Back pages | Anorak - Part 86

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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

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

Starting Over

‘THE story that engenders more words than even the prolix Hutton Report is that of Sir Alex Ferguson.

‘Can I play on the wing?’

Today, the Times lets it be known that the red-faced manager of Manchester United has been given a £4m-a-year contract.

This sounds good news for fans of the club, who have grown used to success under the manager, but they should be wary of the fine print.

The paper sys that the signing of a new deal is not cause for wild celebration since it is only a 12-month rolling contract. In 12 months, Fergie cold be out on his ear.

Football is very much the funny old game, and reputations, even such as that of Ferguson, need to be constantly boosted by success if they are not to be consigned to history and pub trivia quizzes

For this reason, Juan Pablo Veron is a has-been. Indeed, as far as the Premier League goes, he is more of a never was, and injury means he is now out of the rest of the season.

As such, the Times reports that Chelsea are seeking a replacement for the fading Argentinean in the shape of Charlton’s Scott Parker.

That signing – should it finally occur – will come on top of the Blue’s purchase of Petr Cech, the Czech Republic goalkeeper.

The £7.5m signing will replace Carlo Cudicini in the Chelsea goal next summer.

This is a trifle hard on the Italian, who has performed consistently well for the Blues. But, as we say, reputations are made to be broken, and today’s hero is tomorrow’s fading memory.

There are exceptions, however. And the Guardian brings news that Lawrence Dallaglio has been made England’s rugby union captain once more.

In “Dallaglio’s world turns full circle”, the paper reminds readers how not so long ago the Londoner was his country’s skipper. In fact, he was very good at the job.

But things turned sour when a report in the News of the World alleged that he had taken cocaine. The claim was later dropped but the damage had been done.

Now, unlike so many sports stars, he’s got a chance to do it all over again…’

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

Reyes Of Sunshine

‘BEFORE moving from Seville to Arsenal in a £20m transfer, Jose Antonio Reyes was chiefly famous for one thing.

‘Keep away from me, Ljungberg!’

The Sun tells those who did not know that, in the course of a goal celebration, Reyes was bitten on the penis by teammate Fancisco Gallardo.

The paper has a picture of that incident and another of the player it duly dubs “Swollen Balls” plying his trade.

It’s pretty evident that the 20-year-old Spaniard will be deeply missed by his old teammates, especially Gallardo.

But the man the Mail calls the “Spanish Rooney” is ready to make his mark in England – although he would prefer it if opponents’ defenders didn’t make too many marks on him.

“Does it hurt?” asks Reyes, the player who provoked 22 yellow cards from opponents in the season up to Christmas. “Damn right it does,” he replies.

“Some kicks hurt like hell and I am not made of rubber. But I don’t complain and neither do the defenders.”

In this way, he is nothing like Aston Villa manager David O’Leary, himself a former defender, and a man who likes little more than a good moan.

But in defeat to Bolton Wanderers in last night’s Carling Cup semi-final second leg (which Villa won 2-0, only to lose on aggregate 5-4) it was left to his assistant, Roy Aitken, to spit feathers and cry foul.

The Independent says that when Villa’s Gavin McCann was dismissed, Aitken went so berserk that Villa substitute Dion Dublin was impelled to race from the bench to calm him down.

It’s a pretty safe bet that it will take more than the likeable Villa player to appease the tensions at Old Trafford, where Sir Alex Ferguson is embroiled in a fight with “rebel” shareholders JP McManus and John Magnier.

In the latest volley in this bitchy fight, the two Irishmen are asking why United are continuing to pay Rio Ferdinand his £70,000 weekly wage while he is suspended.

It’s a pretty fair question. And there can’t be many shareholders wondering why cash that could be going to them or on new talent is being paid to a player who has shamed the club.

But Martin Samuels, writing in the Times, is right when he says that the fate of Ferguson will not be decided by any boardroom row but by how his team fare on the field of play.

“The difference of one point or a single goal could make or break Ferguson this season,” he says.

Which can only mean one thing: more moaning.’

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

In The Red Corner

‘“THIS IS A FIGHT TO THE DEATH,” says the Manchester United fanzine, otherwise known as the Sun.

On the ropes

And what a fight it promises to be!

In the red-faced corner is Alex Ferguson, footballer manger and defending champion. In the grey corner is John Magnier, the major shareholder at United and ex-sparring partner of his red-faced agonist.

Who will win? Well, the smart money is on all the other clubs, who will be delighted that Ferguson, the league’s most successful manager, is on the ropes.

Of course, there is some good news for United, since they have been drawn at home to face Tottenham (not so) Hotspur in the FA Cup, a team that have been beaten at Old Trafford in each of the past nine meetings.

And even better news for United and their fans is that Arsenal, the FA Cup holders, face a tricky tie against Chelsea.

Not that the Gunners will be overly concerned, given that the teams have played each other in the past three Cup campaigns and the Blues have yet to win.

Indeed, under Claudio Ranieri, Chelsea have not beaten the Gunners in 11 attempts.

Of course, Chelsea will point to their renewed excellence under Ranieri and, more tellingly, Roman Abramovich. They will point to fine wins in earlier rounds of the Cup against Watford and Scarborough.

A memento of the latter encounter should be hanging in pride of place on the wall of Scarborough’s goalkeeper, Leigh Walker. That it does not, the Telegraph explains.

The paper says that after the game the entire Chelsea side graciously signed one of their club shirts and gave it to Leigh.

He then left for home – where his mother picked up the dirty top and bunged into a hot wash.

“I’m gutted,” says Leigh. “It was a special souvenir of the biggest match I’ve ever played in. Now it’s ruined.”

Stopping short of a screaming, “I hate you, mum! You ruined my life!”, Leigh pauses to let his mother explain: she had only wanted to wash the sleeves but the water splashed up and erased all the writing.

Perhaps the Chelsea players will deign to give Leigh another shirt.

Of course, had his side been given the penalty they deserved late on in the tie, he could have collected it in person in the replay.

But such is life, and football…’

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

Rocky Road

‘EVEN if Sir Alex Ferguson is right that he was offered a half of Rock Of Gibraltar’s stud fees, what is he doing picking a fight with John Magnier.

‘I should ne’er have sold wee Duncan…’

It’s not as if the Scot needs the money – he is a millionaire many times over and, even at the age of 62, still has great earning potential.

Had he accepted the compromise offered by Magnier, he would not only have boosted his bank balance and saved himself a high-risk court battle but he would have spared Manchester United the kind of power struggle it could well do without.

Instead of reporting on United’s 3-0 FA Cup victory over Northampton Town, all this morning’s papers are interested in is Fergie’s future.

The Mirror believes that the United boss is signing his own death warrant by going to war with Magnier, who with JP McManus owns a quarter of the club.

Magnier, it says, “has threatened to cause maximum unrest unless talks over the United manager’s new contract are halted immediately”.

The Sun even suggests that Ferguson could be pushed out of the club he loves, even though the United board are firmly behind their manager and are confident that he will sign a new contract this week.

Magnier and McManus want that contract put on hold until recent transfer dealings have been probed.

“This company needs to be cleaned up and run like any other public company,” a source said. “If the price of doing that is the departure of Sir Alex as manager, then that is a price worth paying.”

Magnier may have the financial muscle to cause Ferguson problems, but there is no doubt whose side the fans are on.

The United contingent in the crowd yesterday delighted in telling the Irish billionaire to go forth and multiply, insisting the club was not for sale.

Another person feeling the wrath of the crowd yesterday was Paul Ince, whose departure from West Ham 15 years ago still rankles with the Upton Park faithful.

And they took great pleasure in bating the veteran Wolves midfielder during their 3-1 victory over their Premiership hosts.

The Hammers were the last team from outside the top flight to win the FA Cup when they beat Arsenal in 1980 – and manager Alan Pardew thinks this could be their year.

“There’s a buzz about the place,” he tells the Express. “Training’s double lively and all the players were determined to do well today.”

An FA Cup win over Premiership opposition and the chance to chant ‘Judas’ at Ince is all very nice, but what Hammers fans really want is a marked improvement in the club’s league position.’

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

Coming And Going

‘THE Sun says that Newcastle United are set to play their credit card joker in the next few days and offer Leeds United a “buy now…pay later“ deal.

Travelling on a one-way ticket

The Magpies are preparing to offer the impoverished Yorkshire club £5m for their star striker and allow Alan Smith (for it is he) to play on for his hometown team until the season’s end.

This seems quite fair, until you realise, as the Independent does, that the offer is likely to be made up of an initial payment of £3.5m – not enough to stave of Leeds’ immediate problems – with the balance paid in instalments.

And then there is the fact that Leeds have stated a few dozen times that they do not want to lose the player. But with debts of £83m and rising, the offer may be too tempting to turn down.

The Indy’s other news on Leeds is that Spurs have offered £5m for goalkeeper Paul Robinson and young midfielder James Milner. It’s an offer matched by Manchester United, according to the Telegraph.

But, says the Guardian, Leeds have turned down Spurs’ offer, and are hoping to attract higher bids. But who will offer more? With creditors baying for a quick £5m, this looks like a waiting game Leeds can only lose.

Whereas, after years of waiting, Tim Henman can only win. Come on, he can. Okay, he might not, but, as the Telegraph reports, Tiger Timmy is “ready to move up a gear”.

Having made steady progress in the Australian Open with wins over Frenchman Jean-Rene Lisnard and the Czech Radek Stepanek, Tim now faces Argentinean Guillermo Canas.

While not exactly a household name in his own lounge, Canas has played Henman on four occasions, losing only once and winning the last three.

Tim will need to dig deep to bring home the cup. And it’s a cup that’s a darn sight bigger that the piddly littler urn of ashes heading in the other direction.

The Guardian reports that, for the first time in 16 years, cricket’s Ashes is to be allowed by the MCC to travel to Australia.

The MCC had insisted that a crack in the urn meant it was too fragile to make the 12,000-mile journey. But it’s now been repaired and will soon be winging its way to the land Down Under.

Where, judging by the recent English attempts at winning it back, it will remain forever…’

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

Greedy Bastards

‘LIKE turkeys voting for Christmas (or, in this case, refusing to vote for the cancellation of Christmas unless all other avenues have been exhausted), Leeds United players’ refusal to consider a deferral of wages has pushed the cash-strapped club to the very brink of bankruptcy.

Leeds are no longer marching on together

And, for once, we can have sympathy with Leeds fans, who are watching their club teeter on the edge of going out of existence, partly as a result of the players’ intransigence.

The Times says the urgency of the situation seems to be lost on the players, who asked the club to try everything including selling players before docking their already inflated wages.

And it is not just the club board that is frustrated at the players’ attitude.

John Boocock, chairman of Leeds Independent Supporters’ Association, said the proposed sale of Alan Smith would cause unrest on the terraces.

“The players have shown themselves to be selfish individuals,” he said. “They are either stupid, badly advised or both.

“It’s an incredible attitude and if it means waving goodbye to Alan Smith to raise the money, they will feel the backlash. These footballers have been shown for what they are.

“When this happens in industry, the workers take a pay cut and work longer hours to keep the factory open. The problem with footballers is that they’ve never had to work in a factory.

“They are paid more in a season than a lot of fans earn in a lifetime.”

Needless to say, PFA boss Gordon Taylor is firmly on the players’ side – just as he was when England players threatened to strike after Rio Ferdinand was left out of the Turkey game.

The squad felt it was not their fault the club was in such a mess, he said.

Of course, had they managed to win more than four out of the 22 games they have played this season, Leeds might be a more attractive proposition to potential investors.

The Guardian is not exactly full of sympathy for the players, whose wages it publishes on today’s back page.

Mark Viduka, for instance, earns £50,000 a week. If he took the requested deferral of between 15% and 30%, he would have to muddle through on between £35,000 and £42,500 a week until the summer.

That’s the equivalent of between £1.8m and £2.2m a year.

The heart bleeds.’

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

The Holy Grail


About as menacing as a Bic Safety Razor

There must have been much singing and dancing on the streets of Teesside last night as the side that that has never won a major piece of silverware in over 100 years of trying edged towards the final of the Carling Cup.


There are no pictures of fans prancing in fountains and such like, but the Times does have a nice shot of the Brazilian Juninho firing the goal that gave his side 1-0 win over Arsenal at Highbury.

Of course, this is two-leg affair, and Middlesbrough have plenty to fear in the return fixture should the Gunners field a team that features players of the ilk of Quincy Owusu-Abeyie and Jerome Thomas in attack.

But the Sun hears Arsene Wenger say that he will stick with youth for that fixture – so let the dancing begin!

Not that the Mail is bothering too much with the Carling Cup, preferring to tell us about England cricketers’ decision to boycott Zimbabwe.

Michael Vaughan’s team have decided not to tour the African country next winter, a move, we are told, based on a moral objection to the plight of the Zimbabwe peoples.

Before you talk of the rights and wrongs of mixing politics with sport (and Mike Gatting contemplates a return to the crease), the Mail reminds us that the two are often inextricably linked.

We are also reminded how the last time England were set to play in Zimbabwe – in last year’s World Cup – they made a complete mess of it and only pulled out at the last minute.

We can only hope that former footballer Neil ‘Razor’ Ruddock does not pull out of his own tour to an inhospitable place and does indeed stay in Australia to appear on I’m A Celebrity…Get Me Out Of Here!

Indeed, we hope he likes it so much that he chooses to remain there, living as some kind of jungle guru, prattling on about how hard he once was, while fashioning razor blades from old bits of snake and nail.’

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

The Numbers Game

‘LONG gone are the days when the only number that mattered in football was the match result. Now there are numbers everywhere.

Between a Rock Of Gibraltar and a hard place

Many have pound signs in front of them; such as the Mirror’s story that racing tycoons John Magnier and JP McManus are poised to offer £650m to take control of Manchester United.

Since he is not on the best of terms with United’s manger, Sir Alex Ferguson, Magnier’s first job, if indeed he does take over, might be to give his adversary another number to contemplate: P45.

Of course, ousting Ferguson would not be a move popular with United’s monocular legion of fans. But, then, United are not in the business of being popular. No, really they are not.

If they were they would surely have taken the Rio Ferdinand case on the chin and not unleashed a 125-page appeal against the player’s eight-month ban for not complying with some pretty simply instructions.

As the Express reminds us all, the document is almost four times the length of the FA’s 32-page explanation to the club for banning the player. Sounds like United are protesting too much.

But back to the numbers and money, and the news in the Mail that Leeds are ready to sell Alan Smith to Newcastle for £3m.

This is viewed by the paper as being something of a bargain, and prompts it to look back over what it calls the “biggest football bargains”.

In full, these bargain buys are: Gary Linker – Barcelona to Spurs (£1.1m); Peter Schmeichel – Brondby to Manchester United (£550,000); Eric Cantona – Leeds to Man U (£1m); Ole Gunnar Solskjaer – Molde to Man U (£1.5m); and Nicolas Anelka – PSG to Arsenal (£500,000).

Looking at that lot, Smith, at £3m, looks like further evidence of how inflated the football transfer market still is.

Just look at the Mirror, which says that Mark Viduka, Smith’s colleague at Leeds (at least for the time being), is prepared to take a £12,000-a-week pay cut in a selfless bid to help the club out of the mire.

But before you utter “What a guy!”, know that the cut will reduce the Australian’s wages to a corpulent £48,000 each and every week.

That should be enough for him to muddle by on.’

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

Digging A Hole

‘WE are used to football managers talking rubbish, but West Ham fans might be alarmed to hear this particular gem from manager Alan Pardew.

David O’Leary’s new babies

“We are at the bottom of a mine,” he tells this morning’s Times, “and there is a lot of digging to do before we reach the surface.”

No wonder the Hammers are sliding down a Division 1 table, which they would comfortably be at the head of if they had any idea how to hang onto a lead.

The Hammers have been in front in an amazing 16 of their past 20 games. Of those, they have won a paltry five – dropping 25 points in the process.

It was therefore a familiar story on Saturday when they “dug deep” and managed to squander yet another lead, drawing 3-3 at Brammall Lane after leading Sheffield United 3-1 at half-time.

Perhaps they should take lessons from Arsenal who rode their luck yesterday to take all three points against Aston Villa.

“Very, very, very, very hard done by” was Villa manager David O’Leary’s assessment of the 2-0 scoreline – and, for once, it was hard to disagree with him.

The Telegraph puts the first goal – a quickly taken free-kick by Thierry Henry, which caught the Villa defence napping – down to the Arsenal man’s speed of thought.

Of the second, a penalty given for a foul by Olaf Mellberg on Kanu, O’Leary’s observation that “the fella’s knocked it and run right through him” seems a pretty accurate description of what happened.

Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger – “with an uncharacteristically clear view of a moment of contention” – thought it “a definite penalty”.

Another example of a football manager talking rubbish.

In rugby, the words are of the honeyed sort as players, fans and journalists pay tribute to Martin Johnson, the England World Cup-winning captain, who announced his retirement from the international game.

“Teak-tough all the way through,” writes Richard Williams in the Guardian, “reluctant to open up to outsiders who might fail to appreciate the old code of an eye for an eye, never favouring a dozen words when a couple would suffice, he embodies certain traditions and values of the old game.”

The kind of man who would get to the bottom of a mine and carry on digging?’

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

The Foreign Legions

‘IF you were ever worried that English football is being taken over by those unfortunate enough to be born far from these hallowed shores, do not read this morning’s papers.

If Spurs can’t get to Europe, will Europe come to Spurs?

The Star reports that Spurs have signed up 64-year-old Italian, Giovanni Trapattoni, to take over as manager next season – as long as they stay in the Premiership.

The Mirror claims that Leeds United have been saved from administration after Sheikh Abdul Mubarak Al-Khalifa raised £35m to buy the club.

And the Mail has the story of how England’s Swedish coach Sven Goran Eriksson has admitted that he would have to think about any job offer from Russian billionaire Roman Abramovich to take over from Italian Claudio Ranieri as Chelsea manager.

Back to the Star and inside Brian Woolnough bemoans the lack of decent English goalkeepers, blaming the “influx of foreign stars into the Premiership”.

“Young English goalkeepers are not getting chances and are therefore gaining no experience at the top level,” he says, explaining that only five of the 20 Premiership keepers are in fact English.

Not getting his chance to play first-team football has persuaded Nicky Butt that his future lies away from Old Trafford.

But the Star and its sister paper, the Express, both report that the midfielder is heading north to Newcastle United and not, as thought, south to Spurs.

The Express claims that Sir Bobby Robson has swooped for the 28-year-old as part of a £5m deal.

And that is bad news for Spurs, whose fans have ordered club chairman David Levy to deliver on his promise and bring Butt to White Hart Lane.

The Sun says a group called the Tottenham Action Group have told Levy the fans won’t take ‘no’ for an answer.

How about ‘non’ or ‘nicht’ or ‘niet’?’

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

Grizzly Adams

‘NOT all top players make decent managers. And adding his name to the list of Bobby Charlton, Bobby Moore, Bryan Robson and Mark Lawrenson is Tony Adams.

Louis Saha can’t wait to get his Fulham shirt off

The Express says that come the weekend Tony Adams will no longer be manager at Wycombe Wanderers.

After only three wins in his first 14 games in professional management, Adams is ready to quit.

“I have tried everything to get the players to play, from cajoling them to confronting them and it has had no effect,” says Adams, who might have better employed his time in training his players and improving their skills.

But Adams was never about finesse. Unlike Adrian Mutu, the Chelsea striker who is the toast of the back pages for his display in the Blues’ 4-0 FA Cup victory over Watford.

But even he is under pressure. If the Telegraph is to be believed, Chelsea are set to table a bid for Fulham striker Louis Saha.

Manchester United want the player, but they will have to fend off a late challenge from Chelsea, and that’s if Fulham agree to let him leave.

As it is, the £9.8m bid for the player that had been faxed to Fulham from Old Trafford doesn’t look like being enough. Now Fulham want £18m for their man.

This is a saga that is set to drag on. Having unsettled the player by voicing a desire to get him, United might be scuppered in their plans.

Whatever the outcome, the one certainty is that football is still awash with money, although Bolton’s Jay-Jay Okocha might wish some more was flowing in his direction.

The Sun reports that the Nigerian striker has been hit by the collapse of a Nigerian bank. The African Footballer of the Year has lost £4m.

“The bank has problems and I’m in real trouble, in a real mess,” says Okocha. “I really don’t know what to do. I’m devastated.”

Well, the thing to do is to put in for a transfer – a decent signing on fee should cushion your fall…’

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