Back pages | Anorak - Part 82

Back pages Category

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

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

Le Cockerel Crows

‘EVERYONE in sport likes a challenge, whether it be Jocky Wilson trying to get through a leg of darts without a drink, Emile Heskey trying not to fall over for a whole match or Ashley Giles trying to spin a spinning top.

‘Allez, Le Tigre!’

But few people can relish a challenge as much as Jacques Santini, coach of the French national team and from next season coach of, er, Tottenham Hotspur.

After a summer of trying to guide the likes of Zinedine Zidane, Thierry Henry and Robert Pires to Euro 2004 glory, Santini will try to lead the likes of Mark Yeates, Gary Doherty and Anthony Gardner to Premiership success.

By which, we mean a finish higher than the 14th place they achieved last season.

No wonder the papers are somewhat agog at Santini’s decision, although the Mirror headline, “Henry Plays For Spurs”, is a very bizarre interpretation.

The Mail reaches deep into its French lexicon to come up with “Sacre Bleu!” and tries to hide its surprise by insisting that Santini was not on Spurs’ original shortlist.

“There were,” it adds, “immediate suggestions that it was a panic appointment following the club’s series of high-profile rebuffs in their quest for a long-term successor to Glenn Hoddle.”

This would explain why none of the newspapers predicted the move until the Mirror mentioned his name alongside those of Claudio Ranieri and Martin Jol.

But as panic appointments go, one suspects that Spurs could have done a lot worse than a man who has guided France to eight wins out of eight in qualifying for Portugal.

And it at least brings to an end a search for a manager that had been going on so long that it would not have been a surprise had Glenn Hoddle, the reasons for his sacking lost in the fog of time, been reappointed to the post.

From Frenchmen in England, however, we turn our attention to an Englishman in France.

That’s right- Le Tigre, as the French have not yet learnt to call Tim Henman, today bids to reach his first Grand Slam final as he plays Guillermo Coria on the Roland Garros clay.

The task facing him is, says the Express, a “formidable” one – Coria has lost just once in his last 37 outings on the surface.

But although the paper says the swell of Henmania has not carried across the Channel, with Roland Garros christened “Terre Du Gaucho” by a French newspaper after the three Argentinians in the men’s semi-finals, Tim knows we’ll all be putting on our plastic Union Jack hats and waving our miniature flags as he steps onto court.

“Come on, Timmy!” as we like to scream on Henman Hill…’

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

The Ego Has Landed

‘IF the papers liked departing Chelsea boss Claudio Ranieri for his whimsical humour and dignity under pressure, they are sure to like his successor Jose Mourinho.

The cock of the south?

Mourinho gave the hacks everything they wanted at a press conference yesterday, labelling his predecessor a failure and threatening to axe half the squad.

Nor is there much trace of modesty in the ex-Porto boss – the Mirror hears him tell reporters: “Please don’t think I’m arrogant, but I am European champion. I think I am a special one.”

The sports editors no doubt agree – this is a man who is going to write their headlines for them in the next couple of years irrespective of how well Chelsea perform on the pitch.

But for the moment there’s some confusion of how best to refer to the new man at the Bridge.

The Mirror comes up with the best effort – “Portuguese Man O’War” – which the Express tries, but fails to follow with its “Chelsea’s Man O’War”.

Such puns are over the heads of most Star readers and so it opts for the simpler “Mour War Games”.

But that is a lot better than the Sun’s abysmal effort, “El’s Kitchen”.

Someone, it seems, has gone to the Jade Goody school of language teaching if they don’t know the difference between Spanish and Portuganese…

While inquests go on into England’s 1-1 draw with Japan on Tuesday with questions being asked about whether a diamond is Sven’s best friend, the Mail turns to cricket.

And, being a family newspaper, it leads its coverage of the second Test (which starts today in Leeds) with news that captain Michael Vaughan is planning to abandon his team-mates to make the dash to Sheffield to see the arrival of his first-born.

Provided he is not actually batting at the time, he says he will make the trip after New Zealand agreed to allow England to use a substitute fielder in his place.

Vaughan is due to take over from Nasser Hussain in the No.4 spot, but that will of course depend on when wife Nichola goes into labour.

However, Vaughan is confident that he can adjust to the new position which will allow Lord’s hero Andrew Strauss to continue at the top of the order.

“It’s not a step down and it gives me a little more time after being in the field,” he says. “The only thing I’m going to have to get used to is the delays and the waiting.”

And the sleepless nights, the crying, the nappies…’

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

England Expects

‘WE are still waiting confirmation, but early reports suggest a flotilla of small craft is on its way to France.

Hands up who thinks he can win

The onboard crew, each sporting a T-shirt with a letter from the words “TIM HENMAN” on the front and back and carrying large plastic containers of lemon curd sandwiches and scones are ready to invade Paris.

We can only hope they do not arrive in time for Tim Henman’s semi-final against Guillermo Coria, the favourite to win the French Open.

Without the distraction of ten thousand fusty, middle–aged women high on HIT, Henman’s been doing rather well.

Indeed, as the Independent says, our Tim (while he’s winning, he’s always our Tim) yesterday thrashed Juan Ignacio Chela in straight sets to make it through to the last four of the French Open.

“It’s a good sense of achievement,” says Henman, “But why stop here? I feel good about my game and I am feeling in good shape. I’m ready to come her on Friday and do it all again.”

Sadly, unless there are high winds and a perilous sea, Tim will have the added pressure of his legion of fans chanting his name like a gang of overgrown girl guides.

We suggest he equip his game with earplugs and blinkers.

And its good Henman is going well since England’s football team have had it. What earlier in the week was a terrific England team destined to win Euro 2004 is now a ragtag bag of losers-in-waiting.

The Sun (“EU’RE IN TROUBLE”) has seen England’s 1-1 draw with the mighty Japan and noted that just 12 days before the big match against France, England are in the mire.

“Hands up who thinks we are going to win it now?” asks the Sun’s Shaun Curtis.

David James puts his hand up – and takes his eye of the ball. Japan’s Shinji Ono’s duly nutmegs the England ‘keeper to equalise Michael Owen’s 22nd-mite strike.

Having seen the game and read the reports, it’s hard to argue with the assertion that England must do better if they are to win the summer’s tournament.

And if, as the Telegraph’s Henry Winter says, England yield as much space to Franca as they did to Japan, Zinedine Zidane will “have a ball”. Indeed, he’ll probably be allowed to keep it – for 90 minutes.’

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

The Roman Empire

‘HANG the fact that had he walked away he’d have, most likely, forgone a large chunk of his pay off, and just know that Claudio Ranieri has left Chelsea with his head held high.

And he can keep the scarf

And that’s no easy thing, especially, as the Sun says, he’s got many millions of heavy pounds stuffed into his breast pocket.

Not that he’s got the money yet, since the now ex-Chelsea boss is in dispute with the Roman Abramovich administration.

The paper says that while the club is prepared to give the Italian £6m for the three years he had left on his contract, he wants another £2m for bonuses he could have had.

At another time, many would argue that £6m represents a sizeable hail to carry away for a club with whom the manager won precisely nothing.

But since the club in question is Chelsea, and they have treated the Italian abysmally, we hope he takes them to the cleaners.

Meanwhile, moving into the hot seat is Jose Mourinho. The Guardian is right when it says that the confident Portuguese manager has yet to sign on the dotted line, but it’s surely only a matter of time before he does.

And the paper is just as right when it opines that given the treatment dished out to Ranieri – who led Chelsea to their highest league position for almost 50 years and the semi-finals of the Champions League – Mourinho may only get one season to do better.

Time is a precious commodity when winning is everything. And so it is for Tim Henman, who now aged 29, has few chances left of winning a Grand Slam title.

But, as the Telegraph reports, the man, who is Britain’s best tennis player by some margin, has made a stride towards achieving greatness by making it into the last eight of the French Open.

This is the furthest Henman has ever been at Roland Garros, and having come back from the dead to beat local hero Michael Llodra in a thriller, now faces Juan Ignacio Chela of Argentina.

“My game has improved dramatically I think,” says Henman, “certainly on this surface. Against Chela, I’m going to have to play very well for a long period of time. But I think I’m capable of doing that.”

Although, for some reason, the paper says that pessimists claim that Henman’s clay-court tennis can only damage his chances at Wimbledon.

This is, of course, bunkum. Pete Sampras is right when he says ”winning breeds winning”.

Indeed, rid of the ludicrous Henmaniacs and the cloying Henman Hill, the player may yet become a winner.

And to do so in France, would surely be a very sweet victory…’

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

Money Talks

‘JOSE Mourinho will not be heard saying how it has always been his dream to manage Chelsea.

Show me the money

He will not claim that to manage the Blues represents the fulfilment of life-long ambition.

If he does become the new manager at Stamford Bridge, he will do so because, as he tells the Times, ”I have some offers in my wallet but one that I very much want to accept is that from Chelsea”.

And it’s a decent enough offer, with the Sun saying that the Portuguese manager’s salary will be a wallet-busting £5m a year.

Which is roughly the same sum that Claudio Ranieri will pick up if his Chelsea contract is terminated. Although, the Telegraph does say that is might not be.

The Chelsea soap opera rolls on, and the paper reports that just yesterday Ranieri was in Milan for a meeting with Roman Abramovich and Chelsea’s chief executive Peter Kenyon.

The owner and his right-hand man were, as the paper says, expected to tell the likeably Italian that his services were no longer wanted. Only they didn’t. Instead they just said they’d talk again next week.

And so it rumbles on, and on, and on…

At least when Alan Smith went, he went quickly. Not that the speed of his removal from Yorkshire is of paramount concern to those Leeds United fans who hooked up a replica of the striker’s old team shirt to the Elland Road gates.

The message scrawled across it is clear, if a bit messy: “JUDAS. JUDAS KISS THE BADGE NOW”.

The Sun just loves this kind of fan action, and has another picture inside the paper of an accompanying sign. “YOU SAID RED WASN’T YOUR COLOUR CHEERS ALAN!!!!! AWLAYS SCUM.”

The Times’ Simon Barnes picks up on this tale of love and hate and asks: ”Why is it necessary to prove your love for one thing by hating another?”

It’s a poser that requires a complex answer, but when it comes to Leeds, we can suggest that its because fans of the club need to vent their passion somewhere, and it will not be sated at next season’s Leeds v Rotherham United league fixture.

Of course, there are more dignified and honest exits even than the one likely to be made by Claudio Ranieri.

There’s that of Nasser Hussain, the former England cricket captain who has announced his retirement from the international arena.

He tells the Telegraph: ”It is a bit selfish and I don’t like going in the middle of a series with unfinished business.”

But he should not worry about that – he’s done enough. And having scored the winning runs in a typically spirited innings in the first Test against New Zealand, the time to go is ripe.

We wish him well…’

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

Jose’s On His Way

‘LAST night Jose Mourinho left Porto with the greatest prize in European club football in their hands and made his way to Chelsea.

Mourinho is excited about coaching Chelsea

“I have nothing else to achieve in Portugal,” says the Portuguese manager, who has now won the Uefa Cup and Champions League in just two seasons at Porto.

“The challenge is not big enough for me,” he tells the Telegraph. “I want a new life and that new life is in England…I have given my word to one club and I will not change my mind.”

That sounds very much like Mourinho – whose Porto side thrashed Monaco 3-0 last night in what the Indy calls a “tactical masterclass” – will be at Stamford Bridge next season.

But he’s a cagey one, and says that his agent still has “a few things in his pocket”.

“I cannot speak about Chelsea because I don’t really know,” says Mourinho – even if he has given his word to some club or another.

So we stick with our impression, and the Sun’s assertion, that Mourinho is on his way to the Blues, where he will replace the gregarious Claudio Ranieri.

What happens to the ousted Italian is anyone’s guess (Spurs is ours) but one man’s fortune is now certain – Alan Smith is Manchester United’s newest acquisition.

And the pugnacious former Leeds player says that he is prepared to take the stick for signing for Leeds’ dreaded foe.

“Not a lot of people would have been brave enough to take that step,” says Smith, who follows a path well trod by the likes of Joe Jordan, Gordon McQueen, Eric Cantona and Rio Ferdinand.

“A lot has been made about me leaving Leeds to come to United but that can only improve me as a player,” he continues.

Smith makes a valid point, and any player would be a fool for passing up the chance to better himself, his medal collection and his bank account.

He leaves behind a depleted Leeds team and their news boss, Kevin Blackwell, looking to the future.

“If I can bring players in here who have the same attitude as Smithy,” says the former Sheffield United first-team coach, “then it won’t be long before we are successful again.”

And have a few more players to sell to your rivals…’

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

In The Wallet, My Son

‘ANYONE who can recall Darren Ferguson, the podgy, slow United midfield player of the early 1990s, will have suspected that Alex Ferguson likes to do right by his children.

Mrs Ferguson gives little Charlie a ride home

Suspicions that Fergie’s grandson Charlie was the jockey aboard Rock of Gibraltar as the champion horse won its seventh successive Group One race have yet to be proven.

But before we can get to that, Jason Ferguson has attracted the attention of the Guardian. And news there is that Manchester United have banned Fergie Junior from acting for them in transfer dealings.

And this is not going to be easy, since Jason and his Elite Sports Group represent no less than 13 members of the current United squad.

United’s transfer policy is to become more transparent and, as the Sun reports, there will no longer be a situation where £700,000 is paid in agent’s fees to person or persons unknown on a £2.5m fee, as occurred with the transfer of goalkeeper Tim Howard.

The record shows that over a period from January 2001 to January 2004, United transferred players to the tune of £125m (the figure is £158m in the Telegraph) and paid out a whopping £13.43m in fees to agents (a sum all papers agree on).

Those Manchester United fans wondering why their season tickets are going up in price this summer might like to tune into Fergie And Son, a television programme to be shown on BBC Three tomorrow night.

Not for nothing does the Times call the documentary “trial by television”.

But Fergie should not overly worry, especially since rumours suggest that the show will be fronted by his cousin, produced by his nephew, and researched by his dog.

Meanwhile, one transfer no Ferguson is believed to be involved in is that taking Jose Mourinho from Porto to Chelsea.

The Sun says that the deal is done and the Blues are ready to unveil their new manager tomorrow.

But the Portuguese coach has a few words to the wise for his future employees at Stamford Bridge.

On the eve of Porto’s Champions League final against Monaco, Mourinho describes his ideal club.

“I do not imagine a successful club without a very good relationship between the manager and the board,” he says.

“This interference happened once in my life when I was Benfica coach and I walked out. Porto is built on us all having the same motivation, the same objective.

“I would say Porto is the ideal of a successful football club, in that way.”

Which makes us wonder if Mourinho will still be at Chelsea after the ink’s dried on his contract…’

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

General Nasser

‘ENGLAND expects – and when it comes to cricket, England usually expects her team to be either thrashed out of sight or play out a boring draw under a moody sky.

A last hurrah?

But things are changing. The weather might be beyond most people’s control, but the English cricket team is very much on the up.

Yesterday, the Times reports, the team beat New Zealand in a Test match of gripping drama.

And the hero of the hour was Nasser Hussain, the former captain who scored the 14th Test century of his career to guide England to what had looked for long periods like an unlikely victory.

He might just have easily been the villain of the piece, as the paper notes how it was his Geoff Boycott-style running between wickets that led to the run out of Andrew Strauss – who, well set on 83, was on course to become the first Englishman to score two centuries on his Test debut.

But Hussain kept his cool, and now the Mail hears that the elder statesman of the England XI may quit while he’s ahead.

Indeed, Hussain is mindful of the emergence of younger talent, saying how “the last thing I want to do is hold up a young lad like Strauss” – especially as he raced to sacrifice his wicket to keep Hussain in.

Hussain knows that there is always a time to go – and yesterday it was Gerard Houllier’s turn to say au revoir.

And he did so in unusual fashion, choosing not to bleat and whine but recall the good times at Anfield.

The fondest memory he has is of Michael Owen scoring the winning goal for the Reds against Arsenal in the FA Cup final.

”The second memory,” says Houllier in the Sun, ”is of watching the television at home whilst I was recovering from my illness and seeing the Kop display the ‘GH’ message before the game against Manchester United.”

That the “GH” should mean “GO HOME” is best left for another time, and for now we wish the gracious Houllier the best of luck.

As we do Alan Smith who, the Mirror reports, is all set to sign for Manchester United in a £6.5m deal, and Carlos Queiroz, who has been sacked from the top job at Real Madrid and may now be on his way back to Old Trafford.

“In England I have friends and it is clear I miss Manchester United,” says the Portuguese coach in the Sun. “There they valued my work.”

Of course, Queiroz could become head coach at Liverpool, although the Express says that another of his countrymen, Jose Mourinho, is ahead of him in the queue for that job.

Liverpool apparently want the Porto manager to be their new boss, but, the Sun says, Chelsea have warned them off.

“Jose has promised he will be here next season,” a Chelsea insider tells the paper.

So that’s that then. Only it might not be, since Mourinho’s contract at Porto suggests that he promised them he’d also be there.

When push comes to shove, Mourinho will have to be somewhere. And, as Andrew Strauss found out yesterday, even the most promising talent cannot be in two places at once…’

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

Au Revoir

‘SO here it is. The long wait is over and the Mail can say that Gerard Houllier is no longer the manager at Liverpool FC.

The sting in the tale

With 12 months remaining on his contract, the former coach of the French national team will be paid off to the tune of £1m and wished all the best for this future.

While we can only speculate on Houllier’s destination, the Mail likes to imagine who will be in charge of footballing matters at Anfield next term. And top of the list are Alan Curbishley and Gordon Strachan.

The paper says that Liverpool are “pressing ahead with their plans to appoint a British manager” – and there can be no more British name than that of Valencia coach Rafael Benitez, the man the Mirror says Liverpool chief executive Rick Parry wants as the new boss.

Here’s the thing with football writers – so long as they all say lots of different things, one day something one of them says will be proven right.

However, the universal story is that Houllier is gone.

But while one Frenchman is toast, another Frenchman is the toast of Wasps rugby union football club.

The Times (“Agony of the man who threw away the cup”) was on hand to see the final of the Heineken Cup, and a closing act that shall go down in sporting folklore.

With just three minutes left on the clock, and the scores tied at 20-20, Wasps’ veteran Welshman Rob Howley booted the ball down the line straight at Toulouse full-back Clement Poitrenaud.

For David Ginola playing for France against Bulgaria in a crucial World Cup qualifier in 1994 (a game Houllier was in charge for), now read Poitrenaud, who did not even look up as he waited for the ball to roll out of play.

It stayed in. Howley got to it first. Howley scored. Game over. Wasps win and the Frenchman is left to collect Le Grand Lemon.

Meanwhile, there is time to remind any of you that nodded off or went shopping at the weekend that Manchester United won the FA Cup.

The Sun manages to recall the event in Cardiff and salute United’s Cristiano Ronaldo, without whom the final would have been deprived of even a chink of light.

The paper also hears from the game’s man in the middle, Jeff Winter – this was his last match as a professional referee.

“There was no major controversy,” says the man in black, “only one yellow card and, if I’d written the script at 2:55, I don’t think I could have dreamed up anything better.”

As it was, he could have written the script at 2:59, and still had time for a cup of tea…’

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

Posh’s Euro Vision

‘WHAT price Victoria Beckham using her relocation to Spain as the springboard for a re-launched pop career and singing her adoptive country’s entry in next year’s Eurovision Song Contest?

Martin Jol will wear the No.10 shirt

And don’t doubt that she’ll be there for a while for, as the Sun says, footballer/lover/husband David Beckham, is staying in Madrid for at least another season.

That, apparently, is a blow to Chelsea, who had earmarked the club’s famed 239 shirt number for Beckham’s back.

But, in any case, David’s dad, Ted, says that his boy was never going to go to Chelsea and he always preferred Arsenal.

So, with no Arsenal bid for his services forthcoming, Beckham is staying put. Which means Eurovision doom for the Spanish and Chelsea flashing its wallet at Steven Gerrard.

And that’s after the Blues have signed Fernando Morientes, the chief architect of their Champions’ League demise.

Although the Spaniard might be going to Arsenal. Or he might be staying in Monaco. Or he might be returning to Madrid, where he will fall madly in love with Posh and dedicate all his goals to her. And cut off his ear.

But while the football rumour mill churns things out, the Telegraph notices that England have started playing a cricket Test match against New Zealand.

And things are not going all that well for the home side. At the close of play on the first day, the Kiwis were on 284 for five, a score as attributable to England’s poor bowling display as it is to Mark Richardson’s 93, an inning he describes as “dour, miserable, pokey and proddy”.

“When you have to face 300 balls to get a ton,” Richardson says, ”one of them is likely to get you out.”

Richardson’s accurate assessment of his performance – which is still worthy of considerable praise – suggests that the batting is hard going and England will have to dig in, providing they can first bowl the Kiwis out.

Meanwhile, it’s back to football we go, and the Independent’s latest news on who will be the next manager at Spurs.

And his name is…Martin Jol. Tottenham’s new director of football, Frank Arnesen, has recommended his fellow Dutchman for the role.

As all Spurs fans know, Jol is the current boss at RKC Waalwijk and a former player at West Bromwich Albion and Coventry.

But will he come? The Indy is unsure, and reminds its readers that Jol is now the tenth man rumoured to be on the verge of taking over at White Hart Lane since September last year.

The full list (Graeme Souness, Alan Curbishley, Roberto Mancini, Giovanni Trappatoni, Raddy Antic, Gordon Strachan, Peter Taylor, Claudio Ranieri, Martin O’Neill and Martin Jol), is just one short of being a creditable team.

So in the interests of making up the full playing compliment, let’s add Dennis Wise in midfield with Terry Venables and the holder of programme number 1961 on the bench…’

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

A Dignified Exit?

‘THE Independent says that Kenny Dalglish could be on his way back to Liverpool.

‘The ball’s in our half of the pitch…’

The Liverpool chairman David Moores has forwarded the idea of the former Anfield hero returning as the club’s director of football.

Such a move will surely be welcomed by Liverpool fans, who would love to see the return of the icon, although the paper is right when it says the appointment would not go down well with Gerard Houllier, the current coach.

But by the time of any Dalglish return, Houllier could be long gone. According to the Guardian, the Frenchman has just seven days to save his job.

The paper says that a number of Liverpool board members favour change, and will make their plans known at a meeting scheduled for next Thursday.

Not that Houllier is looking for a new job, at least not today. “I have been holding meetings with my staff preparing for next season,” he tells the paper.

“So I am carrying on as normal and with the same dignity as normal.”

Hold on a minute there, Gerard. We like the red scarf and the long overcoat, but dignified is a word the press will only bestow on Claudio Ranieri. You, we’d suggest, are more spiky and pragmatic.

And, it might be said, the next manager at Spurs. Well, why not? Just about every other name from Mr Blobby to Delia Smith has been put forward as the one who will coach the Lily Whites back to glory.

But the Sun says the job of finding the new Spurs manager will no longer be done by pure guesswork and default since the Tottenham board will allow their new director of football Frank Arnesen to hand-pick his man.

So, eeenie, meenie, minie, mo, how many people at the station…?

The answer is, as the Sun says, “lots”. But it narrows the list down to four, with the top job going to one of Martin O’Neill, Claudio Ranieri, Carlos Queiroz or Peter Taylor.

And that would make O’Neill a busy man, since one page previously he’s been tipped to be the new Liverpool manager, alongside Alan Curbishley, Rafael Benitez and Sam Allardyce.

But we’re sure the affable Irishman can handle the challenge with his usual mix of euphoria and boyish excitement.

Just as we are certain that Seb Coe will bring the Olympics to London in 2012.

The Telegraph says that the former Olympic champion and current Tory MP has swapped jobs with Barbara Cassani, making him the face of the British Olympic bid and she his deputy.

And Coe does not rule out the baton changing hands once more. “If at any stage I felt it was time to hand on to somebody else throughout this process, I would do so on the same terms.”

Meanwhile, Cassani forgets the baton and says that it’s more like a football match, where the new “captain” has to “get the team back on the pitch and go for goal”.

Coe agrees, but he thinks it‘s also like an athletics race, and that he knows the front-runners (Paris and Madrid) do not always win.

But Coe has a good engine and has every intention of making sure “we are in pole position when it matters”.

The ball is well and truly in our court…’

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

London Calling

‘WE win!!! Well, not quite, but we are in the leading group of five in the marathon to host the 2012 Olympics.

Dennis Wise hears that he can get a leg wax as well

But before New York, Madrid, Paris and Moscow eat our dust, the International Olympic Committee has a few points it would like addressed.

While the Telegraph’s lead headline sees ‘London march on with confidence’, the Times is more circumspect and gives mileage to the IOC’s complaints about the UK bid.

These include the IOC’s impression that rail transport is ‘often obsolete’; the ‘urban expressways and main arterial roads lack the capacity to provide reasonable travel times and speeds’; four venues are over 30 miles from the Olympic Village, ‘making athlete travel in general quite challenging’; London’s polluting heavy traffic; and London’s ‘rather limited’ international sports experience.

The other problem, the Times notes, is that the Olympic ideal is one shaped and bent out of shape by politics and, when it comes to the final vote, many Third World members and Arab countries may baulk at giving the games to London.

So we might not get the Olympics – but who needs that when you’ve got the glories of the FA Cup?

In the build-up to the biggish match in Cardiff, the Independent learns that Dennis Wise, the Millwall coach, has flown to Italy for a massage.

In some sports this would be seen as an extravagance, but nothing is too good for our footballers, and if Dennis wants to have his legs rubbed in Italy, then so be it.

Staying behind him is Matt Lawrence, the Millwall captain, who is profiled in the Indy.

Lawrence is worth a look because he’s not the typical footballer. He loves reading the works of Charles Bukowski and has just finished reading a biography of Bill Hicks, the deceased American comedian.

What’s more, Lawrence has a degree in American literature from Hartford College in New York state.

This is impressive stuff. It’s refreshing to read about a footballer who can, well, read.

If Gerard Houllier can read (and, being French, we suspect he probably can), he’ll learn this morning that his days as manager of Liverpool are numbered.

The Sun and Mirror agree that his six-year reign at Anfield looks set to end this week after crisis talks with the chief executive and chairman yesterday.

The Mirror follows it up with the somewhat less likely news that Stephen Gerrard is on his way to Chelsea as part of a £30m deal.

The money would certainly boost Liverpool’s chances (reported in the Star) of sabotaging Alan Smith’s move from Leeds to Manchester United and persuading him to come to Anfield instead.

Smith hasn’t even made it into Sven Goran Eriksson’s squad for Euro 2004, despite the coach admitting in the Express that he has only two world-class strikers to choose from.

Emile Heskey and whoever’s alongside him…’

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