Back pages | Anorak - Part 77

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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

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

New Balls For Old

‘IN case you haven’t heard, the German Bundesliga is about to start trials of a new “space-age ball”.

Hurst shoots and the ball is clearly over the line

And given that the heyday of the space age was the 1960s, it is fitting that the ball is designed to settle the kind of controversy that occurred most famously in 1966 at Wembley.

The “I-ball”, as it is called, is the brainchild of retired Italian referee Gabriele Cruciali, It contains a sensor which will indicate whether it has crossed the goal line, and communicate this information to a receiver worn on the ref’s wrist.

Good, you might say, the fewer mistakes the better. Surely even the anti-technology lobby will agree that it would be good to sort out over-the-line incidents like Geoff Hurst’s effort or Chesterfield’s disallowed goal in the FA Cup semi-final against Middlesbrough.

And anyway, what’s the difference between a simple device like this and the introduction of goal nets to make decision-making more reliable?

Well, two things. Firstly, it is establishing a precedent for the use of technology, and it is unlikely to stop at ball-over-the-goal-line incidents.

These incidents are extremely rare, so pressure would then arise to use the technology for other things – for goal kicks and corners, or even by wiring up the players, so it could be established who touched the ball last.

By then, technology would be a fait accompli, and it would be only a matter of time before video replays would be introduced.

Which brings up the second problem: the erosion of the referees’ powers.

The main problem with referees at the moment is not that they make mistakes – they will always make mistakes, and technology will simply alter the type of mistakes that they make.

Anyone who thinks that technology would reduce controversy is seriously underestimating football’s endless capacity to generate argument.

No, the problem with refs is that they are having to deal with confusing and downright incomprehensible rules (such as the current version of offside), and ridiculous directives (such as the mandatory booking for certain celebrations).

The former invites inconsistency because no-one (including referees) understands it, and it thus increases the scope of discretion in an area where discretion is not appropriate.

Meanwhile, the latter removes discretion in an area where it is wholly desirable.

This is not to say that referees couldn’t improve. It’s just that when you look at how the game’s rulers are continually fiddling with the basic laws of the game to the annoyance of players, refs and fans alike, you can’t help worrying when they start trying to introduce hi-tech “solutions” to non-existent problems.

They should sort out the rules of the game – which worked perfectly well for the best part of a century – and allow the rest of us to get on with what we enjoy best: watching football with an off-side rule that is intelligible to all men (if not all women) and complaining every time a decision goes against our team.’

Posted: 26th, November 2004 | In: Back pages | Comment

Becks To The Wall

‘IT is now well over a week since England’s friendly with Spain managed to sour relations between the two countries more effectively than any number of Gibraltars.

Anything to escape the British winter

But, although the Mirror tries to keep the race row alive with today’s claims about out-of-control Spanish police, some of us can remember what happened on the pitch.

And that was one of the most abysmal England performances any of us have ever had to witness, in particular from the captain, David Beckham.

It is therefore no surprise to read on the back of this morning’s Sun that Sven Goran Eriksson is fly to Madrid for heart-to-heart talks with the midfielder.

The paper says Beckham’s goal against Wales is one of the few meaningful contributions to the side since his amazing performance against Greece three years ago.

“Many are wondering,” it adds, “if Goldenballs has not just lost his form but the whole plot.”

And the Mirror has some advice for Eriksson on what he should say to the 29-year-old.

It wants him to strip Beckham of the captaincy and get him back on the right wing where he belongs; to tell Beckham to get back to being a footballer again and stop spending so much time on commercial commitments; and above all “to get back to being the hard-working, selfless team player you used to be”.

No complaints on that score about his fellow England captain, Michael Vaughan.

The Mail says England’s cricketers are being used as political pawns after they were last night “forced to embark on a tour nobody wants”.

The players had refused to fly to Zimbabwe after Robert Mugabe banned 13 British journalists from entering the country – a ban he was forced to revoke yesterday.

And the Mail is furious at ECB chairman David Morgan, who it says “has turned the national summer game into a laughing stock”.

Inexplicably, it says, he “never tested the resolve of the bullies on the ICC, claiming they would impose crippling fines on the English game if the tour were called off”.

Finally, from one national laughing stock to another and the Express says the Football Association unveiled its new chief executive last night – Brian Barwick.

“He will,” it says, “immediately set about the task of restoring the reputation of the FA, which has been badly damaged by a series of scandals.”

Or “lock up your secretaries”, as they say in Soho Square.’

Posted: 26th, November 2004 | In: Back pages | Comment

Soldier On

‘SUNDAY’S splendid match between Millwall and West Ham United brought to mind matches from days gone by – not least in the era of Sydney C. Puddefoot, the Hammers and England centre-forward, and the Lions’ venerable custodian Fred R. Wood.

Preparing to take a corner in a foreign field

As chance would have it, the library at Anorak Towers contains a copy of the 1920 volume of Young England, “An Illustrated Annual for Boys throughout the English-speaking World”. Both players are given space to reflect upon their respective areas of expertise at some length.

We begin with Puddefoot, depicted here in his army uniform from the Great War. His piece is entitled “How Goals May Be Won”, and provides a fascinating insight into the secrets of top-drawer Association Football.

“I suppose the ambition of every player who takes part in even a tenth-rate Soccer match is to kick goals!” he begins.

“Although it is not at all the duty of the goalkeeper to register goals against his opponents, so far as combined effort of the side obtains, yet I feel perfectly certain that there isn’t one goalie in the land who wouldn’t rejoice exceedingly if he managed to kick a goal for his team by any happy chance!

“Similarly we in a good eleven do not usually anticipate any goals coming from the feet of the two backs, although I will admit that I have heard of such strange proceedings now and then.

“Yet without a doubt the functions of the backs are not really those of kicking goals. Also, whilst the three halves may undoubtedly kick goals pretty frequently during the season, even their particular and most important sphere of action hardly depends on success in goal-kicking for its full recognition.

“Nevertheless, as I said before, there is not one man in any Soccer team who does not like to feel he had kicked a goal for his side during a big match. Goals, then are not so easy to get as talk about; hence every player is keen on their acquisition.”

Right, then. We are now clear that goals are important, and that Sydney finds them easier to talk about than to get. But how DO we get them?

“Although I find goals terribly hard to obtain – and, curiously enough, the more your side needs them in any game, the harder they appear to get! – yet I fancy I can kick goals, even against doughty opponents, far easier than I find it is to write about them or tell you how to get them!”


“But your editor has placed this duty on me, therefore, I must endeavour to fulfil it somehow. So here goes!”


“Let me say straight away that there is no royal road to goal-kicking in matches…”


“It’s easy to talk, to tell a fellow what to do, to give valuable hints. But usually there looms ahead on the actual field of play some troublesome chap, some wretched opponent who seems to make it his sole business to show how absurd was such talk, how ridiculous were such hints, how difficult it is to manage a successful kick at goal!”

We get the picture…

“We may speak of the beauty of combination, you and I, for an hour or two, and I may point out for your benefit how you and other lads ought to combine in your play as an eleven… I might say something to you about how you should contrive to take advantage of every opening, seize every opportunity, take every chance in a stern encounter, and I might lecture you for an hour on this…”

And so on, for another two thousand words. Unfortunately Anorak does not allow for such expansive rumination.

Suffice to say that Sydney does eventually get to the matter in hand – or foot, as he would no doubt quip. And the trick, apparently, is to “send in the ball at an angle if you can, instead of directly from the front”.

However, there is really only one certain way to score, “which is to play up for all you are worth”.

But what if your opponent matches your skill and effort?

“Well, in that case, lads, you will have a particularly fine game… And it is fitting that the close of such a match should be a draw!

For when Greek meets Greek, then not only comes the tug of war, but it is also pleasant to look back in after teams were satisfied and delighted with the splendid part they played in the great game!”

Hear, hear! More vintage soccer secrets anon.’

Posted: 25th, November 2004 | In: Back pages | Comment

No Shame

‘THE Sun knows no shame – and it’s even prepared to use the conviction of the football fan who racially abused Dwight Yorke at the weekend to boost its own profile.

‘Do I quite like red’

So, when Jason Perryman (banned from football for five years for making monkey chants) sits down to write a letter of apology to the Birmingham striker, the Sun is by his side to dictate.

“I want to apologise to you personally,” he writes, “and through the Sun because it is the biggest selling newspaper and I want to get my message across to as many people as possible.”

Not only that, but today’s Sun comes with a fantastic free magazine featuring all your Christmas TV…

And was it only a few short months ago that the Sun branded England captain Michael Vaughan “guilty” of betraying the country’s cricket fans?

Now, it appears that Vaughan and his team have refused to get on a plane to Zimbabwe “after The Sun was banned from covering the tour”.

Of course, if the country’s biggest selling paper isn’t there to get the news across to as many people as possible, what’s the point of playing?

However, it’s hard not to agree with former England captain Nasser Hussain, who writes in the Mail that the time has surely come to abandon the tour once and for all.

Even the ICC, which has so far shown all the backbone of a particularly spineless invertebrate, must recognise that there is nothing to be gained from playing.

No-one could accuse Arsenal of not having backbone – the trouble is that they have a little too much on occasion and last night Lauren and Patrick Vieira became the 55th and 56th players to receive red cards under Arsene Wenger.

The duo were sent off in the second half of the Gunners’ 1-1 draw against PSV Eindhoven – a result which means they need to win their last match to be sure of qualifying for the next round of the Champions’ League.

However, PSV manager Guus Hiddink points the finger of blame not at the Arsenal players but at the manager.

He accused Wenger of winding up his own players by moaning constantly to the fourth official about the Dutch tackling.

What he – or any other manager – ever hopes to gain by whingeing at the one official who has no say on what goes on on the pitch is beyond us.

But one person who can take a break from all that is Harry Redknapp, who resigned yesterday as manager of Portsmouth and left the club in tears.’

Posted: 25th, November 2004 | In: Back pages | Comment

Banned Of Brothers

‘IF anyone cares the smallest jot about the England cricket team’s tour of Zimbabwe, then they might have a long wait for news of the results of the five one-day matches.

‘At tea, the white farmers are all out with no chance of a recovery’

Robert Mugabe appears intent on banning all British journalists from the country he has systematically transformed from an African bread-basket to an African basket-case.

And the papers wear their bans like badges of honour this morning.

“Monster Mugabe Bans The Sun,” says Britain’s leading tabloid, adding that the dictator “will not let us in because we have told the truth about his monstrous regime”.

“Mirror Ban Throws England Tour In Chaos,” boasts its main rival, admitting however that the tour is likely to go ahead in its absence.

“Banned!” shrieks the Daily Mail, somewhat embarrassed one imagines to find that its name is not on the list of papers non grata.

Nor are the Express or Star on the banned list – although, as the Star has never knowingly devoted more than a couple of paragraphs to the game, we don’t suppose its readers would notice if it had been.

The Star instead leads this morning (as it leads every morning) with football and Ruud Van Nistelrooy’s goal which gave Manchester United a 2-1 Champions’ League victory over Lyon.

The Dutchman kept up his amazing record in Europe to help Alex Ferguson celebrate his 1,000th game in charge at Old Trafford and to atone for a terrible goalkeeping lapse from Roy Carroll.

“The man did it again – he is unbelievable,” he said of Van Nistelrooy’s 42nd European goal.

“Ruud scored with his only real opportunity. He took it really well – in just the kind of way you would expect him to.”

Only Raul stands ahead of Van Nistelrooy in the goalscoring table and the Real Madrid striker added to his tally last night.

But the Spaniards’ 1-1 draw with Bayer Leverkusen means they must win their last match in Rome to qualify for the next round.

However, the Star says a section of the Bernabeu disgraced themselves again, making monkey noises at the Germans’ Brazilian defender Juan.

However, there was no rescue for Liverpool who were defeated by a ‘hand of god’ goal similar to the one scored by Diego Maradona in 1986.

The Mail says the hand-ball could “hardly have been more blatant” as Javier Saviola controlled the ball with his hand in full view of referee Claus Bo Larsen and his linesman before scoring Monaco’s winner.

Bizarrely, neither gave a foul – and Liverpool are left needing to beat Olympiakos in their last match to have a chance of progressing.

How Jensen must wish this morning he was officiating in Zimbabwe instead – at least there would be no-one to witness his mistakes out there…’

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

The Viking Falls

‘AT first sight, Paula Radcliffe and Andy “The Viking” Fordham don’t appear to have too much in common.

Fordham can lift cheques, cups and bootles of beer wih ease

The former is as thin as a pencil, as fit as a fiddle and probably weighs about as much as the latter’s mid-morning snack.

The Viking, on the other hand, tips the scales at 30 stones and manages to maintain his shape with the aid of 25 bottles of beer a day.

But their names are now irrevocably joined together after both collapsed with heat exhaustion during the most important moment of their career.

Radcliffe’s was of course during the Olympic marathon in Athens; Fordham’s was during his £100,000 darts play-off with Phil “The House” Taylor.

And if The Viking’s collapse hasn’t quite generated the same number of column inches as Radcliffe’s, the Sun this morning conducts its own post-mortem.

It even suggests that plans to get Fordham on Celebrity Fit Club in the New Year might be scuppered because the 42-year-old is too ill.

“If it is found in the medical that any exercise will be harmful to a contestant’s health,” a show spokesman said, “for their best interests they will not be allowed to take part.”

From a darts giant to a giant of football and the Express marks Sir Alex Ferguson’s 1,000th game in charge of Manchester United tonight by revealing his biggest regret.

“In terms of the general history of our club,” he says, “we should have won the European Cup a similar amount of times to clubs like AC and Inter, Bayern Munich and Ajax.”

Victory against Lyon tonight would be a small step towards rectifying that by securing qualification for the next round of the Champions’ League.

It’s all a long way from Fergie’s first game in charge – a 2-0 defeat at Oxford’s Manor Stadium.

“I had done my team-talk and was going into the dug-out,” the Scot recalls, “when I saw the bus driver sitting there.

“He was even giving out the tea at half-time. Let’s say that quickly stopped.”

However, if some things have changes, others have not – and the row over racism in the game rumbles on this morning.

Pouring fuel on the flames is pint-sized pornographer David Sullivan, owner of Birmingham City.

The Mirror says Dwight Yorke might quit the club after Sullivan suggested that he was at fault for reacting to the racist taunts from Blackburn Rovers fans on Sunday.

“I just can’t believe with all that is going on in the world, with 100,000 civilians being killed in Iraq, that it’s that big a deal,” he said.

“If someone made a racist comment about me, three people out of 20-odd thousand, I would not really worry too much. It is not the crime of the century.”

Not that Yorke is saying that it is…’

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