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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

A British Champion

‘THAT was a great weekend’s sport. And the Sun has good reason to keep the celebrations alive as it tells us that Roger Federer is British.

‘This is for my mates back in my hometown of Barnsley’

Yes, the Wimbledon champion is British – “well almost” – says the Sun, as it sensationally reveals that the Swiss tennis player may have had a great-great grandmother called Mabel Chamberlain who is “thought” to have been English and lived “somewhere” in the UK.

Wow, indeed!

And just as soon as the paper discovers that Maria Sharapova, the “sexy 6ft Russian” and new Wimbledon women’s champion, “might” have had a distant uncle who “could” have lived in Stevenage, the clean sweep will be ours.

British sport has never been in such good shape. And, sticking with the Sun, we notice that Wayne Rooney, hero of the European campaign, says “DON’T SACK BECKS” all over the paper’s back page.

And why is he saying this? Because Becks makes Rooney look so much better? No, because the tattooed one is an inspiration to young Wayne.

And there’s Rooney again, on the back of the Mail, the subject of a story to the effect that his current club Everton will not sell him for a penny less than £30m.

It’s the big football news of the day, although the Mirror misses the scoop and wastes its back page telling its readers that last night Greece – minus Wayne Rooney – won the European Championships.

“ACROPOLIS WOW” comes the paper’s laboured headline, which is trumped by the Star’s “Greece lightning”.

Only the Express contains itself and says “Greece Europe Kings”, before relating how the 100-1 rank outsiders beat Portugal and won the cup by the game’s only goal.

But until we find out that the Greeks were inspired to triumph by Rooney and how it’s he who is the real hero of their victory, we must make do with some more tennis news.

And there it is in the Express. And his name is Miles Kasari, the young British player who came up just short in his quest to become the first British winner of the Wimbledon boys’ singles title in 42 years.

For the record, Kasari lost to French prodigy Gael Monfils 7-5, 7-6, and with it the chance to restore some sense of purpose to British tennis.

But let’s all hail the new Henman-to-be. Tim’s not getting any younger and it’s about time we had another player to cheer to the point of success – and then moan and groan about as he misses out…’

Posted: 5th, July 2004 | In: Back pages | Comment (1)


Czech Out

‘ENGLISH football is so parochial – on the morning after Greece beat the Czech Republic to reach the Euro 2004 final, all the papers’ interest is directed elsewhere.

Henmania reaches Athens

The Sun reports that Stevie Gerrard sent a text message to new Chelsea boss Jose Mourinho after England’s defeat by Portugal saying how much he was looking forward to his move south.

That, says the paper, is how close the midfielder came to leaving Liverpool before announcing on Monday his decision to stay.

The Star insists that Edgar Davids is on his way to Spurs, which is interesting because the Sun says Liverpool are on the verge of clinching the Dutch midfielder’s signature.

The Mirror says Newcastle want to make it a hat-trick of summer signings by landing Southampton striker James Beattie as well as Manchester United’s Nicky Butt and Leeds’ James Milner.

And the Mail insists that Manchester United are poised to pair Ruud Van Nistelrooy with Wayne Rooney in a “dazzling” strike partnership next season.

Just as Euro 2004 ended as soon as England were defeated (aside, of course, from the constant whinging from the Sun), so Wimbledon might have ended the moment Tim Henman bowed out.

But 17-year-old Russian Maria Sharapova has single-handedly kept the hacks from switching over to watch some property programme on ITV.

“You beauty,” squeals the Express headline, as the No.13 seed came from behind to beat Lindsay Davenport in yesterday’s semi-final.

The paper days the teenager sat a sociology exam before going on Centre Court yesterday – “then got a Grade A pass for her tennis”.

In the final she will meet Serena Williams who also came from a set down to beat Amelie Mauresmo in another thrilling match.

If we have to delve many pages inside today’s papers to find news of the Trianos Dellas header that sent Greece into raptures, we have to go even further to learn that England’s cricketers gave the West Indies a good hiding yesterday.

But there is no apology from the Sun after it yesterday branded them a bunch of losers for their performances so far in this triangular tournament.

Quite the opposite – the paper that gives weasels a bad name insists that its back page spurred on the England players to glory.

If Henman wins Wimbledon next year, England triumph at the next World Cup and our rugby players retain the Webb Ellis trophy, at least we know who we’ll have to thank…’

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


Guilty

‘STOP all the clocks, cut off the telephone. Prevent Timmy the Labrador from barking with a juicy bone…

Pack your bags, you’re leaving

Tim Henman yesterday completed what the Express calls “the nation’s sporting week from hell” when he was dumped out of Wimbledon by unseeded Croat Mario Ancic.

And the Sun shows just what a bad loser it is by lining up the culprits – Henman, David Beckham, Michael Vaughan and Lawrence Dallaglio – under the headline, “Guilty”.

Never mind that Henman has got to the last eight at Wimbledon for eight of the past nine years (including four semi-finals) or that he was beaten by an inspired performance by Ancic.

The Sun insists that “dim Tim’s straight three-set defeat to a 20-year-old nobody was criminal”.

Never mind that Michael Vaughan’s England cricket team has just won the first Test series in the West Indies for 35 years and also beaten a fancied New Zealand side.

Never mind that Lawrence Dallaglio was part of the England team that won the Rugby World Cup less than a year ago.

Never mind that David Beckham’s England football team was only a highly debatable refereeing decision away from the Euro 2004 semi-final.

The paper insists that “our sportsmen and women have the best fans in the world” – fans like the Sun, which accuses “gutless” Henman of carrying the hopes of the nation “with all the strength of a knock-kneed gnat”.

The Sun is the media equivalent of the knuckleheads who were standing outside the bars in Albufeira singing “No Surrender To The IRA” and terrorising the Portuguese locals.

The Mail at least understands the depth of Henman’s hurt at yesterday’s defeat – “his most bitter disappointment so far at the All England Club”.

And it reminds us that Henman probably should have won a first set “of astonishing quality”, the tie-break turning on a dubious line call.

Maybe the match would have turned out differently had he won that set, maybe it wouldn’t, but the defeat certainly wasn’t for lack of trying on Henman’s part.

However, how many more chances will Henman have to fulfil his dream?

Under the headline “Over The Hill”, the Mirror hears him admit that his days are numbered.

“The reality is that I don’t have an endless number of years for chances and I felt this was a good opportunity,” he said.

“I’m sure that my desire and motivation will always be there.”

Meanwhile, Portugal earned a place in the Euro 2004 final last night with a 2-1 win over the Dutch, who – like England – complained about the “home” decisions given by the ref.

Unlike Urs Meier, however, Anders Fisk will be able to go home and walk the streets of his native Sweden without fearing for his life.

Meier, thanks to the Sun, can’t even return home. His crime? A marginal decision in the last minute of a football match.

If the Sun wants to know who’s really guilty this morning, it should look in the mirror.’

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


Excuses, Excuses

‘IT’S important to get the excuses in early and, if Tim Henman loses his Wimbledon quarter-final to Mario Ancic today, rest assured that it won’t be his fault.

‘It’s a damn shame your lucky T-shirt is red, Tim’

Not that Tim is offering any mitigating pleas – it’s former champion Boris Becker who reckons that the changes to the courts have worked against the British No.1.

“I don’t think the All England Club has done itself or Tim any favours by making the courts slower than they were in my day,” the German said.

“The grass is a little thicker, but the main reason is that the balls are heavy and slightly bigger.

“That is very bad for a serve and volley player like Henman who likes to chip and charge.”

However, the All England Club has listened to Henman’s plea not to be last on Centre Court this afternoon, and – weather permitting – he will start as soon as the Serena Williams v Jennifer Capriati match is finished.

And one person who will be hoping that Henman comes through against the World No.63 is defending champion Roger Federer.

“Tim’s a nice guy and popular figure,” the Swiss No.1 seed tells the Mail. “We talk a lot and I would like to see him win Wimbledon.”

Meanwhile, England’s footballers are still making excuses for why it is Portugal who are taking on Holland in the Euro 2004 semi-final tonight and not them.

Steven Gerrard admits that uncertainty over his club future may have had a bearing on his form in Portugal, while David Beckham has tried everything from shifting sands to lack of fitness.

However, Real Madrid team-mate Luis Figo told the England captain to stop making excuses.

“It is how you look at it and deal with it,” he said. “Fitness is an individual thing. You know when you need more work, or less.”

At least England’s cricketers weren’t making any excuses for their pathetic showing in the one-day match against New Zealand as they were bowled out for a miserable 101.

The “We Wuz Robbed” headline in the Sun refers not to the match, which the Kiwis won by seven wickets, but to a dressing room raid in which both Michael Vaughan and Darren Gough had their wallets stolen.

Vaughan’s wallet apparently contained £1,200 in cash – the result perhaps of a tasty win at the bookies?

Not that we are suggesting that the England skipper would bet against his own side – rather that the 20-1 odds against Beckham launching the first football into orbit looked too good to pass up.’

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


Patriot Downs Scud

‘IF you didn’t hear the pre-pubescent screams, middle-aged groans, teenaged yelps and geriatric sighs emanating from Henman Hill yesterday, consider yourself lucky.

Penalty!

But at 8.45 last night, Middle England rose as one to salute their hero as Tiger Tim edged home against Aussie Mark Philippoussis in a four-set thriller.

The Mail is in raptures as the No.5 seed reached his eighth quarter-final in nine years where he will face Mario Ancic, the Croatian ranked No.63 in the world.

“Tough Guy Tim Scuppers Scud,” says the paper’s headline, as it salutes a performance by the British No.1 “which far surpassed anything he had shown this year”.

Even Philippoussis was full of praise for his opponent, saying: “Tim’s game has definitely improved and he has the game to win it, but it depends on the way he plays.”

The Express’s headline puts that hope into perspective, however – “Dream On,” it says, above a picture of a grinning Henman.

The Brit even managed to keep up with the Aussie in the ace department, both players firing down 22 in “a match of fire and intensity”.

But there is still a long way to go, as the watching John Terry would no doubt have reminded Henman.

If the match was studded with moments of temper as both players questioned a number of line-calls, it was nothing compared with Roman Abramovich’s mood this morning.

The Chelsea owner is said by the Sun to have hit the roof after discovering that Steven Gerrard will not be wearing a blue shirt this morning.

The England midfielder has snubbed the chance to double his weekly salary (to a staggering £105,000 a week) and decided to stay at Liverpool instead.

The Mirror says it was emotional pressure from his friends and family that persuaded Gerrard to stay, although the Mail claims a rather more sinister reason.

It says “the intolerable pressure his family faced, including threatening phone calls and letters, played a pivotal role in Gerrard’s U-turn over a move to London”.

Whatever the reason, the decision is a blow not only to Chelsea but also to the sports hacks who were insisting that the move was a done deal.

Another England player in the news is Ashley Cole, who (according to the Star) is a target for Real Madrid.

The paper says the left-back – “the most sought-after defender in the world” – wants a pay package close to Sol Campbell’s £100,000 a week.

And so far he has refused to sign an extension to his contract which would keep him at Highbury for six years.

Meanwhile, the Sun claims Everton have lost patience with Wayne Rooney and believe the 18-year-old wonderkid is messing them about over contract talks.

And the Star claims that he will line up in the red of Manchester United next season alongside Ruud Van Nistelrooy.

The only trouble is Van Nistelrooy was going to Real Madrid yesterday, where he will play in the same team as Ashley Cole, while Becks lines up alongside Gerrard at Chelsea…’

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


Movers And Shakers

‘THE Czech Republic last night dumped on Denmark to make the last four of Euro 2004, but for the English hacks the action stopped as soon as Ricardo’s penalty hit the back of the net.

The next Spurs captain?

Thoughts are already turning to next season as the papers shuffle their Panini soccer stickers and try to work out who will be playing where.

The Sun decides to send Ruud Van Nistelrooy to Real Madrid for £30m, so that it can make space at Old Trafford for Wayne Rooney, who will be the subject of a £22m bid.

But will the Dutchman join up with his former teammate David Beckham at the Bernabeu?

Maybe not, says the Mirror, which claims that Beckham has been told by new Real Madrid coach Jose Camacho to shape up or ship out.

In particular, Beckham has been told to cut out his jet-set lifestyle and realise that his home is in the Spanish capital and not in Hertfordshire.

“He was told that when the coach says the players can rest for two days, that does not mean taking a 3am flight back to England and then returning in time for training 48 hours later,” a source says.

One person who is definitely staying put is Michael Owen, with the Star claiming that the striker will stay at Liverpool even if Steven Gerrard leaves.

But the paper says that part of the reason may be the lack of interest in the 24-year-old striker whose form in recent months has been patchy.

He was not the only one whose form for England has come under the microscope, with the Star’s Brian Woolnough complaining that his performance against Portugal was “too late and not enough”.

Beckham, David James, Owen Hargreaves, Phil Neville, Emile Heskey and Sven Goran Eriksson himself get the thumbs down from the veteran hack.

Ashley Cole, Frank Lampard, Ledley King and of course Wayne Rooney get the thumbs-up – as do England’s fans who were given a 9/10 by Uefa for their behaviour.

But they still can’t match the Centre Court crowd who yesterday roared Tim Henman to victory against Hicham Arazi and a fourth-round tie against Mark Philippoussis.

The Mail plasters a picture of every middle-aged housewife from Esher’s wet dream over its back page – Tim saluting “the true fans” who had queued up to get tickets for People’s Sunday.

“I’m not in any way criticising the fans who comes and support the other 13 days,” Tim immediately added, “but when you give the opportunity to those people who have queued and paid today, I think it’s something that could be capitalised on.”

Maybe, perhaps, if no-one minds…’

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


England Have A Meier

‘LOOK OUT!!! Oooeer, that looked painful. David Beckham’s penalty had to leave the Earth’s orbit at some time, it was just unlucky it chose to re-enter the atmosphere as you were holding a scalding hot kettle.

‘It was unfair – you were taller than him’

But your new scar and ball will make nice souvenirs of the England player’s career, a man who has now missed the last three penalty kicks he’s taken for England, all of them vital.

But let’s not slam Beckham, who earns a creditable six out of ten of his effort in the Mirror, a limp four in the Mail, a decent seven in the Express and a further seven in the Sun.

Penalties are a tricky business, and the real villain of the piece was not England’s lacklustre captain, neither was it the team’s inability to get out of reverse gear for large periods of the game – it was Urs Meier.

Crazy name. Crazy guy. And, in the eyes of the Sun, guilty of one of the craziest decisions in footballing history.

The Swiss referee disallowed what did indeed look like a perfectly legitimate 88th-miunute headed goal by England’s Sol Campbell and, in so doing, cost England a berth in the semi finals of Euro 2004.

England were, in the Sun’s considered opinion, ”CHEATED”. England were also “ROBBED” after the referee decided that, at the moment of execution, John Terry had somehow pushed the Portuguese goalkeeper Ricardo.

This was hard luck on England, as too is the Mail’s news that Wayne Rooney has broken a metatarsal bone in his exquisite right foot.

Readers also learn that Rooney cried after England lost.

Which means that the debate as to whether Rooney is the new Gazza (see tears) or the new Becks (see metatarsal) goes on. As do Portugal.

And as does Greg Rusedski in the tennis.

Yes, Britain’s involvement in the summer sport is far from over as the Mirror salutes the Canadian–born star’s victory in Wimbledon’s first round proper.

For the record, and to get all football fans up to speed with tennis matters, our Greg dispensed with Italian Davide Sanguinetti in straight sets.

“Over all I’m pretty pleased with everything,” says our Greg.

“I’ve got an exciting second round match with Schuettler and so it’s going to be a level up from today. But it’s going to be exciting.”

Exciting indeed. And we are all of a quiver at the thought of Greg doing battle with old whatshisname.

But not as excited as we are about the match between Tim Henman and Ivo Heuberger. As the Express says, Tim is ready and relaxed – and Heuberger is Swiss.

Yes, Swiss! Watch out Tim, when those line calls go against you and he cries foul from the other side of the net, keep your cool.

Those Swiss are a wily bunch. And rarely, if ever, neutral…’

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


A Bad Herr Day

‘IF we were Italian, we would now be claiming that Urs Meier had been paid by Uefa to ensure the host nation’s continued presence in Euro 2004.

‘I’m just some kind of crazy guy, no?’

But we’re not – so we admit that we were outplayed last night by a very good Portuguese side, we lament our continued inability to retain possession and only then do we whinge about the ref.

Not just for the bloody awful decision that deprived Sol Campbell of a winning goal or the way in which he continually fell for Deco’s diving, but for his hairstyle.

What was the man thinking? Are those highlights in his hair or ‘Club Tropicana’ tips? And as for that blonde goatee…

In future, it would be a useful rule of thumb for Uefa to use while choosing referees that those sporting highlights in their hair, silly beards, tongue studs etc. should be ruled out.

The English referee Mike Riley might be appalling, but at least he looks like a referee should – a cross between a policeman and a chemistry teacher.

Pierluigi Collina, in everyone’s estimation the best referee in the world, isn’t bald with bulging eyes by choice – he looks as nature intended.

But Urs Meier didn’t have to grow that bloody stupid beard; he didn’t have to go to his local salon and ask to look like George Michael in his early Wham days.

He did it because he wants to stand out. He had the misfortune not only to be born Swiss, but to be born Swiss German and he wanted to do something a little crazy.

He’s a grocer by trade, a perfectly respectable profession but one that has propelled very few people to superstardom.

Herr Meier knew that, if he wanted to stand out from the crowd, he’d have to turn himself into Hair Maier. And get himself a website.

And so he did – log onto www.ursmeier.ch and you too can enter the fascinating world of everyone’s favourite Swiss referee.

You can find out that Urs’s hobbies include “schiedsrichterei, football, journeys, vintages, motorcycle driving” (or so claims Anorak’s in-house translator); you can see Urs with a vacuum cleaner. And you can see some pretty groovy pics of Urs with his highlighted hair.

In fact, the only thing you won’t learn about Urs is why – oh why – did he disallow a perfectly good goal in the 88th minute of the game last night.

That is something that will stay between him and his hairstylist.’

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


Wayne, No Shine

‘IT’S hard not to blow our own kazoo today as the rest of mankind learns what Anorak readers knew yesterday: Wayne Rooney is the new “Wazza”.

England’s No.6

So here goes: Pzzzzzz!

The Express, says that Rooney’s England’s team-mates have christened him Wazza (Pzzz!), in light of his likeness to Paul “Gazza” Gascoigne.

The similarities are there. But only the other day Rooney was the new Pele. So what happened? Did he eat a bad kebab while out on a bender with his new showbiz mates?

Well, nothing happened. Rooney is still Rooney. But the dash to place the raw 18-year-old talent into some kind of context has seduced many opinion formers.

And today we learn that Wazza (Pzzz!) is, in the opinion of Portugal coach Luiz Felipe Scolari, not a patch on the legendary Brazil No. 10.

“Rooney is no Pele,” says Scolari in the Mail. ”There is only one Pele and there will only ever be one Pele. We could wait a thousand years and still another like him would not come along.”

So that’s that then. Rooney is no Pele – official! And while pundits now wonder if he’s the new Johann Cruyff, the new Maradona or the new Matthews, Chelsea get down to business.

And the business at Chelsea is the trading of human flesh.

Today’s news from the Chelsea market is that the Blues are so keen to get a rope around Steven Gerrard, they’re offering Liverpool £20 million plus Scott Parker and Damien Duff.

Considering Duff went to Chelsea for £17m barely a year back and Parker arrived from Charlton with a £10m price tag round his neck, that means Gerrard will have effectively cost Chelsea £47m.

Of course, what with performance-related clauses in signing-on contracts and such like, the real figure is lower, but how much lower? The Blues want their man.

Oh, and Chelsea will also offer £30m for Rooney, a bid that if accepted the Sun says would take the player’s weekly salary to £85,000 a week.

But what we really want to know is not what England are going to do tonight, nor how Germany succumbed to a “humiliating” (Express) defeat to a second-string Czech side (Pzzz! Pzzz! Pzzzzzz!), but what all this rain is doing to our Tim.

The Sun has caught up with England’s hero as he prepares for today’s match against world No.137, Swiss qualifier Ivo Heuberger.

Up until now, Heuberger’s singular claim to fame is that he used to date Miss Martina Hingis.

But tomorrow he could be the man who ruined Tim’s chances of another semi-final defeat…’

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


Better Than Best?

‘ADDING to the great newspaper debate as to whether Wayne Rooney is more David Beckham or Paul Gascoigne (see Tabs), is the Sun’s lead story on how he is in fact the new Pele.

‘Language, Timothy!’

And the source of this opinion is, apparently, none other than the old Pele, whose brief conversation with the paper leads to the headline: “ROON IS THE NEW ME!”

It’s a neat story, coming as it does the day after Sven Goran Eriksson compared his young striker favourably with the Brazilian.

And it would have been timely if Pele had really said it – but he didn’t.

So much for the new Pele! What about Rooney being the new George Best?

The Mail fails to deliver the obvious headline (“Better than Best?”), but does ask the great Irishman what he thinks of England’s No.9.

“It’s not often that I see a player…who makes my heart beat that bit faster,” says Best, who given his health history and the effect young Rooney has on him would be well advised to never watch the young buck again.

We, of course, will be watching Rooney as early as Thursday when he leads the line against the Portuguese in a European Championships quarter-final.

The names of the final eight sides are dropping into the hat and, after last night’s results in Group C, things got that much clearer – especially for the Italians who are moaning about a ”stitch-up”.

Yesterday, Sweden drew 2-2 with Denmark, enabling both Scandinavian countries to make progress at the expense of the Italians, whose 2-1 victory over Bulgaria was in vain.

The Sun says that Italy’s coach, Giovanni Trapattoni, smells a rat and is considering whether to demand an inquiry into the Nordic conspiracy.

If he does, Trap could also ask the investigators to look into how the Italy-Bulgaria match went into five minutes overtime with the scores locked a 1-1 and Italy desperate for a goal – which they got in the dying seconds.

While many of us consider that, the Mirror says that Roman Abramovich is considering a move for Rooney and his England colleague Steven Gerrard in an £80m bid.

The Express agrees that the Chelsea owner wants the players, and is preparing to offer £35m for Gerrard and a similarly massive sum for the Everton striker.

While Chelsea fans delight at such news, the Sun, like us, hangs its head in disappointment, tutting into its chin.

In Tim Henman’s first round Wimbledon match against Spaniard Ruben Ramirez (a game Timbo won in four sets), the idol of the HRT generation uttered an expletive.

From where Tim picked up bad words no-one can be sure, but utter at least one he did. And that earned him a reprimand for swearing.

“I got frustrated,” says Tim. “I don’t think many people heard.”

It is indeed hard to hear much above the din of his fans screaming “Go on, Tim”, “Come on, Tim”, “Go, Tim” and “Shhhhh!!!!!!”, but he said it and many will have heard it.

Tim will now have to be on his best behaviour for the rest of the tournament.

“Language, Timothy!” as they say in the umpire’s chair…’

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


Arrivederci, Bad Losers

‘THE Italians used to have something of a reputation as unlucky losers – they exited more competitions on penalty shoot-outs than ever England did.

A crying shame?

But of late they are earning a far worse reputation – as bad losers.

Two years ago, it was the fault of an Ecuadorian referee who had been instructed by Fifa to cheat so that South Korea, one of the World Cup co-hosts, made it through to the quarter-final.

Now, the only reason Italy have gone out of Euro 2004 is because Denmark and Sweden conspired together to play out a 2-2 draw and so claim the top two spots in Group C.

It is, of course, absolute rubbish – the reason Italy are on their way home from Portugal is because they didn’t deserve to get through.

They are a negative side who have only themselves to blame for their predicament.

The idea that Denmark and Sweden managed to conjure up a 2-2 draw to prevent the Italians going through is laughable to anyone who saw the game.

And it merely deflects attention from the Italians’ consistent failings at this level.

Andy Townsend said he was glad that Italy were out because they are a negative side – and it’s hard not to sympathise with this point of view.

Italy looked a really average side against Bulgaria and – what is worse – never seemed to be fully up for a game that they knew they had to win if they had any chance of qualification.

To be fair, the Italian press have for the most part reserved its criticism for the team itself and in particular manager Giovanni Trapattoni.

The Gazzetta dello Sport accused Trappattoni of producing ‘the worst Italian team of recent years, even of recent decades’.

‘We cannot recall an Italy team that was so lacking in ideas and which couldn’t score,’ it said.

And therein lies the problem, not in Gianluigi Buffon’s sore outburst after the game in which he said the Scandinavians should be ashamed of themselves.

‘I’m very bitter,” he said. “I didn’t believe this would happen with peoples who are proud of their spirit of fair play.’

It’s a funny world when the Italians – the very masters of footballing cynicism – are trying to hand out lessons about fair play.

Good riddance to them – perhaps next time they’ll realise that they hold their fate in their own hands at the beginning of the tournament and play accordingly.’

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


Roo-d Awakening

‘GET ready for a surge in popularity of the name Wayne.

‘Henman! Henman!’

If England do go on to win Euro 2004, the celebratory shags will surely breed a million or so Wayne, Waynettas and perhaps even a few Rooneys.

England still have a long way to go before they win some silver but, with Rooney in his current vein of form, victory is becoming possible.

The Sun is for once right in hailing the new “boy wonder”, whose two goals and one exceptional assist handed England a 4-2 win over Croatia and with it progress into the quarter-finals where they will play Portugal.

So good is he that Sven Goran Eriksson, a man not given to saying very much at all, let alone hype, prompts the Mail to conjure up the headline, “The New Pele”.

“I cannot remember a player of his age making such an impact on a major tournament since Pele in the 1958 World Cup,” says Sven.

“He’s not only a good goalscorer, he is a complete footballer…he is absolutely incredible.”

Praise indeed from a man whose emotions usually run from mildly surprised to mildly disappointed.

And so it goes on, and on, and on, and on. If the young Rooney wasn’t feeling the pressure up until this morning, he now has the weight of an expectant nation on his broad shoulders.

How he handles all the adulation coming his way will tell us a lot about what he is made of. But, as the Mail says, he looks well set to be one of the game’s greats.

But what do the stars say about it? There are a myriad pitfalls and temptations that can yet divert the young Rooney from his path to greatness.

As there are influences on all players, like Sweden’s Frederik Ljungberg, whose astrological chart is profiled in the Times.

Mars is in Pisces, says astrologer Jane Ridder-Patrick, and for Ljungberg (an Aires) that can spell all sorts of dangers, such as a tendency towards confusion and a scattering of energy.

Freddie will doubtless be mindful of that as he attempts to help his Sweden side to victory in today’s match against Denmark.

But what we sports fans really want to know is not if Rooney will be the best ever or if Freddie Ljungberg’s moon is in his eight house, but what Timmy Henman’s up to.

Tennis’ answer to Wayne Rooney (and as an answer it earns a B+ at best) is talking to the Mirror about how this year it will be different.

Gearing up for today’s Wimbledon match against Spaniard Ruben Ramirez, Henman is in bullish form.

He’s ready to give it a decent “crack” before the Henmaniacs, although he did enjoy the relative low-key affair that was his semi-final defeat in the French Open.

“That’s not to say I have a problem with it [attention],” says Tim, “but not having the attention was different and I really enjoyed that.

“It will be interesting to see how my attitude is going to fare at Wimbledon. But if I could choose I would choose playing at home and being with my family and friends.”

And since home for Tim is Wimbledon, and his family and friends are the masses assembled on Henman’s Hill, he cannot fail…’

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


Royle Roo-ins It

‘OPINIONS are generally divided among football fans over whether they prefer John Motson or Barry Davies as a commentator.

Another job well done!

My personal opinion is that they’re both pretty bad, but Motson is at least not as offensive as Davies, who can’t get through a game without using every national stereotype in the book.

But there can be surely no doubt that, when it comes to expert summarisers, Joe Royle is the absolute pits.

He made Trevor Brooking look excitable last night as he droned tediously on about England’s perceived failings – all the more bizarre because England were actually playing rather well at the time.

In fact, it was embarrassing for the BBC that, after 45 minutes in which viewers had heard nothing but Royle’s dirge, its studio guests were absolutely fulsome in their praise for the team.

The English media is rightly criticised for getting overexcited about its team and hyping up every victory, but Royle set out last night to rectify 40 years of hyperbole in one match.

He might have conceded at one point that Wayne Rooney was quite a good player, but that was as positive as he could muster.

What must it be like playing with him as your manager? Beat Real Madrid 5-0 and he would still drone on about a misplaced pass here or some poor control there.

The man’s voice is oral Mogadon – a dull drone that should be banned by international treaty as an instrument of torture.

John Motson may have become a caricature of himself – and his joke about Ashley Cole being “left back” caused a collective cringe – but he sounds glad to be at the game.

Royle has spent his whole life in football and, if last night is any indication of the excitement he derives from it, it’s a pretty sad life he’s led.

Sir Bobby Robson might sound like he’s engrossed in a private conversation with himself over on ITV, but at least it’s a conversation he appears to be enjoying.

Royle did his best last night to ruin what was a pretty good game of football.

I don’t know what he’s paying the BBC to allow him to share his thoughts with the world but, whatever it is, it ain’t enough…’

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


A Rotten Shower

‘“LET’S get something absolutely straight. I think I am going to win Wimbledon.”

Maybe, just maybe, it’s the Year Of The Tiger

Those among you who spotted the qualifying “think” in that opening statement will swiftly have realised that the person with the grand plans is no brash American or punchy Australian.

This is not a man who “will” win Wimbledon, but a player who thinks he can. And that can only mean he’s British. And that can only mean he’s called Tim ‘Timbo’ Henman.

In the Mail’s eight-page guide to Wimbledon – the tournament begins today – three pages are given over to Tim telling us in his own words why this year will be his, maybe.

And the chief difference is that this year he’s more relaxed. He’s also not going to be showering in the same cubicle, and will be making a point of using all four showers in the men’s changing rooms so as not to slip into any “silly routines”.

While the fearsome Henmaniacs take a few cool showers of their own after flushing hot at the thought of their idol in a soapy lather, the Sun looks to things football.

”Your country needs Roo,” says the Sun’s backpage, underneath a shot of John Terry in Lord Kitchener mode, pointing the summoning finger at the Sun’s patriotic readership.

After Henman’s abolition of ritual, it’s clear that some sections of the press will be spouting their usual jingoistic nonsense when it come to an England football match.

But it’ll be nothing compared to the stuff pouring from the mouths of Croatia’s fervent support.

The Mirror has heard Croatia Football Federation chief Zoran Cvrk apologise in advance of the match for racist chanting from the checkerboard–clad sections within the Stadium of Light.

“There is little we can do to stop it,” says Cvrk, who recalls how some Croats in the stands booed and jeered France’s legion of black players when the two sides met last week.

“They [Croatia’s fans] are not violent but their chants are unacceptable. You must understand that we have a very difficult cultural past, but that is still no excuse.”

No, it’s not. And whatever role Croats played in the Second World War that England’s fans love to evoke in their own chants, times have moved on.

Only they haven’t moved on that much in Croatia, where besides the clear racism evidenced among some of the country’s support, there exists a far from progressive spirit on the pitch.

The Express has heard from Croatia’s coach Otto Baric about his plans to stop England, and, in particular, the exceptional Wayne Rooney.

“I believe we have a way to stop him,” says Baric. “He collects yellow cards, and let’s hope a red one.”

The plan is to antagonise Rooney and make him do enough to earn an early bath.

“If we provoke Rooney the right way,” says Croatia’s goalkeeper Joey Didulica to the Express, “he will definitely lash out.

“When you’re playing on emotion like that, a red cad is inevitable and the manager has told us to prey on his weakness. You’ve got to use every tactic.”

Perhaps you have. But even the aforesaid Lord Kitchener would have found such underhand ways a little over the top…’

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


Ditching Diamond Works Wonders

‘MAKE no mistake – it may have been Wayne Rooney who scored the vital goals, but it was the papers wot won last night’s Euro 2004 clash against Switzerland.

What happened next is part of football history

Had they not tipped off the nation that Sven Goran Eriksson was planning to play his diamond formation yesterday, the Swede might have got away with it.

But there was still time for David Beckham to lead what the Express describes as “a remarkable revolt” and get the team’s tactics changed.

As it was, the English were well and truly flattered by the 3-0 scoreline, having been outplayed for much of the match by the Swiss.

And the Sun is quick to apportion blame – it was Eriksson’s fault.

For some reason, the papers have all decided that these days the Swede can do no right – if we win, it is despite him; if we lose, it is because of him.

And the Sun’s Steven Howard is sure that England’s lacklustre performance was because they had been training to play a diamond formation.

“The results were obvious,” he says. “Four fine midfielders hardly looked as if they were on nodding terms, but how are they expected to feel comfortable when the manager, even at this late stage, seems incapable of deciding on his tactics.”

Well, the fact that they’re all highly-paid professional footballers who play as part of a flat midfield four week in, week out should be a help.

In the end, the only thing that really mattered, however, was the result and the win (combined with France’s 2-2 draw against Croatia) means England need only one point to progress.

And the England players are in no doubt who they have to thank for the result, with Wayne Rooney getting a standing ovation from his teammates in the dressing room after the game.

The Mirror notes that at only 18 years and 237 days Rooney is now the youngest ever goalscorer in the European Championships.

The Sun, Mirror, Star and Express all award him a 9/10 for his performance, with only the stingy Mail playing the part of the Russian judge and giving him an 8/10.

But concerns surround the form and fitness of Paul Scholes and Michael Owen, both of whom were replaced in the second half.

Both get only 4/10 from the Mail and Eriksson must be wondering whether he will have either in his starting XI on Monday.

One thing is for sure – England will have to play a lot better against a Croatia side who threatened to cause a massive upset when they led the French 2-1.

The statistics show that, although the Swiss managed only one shot on target during the whole game, they enjoyed 55% of the possession, had five corners to our none and had the same amount of shots in total.

Whatever happens on Monday, however, one thing is guaranteed – Eriksson won’t be winning any plaudits in the one-eyed media.’

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


Diamond Lights

‘THERE are only two possible formations in which England’s footballers can line up – 4-4-2 or the diamond.

England will need more than charisma tonight

Anything else – like Terry Venables’ famous Christmas tree – is beyond the wit of the players and certainly beyond the wit of the football hacks.

So, having played with “two banks of four” against the French, Sven Goran Eriksson is planning to surprise the Swiss tonight by playing what the Express describes as the “infamous” diamond formation.

Unfortunately, all the papers have picked up on this tactical masterstroke and have tipped off the Swiss.

The Mail says the England coach is preparing to gamble the team’s Euro 2004 hopes on the formation.

“It seems to be a huge risk considering England will almost certainly be eliminated if they fail to win,” it says.

Actually, a draw and a win against Croatia will see England through assuming that France go through the group unbeaten. Defeat would, however, be the end of the road.

It goes without saying that Eriksson will take the blame if England don’t win and yesterday he warned his players not to take the opposition lightly.

“I am confident that we are going to win,” he told the Express. “That is our objective.”

Knowing that England will go into the game trying to win will no doubt put heart into the team’s supporters and fear into the Swiss opposition.

But, just in case something goes wrong with the game-plan, Eriksson was getting ready with the excuses yesterday, with the heat the main culprit.

Expect to read about England players wilting in 90 degree temperatures if they fail tonight, the diamond melting in the stifling heat.

Swiss playmaker Hakan Yakin accused England of being “a team of many stars and few workers”, adding that the English defence was not convincing.

“This way, they will never arrive at the highest level because they treat themselves as favourites and never fulfil that tag,” he tells the Star in a rare moment of insight.

Just see what happens tomorrow if we win the game. The talk will not be of Croatia, but of how we’re now going to win the whole tournament.’

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


At The Sharp End

‘REMEMBER when Uri Geller asked us to touch the orange ball in Euro 96? If we all did it as he asked, England would win.

‘Ouch! Careful where you stick that thing’

Now, either we all did and Uri is a charlatan or someone failed to touch the disc as requested and so caused the calamitous loss to Germany on penalty kicks.

Mindful of that, we look to the Guardian and its news that the good clockmakers of Switzerland are being invited to stick pins into pictures of David Beckham.

Adverts featuring a picture of the England captain have appeared in Swiss newspapers and magazines, inviting fans of England’s next opponents to rip it out, stick it to a wall and push in a pin.

And if the Swiss don’t have a pin to hand, they are instructed to use a needle or staples. “If we believe it will work, then it will,” comes the Geller-like message.

Which means that, if Beckham awakens on the morning of the match with a severe case of pins and needles, then we know who to blame – and we will be invading Switzerland around lunchtime on Friday.

But David has no time for unlucky charms and hexes. He’s a level-headed chap and, the Times says, has insisted that he will continue to take England’s penalties whatever the pressure.

“My mentality is to carry on until I win,” says Beckham. Which is clear to us.

But, to the Times, Beckham’s statement makes him sound “more like a 10-year-old refusing to go in for his tea until he has scored the winning goal than the England captain”.

Does it? Or does it make him sound like the man who once had a hissy fit and told the Times’ sister media messenger Sky TV that he didn’t want to talk to them?

While we ponder that, Beckham goes on.

“If there is another penalty, I will take it,” says Beckham, aged 29.

“Nothing will defeat me…If I miss the next four or five penalties then I will step up and take one, although I am not sure if people will want me to.”

Well, the oppositions’ people would want you do, especially those pin-sticking, Voodoo worshipping Swiss.

Or the Germans, who are known to enjoy a spot of penalty taking with the English.

And the Guardian has news of the German team at Euro 2004 in its review of last night’s game between them and their old pals the Dutch.

“Traditionally the English are not meant to have sympathetic feelings towards Germany,” begins the paper, “but even the strongest euro-sceptic must have felt some pity for them last night.”

The report then goes into how the Dutch were awful yet still managed to salvage a 1-1 draw from the jaws of defeat thanks to a goal from Ruud van Nistelrooy.

But to the paper’s opening gambit. And the answer is no. We have no sympathy for the Germans.

This is the time to nail your colours to the mast – or David’s Beckham’s tackle to your Swiss clock.’

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


Cheating Rosbifs

‘IT’S hard to know what the England players expected their French counterparts to do in the aftermath of their last-gasp win on Sunday.

Let’s not have a disco

Have a moment or two of quiet reflection? Get out a good book? Sit down to a rubber or two of bridge?

Whatever it was, it’s clear that singing songs and loudly celebrating their great escape wasn’t on the list.

Frank Lampard was the first to complain publicly about the noise coming from the French dressing room and Stevie Gerrard takes up the torch of injustice in the Mirror today.

“Hopefully we will meet them in the final and get our revenge,” he said (overlooking the small matter that England currently lie at the bottom of their group).

“We heard the French singing and shouting in the dressing room, but they have not won the tournament yet.”

Had England won in similar circumstances we feel sure that they would have kept the celebrations muted – a handshake from the manager, a pat on the back from colleagues and maybe a celebratory bottle of Lucozade would suffice.

What is worse, the French are accusing us – the fine upstanding English – of being cheats.

Patrick Vieira launched what the Sun describes as “an amazing attack” on our boys.

“They fouled a lot and cheated,” he said, “but we stayed calm and showed the strength of character we needed to win. Even when England fouled us, we stayed strong as a group.”

England now need to win both their remaining games to guarantee qualification from the group (although a win and a draw may well prove enough).

But they will have to do so without Nicky Butt, who the Mail says may be ruled out for the rest of the championship.

Also possibly missing from the line-up against Switzerland on Thursday is Paul Scholes, who has a twisted ankle, and Ledley King, who will be replaced by a fit again John Terry.

Meanwhile, the absurd sniping at Sven Goran Eriksson’s decision to substitute Wayne Rooney goes on, mainly from hacks who couldn’t be trusted to manage a Subbuteo side.

In the Sun, John Sadler says “blatant mismanagement” was to blame for the defeat, and says if England are to win Euro 2004 they will do so despite their coach not because of him.

It is the same ignorant nonsense spouted yesterday by Jeff Powell in the Mail, who is banging on the same broken drum again today.

England lost because they missed a penalty and made two mistakes at the very end – the first by Emile Heskey, the second by Steven Gerrard – both of which were punished by the peerless Zinedine Zidane.

Yes, the French controlled most of the match, but the fact that they could not break down the English defence speaks volumes not only for the players but for the manager.

The idea that the substitution of Rooney had any effect on the outcome is ridiculous and is being peddled by journalists who are paid to know better.’

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


Singing The Blues

‘DAVID Beckham invites us to blame him for last night’s cruel 2-1 defeat to the French after he missed a penalty that would have surely have given England victory.

Not Michael Owen

So, happy to oblige as we always are at Anorak Towers, here goes.

You silly, shaven-headed, helium-voiced, tattoo-despoiled, Rebecca Loos-shagging, stick insect-loving prat – why didn’t you let someone else take it?

That off our chest, we turn to the coverage of the game itself in which England were denied victory by two injury-time French goals, both scored by Zinedine Zidane.

The Sun dubs it “the cruellest finish of all”, reminiscent of Manchester United’s European Cup win against Bayern Munich in 1999.

And both it and its main rival, the Mirror, use the same “Kicked In The Gauls” headline to describe the sickening feeling of defeat.

Indeed, the Mirror also summons memories of the Nou Camp to describe the “slack-jawed, gobsmacking surreality” as defeat was plucked out of the very jaws of victory.

“Only this time the joke was on us,” it says, “not some Germans snivelling on the turf. This time, the tears were ours.”

That the French had enjoyed the majority of possession and had more shots both on and off target (even if they never had a clear-cut chance in open play) is forgotten.

We were 1-0 up after 90 minutes. We should have been 2-0 up after 90 minutes. We lost 2-1.

We may have had fewer shots, fewer corners and committed more fouls – but the Mirror’s player rankings have England comfortably ahead.

Only Steven Gerrard, whose ill-judged back pass gifted France victory, gets less than 7/10, while all the back four plus Frank Lampard and Wayne Rooney are awarded 8/10s.

The story is similar in the Sun, with Rooney, Lampard, Ledley King and Sol Campbell all getting 8/10s, while Zidane whose brilliant last-minute free-kick got France back into the game gets a measly 7/10.

The Star even awards a 9/10 for 18-year-old Rooney, whose brilliant run from the halfway line was only brought to an end by Mikael Silvestre’s foul in the penalty area.

“Like a good French wine, we were maturing nicely,” writes Brian Woolnough. “Then we dropped the damn bottle.”

Or in the case of some knucklehead England fans up and down the country, threw the bottle at giant TV screens.

But while England football fans drown their sorrows, England cricket fans were celebrating a second successive 3-0 series win, this time against the Kiwis.

Graham Thorpe was the hero of the hour, his unbeaten 104 guiding England to the 284 victory target in extra time on the fourth day at Trent Bridge.

Where once England would have folded like a pack of cards, the middle-order battled back from 46-3 to record their highest fourth innings score in Nottingham.

If only their footballing counterparts could have shown such discipline at the death…’

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


Bob A Job

‘POOR old David Beckham.

Robson in black and white

In his hour of need, while the rest of the team are comforted and pepped up by wives and family at the team’s hotel, he has to make do with texting his wife, or someone.

For all the pizzazz about England’s captain, for all the hype and hoopla, and all that glory, when it came to bend it like he’s supposed to, he didn’t.

But let’s not be too hard on Becks. As a footballer, he’s a key player in the England set-up. So what if he’s no longer the fulcrum around which the team turns – Steven Gerard is now the driving force – he can deliver when required like no other.

The ball he placed onto Frank Lampard’s head was glorious. The header was terrific; but while others in the England team are capable of the finish, no-one can cross it like Beckham.

But for all the game’s drama, there was one more thing that stuck out. And it prompted a question: where was Bobby Robson watching the game from?

ITV’s pundit on the night was less chipping in than having a conversation. It began around 7:45 and continued for the duration of the match.

It was full of earnest, heartfelt emphasis on England’s need to stick it out. Robson was brimming with hope. And comments about Ledley King being a king among players.

And it was utterly unengaging – even Robson’s co-host Clive Tyldesley seemed detached. It was if Bobby was watching the game from a recording studio, or was it a bus stop?

We are no ageists her at Anorak Towers (old Mr Anorak would not allow it) but listing to Bobby talk was like being cornered by an elderly man while in a hurry.

You cock an ear, nod your head and look attentive but you do so from a sense of duty and hope that you will never be stuck in the gent’s company again.

So we had the vision of Bobby talking incessantly and a sound engineer periodically flipping a switch so we at home could hear.

For all we know, Robson’s still talking, still urging England on to better things. And he might not be wasting his breath – not if a lonely David Beckham is listening in.’

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


Three Lines

‘“THREE lines on a shirt, the purple haze is flying, bananas in the sky and thimbles in the lining…”

Scholes means, er, no goals for three years

Oh, what a laugh we had in Euro 2004! And for that we have the Portuguese police to thanks.

For, as the Mirror reports, the boys in blue have decided to take a relaxed view on cannabis intake among football fans.

It’s not illegal to smoke dope in Portugal, and the authorities in that enlightened land have decided that they’d rather see a load of stoned football supporters than gangs of lads high on gallons of wife-beater and hooch.

“HERE WEED GO!“ indeed, as the Star says on its front page. And if it takes a few spliffs to stop English fans smashing up Lisbon, then Rizlas all round, we say.

The other thing that keeps England fans in good humour is a fine performance for their team.

And Paul Scholes, carrot-coloured apex of England’s much-vaunted diamond-shaped midfield, is telling the Sun that those cocky Frenchies had best watch out.

“There’s a feeling there is sometimes some boastfulness about the French contingent at Arsenal,” says Scholes. “I think it’s just the way they are.”

“It’s a motivation to bring them down a peg or two, but it would be nice to say that after the game. It would be nice to say that wound us up.”

Hang on a mo, Scholesy. Perhaps the French are a wee bit brash, but they are the current holders of the European Championships and a large part of their squad are World Cup winners.

And as for getting wound up, our advice, and that of the Portuguese police, is to buy some blow and chill out. We do not want any trouble.

But bother is what the English rugby team are going to get in New Zealand.

The Mail hears from former Kiwi Andy Haden, who urges the All Blacks to turn the first Test into a “dockyard brawl”.

“That’s what we need against England,” he says, “a real knock-down, drag-out business which comes with a good old arm-wrestle.”

And then for some neat analogising. “The size of the dog in the fight is not important,” says Haden the philosopher. “It’s the size of the fight in the dog that matters.“

Oi! No giggling in the stands. This is a serious matter and if you keep laughing and snorting like a foolish dolt, we’ll be forced to stop things right here and now.

Cripes! We preferred you lot when you were pissed…’

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


Better Than Sex?

‘IS scoring a goal better than sex? It’s the question footballers are routinely asked by men’s magazines and other soft porn publications.

Alas! We will not see the arrival of baby Lisboa in nine months’ time

The answers vary between “no”, “no”, and “it depends whom I’ve scored with”.

But the Mirror now tells us that sex and football will not be mixing in the run-up to England’s match with France this Sunday.

Both sets of players have been instructed not to have sex before the big game. Indeed, the French have been banned from l’amour for the duration of the tournament.

Meanwhile, wives and girlfriends have been banned from the Italian team’s hotel, although there is a one-hour long window of opportunity to hook up every night after dinner.

Portugal have followed the French example and banned their players from sex for the duration of the tournament, and the Bulgarians will deal with requests for nooky on an “individual basis”.

While we imagine the Bulgarian FA casting its eye over players’ wives and girlfriends and delivering the thumbs up or down to each, the Sun looks at the England-France match proper.

And it hears from Arsenal’s Ashley Cole who’s telling his team-mates that the worst thing they could do is to antagonise Thierry Henry.

“I’ve told all the England players the very worst thing you can do is upset Thierry,” says Cole.

“I’ve seen some people suggesting you can put him off his game if you get involved in the verbal stuff with him. But I think you’ll find the exact opposite is true.”

But you can wind up Robert Pires, Cole’s other French colleague at Highbury.

“Before we came to Portugal,” says Cole, “I said to Robert ‘If I get the chance, I’m just going to kick you!’ – and to be honest that will be my aim.”

It’s a noble ambition that should see Pires hobble off – swiftly followed by a red-carded Cole.

But if Cole intends to shame England with his tactics, the Mail says that it’s nothing compared with the state of US athletics.

The Mail brings news that Tim Montgomery, the 100m world-record holder, has been notified that charges are to be brought against him for his links to the controversial Bay Area Laboratory Cooperative (BALCO).

Marion Jones, who won a record five medals at the Sydney Olympics, has been questioned by America’s anti-doping police and is to be asked further questions about her relationship with BALCO.

And Kelli White, who won gold at last year’s World Championships, has been suspended from the sport for two years after failing a test for a banned stimulant. She also has links to BALCO.

Much is only alleged, but mud sticks and the sport of athletics is very much in the mire.’

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


Too Good To Fail

‘HERE’S a headline all aficionados of England football campaigns since 1966 will enjoy: “TOO GOOD TO FAIL.”

England’s new No.6

It appears on the back page of the Express and seems to suggest that England are on course for victory in the European Championships.

Indeed, Michael Owen says it will be nothing short of a “travesty” if the lads don’t bring home the silver. That’s some big talk.

But the Mail prefers to talk about whether or not John Terry will be fit enough to partner Sol Campbell in the heart of the England defence for Sunday’s opener against France.

While an FA spokesman says Terry’s participation in the match is “in the balance”, Campbell argues that England should not risk Terry unless the Chelsea player is fully fit.

Only they should, because even a partially fit Terry fills England supporters with more confidence than the man whom the Sun sees as his likely replacement: Jamie Carragher.

Such a move would be, in the Mail’s considered opinion, the stuff of nightmares. “BOTTOM OF THE BARREL?” it asks alongside a shot of the Liverpool defender.

But while England look forward to combating the electric pace of Thierry Henry and the sublime skills of Zinedine Zidane with the sixth choice defensive partnership of Campbell and Carragher, tennis hails a new hero.

Move over Tim Henman and make way for Ian Flanagan. Who’s he? Why, he’s the toast of the Express after his victory over last year’s Wimbledon finalist Mark Philippoussis in the Stella Artois Championships.

“I was living under Kew Bridge this week, now I can afford to live on it,” said Flanagan, who had only won around £4,000 in his professional sporting life until yesterday.

“I went out there with a small chance as he is so strong but I played well and here I am.”

And so he is. And to find out more of who he is, the Express gives us “Ten things you didn’t know about hero Ian”.

It might have easily been 1,000 things, but the Top 10 contains such gems as how he loves playing Tiger Woods on his PlayStation and how he lives with a parrot named Bruno and a dog called Hoover.

The Mirror does some sleuthing of its own and finds out that the Welshman is also a friend of snooker player Ronnie O’Sullivan.

Meanwhile we at Anorak have learnt that, since Flanagan has not represented Welsh football at any level, he is liable to play for England.

And with two feet, decent hand-eye co-ordination and a good touch under pressure, he might be the man to step into England’s defensive breach.

He’s got to be better than Carragher…’

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


Food, Glorious Food

‘REMEMBER a week or so ago when the Sun’s Shaun Curtis, the paper’s chief football hack, wondered if following England’s 1-1 with Japan anyone believed the lads capable of winning in Portugal?

Beckham shows off his new ‘man breasts’

We do. But that was then, and after England’s 6-1 demolition of the admittedly less-than-great Icelanders, “our boys” are on the paper’s front page.

And the paper wants us to remember something else. Hands up now, those among you who can recall the name Bjørge Lillelien?

We’ll help you out and tell you that Lillelien was the Norwegian football commentator who sounded off so magnificently after his countrymen defeated England 2-1 in a World Cup qualifier back in 1981.

For the record, his rant went: “Lord Nelson! Lord Beaverbrook! Sir Winston Churchill! Sir Anthony Eden! Clement Attlee! Henry Cooper! Lady Diana! Maggie Thatcher – can you hear me, Maggie Thatcher! Your boys took one hell of a beating! Your boys took one hell of a beating!’

He was right. But how right is the Sun to evoke the spirit of that speech in its headline of today?

Alongside a shot of the England party, suited and booted, standing on the steps of their plane to glory, is the headline.

“Thierry Henry! Napoleon Bonaparte! Joan of Arc! Inspector Clouseau! Patrick Vieira! Charles De Gaulle! The Renault Five! Jacques Chirac – Can You Hear Us, Jacques Chirac? Our boys are gonna give you one hell of a beating!”

To many Sun readers, this is good news. The French appear to have a team of just eight players, and since four of them are dead and one is a car, albeit a nippy one, England can expect to get a decent result.

And England will win on a diet of something more wholesome than frogs’ legs, snails and puppy dogs’ tails.

The Express has taken time to reveals to the world what the English lions will be dining on in the Portuguese sunshine.

Fresh fish caught that day in the Atlantic, olive oils and fresh fruits are mainstays of the celebrated Mediterranean diet.

So England’s players will be eating “huge helpings of rice pudding and custard”.

In all, the lads have taken 26 kilos of tinned pudding and 1,000 servings of custard with them for the 23-day tournament.

They have also taken along six jumbo packers of Jaffa cakes (for the fruit), 20 bottles of maple syrup, 4,000 assorted chocolate bars, 400 packs of assorted biscuits, 180 600ml bottles of blackcurrant squash, and 12 boxes of chocolate biscuits.

It is, is it not, the diet of champions. So what that they’ll be fat and have complexions like plucked chickens. If England win, who cares what the players look like?

If the England cricket team can win on a diet of champagne (the Mail has a shot of them spraying the energy-drink all over each other following the team’s series win over New Zealand), then England’s footballers can win with chocolate.

Come on you Smokey Beckhams, you Cheese and Owens! Do it for England.’

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


Europe Fears England

‘IT is undeniably sad that, when the Mail takes a preludial glance towards the summer’s football fun, it first sees a few hundred English lunatics fighting the locals.

‘Put your left leg in, your left leg out…’

England may be “BETTER THAN EVER” in the eyes of the Express, but the other papers are unsure of what they are better at.

Sven Goran Eriksson says that England are in top form on the pitch. “I am happy,” says the Swede with his usual flair for language. “The players are all fit and I wouldn’t swap my squad for any other.”

While that’s certainly the case when it comes to Chelsea (Sven turned down the chance to coach the Blues), a few French gems would surely not go amiss among England’s Butts, Heskeys and Nevilles.

So much for the team. But what about the dunces and thugs who make up a portion of England’s travelling fans?

Well, the hooligans have given the Mail more to write about then any England team since 1966, so the paper is keen to emphasise that, however good England’s chances of victory are, the berks must not be allowed to spoil things.

And it seems Eriksson shares the Mail’s concerns that there will be much throwing of plastic chairs and glasses in Portugal.

“Self-policing is perhaps the most powerful weapon in the fight against hooliganism,” says Sven, “and I know that the huge majority of England fans want nothing to do with violence and disorder.”

He goes on to place hooligans in the same bracket as some of England’s other foe.

“Ahead of us lie the likes of Thierry Henry and Zinedine Zidane,” he says, “but also the uncertainty of whether the violence and disorder involving England fans that has clouded past tournaments will raise it ugly head again.”

We hope it does not. But if there is any bother, rest assured that the Mail will locate it and splash it across its back pages.

But enough of the knuckleheads and more now of the Sun’s tribute to wicketkeeper Geraint Jones who scored his maiden Test century as England edged towards victory over New Zealand.

Helmets off to the man who on reaching his ton celebrated with a dignified moonwalk on the Headingley lawn.

“The crowd really got us going during a tense time at the end,” says Jones, who played a memorable part in England’s first innings haul of 526 runs.

“It’s not easy to moonwalk in studs. I scuffed a bit of turf and hopefully I’ll get away with it.”

Such is the fustiness of England’s cricketing hierarchy that Jones may well be brought to book.

First moonwalks, and then who only knows what? A tango? A river dance? Gulp! A victory jig!’

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