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

We Woz Robbed

‘THE £1.2m Alex Ferguson paid Leeds for the services of Eric Cantona might be considered the best value-for-money transfer in Premiership history.

Log onto www.Page3Strip for live drugs searches

But the Manchester United manager’s dabblings in the transfer market in recent years have been nothing like as successful.

And the Express suggests the veteran boss’s judgement will be called into question at the club’s annual meeting today.

In particular, Fergie’s refusal to pay £8.6m for Arjen Robben, the Dutch youngster who has set English football alight in the past couple of weeks.

The paper says the £12m that Chelsea eventually paid for the 20-year-old is starting to look like a bargain, especially compared with the £49.8m United have spent on three strikers with only six Premiership goals between them.

In the Mirror, Chelsea boss Jose Mourinho is hailing the former PSV player as the missing link that will give the Blues the most dangerous forward line in the Premiership.

Arsenal might dispute that claim, especially when a quick look at the table reveals that the Gunners have so far scored 32 goals to Chelsea’s 17.

But it is an ex-Chelsea player who is making headlines in the Sun, where Mark Bosnich (who was thrown out of the game after testing positive for cocaine) claims that there is a massive drugs cover-up in football.

He says that a number of top players have served secret suspensions for drugs, that some clubs cover up positive results and that club bosses tip off players about supposedly random tests.

“It’s easy to say a player has this or that injury, he goes off for a few months of rehab and returns to football with no-one any the wiser,” he says.

This is an excuse for the Sun to follow up yesterday’s pathetic non-story about a Bill actress having taken cocaine with an equally pathetic non-story that you can buy the drug outside some of Manchester’s most trendy bars.

And, although it says the bars like Sugar Lounge and Revolution have a strict anti-drugs policy, its shock revelation is that “it would be simple for a drug user to smuggle in his own stash – or have it delivered by a ‘mule’”.

This is truly amazing news – and has inspired us at Anorak to launch our own campaign to introduce strip searches at the door of every trendy bar and club in the UK.

Hell, why stop there?

Drug users could no doubt smuggle a wrap of coke into a Premiership ground (or have it delivered by a mule) if they tried hard enough. Let’s have strip searches at the turnstiles.

And at the entrance to supermarkets. And churches. And newspaper offices…’

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

Battle Of The Buffet II

‘WE know that Arsenal’s second-string side can almost match the seniors’ efforts on the pitch, but can they do the same off it?


Can Mathieu Flamini hurl pea soup with the same panache as Edu? Can Jermaine Pennant fling pizza the same mighty distances as Robert Pires? Is Quincy Owusu-Abeyie as deadly with a cheese and ham sandwich as Thierry Henry?

We will hopefully find out in three weeks’ time when the Gunners travel to Old Trafford for their Carling Cup quarter-final or what the Mirror is calling “Battle Of The Buffet – The Second Helping”.

Sir Alex Ferguson’s reaction to last night’s draw, apart from a mental note not to wear his best suit that night, was captured by the Sun.

“Oh deary me,” he said. “The FA will be delighted.”

United booked their passage into the last eight, courtesy of a 2-0 win over what was effectively Crystal Palace reserves in a match that saw Louis Saha end his eight-game goal drought.

In other matches, Chelsea will play Fulham, Spurs will host Liverpool and Watford will be at home to Portsmouth.

Who Portsmouth’s manager will be by then is not clear, with the Mirror suggesting that Harry Redknapp may have been forced out.

Pompey were in the bottom half of the old Division One when the former West Ham boss took over and are now in the top half of the Premiership.

But Redknapp and chairman Milan Mandaric are known not to get on – and news that Panathinaikos’s Croatian director of football, Velimir Zajec, quit yesterday apparently to join Portsmouth has only increased speculation.

One man who does appear to be on his way out is Southampton’s Steve Wigley, who is by general consent one game away from losing his job.

And such is the Saints’ plight that news in the Mail that the club will turn again to Glenn Hoddle might not provoke the same outrage that it did last time.

The paper says the board “accept that the former England coach represents the most sensible option” and even the supporters are starting to warm to the idea.

Keeping Southampton up might represent something of a miracle, but there is no-one in English football more capable than performing a miracle than The Chosen One.’

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

Crazy Horse, Crazy Money

‘FOR most of us, two and a half million quid is quite a lot of money – but most of us are not Premiership footballers and most of our bosses are not Russian oil billionaires.

An unforgettable night in Rome

So, when John Terry reads in the Sun this morning that his new five-year contract is worth £22.5m compared with the £25m it’s worth in the Mail, he’ll probably not be too upset.

Either way, both papers agree it is a “staggering” amount of money, especially at a time when football is on something of a slide.

The Sun says the £90,000-a-week deal makes Terry the highest paid player at Stamford Bridge and puts him second in the Premiership behind Sol Campbell, who earns £100,000 a week.

The Mail says only that it puts him in the same pay bracket as Frank Lampard and makes him one of the country’s highest-paid players.

It’s a far cry from the days when Emlyn Hughes, who died yesterday, was lifting the European Cup for Liverpool.

It’s a far cry even from the days when another former England captain Bryan Robson was lifting the Premier League trophy for Manchester United.

But Robson is back in football this morning, the Express reporting that he has been installed as the new boss of West Bromwich Albion.

And he is blaming rumours of a drinking culture at Middlesbrough for the three years he has spent out of the game.

“The last year at Boro has been held against me,” he said. “That is the only way I can explain why I have not had an opportunity.”

That and the fact that no-one much rated you as a manager…

On the pitch, there were victories for Arsenal’s second string, who beat Everton 3-1 in the Carling Cup, and for Spurs who won 3-1 at Burnley – a result marred only by the fact that the Mail inflicts Robbie Keane’s oh-so-annoying goal celebrating on its readers.

Inside the Mail, the news is that British Grand Prix has been saved after the Formula One teams agreed to a 19-race calendar next season.

Bernie Ecclestone described the meeting as “the most productive meeting I’ve attended in 25 years of Formula One” – although admittedly that’s not saying too much.

“Although we do not yet have a deal with Silverstone,” he said, “myself and the teams will be shattered if there’s no British race next year.”

As no doubt will members of the British race…’

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

A Table For Two?

‘“CAN you see them over a cosy dinner date?” Arsenal chairman Peter Hill-Wood says of the FA’s suggestion that Arsene Wenger and Alex Ferguson should get together to declare a truce.

”Gareth Southgate says there’s good money to be made in pizzas”

To which the answer is a Bob The Builder-like “Yes, we can”.

We can see Fergie tucking into a pea soup starter, while Wenger studies the pizza menu. We can see both of them refusing the special of humble pie.

We can see them tucking in enthusiastically to the hard cheese and sour grapes…

But somehow we know such a meal is never going to happen – and the Express says that Arsenal have given their manager licence to carry on winding up the Manchester United boss.

Wenger may have been charged by the FA after calling United striker Ruud Van Nistelrooy “a cheat”, but the Highbury board have refused to condemn him.

“Wenger is a very intelligent man and he says exactly what he thinks,” Hill-Wood said. “That’s his principle rather than any perceived run-in with Ferguson.”

Whatever the tribulations at Arsenal with their stuttering form and their manager on a disrepute charge, their north London rivals would happily swap places.

But a bit of good news for Spurs on the back page of the Sun, which reports that departing manager Jacques Santini will get no compensation because he left while the club were 11th in the table.

A secret clause in his contract apparently states that he is not entitled to a pay-out of the club are in the bottom half.

And the Sun says that news “will further the strong belief that he was pushed rather than jumped”.

However, the Star says his replacement, Dutchman Martin Jol, is feeling the strain already.

He certainly will be if he keeps on giving hostages to fortune such as suggesting that he can be a new Bill Nicholson and bring back the glory days to White Hart Lane.

“When I was a kid of 11, Spurs were one of the biggest clubs in England and one of the best in Europe,” he said.

“I have only been here four months, but I know that it is a great club too. We have the best away support in the country.”

Finally, we read in the Mirror of the sad death of 20-times Australian professional snooker champion “Steady” Eddie Charlton.

The 75-year-old, who was also a three-time world championship runner-up, had a heart attack and died in a New Zealand hospital.

Daughter Annette reported: “Only three days before his death, he was still playing 15 frames of snooker a night.”

Anyone who saw the speed Charlton played the game at could be forgiven for wondering whether that means he never went to sleep at all…’

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

Hen Pecked

‘ANOTHER day, another draw and another whinge from Alex Ferguson – it’s amazing what passes for news at the back end of the papers.

Paula with garnish

The fact that the Manchester United manager has finally admitted what everyone has known for weeks – that his side are not good enough to challenge for the title – is hardly fascinating stuff.

The fact that Paula Radcliffe finished a race, on the other hand, is.

The woman who broke down in tears during the Olympic marathon bounced back with victory in the New York marathon, 77 days after her humiliation in Greece.

The Express says she “showed all her familiar determination and courage” to beat her friend, Kenyan Susan Chepkemei, by four seconds.

“I was a little silly,” she said afterwards. “I went out for a meal the night before the race, the spaghetti bolognese I had was cold, I asked for the dish to be reheated and shouldn’t have done.

“I couldn’t sleep that night because of indigestion and about 23 miles into the race I was feeling very sick.”

But while that allows the Express to talk about a “gutsy” run, it is football that is once again responsible for the worst of today’s puns.

The Star, for instance, headlines its story about Newcastle’s 4-1 home defeat by Fulham with the words “Chopped Souey”, a reference to manager Graeme Souness being sent off.

But it’s another Graham – referee Graham Poll – who dominates the back pages.

“Poll-Axed” is the Mirror’s headline after Alex Ferguson complained that a Manchester United player would need to be “hit by an axe” to win a penalty.

Anyone who saw the penalty they were awarded against Arsenal may be forgiven for thinking that Ferguson was mistaking an axe for a feather.

Poll may be a poor referee, but his name is the toast of lazy sub-editors up and down the country.

And shame on the Express for its effort this morning, “Poll Taxes High-Earners But He Was Usually Right”.

The Sun eschews such easy pickings for the abominable “A Bridge Too Fer” – a reference we imagine to Ferguson’s admission that Chelsea’s lead of 11 points is too much to make up.

But inside it reports that Michael Owen, whose Real Madrid career we were told only a few weeks ago was over, scored his fifth goal in six games yesterday.

The 24-year-old hit the target only seven minutes after coming on as sub to seal a 2-0 victory over Malaga and take his side up to second in La Liga.

There is nothing guaranteed to annoy journalists more than being told they don’t know what they’re doing.

And the Mail is just the latest paper to react badly to Tim Henman’s “outrageous outburst” about British hacks being the worst in the world.

Henman complained in a Swiss magazine that most tennis journos in the UK knew nothing about the game.

Nothing could be further from the truth – they know that the tennis season lasts for two weeks every year and that, for 10 days of those two weeks, they must pretend that it “could be Tim’s year” this year…’

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

White Lines

‘HAVING passed the buck in their game of pass the secretary, the Football Association today stands accused of passing up the chance to take a tough stance on drugs in football.

Andy Fordham tested positive for alcohol and nicotine

The Mail says that Chelsea have reacted “furiously” to the FA’s decision to ban their sacked striker Adrian Mutu for just seven months for failing a drugs test.

Peter Kenyon, Chelsea’s chief executive, says the punishment is too lenient and that the FA “have shown themselves to be weak over the issue of drugs”.

Given that the FA have shown themselves to be weak on just about anything and everything – whether it’s sex in the boardroom or the England team captain deliberately setting out to earn himself a caution – Kenyon and Chelsea can hardly claim to be surprised by this latest move.

But the Sun affects a look of shock and uses its back page to make the predictable compassion between Mutu’s sentence and the eight-month ban imposed on Rio Ferdinand.

“Miss a drugs test like Rio and get banned for 8 MONTHS,” says the paper. “Play high on cocaine like Mutu, get banned 7 MONTHS.”

To the Sun, this is madness. But to anyone with a brain in their head, the fact is that no-one can be more or less guilty than anyone else.

You break the rules, you pay the price. That’s it.

As such, there is remarkable consistency in the level of punishment meted out by the usually limp FA – although, perhaps, both miscreants should have received the full two-year ban many would have liked.

Aside from the hoopla over the Romanian striker, the Express says that Malcolm Glazer, the man with the interesting ginger beard, is close to achieving his ambition of taking control of Manchester United.

The American tycoon has tabled a new offer to leading shareholders John Magnier and JP McManus and, if accepted, Glazer could become owner of the club in just seven days time.

The paper say that fans opposed to the bid are bound to be upset by this latest move and will almost certainly launch fresh protests.

While anyone with an ounce of sanity wonders why some supporters of the most commercially-driven football club in the world would be angered by a takeover by a mega-rich, very successful businessman who offers a route into the lucrative American market, the Mirror talks darts.

Andy ‘The Viking’ Fordham and Phil ‘The Trailer?’ Taylor think it’s high time darts became an Olympic sport.

“It should be a sport,” says Fordham. “We stand up there and walk up and down the oche. Look at a sport like pistol shooting, they don’t do the amount of walking we do.”

Indeed, and often has the sport of darts has been compared to a good walk (to the bar) spoilt.

But Fordham’s reasoning is good enough for us, and today we officially announce that we are backing the campaign to make darts an Olympic sport.

And we look forward to some of the game’s chief protagonists lighting their fags on the Olympic flame as they take aim for their Queen…’

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

Going Dutch

‘CONTRARY to the popular belief held in some quarters, Ruud Van Nistelrooy is not a spiteful so-and-so but a goalscorer of no little skill.

‘I surrender! I surrender!’

And last night, the man who is more innocent than a puppy sitting alongside a pile of poo on your new shagpile rug scored all four goals in Manchester United’s 4-1 over Sparta Prague.

Well done to him, and well done to Liverpool, who beat Deportivo La Coruna thanks to an own goal from the Spanish side’s Jorge Andrade.

These are better times for English football, which now has four teams in with a shout of winning the Champions’ League.

Meanwhile, as the Mirror reports, West Bromwich Albion are just hoping they can get themselves a new manager.

After yesterday’s news that Glenn Hoddle was all set to roll into the Hawthorns on a sea of uplifted hands, the Messiah has had a moment of doubt.

In what the paper calls a “shock move”, Hoddle has stalled on taking the job, making the Albion board rethink their options and line up Paul Jewell for the role instead.

Albion chairman Jeremy Peace has made an official approach for the current Wigan coach, whose side are flying high in what used to be called Division 1 and before that Division 2 and is now oddly known as The Championship..

The team are profiled in a piece in the Mail called “INCREDIBLE RISE OF THE LIKELY LADS”, in which Jewell and his men “fight for hearts of Wigan peers”.

Ouch! If that pun brings more of a wince than a smile to your face, there is much laughter to be had on the adjoining page where the Mail shines a light into the corner of football known as AFC Wimbledon.

The Ryman League Division One side have now gone 75 games unbeaten, so equalling the English senior record of Cornish side St Blazey.

The fans and players celebrating the club’s 3-0 win over Fleet also had a raucous cheer for the news that the Milton Keynes Dons – aka “Franchise” – had lost 2-1 to Bristol City in the LDV Van Trophy.

And let’s also give a big hearty cheer to Mianne Bagger, who, the Telegraph says, has become the first transsexual woman to earn full playing privileges on golf’s Ladies’ European Tour.

The Danish-born, Australian-raised golfer says she wants to represent trans-gender people “in the best manner I can because I hate it when society wants to treat us as some sort of depravity”.

Well said. Ruud van Nistlerooy could not have put it better…’

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

Feeling Blue

‘ANOTHER game in Europe and another chance for Arsenal to throw away their lead and take one point from three.

Sometimes, it felt like the Greeks had 12 men on the pitch

“I don’t know what the problem is,” says the Gunners’ Freddie Ljungberg in the Sun, “it’s difficult to have an explanation.”

The Star, though, has little doubt and says that the reason for the champions’ failure to replicate their domestic form in Europe is down to flaws in their defence.

And last night it was Pascal Cygan’s “cock-up” – an own goal – that left the Gunners reeling.

The Telegraph agrees and says that last night’s 1-1 draw with Panathinaikos of Greece was not helped by the performance of the “perennially hapless” Cygan, who threw his head towards a Greek shot that Jens Lehman in goal had easily covered, so sending it into the back of the Arsenal net.

But not is all bad in what passes for English football, and the Mail was in Russia to see Chelsea’s Arjen Robben fire a “wonder goal” to give Chelsea a 1-0 win over CSKA Moscow.

Chelsea did enjoy some good fortune, chiefly in the Russian’s inability to convert a penalty and transfer a period of intense pressure into a goal.

But the Blues held firm and have moved into the next round of the Champions’ League in style.

Tonight, it’s the chance of Manchester Untied to see if they can get it together and defeat Sparta Prague at Old Trafford.

And the return of Roy Keane can only help their cause – a cause the Irishman believes is floundering.

“Individual talent counts for nothing,” says Keane. “It is what the team does.”

That’s true to a point. And it’s an opinion a little contested by United’s forays into the transfer marker, including the £30m spent on Wayne Rooney.

And those expansive bought-in players include Rio Ferdinand, who, lest you be labouring under any misconceived ideas that he’s an over-paid player with a questionable social life and sense of responsibility, is now deemed as “England’s best-ever defender”.

Well, that’s what Gary Neville says in the Sun. And since Neville is a gymnast in football’s wilderness of mental agility, we can only say that he must be right.

Unless, that is we’re Jack Charlton and are so deeply insulted by the Manchester United and England defender’s latest bout of mouth opening.

“Ferdinand the best ever?” says our Jackie. “Not at all.”

He goes on: “To call him the best totally demeans the efforts of all the great centre backs that have gone before him.”

Only – ho! ho! – we can’t remember their names. We’d ask Rio, but what with his memory being what it is, best not embarrass the lad.

Especially when Neville’s doing such a good job of that already…’

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

Crown Of Hawthorns

‘HAVING applied and been rejected for every job from manager of the French national side to board monitor at his local primary school, Glenn Hoddle has finally struck gold.

And in the 13th month, he shall rise again…

The Sun says that after 13 months of sending out CVs since he was sacked as Spurs’s manager 13 months ago, Hoddle has landed a job as the new coach at West Bromwich Albion.

A single point above what is now called “the drop zone”, West Brom and its players must be excited about finally learning what the club’s been doing wrong from the great motivator.

But while Albion’s players get ready to gather round Hoddle and sing “hosanna” as he goes through his repertoire of tricks and shimmies, the Star says Chelsea, one of Hoddle’s former clubs, are ready to make a signing of their own.

Having sacked Adrian Mutu last week, the Blues have come to realise that they desperately need another player to make up the full 1,000 or so footballers at their disposal.

So they’re preparing to swoop for Portsmouth’s Yakubu when the January transfer window opens.

And a few months later, as the Express reports in its lead story, Chelsea will be paying £18m to bring David Beckham back to London.

Another midfielder is just what the Blues need, and the likes of Scott Parker must be just delighted to learn that Beckham is on his way.

But no news is better than that on the Mail’s back page – Alex Ferguson has agreed to put a gobstopper in it and stop banging on and on and on and on about Arsenal.

And, according to the Sun’s John Sadler, Fergie’s vow of silence comes not a moment to soon.

Using words like “panic”, “paranoia” and “pitiful”, the Sun’s man is of the impression that Fergie’s tantrum is the death-throes of a “desperate” man eager to try to stoke the fading fires within.

We could not possibly comment – well, not until we’ve seen Fergie’s Arsenal dossier.’

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

Suits You, Fergie

‘WHO would have thought that a man with such poor dress sense, a purple-faced sort who spends a large part of his life ensconced in a hideous tracksuit, would take so much pride in his appearance?

”My suit’s at the dry cleaners”

But this is only conclusion we at Anorak can make from the tirade of ranting and raving coming from the direction of Sir Alex Ferguson.

The incident – or non-incident, if you take the Arsenal line – in the tunnel after United’s game against the champions last week has given Fergie much food for thought.

Having spent the weekend shouting to the world that Thierry Henry is a thug, the Sun now hears Fergie tell anyone still listening that Dennis Bergkamp should be shot/hung/drowned for an alleged assault on poor, demure Alan Smith.

This supposed attack by the Dutchman on the pugnacious England striker forms the latest page in Fergie’s sour dossier of shame, the document he intends to submit to the FA in an attempt to derail Arsenal’s title bid.

But despite the loud and childish noises coming from the United manager, the Telegraph reports that Fergie’s actions will come to nought.

All complaints of unfairness should be submitted to the FA within 48 hours of the game.

The FA would, however, make an exception if there was a police investigation into the incident which prevented the club from discussing the complaint within two days.

Since this is not the case, it follows that Henry and Bergkamp are in the clear, whether they did wrong or not.

Meanwhile, on the pitch, Fergie’s dark mood cannot have been aided by the realisation that his United are looking less and less like championship contenders by the week.

A single spite-fuelled win over Arsenal does not a good team make, and the Mail watches Fergie’s “toy soldiers” get out-thought and out-fought by a plucky Portsmouth side, losing 2-0.

That said, Arsenal’s own dropped points, courtsey of a 2-2 with struggling Southampton, means that the weekend’s big winners were Chelsea, whose 4-1 demolition of a dire West Brom means they are now joint top of the Premier league with the Gunners.

But aside from Fergie’s tantrum, the really unsavoury story is that of Liverpool’s French striker Djibril Cisse, who suffered an injury at the weekend that has put an end to his season.

For those eating their pizza and soup, the Sun’s picture of Cisse’s lower leg moving in two different directions at once is unappetising stuff.

Liverpool’s Milan Baros adds to the sense of revulsion when he says: “When Djibril went down I heard something like a snapping sound, and I knew his leg was broken. It was awful.”

It truly is terrible. It is a horrible thing to have happened.

But was it just an accident, as it first appeared? Rumours abound that Alex Ferguson will not rest until someone pays.

So he’s rounding up the usual suspects – Bergkamp, Cole, Henry, Ryes, Pires, Lauren…’

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

The Pub Bore

‘THE world has heard more than enough from George Best to last many lifetimes – and the only people left who could care less what he thinks are the newspapers.

”Buy me a shandy and I’ll sing you a song”

A genius of a football player he may have been, but Best is now the archetypal pub bore.

And while all the regulars take their pints, move away and ignore him, papers like the Mirror are happy to buy him another drink and listen to his ramblings.

This morning’s topic is the same as every other morning’s topic from the celebrity drunk – how things were better in his day.

“That’s what children do – throw food,” he says of last Sunday’s Old Trafford bust-up. “That’s not fighting. We were real men in our day – we would have chinned them.”

It is a measure of how desperate the Mirror is for a back-page lead that they would devote so much space to this kind of beery nostalgia.

Even the Star struggles to beef it up into a story, preferring to lead on the post-mortems that followed the crowd trouble at Stamford Bridge on Wednesday.

But the main victim, Chelsea’s Serb striker Mateja Kezman, who was left with blood pouring down his face after being hit by a coin thrown by a West Ham fan, is not playing ball.

“It was just a small accident,” he says. “It was a really English game and I love that passion, but it’s nothing like a derby in Belgrade – Belgrade is crazy.”

No doubt the Serbian equivalent of the Daily Mail is in a permanent state of outrage at the state of the game.

“Is it coming back?” it asks of the menace of hooliganism after two games this week were marred by crowd trouble.

The answer, it appears, is no – arrests at English league grounds fell 10% last season, an average of 1.62 arrests per game.

And Premiership games are the least violent, with trouble seeming to increase as the standard of football drops.

After all, you’ve got to do something to liven up a wet Wednesday night watching Shrewsbury Town.

And the Star reports that the police and FA are to go even harder after the yobs, handing out three-year banning orders to any troublemaker identified on CCTV footage.

Meanwhile, back in a pub somewhere in the Surrey countryside a jaundiced looking man is telling anyone who will listen how in his day blah, blah, blah…’

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

Chelsea Are Coining It

‘IT is not as if Chelsea are short of a bob or two without West Ham fans donating their small change to help Roman Abramovich build his empire.

West Ham are still worth a few old coppers

Nor are Premiership footballers so hard up that they need visiting fans to chuck coins at them.

But Hammers’ fans have not quite grasped the economics of the modern game, as they demonstrated at Stamford Bridge last night.

What is more, although their generosity was appreciated by home fans, who reciprocated by reimbursing them with a volley of coins of their own, the players were not so grateful.

The Mirror says Mateja Kezman, the man whose first goal for Chelsea settled the Carling Cup tie between the clubs, came within half an inch of potentially losing his eye.

Even if the coin that struck him was a gold doubloon, we doubt it would have been adequate compensation for that partial loss of sight.

And that is why the papers are queuing up this morning to condemn the fans who brought shame on the game for the second time in 24 hours.

The Sun says similar donations to West Ham old boys – cash to Frank Lampard, a bottle to Joe Cole – were similarly unappreciated.

Another West Ham old boy Jermain Defoe scored twice to give Spurs a 4-3 victory at Bolton in a match that was marred by the collapse of home midfielder Khalilou Fadiga in the warm-up.

The Express has pictures of the Senegalese international prostrate on the ground in scenes horribly reminiscent of the night when Marc-Vivien Foe collapsed and died while playing for Cameroon.

Thankfully Fadiga, who has a history of heart trouble, recovered and was taken to hospital for tests.

If football has a history of violence on and off the pitch, golf is a far more genteel sport.

At least, it is when Seve Ballesteros isn’t involved. The Mail says the fiery Spaniard is facing a ban from the European Tour after an alleged assault on a tournament official.

The incident involving Jose Maria Zamora, with whom Ballesteros has clashed in the past, is alleged to have taken place during last month’s Spanish Amateur Championship.

But the Mail says, if found guilty, there are no precedents on which to base an estimate of the severity of any punishment because this is the first assault charge in the Tour’s 33-year history.

The only player ever to be thrown off the Tour was David Robertson – for failing to pay a huge fine levied on him for cheating.

But in this case a lesser punishment might suffice – like not being able to wear Pringle for a year…’

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

Van The Ban

‘IF Arsenal were more sinned against than sinning at Old Trafford on Sunday, they are not so without fault themselves that Arsene Wenger can continue throwing stones or even slices of pizza.

Neigh, neigh and thrice neigh

The Arsenal manager’s moralising would sound a lot better if our memories did not stretch back to the corresponding fixture last year when his players behaved appallingly.

“The game is being watched by I don’t know how many people,” he is quoted as saying in this morning’s Mail, “but among them are maybe 2% who are Arsenal and United fans and 98% who are football fans.

“These people cannot be happy at what they have seen.”

Nonsense – the average football fan likes nothing better than a few dodgy refereeing decisions and a bad-tempered scrap when they don’t really care about the result.

Last year, Lauren received a four-match ban, Martin Keown three and both Ray Parlour and Patrick Vieira a match a piece.

This time, by contrast, only Ruud Van Nistelrooy will get any punishment with the FA handing the Dutchman a three-match ban for his stamp on Ashley Cole.

The Sun says the striker admitted a charge of serious foul play and also apologised for the horror tackle during his side’s 2-0 win.

[We don’t doubt that it was genuine remorse rather than the quality of the opposition in the next three games – Crewe, Portsmouth and Manchester City – that prompted the guilty plea.]

But that’s not enough for Wenger, who can be heard raging in the Express: “He is a big enough player just to play football, but he keeps on doing silly things.”

The first game of Van Nistelrooy’s ban took place last night, with United easily beating Crewe 3-0 in the Carling Cup, but the Star’s attention is on Turf Moor where Aston Villa were beaten 3-1 by Burnley.

Out of the cup goes David O’leary’s men and out of a job goes Gary Megson.

The Mirror says Megson cost himself £250,000 by admitting that he wanted to leave West Brom in the summer after falling out with club chairman Jeremy Peace.

The club’s lawyers have taken this as a letter of resignation and believe that it means they will not have to pay the compensation to which otherwise he would have been entitled.

And to make matters worse he’s going to replaced as coach, probably by Micky Adams who left Leicester last week.

A bad day for Megson, but should he go hungry now he’s unemployed, he could do worse than pay a visit to Old Trafford. There’s always more than enough food to go round there…’

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

A First-Class Stamp

‘THE post-mortems into what the Sun is calling “The Battle of the Buffet”, the Mail “Soupgate” and everyone else “The New Battle of Old Trafford” start in earnest this morning.

Ferdinand forgets where the ball is

And the man in the dock is Ruud Van Nistelrooy, who (says the Express) is facing a three-match ban for his tackle on Ashley Cole.

TV pundits were queuing up to lambaste Manchester United’s Dutch striker, with Alan Hansen describing it as “nasty, cynical and so over the top it was a disgrace”.

Even former referee Jeff Winter agrees, saying: “It was horrific. It was intentional. The tackle could have finished Ashley Cole’s career.”

The Express is not alone in being baffled at how referee Mike Riley didn’t even award a free-kick – and says it is about time the player was hauled before the authorities.

The man himself naturally pleads his innocence in the Sun, insisting that it was a 50-50 ball “and in those situations two players can collide”.

Most of the time, it must be said, the studs on one player’s boot don’t tend to collide with the inside of the other player’s knee.

But Van Nistelrooy did at least admit that Riley got it wrong for the penalty.

“I thought it was a penalty at the time,” he tells the Mirror. “That was my first reaction, but later on when I saw it on television replays, I thought it was a present for Manchester United.”

While the Mail asks whether being a Premiership referee is now an impossible job, given the cheating that goes on, it won’t surprise anyone to learn that Riley didn’t even see the food fight in the tunnel after the game.

And that means both clubs are likely to escape punishment, unless one of them lodges an official complaint – unlikely, says the Mail, as both sides are keen to play down an embarrassing episode.

All of which overshadows the real Battle of Old Trafford and the news that American tycoon Malcolm Glazer is turning up the heat in his fight to buy the club.

The Express says he is seething at the Old Trafford board’s refusal to recommend his takeover bid to shareholders.

“The £3 a share represents a significant premium on an already premium price,” a City source (with no connection to the Glazer bid – obviously) tells the paper.

“The Glazers must wonder whether the vast majority of shareholders are best suited by their decision to reject it.”

The same City source also reveals that the Glazers planned to bring stability to the club, money to invest in new players, fresh ideas to the board room, permanent blue sky over Manchester…’

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

Life Of Riley

‘MATCHES between Manchester United and Arsenal are never dull affairs and yesterday was no exception – even if it failed to end in the all-out brawl of last season.


The Mirror says United manager Sir Alex Ferguson was pelted with pea soup by an Arsenal player in “an extraordinary tunnel bust-up”, while Thierry Henry squared up to United keeper Roy Carroll.

The reason? A controversial penalty given by referee Mike Riley for what looked for all the world like a dive by Wayne Rooney.

The penalty was duly converted by Ruud Van Nistelrooy, who famously missed from the spot in the corresponding fixture last year, and Rooney himself added a late second to ruin Arsenal’s unbeaten Premiership run.

Arsene Wenger was predictably not happy with Riley’s performance.

“This defeat is very difficult to take because we feel like we were robbed today,” he tells the Sun. “We felt we were the better team, but the referee made the difference.”

The Sun’s Steven Howard agrees. Rio Ferdinand, he says, should have been sent off as early as the 18th minute for bundling over Freddie Ljungberg when the Swede was through on goal.

Van Nistelrooy should also have received his marching orders for a blatant stamp on Ashley Cole and then, of course, there was the penalty…

However, he points out, United should also have had a penalty when Cole brought down Cristiano Ronaldo in the box.

“Yes,” he concludes, “they [United] rode their luck thanks to the incompetence of referee Mike Riley, but, as Alex Ferguson always says, it’s swings and roundabouts in games like these.”

Always says? Or only says when he knows his side have got the better of the decisions…

Also whingeing about the referee this morning is Manchester City boss Kevin Keegan, who the Mirror suggests might be facing an FA misconduct charge after slamming Steve Dunn’s performance in his side’s 4-3 defeat at Newcastle.

“We would like a bit of fairness,” he said. “I have told him so in his office and will say so now. The ref had one today, a major one…”

All these post-match diatribes about the performance of the referees are as dull as they are unseemly, but it is indisputable that the standard of officiating in the Premiership is appalling.

The Mail notes that Riley has now awarded eight penalties in his eight visits to Old Trafford, a statistic that is about as likely to be coincidence as the ever-improving A-level results.’

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


‘HERE’S another story about the Football Association to make you wonder what it is they do at headquarters all day.

Mutu faces a stiff sentence

The Express says that David Beckham will not be charged with bringing the game into disrepute, being a yob or whatever his crime was in deliberately fouling Wales’ Ben Thatcher, because – get this – there is insufficient evidence to charge him.

Given that, as the Sun says, Beckham admitted targeting the Welsh defender to earn himself a yellow card and was seen enacting the foul by millions on TV, this is odd.

Perhaps if Becks were to text message his confession to the limp-wrists at Soho Square, they’d take matters more seriously.

Or, perhaps, he could tell all to one of the FA’s secretaries, who could then pass it on to the highest bidder?

This might not be as bad as “Anarchy At The FA”, as the Mail screams from its back page, but when the player himself says he is “pleasantly surprised” to have got off scot-free, something seems to have gone awry.

Meanwhile, the Adrian Mutu case rumbles on. In the Sun, the Romanian now says that he did not take cocaine and will soon tell all.

The Mirror gives its readers a clue as to the nature of the banned substance he tested positive for, using its back page to say how Mutu took drugs to boost his sex life.

“I am not hooked on drugs,” says Mutu. “The only reason I took what I took was that I wanted to improve my sexual performance. It may be funny but it is true.”

He’s right – it is funny. And pathetic. But what is less amusing is the Sun’s news that the test that snared Mutu was not so random.

The story goes that it was requested by Jose Mourinho, the Chelsea manger, who had already exchanged words with Mutu, and may have been out for some kind of revenge.

Mutu even admits that during one heated debate, he almost hit the Portuguese manager.

And on the subject of violence in football, the Sun hypes up Sunday’s game between Arsenal and Manchester United a notch by hearting from United’s Gabriel Heinz.

In “IT’S GUNNER GET UGLY”, the defender says he and his team-mates are ready to scrap and claw their way to victory.

“We’ll do everything we can to stop them,” says he. “We want to win whatever the cost.”

Which sounds very much like the Red Devils may have finally learnt something from last season’s encounter after all…’

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

Gifts For The Greeks

‘WHILE Chelsea march on in Europe – they’ve now won three games on the trot in their Champions’ League campaign – Arsenal continue to misfire.

Jens Lehmann couldn’t even catch a cold

While the “Blues Cruise” in the Mail with a customarily prosaic and battling 2-0 win over CSKA Moscow, the Sun focuses on Arsenal’s 2-2 draw in Greece.

True enough, Greek football is none too shabby and Panathinaikos are not a bad outfit, but this was a game the Gunners should have won.

In “WHAT A GOON”, the Sun attributes both of the Greeks’ goals to Jens Lehmann, the Arsenal goalkeeper.

He managed to make a complete hash of a clearance to gift the Greeks their first equaliser and then get nowhere near a cross for their second.

“I don’t want to criticise him,” says Arsene Wenger. “Of course, it’s important for a keeper to make correct decisions but I’ll sit down with him and ask him about tonight.”

And after that chat, Wenger will be hoping that Lehmann will have cleared his head ahead of his team’s next game against Manchester United.

Meanwhile, Tony Cascarino is writing in the Times about Adrian Mutu.

Having read that the disgraced Romanian striker wanted to meet his idol Diego Maradona, and tried to visit him in Cuba, only to be prevented from doing so by his agent, Cascarino laments a missed opportunity.

“He should have let Mutu go,” he writes. “Seeing up close how cocaine has ravaged his hero would be the best deterrent possible.”

Indeed, posting a picture of a fat, bloated Maradona in every changing room, alongside another of a paunchy Mark Bosnich, may work where more expensive anti-doping campaigns have failed.

The FA could also print other posters, these ones of the idiotic Rio Ferdinand returning from a late night out on the town.

Having been excused from attending United’s trip to Sparta Prague earlier in the week to attend his grandmother’s funeral, the tainted defender was seen the same night by the Mail returning from a jolly in London’s West End.

We already know about his short-term memory loss – which has nothing whatsoever to do with drugs.

It’s just a shame his mental state has affected his ability to learn from past errors…’

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

Taking The Michael

‘MICHAEL Owen last night did his utmost to prove that scoring a goal is better than text sex – and maybe even cocaine – as he struck in Real Madrid’s 1-0 win over Dinamo Kiev.

”Can I have a piggy back? Can I?”

The look on Owen’s face is positively orgasmic as he wheels away after his debut strike provided what the Times calls the “perfect answer to media criticism in Spain”.

Well done to him.

But not so well done to his England colleague Wayne Rooney, who, like the rest of his Manchester United team-mates, failed to find the net in their 0-0 draw with Sparta Prague.

Going into Sunday’s much-hyped Premiership match with Arsenal, the Sun says that United have a “big problem” – the club’s lack of goals.

United have scored just once in the past three matches – something of a worry given their multi-million pound strike force.

How Fergie must be wondering about ways to beat free-scoring Arsenal!

Perhaps, given his hyperbolic rant after the teams met in the corresponding fixture last season, Fergie may expect Arsenal to be forbidden from ever playing at Old Trafford again.

Indeed, given his stirring of emotions before the kick-off, Fergie may well want the Gunners kicked out of the Premier League and football. Or shot.

Yes, that’s the thinking of Arsene Wenger, who uses the back page of the Express to tell Fergie to “Keep Your Cool, Alex”.

Had he only used those exact words, chances are that Fergie would be even more purple than usual.

But what Wenger actually said was: “What did Ferguson want? For us to be lined up against a wall and shot?”

Er, yes, most likely.

But not shot by Ruud Van Nistelrooy, Wayne Rooney, Louis Saha or Alan Smith, who all would blaze their bullets high and handsome over Patrick Vieira’s head.

In any case, if anyone is in line to be offed, it’s surely Craig Bellamy, a player who seems to be on a mission to destroy a career that was once about more than his ugly belligerence and reputation as an unlovely little scrote.

The Sun’s backpage “SCRAP” tells the story of how Graeme Souness and Bellamy had a “sensational four-letter scrap” that left team-mates at Newcastle “stunned”.

Having got involved in a similar spat with Dwight Yorke while he was at Blackburn Rovers, Souness has now become embroiled in a row with Bellamy, with the pair having to be “pulled apart” lest they rip each other in two.

Or else grapple and roll around in the mud like a couple of lovesick teenagers…’

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

Mistaken Identity

‘IS it merely coincidence that on the day the Sun hears Alex Ferguson admit to having made mistakes in his tenure at Manchester United, the Telegraph says Malcolm Glazer is edging closer to control of the club?

‘Regrets, I have a few…’

With the season not going to plan and the club’s ownership in the balance, might it be that Fergie is reappraising his own position at the club?

Fergie is not usually one for self-criticism, but here he is the Sun telling all and sundry that he’s been picking the wrong teams.

Since his job is to pick the right ones, the simple deduction is that he’s been failing in his role. And when United’s manager fails, United’s manager soon goes.

Indeed, such are the boardroom machinations at Old Trafford and Fergie’s undoubted abilities, it might be soon time for him to say goodbye to the club he has led with so much skill.

But it’s all conjecture, and no sooner has Fergie shown contrition than he’s banging on in the Mirror about his favourite bugbear: Arsenal.

“You never know what impact a defeat against us would have on Arsenal,” says Fergie, a thought based more on hope than genuine promise.

“There’s no doubt in my mind we’re a match for them. None at all.”

Of course, he has first to pick the right team…

And after Fergie’s admittance of wrongdoing, the Mirror hears Chelsea’s Adrian Mutu confess to having taken cocaine.

In a letter delivered to the Professional Footballers’ Association, the Romanian striker writers: “I made a mistake, for which I apologise.”

That may secure him a reduced sentence – especially if he can argue that as a highly-paid sportsman in London he’s a victim of some sort.

It’s a move that may reap some rewards, given that PFA chairman Gordon Taylor says it’s “inevitable” players will come into contact with drugs.

“The fact is Chelsea is in London,” says Taylor rightly. “And London is a big city [right again] where players – and probably anyone with a high disposable income – will come into contact with drugs.”

Although he goes onto say that drug-taking is wrong and “it’s down to the individual”, the inference is that drugs go hand in hand with wealth.

As anyone who has seen a poor man scratch around for money for a fix knows, this is bunkum, utter nonsense.’

Posted: 19th, October 2004 | In: Back pages | Comment

Crossing The Line

‘THOSE blessed with a working knowledge of the Chelsea squad may recall the name Adrian Mutu.

Who feels a right Charlie?

You may also recall the names Scott Parker, Glen Johnson and Carlo Cudicini, but them for another time.

For today the papers shine a light on the Romanian striker, who when he arrived at Stamford Bridge for the better part of £16m 14 months ago, looked a more than decent player.

But then, as the Sun’s front and back pages explain, he discovered – as many at the Blues have – that he could earn his money just by breathing.

So he became a playboy instead of player, as the paper sees it, and partook of some cocaine.

Now, if he tests positive on a second sample for the drug, he faces a two-year ban from the game and the prospect of being sacked by Chelsea.

If found guilty, the Mail says that the Blues will write off the fee they paid for the player, who will lose more than £10m from the remaining three years on his generous contact.

But while football looks on, Chelsea may not even notice Mutu’s passing and, given past form, will already be lining up his multi-million pound replacement.

And the club might contact Craig Bellamy, who, judging by the Mirror’s back-page news, could soon be on his way out of Newcastle.

In the course of being substituted in his club’s 1-1 draw with Charlton yesterday, the foul-mouthed, odious, uni-toothed dick was seen to mouth the words: “What me? You f***ing p**ck!”

Everyday words on the field of play maybe, but not the kind of thing Newcastle manager Graeme Souness likes to be called on live TV.

But while Bellamy goes on the record, the Times watches Jamie Burnett set a new record.

The snooker professional who has yet to pass the quarter-finals of a major tournament, has just achieved the notable score of a 148 break.

During the qualifying rounds of the Travis Perkins United Kingdom Championship at Pontin’s Prestatyn, Wales, the Scot saw his chance.

When his opponent, Leo Fernandez, missed all 15 reds and left a free ball, Burnett was on for a massive score.

And he duly took it the opening, making the highest break in professional or amateur competition.

And thus transforming himself into a trivia question to be posed in pubs and clubs the length and breadth of the land…’

Posted: 18th, October 2004 | In: Back pages | Comment

Glazed Over

‘IT is hard for anyone who is not a Manchester United fan to feel even the slightest twinge of joy at news that the club have seen off the takeover bid from American Malcolm Glazer.

‘Foul, ref! Book him!’

The game itself has long since become a mere distraction for the world’s biggest football club as it goes about its primary purpose – making money.

And that is just as well because United have hardly been setting the world alight with their performances on the pitch in recent months.

So much so that the Sun’s back-page headline screams: “Fergie’s History.”

Further investigation reveals not that the Old Trafford boss is facing the axe, but that Arsenal coach Arsene Wenger believes the current side are maybe not as good as their predecessors.

Hardly incendiary stuff – in fact, an observation with which Sir Alex would probably agree.

But anything that keeps the interminable row over David Beckham’s deliberate yellow card out of the papers is good news as far as we’re concerned.

The latest, for anyone who is still awake to this saga, is that the FA could well take action against the England captain.

The Mail says Sven Goran Eriksson’s attempts to draw a line under the whole affair have come to nought and Beckham may now face some sort of punishment.

However, Beckham would do well to listen to his manager’s advice, as conveyed via the Independent.

“I think on this occasion that David should think next time that talking is silver, being quiet is golden.”

If Eriksson must wonder sometimes what he took on when he agreed to become England boss, it’s nothing compared with Berti Vogts’ trauma.

The German has been roundly criticised for his record as Scotland boss and is next week likely to be relieved of his job.

The Daily Record has been particularly vociferous in its campaign against Vogts, its back page yesterday inviting him to “gae tae f***”.

But it is worth reminding ourselves that Scotland were in freefall before Vogts took over.

If he has made a pig’s ear of things, it’s only because he started off with a sow’s ear – and we all know that they are not easily made into silk purses.’

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

Blowing Hot And Cold

‘“THE answer for Sven is Owen in the wind.”

An Owen goal

How the Mirror hacks must have chortled over their back-page headline celebrating the stand-in England captain’s goal that earned a 1-0 victory in a stormy Azerbaijan!

It’s certainly a hell of a lot better than the Sun’s abysmal “Colden Balls” – a reference to the man who can’t stop hogging the news even when he’s not playing.

The Express might moan about the manner of England’s 1-0 victory in Baku, but anything that keeps David Beckham out of the papers has got to be a good thing.

However, Beckham’s shadow – in the form of an apology for getting himself deliberately booked in the match against Wales – still looms large over the game.

The Express and Mail both refer to it in their headlines, while the Sun reports that Fifa boss Sepp Blatter is demanding an FA investigation into the whole incident.

Are we at Anorak the only ones who are fed-up with this display of self-righteousness by the likes of Blatter and certain elements of the Press?

Beckham’s only crime was being stupid enough to think that he would receive anything but abuse if he revealed that the foul on Ben Thatcher was deliberate.

If he wanted it known that this wasn’t an act of petulance but of professionalism, then he should have leaked that to the papers without attribution.

He could have them denied it in public in a tone of mock outrage, thereby confirming his “guilt” to all but the game’s authorities.

Whichever way you look at it, though, this is a fabricated row that has long since passed its ‘best before’ date. Enough, people. It’s boring.

To the game itself and the Guardian reminds its readers that England’s football “could only be as neat as unpredictable conditions and frozen feet permitted”.

The game was won by a first-half Michael Owen header, but even that, he said, “bent in the wind”.

With Poland scoring three times to ruin Mark Hughes’s last match as Wales manager, England will just be happy with the three points.’

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

Brought To Book

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

‘Brain, brain. I know it’s down here somewhere’

David Beckham may have been clever enough to deliberately get a yellow card during last Saturday’s game against Wales, but he wasn’t smart enough to keep his gob shut.

And thanks to his boasting the England captain is now in trouble, with the world of football lining up to have a crack this morning.

The Sun leads with the view of Sir Geoff Hurst that Becks has brought shame on the country with his deliberate foul on Welsh full-back Ben Thatcher.

The Star and the Mirror give a platform to Fifa boss Sepp Blatter, who says the Real Madrid midfielder has brought the game into disrepute with his actions.

And the Mail leads with the views of both Hurst and Blatter to the effect that Beckham isn’t fit to lead England.

All this because Beckham couldn’t resist trying to show off how bright he was.

As Lee Dixon said yesterday, players have always gone out to get themselves booked so they can serve their suspension against weaker teams.

It’s just that not only were most more subtle than the England skipper, preferring to throw the ball away or argue with the ref rather than assault an opponent, they didn’t advertise it.

Whether Beckham is fit to lead or not, he wouldn’t be fit to play in this evening’s match against Azerbaijan even if he wasn’t serving a ban.

But while everyone confidently expects Shaun Wright-Phillips to step into his shoes after his excellent debut against the Ukraine, the Mail has other ideas.

It says Newcastle’s Jermaine Jenas is the man in the frame – a selection that would make more sense if Sven Goran Eriksson plans to continue with his three up front experiment.

It is a view shared by the Times, which nevertheless reminds us that all of Jenas’s seven caps have come as a substitute and none of them have been in a competitive game.

However, the Indy thinks the Swede will revert to a 4-4-2 formation, with Jermain Defoe being relegated to the bench and Owen Hargreaves coming in to central midfield.

All of which shows one thing – you wouldn’t want to play poker against Eriksson.’

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

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