Back pages | Anorak - Part 80

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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

That Winning Feeling

‘FOR a moment, pretend you are not British. Close your eyes and imagine that you are not the champion of the underdog, a fan of the team that never wins. You are backing the favourites.

England’s heroes

In short, imagine you are American or Australian.

You need not begin to whoop like a demented Texan or wave a plastic kangaroo over your head and enthuse about the great life back home – just imagine what it’s like going into a sporting contest believing you will win.

And now look to the back page of the Mail and learn that England’s cricket team are looking very much like a terrific side in the making.

Yesterday, Michael Vaughan’s first XI thrashed the West Indies by 256 runs and so retained the Wisden Trophy.

There are two matches still to play in the four-series Test and, given the way England have performed to date, Brian Lara’s team will be wondering what their game plan should be.

(Although Lara, who was given out in dubious circumstances for the second time this summer, will be excused for thinking that he needs to beat not only England but the umpires as well.)

And it’s not only cricket where England are playing out of character. As the Sun reports, British boxing is on the up.

Mike Tyson may not be the ferocious fighter he once was, but he’s sill a pretty awesome sight climbing into the ring.

So it’s right that the Sun lavishes praise on Danny Williams, the British fighter who beat him over the weekend.

Not that Williams needs the Sun to tell him how good he now is, – thanks to his victory over the rusting iron man, the Londoner now stands in line for a £10m pay-day against either Evander Holyfield or Vitali Klitschko.

This is all great stuff, but as it comes, so it must pass. We are British, after all, and even when England are playing great cricket and Williams is knocking over the baddest man on the planet, losing still dominates the sports pages.

And the losers in the frame are Sven Goran Eriksson, Mark Palios and the Football Association.

There seems little point in delivering to you the full letter of resignation penned by FA chief executive Palios over the incident that occupies the tabloids’ front pages.

Let’s just say that he’s gone, leaving behind Ms Faria Alam and the FA in more disarray than usual.

But rest assured that it will be handled with the FA’s customary lack of class, ambition, direction and ability.

If only the fools who preside over English football could just close their eyes for a moment…’

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

The Iceman Cometh

‘HERE’S the headline of the week: “Beckham comes to Eriksson’s aid.”

A circus act

It’s in the Telegraph and appears above a story of how David Beckham says the beleaguered Swede Sven Goran Eriksson is a “great manager” and how much he loves working with him.

“Sven has been a great man to me and to the rest of the England team,” says Dave. “Every one of the players respects him as a manager for what he has done for the team and the country.”

But not what he has done for the FA and the image of the game, one already tarnished by players’ sexual antics.

But Sven has little need of support from the adulterous Beckham – because, as the Times says, the England coach is fighting his own corner. And yesterday he issued a statement.

In it, Sven says that he is distressed by recent “inaccurate comment and speculation about my professional integrity”. He feels that he must set the record straight.

“I wish to state unequivocally that in keeping with the above policy [not to discuss his private affairs] I have at no time either categorically confirmed or denied any relationship with Ms Faria Alam.”

This is not good news for the FA which, when rumours of Sven’s affair came to light, seems to have failed to ask the simple question: “Did you, Sven?”

Instead, the FA rushed out a statement rubbishing the story.

Eriksson may well be suggesting, as the Guardian opines, that he is guilty of nothing, but it’s a great pity he saw fit to sleep with a colleague and then drag the matter out with ambiguous comments and shifty looks.

The only happy thing about the entire matter is that Sven has managed to knock the Patrick Vieira story from even the Sun’s back page.

Today, readers have to wade two pages inside the rag to hear any news of the player.

The Sun – a paper that has spent weeks talking about the Frenchman’s supposed move to Real Madrid – now says the midfielder may not be playing for the Gunners on the first day of the new season…because he might be injured.

But not as damaged as boxing’s image will be after tonight’s bout between journeyman British fighter Danny Williams and the man they couldn’t retire, Mike Tyson.

The Times profiles the fight. But what should be a cause for celebration for British boxing – Williams is a London-based fighter doing battle with the baddest man in sport – is nothing more than a circus freak show.

Ten years or more ago this would have been an epic event. But now seeing Tyson in the ring is just plain sad.’

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

A Lot Of Nonsense

‘IT goes without saying that the Football Association could not organise the proverbial piss-up in a brewery, but even by their standards this is a complete farce.

Sven gets a Grip

According to the Mirror, the FA issued its denial that Sven Goran Eriksson had slept with Soho Square secretary Faria Alam on the basis of one very brief telephone conversation.

More specifically, on the basis of three words from the England coach – “This is nonsense.”

It is on the interpretation of those three words, apparently, that the Swede’s future rests…and you don’t need to be Bill Clinton’s lawyer to suggest that they are somewhat ambiguous.

What defies belief is that, if he was planning to issue a denial, FA executive director David Davies did not see fit to ask Eriksson point blank whether the story was true or not.

Instead, the organisation charged with looking after our national sport ensued that once again it is a complete laughing stock by retracting its denial after only a couple of days.

Our guess is that Eriksson will survive – the FA have invested too much money in him to sack him on such trivial, and disputed, grounds.

And, as the Mirror shows, he still has a number of powerful supporters on the FA board which will meet to decide his fate.

However, the Mail – stealing yesterday’s Anorak headline (“It’s Not If, but Sven”) – says the Swede’s hopes of survival have all but disappeared.

It quotes an FA insider as saying: “If you can lie to your employers once, as Sven has done in the past regarding his dealings with Chelsea, you can lie to them again.

“It’s a capital offence. If that’s what has happened, he’s got to go.”

But a senior FA source sums it up when he says, “It all comes down to whether he was asked the right questions by David [Davies]”.

And, if the Mirror is to be believed, the answer would appear to be no.

The Sun claims that Eriksson will probably be allowed to waddle on as a lame duck manager for the next two years purely because the FA can’t afford to sack him.

David “Safe Hands” Seaman knows a bit about playing away – he abandoned his first wife and kids to shack up with PR girl Debbie.

But he tells the Sun that he thinks Patrick Vieira should stay at Arsenal.

“The Premier League is fantastic,” he says. “Everyone wants to come and play here. England is the place to be at the moment.

“I’ve never played abroad, but I wouldn’t want to go out there.”

Quite right – who’s to say what you might catch “out there”. Not to mention the food. And the people. And the fact that you might bump into Posh Spice…’

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

Not If, But Sven

‘SVEN Goran Eriksson’s fate will be settled in eight days’ time when the FA board sits down for an extraordinary meeting to decide whether the England coach lied about his affair with Faria Alam.

‘I’ve never shagged a German’

But the Swede would be forgiven for starting to pack his Cuban heels and looking round for alternative employment if he reads today’s headlines.

“DOOMED” is the Express’s verdict, saying Eriksson will be left to carry the can after the FA cleared its chief executive Mark Palios of any wrongdoing.

“On The Brink” is the Mail’s headline, suggesting that the decision to absolve Palios “could be construed as a deliberate attempt to further alienate Eriksson”.

And the Sun has even lined up Sir Bobby Robson and Trevor Brooking to step into the breach “as soon as they have axed their once-a-night boss”.

[The paper typically appears far more upset by Sven’s lack of stamina in the bedroom than by any lies he may have told his employers.]

You may remember that on Monday the Sun was throwing around Steve McClaren’s name as Eriksson’s replacement, but now we learn that Middlesbrough might refuse to release him.

And that means 71-year-old Robson will become a caretaker manager for the friendly against Ukraine alongside Brooking, director of football development.

The one good thing about this whole boring saga is that it has knocked that other boring saga – Patrick Vieira’s mooted move to Real Madrid – off the back pages.

But all the papers are this morning in agreement that the French midfielder will quit Arsenal for the Spanish capital in the next few days.

The source of the story is Spanish sports paper Marca, which is pretty well the official Real Madrid newsletter and which claims that the 28-year-old has already agreed personal terms.

The Mirror insists that Madrid will now make an official approach to Arsenal in the next couple of days for the player valued by the Sun at £35m.

As English football once again descends into farce, English cricket is on the up and up.

The Sun says Monday’s victory over the West Indies at Lord’s has confirmed the team’s position as the No.2 side in the world behind the might Australians.

And it says coach Duncan Fletcher – “a sort of Sven Goran Eriksson who wins, keeps his trousers on and gets a 20th of his salary” – must take much of the credit.’

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

Sodom All

‘IF you ever needed confirmation that newspapers have no idea what they’re talking about 90% of the time, then this morning provides it in spades.

‘She can talk dirty at 40 words per minute and Mark says her shorthand is first class’

The Mail claims that, under his new deal, Sven Goran Eriksson will get a massive £14m pay-off if the Football Association decides to sack him as England coach.

But the Star has the Swede as “a £7m loser”, claiming that the FA could avoid a costly pay-off by dismissing Eriksson for “gross misconduct”.

What the papers do seem to agree about is that the England boss’s future is in jeopardy – the Sun and Mirror both have exclusives suggesting that there may be an emergency meeting of the 12-man FA Board to discuss the crisis.

The Mirror says the whole affair has driven a wedge between Eriksson and the FA.

The former is “furious” that the FA put out a statement confirming his affair with Faria Alam; the latter are seething that they were misled over their initial denial.

But at moments like this it is to the Mail’s Jeff Powell that we turn for a sober analysis of the situation.

And, like Sodom and Gomorrah, Powell would like to see Soho Square razed to the ground.

“All that is missing from the shiny glass frontage of English football’s new headquarters is the red light over the door as the fat cats slobber over their secretaries,” says this latter-day missionary.

It is, he continues, “a moral void” – home (for the time being, at least) to “a serial womaniser of the most sordid order” and a man who “put his sexual gratification above his ethical responsibilities as a principal company director”.

Powell could probably see all manner of vice at a meeting of the Temperance Society, but even he would struggle to find fault with the performance of England’s cricketers.

Yesterday, they completed their seventh victory in eight Tests as they bowled out West Indies for 267.

And hero of the hour was Ashley Giles, the much ridiculed England spinner who took nine wickets in the match – the best by an England spinner at Lord’s for 30 years.

In the process, the Sun says, he claimed his 100th Test victim when he bowled Brian Lara with a perfect off-spinner through the gate.

Captain Michael Vaughan said afterwards: “I’m delighted for him, not because he’s my mate but because he’s probably our most professional cricketer.

“It’s pleasing to see him have a smile on his face.”

Which is more than can be said for Sven.’

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

Trouble At Top

‘PATRICK Vieira is rumoured to be upset that his proposed transfer to Real Madrid is turning into such a drawn-out affair.

Lance does France

However, it’s nothing compared with our frustration at the story that has dominated the back pages for the past fortnight.

So much so that it is a relief this morning to read the papers’ various interpretations of Sven Goran Eriksson’s position as England coach.

The Mail says the Swede is furious with the FA for confirming his affair with Soho Square secretary Faria Alam.

“Having made a point of never commenting on his personal life,” it says, “the former Lazio coach suspects there is a hidden agenda behind a decision by his employers to go public.”

However, the Mirror has Eriksson in a much more contrite mood, pleading with the FA to let him stay on as coach.

His agent says “there is absolutely no question of him leaving his job over this”.

But the Sun reckons that Eriksson is facing the sack, and says Middlesbrough boss Steve McClaren will be asked to take charge if it’s found that the Swede deliberately misled his bosses.

No such problems for those in charge of England’s cricket team.

Yesterday, the Mail says, captain Michael Vaughan became only the third player to score a hundred in both innings of a Lord’s Test match as his team took charge against the West Indies.

Vaughan’s runs, aided by 38 from Graham Thorpe and 58 from Andrew Flintoff, gave England a lead of 477 runs – and by stumps they had reduced their opponents to 114-3.

In fact, the only headache facing the selectors is likely to be who to leave out for the next Test at Edgbaston.

Robert Key’s double hundred in the first innings means Mark Butcher is likely to miss out – a scenario made somewhat easier by the fact that the Surrey left-hander has aggravated an existing thigh problem.

The Mail says Butch, who missed out on the Test after suffering whiplash when someone drove into his stationary car, worsened the muscle tear as he was doing some tidying up at home.

However, in the longer term the paper is worried about the fitness of Flintoff, who has become such an integral part of this England side.

The all-rounder, it says, is not fully fit and should not be bowling because of a lingering ankle spur problem.

“If an operation is required, which is surely will be at some stage,” it warns, “the England hierarchy must be driven by the long-term welfare of their leading light, not the short-term fix of his patched-up presence.”

If England on the verge of winning a Test match is becoming a not unusual sight, it’s certainly not in the same league as Michael Schumacher or Lance Armstrong on top of the podium.

The German duly won the German Grand Prix yesterday – his 11th victory in 12 races this season – while Armstrong cycled up the Champs Elysee to his record sixth Tour de France win.

But, says the Mail, success has not earned either of them popularity.

In a French newspaper poll, Schumacher was named the most disliked sportsman in the country, while Armstrong came third.

In second place was our old friend Nicolas Anelka…’

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

Money Talk

‘WE are beginning to like Jose Mourinho, the new Chelsea manager.

Robert Key hears that it’s burgers again for lunch

Although he has yet to preside over a single truly competitive Chelsea match, he has still managed to rile Alex Ferguson.

The Mirror (“LOSER”) hears from the Portuguese big shot, and enjoys his response to Fergie’s claim that Chelsea cannot buy success.

“Money does not buy you points and victories,” says Mourinho.

“If you go back a few months, Porto had ten per cent of Man Utd’s budget, but beat them. Money buys players and with these players you have to make a team.”

Fergie will just love being reminded how Porto, then managed by Mourinho, knocked his highly-priced stars out of last season’s Champions’ League.

But while this spat between Mourinho and Ferguson should be music to Arsene Wenger’s ears, Arsenal’s French manger has his head full of other matters.

It’s the umpteenth day of the Patrick Vieira to Real Madrid story and Wenger is telling the Sun that the move is now beyond his control.

“I’ve been speaking to Patrick regularly,” says Wenger, “but we have now reached a situation where I cannot do any more.”

Which pretty much suggests that the decision rests firmly with Vieira, who, despite having three years left to run on a contract he signed at the start of last season, has yet to quash the transfer rumours.

But just in case Vieira does go, the Gunners are making plans, and the Express says they have already landed the “new Vieira” in the form of Marseille’s 20-year-old French midfielder Mathieu Flamini.

And the Mirror says there’s more to follow, with the Gunners eyeing a possible move for Portugal’s Euro 2004 star Nuno Maniche.

But since nothing has really happened with Vieira, it’s all paper talk.

Which brings us to the Sun, a paper that just a few weeks ago was saying how Michael Vaughan’s England cricket team had let the country down.

Now the same team are the toast of the Sun’s back page, worthy of the headline “TWO GOOD” and a story about how great century makers Robert Key and Andrew Strauss are.

Such a swift change of tack is lamentable. But, doubtless, the Sun will be soon patting itself on the back and saying how it was the paper’s harsh and misjudged words that spurred England to shape up.

Happily, the Mail sticks to the story and lavishes rightful praise on an England side that raced to 391-2 on the first day of the Lord’s Test against the West Indies.

And look very much like a decent team on the up…’

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

The Real Deals

‘THE Mirror says that, although Patrick Vieira is not for sale, should Real Madrid offer Arsenal, say, £35m for his services, he might be.

Saddle sore

But Real are only offering £15m for the Frenchman, which even by our most basic maths falls well short of what might be an acceptable fee.

So the ongoing saga of Vieira’s move to Spain goes on for another week – and given the story’s track record, probably another season.

One thing more certain at the Bernabeu is that Real’s last big midfield signing will not let them down.

David Beckham today tells the Mail that he is out to prove his critics wrong and will make his time in Madrid a successful period.

“On a personal level,“ says Day-vid, “some people have said I haven’t done so well. [Only some people?] I aim to prove them wrong.“

(We hope his aim is truer than, say, from a Portuguese penalty spot.)

He’s also keen to learn the local language, which is a funny form of English, a kind of Spanglish.

“Another challenge is Spanish,” says old No. 23. “Obviously, I haven’t conquered it yet, but I’m learning and I understand what’s said during training. I’m progressing little by little.”

And as soon as his nonsense-talking wife arrives in Spain, we’re sure his Spanish will come on in leaps and bounds.

After all, if you are going to send text messages you don’t want your wife to see, best do it in a language she can’t understand.

Helping him in his language course is the Sun, which lists a few phrases the England captain might like to try out.

“No. Dejame lanzar la penalty.” (No, let me take the penalty). And “Sven, puedo ayudarte con sus problemas matrimoniales”. (I’ll help you with your relationship problems, Sven.)

And staying with the Madrid theme, one other player who just might, or might not, move to the Spanish capital is Wayne Rooney.

The Express (“The Agony Goes On”) says that the young tyro is stalling on signing a new £13m five-year contract at Everton.

Given that this offer represents a 500 per cent pay rise and will make Rooney very rich, his inability or reluctance to make a decision tells us much about how much money still washes around the game.

But beyond football’s hype and cash, the Sun reports that Lance Armstrong is on the brink of a sixth Tour de France win.

Not only did the American have to put up with a tough mountain climb on yesterday’s time trial, but also with fans taking exception to his being there – and spitting at him.

“There were lots of fans, and it was a little scary,” says the Texan. “It’s over now, but a lot of Germans fans were just disgusting.”

Oh, come on, Lance, spitting is not nice, but leather shorts and massive sausages never hurt anyone…’

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

Passport To Athens

‘WHAT with Chelsea’s efforts to buy every half decent player in Europe capturing the headlines, it’s been easy to ignore the goings-on at Old Trafford.

‘Norwich? What’s that?’

Usually, the summer is spent listening to Alex Ferguson saying how his side were robbed of the league title or won it because they were so very good.

But until now he’s been remarkably quiet. So yesterday the Express went to Manchester to see if something nasty had befallen the charmless Scot.

And they found Ferguson alive and well, posing for photographs with new recruit Alan Smith and speaking about the season ahead.

And he had a few words to the wise for Jose Mourinho, the new Chelsea coach.

“It’s difficult to say how Chelsea will fare,” says Ferguson, who usually finds no difficulty in telling his chief rivals how they will fail horribly.

“I don’t think money is an issue. The issue is picking the right players.”

Quite so. And Mourinho must ensure he doesn’t lash out £30m on a player who can’t even be bothered to turn up for a routine drugs test.

But while Fergie cranks up the mind games in July, the Sun looks ahead to the Olympic Games, and introduces its readers to Malachi Davis.

And American-born Davis needs an introduction since the man who’ll represent Britain in the 400 metres and the 4x400m relay in Athens only gained his British passport two weeks ago, thanks to the happy accident of his mother having been born here.

Now the man who was the 26th fastest 400m runner in America last year is preparing to bring gold back to Britain.

Or England, the county he thinks he’s running for. And he also has it, or so the Sun says, that Liverpool are the current Premier League champions.

To the Sun this is bad enough, but worse is to follow as Davis answers some of the questions that pass for the Sun’s citizenship exam.

Sun: Does Davis know what the UK’s favourite soap opera is?

Davis: “I have never heard of Coronation Street. No, I have never heard of EastEnders.”

Sun: Does he know who the Foreign Secretary is?

Davis: “No.”

Sun: Has he ever heard of Lord’s cricket ground?

Davis: “Which city is that?”

To the Sun, it’s a scandal that Davis is allowed to represent the red, white and blue and is not deported on the spot.

The paper’s owner, Rupert Murdoch, must be choking on his hamburger and fries…’

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

It’s Going To Be A Blue Day

‘IN the hunt for football stories to fill the back pages, the hacks sometimes trip over themselves in the dash to get the scoop.

The new Hernan Crespo?

So today we have the Mail telling its readers that Arsenal have just singed Ajax’s Tunisian right back Hatem Trabelsi for £4m and the Express telling us that Sir Bobby Robson of Newcastle is just about to secure the services of the same player.

This Trabelsi lad is either very talented and remarkably fit or else the papers have got themselves in a muddle.

And this is often the way with football stories – you can never know what’s really going on until it’s happened.

For instance, although the Sun leads with “LET’S GET GERRARD”, the news is not that Arsenal are gunning for the Liverpool player but that they might try to sign him if Patrick Vieira moves to Real Madrid.

The only certainty is that Chelsea have put their considerable wealth where their manager’s considerable mouth is and just signed Didier Drogba for £23.2m, making him the most expensive striker in English football history.

At any other club than the Blues this price tag would place a huge burden on the Ivory Coast man, but at Chelsea he’s just another big money player in an ocean of cash.

Even after getting Drogba from Marseilles, Chelsea still have £8m left over to sign midfielder Tiago from Benfica, and in so doing take their spending this summer to £70m – more than the rest of the Premiership has spent on players together.

Which should all mean that Chelsea will win the title and much else besides.

But they will also need some luck. Even a team with millions in the bank still needs a slice of good fortune at the right time.

Just look at Todd Hamilton, the new Open golf champion, who’s telling the Mirror about his lucky charms.

Yesterday we learnt that Hamilton’s success was guaranteed after a chance meeting with a priest called Jason.

Today we hear that, just in case Jason’s prayers failed, Hamilton took a few other steps.

For instance, while performing on the less glamorous courses in India and Pakistan, Hamilton ate water buffalo in Calcutta. This, apparently, steeled him for victory at Royal Troon.

But his triumph was also aided by the seven lucky coins he kept in his pocket during the entire Open championship, including a one-dollar poker chip, a one dollar coin, a coin with a picture of the famous claret jug on it and a Japanese coin.

Chelsea’s players may like to take a leaf out of Hamilton’s book and get themselves some lucky coins. Or, failing that, a nice fat cheque every week…’

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

On Yer, Todd

‘AROUND five days ago, even Todd Hamilton’s daughter would have been excused for asking “Who?” when his name was mentioned.

Big in Japan

Now, four-year-old Kaylee Hamilton, who appears on the back page of the Mirror “pulling a series of funny faces”, can read about her dad in the papers.

And so can we, as the paper tells us that Hamilton is golf’s new Open champion, having beaten Ernie Els in a play-off at Royal Troon.

Well done, Hamilton – and well done, God. It seems that Hamilton was always in with a prayer of victory thanks to a chance meeting on the family’s flight over from the United States.

The new champ’s wife, Jaque, tells the paper that on the jet over to Scotland, her husband found himself seated next to a priest.

“His name was Jason,” says she, “and he wished us all the best and said: ‘Now I know who to pray for. I’ll pray for him when I see him on the leaderboard.’”

That truly was a stroke of luck.

(Perhaps America’s greatest athletes gearing up for this summer’s Olympics with shots of this and that should find Jason and beseech him to do for them what he did for their countryman Hamilton.)

Without a doubt, the outsider, with God and Jason on his side, is the sports story of the day. And we have the Mail and Star hailing “Hot Toddy!” and the Sun saying “Against all Todds”.

The next story of importance, at least to the Sun, is the one about the movements of Patrick Vieira, the Arsenal captain.

With no deal done to take the Frenchman to Real Madrid, and, in truth, no offer from the Spaniards on the table, it’s left to Dennis Bergkamp to breathe life into the story.

The Dutchman says that Vieira is irreplaceable and that it would be “a pity” if he left Highbury.

“A pity”! Not a tragedy. Not a disaster. Not the end of all life on Earth. But “a pity”.

The other pity is that this story is given such prominence by the Sun.

The Vieira to Madrid story has become one of those mainstays of the football press, holding its own alongside the one about English football’s search for a player with a left foot and Sven Goran Eriksson’s love life.

And the Swedish manager’s commitment to the England cause is being once more questioned by his chief critics at the Mail.

In “Two-Timer Sven”, the paper spots Sven step aboard one of the fleet of motorised islands owned by Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich.

“Football Association bosses were fielding embarrassing questions about Sven Goran Eriksson last night – over his relationship with the Chelsea owner,” says the paper.

Hold the phone! That mystery brunette (see Tabs)… No, it can’t be. What Sven gets up to with the Russian is his own business.

The Swede will be in the employ of the FA until 2008, as his lucrative contract stipulates, and that’s an end to the matter.

England fans just have to grin and bear it…’

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

False Idols

‘SHOULD Arsenal’s captain Patrick Vieira leave Highbury for Real Madrid, as the Sun says he plans to, we wonder what he will learn at the Bernabeu.

‘Come on, Timmy!’

Perhaps he’ll discover how to take penalty kicks from David Beckham, or how to keep down his lunch from Zinedine Zidane.

What he will not have to learn – he’s well-versed in British footballing culture – is how to dive, tug on a shirt, feign injury and encourage the referee to show the yellow or red card to another player.

The Times says that things have gotten so bad that Richard Caborn, the Minister for Sport, has written to every major professional football club appealing for players to keep things clean.

Apparently, not only are young footballers aping their idols’ jinks and shimmies, but they are also copying other less wholesome parts of the professional game.

It’s all very sobering to think of some precocious eight-year-old striker diving in the opposition’s penalty box and miming a spit-roast in celebration of a goal.

But things get better when readers look to the less football obsessed sections of the press and note that not everyone wants to be a footballer.

Some people, like Paul Casey, grew up wanting to win golf’s Open Championship.

And, as the Independent reports, the 26-year-old from Weybridge, Surrey, is currently on course to achieve his ambition, heading the pack at five under par.

There is a long way to go, but such is the lack of British sporting success that the Indy grabs Casey with both hands and shakes him for all he’s worth.

As does the Telegraph, although its front page proper goes not to Casey but to Ian Poulter, whose Union flag-styled trousers “brought derision and admiration” on the first day of the Open at Royal Troon.

But don’t be bamboozled by the strides, says Poulter. Just as those young footballers seduced by the promise of riches and cheating need to get real, young golfers need to buckle down.

“Some young players are more interested in being flashy than buckling down, working hard and playing the game,” says Poulter.

We don’t get to learn if Poulter thinks that’s a bad thing or not. But William Hunt, the tailor responsible for Poulter’s sartorial patriotism, is certainly more concerned with image over substance.

“Golf is the new cool” says he. “If you can’t play well, you might as well have fun dressing up.”

He’s got a point. If it works for David Beckham…’

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

Woods Or Els

‘THE Open Golf Championship starts today and the royal and ancient game manages to win itself a mention on the back pages of all the papers this morning.

The best swingers in town

But the news is not good, at least not for those hoping for a European victory and end to the Americans’ half century of domination at Royal Troon.

And Paul Casey, the highest ranked Englishman in the world at No.30, thinks it’s the booze that’s responsible.

“There are certain guys who show the George Best syndrome,” he tells the Mail. “Maybe they piss it away a little bit. I don’t think there’s enough talent coming through.”

As if to illustrate that, the face adorning the back page of the Express, Star and Sun is that of a 41-year-old who had to qualify for the Championship.

Colin Montgomerie may insist that he is not finished but the bookies don’t agree, making the short-tempered Scot an 80-1 outsider this week.

The Mirror is the only paper that doesn’t go with the British angle, preferring to concentrate instead on someone with a realistic chance of success.

South African Ernie Els has apparently attracted the biggest single bet in golfing history – £62,500 at 8-1 to win £500,000.

And even Tiger Woods’ friend Mark O’Meara thinks he is the one to watch.

“Tiger certainly hasn’t been in the form we are accustomed to seeing from him, certainly in the last 10 months,” he says.

“In fact, I think he and Ernie are playing relatively the same these days.”

But enough of golf – you are no doubt desperate to hear the latest on the transfer story that is rocking football.

And the latest is that Freddie Ljungberg has led Arsenal players in pleading for skipper Patrick Vieira to stay (Mirror), Vieira is torn over his Arsenal future (Sun) and fears are growing that the Frenchman will go to Real Madrid after all (Star).

In terms of shock value, the Vieira saga ranks up there with the story on the back page of the Mail – Alan Shearer has spat his dummy and says he will leave if he is not Newcastle’s first choice next season.

“Shearer Shock” is the paper’s headline and we at Anorak have had to break out the smelling salts at reports that the 33-year-old striker is throwing his toys.

Whatever next? Another big-money signings at Chelsea?’

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

A Very Public Secret

‘WHEN the Mirror claims that Real Madrid will hold “a secret meeting” today with Patrick Vieira’s advisers, we know the story cannot be true.

A Real deal?

Not because we go through this whole boring saga every year, but because the very fact the paper knows about the meeting means it is no longer secret.

It is bound to contradict itself as soon as it opens its mouth.

So, even if the Spanish club really are meeting the Arsenal captain’s advisers today (and we only have the Mirror’s word for it), they are not doing so in secret.

Vieira himself is in America, but the Mirror thinks that the indications are that this time the midfielder will make the jump.

The evidence for this is Madrid’s claim that Vieira asked his French teammate Zinedine Zidane to help arrange the move and, er, the fact that “the glamour of Madrid and Real’s name” may prove too much for him to resist.

The trouble is that without what the Mirror laughingly refers to as “the transfer story that is rocking football”, there is bugger all football news to be had.

The Sun and Star both lead on news that Birmingham have launched a “furious” attack on Everton after they put in a £2.5m bid for Welsh midfielder Robbie Savage.

Brum boss Steve Bruce described the offer as “laughable” – the idea that Savage is worth anything close to £2.5m is indeed risible.

The Express reports that the search for a successor to Manchester United boss Sir Alex Ferguson has started already as the 62-year-old starts his 19th season in charge.

Only the Mail looks beyond football for its back-page lead, complaining that Britain will send its smallest athletics team for 28 years to the Athens Olympics.

“Despite millions of pounds of lottery money having been poured into track and field,” it says, “only 47 athletes have been deemed good enough to compete.”

And only one – Paula Radcliffe – is a realistic gold medal prospect.

Four years ago, Britain sent a 74-strong team to Sydney, winning two golds and four other medals.

Tiger Woods is still, of course, a realistic prospect to win golf’s Open Championship, which starts at Royal Troon tomorrow.

But so are many others, including Ernie Els who could take over the World No.1 spot if he wins and Tiger finishes 18th or worse.’

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

A Real Pain

‘IT is now one of the features of the sporting summer – as predictable as Tim Henman’s plucky failure to win Wimbledon, as Colin Montgomerie’s early departure from the British Open golf, as another false dawn for English cricket.

‘Oi! Wait up, Rebecca…’

Real Madrid suggest that Arsenal skipper Patrick Vieira might be on his way to the Bernabeu; the Gunners get really angry; and the Frenchman stays at Highbury.

It’s a mini-drama that has been played out every season since Vieira first signed for the English champions, but this time Arsenal are really, really angry.

So says the Mirror, which quotes Arsenal chairman Peter Hill-Wood as saying that the whole thing “is starting to become very irritating”.

“There is nothing you can do about it except just treat it with contempt,” he says.

Except there is something that Arsenal and all the other English clubs can do over the constant speculation linking Real with anyone in this country who can kick a ball.

They can give them a taste of their own medicine – spread a few rumours about Ronaldo signing for Chelsea or Zinedine Zidane coming to Arsenal or Raul going to Crystal Palace.

One man who is on his way from Madrid to Manchester is Valter di Salvo, Real’s fitness guru and the man blamed by David Beckham for his sub-par performances in Euro 2004.

The Sun says the Italian is regarded in his own country as one of the most innovative and daring fitness coaches in Europe, although routines which didn’t include banging your PA clearly didn’t suit the England skipper.

Making the journey the other way could be Wayne Rooney – the Sun says the teenager has told his advisers that he would happily go to Spain if there was a firm offer.

Meanwhile, Tiger Woods’s preparation for this week’s Open golf championship got off to the worst possible start when the World No.1 got lost on his way to Troon.

The Express says Woods got lost in the back streets of Glasgow as he tried to steer his Vauxhall Sigma onto the M77 and turned up half an hour late for his practice round.

And it is Woods’s bad driving on the course that means he will start this week as only joint favourite for the tournament at a very tempting 8-1.

The only trouble is that if Woods can’t find the M77, he hasn’t got much chance of finding Troon’s narrow fairways…’

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

Amazing Race

‘“I AM amazed how the race went,” said Michael Schumacher after comfortably winning the British Grand Prix yesterday.

The start of the procession

Amazed?! Schumacher’s capacity for amazement must be something quite special if he is amazed by his tenth victory in 11 races this season.

The rest of us are only amazed that anybody bothers to turn up or tune in to what the Independent calls “the most expensive processions since the old Red Square parades of ballistic rocketry”.

The Telegraph says the only drama left in this Formula 1 season is over how many points Schumacher will accrue.

He has already notched up the ton in record time. A possible 17 wins in 18 races is very much on the cards, as is the championship by Monza in mid-September.

“Had Jarno Trulli’s Renault not disintegrated on the 40th lap,” the paper says, “Schumacher could have stopped for tea on his way home and still won.”

The Tour de France has been as dominated in recent years by Lance Armstrong as Formula 1 has been by Michael Schumacher.

But what the race fails to deliver as a sporting spectacle it makes up for in the constant bitching among the riders over who’s taken what drugs and when.

The Guardian says that each team has brought an average of 80 different kinds of (legal) medicines with it, with one team bringing 155.

They range from the likes of paracetamol and vitamins to cardiac dilators and pentoxifylline, a substance usually prescribed for memory loss among the aged.

Perhaps, the team is trying to recall a time when Armstrong wasn’t the champion.

Or perhaps, as the paper says, riders are turning to semi-legal methods to improve their performance.

Whatever, the result is likely to be the same – Armstrong is currently nine minutes off the lead but described the first week as almost perfect.

A description that could just as easily be applied to Michael Schumacher’s season.’

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

The Wenger Ploys

‘ARSENAL fans must be kicking themselves that Spurs beat their club to Jacques Santini.

With twin airbags now fitted as standard

Especially since news on the back page of the Star is that Arsene Wenger has placed his future at the champions in the balance by refusing to commit himself to new contract.

His current deal at Highbury expires in the summer of 2005 and, when asked about his plans after that, he would only say that he nothing had been decided.

The Mail says the Frenchman might go to coach the German national side, and on Saturday spoke with the Kaiser, Franz Beckenbauer.

This, however, remains unlikely, given that he’d only arrive with a season to go until the Germans host the 2006 World Cup. And that this is the worst German side in eons.

The reality is that Wenger is a shrewd operator and knows that to secure the best deal for himself he’d be a fool to pledge his future to Arsenal before contract talks begin in October.

Meanwhile, over at the Bridge, the Sun reports that Chelsea are all set to secure the services of Didier Drogba for £22m.

This would make the Ivory Coast man, who currently plays for Marseilles, the most expensive striker in the history of the British game.

It would also give Chelsea yet another new player to bed into a changing team. Not that the team’s manager, Jose Mourinho is daunted by the challenge ahead.

This is the man who, the Sun recalls, announced on his arrival at Chelsea: “I am the Special One.”

Special people have special needs, and yesterday Mourinho was installing his new regime at Chelsea by insisting that the entire coaching and playing staff breakfast together before each training session.

And breakfast is at 9am sharp.

What’s more, Mourinho has instructed his players to adhere to a midnight curfew in the week, not to drink on working days and to stick to a strict dress code.

It’s almost as strict a regime as that which governs the Formula One season, where rules dictate that Michael Schumacher must win each and every race, unless otherwise specified.

But at this weekend’s British Grand Prix, fans of organised traffic will, the Mail says, be treated to something more than just cars and a German victory.

Because over in the Jordan pit-lane will be Emma Noble, Melinda Messenger and Katie Price (aka the petrol-headed Jordan), hired by the team to add a splash of dolly-dyed glamour to the event and to distract race-goers from the turgid display on the track.

And pay special attention at start of the race, where the words “And they’re off” could take on an entirely new meaning…’

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

Les Coqs Sportifs

‘IT was always going to take a big story to push Wayne Rooney off the Mirror’s back page, but the paper that dares has found one.

A piece of England

News is that Spurs’ new manager, Jacques Santini, makes Claudio Ranieri sound like the Queen and “hopes to have many successes at Tottenham”.

He is, by his admission “no expert in English football”, which is something that would not be a major problem were it not for the fact that he’s about to manage an English football club playing in England.

What’s more, Frenchman Santini will not be allowed to go down the continental route to success.

Because the good news for Spurs fans is that the club’s chairman, Daniel Levy, has vowed that his team will not copy Arsenal.

This does not mean Spurs will do as Arsenal do not and play boring football and win nothing, rather that the club will remain true to its roots.

“We are a British club,” says Levy in the Sun, “and will remain predominately British.”

Someone should tell the plan to Santini, to Dane Frank Arnesen, the club’s new director of football, to new Spurs coach Dutchman Martin Jol and to Arsenal reject and Frenchman Sylvain Wiltord, who Spurs are hoping to sign.

But while Santini applies for UK citizenship in a bid to blend in with the tea ladies at White Hart Lane, the Express shows us, and Levy, that having the best Englishmen on board doesn’t always guarantee victory.

The ICC table of one-day cricket teams – of which there are only 11 – reveals that England are now at their lowest position ever.

England are in eighth place, behind all the big guns and only just above Zimbabwe, Kenya and Bangladesh.

This is bad news for English sport – as is the Mail’s lead story that David Beckham’s future at Real Madrid is in doubt.

The race to be Real Madrid’s next president is underway, and one of the contenders, Arturo Baldasano – who takes on current president Florentino Perez and former president Lorenzo Sanz – says he’ll back the team’s new coach, Jose Antonio Camacho, and ditch Beckham.

This Sunday’s vote of the club’s 80,000 members will decide who will be the head of the world’s glossiest club and what will happen to Beckham.

And if Baldasano succeeds he has also pledges to find the necessary funds should his manager want to secure the services of Wayne Rooney.

And, according to the club’s accounts, Real have more than £94m in cash to spend – which should be enough to get their man and a few more besides.’

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

Mon Dieu

‘AS ever, the headlines are dominated by Wayne Rooney, who, according to the Sun, has been offered £50,000 a week to stay at Everton.

Live feed from our Tower Bridge webcam

But the paper also says that the tabled five-year deal, worth a not-inconsiderable £12.5m to the boy, may not be good enough to stop the 18-year-old from leaving the club.

Despite him saying that he doesn’t want the player, the Sun still thinks Chelsea’s new boss Jose Mourinho could move for Rooney, as could Manchester United, Inter Milan, and, if they get the money, we suppose, Scunthorpe, Halifax and the Crouch End Vampires.

However, the Mail sees United as the frontrunners in this race to secure the signature of England’s brightest rising talent.

And the Express looks at another altogether more interesting football transfer.

News is that Glenn Hoddle has applied, via fax, to become the new manger of…France.

While we chortle at the thought of Hoddle gathering the likes of Zinedine Zidane and Thierry Henry in a huddle and showing them how much more skilful he is than them, the Express explains things further.

The better news for Frenchmen everywhere is that the paper is of the mind that Hoddle will not get the nod.

With Jean Tigana and Laurent Blanc among the favourites to replace Jacques Santini – who, in a neat fit, has just stepped into Hoddle’s old boots at Spurs – Hoddle’s chances of success are slim.

Of course, God is on Hoddle’s side and, since the old creator jinks and shimmies in mysterious ways, the thought of Hoddle doing for France what he did for England and Spurs lingers.

But one thing in sport that is decided is England’s chance of winning cricket’s triangular NatWest Series.

Yesterday, the West Indies defeated England and so booked their place in Saturday’s final against New Zealand.

England’s defeat, although not remarkable in itself (England have won only three of their last ten one-day matches), is notable for the performances of Andrew Flintoff and Andrew Strauss, who both scored centuries.

Flintoff and Strauss, trudging home from Lord’s yesterday, must have wondered what on earth they need to do for England to win a match – and what that loud humming noise was coming from the West End.

The Express reveals that the din was the roar of F1 engines, as London mayor Ken Livingstone enthralled London’s tired commuters by blocking the roads around Piccadilly with a display of car power.

Ken may not like cars (he prefers cabs), but he is keen to secure a Grand Prix for London by 2008 (see Broads).

“We want the golden trio,” says Ken, “the start of the Tour de France, the Grand Prix and the Olympics.”

It’s a great plan. But why not just combine all three and have runners, cyclists and racing drivers do battle on the roads at once?

And Ken’s heard our call. Look, they’ve started already…’

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

Frankie Goes To Hollywood

‘TO think how different it all could have been.

We’ll keep the blue flag flying high!

Had Wayne Rooney quit football to hang out with his mates – something the Sun’s front-page proper says the footballer once seriously considered doing – England might not have won Euro 2004.

What’s that, you say? England didn’t win? Surely you’re wrong, because anyone looking at the Sun would be forgiven for believing that Rooney came be back from Portugal a champion.

Indeed, after front and back pages dedicated to Rooney (on the back, new Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho says he’s not interested in signing the lad), it’s only as an afterthought the paper mentions the all-conquering Greeks.

It also gives its readers the chance to call in and select from a list which manager they’d like to lead England’s 2006 World Cup campaign.

Yes, this is the paper that once heralded Sven Goran Eriksson as England’s saviour after he salvaged the team from the pits of Kevin Keegan’s tenure as coach.

But at least the aforesaid Mourinho knows the score and what to expect from an unforgiving, parochial press with a short attention span.

“I am not afraid to say that I want to win things,” says the brash Chelsea boss in the Mirror. “If at the end of the season we have won nothing and you [the press] say it’s a failure, I accept that.”

Nice that he accepts that but, even if he doesn’t, that will be the way things go.

Anything less than the Premier League crown or Champions’ League title and some elements of the press will be calling for the Portuguese coach’s head.

Just as the German football federation is beseeching Arsene Wenger to be its new fuhrer.

The Mail says that the Germans are set to employ the charm of Franz Beckenbauer and a vast wad of cash to lure Wenger away from Arsenal to their camp.

In truth, it’s hard to see Wenger taking the bait, what with German football in such a state of disarray. But he might go to Germany.

As Patrick Kluivert might go to Newcastle. And Leeds United’s Ian Harte might go to Valencia. And Didier Drogba might go to Chelsea. And Paul Gascoigne might go to a coaching job at Boston (all Express).

The silly season is now upon us, and the rumours are flying. So Rooney might go to Manchester United, as the Sun says.

And Frankie might go to Hollywood. Spurs might bring back the glory days. England might go on to win the World Cup. And we might all be Greek…’

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

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


‘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.


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