Back pages | Anorak - Part 85

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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

Turning Walter Into Whine

‘WITHOUT wishing to cast too may aspersions on the managerial nous of Walter Smith, his promotion to Alex Ferguson’s No. 2 at Old Trafford comes as something of a shock.

Desperate times, desperate measures

The Mirror (“FERGIE’S ROCK”) says that Smith’s arrival at Manchester United is a “desperate last-ditch attempt to salvage Manchester United’s season of turmoil”.

The Mail also uses the world “desperate” in its assessment of events and the man who has not coached at the highest level since he was sacked by Everton two years ago.

Of course things could be worse: Manchester United could have Gerard Houllier in charge.

At this slight, Liverpool fans can colour all they like, but they must know that Houllier’s plans for the future are all still very much in the future.

But taking the adage that a team is only as good as its last result, the Express tells how the “Rampant Reds” did well in seeing off the Uefa Cup challenge of Levski Sofia.

Also in the hunt for the Carling Cup of the pan-European game are Celtic, who beat a Czech outfit called Teplice, and Newcastle, who saw off tiny Norwegian club Valerenga.

But the biggest story – even bigger than British clubs beating a bunch of part-timers – is found in the Sun and the world of horse racing.

The proverbial mug’s game is under the spotlight following what the paper calls “THE £1.5 MILLION STINK”.

Jockey Kieren Fallon was ten lengths clear of the field on his mount Ballinger Ridge at Lingfield Park yesterday when he eased off the reins, was caught napping and finished second.

There is no suggestion that Fallon cheated, but the story is that, in losing from a commanding position, he made two punters (who had bet against him) £1.5m richer.

Such is the weight of the story that it makes it to the paper’s Sun Says column.

“But isn’t racing a sport where the sweetest smells often come from the stables,” it says.

Perhaps. But the reek of money does have a certain charm…’

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

The Dead Pool

‘GIVEN the condition of Gerard Houllier’s heart, the death threat he received by letter might have its desired effect.

‘I didn’t hear him shout ‘Fore!”

In “HOULL DEATH THREAT”, the Sun says Houllier has been sent a letter in which he is invited to get out of Liverpool or be killed.

The missive claims that the would-be murderer knows the whereabouts and layout of the Frenchman’s home.

British football has learnt a lot from the foreign game in recent years, and now its seems the spirit of the Colombian system has finally reached our shores.

But while Houllier sweats it out and Liverpool fans get behind their manager (so lulling him into a false sense of security), the Mail casts an eye at England’s cricketing preparations in the West Indies.

News is that in a match against Jamaica, England’s Mark Butcher has fallen victim to a “freak” fall, one the paper says “appeared comical”.

The incident occurred when bowler Steve Harmison was returning to his mark. Nasser Hussain tossed the ball to Rikki Clarke at extra cover.

Butcher, who had run round from point, back-pedalled and stretched to catch it. In doing so, he fell over and twisted his ankle.

The thought of taking a catch – any kind of catch – is too tempting for an England’s cricketer.

It is painfully easy to get injured in sport, as Tiger Woods is hoping to prove as the Times watches him smack golf balls from the rooftop helipad of Dubai’s Burg Al Arab, the world’s tallest hotel.

In town for the Dubai Desert Classic, Woods can be seen standing 1,053ft above the ground, slamming golf balls into the distance.

Meanwhile, some thousands of miles away, Michael Vaughan has been knocked unconscious by an unidentified flying missile and Gerard Houllier’s stuck in a bunker…’

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

Singing The Blues

‘THERE are two men who have good reason not to roll out a red carpet and welcome young PSV Eindhoven forward Arjen Robben to these shores.

Robben – not a red breast

One is Sir Alex Ferguson, from under whose nose the Sun says Chelsea have signed the £13.5m 20-year-old (despite being given a guided tour of Old Trafford only a couple of months ago).

The other is Joe Cole, whose days at Chelsea now look numbered and who is pleading in the Star to be allowed to leave Stamford Bridge and look for first-team football elsewhere.

The Times reports that Robben will be the 13th player to arrive at Chelsea since Roman Abramovich took over in July with a total outlay of £134m.

But his is the first deal to be conducted by Peter Kenyon, the chief executive who walked out on Manchester United in September and is now involved in gazumping his former club.

Why United need to buy another forward when most of their problems stem from a porous defence is anyone’s guess.

Chelsea, on the other hand, seem to be working on the theory that they are as well served by denying their rivals a player regarded as one of the best youngsters in Europe as they are by strengthening their own team.

At the other end of the age spectrum, the Guardian has news that 35-year-old Jason Leonard has been dropped from England’s rugby union squad to face Ireland at the weekend.

That, one would normally think, would spell the end of the old stalwart’s international career were it not for the fact that 35-year-old Neil Back is recalled, if only to the bench.

The paper says there is no doubting the power and potential of Matt Stevens, the 21-year-old called in to replace the world’s most capped prop, but wonders what Leonard has done to deserve the chop.

“Not since he was dropped to the bench after England’s grand slam defeat in Dublin in October 2001 has Leonard’s form or fitness been remotely questioned,” it says, “and Woodward could not have raised more eyebrows had he chosen a couple of part-timers from Pertemps Bees after their stunning Powergen Cup win over Wasps on Sunday.”

The same could not be said of England’s cricketers, although their West Indies tour got off to a good start owing mainly to an 82-ball century by captain Michael Vaughan.

However, the Mirror has bad news for the England opener – his ton may be written out of the record books because it was scored against 12 fielders.

Vaughan didn’t seem particularly upset, arguing that playing 12 a side allowed his team to get more match practice than they otherwise would.

If only they could be allowed the same leeway in Test matches…’

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

A Wait Off Their Mind

‘IT was only the Carling Cup but, after 128 years without a single piece of silverware, Middlesbrough were not going to quibble.

Middlesbrough party likes it 1876

The whistle that brought to an end yesterday’s match also, in the words of the Telegraph, “blew away bitter memories of failed finals, liquidation, relegation and decade after decade of frustration”.

The scoreline was 2-1 after 90 “pulsating” minutes of what the paper says was arguably the best final in this competition since Luton beat Arsenal 16 years ago.

But it was not without controversy, as the Guardian publishes stills to confirm Bolton manager Sam Allardyce’s claim that Middlesbrough’s second goal should not have been allowed.

And not for handball, offside or any of the usual reasons, but because while taking a seventh minute penalty Bolo Zenden actually struck the ball twice.

The Dutchman slipped as he took the kick, “keeling over so that his left foot struck the ball and knocked it against his right”.

Somehow the ball still found the back of the net, but the paper says the double contact should have resulted in an indirect Bolton free-kick rather than Boro’s second goal.

There was something pretty dodgy about Arsenal’s two goals against Charlton on Saturday, the first of which was certainly offside, but there is no escaping the fact that the Gunners are running away with the Premiership title.

Arsene Wenger’s men are now nine points clear of Chelsea and Manchester United and still on course to go through the whole season unbeaten.

We could tell you how Robert Pires and Thierry Henry put their side 2-0 up within five minutes, how Louis Saha scored for United against his old club and how Chelsea’s Eidur Gudjohnsen stole three points against Manchester City.

But, knowing that the average football fan can’t digest acres of verbiage, the Times has helpfully condensed each game into a single sentence.

For Arsenal, this reads: “Memory of lost title fresh enough to keep team focused”; for Manchester United: “Manager made to pay for taking opponents lightly again”; and for Chelsea: “Iceland striker happy to settle for second best”.

For some matches, this brevity is a blessing. Once we learn, for instance, that “relegation nerves lead to ugly encounter” in the goalless draw between Leicester City and Wolves, we are not tempted to read further.

But that would be a mistake because in the account of the match in this morning’s Mail we discover that Leicester’s Paul Dickov has been labelled “football’s most irritating player”.

It is an accolade indeed, especially with such stiff competition.

Indeed, so upset is Robbie Savage to have lost out, rumour has it that he has threatened to sue.’

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

World Cup Shame

‘SPEAKING to the Sun, Rugby World Cup hero Jonny Wilkinson is in self-effacing mood.

As any Australian will tell you, real men don’t dance

Recalling the last seconds of the World Cup final, England’s fly-half is critical of his reaction to victory.

“It’s pathetic,” says he, ”but I just shouted ‘World Cup, World Cup’, and started running around and jumping on people.”

But you can forgive winners most things, and Wilkinson’s acts of joy might have been forgettable but they were delivered with good grace.

That’s a quality often lacking in Alex Ferguson, the purpled faced Manchester United manager whose good sportsmanship has been questioned by Porto coach Jose Mourinho, in the Sun.

He says that Fergie called one of the Porto players a cheat (well, United did lose) and had simulated a foul. Mourinho told him to look at the TV footage before passing comment.

“But when he sees the replay and finds our player did not cheat, I want him to apologise.”

Chances are the Porto man will have a long wait for that moment of contrition, although if United go on to win the tie over the full two legs, you can imagine a smiling Fergie placing his arm round his opposite number’s shoulders and wishing him all the best in the future.

Ah, the future. What will it bring? What will happen to Alan Sharer who, as the Telegraph reports, was left on the bench for Newcastle’s Uefa Cup match in Norway last night?

The game ended with scores locked at 1-1, but even with the precious away goal in the bag, Shearer is not best pleased.

He says he was “surprised”, “disappointed” and “angry” at being dropped from the starting XI.

But football is full of shocks. And Shearer’s demotion, though newsworthy, will pale into insignificance should Alex Ferguson learn to lose or, indeed, win with anything approaching good grace…’

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

Not the Devils We Know

‘COULD we be approaching the end of a glorious era at Old Trafford?

Hopping madness

We ask this in light of last night’s Champions League performance by the Red Devils in which they, as the Sun reports, lost 2-1 to Porto and had their captain, Roy Keane, dismissed.

The paper also looked on as Alex Ferguson, rather than congratulating his opposite number on a good result, Porto coach Jose Mourinho, behaved like a bad loser.

He looked at Mourinho’s outstretched hand and gestured angrily in response before flouncing off down the tunnel.

What the Times calls United’s “fading title challenge” and “gaping holes” in the team’s defences will have to be bolstered by more than a fit of pique and a captain who can’t keep his cool if United are to win the tie’s second leg.

But while “disgraced Keane loses plot” (Telegraph), Claudio Ranieri breathes a sigh of relief.

Fortune favours the brave, and last night Chelsea performed with no little courage and conviction to beat Stuttgart courtesy of an own goal from the German side.

When you’re under the cosh, as Ranieri is, you’ll take anything that comes your way. The Express’ headline (“Clouds over Claudio lift”) is well said.

But while the Champions League rightly gets the main headlines, the Times spares a thought for Liverpool FC, a team that many still think of as one of the top dogs in English football.

On the verge of the Reds’ Uefa Cup tie against the less-than-mighty Levski Sofia, the paper catches up with the spiky Anfield boss Gerard Houllier.

“Am I hurt by the criticism,” asks Houllier. “The answer is ‘no’. I can be hurt if someone is dying or a health problem, but criticism comes with the territory.”

But Houllier should be, if not hurt then at least smarting a little. His own health problems have garnered him a good deal of sympathy from the Liverpool fans, but now is surly the time to show that his master plan is working.

Problem is that Liverpool are in Europe’s second-rate contest, out of the FA Cup and nowhere in the Premiership.

Oh, well, there’s always next year…’

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

Hit And Run

‘FIRST the good news. English football in Europe is more than just Manchester United after Arsenal made a stride towards the Champions League’s last eight with a 3-2 win over Spain’s Celta Vigo.

Chambers reaches the finishing line

The Independent leads with that and shows a picture of the Gunners’ Brazilian midfielder Edu, scorer of a brace, being patted and mauled by his appreciative team-mates.

And now the bad news. Contrary to what some sections of the popular press have been claiming for many years, not all cheats are foreigners.

We have some of our own. And today his name is Dwain Chambers. The Telegraph leads with the rather depressing news that the European 100m champion has been banned form athletics for two years and from the Olympics for life after testing positive for a banned substance.

The story, by now old news, is that Chambers tested positive for tetrahydrogestrinone (THG) at a pre-World Championship training camp back in August last year.

And now the slow turning wheels that stand for justice in sport have reached their decision.

And it’s one supported by such leading lights in the sport as David Moorcroft, the chief executive of UK Athletics.

“I believe it was the right verdict,” says he. “I’m deeply disappointed for Dwain but we all have to move on.”

And with a decent shot of THG we can move on at double-quick pace and talk about something more upbeat than an unmasked cheat.

And it is that Manchester United’s boss, Sir Alex Ferguson, is to receive a special Uefa award for becoming the first coach to take charge of 100 Champions League ties.

His side’s game in Porto tonight will mark a century of his involvement in the continent’s premier competition, writes the Telegraph.

So, well done, Sir Alex. Now let’s see if you can make it to 102…’

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

Gooners On Manoeuvres

‘ARSENAL fans must be pinching themselves this morning, before lighting a long panatela cigarette and giving a little skip of joy.

Gordon’s eyes have seen the glory

Last year’s claim that the balance of power had shifted from Old Trafford to Highbury now looks less like wishful thinking than ever as the Express reveals the new approved Arsenal stadium.

After four years of wrangling over the move from Highbury to Ashburton Grove, the paper says that the go ahead has finally been given.

At the start of season 2006-2007, the Gunners will up sticks and decamp to their 60,000 state-of-the-art stadium.

The even better news is that Arsene Wenger, who, speaking in the Independent, claims to have enabled Arsenal to punch above their through “lucky findings, lucky buys”, is going to stay on until at least 2007.

But the Gunners are not the only ones thinking bigger, as the Mail leads with news of Chelsea. “Anything you can do,” says the headline.

The story is that while Arsenal look to 60,000, Chelsea are ready to expand their stadium to 55,000, thus providing a further 13,000 seats for all their new players and their wives.

As such, the Mail’s headline that solicits the response “…we can do better”, when seen in light of the story, invites the less usual, “…we can throw money at but not do as well”.

But while two parts of London attempt to catch up with one part of Manchester, not all is well with the Old Trafford club.

Ruud Van Nistelrooy breaks the silence in the Express, and admits that the club are missing the services of David Beckham.

“Becks is missed here as a player and a person,” says the Bafta-nominated footballer.

He goes onto praise the England captain, complimenting him on his successful move to Spain, something the Dutchman says “isn’t easy”.

Beckham has indeed made his transfer a success, and it’s hard to contend with the notion that United are the poorer without him.

As are Spurs without Bill Nicholson. But, then, this is Tottenham, and, as such, they are always on the verge of greatness.

And the new man in the frame to lead them back on the glory, glory trail is…Gordon Strachan.

The Sun says that the Scot is the “shock new contender” to take over at Spurs. The 47-year-old coach has, apparently, told friends that he has been offered the post at Spurs.

And if he takes the job, we wish him the best of luck. It won’t be easy working alongside Giovanni Trappatoni, Raddy Antic and Roberto Mancini, but if one man can make it work, it’s Strachan…’

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

For Whom The Bell Chimes

‘“I KNOW I’m going to get slaughtered,” said Gerard Houllier, the Liverpool manager, after his side’s defeat to Portsmouth in the FA Cup, “but I don’t feel under any more pressure than before.”

As they say in Liverpool, ‘Au revoir, our kid’

“I think it is unfair to slaughter us, as looking at the performance we had the chances. I can’t blame my players.”

Anyone who reads that, as reported in the Independent, would be excused for asking who then should be blamed in instances of defeat. If it’s not the players and the manager, with whom does the fault lie?

It could be the referee in yesterday’s 1-0 defeat of the Reds. But, then, he did wrongly give Liverpool two penalties, although only one was taken.

Perhaps it was the weather? Or the grass? Or the wind? Or the fact that Liverpool play a brand of football that were it not for their famous kit and name would make them indistinguishable from just about any other mid-table Premiership team?

And while “clouds gather over Houllier“ (Telegraph) and the Liverpool fans bay for a regime change at Anfield, another manager makes ready his bags for departure.

The rumour that Sven Goran Eriksson is to replace Claudio Ranieri at Chelsea is now altered in the Mirror.

The new man in charge at Stamford Bridge will be the legendary Fabio Capello. The paper is of the opinion that Ranieri and Capello (now at Roma) will trade posts for next season.

Also on their way out of the Bridge will be a host of players, including Emanuel Petit, Mario Melchiot, Jesper Gronkjaer and Mario Stanic.

You’d be forgiven for forgetting any of that lot actually plays for the Blues, what with the size of the squad at Chelsea. But even the more visible Claude Makelele and Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink are also said by the Mirror to be on the verge of being shown the door.

But we cannot help thinking it’s all a bit early to say who is going where and when. The season has a long way to run and it is the proverbial marathon.

Houllier and Ranieri might yet have the last laugh. Although it could just be gallows humour…’

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

Exchange And Mart

‘THE Sun is of the mind that Chelsea’s ambulatory wallet, Roman Abramovich, is spitting roubles that he missed the boat to buy Arsenal’s Spanish wonder Jose Antonio Reyes.

Will Keown make monkey out of Chelsea?

The story goes that the Russian’s people had seen Reyes play in Spain and were ready to table a £20million bid for him. But then Arsenal bought him.

This story is given some degree of poignancy when we note that it was Reyes’ brace that knocked Chelsea from the FA Cup.

But we can’t help thinking that anyone who plays well against the Blues will then be wanted by them.

What price a good performance by Arsenal’s Martin Keown when the Gunners meet Chelsea in the match of this weekend earning him a big money transfer across London?

Of course, the one thing the Blues really want is to win something. You can throw around money and gold but it’s proving pretty hard to buy silver.

In any case, according to Roy Keane, the Manchester United skipper, the title race is already over. Speaking in the Mirror, the Irishman says he cannot see the Gunners slipping up as they did last year.

To any casual observe this sounds like Keane throwing in the towel, but we know better, and this is surely, as the Mirror says, just the start of the mind games that pepper the Premiership run in.

Things in football never stand still, and Arsenal know that today’s glory hunters are tomorrow’s yesterday man. Just look at Spurs.

But changes at the heart of the game could soon be on upon us if Lars-Christer Olsson, Uefa’s new chief executive, has his way.

The Independent says that the Swede, who took over from Gerhard Aigner two months ago, is looking at a few ways to improve the European game.

Among his thoughts for the days ahead are for every third World Cup to be staged in Europe; clubs to have 50% homegrown players; and for clubs with massive debts to be thrown out of pan-European competitions.

He also thinks that England should be expelled from Euro 2004 if her hooligans run wild.

On the face of it, these all seem like sensible moves, although we would go further: if England’s fans riot, kick the team out of all competitions for a hundred years.

Our friends on the continent will not miss them…’

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

Record Breakers

‘IF any doubts lingered over the re-emergence of Wales as a footballing force they were surely put to bed last night when Mark Hughes’ team thrashed Scotland in Cardiff 4-0.

David Healey – the man who could

The Scots are no great shakes, but being so outclassed and outfought will do little to undo Scotland coach Berti Voght’s plan to introduce “foreign” players to his squad.

But while the Times picks over the bones of Scotland’s footballing ambitions, the Telegraph notes Northern Ireland’s record-breaking performance.

When David Healey, the Preston striker, scored for Northern Ireland in the 56th minute of his side’s 4-1 home defeat to Norway, he became the first Northern Irish player to score for the nation in 1,298 minutes of play.

And the crowd went wild. Healey’s team-mates swamped him in a show of love and affection and there was much joy to be seen.

That goal did not stop the North Irish from becoming the team to have gone the longest without scoring a goal in international football.

And neither did it prevent them from reaching a milestone of 15 games without a win.

“There’s one monkey off our back, now we’ve got to get a victory under our belt,” says Lawrie Sanchez the team’s coach, deftly employing two clichés in one line.

Another often heard turn of phrase links the word “cheat” with the Dutchman Ruud van Nistelrooy.

To add to his already burgeoning theatrical CV, the Dutchman was last night booked for scoring a goal for Holland – with his hand.

The Sun looked on as the Manchester United striker wheeled away in celebration at his refulgent strike against team USA, only to have it ruled and be given a yellow card for his trouble.

And, who knows, perhaps one day a Bafta…’

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

The History Men

‘TONIGHT Northern Ireland attempt to make history by becoming the most goal-shy team in decades of competitive international football.

Er, Lawrie, the goal’s the other way, mate

The Times notes that if the greens, playing under new manager Lawrie Sanchez, fail to score in the opening 30 minutes of their home match against Norway, they will be world champions at not scoring.

At that moment, they will not have found the back of the opponent’s net for a majestic 1,272 minutes.

While the watching world will surely be hoping that the Northern Irish can reach their glorious milestone, few people outside England will be looking forward to the arrival of they who follow Sven’s men to Portugal this summer.

By way of livener for that busman’s holiday for the dregs of our society, England, in conjunction with the Portuguese police and the makers of pepper spray, are staging a prelude to the big fight.

Secrecy prevents us from saying how the local authorities will deal with any trouble making, but the Mirror does note that Sven Goran Eriksson will play Michael Owen and David Beckham even if they are at death’s door.

Well, he actually said he’d play them if they were not fully fit, but given the paucity of Sven’s options, it’s not hard to imagine the Liverpool striker and the England captain being wheeled onto the pitch should the job demand it.

It’s also not too hard to imagine, as the Mail does, a Scotland team made up of native Germans, Frenchmen and Italians.

The paper says that Fifa has ruled that a player who has represented his country at Under 21 level and below can switch nation at full international level if he fulfils residency criteria.

And the news is that since players can apply for a British passport after passing five years in the UK, the likes of Celtic’s Frenchman Didier Agathe and Blackburn’s Italian-born Lorenzo Amoruso might be capped by Scotland.

Or Kimi Ali Silva, our Peruvian cleaning operative here at Anorak Towers, being picked by Northern Ireland. She’s got all the right credentials, and swears she has never scored a goal in her life…’

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

When the Going Gets Tough

‘IF you’ve heard Sven Goran Eriksson say he has no plans to vacate his post as England’s manager before his contract expires in 2006 once you’ve heard him say it a million times.

‘Could you repeat the question?’

But still the rumours of his premature departure will not abate and today the Mirror hears David Beckham say how the England squad would be “devastated” if the Swede quit.

“He keeps coming out and saying he wants to stay but it will keep coming until he has signed a 10-year contract,” says the England skipper of this Viking saga.

Truth is that non-one might want the affable Swede to stay on if his England team perform badly at this summer’s Euro 2004 tournament.

Sport moves quickly and today’s hero is tomorrow’s failure.

Take the Mail’s story on Marion Jones, the Olympic sprinter who was once the toast of the athletics track.

Though still a star, Jones has been forced to deny that she has ever taken banned performance–enhancing substances and explain why she was once involved with Charlie Francis, who coached the disgraced Ben Johnson.

“When we were with Mr Francis,” says Jones, “there were athletes whose names you would know who were consulting him. So if our rivals were doing it, if not openly, I always thought: ‘Why shouldn’t we?’”

The answer to Jones’ question is that if the sport of athletics is to retain even a shred of credibility it should shun they who cheat. This is big business and with the allure of riches and fame comes the temptation to cheat.

Associating your good name with a man who has been banned for life from Canadian athletics sullies a once noble sport.

But sport still possesses the ability to inspire, and we read with interest the Independent’s report on John Daly, whose “Grip it and rip it” philosophy to golf typifies his approach to life.

News is that after nine years of trying, the bulky American won the Buick Invitational, his first victory on the USPGA Tour since winning the Open at St Andrews in 1995.

The four-times married star called his win “the greatest” and attributes his success to self-belief and hard work – and the pack of cigarettes he smoked on the back nine on Saturday.’

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

All The Way, Jose

‘SUB-EDITORS must love Arsenal’s new boy Jose Antonio Reyes nearly as much as fans of the north London team adore their new hero.

Catch me if you can

Sadly, the headline writers overlook the delicious “Reyes of light shines out of Wenger’s Arsenal” (as heard on BBC Radio FIVE LIVE last night) in favour of more prosaic legends.

The Sun (“Reyes The Eraser”) was on hand to watch the Spaniard score twice in his side’s 2-1 FA Cup victory over Chelsea.

As too was the Guardian (“Amazing Reyes”), the Mirror (“Sting Reyes”), the Express (“Reyes The Roof”) and the Star (“Reyes The Lord”).

But the story of how Arsenal came from behind to end Chelsea’s involvement in the FA Cup for the fourth consecutive season is best told by the Telegraph’s Paul Hayward.

He is not wrong to say that when the man who promises to be Arsenal’s most expensive recruit struck the ball in the 56th minute of a combative cup tie, fans in Highbury’s North Bank must have “cringed in fear of their lives”.

Blessedly for them, and for Arsenal, the ball was stopped from slamming into the open-mouth of some petrified Gooner by Carlo Cudicini’s net.

Elsewhere the Cup once more exposed Liverpool’s weaknesses, as they drew 1-1 at home to Portsmouth, and allowed Manchester United to see off local rivals Manchester City.

But whatever the glamour of the Cup, the Times keeps its eyes fixed on England’s opening tie in the Six Nations.

The result of the match was never truly in doubt, and England’s 50-9 victory over Italy will raise no eyebrows.

Not least from John Kirwin, the Italy coach, who, when questioned as to the best way to stop the world champions, replied: “With a bazooka.”

He might need more than that if he wants to stop Jason Robinson, who scored three of England’s seven tries.

“Is there anything Jason Robinson can’t do,” asked the Times’ reporter of Clive Woodward, the England coach. “Kick goals,” came his answer.

Not that England rely on those any more…’

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

The Defence Rests

‘SIR Alex Ferguson has apparently been told he could stay at Manchester United for the next 10 years if Malcolm Glazer wins his battle with Irish tycoons John Magnier and JP McManus for control of the Old Trafford club.

South African school of rugby lesson 1: The Karate Chop To The Testicles

But that would surely depend on success on the pitch and, with his side having conceded eight goals in the last three games, that is by no means assured.

Ferguson blames the absence of Rio Ferdinand, who is currently serving an eight-month ban for failing to show up at a drugs test.

“A bit of slackness seems to have crept into our defending at times,” he tells the Express, “and you are bound to miss a player of Rio’s quality.”

The Sun claims that Ryan Giggs has labelled the club “stupid” for putting their title in jeopardy by conceding so many goals.

What he actually said was that the side has conceded too many stupid goals, which is a different thing altogether, adding that blaming the recent malaise on the absence of Rio Ferdinand was the easy option.

And the one taken by his manager.

Meanwhile, Arsenal are riding high at the top of the Premiership and are getting ready to face Chelsea in the FA Cup on Sunday.

And Ashley Cole tells the Sun that if the Gunners win that game and the league match at Stamford Bridge a week later it could be curtains for Claudio Ranieri.

“I feel sorry for him because he is a great manager,” says Cole, “and, from what I have seen, a nice man. But they are under more pressure than us.”

Glenn Hoddle is, as we know, a great believer in karma – and he is certainly now reaping what he sowed as Southampton fans put a block on his return to the south coast.

The Mirror says the ex-England boss has resorted to pleading with the fans to give him a second chance at the club he walked out on three years ago.

But the big story in the Mirror is that England rugby union coach Sir Clive Woodward almost walked out on England after their World Cup success.

The South African Rugby Union claims that Sir Clive made contact after coach Rudi Straeuli resigned in December, but was rebuffed.

Woodward, who denies the claims, will be happier to read the back page of the Mail which says that fly-half Jonny Wilkinson could be back in training within 10 days following the operation on his damaged shoulder.’

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

Red Devils May Care

‘IT looks like being a football fan still counts for something, and we read with interest how Glenn Hoddle will not be returning to Southampton…yet.

Conrad Gates – on his way to Chelsea?

“Rest assured their [fans’] feeling will be taken into account,” promised the message from the Saints’ boardroom, as posted on the club’s official website.

And so it would seem, as the Mail tells us how the club has delayed making any decision on Hoddle for a few weeks.

And while Southampton fans sweat it out, they might enjoy the distraction of watching the troubles enveloping the mighty Manchester United.

The Sun says that John Magnier, the Irish tycoon, has “won” his war with United’s manager Sir Alex Ferguson and will have a major say in how the club is run.

He has, through his company Cubic Expression, increased his stake in the club to 28.89%, a shade under the 29% that would force him to make a bid for full control, but enough to, in his opinion, entitle him to three seats on the board.

Ferguson should be a worried man – a mood not helped by his side’s home defeat to Middlesbrough last night.

But salvation for the purple-faced Scot might come in the form of one Malcolm Glazer, who, says the Express, is on the verge of making his own bid to take control of the Old Trafford club.

We learn that Glazer is American and a billionaire. He and his sons, Joel, Edward and Bryan, are all big fans of Manchester United and will back Ferguson.

Of course, they might not and United might not be sold and Ferguson might or might leave under his own steam. It’s all very much up in the air.

The only things for certain is what the Times’ Giles Smith tells us, namely that Conrad Gates has signed for Earl Park FC from Juventus.

This transfer is, of course, in the world of make-believe, a new update from the show called Footballers’ Wives.

But you can be sure that there are people at Chelsea who wonder how this rising star was allowed to slip though their catch-all net.

Heads will surely roll…’

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

Arsed Off

‘FOR fans of Southampton, it is case of “JUST SAY NO”.

It’s hard to disagree…

They are saying “No!” to the return of Glenn Hoddle, and saying it with banners waved at Highbury last night.

The Telegraph suggests that the Southampton faithful were also most likely saying goodbye to Gordon Strachan as their manager.

The man who wore a ginger hat and led the Saints with large doses of brio and skill might just have overseen his final Southampton game.

If he has, the Independent is of the opinion that it is Southampton’s loss. The Scot will indeed be a tough act to follow.

Just listen to his assessment of his side’s 2-0 defeat at Arsenal last night, as told to the Sun.

“I’m told [Thierry] Henry’s first goal was yards offside and that Ray Parlour has admitted he smashed Danny Higginbottom across the face with his elbow before the second.”

Ah, how we will miss him.

As we would miss Thierry Henry, the Arsenal forward and officially second-best player in the world. The Star is of the opinion that Real Madrid covert the French striker and want to make him one of their number.

Of course, these days, being courted by the Spanish giants is a rite of passage for all players who want to be truly great. It’s like a badge of approval. Real Madrid want you so you must be good.

And when talk turns to Real Madrid, the camera invariably clicks at David Beckham, who is in conversation with the Times.

Peppering his interview with the words “unbelievable” and “amazing”, the England captain is happy with life in Spain.

“The first day I was really nervous,” says Day-vid. “I needed to feel welcomed.”

And so he was, and now he’d welcome the chance to go back to Old Trafford in a competitive match.

“I’d love to go to Old Trafford as a Real Madrid player,” says United’s former hero. “To be in a game like that would be a dream.”

And to score the winner from a deflection off Alex Ferguson’s purple brow, a recurring fantasy…’

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

The Second Coming

‘THE Second Coming was a low-key affair when it was finally announced by Southampton chairman Rupert Lowe.

‘Too much Holy Spirit last night, methinks’

As the Guardian reports, Glenn Hoddle is to make an unexpected return to the club he left around three years ago.

Whereas he was cheered on his return into White Hart Lane as some Messianic figure, Hoddle’s return to the south coast is made under a deep and dark cloud.

The paper is right when it says how Saints’ fans are still smarting from Hoddle’s initial departure, when he swiftly left the club and then returned to woo Dean Richards to follow him to London.

They were singing anti-Hoddle songs at the team’s last match, and the Guardian believes there’ll be more of the same when the Saints take on Arsenal tonight in what could be Gordon Strachan’s last match in charge.

Not that Hoddle’s the only one making a comeback, as the Telegraph leads with news that Paul Grayson is to take over kicking duties from Jonny Wilkinson in the upcoming Six Nations rugby union contest.

Given the dominant position Wilkinson holds in the side – at least as far as some tabloid sections of the press are concerned – many may be surprised to learn that someone other than Wilkinson can actually kick a rugby ball.

The Times adds the news that Grayson was in England’s successful World Cup party and has played on many occasions for his country.

The full team to face Italy in the Six Nations opener is printed on the back of the Independent, and for ruby fans, the main news is that Jason Robinson has been moved into the team’s midfield, so heralding a new era of fast-flowing rugby.

Meanwhile, one former England footballer has also been on the move. The Indy says that Paul Merson, the former Arsenal player who now plies his trade at Walsall, has left the Midlands to seek specialist treatment abroad for an addiction to gambling.

We wish him well in his quest to conquer his addictive personality. And remind him that things are never as bad as they seem. Unless you are a Southampton supporter, that is…’

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

Double Standards

‘PEOPLE hold footballers to standards that they wouldn’t dream of abiding by themselves.

The next manager of England?

Take Scott Parker. Charlton fans yesterday held a protest at their midfielder’s £10m departure for Chelsea, demanding “pride, passion and loyalty” from their stars.

But how many of them would turn down a job that was not only better paid but had better prospects?

The 23-year-old didn’t play in yesterday’s 1-0 victory for his new employer over his old employer, but he cast a long shadow over the game from the stand.

And after the match, Charlton boss Alan Curbishley did little to draw a line under the affair as Charlton must if they are to qualify for Europe.

“It’s a big thing that we had one of our better players taken away from us,” he told the Guardian. And “unless we start winning games and stay where we are, everyone’s going to put it down to Scott”.

As for Claudio Ranieri, England will be a poorer place if the genial Italian is replaced as manager of Chelsea.

He has borne the constant speculation about his future with good grace and humour.

Yesterday, the Telegraph hears him respond to the visiting fans’ chant, “Sacked in the summer, you’re getting sacked in the summer”, by turning around and shouting back, “No, I think it is in May!”

But it is not Parker or Ranieri who attracts the attention of Alan Smith in the Telegraph, but Glen Johnson, one of Ranieri’s lower profile summer signings.

Johnson only made his debut for West Ham a year ago, but the 19-year-old will certainly have impressed the watching Sven Goran Eriksson, “though whether Johnson will merit a place in the Swede’s European squad for the finals of Euro 2004 remains to be seen”.

With Arsenal and Manchester United also winning, there is no change at the top of the Premiership, but there will be changes in England’s line-up for its first match of the Six Nations rugby.

Chief casualty is Neil Back in what the Independent describes as “a fall from grace of prodigious proportions”. The last international Back played was the World Cup final.

Also left out of the 28-man squad is Kyran Bracken, prop Graham Rowntree and back rower Martin Corry.

Sir Clive Woodward justified the decisions, saying “as always I am looking at current form and will continue to do so throughout the Six Nations and beyond”.

The Times says Back’s absence leaves only three specialist back-row forwards in the squad, but it also casts a shadow over the 35-year-old’s future.

“If this is the end of his England career,” it says, “he will truly be able to say that, pound for pound, he was up there with the best.”’

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

Lord Of The Ring

‘IT takes something close to a miracle, like an England cricket victory, to knock football off the back pages of the papers – but what do they do when there is no football news to report?

Lewis issues a challenge to Jonny Wilkinson

If you’re the Express, you focus on a new boot deal for Liverpool’s Steven Gerrard; if you’re the Mirror, you revisit the Luis Boa Morte-Duncan Ferguson race row; and if you’re the Mail, you inform your readers that Kevin Keegan has only got three more games in which to turn around Manchester City’s season.

If you’re the Independent, you illustrate your back page with a picture of Shota Arveladze celebrating after “setting up Michael Mols’ goal for Rangers in the CIS Insurance Cup semi-final against Hibernian at Hampden Park”.

If you’re the Times, you report the not altogether newsworthy news that Portugal is mounting the biggest security campaign in its history in preparation for the arrival of English hooligans for this summer’s European Championships.

If you’re the other broadsheet papers, you cut your losses and remember that there are other sports apart from football.

And so it is that the Telegraph leads with news that world heavyweight champion Lennox Lewis will today (Friday) announce his retirement from the ring.

“Without him,” the paper says, “over the last 10 years heavyweight boxing would have been a shambles.

“He was the best of a trio of thirtysomething warriors who went on picking up big pay cheques while the sons of impoverished urban America diverted their talents away from boxing rings and into baseball, basketball and the NFL.”

In the end, though, even the $20m on offer for a rematch with Vitali ‘Dr Iron Fist’ Klitschko wasn’t enough to motivate the 38-year-old Lewis.

“Few will place him in the elite occupied by Ali or Joe Louis,” the Telegraph says, “but in the history of British sport over the last 25 years he deserves his place alongside the likes of Ian Botham, Seb Coe, Nick Faldo, Steve Redgrave and Nigel Mansell.

“If he is The Last Great Heavyweight, his final victory was to leave the ring as the champion and not drenched in his own blood.”

One name missing from the pantheon of recent British sporting heroes is Jonny Wilkinson – although one imagines it is only a matter of time before he rectifies that.

However, news in the Guardian that the World Cup-winning fly-half may miss the entire Six Nations raises concerns about his long-term future.

The paper says the 24-year-old will see a specialist today, who may well recommend surgery to clear out the scar tissue around the affected area of Wilkinson’s shoulder.

“Or,” says Steve Black, his conditioning coach at Newcastle, “it may be that he is told to continue his rehabilitation until he is ready to play again.

“That could be tomorrow, next week or in three months.”

Or even longer…’

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

Sick As A Cockerel

‘WHEN the fight was done, when the Hotspurs were dry with rage and extreme toil, they surely reflected on last night’s defeat by Manchester City as one of the lowest points in a series of low points.

City slickers

There can be no mistaking that last night’s FA Cup match between Spurs and Manchester City produced one of the greatest ever comebacks in the history of the venerable competition.

In “Miracle Men”, the Mail heaps praise on Kevin Keegan’s City, who reduced to 10 men and three goals to the bad came back to score four and win the tie.

At half-time, when Spurs had scored three and City none, Kevin Keegan tells the Express how he turned to his assistant manager, Derek Fazackerly, and asked him the way to the nearest job centre.

He’d have done better to have asked the board at Spurs, who have been showing their own managers the way to pastures new ever since Bill Nicholson set the benchmark at White Hart Lane.

But now those glory days are a distant and fading memory.

”There are no excuses from any perspective,” says Spurs’ manager David Pleat to the Sun. “We simply let ourselves down…the supporters must feel gutted.”

That they must. But if Spurs fans possess one thing it is a belief that the cockerel will crow again – possibly to crow three times and thus signal the end of another Messianic leader’s tenure at the club, but crow it will.

We would like to move on from this match, to tell you, as the Express tells us, how last night Fulham ended Everton’s season with a battling 2-1 FA Cup win, but we cannot drag our eyes off the game that was, as the Telegraph’s Henry Winter says, “UNBELIEVABLE”.

Only it wasn’t. What with this being Spurs, we know that they can surrender a lead. Not too long ago they were putting Manchester United to the sword only to concede six and lose.

The four they conceded to City smacks of a marked improvement.

And this story only gets yet more romantic (a word that must be used when talking about the FA Cup at any available juncture) when readers learn that City’s next opponents are none other than Manchester United.

It’s a game that promises to be a cracker. But we fear that if City go to Old Trafford and find themselves three goals and one man down after 45 minutes, they should all leave the ground, take a sharp left, progress over three sets of lights and visit the local employment bureau.

Of they might just care to stay and score four…’

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

Keown Goes Bananas

‘CONGRATULATIONS to Arsenal’s new multi-million pound wonder boy Jose Reyes who last night scored on his full debut.

When Monkeys Attack!

And if he could have scored for the right team, it would indeed have been a dream start for the Seville flyer.

But that was not to be and the Sun (“Reyes The Titanic”) leads with how the Spaniard thumped home an own goal just five minutes from the end of Arsenal’s Carling Cup clash with Middlesbrough.

But Reyes’ strike is a move not entirely out of keeping with the Gunners, who have a habit of pulling out their pistols and firing a volley of bullets straight into their own feet.

Even before Reyes struck, Martin Keown had been dismissed from the field of play, so reducing Arsenal to their usual quota of 10 men and giving the Sun yet another reason to trot out the list of red cads earned under the Arsene Wenger regime (it currently stands at 54).

Not that Wenger’s overly worried by another red card, an own goal or his side’s defeat, telling the Mirror how he is “proud of the behaviour of my players”.

Just as Tottenham’s fans are proud of their players – the ones who turned out for the club in 1961, when Spurs won their famous push-and-run Double.

So the boys on The Shelf should be delighted to read in the Mirror that Spurs’ new signing Jermain Defoe could be the new Jimmy Greaves.

“This is a club where people still talk about strikers like Jimmy Greaves, Clive Allen and Gary Lineker,” says the club’s caretaker manager, David Pleat.

That they do, just as they talk of the glory game, kerb crawling and how once upon a time Tottenham were one of the so-called Big Five clubs in English football.

As were Everton, who these days make the Mail’s news pages less for winning at football and more because Wayne Rooney likes listening to Lionel Richie on his stereo.

What’s more, Rooney’s favourite film is Pearl Harbor – “because it’s a sad film and I like that”.

These are indeed heady days at The Lane and Goodison Park. After a long slumber, the sleeping giants are beginning to stir…’

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

Another Hammer Blow

‘WHILE Chelsea have sought to replicate West Ham’s midfield at Stamford Bridge, Spurs have opted for a reinvention of the Hammers’ strike force.

Defoe wanted to be part of another relegation struggle

The galling news for Irons’ fans is that Jermain Defoe has been sold to Spurs for £7m. There he will join forces with Frederic Kanoute, formerly of Upton Park.

Talking to the Telegraph, Defoe says he is looking forward to things. “I can’t wait to play with Freddie again, Robbie Keane and all the great players,” says the Englishman.

And that would be all the great players who play for other Premier League clubs, rather than some of the dross that run out for Spurs.

But Defoe’s move says something far clearer about the management skills of Glenn Roeder.

Since Roeder took the Hammers into Division One, Premiership clubs have fought to buy the team’s players. So why did they go down? Answers on a postcard.

But while the Hammers beat themselves (or Roeder) up, Spurs plan for great days to come – as they do every season. And the Sun hears that the Lilywhites had planned to add another player to their squad.

Paul Robinson’s transfer from Leeds to White Hart Lane was scuppered when the Premier League’s men in grey suits said that the deal was in breach of the rules.

The intention was for Spurs to pay £2m immediately for the goalkeeper and then loan him back to Leeds for the rest of this season.

But thanks to the Premier League, Leeds have lost out on some much-needed cash, Spurs have Kasey Keller in goal and Robinson is playing for a team that wants to get rid of him.

Elsewhere in football land, the Times says that Wales are determined to fight tooth and claw to be reinstated to the European Championships.

The Welshmen claim that in fielding Yegor Titov, who tested positive for a banned substance after playing for his country in a qualifying tie, the Russians have cheated.

To further antagonise the Welsh, Titov then played 59 minutes of the decisive match in Cardiff, where Russia ran out 1-0 winners.

But, let’s face it, the appeal is unlikely to win. To overturn a result is an admission of failure, and no-one in football’s upper reaches would ever allow that…’

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

Reyes, But No Sunshine

‘JOSE Antonio Reyes made a debut appearance as substitute in yesterday’s 2-1 win over Manchester City after becoming potentially Arsenal’s most expensive signing.

Next time he’ll wear boxing gloves

And he got what the Times describes as a crash course in English football – “a downpour, a pitch like a First World War trench, a punch-up and 90 pell-mell minutes”.

“It cannot have been like this in the glossy brochure that Arsenal will have shown Reyes over more than a year of courting,” the paper says, “but it will have done the young striker no harm to see some of the idiosyncrasies of his new country.”

In the Telegraph, Alan Smith is impressed by the Spaniard’s 21 minutes on the pitch.

“Even on a lethally skiddy surface, that admirable technique showed up straight away,” he says, “the debut boy’s first touch being a perceptive drag back that left two Manchester City opponents trailing in his wake.”

By all accounts, Reyes couldn’t believe how cold it was yesterday – but he is likely to find London positive balmy when compared with the venue of what is likely to be his next outing, Middlesbrough.

With Chelsea also winning, courtesy of three goals from the ex-West Ham duo of Frank Lampard and Glen Johnson, and Manchester United beating Southampton 3-2, there is no change at the top of the table.

But there are signs of movement in Sir Alex Ferguson’s dispute with Manchester United’s leading shareholder John Magnier over stud earnings for Rock Of Gibraltar.

The Telegraph says that the United manager’s lawyers will offer a compromise, which would see the Scot earn between £5m and £10m, as opposed to the £50m stud fees to which he believes he is entitled.

“The brokering of the deal will be crucial if both parties are to emerge with an acceptable compromise,” the paper says.

And in a separate development, the Indy reports that Ferguson’s son Jason has said he is prepared to give up his work as a football agent after becoming embroiled in the row.

To other sport and the Guardian watches Roger Federer win the Australian Open tennis in what the paper calls “the passing of the old guard”.

“There are a lot of young and very good players,” losing finalist Marat Safin says. ”We’ll be famous in five years. It will be like Agassi, Sampras, McEnroe. It’s the evolution of tennis.”

The question is whether Federer will be the most famous of all after no less a judge than John McEnroe described him as “perhaps the greatest talent in the history of tennis”.

Arsenal would be happy if their new talent turns out to be half as good.’

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

Kick It Out

‘THE ‘Kick Racism Out Of Football’ campaign celebrated its 10th birthday the other day with most people agreeing that the atmosphere now is much better than it was in 1993.

Scott Parker – part of Chelsea’s 12-man midfield

Perhaps it is testament to its success that a single alleged incident in last Sunday’s FA Cup clash between Fulham and Everton makes the back page of both the Sun and the Mirror.

But it does indicate that Anorak’s ‘Kick Asterisks Out Of Newspapers’ campaign, launched the same day to slightly less fanfare (we couldn’t afford David Mellor) has not had similar results.

The Sun reports that Fulham’s Portuguese forward Luis Boa Morte claims he was called a “black ****” by an Everton player during the 1-1 draw.

And his club are preparing to call in the FA to investigate the incident, possibly even lodging an official complaint later today.

The Mirror is less reticent both about the identity of the Everton player (Duncan Ferguson) and about the exact nature of the alleged abuse.

But even it can’t bring itself to utter the word in full, preferring instead to mask its identity with the use of two asterisks, as in “black c**t”.

How many Mirror readers, we wonder, are this minute consulting their crossword dictionaries to see just how many words fit the bill.

Colt? Cent? Cart? Or could it possibly have been that old Middle English word (of Germanic orgin), cunt?

We suspect the latter because the Mirror says Boa Morte is “furious” at what he claims was an unprovoked attack, which it says took place because Ferguson was upset at being beaten by pace by the Fulham striker.

Given the relative speeds of the two players, it is a bit like the tortoise calling the hare “a floppy-eared cunt” as he sped past.

But Duncan is not the only Ferguson in trouble – the row over Sir Alex’s position as Manchester United manager rumbles on on the back page of the Mail and Express.

Lawyers acting for Cubic Expression, the company owned by John Magnier and JP McManus and the club’s major shareholder, has sent a list of 99 questions it wants the Old Trafford board to answer.

Most of the questions focus on the club’s transfer dealings and use of agents.

And, says the Mail, “even the unconditional worship that Ferguson enjoys from the United fans, and the full support of the board, might not be enough to secure his future at Old Trafford”.

While United are riven by internecine strife, Chelsea are once again trying to buy success with the Express suggesting that, having just signed Charlton’s Scott Parker for £10m, the Blues are after seven more players.

Someone should explain to Claudio Ranieri that, however many players you buy, only 11 are allowed on the pitch at any one time.’

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