them would be a mountain to climb.

“My goal was the most important one I have ever scored for Liverpool and I am just glad for the fans that it has taken us into the last 16.”

There Liverpool will either meet one of the three Italian qualifiers – the two Milans and Juventus – or Bayer Leverkusen or Lyon.

Despite topping their groups, Arsenal and Chelsea looks to have a harder draw – they could meet Real Madrid or Barcelona, Bayern Munich, Werder Bremen or one of Porto and PSV.

One set of fans who are not so happy this morning are those at Portsmouth.

Pompey’s best-known fan John Westwood tells the Sun that Harry Redknapp has knifed supporters in the back by joining bitter rivals Southampton.

“What he’s done is unbelievable,” he says. “One minute he says it’s hard leaving the best fans in the country, then he’s knifing us in the back.

“He knows how much the clubs loathe each other, so to go there as manager beggars belief.”

What kind of loyalty Redknapp is supposed to owe to Pompey or his former chairman Milan Mandaric we don’t know, but there is little sign of the row dying down.

In fact, it’s likely to get worse before it gets better as the Mirror announces that Redknapp intends to try to lure Kevin Bond, his No.2 at Fratton Park, to St Mary’s.

No such problems in South Africa where England’s cricketers got their tour off to a perfect start with a comfortable win against a Nicky Oppenheimer XI.

The only clouds were the ones overhead and the question of who should bat at No.3 in the first Test.

Mark Butcher is back to full fitness, but Robert Key did his case for retaining the spot a lot of good with a run-a-ball 87 in an opening stand of 167 with Marcus Trescothick.

And cricket’s own Stevie Wonder – Steve Harmison – showed his class with seven overs for just eight runs…’

Posted: 9th, December 2004 | In: Back pages | Comment

Saint & Sinner

‘HARRY Redknapp is to make a “sensational” return to football management by becoming the new boss at Southampton, the Sun exclusively reveals this morning.

For whom the chimes toll

What? You knew that already? You, like us, read it in yesterday’s Express?

Okay, but today’s a different day – and we’re pretty sure this is the first time the Sun has exclusively revealed it.

Indeed, so exclusive is it today that it is billed as a Sunsport Soccer Exclusive (which is admittedly a better tagline than Follow-Up Of Another Paper’s Story).

The Sun does at least have a picture of Harry Redknapp (apparently taken yesterday) deep in conversation with Lawrie McMenemy.

McMenemy, we should remind you, is a former boss of Southampton (in those muddy pre-Nick Hornby days) – and the fact that he was talking to Redknapp is confirmation enough for the Sun.

And for Portsmouth director Terry Brady who is of the opinion that such a move “really would be the highest betrayal possible”.

Before Judas has had a chance to open his mouth to protest, Brady continues.

“I find it unbelievable,” he says. “The board would feel let down.”

Of course, there are those who might venture what was truly unbelievable was that Pompey should have forced Redknapp out after two and a half highly successful years in charge.

From saints to sinners – and the Mail focuses on Arsenal keeper Manuel Almunia, at fault again last night during the Gunners’ 5-1 thrashing of Rosenborg.

The paper says the “gaffe-prone” Spanish keeper is turning into an almighty headache for manager Arsene Wenger – and is now a doubt for Sunday’s crunch match against Chelsea.

“I’m a great believer in Almunia’s potential,” Wenger said after the match, “but at the moment he is playing under so much pressure that he has not really been himself.

“It has caused a national debate, but it has been very difficult for him to come into a team like this.”

The result, however, is that Arsenal qualify for the next stage of the Champions’ League as unbeaten table-toppers, while Chelsea went down 2-1 to Porto – only Jose Mourinho’s second defeat since taking over at Stamford Bridge.

But yet again the Mirror says the match was marred by monkey chants directed at Chelsea’s Didier Drogba and William Gallas.

“The chanting came from several corners of the ground,” it says, “and Chelsea fans tried to drown it out with their own chants in favour of Mourinho – only for the abuse to resurface later in the match.”

Truly, it is a strange world when Chelsea fans are being held up as paragons of virtue…’

Posted: 8th, December 2004 | In: Back pages | Comment

Fawlty Manuel

‘WE don’t know how well Arsenal’s Spanish goalkeeper Manuel Almunia speaks English, but we’d advise him not to practise by reading this morning’s newspapers.

Is a hamster?

If he does, he will discover that the club’s whole season – not to mention the small matter of £30m – rests in his not-so-safe hands.

That’s certainly the verdict in the Sun, which has nicknamed the man who has been asked to replace Jens Lehmann “Fawlty Manuel”.

It says the 27-year-old will be between the posts for tonight’s crucial Champions’ League match against Rosenborg and at the weekend for the Premiership clash with Chelsea.

And at least one ex-Arsenal keeper is not enthralled at the prospect.

David Seaman tells the Mail that Lehmann is unlucky to miss out.

“Jens is a fantastic keeper,” he says. “He deserves another chance. He has made a few mistakes, but on form he deserves to be first choice.”

Chelsea have already qualified for the next round of the Champions’ League, but they face problems of a different sort in Portugal.

The Star says Porto have refused to step up security for former boss Jose Mourinho, who has been the target of death threats on his return to the club he led to European Cup success last year.

However, Chelsea have apparently provided not one, but five, bodyguards for their boss, who also failed in a legal bid to have Helder Mota, a member of Porto’s fanatical Super Dragons supporters’ group, banned from the game.

Mota, who spat at Mourinho when the clubs met in September, claims the Chelsea manager had an affair with his wife and has said he will be a dead man next time he went to Porto.

Meanwhile, Aston Villa (currently in sixth position in the Premiership) could be about to lose manager David O’Leary.

The Star says the pig-faced manager is ready to walk out on the club if his new contract and the future of his backroom staff aren’t sorted out immediately.

Southampton, meanwhile, are hoping to lure Harry Redknapp in what the Express says would be “a dramatic south coast managerial switch”.

Redknapp resigned from the Saints’ bitter rivals Portsmouth a fortnight ago, but was last night said to be locked in talks with Rupert Lowe about a swift return to action.

Saints fans will be glad to know that Glenn Hoddle will not be returning to the club he abandoned.

The former England manager has taken over from another former Saints boss Dave Jones as manager of Wolves.’

Posted: 7th, December 2004 | In: Back pages | Comment

Copping The Flak

‘EVERY player must wish they could enjoy as good a slump as Thierry Henry.

Haway the girls

The Arsenal striker scored twice at the weekend to cement his position as the Premiership’s leading scorer – but still the sniping goes on.

And it will get worse if Arsenal fail to beat Rosenborg tomorrow night and make an early exit from the Champions’ League.

But Henry is ready for any flak that may come his way.

“If the team don’t win, I know I will be criticised no matter how I play,” he tells the Express. “I will still sleep at night. I will never change my place for anything.”

And nor, one suspects, would Arsenal after Henry scored his 15th and 16th goals of the season in a 3-0 win against Birmingham.

The same may not be true of Steven Gerrard – the Sun says the Liverpool midfielder could be on his way to Chelsea in a £30m deal.

Rick Parry, the Reds’ chief executive, said he wasn’t sure that the club could hang on to their star player.

“What Stevie craves is success, like we all do at the club,” he says. “If we win silverware, everyone is pleased. If we do that, we’ll keep our best players.”

What silverware Liverpool are likely to win this season we don’t know.

They are a whopping 15 point behind Chelsea in the Premiership and are on the brink of an early exit from the Champions’ League.

Their only hope of success could be the FA Cup, the third round draw of which was made yesterday, or the rubbished Carling Cup.

Liverpool will be pretty happy with their away draw against Burnley, but not as happy as non-league Yeading who are pitted against the mighty Newcastle.

The Mail shows the reaction among the Yeading players to the draw, which will also see non-league Exeter travel to Old Trafford.

In fact, all 20 Premiership sides have been drawn against lower league opposition – but it is Ryman League side Yeading (nicknamed The Ding) that attract most of the headlines.

And the most interesting thing that the papers can unearth on the side is that their 3,000 capacity ground The Warren was used for some of the scenes in the movie Bend It Like Beckham.

With Beckham’s form of late, that might not be enough to help the minnows pull off what would be one of the greatest Cup shocks of all time.’

Posted: 6th, December 2004 | In: Back pages | Comment

Five Alive

‘EVER since Ron Atkinson was taken off air, something has been lacking from the nation’s sporting broadcasts.

”So, what do you make of Aragones’s remarks, Ron?”

A few may argue that what’s missing is the throwback racism Big Ron has engineered into his punditry.

Others miss his “spotter’s badge”,’ “lollipops”, his ability to introduce every thought with the qualifying “for me” and his story about how he is best mates with Renee, the Italian crooner of Renee and Renata repute.

At Channel Five, TV executives saw their chances and, says the Sun, have offered Ron and his brand of ‘Ronglish’ a route back into the sporting arena with a guest slot on John Barnes’ Football Night.

Of course, this being Five, no-one will actually see Big Ron going through his paces, but the fact he is our there on the airwaves is no little news given the prevailing mood of anti-racism.

And Ron is excited. “I want to be talking football again and will do so as openly as I ever have.” Ooer. “I won’t be inhibited. If there is a need to criticise, I will do so.”

So, if you’re what Ron has termed a “f***ing lazy, thick nigger”, look out, Ron’s watching.

And he’s also watching the likes of Arsenal’s Robin Van Persie, who is branded on the Express’s back page as nothing less than a “wild child”.

In a piece called “Time for Van Persie to give the elbow to his bad boy image” (the words a reference to the Dutchman’s antics in a recent game at old Trafford), the Express says that, unless the player reassess his aggressive streak, his career may be over.

Of course, it may have the reverse affect – as is likely – and endear him to Arsenal fans who quite like their players to show a few teeth and a few more studs every so often.

While we consider why it that every top Dutch striker seems to be possessed of equal measures of skill and spite, the Times wonder what it is about men who want to manage the Scotland football team.

Such is the state of the national side north of the border that Walter Smith, who has been given the job of the team’s new coach, may like to consider his sanity.

The former Rangers and Everton manager took time to pose for pictures and say that Scotland’s chances of qualifying for the 2006 World Cup are “not dead”.

With two points from three opening group matches, and some abject performances, Scotland FC is merely resting. It is taking a breather before the next charge.

Which is away to Italy in March.

Forget the ball, Walter, and pass the oxygen…’

Posted: 3rd, December 2004 | In: Back pages | Comment

Teenage Kicks

‘ARSENE Wenger’s social experiment is keeping a gang of kids off the streets of Islington ended last night when they took what the Express calls a “buffeting”.

The Getafe No.9

Losing the game 1-0 to an experienced Manchester United side of eight internationals is no shame, but we are shocked to read that, with so many children around, no food was thrown.

Thankfully, there was enough argy-bargy for the Mirror to publish a picture of the game’s sole flashpoint when Arsenal’s youth showed that when it comes to the rough stuff they can hold their own – and the shirt and neck of United’s Kieran Richardson.

Bravo to them! And we expect more of them same.

And there’s ever more of the same from Tottenham, who did their best to give solace to Arsenal by proving that, whatever the plight of the Gunners, there is always a team up the road worse off.

As the Sun reports, last night Spurs also crashed out of the Carling Cup, losing on penalty kicks to a plucky, if uncomplicated, Liverpool side.

The semi-finals of the cup that changes its name like Chelsea change their line-up now reads: Watford v Liverpool; Chelsea v Manchester United.

Given Chelsea and United’s commitment to winning this tin pot, their two-legged affair could be a cracker and restore some shine to a jaded competition.

How to add some lustre to Spanish football, which has come under the searchlight in recent days, is something that interests the Times.

News is that Luis Aragones, the unreconstructed Spain manager who made those infamous remarks about Thierry Henry, has been asked to resign his job by his family.

Unhappy at the strain Aragones is under, his family have pleaded with him to quit.

“I have suffered a lot in the past few days,” says Aragones, eliciting zero sympathy. “I have never thought of resigning from my position, but my family have asked me to leave the post.”

And that’s not all, because over at La Liga club Getafe – where the club’s fans have been guilty of racially abusing visiting black players – plans are afoot to do the nasties down.

The Times says that Angle Torres, the club’s president, has suggested that his players should paint their faces black at their next home game.

This is not intended to take the mick out of black players and nor will they be singing about Mammy – it’s meant to combat the racists.

“We reject racism and xenophobia and we will show it,” says Torres. “I will propose to my players to paint their faces black for the next championship match.”

Yes, you did just read that. This is no piece of cutting-edge satire – we wish we had the brain power to dream up such a thing. This is Spanish football putting its house in order.

And yes, you can put your head in your hands and weep. But try not to make the boot polish run…’

Posted: 2nd, December 2004 | In: Back pages | Comment

Pizza Delivery

‘IN a scientific study that most likely earned Dean Macey a physics A-level, the British Olympic decathlete has sought to discover which pizza flies furthest and truest.

Chelsea on course for all four trophies – the quattro stagione , as it’s known

On the morn of Arsenal’s return to Old Trafford for the first time since the post-match nosh went flying, Arsenal fan Macey has employed years of selfless training and dedication to his sport to good effect.

For the record, the Sun lets it be known that the most effective pizza in a food fight is… bacon which flew a creditable 30.1 metres.

Last was the Hawaiian, which bogged down by chunks of un-aerodynamic pineapple managed just 23.8 metres.

Well done, Dean, for that – and doubly well done on the Sun for allowing an athlete some coverage outside Olympic fortnight.

But now it’s back to sport – or football as it’s known – and the Times’ news that Chelsea are on course for pizza, wine, soup and, well, just about everything.

In beating Fulham 2-1 at Craven Cottage last night, the Blues are in the semi-finals of the Carling/Londis/Cromwell’s Bazaar Cup and so in the hunt for all four major trophies.

So, well done to the Chelsea reserves, which can count among their number only one non-international – Carlo Cudicini – and players like Wayne Bridge (£8m), Didier Drogba (£22), Scott Parker £10m) and Glen Johnson (£7m).

This means the Blues are, in the opinion of that purple-faced messy eater Alex Ferguson, United’s main barriers to silverware.

The clear intention of this aside is to pile some pressure on the Blues, dismiss Arsenal and talk up his own bunch of underperforming staff in one deft line.

It also shows why Ferguson for all his successes is still viewed by many as a charmless so-and-so who has done much to take pleasure away from the game.

Ferguson is not the only one responsible for how football has changed in recent years, and Arsenal vice-chairman David Dein tells the Express that television has played its part.

He claims that televised coverage of football is at saturation point and has left the game in “intensive care”.

“Perhaps we are getting to the stage where less is more,” he said to the Soccerex conference in Dubai.

Perhaps. But up in Manchester, his Arsenal and United are getting ready for more of the same…’

Posted: 1st, December 2004 | In: Back pages | Comment

Spit Roasted

‘ACCORDING to Peter Marsh of the Social Issue Research Centre in Oxford, spitting is like “insulting someone by saying you want to pee on their grave”.

A spitting image

The Times holds Marsh up as an expert in such matters and uses his weighty opinion to support the notion that football’s most prolific spitter, El-Hadji Diouf, is nasty piece of work.

To those few of you who have not yet been spat on by the Bolton footballer, the news is that the club’s manager, Sam Allardyce, find his player’s behaviour “unacceptable”.

This is not exactly damning the Senegalese striker, but why should we expect anything but soft words from a sport which, Chelsea’s stance against Adrian Mutu aside, fails to stamp on abuses of privilege.

Thankfully, in such matters at least the press are there to pour the right amount of scorn on players like Diouf, who shame the game that feeds them so well.

In “GOB YOB”, the Mirror shows a picture of the player grabbing his crotch and asks: “Bloody El, Diouf! Just how many filthy habits do you have?”

We get no answer. Diouf is not speaking – or else no reporter is game enough to stand within spitting distance of the foul-mouthed berk.

But over in the Sun, players’ football union apologist Gordon Taylor is happy for Diouf to seek professional counselling for his problem.

And like Allardyce, he too is upset by the player’s antics, calling the spitting “unacceptable”.

While we outside the game call it revolting, disgusting and pathetic, the Sun also hears news on that other hot topic in football today – racism.

Barcelona defender Juliano Belletti is furious that, when his team played fellow La Liga club Getafe, opposing fans abused his black colleagues, Ronaldinho and Samuel Eto’o.

“We’ve seen two big examples of racism in Madrid,” says Belletti, alluding to the appearances of England and Barca in the Spanish capital.

He goes on: “Can you imagine the 2012 Olympics held in Madrid with all the black athletes competing and the atmosphere it would create?”

Well, since he’s asking, yes, we could. Racism is, as many footballing types would have it, “unacceptable”, but it would be crass to sully an entire city, a country even with the antics of some boneheaded football fans?

By the same token, should the Games be staged in London, home to a few numbskulls who masquerade as Millwall FC fans, or in England as a whole, where in some parts the BNP are seen as the political party of first choice?

That’s a tricky one. Perhaps if we ask the members on International Olympic Committee what they think.

Is the former government secretary for sports to racially enlightened former Spanish dictator Francisco Franco, Juan Antonio Samaranch, still in charge of that outfit?

Or should we ask someone else?’

Posted: 30th, November 2004 | In: Back pages | Comment

Snow Joke

‘AS “catastrophes” go, the one the Mirror says has befallen Arsenal in recent times is not of seismic proportions.

‘Let’s give him the bumps…’

Loosing a game 2-1 to a pot shot in the dying seconds from Liverpool’s prosaic Neil Mellor is one of those chance things in football that make the game so captivating.

That, and the paper’s accompanying story in which Newcastle’s Graeme Souness complains long and bitterly about how the referee “robbed” his team of a penalty in their 1-1 draw with Everton, complete a brace of stories that could come about any week in any season.

More unusual is the story in the Mail of Spurs’ 2-0 win at the weekend win over Middlesbrough. Sure, a victory for the north London side is a rarity, but it is the behaviour of Tottenham’s Jermain Defoe that catches the eye.

In scoring Spurs’ opening goal, the England striker did as footballers are told not to and removed his shirt in celebration, so securing himself a yellow card.

Signs of idiocy in a footballer – the inability to adhere to the most simple of rules – are nothing new (Defoe was booked for the same offence earlier in the season).

What is less normal is that the message Defoe was keen to display on his under–shirt said: “Happy Birthday, Baby.”

This was a message to his lover, the delightful Jade, who was then treated to a kiss from her man.

Just like Darren Day, we are incurable romantics here at Anorak Towers and have no little sympathy with a footballer who bucks the footballers’ trend for random spit-roastings and gang bangs in favour of love.

But stupid is as stupid does, and it’s over to the Sun where there’s news of Rio Ferdinand.

The theme of this year’s Manchester United Christmas party is to be The Night It Snowed In Rio, featuring a winter wonderland with a Brazilian beach feel.

This is an odd mix. But “insiders” says it’s not a politicised comment on global warming but a light-hearted dig at Ferdinand, who famously missed a routine drugs test and received an eight-month ban.

“In some circles ‘snow’ is a nickname for cocaine,” says another “insider” at the club, “and, although there is absolutely no suggestion Rio has ever had anything to do with drugs [perish the thought], it is meant as a joke and we think he will see the funny side.”

As do we. A cosseted footballer who brings shame to his sport gets a cocaine-themed party thrown in his honour by the club that tried to explain things away.

You have to laugh – lest you cry…’

Posted: 29th, November 2004 | In: Back pages | Comment