Back pages | Anorak - Part 87

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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

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

Staying Put

‘THE votes were counted and the results of the contest to find the FIFA World Player of the Year revealed that Zinedine Zidane is No.1.

A Real possibility?

The Mail ignores a picture of that Real Madrid star to lead with a shot of another, Ronaldo, the world’s third best player, sharing a few words with Arsenal’s Thierry Henry, the second best.

The papers suggest that the gist of the conflab was that the Brazilian wants the French striker to join the happy band of galaticos at Madrid.

But, as the Sun finds, Thierry is not for moving. “I’m here in front of so many people only because of Arsenal,” says the likeable Frenchman.

That’s great news for Gunners’ fans – they know how important Henry is in their pursuit of the game’s top honours.

And staying with talk of strikers, the Express hears that Hernan Crespo, Chelsea’s man in an Alice band, says that he can get better.

Which is more than can be said of Michael Owen, for whom things seem to be going from bad to worse.

The Express says that the Liverpool striker is, through injury, out until the New Year.

And if that’s not bad enough, the club will have to make do with Emile Heskey and Sinama Pongolle in his absence.

But while Liverpool fans clutch their heads in their hands, the Sun ensures that they do not despair alone.

The back page leads with the news that Rio Ferdinand might not be found guilty of skipping a drugs test because – get this – Sven Goran Eriksson says the defender is “an honest man”.

So that’s it. Rio Ferdinand escapes a lengthy ban because he’s a nice bloke.

If this defence works, all drugs takers will have to do in future is leg it, deny any deliberate wrongdoing and then get someone bigger to fight their corner.

Ferdinand may well not be guilty of taking a banned substance but, if unpunished, his actions will leave the door wide open for flagrant cheating.

The course of action for the FA is clear-cut: it’s time to throw the book at him.’

Posted: 16th, December 2003 | In: Back pages | Comment

A Great Year?

‘IT has been a great year for British sport – or at least that’s what they told us last night prior to announcing the BBC Sports Personality Of The Year.

Wilkinson prepares to kick

But when two of the five people in the running for the top award could have walked into the studio without fear of being recognised, then one wonders whether it really was such a great year.

That Jonny Wilkinson actually became the 50th winner of the famous trophy was as inevitable as his World Cup-winning drop goal was in retrospect.

But who can honestly say they knew who Pippa Funnell (the first rider to claim three-day eventing’s Grand Slam) or Neil Hodgson (World Superbikes Champion) was?

That is not the case with Thierry Henry, Arsenal’s French striker who is favourite to beat Ronaldo and Zinedine Zidane to the title of world football player of the year later today.

But the Guardian says that such is Henry’s talent that “the clamour for his signature from the world’s richest clubs” has reached fever pitch.

And Arsenal are doing their best to convince the world that the 26-year-old is not for sale at any price.

Chelsea apparently made a formal approach at the beginning of last week and were rebuffed, while Real Madrid are also said to be interested.

Life is pretty good for Henry at the moment – Arsenal are top of the Premiership (and still unbeaten) and in the knock-out stages of the Champions’ League.

Meanwhile, the Times reports that Chelsea were left singing the blues after a home defeat to Bolton.

“When you want to compare Chelsea with Manchester United and Arsenal,” coach Claudio Ranieiri said, “I say ‘No, but we are improving’.

“We are learning something as a team; they are teams – that’s the difference.”

Meanwhile, England’s cricket team “scaled Mount Improbable” and held on for a draw in Sri Lanka, thanks mainly to a century from captain Michael Vaughan.

He batted for 7.5 hours to make 105 runs yesterday for the tenth century of his career.

“For the period I batted and the position we were in on a fifth-day pitch facing Muttiah Mualitharan, I’d say it was my best hundred to date,” Vaughan told the Telegraph.

But he was by no means the only centurion – Brian Lara broke a Test match record by hitting 28 runs off a single over on his way to an unbeaten 178 against South Africa.

And Rahul Dravid and VS Laxman shared a partnership of 303 against Australia – the second time they have reached that milestone against the Aussies, itself a record.

Dravid finished the day at 199 not out.

If only they were British…’

Posted: 15th, December 2003 | In: Back pages | Comment

Crime & No Punishment

‘FORMER England cricket captain Nasser Hussain yesterday escaped a Test match ban after allegedly calling Sri Lankan spinner Muttiah Muralitharan “a fucking cheat” and “a fucking chucker”.

The new Mike Gatting

Match referee Clive Lloyd gave Hussain the reprieve because he said he could not prove that he made the remarks, although they appear to have been heard by Murali’s teammates.

However, what the papers can’t decide is what Hussain’s greater crime was – if indeed he did make the remarks.

The Sun says he escaped a ban for use of the F-word, while the other papers tend to think that calling a fellow player a “cheat” in an unprovoked attack is offence enough.

There is no doubt that the incident will cause further acrimony between two sides who are not known to be the greatest friends, although ironically Murali and England’s Andrew Flintoff are genuinely good mates.

However, at least the matter is sorted out in the space of 24 hours. If this had been football, it would still be dragging on next summer.

So long has passed since Rio Ferdinand famously missed his drugs test that unless something happens soon, the player will have finished his career before any ban comes into effect.

But Rio is taking no chances and has, says the Sun, hired top barrister Ronald Thwaites to argue his case at the hearing, which is supposed to take place next week.

As well as Ferdinand employing a top barrister, Manchester United have the country’s biggest paper on their side.

For instance, the Sun this morning suggests that the England centre-half could be hit with a three-month ban if found guilty – as if that were the worst punishment he could expect.

If he is found guilty of deliberately missing the test, one would certainly expect the ban to be a lot longer than three months.

After all, Eric Cantona was banned for nine months for his kung-fu kick on a Crystal Palace fan – an offence that is in sporting terms much less serious than ducking a drugs test.

If all this is adding to the stress on Sir Alex Ferguson’s heart, then so will news in the Mirror that many Manchester United shareholders want to vote down his three-year contract extension.

The paper says they think the Scot should only be offered a one-year rolling contract when his present deal runs out in 18 months’ time.

Who knows? He might still be at Old Trafford when Rio Ferdinand’s case is finally decided.’

Posted: 12th, December 2003 | In: Back pages | Comment

Rearguard Gunners

‘IF sport is all about hitting your best form at the right time, then Arsenal epitomise the very best of it.

All Gunners blazing

Seemingly destined for an early Champions’ League bath a few weeks ago, the Gunners are now in the last 16 of the tournament.

Last night, the Guardian reports, Arsene Wenger’s team played with style and drive enough to see off the challenge of Lokomotiv Moscow.

The Gunners are now being offered at odds of 9-1 to win the Cup, with Manchester United at 5-1 and Chelsea at 11-2.

Chelsea’s chances of winning some silverware this term are looking brighter by the day.

And things are set to glimmer that bit more brightly if or, if the Guardian is to be believed, when Pavel Nedved arrives at the Bridge.

The Czech player may or may not make the move to London, but the story is that England coach Sven Goran Eriksson is being instrumental in wooing him.

Such a rumour can only add to the Sven saga, and to the pressure on the shoulders of Claudio Ranieri, the current boss at Chelsea, who would do well to get his CV out to all the major clubs – pronto.

He might even try Leeds United. The club are looking for a new boss and with a decent severance package from Roman Abramovich, Ranieri might even buy the Yorkshire club.

But he’ll have to move quickly since the Telegraph says Leeds only have until January 19 to find a buyer or descend into administration.

Bahrain’s Sheikh Abdul Mubarak al-Khalifa has yet to make a definite move and Allan Leighton, who quit his post as Leeds’ vice-chairman to table his own bid, is not saying much.

And all the while Leeds wait and their fans wonder if the club will be there tomorrow and, if it is, what it will look like.

At times like these, those fans might like to consider that worse things happen at sea. And they do. For instance, the Independent says that Mike Golding, competing single handed in the Defi Atlantique Race, might have hit a whale.

His boat, the open 60 Ecover, now has damage to its bow, a fact that has not helped him close the 31 miles he lags behind the race leader, Vincent Rious.

That’s a long way. But, as any Leeds fan will tell you, it’s nothing compared to the gap that opened up between Leeds now and Leeds as they were…’

Posted: 11th, December 2003 | In: Back pages | Comment

Turkish Shower

‘IT’S not often you see pictures of footballers sitting on the bench beneath umbrellas.

”I just need a lighter for a full house”

The Guardian shot of the Chelsea substitutes and coaching staff at the club’s game against Besiktas is an oddity.

But the Blues were not sheltering from the rains, rather the barrage of missiles being launched their way by the hooligan element that seems to be attached to each and every Turkish club side.

Among the missiles, the Guardian notices a smoke bomb, lighters, coins, batteries, a mobile phone and the paper even hears rumours of a knife.

There also seemed to be an inordinate amount of toilet roll being hurled. Not one or two rolls furled inside the goal at one end but tons of the stuff. Enough to delay the start of the second half.

Looking at and hearing about the scene is like rewinding the clock to a Chelsea game from the 1970s, although one in which the Blues are the victims.

But while Besiktas move backwards, Roman Abramovich’s men march on and are now in the final 16 of the Champions League.

And there they’re joined by Manchester United, who last night beat Stuttgart 2-0 in the relatively sober surroundings of Old Trafford.

Which just leaves Arsenal to win tonight against Lokomotiv Moscow and make it a happy trio of English teams in the knock-out stages.

In “We Won’t Crumble”, the Sun hears the Gunners’ Sol Campbell say how tonight he and his team-mates will fulfil their potential and win through.

Arsenal’s record in the competition suggests that the words may yet outperform the deeds. But we wish them well, and turn to the Times and Serena Williams.

Reports are that Nike have agreed a deal to pay the tennis player a whopping £35m to wear their clothes.

It’s good deal, and looking at the accompanying shots of Miss Williams, works out at about £1m per inch of fabric…’

Posted: 10th, December 2003 | In: Back pages | Comment

On The Bandwagon

‘ENGLAND are “On Top Of The World”, says the Telegraph – with a barely concealed dig at those often ungallant but battling losers Down Under it.

”Just don’t pass it to Ben Kay!”

And yesterday England’s rugby union team were also on top of a bus, heading for dates with Tony Blair, Ken Livingstone and the Queen.

But we don’t want to hear too much from the greeting party, and instead do as the Telegraph does and listen to what the winners have to say.

“In our own little world in Australia we did not appreciate the effect it had on people,” says Martin Jonson.

“For all this, I really don’t think my life will change,” says a hopeful Jonny Wilkinson, now one of the most recognisable faces in Britain.

But it’s Matt Dawson who has the most to say, and he takes readers through the day in his own words.

He talks of a feeling on board the bus of “pure joy and happiness”. “It was like being a kid enjoying your first proper Christmas again,” he said.

That’s just great. But Matt stupidly forgets to mention what he thinks of Manchester United’s chances against Stuttgart in the Champions League.

Dawson has got to realise that although many more of us now know what rugby union is, football remains the benchmark against which all things are measured.

The Independent keeps its head while all the other papers are climbing on the England bandwagon, or chariot, and begins its sports report with news that Paul Scholes is back in the United team.

Hurrah! Keep the engine running, we feel another parade on the way…’

Posted: 9th, December 2003 | In: Back pages | Comment

Fergie’s Petty Hates

‘SIR Alex Ferguson may be back at work after what is being described as a surgical procedure on his heart, but he retains the same place in the country’s heart as he always did.

Leicester branch of Ashley Cole fan club meet their hero

In other words, none.

The Manchester United manager just cannot help but make the same kind of spiteful comments that are normally the preserve of teenage girls.

This morning, it is David Beckham who is the recipient of his former manager’s snide remarks with Fergie effectively claiming that the England captain is not a world-class player.

Talking of Real Madrid, Ferguson told the Express that the Spanish giants were favourites to win the European Cup “because they have four great players who – on an individual basis – can win a game: Ronaldo, Zidane, Raul and Figo”.

This may be true, but anyone who thinks Ferguson wasn’t well aware of the obvious interpretation of the remark doesn’t know the Scot’s petty nature.

The Mail certainly doesn’t share Ferguson’s opinion, nor indeed do his paymasters after he helped Real to their first win against rivals Barcelona in the Nou Camp for 20 years.

“It is not just people in Madrid who adore him,” one prominent member of the Spanish media told the Mail. “The whole of Spain has fallen in love.

Anyway, to domestic football matters and the draw for the FA Cup Third Round has landed the game’s most famous giant killers Yeovil Town with a home tie against Liverpool.

Having won promotion last season, the Glovers can no longer extend their impressive record of league scalps as a non-league club.

But they are certainly confident of an upset, with defender Adam Lockwood rating their chances against Gerard Houllier’s men as 50-50.

With Arsenal’s visit to Leeds one of five all-Premiership match-ups and arguably the tie of the round, we hear that the Gunners are in familiar trouble.

This time it is Ashley Cole who feels the full force of Leicester’s anger after he was sent off on Saturday for a two-footed lunge at Ben Thatcher.

“It wasn’t just a tackle which could have broken someone’s leg,” Foxes’ defender Steve Howey told the Sun. “Tackles like that can finish people.

And Cole’s participation in the match…’

Posted: 8th, December 2003 | In: Back pages | Comment

Heart Of The Matter

‘ARHYTHMIA is very definitely this year’s heart condition after Sir Alex Ferguson yesterday followed Tony Blair’s lead and took himself off to hospital for a spot of shock treatment.

This year’s metatarsal

However, like our beloved Prime Minister, Sir Alex was soon back at work with Manchester United doing a Downing Street and playing down the story.

“The procedure went well,” the club tells the Telegraph, “and Sir Alex is resting at home and is due in work tomorrow. The treatment revealed he has no underlying heart problem.”

But while Sir Alex is fine, the same cannot be said for the rest of us.

Unmindful to the age and sensitivity of its audience, the Telegraph paints a truly disturbing image, telling us how the procedure involves the patient being “stripped to the waist and sedated”.

We apologise to our readers for the distress that any thought of Ferguson’s naked torso no doubt caused and move quickly on to the no more attractive figure of Sepp Blatter.

And we read in the Times that the Fifa executive has voted to reintroduce that most reviled of tournaments, the World Club Championship, for 2005.

To make matters worse it will almost certainly be held in the United States, where – as we know – soccer is about as big as George Bush’s brain.

And it will just add to the workload of the top players, which only a couple of days ago Blatter himself said should be reduced.

One man who is likely to feel the heat as Fifa flexes its muscles (or, in the case of Blatter, wobbles his well-fed stomach) is Rio Ferdinand.

The Fifa president is threatening to intervene in the case to increase any sentence the FA might impose on Ferdinand for missing a mandatory drugs test.

And he accused the Manchester United chief executive David Gill of not having a clean conscience in the whole affair.

However, the Guardian says Blatter’s real target is the FA and its dilatory procedures.

Chelsea midfielder Joe Cole, for instance, has just received a two-game ban for offences committed seven months ago when he was a West Ham player.

One thing we can do quickly in this country is a middle-order collapse and the Guardian watches our cricketers fold like a house of cards against Sri Lankan spin legend Muttiah Muralitharan.

With England now left needing more than 300 in the fourth innings to win the match, one imagines it will be a case of more of the same tomorrow.’

Posted: 5th, December 2003 | In: Back pages | Comment


‘BACK in the days when Terry Venables was a young cove, the Tottenham glory trail ended in a cup final at Wembley and the Double.

Forward short leg

These days, fans of that benighted team are cock-a-hoop to beat Manchester City in the Carling Cup and watch a player who cost many millions more than the likes of Jimmy Greaves score his first goal for the club.

The Express spots Spurs’ Portuguese striker Helder Postiga finally hit the ball into the net as the Lilywhites go marching onto the heady heights of the last eight of the second-rate domestic cup.

Of course, up in Manchester and Liverpool, the Carling is now considered to be something lower than tin foil.

Last night Manchester United were beaten away at West Bromwich Albion and Liverpool lost at home to Bolton Wanderers.

Both results prompt the Mail to produce the headlines “Fallen Giants” and tell how United were “cut down to size” while Liverpool were merely sunk.

While United’s fans can shrug their shoulders and say how these things happen and the real business is in the Champions’ League and at the top of the Premiership, the Mail hears Liverpool fans boo loud and long.

And the Sun hears the Liverpool manager, Gerard Houllier explode with rage – well, he threatens to. “I am very, very angry with my players and they will know that in the morning.”

Knowing the state of Houllier’s heart, visible signs of his displeasure may not make pleasant viewing.

Liverpool’s treble of a few years back – albeit a pale version of United’s – now looks like a false dawn.

But the Sun soon leaves matters football and goes to Sri Lanka where England are dong battle with the locals at cricket.

As is stood overnight, things looked pretty even in the first Test, although as the Sun’s picture shows, Freddie Flintoff is making things swing, a fact illustrated by a gaping hole in the crutch of his trousers.

Thankfully, this is one day when an England no ball is a blessed relief…’

Posted: 4th, December 2003 | In: Back pages | Comment

Wolves Creche To Defeat

‘THE papers hail a new hero. Last night, Arsenal’s reserves beat Wolves by fives goals to one to progress to the last eight of the Carling/Worthington/Littlewoods/Rumbelows/Anorak Cup (delete as applicable).

Some of Arsenal’s side hadn’t yet learnt to count to five”

And the boy who scored two of the Gunners’ goals, including one after a Thierry Henry-style run from the halfway line, is Jeremie Aliadiere.

It’s a name seemingly well suited to a terrace chant and also to the Sun’s headline: “Diere hunter.”

That’s a nice pun, but should the young French blade go on to fulfil much early promise, the paper may regret peaking so early.

As might Chelsea, if the surly Manchester United manager Alex Ferguson is to believed.

With Arsenal’s starting XI now made up of youngsters, including, the 16-year-old boy wonder Francesc Fabregas – scorer of Arsenal’s fifth last night – Alex Ferguson cannot attack the north London side for fear of being pulled up on a charge of child abuse.

Instead he just snipes at Chelsea’s legion of men.

“It’s not a bad thing them being top,” says Ferguson. “Expectation is always a big thing.”

Indeed it is. Such as the expectation that United would get something out of the weekend’s game at Stamford Bridge and not lose.

What is clear is that Fergie is rattled by the Blues’ challenge, just as he has in the past been antagonised by Arsenal and Leeds.

These days Leeds are far removed from the powerhouse of a few years back. Indeed, they could be far removed in spirit too should Sheik Abdul bin Mubarak al Khalifa buy the club.

The pitch will remain in Yorkshire but the brains behind the operation will move to the sunny Middle East.

The sticking point to the takeover is the fee. The Mail says that the bond holders at Leeds are only likely to be satisfied by a bid in the region of £50-£60 million.

A small amount when you consider that if the sheikh is successful his name will appear on many shirts – and at a fiver per letter, Leeds may well rise from the ashes…’

Posted: 3rd, December 2003 | In: Back pages | Comment

Not Waving But Drowning

‘MANCHESTER United need a new striker. Roy Keane tells the Mail that his club need a new striker. So the club are out there right now looking.

”I’m mad for it, me”

By January they will have plucked one of the small lads who kicks balls around the perimeter of Old Trafford to play up front.

And don’t doubt it. Alex Ferguson has told the world, via the Star, that he’d rather win the title with homegrown stars than buy it.

“I’ve had satisfaction when we put faith in young players and I don’t think you can get better satisfaction than that,” says the unlovely one.

Manchester lads Ruud van Nistelrooy, Rio Ferdinand and Kleberson are all proof the streets of Manchester are blessed with some outstanding talent – just look at Phil Neville and Manchester City.

And talking of Lancashire lad Rio Ferdinand, the Mirror says that the hearing into why he failed to take a mandatory drugs test will be heard at Bolton’s Reebok stadium on December 18 and 19.

Of course, with only a couple of weeks’ notice, Rio may well forget to attend. His phone might not work. A mini-earthquake might erupt outside his front door. He might suddenly develop agoraphobia.

While one spoilt, cosseted footballer wonders what further ills will befall him – and a sudden bout of Alzheimer’s remains a possibility – the Express spots someone waving in the waters off Sri Lanka.

He’s already waved twice and is just about to wave for a third time when the England’s cricket captain, Michael Vaughan, spots him.

The water rat is revealed to be Worcestershire off-spinner Gareth Batty. He’s not waving as signal for some new gloves or a refreshing orange drink. He is waving because he is drowning.

Taking a dip in the ocean last Sunday, Batty was swept up by a current.

“The current whacked me onto the rocks – they were hellish sharp – and when I tried to get up another wave knocked me over again,” says Batty.

Thankfully he is okay, saved by Vaughan, who bravely managed to wave hard enough to attract the attention of a group of lifeguards.’

Posted: 2nd, December 2003 | In: Back pages | Comment

French Connection

‘FRESH from success at one major sporting championship, England look forward to next summer’s European Championships with a certain amount of trepidation.

What happened next?

The draw has pitted Sven Goran Eriksson’s men in the same group as holders France, whom they meet in the first match on Sunday June 13 in Lisbon.

And none of the papers are in any doubt that this is a major obstacle for the English.

However, Eriksson tells the Telegraph that it is not all bad.

“In a way, playing against Thierry Henry, Robert Pires and Sylvain Wiltord is good because we know them so well,” he said. “At least it means if we both qualify, we cannot meet them again until the final.”

In order to qualify, France and England will also have to finish higher than Croatia and Switzerland in what Eriksson described as “a difficult group”.

However, given the ridiculous seeding system, the draw has thrown up four fairly even groups.

Group D, for instance, contains Germany, Holland and the Czech Republic (with Latvia presumably the makeweights) and Group A contains hosts Portugal, Spain, Greece and Russia.

Whether or not Rio Ferdinand will be lining up for England next June depends on what sanction is applied to him after he missed a drugs test.

However, the Times says the Manchester United centre half’s case received a big boost after FA boss David Davies admitted that existing regulations did not make explicit provision for the scenario.

Meanwhile, Fifa boss Sepp Blatter criticised the situation as “crazy”, saying that United’s results would be nullified if Ferdinand was found guilty of misconduct.

That would include its 1-0 defeat to Chelsea yesterday – a result which the Guardian suggests underlines the Blues’ position as genuine title contenders this season.

“Anyone waiting for the fizz to go out of Claudio Ranieri’s side learned yesterday that there is also a precious stillness in the squad,” it says.

The question is whether Chelsea will still be at the top of the table come May…’

Posted: 1st, December 2003 | In: Back pages | Comment