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

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

Ponytail’s Off

‘CUT off your ponytail, shave your moustache; cut short that inane laugh – David Seaman, the man who signed his name “Safe Hands”, is hanging up his gloves.

The mid-life crisis is over

The former England (and increasingly error-prone Manchester City) goalkeeper has decided to call it a day after the recurrence of an old shoulder injury.

It was, old Safe Hands tells the Mail, a difficult decision and one he only took after consulting the people who mean most to him – those in the game whose views he respects and, of course, his family.

[That would, of course, be Safe Hands’ second family. He doesn’t discuss much with his first family after walking out on them almost a decade ago.]

And he will, says the Express, be replaced by David James, who will today complete a £1.75m move from West Ham.

Also on the move to Manchester, says the Mail, is Louis Saha after Manchester United agreed a fee of £9.8m with Fulham to bring to an end “the most acrimonious transfer saga of the season”.

And, while we’re on the subject of transfers, the Star reports that Chelsea are lining up a £25m bid for Juventus ace David Trezeguet, while the Sun claims the Blues have offered Joe Cole to Charlton in a straight swap for Scott Parker.

But it is the retirement of Spunky that dominates the sports pages this morning as journalists pay tribute to the 40-year-old and his celebrated sense of humour.

In the Sun, for instance, Shaun Custis recalls asking Seaman if he had a word for the press after an Arsenal training session in Valencia.

“Yeah,” he said. “Two.” Then, he gestured with his two fingers and chortled his way down the tunnel.

Or what about the time when Seaman and Sol Campbell were at Legoland unveiling a Lego Wembley (built, one imagines, five years past deadline and several times over budget).

“We stood in pouring rain for three hours waiting to talk about the title race,” Custis recalls. “No problem to Campbell who was eloquence itself.

“Seaman, whose Arsenal team were neck and neck at the top with Manchester United, turned up and announced: ‘I’m only talking about Lego.’ What a brick!”

What a brick, indeed.’

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

A Liking For The Viking

‘FIRST up, hearty congratulations to the new BDO world darts champion Andy Fordham.

Andy Fordham skewers another of his opponents

We overlooked the achievements of the man known to his legion of fans as The Viking yesterday, and now seek to make amends.

The Times, like us, catches up with Fordham at the Dartford pub he runs. And, admittedly, that’s not too tricky since Fordham resembles less a man who vanquished his opponents so much as one who ate them whole.

But let us not judge Fordham by his appearance. As we know, in sport few things are as they appear to be, and no more is this true than in the world of football.

In light of the case of Rio Ferdinand’s guilt (still lamentably contested in some quarters) and demotion from the England squad that took on Turkey in a Euro 2004 qualifier, the Telegraph says that in future England’s footballers will have a say in which players involved in disciplinary action can play for their country.

This weak decision was reached in a meeting between the Football Association, representatives of the players’ PFA union and members of the team.

We can only hope the team pickers don’t ask Ferdinand for his thoughts on anything, since it could take him weeks to consider his stance.

Thankfully, Ferdinand is not needed in what the Mail calls a “dirty war at United”.

Fears are that the battle between Sir Alex Ferguson and Manchester United’s major shareholder John Magnier is getting dirty.

There are suspicions that Magnier is trying to discredit the team manager. Allegations are that Magnier planted people at the club’s recent AGM to ask Fergie potentially embarrassing questions.

The conspiracy theory is given added weight in the Express where readers learn how Magnier is embroiled in a legal dispute with Ferguson over who owns Rock of Gibraltar, the famous racehorse.

But in the spirit of football, we suggest that the lawyers simply ask the horse what it thinks. Gary Neville has volunteered to translate…’

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

Daylight Robbery

‘SUSPICIONS that referee Paul Durkin is related to Manchester United’s equally small and ginger Paul Scholes are made stronger with today’s news.

”What does Alan Shearer have to do to get a penalty, ref?”

The Guardian hears the referee in yesterday’s match between the Uniteds of Manchester and Newcastle say how he was wrong not to have awarded the Magpies a penalty for a trip by Tim Howard on Alan Shearer.

“I suppose Newcastle can count themselves very unlucky… Watching it now on slow-motion replays, it does look a penalty,” says Durkin.

And so it looks to Shearer, who claims, “If I was playing in red, it would have been a definite penalty.

“It’s obviously too much for Alan Shearer to get a penalty in front of the Stretford End.”

While we marvel at Shearer’s continuing use of the third person in conversations about himself, his comments are picked up on by the Guardian.

Evidence suggests that Shearer has a point, as the paper notices that since December 4 1993, United have conceded a paltry three penalties at home. And they were all missed.

But while one side of Manchester breathes a sigh of relief, the other, the blue half, must be worrying about the state of their team.

The Independent picks over the bones of another defeat for Kevin Keegan’s charges and hears a few words from old-boy-turned-tormentor, Portsmouth’s Eyal Berkovich.

Playing an instrumental part in Portsmouth’s win over City was not enough for the midfielder, who got a good dollop of salt to rub into the festering sore.

“Everyone knows I fell out with Keegan,” says Berkovic. “I didn’t see another reason why he didn’t play me as I was the best player in training for six months and everybody knew that.

“Forty-five thousand supporters knew that I had to play, but he was behaving like a big baby. I told him that. He deserves to be sacked.”

And given City’s poor form of late, Keegan might well be out sooner rather than later.

But City fans should note that the chances of any new broom sweeping City towards the top of the table are as remote as them, or any team, scoring a penalty at Old Trafford.’

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

The Drugs Don’t Bloody Work

‘AT least Ben Johnson won the Olympic 100m – and set a world record in the process – before getting banned for taking drugs.

Just say ‘Not Out’

British drugs cheats have been a singularly unsuccessful bunch. Skier Alain Baxter managed an Olympic bronze medal before he was told to give it back.

Sprinter Dwain Chambers may have won a European championship, but he too has never got more than bronze at a world event.

And now we hear that Greg Rusedski’s career is in tatters after he admitted that he failed a drugs test.

“If found guilty,” says the Telegraph, “he faces a maximum two-year ban and the probable end of his career.”

But, guilty or not, it is not as if the British No.2’s career has been one long success story anyway.

In 1997, he became the first Brit for more than 60 years to reach a Grand Slam final when he lost to Pat Rafter in the US Open – but he has never regained those heights since.

As recently as Wednesday, Rusedski was laughing off rumours that he had failed a drugs test.

“I have never heard such a load of rubbish in my life,” he told the Guardian, “and anyone else who asks will get the same answer.”

However, last night he had changed his tune and admitted that he had tested positive for nandrolone in a random test at a tournament in Indianapolis in July.

Rusedski’s position, however, is complicated by the fact that the ATP admitted last May that seven players had tested positive for the same drug, six of whom escaped a ban.

In his statement, Rusedski says he also expects to be cleared at a hearing in Montreal on February 9.

In the meantime, rather like Rio Ferdinand, he will be free to play in the Australian Open – if he can handle the obvious abuse he will get.

“Even if he does get cleared, he’s going to have a hard time in the locker room,” his former coach, Pat Cash, tells the Telegraph. “It puts a great doubt in everybody’s mind.”

One sport that has so far been free of drugs, at least of the illegal variety, is darts.

And the news in the Independent is that Raymond “Barney” Barneveld last night broke the record for the highest three-dart average in the BDO World Professional Championship at Lakeside during his 5-1 win over John Walton.

The Dutchman averaged 103.83 over the course of the match, beating the previous record of 102.63 set by Dennis “The Menace” Priestley during a 1993 match against Jocky Wilson.

As we all know, there is only one word for that…magic darts.’

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

Football’s Ugly Face

‘MUCH as we admire the footballing abilities of Manchester United, it’s hard to like the Old Trafford outfit.

”Save all your kisses for me”

Last night, Alex Ferguson’s men won at Bolton and stole a march on their Premiership rivals, with Arsenal only drawing at Everton and Chelsea losing at home to Liverpool.

“The Chelsea defeat and Arsenal draw are both great for us – it’s been a good night’s work,” says Ferguson in the Sun.

The facts are true enough, but you imagine the man saying it with his usual charmless swagger. It’s a pity that this image should cloud that of Paul Scholes producing the form that causes the Sun to write the headline “Ginger’s Stinger”.

And then there’s the other image of Rio Ferdinand still plying his trade.

But there is worse in football, and another picture of remarkably unpleasantness is found in the Mail. It shows Everton’s Wayne Rooney planting a smacker on the lips of the Toffees’ goalscorer Tomasz Radzinski.

Of course, if they are happy, then so be it. And, indeed, such fine male bonding makes for a far more pleasant read than the Sun’s front-page story about the alleged rape of a teenager by a gang of footballers.

The news is that Chelsea’s Carlton Cole and Newcastle’s Titus Bramble will not face any charges for the alleged attack and are free to go.

But the two-page story inside the paper, which tells of how the pair and one other player “roasted” an impressionable, star-struck teenager, shows them and football’s moneyed youth in a poor light.

Perhaps the most shocking thing about the case is that anyone should consider the likes of Bramble and Cole worthy of their admiration in the first place.

But while mundane, overpaid footballers dirty the hands that feed them, the Express catches up with one who will surely never bed any of his adoring fans, at least not without first giving them a warm cup of tea and tucking them in.

Yes, it’s time to see what Tim Henman is up to. And the Express spots our hero defeating Argentinian Juan-Ignacio Chela in the Qatar Open.

The story is accompanied by a picture that no-one beyond the Chela clan can take offence with, showing as it does our Timmy executing a sublime backhand.

It’s a nice way to end the sports news, leaving us with an image far more pleasant than anything football can come up with right now.’

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

Bully For You

‘MORE Manchester United bashing now as the Sun brings news that Sir Alex Ferguson, manager of said team, is a “bully”.

Poster on Sol Campbell’s bedroom wall

The man telling tales on the red-faced one is Chris Coleman, coach of Fulham, and someone upset at Ferguson’s attempts to prise away striker Louis Saha.

“People are trying to bully us into selling one of our players,” says Coleman. “I don’t like bullies. And I don’t like being bullied.”

There then follows the Sun’s usual boring dissection about the state of Manchester United.

Steve Curry, the paper’s chief sports writer, produces an article, ostensibly about who Fergie wants to buy but one that allows him to make a tired pun on the old Bend It Like Beckham headline; this one reads: “Bend It Like, Er, The Boss.”

Those seeking relief from the Sun’s United review should turn to the Mirror’s interview with Arsenal’s Freddie Ljungberg.

Just listen to the headline: “You won’t catch me having an affair with Ulrika..or with Sol Campbell.”

Not catching someone is not the same as their not doing it, but we take the comments in the spirit in which, we believe, they are intended and read on.

But rather than listen to the Swede’s answers, cock an ear to the questions. Indeed, make up your own replies, it’s more fun.

“Did the John Leslie scandal damage her [Ulrika’s] reputation back home?”; “Can you see the attraction of Ms Jonsson”; “What is really better – a great goal or great sex?”; “You can confirm that you can Sol Campbell are not an item?”; and “Is the Daily Mirror your preferred newspaper?”

While you and your friends supply your own answers to those questions (and do send us your choicest), the Sun looks at the new British tennis sensation coming to Wimbledon.

Sadly the star will not arrive until 2009; and sadder still that it is not a man or woman with championship qualities but a retractable roof.

Once the roof is slid into position, rain will no longer break play and beneath the canopy the temperature will stay at a constant 24C.

The roof will also negate the need for Union Jack umbrellas, comedy top hats and, most deliciously of all, Sir Cliff Richard.’

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

Muddying The Waters

‘THE Rio Ferdinand case continues to be a clear as mud. Well, that not entirely true, since we all know that Rio did miss the drugs test and was found guilty of wilfully doing so by an independent panel.

Lies, damned lies and Rio’s defence

What is unclear is whether the player is going to take his punishment like a man or moan about it until such time as it either goes way or he reaches retirement age.

The Mail (“Rio U-turn”) says that the player is ready to drop plans for an appeal against his eight-month ban. He, apparently, realises that failure to win a reprieve could mean a stiffer sentence.

This sounds sensible, if not entirely noble.

But the Express takes a different line: “Furious Rio is ready to fight on after FA drugs dossier rejects his story.”

The paper has seen the FA’s report into the matter and the organisation’s finding that the player’s story was a fabrication, an untruth, a lie. Rio is unhappy at that and will fight to clear his name.

Oh, please! If he would only have accepted his wrongdoing weeks ago he would, perhaps, have placed himself in line for a shorter sentence. As it is, he moaned, bleated and lost.

And while we are talking of bad losers at Old Trafford, the Mirror brings news of how Alex Ferguson has been accused of poaching PSV Eindhoven star Arjen Robben.

The Mirror says that Ferguson approached the player and invited him to visit Manchester United’s Carrington training complex. The young striker came.

While this visit seems to have gone down well with Robben, who suggests that he would now like to play for the Red Devils, PSV’s president Harry van Raaij is far from chuffed.

“I have a bad relationship with Ferguson and I don’t like the way he goes about his business,” says the Dutchman.

In the past he has accused Ferguson of “scandalous behaviour” in the matters of the transfers of Jaap Stam and Ruud Van Nistelrooy.

But if we really want to see a fight, we must do as the Sun does and turn to matters boxing. There we learn that Lennox Lewis is planning a rematch with Vitali Klitschko.

The bout should put a few more quid the Lewis bank account – £15m by the Sun’s reckoning. And give us fight fans something to read about other than squabbling, charmless footballers.’

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

Slings And Arrows

‘THE New Year brings with it the restoration of normality as even the Mail relocates rugby union back to the innermost sports pages.

The greatest English sportsman ever?

After more than 10 pages of football coverage, the paper that banged the drum loudest in celebration of England’s World Cup victory has realised that Lawrence Dallaglio’s performance in Wasps’ win over Sale is less important than Telford’s 1-0 FA Cup win over Crewe.

Rugby union is also less important – apparently – than Leeds United’s feisty striker Alan Smith winning his ninth yellow card of the season.

In the Yorkshire club’s FA Cup tie with Arsenal, the paper cares less about the Gunners’ 4-1 win and more about Smith and a re-enactment of what it calls the “Battle of Old Trafford”.

The Express, however, is too busy watching Liverpool’s Harry Kewell tumble to the ground under minimal contact from Yeovil’s 6ft 8in Portuguese defender Hugo Rodrigues.

The fall earned Liverpool a penalty and Kewell the title of “diving cheat”, at least in the Yeovil dressing room and maybe even across Somerset.

But in among al this footballing mayhem, and occasional rugby stuff, the Sun positions the story of the day – Phil Taylor is once more the best dartist in the world.

Having surrendered his title a year ago to John Part, the man nicknamed ‘The Power’ took over three hours of oche action to defeat Kevin ‘The Artist’ Painter 7-6 in a sudden death shoot-out.

“My hair went grey in that match,” says Taylor, who has now won the World Championship for a record 11th time. “I was outplayed and outfought by Kevin until the very crucial moment.”

And to prove that darts is every bit as entertaining as football, Taylor vows that this morning he will visit a hair salon and have his highlights touched up.

And so it is that Taylor, with the sex appeal of a footballer and the build of a rugby exponent, is every inch the embodiment of British sport.’

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

That’s Rich

‘THE Sun’s credentials as the Old Trafford fanzine are further boosted this morning as the paper continues to cast doubt over the validity of Rio Ferdinand’s punishment.

Best of breed

Or at least it tries to, saying that the one of the three members of the board that dished out an eight-month ban to the Manchester United defender has made money out of the FA.

Peter Heard’s firm was asked to find the FA’s “plush” new offices in Soho Square. For this he was paid.

Anyone who smells a scandal here must have the nose of a bloodhound and tunnel vision. This is a story that does the Sun no favours, especially since when we last looked Ferdinand made a few bob out of football and the FA himself.

One thing for sure: Ferdinand will not be in the running for next year’s European Footballer Of The Year award.

For now, he, like the Independent’s readers, learns that the Juventus midfielder Pavel Nedved has been awarded this year’s Golden Ball.

The Czech finished ahead of Arsenal’s Thierry Henry and Milan defender Paolo Maldini. He also came ahead of Zinedine Zidane, the world’s best footballer according to a poll just last week.

Are we alone in finding this odd? The world’s best footballer is not as good as the best in Europe, although both are European.

Nedved seems to have won the Carling Cup of international footballing honours.

Football is replete with bizarre takes on reality. For instance, in what other sphere of life could Danny Mills earn a small weekly fortune?

While you ponder that, the Middlesbrough player is speaking to the Mail about what makes him tick.

Having seen him in action, the fear is that the ticking is a bomb attached to a short fuse inside his brain.

But, come, come, Mills is a family man. “My little lad always tells me before a game what to do should I score.”

And before his side’s Carling Cup tie against Spurs he was told to roll his sleeve up and show his tattoos to the crowd.

This he did. And rumours are that the wee lad also tells him to behave like a truculent brat when he is tackled, censured by the referee or sees someone he doesn’t like.

Danny Mills is 26.’

Posted: 23rd, December 2003 | In: Back pages | Comment

Power Struggle

‘MANCHESTER United scored twice against Spurs yesterday to go top of the Premiership, but it is a defender that gets all the headlines.

Sir Alex almost turned flesh coloured with fury

Rio Ferdinand is said to be thinking of quitting the national team in disgust at the eight-month ban handed down by the FA for missing a drugs test.

And, says the Sun, other England players are said to be furious at the severity of the punishment.

The paper says the captain David Beckham will seek talks with FA boss Mark Palios on the issue, but the FA is already warning that it will sack players who threaten to strike in support of their colleague.

Meanwhile, opinion is divided on whether the ban and £50,000 fine is an appropriate punishment and even on who is ultimately to blame.

Given that the Sun seems to spend most of its time with its head firmly attached to Sir Alex Ferguson’s backside, it is all the more surprising to hear that its columnist, Steven Howard, blames the Old Trafford club.

Indeed, he says that the reason Rio will miss out on Euro 2004 was because he allowed United to talk him into attempting a defence of the indefensible when his own instinct was to take whatever punishment the FA threw at him.

He says the club have used Ferdinand in its “non-stop war of attrition with the FA, a battle far more important to a 100-year-old club than eight months out of a career of a player”.

And they are using him now as they prepare to appeal against the punishment.

The Express agrees and sees the whole case becoming a massive power struggle between the richest club in the world and the game’s governing bodies.

Fifa president Sepp Blatter has threatened to throw United out of all football is the club goes ahead with its threat to take the matter through the civil courts.

But – provocatively – a club insider tells the paper: “I don’t think Fifa will have the guts to ban Manchester United.”

How ironic would it be if Ferdinand completes his eight-month ban to find that he cannot play football because his club is banned!’

Posted: 22nd, December 2003 | In: Back pages | Comment

A Poor Excuse

‘THE Sun forfeited any pretence at objectivity when it comes to Manchester United years ago and is now little more than the Old Trafford in-house rag.

Too rich to be guilty

So it’s no surprise that it has already acquitted Rio Ferdinand of any wrongdoing with regard to his missed drugs test.

It’s just a question of how much compensation and how big an apology the FA owes the United centre-half for interrupting his shopping trip two months ago.

“£3m Drugs Bunglers” is the paper’s considered opinion of the men and women whose job it is to ensure that our national game remains free of cheats.

It is, in the eyes of the Sun (and Ferdinand’s lawyer), the testers’ fault that Ferdinand was allowed to drive away from training that day in September without giving a sample.

Other blunders include the testers not directly contacting Ferdinand, Ferdinand being told it was too late to return to take his test and – extraordinarily – the fact that the testers were part-time and being paid just £120.

We all know about rich man’s justice, but things have really reached a nadir when Ferdinand’s defence is that he gets paid more than his accusers.

The fact remains that it is Ferdinand and Manchester United who are to blame, not the drugs testers. And no amount of fancy lawyers or special pleading by the Sun can change that.

Such is their attitude that those of us who were prepared to believe that missing the test was an honest mistake on Ferdinand’s part now want the FA to throw the proverbial book at him.

Away from the nauseating sight of footballing justice in action and we turn our attention to rugby – a game untainted by such base considerations as money.

Er, well, not exactly. Leicester coach Dean Richards makes the back page of the Mail this morning accusing fellow Premiership clubs of “selling their soul” by agreeing to release players for tomorrow’s match against the New Zealand Barbarians.

The clubs are being paid £120,000 in compensation each for providing up to three players for the money-spinning match at Twickenham.

But Richards says: “This is something we could have done without.

“We were delighted to have everyone back but, no sooner are they back, than they go away again.”

The Mirror reckons it’s a game that both sides could do without, suggesting that England players are finding ever more imaginative excuses to get out of playing, while the New Zealand Barbarians have struggled to put together a side at all.

Oh well, it’s as good an excuse as any to separate rugby fans from their money.’

Posted: 19th, December 2003 | In: Back pages | Comment

Dope Test

‘AFTER waiting and waiting and waiting, today is the day when Rio Ferdinand will kneel before the FA beaks and plead for leniency.

Rio was gutted at having to give the Harvey Nicks sale a miss

That is, of course, if the player finds his way to Bolton’s Reebok Stadium, manages to open the door when he arrives, copes with the challenge of walking and remembers to face his inquisitors and not stand on his head with a banana in his ear.

You see, Rio is just a “dope”. The Express (“I’m Just A Dope”) has seen the main plank of the player’s defence.

The message is that he didn’t deliberately dodge a routine drugs test but just forgot to take it.

Silly Rio.

But also in his padded corner is Gordon Taylor, head of the players’ union, who tells the Express that, although he doesn’t want to pre-judge the hearing, he believes the judgement is a forgone conclusion.

“I believe they [the FA] will make Rio a scapegoat,” says the voice of reason.

A scapegoat for what exactly? For his own failings? For not doing something other footballers do? For the Brinks-Matt bullion heist? For a sport that fails to slam down hard on even the merest whiff of cheating?

One thing for sure is that the entire episode stinks. It’s taken since September for the matter to get this far, in which time the player has played on and we’ve been repeatedly told what a nice chap he is.

It is time for a result. But for one of those, we’ll have to turn to the Mail, where Chelsea have just been knocked out of the Carling Cup by Aston Villa.

And in the same silver chase, Spurs have lost to Middlesbrough on penalties and with defeat missed the chance to play Arsenal in the semi-final.

This last game earns the headlines in the Mirror: “Spurs Misery Is Com-pleat.” That’s a pun on the Tottenham coach, David Pleat, and a premature assessment of matters at the Lane.

The misery is never complete. After all, for most fans, clubs and players, misery and heartache is what the game’s all about…’

Posted: 18th, December 2003 | In: Back pages | Comment

An Indian Summer

‘IT isn’t often that a cricket match not involving England leads the back page of one of our newspapers, but it’s not every day that Australia get beaten in their back yard.

Don’t worry, Oz, there’s always the World Armpit Squeaking Championships?

England have managed it a couple of times in the last two Ashes series Down Under, but both times the series has been lost and the victories very much in the consolation category.

Not so yesterday when India fought back from 85-4 in pursuit of the hosts’ massive first innings total of 556 to win the match by four wickets.

It prompts the Independent to ask: “Was this Test cricket’s greatest comeback?”

It ranks it alongside four other classic Tests, all involving Australia and including of course the famous Headingley match of 1981 in which England became the first team ever to win a Test after following on.

However, the one match that it most obviously resembled was the Calcutta Test in 2001, in which Rahul Dravid and VVS Laxman shared their first 300+ partnership.

[In Adelaide, they became only the second pair to share two 300 partnerships in Test matches.]

In that match, dubbed the “Miracle of Calcutta”, India won after being forced to follow on 274 runs behind. They went on to win the series.

Meanwhile, Australia’s dominance of this morning’s sports news continues in the Times, which (with the other papers) reports on England rugby coach Clive Woodward’s fury at the BBC.

The reason is their “crass decision” to invite former Aussie winger and professional Pommie-basher David Campese to present the World Cup winners with their BBC Team Of The Year award on Sunday night.

“It’s typical of British sport that when you achieve something fantastic, someone tries to make a joke of it,” he said.

“We had Princess Anne, Sir Bobby Charlton and George Cohen in the audience and they could have delivered the trophy. To pick a guy who in international rugby has got little or no respect was a bad error of judgement.”

Campo’s response? “Get a life, Clive.”

Meanwhile, on a night when Arsenal moved into the semi-final of the Carling Cup with a team that even Arsene Wenger would struggle to name, the happy news is that from next season we can all watch even more football.

A deal between the Premier League and the European Commission means the end of Sky’s monopoly and live matches on terrestrial television.

Everyone reserve your seats for Middlesbrough v Aston Villa now…’

Posted: 17th, December 2003 | In: Back pages | Comment