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Back pages | Anorak - Part 78

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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

Beckham’s Brain

‘“I AM sure some people think I have not got the brains to be that clever,” says David Beckham in the Sun, “but I do have the brains.”

‘Hooray! Another million in my bank account!’

Whatever can the England captain be talking about? Hs he solved a really hard sum? Or worked out the meaning of Dannielle Heath’s coded text message (see tabs)?

The truth is revealed earlier on in the piece when Becks says that his foul on Wales’ Ben Thatcher was a deliberate attempt to earn himself a yellow card.

Already on one yellow from an earlier game, Becks knew that another would see him suspended from the next game – and, since he knew his injury would prevent his playing in that encounter anyhow, he used his massive intellect to launch himself at his opponent.

While we boggle at the genius of the Beckham thought process – that involved him trying to injure an opponent and, possibly, further injure himself – the Times brings news of the bid for control of Manchester United.

With the gnome-like Malcolm Glazer lining up a possibly £800m takeover bid, the paper says that supporters groups have threatened something called a “customer revolt”.

One group, Shareholders United, has begun a “shares not shirts” campaign, inviting all its 15,000 members and other United fans to stop buying the club’s official merchandise until Glazer is seen off.

This is an interesting idea, but will United notice if fewer tops are flogged? United’s deal with Nike is fixed for 13 years, regardless of shirt sales.

Better, perhaps, to boycott the games themselves – gate receipts remain the biggest single source of income for the club.

This, of course, is unlikely – indeed, such is the demand for United seats that the spare places would be filled by the next punter in line, someone happy to get the chance to see their heroes in the flesh.

But a bigger issue than Beckham’s brain or United’s ownership is the Times’s story on racism in football.

The Commission for Racial Equality has published a damning report into the state of the national game.

While many black faces grace the leagues, there is not one non-white member on the FA board or the 92-strong FA council.

The are also only three back managers in professional football – Keith Curle at Mansfield Town, Leroy Rosenior at Torquay United and Keith Alexander at Lincoln City.

In all, fewer than 1% of professional football positions are held by non-whites.

This encourages the belief that racism exists in the game. An impression not aided by looking at the abilities of some of those white managers and coaches…’

Posted: 12th, October 2004 | In: Back pages | Comment


Becks In The Routine

‘ARE we supposed to laugh or cry at the Times’s front-page picture of three hooded Manchester United supporters trying to set an American flag on fire?

Becks is now off sex for a few weeks

Overlooking the idiocy of it all, there’s the ludicrous fact that a bunch of United fans are up in arms at the idea that their club may be sold to Malcolm Glazer, a very rich American entrepreneur.

This is Manchester Untied, the global brand that invites fans from Torquay to Tokyo to don its shirts and tune in to see the multi-national side run around on the telly.

This is the club that went on a tour of Brazil – to the detriment of the FA Cup – and then on a jolly to the USA, in a bid to make themselves even bigger, even more branded.

And now some of the club’s fans don’t want their club to be sold out… Laugh? We would if we could stop crying.

Better than looking at the ridiculous protest is to instead see the Sun’s back page and thereon check out what’s been happening to United’s marketing legend of old, David Beckham.

There he is on the Old Trafford turf, this time dressed in his England kit, writhing in agony at the pain caused by a largely self-inflicted wound to his ribs.

He’s injured. So he’s out of England’s World Cup qualifier in Azerbaijan – his place, according to the Sun, being taken by Shaun Wright-Phillips.

In all, the fractured rib means Becks is out of action for the next six weeks.

Only, he might not be because Becks’ current team, Real Madrid, want him to play next week in their vital Champions’ League match against Dinamo Live.

A Real insider is quoted by the Sun as saying: “Coming back from an injury like this depends on the player.

“If he is a hard player then he should be able to play after a week – and Beckham IS a hard player.”

And if you want confirmation of that, just ask Wales’s Ben Thatcher, with whom Beckham was involved in a 50-50 blind chase for a ball that neither seemed to be looking at.

Beckham’s subsequent lunge at Thatcher – for which he was yellow-carded – leads to the Guardian’s headline: “HE SHOULD HAVE KNOWN BETTER”.

Especially since the yellow card – injury or not – earned him a suspension from Wednesday’s match in a far-flung part of Europe.

Beckham’s petulance also allows the Times to list what it believes are the 50 worst tackles, elbows and stamps to have scarred football.

And the No. 1 worst foul ever? Well, no contest there – it’s that nice Mr Harald Schumacher and his uncomplicated assault on France’s Patrick Battiston in the 1982 World Cup finals.

It was a bout of ABH that didn’t even concede a foul, let alone a yellow or red card. But then, the unconscious Battiston was one hard bastard…’

Posted: 11th, October 2004 | In: Back pages | Comment


Sven’s Threesome

‘SVEN Goran Eriksson has not exactly got a reputation for being adventurous on the football pitch or off it – hell, he even loads the dishwasher before taking his lover to bed.

Lucky he’s not Spanish

But the signs this morning are that the England coach is preparing the country for the football equivalent of making love with the lights on.

The papers all agree that England are likely to line up with three strikers in tomorrow’s crucial World Cup qualifier with Wales.

And that prompts the Sun to dust off its Sun Book Of Innuendo and tell its readers how “Sven fancies a threesome”.

The three in question, however, are not Ulrika, Faria and Nancy but Michael, Wayne and Jermain of the Owen, Rooney and Defoe variety.

The Telegraph says the attractions of playing Defoe and Owen up front with Rooney just behind are obvious.

“Wales are vulnerable to pacey attacks,” it says, “while it would save the Swede having to make an awkward choice between Owen and Defoe for such an important World Cup qualifier.

“Yet it is not a strategy devoid of danger. Owen and Defoe are single-minded predators who may collide making the same goal-obsessed runs for the ball.”

The 4-3-1-2 formation would also allow Welsh wingers Ryan Giggs and Simon Davies space to run at the English full-backs, Ashley Cole and Gary Neville.

But no strategy is without risk and it would be a bold statement of intent by Eriksson if he were to go into such an eagerly awaited game with three strikers.

Indeed, substituting a fit again Steven Gerrard for Nicky Butt in midfield and this England XI looks a potent attacking force against any team in the world.

Whether or not it can keep the goals out is not so clear.

While the Sun does its best to keep the Luis Aragones row rumbling on today, the rest of the papers have already moved on.

And the question of doping in football is again to the fore, and not only because Rio Ferdinand is preparing to play his first England game since his ban.

The Independent has picked up on remarks by Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger to the effect that some of his foreign players may have been using performance-enhancing drugs prior to their arrival at Highbury.

“We have had some players come to us at Arsenal from other clubs abroad,” he said, “and their red blood cell count has been abnormally high. That kind of thing makes you wonder.”

Indeed, the surprise is not that some players are using EPO and other such drugs, but that anyone should be surprised by it in a sport awash with money and questionable ethics.

And so finally to cricket and all England fans who were beginning to detect symptoms of decline among the mighty Australians might need to think again.

Centuries from Michael Clarke (on debut) and Adam Gilchrist, fifties from Justin Langer and Simon Katich and three wickets from Glenn McGrath have put the Aussies in a great position in their first Test against India.

And they’ve still got Ricky Ponting to come back into the side for the next match…’

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


Race Row

‘HAVING started their build-up to Saturday’s World Cup qualifier between England and Wales so early, the papers are staring to lose momentum this morning.

‘Some of my best friends are shits’

And so they look to Spain for their lead where it comes courtesy of remarks made by national manager Luis Aragones to Jose Antonio Reyes.

In trying to gee up the young Arsenal striker, Aragones referred to Reyes’s Highbury team-mate Thierry Henry as “that black shit” – a remark that was caught on camera and quickly relayed throughout Spain and beyond.

The Sun and Mirror are both outraged on the Frenchman’s behalf, but it is the Spaniard’s defence that we prefer to concentrate on.

“I am a citizen of the world,” the 66-year-old said, before adding the immortal: “Some of my best friends are black, including some that I had from childhood.”

Reyes insisted that the comment was a joke. If it was, then both he and his coach probably need a new sense of humour.

But we do question whether a throwaway remark like that in the context in which it was said really merits the fuss that is being made.

And so to the Times, which prefers instead to focus on the upcoming game and profiles the duel between Manchester United team-mates Ryan Giggs and Gary Neville.

“It is,” the paper says, “as if two friends have been shoved into a boxing ring and asked to knock each other out.”

Meanwhile, John Hartson has issued a warning to his old team-mate Rio Ferdinand.

“Rio knows what to expect,” the muscular Celtic striker says.

And indeed he does – he was there at the West Ham training ground when Hartson decided to use Eyal Berkovic’s head as a football.

If, as suggested in today’s Broadsheets, political endorsements from popstars make precious little difference to the way people vote, then what about sportsmen and women?

We ask because the Times has a list of five sportsmen who have come out in favour of George Bush and five who are supporting John Kerry.

And if you needed another reason to dislike Jack Nicklaus, on top of his voice, his dress sense and the fact that he wasn’t Arnold Palmer, know that the Golden Bear is a Dubya fan.

We look forward to a similar parade of sportsmen and women ahead of next year’s General Election, with both parties fighting hard for the Wayne Rooney vote.

Word is at the moment that the 18-year-old is leaning towards Michael Howard – if only because he prefers them a bit older.’

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


On His Owen?

‘IT says something both about the depth in the England squad and about Michael Owen’s situation that many will be hoping the 24-year-old is not fit to play Wales on Saturday.

Wayne on his parade

Owen has a back injury, but it is his future at Real Madrid that dominates the back pages this morning after a poor start to his career in Spain.

The man himself insists he will fight to the death to prove himself at the Spanish giants, but at the moment he can’t get enough minutes on the pitch to do that.

And the picture on the back page of all the tabloids this morning has something of a haunted look to it.

If Owen is not fit, then the Guardian expects Jermain Defoe to take his place at Old Trafford – a 22-year-old stepping up to partner 18-year-old Wayne Rooney.

It is “an enthralling possibility”, the paper says, and Wales’s likely centre-half pairing of Danny Gabbidon and Andy Melville is less equipped than others to block their way.

But Owen is likely to get the nod if he is fit.

“You know what you’re going to get with me,” he tells the Indy. “You’ve seen it 63 times for England with 27 goals and with a constant supply of goals throughout my career.

“I’ve scored in four big tournaments and I don’t think I’ve got to prove myself in any way.”

But prove himself is just what England fans expect Owen and his team-mates to do every time they play for their country.

David Beckham may insist he is back to his best, but England fans will need some convincing.

“Criticism is part of football,” he tells the Guardian, “but I feel my performances for Real Madrid have been good and I’m hoping that, playing at Old Trafford against Wales in a massive game, I will perform well again.”

There, Beckham is likely to come up against his old team-mate Ryan Giggs, who will also meet Manchester United colleague Gary Neville down England’s right.

“It’s a great occasion for all the lads to be involved in,” said the 30-year-old Welsh winger, “but even more so for myself because it’s at Old Trafford and because I am up against so many of my team-mates.”

While Saturday’s game may provide a distraction to the wrangling over ownership at Manchester United, there is good news for Arsenal fans in the Telegraph.

Manager Arsene Wenger says he is just days away from signing an extension to his contract, which will see him stay at the club for “a few more years” after the end of this season.

Arsenal will, however, not be at Highbury for that long – instead they will play their home games at the Emirates Stadium at Ashburton Grove.

The club has given the Middle East airline, who currently sponsor Chelsea, naming rights over their new ground as part of a £100m sponsorship deal.

The decision has upset some Arsenal fans – but, if that’s all they’ve got to worry about, then they should just enjoy the good times.

As Michael Owen can attest, they don’t last…’

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


Malcolm In The Middle

‘IF Malcolm Glazer, the owner of Tampa Bay Buccaneers, was under any illusion that he would be welcome as the new owner of Manchester United, he won’t be after this morning.

Glazer celebrates another Rooney touchdown

All the papers agree that fans will do whatever they can to prevent the American taking control of the world’s largest football club.

And, even if Glazer persuades the Irish duo of JP McManus and John Magnier to sell their 28.9% stake in the club to add to his 19.2% share, he is far from home and dry.

The Telegraph explains that a banner at the Stretford End of Old Trafford proclaiming “Not For $ale” is indicative of the reaction in Manchester.

“If the American was to consider how that sign came to be displayed over £100,000 of advertising space,” it says, “he might come to realise why he would never be welcomed in the Theatre Of Dreams.

“The banner is a small but significant concession by the plc board to the supporters, but it speaks loud about the three key elements for which the club are run: the team, the fans and the shareholders.”

The fact that Glazer has never even visited Old Trafford, combined with his track record at Tampa Bay (where he has consistently raised ticket prices and even changed the team colours) suggests that even notoriously fickle football fans will make his path as hard as they possibly can.

Were David Beckham still at United, then Glazer could be looking at an even fatter cash cow.

The Guardian reports that, for all his struggles on the field, the England skipper has done wonders for Real Madrid’s bank balance.

The Spanish club’s income is expected to double from £103m in 2002 to £204m this season – almost half of which is expected to come directly from marketing.

All of which does make you wonder whether selling Beckham for only £25m was the worst bit of business Manchester United have ever done.

To another England captain, and both the Times and the Independent leads with news that Jonny Wilkinson has been named as the new England rugby captain.

Not that Wilkinson will be grabbing headlines in the same way that his footballing counterpart does – as the profile of the clean-living superstar in the Times makes clear.

“I won’t take my clothes off for pictures, for instance,” he says. “My reticence is partly to do with appearances, I don’t find images of people without their clothes on all that attractive – I prefer to leave something to the imagination.”

Thoughts he no doubt shared with the ubiquitous David Beckham at the filming of one of their adidas commercials…’

Posted: 5th, October 2004 | In: Back pages | Comment


Insult And Injury

‘AFTER yesterday’s 1-0 win over a directionless Liverpool, Chelsea’s credentials as genuine title challengers are beyond doubt.

‘I’ll leave the price tag on so you can always get a refund if it doesn’t fit’

What is less clear is the mental state of their manager, Jose Mourinho.

What at first glance looked gregarious and cocksure, now seems a little unbalanced and highly strung, as the Telegraph leads with how the Portuguese coach viewed Joe Cole’s match-winning performance.

In “Bubbling Cole is brought to book”, we learn how the Chelsea No. 10, and the game’s solitary goalscorer, was knocked off Cloud Nine by his manager’s comments that he “still has a lot to learn”.

“He has two faces,” says Mourinho. “One is beautiful when he attacks with the ball…the other face is not so good, defensively, and I don’t like it much.”

Mourinho is clearly quotable. But he speaks so directly that you can’t help but think that should things not pan out for him at Chelsea, he’ll begin alienating his players and just about everyone else.

You can excuse much of Mourinho’s arrogance on his position as a winner – if that success becomes a fading memory, he will sound increasingly ridiculous.

Another of his post-match views appears in the Sun, where he says that Chelsea are the best English team in Europe.

“But I want all English teams to get through in Europe,” says he, “play lots of games, get tired and pick up a lot of little injuries.”

How very gracious of him to say that they should be only little injuries. His hope is not for broken legs, rather fractures, bad bruising and some tendon damage.

But while Mourinho treads a fine line, and Chelsea turn into George Graham’s Arsenal, the Independent has been casting an eye on Michael Owen’s most recent performance in Madrid.

That we should care what the England striker is getting up to in Spain owes much to his new club’s location in what makes for a nice weekend break for Wapping’s finest.

Indeed, there was little to see of the man himself who played for just 52 minutes in Real’s home defeat to Deportivo La Coruna and missed two decent chances to score his first goal for the club.

The result of Owen’s dip in form is, according to the Guardian, the distinct possibility that he will soon see his England place go to Jermain Defoe.

But that would mean a lack of experience alongside the young Rooney. And one less reason to send hacks on jollies to sunny Madrid.

For which reason, the paper says that Owen remains a class act. An economy class act, but class, nonetheless…’

Posted: 4th, October 2004 | In: Back pages | Comment


The Pits

‘SPORTS fans who get their kicks from sitting in massive traffic jams as they queue to watch a procession of cars are upset this morning.

What next year’s winner would have looked like

The Times leads with the news that after 54 unbroken years of racing, the British Formula One Grand Prix is no more.

Bernie Ecclestone, the man who effectively controls the sport, declined to accept an offer from the British Racing Drivers’ Club (BRDC), which runs Silverstone, to stage the event, it falling £3 million short of his £9 million asking price needed to guarantee the future of the race until 2007.

This has deeply upset not only British motor racing fans but, as the Telegraph says, Sir Jackie Stewart, president of the BRDC.

He is disappointed not only by Eccelstone but also by the British Government which he sees as having sold the sport short.

“And I regret that the Government, unlike governments in almost every other country which hosts a grand prix, have not been able to pull together a package to help the retention of the grand prix in this country,” says he.

It is a shame that a mainstay of the British sporting calendar is no more. But this is a sport seemingly awash with money, and it appears odd that an extra few million could not be found to secure its future.

Odder still, though, is the story of the “Arsenal feud”, as the Mail says how a fight broke out on the champions’ team bus as the players left the ground after the week’s 1-1 draw with Rosenborg.

Apparently, the team’s Lauren and Patrick Vieira had a disagreement after the Frenchman blamed the Norwegian’s equaliser on his teammate.

The story goes that police and security guards were called and boarded the team bus to break up the melee.

However, the club seem not to be overly bothered by the fracas.

Arsene Wenger saw little wrong with it (if, that is, he saw anything at all) and the Mail suggests that “full and frank exchanges of views are not uncommon among Arsenal players”.

Given that it been quite some time since any of the squad received a red card, it’s understandable that some steam had to be let off.

Just like with Michael Owen, who’s releasing the pressure by telling the Guardian about the frustrations of life at Real Madrid.

Though happy with his form – so he says – the 24-year-old is worried about his limited chances at the Spanish giants.

“At Liverpool,” says Owen, “I was first choice every week…I was a big important player. The big difference is that I’m not playing as much in Madrid.”

And with Raul, Ronaldo and Morientes ahead of him, chances are high that he won’t be collecting too many playing bonuses this season.

After which period, he says he’ll reassess his future. And then, as with Ian Rush, Jimmy Greaves and, dare it be said, Luther Blissett, come home…’

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


An Ugly Shower

‘JOSE Mourinho may be arrogant and cocksure, but it’s a state of mind based upon his magnificent record in European football.

Just good friends

But football fans – at least the more knuckle-dragging ones – are cursed with appallingly short memories.

Having turned Porto from a nothing team into European champions, the new Chelsea manager was within his rights to expect a rousing reception when his old and new clubs met last night.

Instead, we get the Mirror headline: “DROG AND FLOB.” It’s an ugly, clumsy headline, but it is in keeping with the matter in hand.

The Porto fan(s) who spat at his former idol should be ashamed – although he’s probably too stupid to feel contrition.

But credit to Mourinho – whose side won 3-1 – for sticking to the good times and thanking the Porto fans who came up to greet him.

While Chelsea were doing a professional, if unattractive, job on Porto, Arsenal were labouring in Norway.

In what the Independent calls a “careless display”, Arsenal failed to capitalise on an early goal and take one of the many chances they had to win the game (it ended 1-1).

The paper calls their performance nothing less than “maddening”.

Not that Arsenal’s inability to transfer domestic brilliance to European domination is the most maddening thing in sport.

This is Britain, the country that can boast Wimbledon tennis – and still have no player able to win the title.

With Tim Henman seemingly doomed to never succeed and Greg Rusedski now wearing a headband, we are craving a new hero.

And the Telegraph thinks it’s found him. Step forward, Andrew Murray.

Despite being in the British Davis Cup squad, Murray is far from being a household name.

So his management team have lined up a match for their 17-year-old hopeful against that old stager, John McEnroe.

The game will take place under spotlights at Wembley Arena and feature in mini-tournament with the likes of Boris Becker, Goran Ivanisevic and dear old Rusedski.

If Murray wins, he’ll collect £250,000. And by next summer, he’ll be the name on everyone’s lips. And most likely, have a hill named after him…’

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


United They Stand

‘LAST night Manchester United went to Old Trafford to love Wayne Rooney. The game over and players and fans alike left with his name etched on their hearts.

What (always) happens next?

The Times says that memories of Rooney’s debut performance – in which he scored a superb Champions’ League hat-trick in the 6-2 thrashing of Fenerbhce – will live long in the minds of United’s fans.

And the papers are happy to keep Rooney’s name high on the agenda, all leading with the boy wonder, who, as the Indy says, has begun his “love affair” with Old Trafford.

The Mail goes further – perhaps a little too far at this early stage in his career – and says Wayne joins the “list of legends”, speaking of Rooney’s burst in the same breath as “Best against Benfica, Charlton at Wembley”.

No pressure, then, Wayne. Just go out and do the same thing every week.

Arsenal’s manager, Arsene Wenger, is mindful of piling massive expectation on one player, especially one so young.

In the Indy, he compares Rooney to Arsenal’s own tyro, the Spaniard Jose Reyes.

“He is in a Rooney situation as well,” says Wenger. “Everyone expects Rooney to play and make a difference. That is what everyone expects from Rooney – that he will score in every game. That is what everybody expects from Reyes but football is not like that.”

Try telling the Mail. And given the form of both the Spaniard and the Englishman to date, Wenger’s words seem disputed by fart.

But football does not always go to plan and only a fool would expect otherwise.

So, tonight, Arsenal fans shouldn’t expect their new star player to score, even if he is playing up front against Rosenborg in place of the non-flying Dennis Bergkamp.

Hmmm… We wonder what Claudio Ranieri would have done if he had had such talent at his disposal? Shuffled his pack. Changed the team. Tinkered.

If he were in charge at Manchester United, Ranieri would probably now drop Rooney to the reserves.

But we can only guess about such things because the Italian’s new book – Proud Man Walking – makes no mention of La Roon.

Instead, in the Times’ book review, we hear the Italian reminisce about the time he asked Roman Abramovich for a lift in his jet to Rome.

The Russian was flying to Moscow, but still took time to indulge his then manager and take in an unscheduled trip to the Italian capital.

“What a man,” says Ranieri, who goes onto talk of the good relationship he enjoyed with his chairman.

You know, the one who sacked him…’

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


Back Up Front

‘WHO’S that chubby lad on the back page of the Independent kicking a ball around with some athletes?

He can score in a brothel

Why, it’s Wayne Rooney, the Roonster, La Roon, star of Euro 2004 (well, the bit before England got knocked out) and new Manchester United legend-in-waiting having a laugh with some of his new playmates.

Tonight, as the Telegraph says in its lead story, Rooney will make his debut at Old Trafford as the Red Devils renew hostilities with Turkish club Fenerbahce.

And United will have to watch out, since, as the paper reminds the club’s legion of fans, the last time the Turks were in town, they became the first visiting team to win a European mach at Old Trafford in 40 years and 56 matches.

And, as the Sun reports, Alex Ferguson may be at the club to see that European run surpassed.

David Gill, United’s chief executive, says of Ferguson: “He is very fit and we hope he will continue to manage the club for many years to come.”

If that were not good enough news for Arsenal and Chelsea fans, the better news is that in buying the aforesaid Rooney, United have spent not only this year’s transfer budget but next year’s as well.

They will have to sell before they plunge into the market in human flesh once more.

Anyone tired of this Manchester Untied bulletin can now find some relief courtesy of the Times, where the paper’s hacks have found something else to talk about.

And the mission to rescue sport from United’s grasp is launched by Tanni Grey-Thompson.

The disabled athlete has just won her eleventh Paralympic gold medal, her second of these Athens games.

She is now the most successful British paralympian of the modern era.

But in a world dominated by football, not as successful has Wayne Rooney…’

Posted: 28th, September 2004 | In: Back pages | Comment


The Old Routine

‘HARD luck on Tim Henman and Greg Rusedski, who narrowly failed to beat Austria and so elevate Britain’s Davis Cup team to the top division.

A tired double act

However, their gallant failure is tarnished a little by Rusedski’s lament to the Telegraph about the blister on his left hand.

“It’s hard to hold the racket, it’s hard to serve and it hurts when I hit the ball,” explained the British No.2.

And it’s a pain unaided by the fact that had he not played in the final rubber against Stefan Koubek, Britain tennis fortunes would have rested on the narrow shoulders of Andrew Murray or Alex Bogdanovich.

Don’t worry if you’ve not heard of them – the team’s captain, Jeremy Bates, showed little signs that he recognised their abilities either, sticking with the pain-affected Rusedksi.

But sports can toss up a few surprises. And while we wonder what night have been had youth been given its head in Austria, the Independent notices the Premier League table.

And there, hovering in third place, ahead of Manchester United and just three points behind league leaders Arsenal are Everton.

Yesterday, the Toffees’ Tim Cahill scored the only goal in an away game victory at Portsmouth, a win that took a Wayne Rooney-less Everton to new heights.

Of course, as George Graham was wont to say, the league is a marathon not a sprint. And with so many matches left, the thinking is very much that the natural order of things will be restored.

And that means a rise for the likes of underperforming Liverpool and Newcastle and a steady drop down the table for Everton.

If the British men’s tennis team and the status quo in English football were not enough to suggest that competition was dying, the state of Formula One says that it is all but dead.

The Guardian may well heap praise on the “BRAVE NEW WORLD” of F1 racing in China, but though the track was new and the crowds were excited, the result was the same: Ferrari won.

The red flag flying over a bit of China at the weekend may have had a horse on it, but it pointed to world every bit as uniform as that heralded by Chairman Mao Zedong’s famous flag bearers.’

Posted: 27th, September 2004 | In: Back pages | Comment


Off The Clough

‘AFTER the wreaths come the brickbats as the Express leads with the news that someone has dared question the legacy of the dearly departed Brian Clough.

The Comfi-Slax sweater only comes in green

The man who has gone against the grain is Rick Parry, the former chief executive of the Premier League, who once headed a three-man inquiry into the sale of Teddy Sheringham from Clough’s Forest to Spurs in 1992.

“On the balance of evidence,” says Parry, “we thought he was guilty of taking bungs. I was surprised when the FA took no action against him or Forest.”

Anyone surprised at FA inaction might be either new to the game or horribly naive. Parry is neither.

And neither are the nodding heads who line to say how upset they are, outraged even, that with his body barely cold in the turf, Clough’s name should be dragged through the mud.

Former Forest hero Kenny Burns is “very angry”. His colleague from those heady days of European glory, former carpet fitter Garry Birtles, says Parry is “beyond contempt”.

And even the paper’s Harry Harris, writing in a piece entitled “Respect the rascal”, says how Clough should not be remembered “just because he liked a sweetener”.

No, he shouldn’t. He should be stuck in a museum and lionised as one of the greats of the game, a character, a one-off, a showman and have bestowed upon him all manner of epitaphs.

You can’t libel the dead, but, by ‘eck, young man, you sure can praise them to the skies.

You can also, as the Guardian says, buy one of Clough’s trademark hideous green jumpers, which have been flying off the shelves at the Nottingham Forest club shop.

Sunday has been designated Green Day at Forest, and for their home televised game against West Ham the fans will wear green jumpers, tuck their tracksuits bottoms into their socks and playfully cuff young lads hard round the head.

West Ham’s travelling support will then begin to sing about how they won the World Cup. It’ll be like the Premier League never happened.

Meanwhile, the Indy says that all of China is excited at this weekend’s Formula One Grand Prix.

The track – 3.387 miles long; nine straights and 14 bends (seven left, seven right); space for 200,000 spectators; 174,000 tyres in the barriers – is all ready for what the paper calls “the biggest sporting event to date held in the country”.

And what we call, a terrific result for Ferrari…’

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


Life Of Brian

‘FOR a few moments in yesterday’s ICC Champions Trophy match between Pakistan and the West Indies, the bedraggled crowd held their breath.

‘Catch it!’

As the Telegraph reports, having already told Brian Lara that he’d kill him (an intention the Windes’ Ramnaresh Sarwan took to be said in jest), Pakistan’s express train, Shoaib Akhtar, launched a ferocious ball that stuck the batsman below the helmet and behind the ear.

Over four slow motion stills, readers look on as Lara is struck and collapses to the turf. He then lies still.

But he’s alright. And, despite some mild concussion, should be fit and ready to play England in Saturday’s final – where, as the paper’s Derek Pringle says, Steve Harmison and Andrew Flintoff will attempt to knock his block off once more.

The injury to arguably the greatest batsman of his age is not of prime importance, however, to the Sun, which leads instead with news of Real Madrid.

Since buying three English players of questionable quality, Real have become the Sun’s favourite topic of conversation.

And in today’s instalment from Madrid we hear that the club are after Bobby Robson.

Having sacked Jose Camacho, the fickle powers at the Bernabeu now, apparently, want Robson to take charge of team matters for the remainder of the season.

But the headline (“REAL OFFER SIR BOB A JOB”) is a little countered by the story which says that, er, they haven’t.

The Spanish club are thinking about it. Although if they did offer Robson the job, the paper is just certain that he “would find it impossible to turn down Real”.

If this nonsense were not enough to make us question what it is the Sun’s sports desk does of a day, the paper then tells us how Sven Goran Eriksson has also been linked to the job.

Linked by whom is not stated – although the Sun and its ilk are many people’s first and last guess.

But Sven says he’s not spoken to any club and is committed to England. But still the Sun gives odds of 3-1 on his taking the job.

Why we ponder those odds – and wonder what marks out of ten the Sun gives Sven’s chances of being Real’s next boss – we note that Arsene Wenger is said to be the man Real truly want.

However, he’s only given odds of 100-1 on taking the post. And in the Indy, we hear that Arsenal chairman, Peter Hill-Wood, is convinced his man will stay loyal to the Gunners.

“I don’t think he would be attracted to a club like Real,” says Hill-Wood, “where, we hear, the president buys players without telling the manager.”

Or the Sun…’

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


A Final Fling

‘IT’S hard to believe, so let’s check for ourselves.

Michael Vaughan tries out the Aussie salute

Yep, the winning team are wearing navy blue pyjamas with flashes of red and white.

Yep, that is the Michael Vaughan on the back page of the Express, a finger held aloft as he roars like a winner.

And that is the word “ENGLAND” emblazoned on his chest – he has not adopted a new country.

So this can only mean that for the first time in 15 games England’s cricketers have beaten Australia.

And not just beaten, but well beaten, convincingly beaten – England won the semi-final of the one-day ICC Championship Trophy with 21 balls and six wickets in hand.

England now play either Pakistan or West Indies in the final, and, if their summer has been any guide to the result, they’ll thrash the tourists out of sight.

And Ricky Ponting, the Australian captain, tells the Express that’s just what he wants.

“I hope England go all the way and win it,” says the pugnacious batsman. “We were outplayed. Our guys weren’t tough enough and we all got disappointed.”

Is that music we hear? The sound of a beaten Australian captain comes close to the sound of angels playing harps.

But there’s another sound in the background. It’s a snap of a breaking bone. Which can only mean it’s the Times’ story on Steven Gerrard and how the England footballer has broken his foot.

Make that his metatarsal, which, as the paper reminds us, is very much the fashionable bone to break when it comes to foot damage.

Thanks to David Beckham, Gary Neville, Wayne Rooney and now Gerrard, football fans are expert in metatarsals, broken and otherwise.

But while Gerrard and his foot sit out the next 12 weeks, we note that football’s Carling Cup has reached phase two.

The Telegraph tells its readers of wins for Colchester over Premiership side West Brom (2-1) and how Crystal Palace have won a match.

Yes, whatever England’s cricketers can do, so too can Palace’s footballer, who have just beaten Hartlepool by two goals to one.

That’s Palace’s first competitive win of the season. Hurrah! Hurrah! Hurrah!

Hurrah!’

Posted: 22nd, September 2004 | In: Back pages | Comment


Dead Reckoning

‘OF all of Brian Clough’s many bons mots listed in today’s commemoration of the manager who died yesterday, one stands out.

”God better give me his favourite armchair”

“I want no epitaphs of profound history,” said “Old Big ‘Ead” in words now reproduced by the Guardian.

“I contributed – I would hope they would say that, and I would hope somebody liked me.”

But Brian fails to get his wish granted as the papers lament the man who, the Times says, “single-handedly created the cult of the football manager”.

Page after page – front and back – is given over to the man who took provincial Nottingham Forest from nowhere to the pinnacle of European football.

He does at least achieve his other ambition of being liked, as the Guardian asks various Nottingham locals to say how much they admired the man who put their city on the map.

The Independent sticks with the great man’s quotes, producing the largest collections of Cloughisms.

So, before we turn to the other big sports news (Rio Ferdinand’s return to the pitch last night), let’s hear a few of Clough’s words.

When Manchester United opted out of the FA Cup in favour of a Brazilian jolly a few season’s back, Clough offered the opinion: “I hope they all get bloody diarrhoea.”

And now, with that image in mind, we move to the back of the Sun and, below a large picture of Clough, we see that Manchester United have beaten Liverpool 2-1.

And although it was United’s other centre-back, Mikael Silvestre who scored a brace of goals to win United the game, the news is all about Ferdinand.

How much the Londoner had to do with United’s win is open to conjecture.

But, as the Independent’s Tim Rich puts it, “Rio Ferdinand’s positioning for his eight-month suspension…was forever faultless”.

But Ferdinand’s England colleague Michael Owen’s sense of timing is brought into question in the Sun.

In “OWEN SPARKED REAL REVOLT”, readers learn that Jose Camancho was forced out of his job as coach of Real Madrid when his decision to replace Raul with Owen met with universal disapproval.

Far from being an agent provocateur, as the headline suggests, Owen’s role in the affair is less than glorious.

For the player who has yet to score for Real, this is hardly an auspicious start to life at his new club.

Perhaps he’ll have more luck with his new manager, Mariano Garcia Remon.

Although how long he will last is open to much speculation.

Which is something the Sun is all too happy to engage in, suggesting that Sven Goran Eriksson is ready to take over.

And his first task will be to buy Patrick Vieira. Or so the Sun will say soon enough…’

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


VE Day

‘CONGRATULATIONS to Team Europe for thrashing the Americans to retain golf’s Ryder Cup.

The moment of victory

Indeed, the Europeans have now won four out of the last five biennial challenges with only Brookline a few years back – when America plunged a stiletto shoe into the European dream – bucking the trend.

And few if any golfers have played a bigger part in Europe’s successes than Colin Montgomerie.

The Telegraph says the Scot is “the toast of Europe” after his putt scored the winning point yesterday.

But while the papers see Europe celebrate, the Times wonders what lies ahead for the Americans, who must be wondering why players who look better on paper than their European opponents underperform in the team game.

The paper even asks the question: “Is Tiger Woods the Americans’ weakest link?”

The suggestion is that the playing legend casts a long shadow over his teammates and fails to inspire those playing with him.

And the record for such a great player does little to counter the notion that Woods plays better as an individual.

In his 16 Ryder Cup matches to date, the world No.2 golfer has won five, halved one and lost 10. That’s hardly the stuff of heroes.

Woods is also accused to talking a good game – something that football Jose Mourinho is prone to do.

And after his Chelsea side’s stale 0-0 draw with Spurs, the Portuguese manager has been talking some more.

In “TOTT ROT”, the Sun hears Mourinho moan about how unfair it was of Spurs not to let his team score.

“People do not pay money to see one team play and another team defend, kick balls, away, fall down, demand medical help and take five minutes to sub a player.”

No, they come to Chelsea to see the home team win and any number of expensive new players score loads of goals.

“If I was a fan and had to pay money, I wouldn’t come,” says Mourinho.

But he’s not a fan. He’s a manager who gets paid lots of money to make Chelsea win.

However, he’s got a decent imagination and, after wondering what it would be like to come as a supporter, Mourinho wonders some more.

“If I was a referee, I would protect the team who want to play,” he says.

Perhaps. And if money were the only thing needed to guarantee success, Chelsea would be European champions and have beaten Spurs 10-0.

But, quite plainly, it isn’t…’

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


Our Cup Spilleth Over

‘ALL eyes are on Oakland Hills this weekend, the golf club in Michigan where the American Ryder Cup team will reveal this year’s fashion crime.

Made in America…in a mould

The word is that the outfit chosen by US captain Hal Sutton is something quite special, although it will have to be if it is to match some of their previous performances.

The 1999 team is widely regarded by most fashion experts to have been the greatest ever assembled, the shirts bearing photographs of past tournaments.

And it is not just the men, either – Sutton will have to come up with outfits for the wives that beat the 1999 Sindy costumes or the 2002 Stepford Wives look.

With such pressure on the costumiers, it is little wonder that this biennial event is so eagerly anticipated by players and spectators alike.

The papers, however, are for once concentrating on the game itself in what the Independent kids itself is “increasingly becoming a barometer of middle America’s self-regard”.

The fact that the European team hold the trophy and have won five and drawn one of the last 10 matches does not seem to have unduly affected a country that has never had much problem when it comes to self-regard.

American captains traditionally introduce their team as the 12 best golfers in the world and then come Sunday evening, are forced to eat humble pie.

This year, they don’t even have the best golfer in the world after Tiger Woods lost that mantle to Vijay Singh – and the Press are expecting a close contest once again.

At lunchtime today, Woods and Phil Mickelson will lead out against Colin Montgomerie and Padraig Harrington in the first of the morning fourballs.

And if anyone doubts that it’s going to be a real battle, the Guardian says Sutton’s vice-captain Jackie Burke Jr described the required mindset as “like going ashore with the Marines”.

He presumably wasn’t referring to Monty.

Meanwhile, the tabloids focus on the return of Rio Ferdinand after his seven-month ban for missing a drugs test.

The Sun reports that his Manchester United teammates have only won 41% of the matches they have played in the defender’s absence.

And the man himself tells the Mirror how the ban has helped him to realise just how lucky professional footballers are.

There’s nothing like sitting on your arse for half a year and getting paid £80,000 a week to do it to give one a bit of perspective…’

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


Frisky Business

‘REFEREES are poor, sickly creatures…

Seeing red

No-one who saw it can forget Paul Alcock’s theatrical stagger and fall after being shoved by Paolo Di Canio nor the months of therapy that he needed as a result.

Now, Sweden’s Anders Frisk has shown that the men in black (or yellow, in his case) are made of no sterner stuff abroad.

Frisk refused to go out and officiate the second half of last night’s Roma v Dynamo Kiev match after being hit on the head by a cigarette lighter as he left the pitch at half-time.

True, as the Guardian notes, he had blood streaming from a wound in the middle of his forehead, but players have continued with much greater wounds than that.

And, if Frisk was not up to the task, then surely Uefa could have sent on a substitute, as they would have done had Fisk pulled a muscle or suffered a split end.

As it was, the match was abandoned with the Ukrainians leading 1-0 – and the Guardian thinks the Italian side will be kicked out of the competition as a result.

Although the culprit was almost certainly a Roma fan angry that Frisk had had sent off French defender Philippe Mexes moments before, expulsion seems a heavy penalty.

Not least for the other clubs in the group, who will miss out on two money-spinning matches.

One thing is sure, Mexes is unlikely to take the case of his sending off – for kicking out at Maris Verpakovskis – to the European Court.

Unlike Robbie Savage. The Birmingham midfielder is, in the words of the Guardian, “contemplating freeing modern footballers from the tedious inconvenience of accepting referees’ decisions”.

He is angry at his sending-off and subsequent ban in last week’s draw between Wales and Northern Ireland.

And he says that if Fifa fails to overturn referee Domenico Messina’s decision, then he will consider taking legal action of his own.

It is highly debatable whether the horrible Savage actually possesses any human rights – and so to matters on the pitch.

Ruud Van Nistelrooy’s two second half goals last night helped his Manchester United team come back from 2-0 down to get a draw in Lyon – and, in the process, he became the club’s highest scorer in European competitions.

The Sun says the Dutchman was congratulated on his achievement by Denis Law, the man whose record he beat.

“I’m delighted for Ruud,” Law said. “It could not happen to a nicer guy. He deserves this. And to do it in the way he did is fantastic.”

While Liverpool won 2-0, Michael Owen’s new club Real Madrid slipped to a sensational 3-0 defeat at Bayer Leverkusen.

Owen was left on the bench for the third game in a row and admitted that he was frustrated.

“I’m always confident I can do things if I get a chance,” he told the Sun, “but the game wasn’t there for me tonight so I will wait for the next game.”

And the one after that…and after that…’

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


1-0 To The Arsenal

‘CHELSEA have inherited Arsenal’s old mantle of winning ugly, starting off the Premiership season with two 1-0 wins while the Gunners have been scoring for fun.

The Lionel Blair of football

But last night the roles were reversed as the Blues started off their Champions’ League campaign with a 3-0 at Paris St Germain, while Arsenal got past PSV Eindhoven by the only goal.

Such is Arsenal’s hold at the moment over broadsheet football journalists, who compete to outdo each other in their adulation for Thierry Henry et al, that Jose Mourinho’s men barely get a look in.

As befits a paper whose origins may be in Manchester but whose heart is in north London, the Guardian makes no mention of Chelsea on its back page.

They are relegated to the also-rans inside as the paper dwells on every kick of Arsenal’s nervy 1-0 win, which came courtesy of an own-goal just before half-time.

The tabloids, however, focus on Didier Drogba’s brace for Chelsea and the goal celebrations, which (says the Mirror) may cost him a Uefa ban.

Drogba mocked the PSG fans, who had jeered him all night, imitating Pauleta’s goal celebrations and blowing kisses at them.

But, says the Sun, his actions did not impress his manager.

Back to the broadsheets and the build-up to Friday’s Ryder Cup has already started.

The Independent is banging on again about Tiger Woods’ poor record in the team event, comparing him with the brilliance of Colin Montgomerie in this form of golf.

Monty has won 16 of the 28 matches he has played, with five halves and only seven defeats. Woods has won only five of 15, losing eight matches and halving two.

All of which will count for precisely nothing come the weekend, although it gives the hacks something with which to fill their columns in the meantime.

The other obsession of the journos is how the American crowd will behave.

European captain Bernhard Langer tells the Telegraph that he is preparing his players for the worst after the excesses of Kiawah Island in 1991 and Brookline in 1999.

Meanwhile, US captain Hal Sutton says he is done with apologising for the scenes last time the cup was played in America.

Then, the US players and wives ran onto the 17th green to congratulate Justin Leonard for a crucial putt just as Jose Maria Olazabal was lining up his own putt to keep the match alive.

“If the same circumstances presented themselves again,” he said, “the players would not have run onto the green, but the truth of the matter is that we are going to be ourselves this year.”

It’s not the players being themselves that the Europeans are worried about – it’s that elements of the crowd will also be themselves.’

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


The Stuff Of Champions

‘WHEN the last remaining English club is knocked out of the European Cup, normally at the quarter- or semi-final stage, the papers start the post-mortems.

‘And Joe…don’t forget the oranges!’

Why do English clubs do so badly in Europe? Do we play too many games? Is there something wrong with our style of play?

This year, the papers are indulging in a few pre-mortems, asking the very same questions that they will no doubt be asking again in March.

The Independent produces a table to show how English clubs have underperformed since 1992 in a competition that they dominated for the decade prior to their post-Heysel expulsion.

In that time, Spanish clubs have lifted the trophy on four occasions, Italian clubs on three occasions and German clubs twice.

Even French clubs (with one win, one beaten finalist and four semi-finals) and Dutch clubs (one win, one beaten finalist and one semi-finalist) have fared better than their English counterparts.

So what is the problem?

Joe Cole thinks the tactics used by English teams have been part of the problem.

“I think we don’t do well in Europe, and on the world stage, because when you play against good teams you have to be able to keep the ball,” he says.

“A lot of English teams play 4-4-2 and it is both difficult to keep the ball and difficult to get it back because you have no-one breaking between the lines, playing in front of the back four and in the hole behind the strikers.”

Coincidentally, that happens to be Cole’s preferred role – a point that won’t be lost on Sven Goran Eriksson if he happens to choose the Indy for his post-coital read.

Tonight, perennial underachievers Arsenal set out on their seventh successive Champions’ League campaign with a home tie against PSV Eindhoven and the weight of expectation on their shoulders.

Arsene Wenger is quick to deny in the Times that the world’s premier club competition is the Holy Grail – but he knows the importance of success in Istanbul in eight months’ time.

The Telegraph hears from Chelsea boss Jose Mourinho, who took Porto to European Cup success last season.

“Football people in England should stop and ask themselves for what reason English football has not been successful abroad,” he said.

And the implication from the comment is that Premiership football is simply too attack-minded, too gung-ho to succeed in a game where patience and caution are called for.

Expect Chelsea, therefore, to start off in cautious fashion in Paris tonight.’

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


Murray Mint

‘IT is a rare day indeed when even a word of common sense comes out of the mouth of Sepp Blatter – but two in the space of one conversation is unprecedented.

‘Grrrr!’

The Fifa boss yesterday not only criticised last week’s pathetic posturing by England’s footballers, but also spoke up for Everton’s Tim Cahill.

Cahill was sent off at the weekend by referee Steve Bennett for lifting his shirt over his head as he celebrated his winning goal against Manchester City.

Even by the imbecilic standards of today’s referees, this was so risible as to defy explanation.

But, although Blatter said Bennett should have had a word with Cahill instead of giving him a second yellow card, the Swiss meddler is ultimately responsible.

It is his organisation that has season after season introduced these new directives, such as the absurd new offside law, which are making the game a laughing stock.

Anyway, the Sun says Cahill’s goal has left Manchester City boss Kevin Keegan teetering on the brink – a mere one game away from the bullet.

Another boss in crisis is West Brom manager Gary Megson after his players got involved in a mass brawl, which the Mail says started after Thomas Gaardsoe had water squirted in his face.

With Paul Sturrock and Sir Bobby Robson having been sacked and Graeme Souness having left to take charge at Newcastle, the question is how many clubs will end the season with the same manager they had at the start.

Arsene Wenger certainly looks pretty safe after his Arsenal team won their fifth straight match, although not without a bit of help from referee Mark Halsey.

Halsey not only ruled out what looked a perfectly good Fulham goal but changed his mind over a first-half penalty for Chris Coleman’s men because of the reaction of the players.

Even if the correct decision was eventually made, it is opening a real can of worms.

Which would bring us on nicely to a good angling story, except there is no such thing as a good angling story.

So, to tennis instead and the Telegraph gives Roger Federer due praise for his three-set demolition of Lleyton Hewitt in yesterday’s US Open final.

But the picture on the front of its sports section is of another tennis player – Andrew Murray, the 17-year-old Scot who won the boy’s event at Flushing Meadow.

All the broadsheets are beside themselves with excitement at the prospect of someone to cheer after Tiger Tim Henman roars for the last time.

And why not? Murray is the first British winner of a junior grand slam crown since 1993, when James Baily took the Australian Open crown.

Just look what happened to him…’

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


Tiger Earns His Stripes

‘NO hill. No Sue Barker. No HRT. And no cries of “Come on, Tim”, “Go on, Tim” and “Shhhhhh!!!” as he’s about to serve. No cheering as his opponent makes an unforced error.

‘Grrrrr!’

And yet despite of – or because of – the lack of Henmanic activists, the boy wonder, England’s No.1 tennis player for the past millennium and more, Tim Henman, has reached the semi-finals of the US Open.

The Independent was in New York to see the tiger defeat Slovakia’s Dominik Hrbaty in a mere four sets.

Henman now faces the dubious honour of what he calls the “biggest task in tennis right now”, namely how he’s going to defeat Roger Federer in tomorrow’s match.

The Times does give Henman some hope and shows how, over the history of showdowns between the pair, Henman leads by a margin of six victories to one.

“I’ve beaten him a few times in the past and I hope I can do it again,” says Henman in the Telegraph

“The important thing is that I’ve remained pretty relaxed on court. Let’s see what happens on Saturday.”

Yes, let’s see. And let’s hope that right now 5,000 men and women from Middle England with painted faces aren’t getting ready to board planes to New York and cheer our Tim on.

He seems to play better and do better when his legion of fans leave him alone.

Not that the Henmaniacs are being as quiet as the England football team, who are pictured on the back of the Sun with plasters superimposed across their mouths.

Thankfully, others have much to say about the players’ decision not to talk to the press.

And the one who has most to shout about is Graham Taylor, the former England manger whose bon mots have given us some of the most hilarious moments in football.

Having laughably told its readers that the paper’s move to brand Taylor a turnip was “part and parcel of football’s rich tapestry”, the Sun is ready to hear from the great man.

“Nobody likes criticism, that’s obvious – and being called a turnip wasn’t nice,” says football’s best-loved root vegetable.

“But if your answer is to hide away and not talk, your critics have won. The best reply is always to stand there and argue your own case?”

Like a human being.

“There is a simple answer. If you don’t like it, don’t read it. Nobody makes you look at it. I didn’t realise for five days that I’d been called a turnip because I hadn’t seen the Sun.”

Or understood why replacing Gary Linker with Alan Smith in a must-win match was inviting a good roasting – with all the trimmings…’

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


Struck Dumb

‘IF it wasn’t for the guttersnipe media, David Beckham would still be an untarnished family man who dotes on his talented wife and Sven Goran Eriksson would be likeable.

What a bunch of asses!

It might also be said that footballers and football folk would not be so rich or so high profile, but would be reduced to what they are – men in tracksuits who kicked a ball when others were in school.

The idea that the press is to blame for anything bad is the kind of thinking that lay behind the England squad’s decision to cold shoulder the media after their 2-1 win over Poland.

The Telegraph says that, although the side honoured their commitment to pass through the ‘mixed zone’ at the Slaski Stadium, where interviews are usually held, they ignored all requests to speak.

The papers says that, apart from our aforestated comment, the reason for this vow of silence had less to do with tabloid exposes and everything to with the one paper that labelled David James, England’s often calamitous goalkeeper, a donkey.

And this, as the paper says, led to the players’ revolt, which is said to have been instigated by England’s celebrity captain David Beckham and his mate Gary Neville – a man who not so long was reported to have called the Sun to find out what his girlfriend had been up to while he was at Euro 2004.

The double standards exercised by these puffed up berks and their self-aggrandising posturing would be pathetic were it not so laughable.

But England win (hurray!) and all is right with the world. And they won with three Spurs players in the starting XI!

But while England’s players puff out their chests and become bigger than the jersey, the Times shows that there is more to British football than English spoiled brats.

Last night Wales drew 2-2 with Northern Ireland in Cardiff.

The paper recalls the memory of the old Home International tournament, when the four Home Nations played each other regularly.

And here was reason enough to restore the world’s first international football tournament, with the game’s three sendings off, four goals and an atmosphere that was ‘the stuff of dreams’.

The other stuff of dreams is for Tim Henman to win a Grand Slam event.

And, at the time of going to press, he was still in with a chance of doing so, having raced to a one set lead in his US Open quarter-final match against Domink Hrbaty.

The Mail reports that rain then stopped play.

But the downpour came too late to save Serena Williams, who lost the plot as she went down in three sets to fellow American Jennifer Capriati.

Following three bad decisions that went against her, Williams let rip.

‘I guess she went temporarily insane,’ says Williams of the umpire. ‘I expect a letter of apology. I think that’s the least the umpire can do.

‘But I’d really prefer it if she didn’t umpire my court any more because she’s obviously anti-Serena.’

Oh, how we love it when sportstars address themselves in the third person! Better they all do as England do, and keep silent…’

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


Life In The Camp

‘A WARNING? A veiled threat? Whatever the motive, the Mail leads with a shot of England’s footballers paying a visit to Auschwitz in the run-up to their World Cup qualifying game against Poland.

Beckham’s split end appears to have healed in time for tonight’s game

If the players are worried about what fate will befall them should they fail against a decent Polish side, their leader, Sven Goran Eriksson, says he’s unconcerned about his own future.

‘I am not worried about it at all,’ says Sven in reply to a question on what lies ahead for him.

‘I have always said that sooner or later it will happen…The longer you stay in a job the greater the possibility of losing it, but once again I am not thinking about it and I am not worried about it because I am thinking only about the Poland game and trying to win it.’

Well said by the man whom the Telegraph’s Henry Winter says would ‘struggle to change a light bulb let alone a team’.

And that disabilty means a place in the starting line-up for both David James and the lacklustre David Beckahm – something the Polish team have spotted, much to their delight.

Jacek Bak, the team’s captain, outlines his plans to do for England in the Times, saying how he will not let the English defence settle.

‘Every chance we get, we must shoot from long distance,’ says Bak.

‘We saw James on Saturday and we must give him the opportunity to make those same errors against us and put him under pressure.’

Well, at least somebody is, because such is the comfort zone within the England team dressing room that James appears to be under no pressure within the camp at all.

But enough of England’s footballers and to the Guardian we go and its latest installment from its Pick A Manager (Any Manager) masterclass.

Yesterday, the Guardian voiced its lack of surprise at the appointment of Graeme Souness at Newcastle – a choice it felt was coming but just forgot to tell its readers – and introduced the runners and riders in the race to replace the Scot at Blackburn Rovers.

And among those names came no mention of Dick Advocaat, who, as the paper says one day forward, is now the favourite to make the post his own.

But while we await Kenny Dalglish’s return to Blackburn – ‘Told Yer So,’ says the Guardian – the Telegraph brings news that Tiger Woods is no longer the world’s best golfer – and that’s official.

After a record span at the top of 264 weeks, Woods has been replaced by Fijian Vijay Singh, who rose to No.1 thanks to his victory in the Deutsche Bank Championship in Boston.

This should be good news for those teams and players who dream of being the best, and serve as a timely reminder to the likes of Beckham and Eriksson that the time at the top is brief…’

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