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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

Gunners’ Glory

‘THE debate here at Anorak Towers is intense. How long will Jonny Wilkinson occupy a spot on the back page?

Watch out, watch out…

Already, if the Telegraph is any guide, his name is on the slide.

Today he is relegated to playing seconds string to the news that Arsenal have managed to transfer their domestic form into European competition.

Last night the Gunners thrashed Inter Milan 5-1 at the San Siro. Using words like “sensational” and “brilliant”, the paper heaps prise on the Gunners.

Of course, as good as Thierry Henry is, as he showed yesterday, having Jeremy Beadle on your team plane to Italy can only put fire in the lads’ bellies.

The trick is not to get overly aroused. Not to do as the feisty Leeds striker Alan Smith did and toss a bottle into the crowd.

For that act, the Independent reports, young Smith has been charged by the Football Association with improper conduct.

As with football – and Rio Ferdinand is not far from our thoughts – Smith has 17 years in which to appeal, at which juncture he will be handed a nasty slap on the back of the legs and sent away with a flea in his ear.

How Rio must be quaking in his boots as he prepares to play on though the ignominy of a missed drugs test in Manchester United’s Champions’ League match against Greek club Panathinaikos tonight.

While we wonder about the ramifications of a Ferdinand winning goal in the final of Europe’s premier tournament, we are attracted to the sight of the odious piece of work that is Lazio’s Sinisa Mihajlovic.

The Times has heard the defender apologise to his teammates for his sending-off when his team played Chelsea earlier this season.

And then this: “I want to clarify that if I had such a reaction [spitting at Adrian Mutu] it was due to the fact that I was provoked. That is why – just as it occurred with Vieira – I have not apologised to Mutu”.

Bravo! How dare Mutu get his face in the way of Mihajlovic’s spit and play for a side that thrashed Mihajlovic’s own by four goals to nil.

And shame on Patrick Vieira for being black! Thank you, Mihajlovic, for bringing these despicable taunts to light.’

Posted: 26th, November 2003 | In: Back pages | Comment

Beadle’s About

‘WE’D like to start by saying a hearty thank you to Jonny Wilkinson for his kind words. To play such a big part in your success needs no thanks. Your success is all the reward we need.

The Jonny Wilkinson Memorial Hall

That said, we hope that Arsene Wenger can be equally inspired when he leads his Arsenal to their Champions’ League do-or-die game against Inter Milan tonight.

The portents for success are already very good as the Times spots no lesser a figure than Jeremy Beadle stepping aboard the team’s official plane.

If anything can be guaranteed to get the players’ hearts thumping and their aggression high it must be spending the best part of four-hours stuck in a vacuumed tube with the prince of pranks.

The Gunners might of course just be playing a trump card in their bid to sign West Ham striker Jermain Defoe.

The Guardian says that they have joined the race for the player, hoping to secure his signature before he plumps for Manchester United.

Beadle’s presence in the Arsenal camp might just swing it their way, although United’s celebrity contingent of Eamonn Holmes and John Virgo does provide stiff opposition.

Of course, what Defoe should ask himself is what Jonny Wilkinson would do when confronted with such a choice.

England’s cricketers should consider the same. As Nasser Hussein tells the Sun: “We need a Jonny.”

“Make no mistake,” says the former England Test captain, “the one thing any England team needs in any sport is a superstar – it just turns any side around.”

This would cut some ice if England with Ian Botham had been cricket World Cup winners or Beckham’s England football team had won any silverware.

English sport has had its stars and still lost. The fact is that Wilkinson did the job when it mattered.’

Posted: 25th, November 2003 | In: Back pages | Comment

Kings Of The World

‘ONLY a few years ago, Clive Woodward was being ridiculed after his “Judge us on the World Cup” boast backfired on him, courtesy of Jannie De Beer’s record five drop goals.

Guess who?

Now, as a World Cup-winning coach, Woodward not only looks odds-on for a knighthood but is seemingly being lined up to rescue England’s football team.

The Mail says FA chief executive has already asked his counterpart at the RFU to set up a meeting with Woodward and the man himself admitted he would be interested in the challenge.

The paper reminds us that Woodward coached football while studying for a business degree at Loughborough University and still follows the game closely.

However, the timing of any switch would be difficult, given that the coach is committed to defending his world crown in France in 2007.

How many of the 30 members of the winning squad will be there we don’t know, but the Express says there is an appetite for more among the golden oldies.

Woodward says that he is expecting all 30 to be available for the Six Nations starting at the end of January.

“We have to keep the momentum going and all these players have a huge role to play in the future,” he says.

“You don’t want to break the team up but rather over the months and years change it one by one.”

As for Saturday’s game itself, the England players admit that it should never have gone to extra time. Part of the reason that it did was the mistakes England made, part was the sheer cussedness of the Australians and part was a bizarre performance by referee Andre Watson.

The Express says the England players have been diplomatic in public about the South African’s performance but are “incandescent” in private.

“We thought we went in with real superiority at scrum time and to be penalised so many times in such a massive game, where we hadn’t been penalised once in six games, seemed difficult to understand,” Woodward said.

Prop Phil Vickery is clearly as bemused as the England fans and most observers.

“The sense of frustration was massive,” he tells the Sun, “because you could say we were penalised for having a better player than them and that’s daft.”

In the end, Vickery was substituted for Jason Leonard and the England pack gave up contesting scrums on the Australian put-in.

But thankfully it did not affect the result. As Neil Back tells the Mirror: “I’m king of the world for four years and no-one can take that away.”’

Posted: 24th, November 2003 | In: Back pages | Comment

Best Of Ruck

‘AS if any of you need reminding, Saturday marks England’s chance to be world champions at rugby union.

‘It’s 11 against 11, 90 minutes…’

Sadly, the Mirror supposes that many of its readers have not a clue about the sport and duly produces “The Bluffer’s Guide To The Rugby World Cup Showdown”.

The rules of what is a complicated game on first viewing are explained by one Ruki Sayid, a woman who the paper thinks is ideally placed to speak to the not-yet-converted Jonny Wilkinson fans since she appears to have just discovered the game herself.

“But if, like me,” says Ruki, “you know nothing about the game, here’s a bluffer’s guide to help you through the big day.”

Nothing better than being led by the blind through the pitch dark, festering mess of a scrum.

And if you don’t know about rugby, better to ignore the Mirror’s pitiful guide and just know that, in the words of the Sun, it’s going to be a “kanga banga”.

“Wilko will wreck ‘em like Beckham, says Rob Andrew.”

You see, to get this football-mad nation talking about rugby, the Sun has correctly realised that you need to talk from a footballing perspective.

Because Jonny Wilkinson kicks the ball while the others handle it, he is the star of the show. You can’t support 14 David Seamans, not when there’s one Beckham on the pitch.

Sticking with football, the Mail tells us that Leeds intend to make Gordon Strachan their new manager.

They’ve asked Southampton for permission to talk to the ginger Scot, a former captain of the Yorkshire team.

Strachan, who has worked well at Southampton, appears as an attractive choice for Leeds, even more so when readers learn that an agreement will have to be reached over compensation since he has six months to run on his current contract.

How Leeds love paying out all that lovely compensation.

But let’s not leave on a bitter note, but look towards Saturday’s big game, nail our colours to the posts and wish England the best of luck.

Win or lose, rest assured that in around a year’s time rugby will be as popular as it always has been.

No pressure then, lads…’

Posted: 21st, November 2003 | In: Back pages | Comment

Victory Is Ours

‘IT was touch and go for a while but now England are guaranteed victory in the Rugby World Cup.

‘Cheer up! There’s always the Close Harmony Singing Championships’

News in the Mail is that David Beckham is backing England for glory in Saturday’s final – and, with the patron saint of celebrity on her side, England cannot fail.

And the news gets better as the Mail also reports on how Alex Ferguson is supporting England’s bid for glory.

“It’s hard for a Scot to support England but I’ll be watching the final and I hope they win – if only because I think their coach is a wonderful man and brilliant at his job.”

How very typical of the Manchester United manager to support a fellow professional and spread some bouquets as he goes!

And so it goes on in the Mail, with Sir Bobby Robson sparing a few thoughts about England.

”I hope an England win kicks off a good day for Newcastle,” says Sir Bobby, the Magpies’ manager, putting things in their true perspective.

To watching Australians it would seem that the Mail is reflecting the mood of the British public. But, as Robson hinted, rugby remains a minor sport in these lands. And it’s football that dominates, as ever.

“CRUSHED,” says the Sun, announcing the grim news that both Scotland and Wales will not be travelling to the Euro 2004 finals, having lost their play-off matches to Holland and Russia, respectively.

Indeed, lost is a kind way to view the Scottish demise, as they were thrashed 6-0 in Amsterdam, a drubbing that included a hat-trick from Ruud van Nistelrooy.

With a national team that can provide a result like that it suddenly seems less of a surprise that Scot Alex Ferguson should be rooting for England in the rugby.

Nothing is more attractive than success. Just look at the masses of United shirts on show in Ipswich.

As such, it’s hard to blame Mark Hughes if he decides to quit as manager of the Welsh team. Who wants to be in charge of perennial failure?

The Express says that Hughes’ future at the helm of Welsh football is in doubt after his side’s 1-0 defeat last night.

“My job is to get Wales to a major championship and I have now failed twice,” says Hughes.

Given the limited playing resources at his disposal it would be churlish to blame Hughes for Wales’ failure.

Better to do as the Australians do and just call the other side names, like boring, arrogant and, er, boring.’

Posted: 20th, November 2003 | In: Back pages | Comment

A Gulf In Class

‘IF George Bush can teach Tony Blair anything more, it is that any defeat of England in Sunday’s rugby World Cup final should be swiftly followed by an all-out ‘shock and awe’ attack on Australia. That would, as the president might say, learn ‘em.

How to be not boring

And such thrilling action would be out of kilter with what the Australians expect from the English. As the Sun says, Australians find Clive Woodward’s men “boring”.

Former Wallaby captain Russell Fairfax says: “England are killing the game. They are just so bloody boring.”

Of course, the English would have to go some to match the boring attitude of the Australians, whose moaning before the game surely belies a fundamental fear that they will lose.

Meanwhile, the Mirror takes a gander at the Australian press. It sees the front page of the Sydney Daily Telegraph and the headline “Hands up if you think you’re boring” above a picture of the England team waving to the crowd.

That is clearly a work of rare genius. And with the benchmark set so very high, is it any wonder that the highly-imaginative Australians who dream up such wonderful puns think the English are boring?

The stage is certainly well set for Saturday, when even if Australia lose they will surely talk long and very loud about how they are the true world champions because if points were given for artistic merit they’ve be straight sixes to England’s run of zeros.

This is all, as the Mail says, “laughable”. As is story about England’s cricketers’ foray into Sri Lanka. The Mail’s headline says it all: “Humiliation.”

In the first one-day international in Sri Lanka, England batted first and scored a paltry 88 runs all out from 46.1 overs.

Those are the bald statistics, which look even less hairy when readers learn that Sir Lanka reached a winning total off 13 overs for the loss of no wickets.

“The guys played similar shots to those they have been playing in Bangladesh,” says Michael Vaughan, the team’s skipper, “but we got ourselves out more.”

And so it was that England reached their second lowest one-day score of all time. Which is not boring. Just awful.’

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

War Of Words

‘EVEN if England do win the rugby World Cup, it’s unbelievable that anything will replace football as the papers’ most favoured sport.

Quids in

But until England win or lose, even the Sun leads with news of the boys Down Under.

And that means more news of Jonny Wilkinson. The Sun can promote rugby to the lead sports news but only if the story is about Wilkinson, that most marketable of players.

The paper’s front page reports on how Wilkinson is being protected from overzealous fans by at least six security men.

But jumping up and down, he just about makes himself heard over the din of heavy marching boots.

“Each time I practise it’s like putting a little investment in the bank,” says Jonny. “If I miss a kick, I know what I’ve got in the bank and can knock the next one over.”

And if England win the World Cup, Jonny can put more than kicks in his bank, what with the endorsements that will flow his way.

Of course, even the success of England’s rugby team has its limits.

The Star is the only paper to lead with a football story, reporting that Ryan Giggs will not miss Wales’ Euro 2004 decider with Russia.

While the Russians want him banned for his petulant reaction to what the paper calls a “horror tackle”, the Welsh FA are fighting to keep their best player in the team.

How the paper can call a tackle horrific when we’ve all been watching the rucking and mauling that is rugby union for the past few weeks is an oddity.

But this is football, and football is so often about hyperbole.

The Mail reminds us that, if we want to see a real fight, then next Sunday’s World Cup final is the place to be.

“Grudge match?” asks the headline. “You ain’t seen nothing yet,” comes the reply. “The fur will really start to fly once Jones and Woodward cut loose.”

It’s not the players who will be scrapping but the respective coaches of Australia and England, Eddie Jones and Clive Woodward.

And it won’t really be a fight, more of a name-calling session. Although the only name to really upset the opposite number will be “loser” come Sunday morning.’

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

Jonny Is Good

‘THERE is no doubt who the papers think is responsible for England’s place in next weekend’s Rugby World Cup final – Jonny Wilkinson makes it onto the front page of all the broadsheet papers this morning.

Can England finally win on penalties?

But the sports pages offer a more balanced opinion, with the Guardian awarding Matt Dawson and Phil Vickery higher marks than the magical number ten.

These post-match player ratings are so subjective as to be completely worthless but they are interesting only as evidence that all of us watch a different game from everyone else.

The Indy, for instance, gives Neil Back top billing, while captain Martin Johnson (with whom, in the Guardian’s eyes, it looks like time is catching up) is “feisty and fiery”.

What is agreed is that England were highly impressive in subduing the in-form French side in appalling conditions in Sydney.

The fact that they failed to score a try is of interest only to the Australian media, who seem to have forgotten that in far better conditions on Saturday the only Aussie try was a 75-meter interception.

The Times calls England’s 24-7 victory “so accomplished and expertly executed that they rendered their shaky early-tournament form almost irrelevant”.

The Telegraph praises England’s character and resolve while suggesting that France “all but disintegrated” in the Sydney monsoon.

And it does mean that we have the dream final, the one that England coach Clive Woodward has always wanted and predicted – England v Australia.

We are sure that next weekend England’s rugby players will show far more character and resolve than their footballers did yesterday in losing 3-2 at home to Denmark.

Once again, Sven Goran Eriksson’s team have shown that they do not know how to play friendly matches, their excellent record in competitive games contrasting sharply with some fairly appalling results in friendlies.

Twice England led but Denmark equalised twice before scoring a deserved second-half winner in a match whose relevance is already open to question.

In the Telegraph, Alan Smith (not the banned Alan Smith) suggests that the performance of Joe Cole was a big plus.

The Times is not so sure, suggesting that Cole’s game still lacks depth and maturity – a thought echoed by Eriksson himself.

“The quality he has is unbelievable,” he said. “He is a great, great talent, but needs to learn things about the game.”

The same cannot be said of England’s massively experienced rugby players who next weekend hope to emulate the footballers of 1966 in becoming World Champions for the first time.’

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

Putting the FA in Farce

‘ALAN Smith is used to incompetence – he is surrounded by it on the pitch at Elland Road and has seen it at close quarters in the Leeds United boardroom.

Coming or going?

But proving that it is a big step up in class between club football and international football, the striker yesterday learnt that there is nothing that Leeds can do that the FA can’t do worse.

In fact, the organisation that put the FA into FARCE is again a laughing stock this morning after an amazing blunder which saw Smith sent home from the England squad four hours after being called up.

The reason was that Smith had been arrested for throwing a plastic bottle into the crowd at a recent Carling Cup game against Manchester United.

However, the arrest took place five hours BEFORE the 23-year-old was called up.

The Sun says the FA is now facing another player revolt ahead of this weekend’s friendly against Denmark.

“Players rep Gary Neville, with the backing of the whole squad, contacted PFA chief executive Gordon Taylor to organise a battle plan,” it says.

When Smith gets back to his club, he will understandably be confused about who his next manager will be.

The Star has the exclusive news that the porcine David O’Leary is so desperate to get away from Aston Villa and return to West Yorkshire that he is prepared to stump up the £2m compensation figure himself.

However, an exclusive in the Star’s sister paper, the Express, says the exact opposite – namely, that Leeds have offered the piggy one a £600,000 golden hello, but O’Leary has chosen to stay at Villa.

All of which leaves us little time to hear from the Mail that England rugby coach Clive Woodward has taken the biggest gamble of the World Cup by picking Mike Catt and Richard Hill in his starting XV to play France on Sunday.

When you consider that the two have 120 caps between them, it might be suggested that it isn’t such a massive gamble after all.

And it is even less so for Woodward, who has been told that his job is safe even if England go down to France.

To underline England’s experience, Jason Leonard will become the most capped player ever if he comes off the bench in Sydney and Dorian West will likewise become the oldest to appear in a World Cup semi-final.

However, England have eight players in their starting XV who are under 30 – only one fewer than France.

Allez Les Blancs, as they don’t say in either Paris or Sydney.’

Posted: 14th, November 2003 | In: Back pages | Comment

Over The Hill

‘RICHARD Hill!! Yes, folks, THE Richard Hill. You’ll all know who he is because ever since injury stopped him from playing the papers have been talking about Hill being the key to England’s chances of lifting the Rugby World Cup.

Passed fit

So let’s give a big hand for Richard Hill, the flanker who the Telegraph says has been included in the England’s starting line up to face the French in Sunday’s semi-final.

This is encouraging news for England, although Hill might be a wary starter given the praise that has been heaped upon him during his enforced absence from the team.

But if Hill had not have made it back in time, England could have done far worse than get on the phone to Bangladesh and call up Andrew Flintoff.

Bigger of shoulder than Hill, and every bit as hard a hitter, Flintoff is the toast of the Independent following his latest performances against Bangladesh.

Not content with taking two wickets for just 32 runs with the ball, Flintoff than smashed his way to an impressive 52 runs not out from a mere 39 balls.

Included in that fiery innings was the six he needed to overhaul Ian Botham’s record of 44 sixes by an England player in limited overs cricket.

Andrew Flintoff, as the Times says, is now England’s “sixiest” ever one-day player.

That is something of a bad joke. And if you want to hear another one, the Times has the news that David O’Leary is heading towards the exit door at Aston Villa.

But hold your laughter for the punchline. A roll on the drums, if you please. When or if he leaves the employ of Doug Ellis, the Villa chairman, he will be in line for a return to Elland Road.

That would certainly eclipse the return of Richard Hill…’

Posted: 13th, November 2003 | In: Back pages | Comment

More Whine, Garcon

‘HERE’S a question for you. Which country’s sporting teams can be described as “professional”, “reliable” and ”arrogant”?

‘And now you’ve got my shirt dirty’

Yes, it’s us. No, it’s not the Germans. Well, it is, but it’s now the English as well. As Martin Samuels writes in the Times, Clive Woodward’s England are the Germany of rugby union.

Of course, being the new Germans you might expect the French to love us, to open their arms out wide, to build huge boulevards through which we can parade our might.

But they are not. The Telegraph hears that they think we are lower than George Gregan’s knees.

“We have always felt a lot of arrogance coming through from England players and their supporters,” says France wing Aurelien Rougerie.

Oh dear, oh dear! It’s clear that England have got right under the skin of their opponents.

And the French reaction gives an added option to the question ‘what is a Frenchman’s favourite whine?’ Is it a) White; b) Red; or c) That Englishman’s looking at me funny?

And so it goes on, as France lock Jerome Thion says how the English are just so, well, arrogant.

He invites us to go and ask the Australians what they think – “I don’t think they have much love for the Poms as they call them.”

You might have thought the Australians had little love for the French, but given their common ability to moan and whinge, it looks like the beginnings of a great holiday romance.

Looking past the sniping and the Guardian’s shot of brave French skipper Fabien Galthie jumping clear of a small wave on Bondi Beach, the paper reminds us all about Rio Ferdinand.

You’ll remember that Ferdinand was not so long ago the scourge of English football. He’d missed a drugs test and that was very bad. And weeks on, he’s still playing football.

And this has got to change. So from next season, as the paper says, players in Rio’s situation will be suspended immediately. They will not be allowed to play on while they protest their innocence and lawyers and clubs cloud the issue.

In addition, the Football Association says that from next season any player given a red card will be banned for the following game.

If this sounds like sensible stuff to you, as it does to us, send a letter to the FA and ask them what they are up to. Sense has never been the FA’s stock in trade.’

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

Cockerel & Bull Story

‘AS things stand, the only place Leeds United are marching onto is the first division and administration.

‘Get two big oeufs, comme ca…’

However, manager Peter Reid is marching onto the job centre, although with around a £1m pay-off in his hands it might be more of a slow amble, taking in a Caribbean winter break and a nice meal on the way.

Marching the other way is Paul Hart. Well, he might be, since his is the name the Independent links with the now vacant manager’s post at Elland Road.

The other option, as cited in the Telegraph, is for Leeds to return to pastures old and hire George Graham, who led the team before David O’Leary.

But Hart’s name crops up again, and the paper reminds us that he used to play for the club and says it would only cost Leeds £200,000 in compensation to prise him away from his current tenure at Nottingham Forest.

It’s pretty amazing to think that a club crippled by debt would even consider paying such an amount to get a new manger. But this is Leeds, and what’s a couple of hundred grand when you’re almost £80m in the red?

While things go from worse to terrible for Leeds, Team England are looking forward to their Rugby World Cup semi-final against France.

“It’s a little perplexing at the moment,” says the team’s coach, Clive Woodward, of the English performances of late. “We did look a bit slower compared to the Welsh team.”

But someone not slow to the pitch is Bernard Laporte, the France coach, who is taking up the cudgel the Australians and South Africans have used to beat England with of late.

“A lot of people have seen how Mike Tyson fights,” says the bespectacled Frenchman. “It’s doesn’t mean they will get in the ring and beat him.”

But before Ben Cohen chews someone’s ear off, Laporte would like to endear himself to the whingeing Aussies with some more anti-English rhetoric.

“Most people hate them [the English],” says Laporte. ‘Personally I don’t have much love [for them], but one has to accept that they are often the best in business or in sport.”

Although the French do make a nice omelette and the Australians are very good at moaning…’

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

Frank Admission

‘CHELSEA midfielder Frank Lampard is telling today’s papers that after yesterday’s 5-0 thrashing of Newcastle the Blues now believe they can win the Premiership this season.

‘I will survive. Oh, as long as I know how to love…’

But England rugby coach Clive Woodward is saying the opposite, namely that his team have no chance of beating France in next week’s semi-final unless they improve dramatically.

The Mail says the team “stumbled from one World Cup crisis to another last night” with a tetchy coach and a growing injury list.

Following their unconvincing 28-17 victory over Wales in Brisbane, Woodward has called up Austin Healey as cover for Josh Lewsey and Iain Balshaw, both of whom are injured.

But there is some good news for the coach, “whose curt and dismissive replies angered French journalists” at the post-match press conference.

Flanker Richard Hill expects to be fit to face France next weekend, although England fans who have heard the same health bulletin every week for the past month may be excused if they are a bit sceptical.

No such scepticism is in evidence at Stamford Bridge where Chelsea became the Premiership’s highest scorers with a 5-0 victory over Newcastle.

And Lampard, who scored the third goal from the penalty spot, tells the Star that belief within the squad is growing.

“For the first time we honestly believe we can win the title,” he says. “That’s what we’re looking to do.”

Manchester United, who beat Liverpool 2-1 at Anfield yesterday, and Arsenal, who scraped through 2-1 at Highbury against Spurs, also believe they can win it.

But Liverpool manager Gerard Houllier concedes to the Mail that his side (currently in eight place) are fighting for fourth.

That doesn’t stop the Frenchman hitting out at referee Graham Poll for not giving his side a penalty that would almost certainly have earned them a draw.

“There was no doubt it was a penalty,” he said. “I spoke to Florent [Sinama-Pongolle] afterwards and he said there was definite contact.

However, TV replays showed that in fact it was a brilliant tackle by Rio Ferdinand and the decision was a correct one.

Let’s hope Houllier’s countrymen have something more substantial to complain about next weekend.’

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

Chambers Faces The Music

‘IN this sanitised sporting environment, when every blade of grass is checked by a hundred cameras and combed upright, the Sun brings news that things in some parts are just as they used to be.

Running out of excuses

In “Mudness”, the paper reports on Liverpool’s Uefa Cup match in Romania against local boys Steaua Bucharest.

The picture shows the Reds’ Emile Heskey covered in mud as he tries to stay on his feet, which, incidentally, appear to be immersed in about a foot of water.

The match ended in a 1-1 draw, but that hasn’t stopped the spiky Liverpool boss, Gerard Houllier, expressing his doubts about whether the game should have gone ahead.

He has a point, but there is nonetheless something heartening about watching football played as it once was before under-soil drainage put an end to the seasonal quagmire.

Of course, dirt is not synonymous with just football, and in the Mail readers get to hear about the increasing trials of Dwain Chambers.

Today is the day when the European 100 metres champion will be suspended from athletics following his positive test for the banned drug THG.

Sources have told the paper that the second test performed on Chambers’ sample matched the first. That’s sobering news for Chambers, and great news for sport as a whole.

Cheats must not prosper. The rule of the children’s playground must be the rule of the professional sporting world.

Indeed, if guilty of cheating, Chambers should made to pay back every penny he has even earned form the sport that has enriched him.

But back to football, and to the Express, which is helping non-flying Dutchman Dennis Bergkamp get his kit bag ready for the long drive to Milan.

The round tip of around 1,500 miles is being undertaken by the Arsenal player in a bid to help his team beat Inter in a couple of weeks time.

We wish Dennis well, and hope that the car taking him to Italy makes it unscathed – and no planes fall from the sky on top of it…’

Posted: 7th, November 2003 | In: Back pages | Comment

Young King Cole

‘LAST night, as the Star reports, things got a “Cole Lot Better” for Arsenal’s Champions League prospects.

Cole ‘The Goal’

After 88-minutes of a game they dominated, the Gunners finally achieved the improbable and scored a decisive goal against Dinamo Kiev.

And that uncommon event is followed by the equally odd news that the goalscorer was Ashley Cole.

A Cole goal is great for Arsenal, and pretty darn terrific for the papers’ sub-editors, who are able to talk about “Cole Fired” (Express) and “Golden Cole” (Mail).

But what with his being football, news of unpleasantness can never be far away. And such things often involve the bellicose Alex Ferguson.

Having accused Arsenal and the FA of doing a deal over the melee at Old Trafford, football’s governing body want Ferguson to explain himself.

But that’ll have to wait until Manchester City’s manager, Kevin Keegan, has calmed down.

The Mail hears that Keegan is seeking urgent action from the overworked FA after City’s Christian Negouai was ordered to take a drugs test.

The story goes that, Negouai, a Muslim, as forced to drink water and in so doing break his commitment to the month-long fast of Ramadan.

The player is said to be “very upset” over the incident, although any Muslim called Christian must have skin as thick as a rhino’s nose.

And while Rio Muhammed Ferdinand seeks a new reason for his own drugs scandal, the Mirror shines its daily light on life in the rugby World Cup.

Down Under, Wales are preparing to do battle with the English in the quarter-final, claiming that they are in the best shape of their lives.

The team, whose fans rejoice to the tune “As long as we beat the English, we don’t care”, are said to be stronger and more powerful than at any time in the past few years.

Which means they should only lose by ten points. (Welshmen can complain of English imperialistic bias to the usual address.)’

Posted: 6th, November 2003 | In: Back pages | Comment

In Gob We Trust

‘IF the old adage contains any truth, then going to Rome and doing as Romans do would see you spitting in people’s faces, calling black footballers monkeys and telling Jews to get back to the gas ovens.

‘That’ll stop him spitting’

Thankfully, the Romans of Lazio football club are not typical of the Italian capital city’s residents as a whole, and, indeed, many will point out that Lazio’s Sinisa Mihajlovic is Serbian by birth.

It’s a great shame that Chelsea’s memorable 4-0 win over Lazio in the Champions’ League last night should be soured by the odious actions of a thug.

So before that, let’s have a few headlines from the papers about the good things: “Roman Orgy” (Mirror); “Conquerors” (Mail); Roman Emperors” (Star).

That done, and deservedly so, the Express produces “Roman Scandal” and an unpleasant shot of the aforesaid Mihajlovic spitting into the face of Chelsea’s Adrian Mutu.

The Lazio defender should, in truth, never be allowed to play football again.

The first shock that he probably will is bolstered by the sensation that his actions last night went unpunished by the game’s referee.

But well done, Chelsea, And good luck, Arsenal, who, as the papers all agree, need that most precious quality in spades.

Tonight the Gunners attempt to do what is so hard for them and actually win a European game when they play Dinamo Kiev at Highbury.

And the Mirror hears the club’s manager, Arsene Wenger, calling on his payers to help Thierry Henry.

The paper is not wrong when it says that the Frenchman has been a virtual one-man goal machine for the Gunners, scoring seven of his side’s last 10 strikes in Europe.

If Henry fails to hit the target tonight, the Gunners will be out of the Champions’ League.

It’s a stark reminder that European football is a tough business. Which makes Chelsea’s win in Rome all the more fantastic.’

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

Fight Night

‘IT’S Manchester United v Glasgow Rangers tonight in the Champions’ League. And that means… YES! It is the cue for the Sun to scream “Battle of Britain”.

Renaissance Man

Pavlov’s dogs, or whoever works as the sports sub-editor at the Sun, are wagging their tails like mad at the prospect of another fight for British footballing supremacy.

And a fight it is. The Sun talks about Roy Keane having “the bottle” and being the “ULTIMATE WARRIOR”. And the Star, never one to run from a scrap, wants Keane to “BITE ‘EM”.

But the biggest news in football is not the impending bout at Old Trafford, but the Mail’s story that Tony Adams has taken a job in football management.

Later today, the former Arsenal captain and prisoner at Brixton jail will be confirmed as the new boss of Wycombe Wanderers.

And if the fans of that club want to blame anyone for this decision they should look towards their former hero Martin O’Neill, who convinced Adams to make the move.

Perhaps the locals should worry less. Tony’s drinking and bed-wetting days are long behind him. These days he’s studying for a degree in sports science.

Sports science is a hot topic at the moment, and we’re interested to hear from Tony what he’s learnt. Dwain Chambers, Marion Jones and many other sportsmen and women might be interested too.

Meanwhile, in Australia, the Express cocks an ear to the goings on at the World Cup, now entering its seventeenth week of competition.

Having heard from the South Africans and the Australians, it’s now the turn of the French to say a few bon mots about England.

Olivier Magne, the France flanker, says that if England are to win the World Cup they will have to be more like France.

By inference, it’s not to hard to see that Magne thinks his own side’s chances of winning the big one are pretty high, and greater than England’s.

“It is difficult for England – it‘s not in their culture to play like that [with French flair] but in the last three or four years they have done so and played like France.”

And being so very much like the French has brought success.

So there you have it. If you want to win in sport, be like the French. “Hoof ze ball,” as Toni Adoms might zay.’

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

England See Red

‘SAMOA managed to raise their game for their Rugby World Cup match against England but failed to find the same heights the next week against South Africa.

Wales are no soft touch

How England must be hoping that Wales do not play as well against them next weekend as they did yesterday against the All Blacks.

The Times, which watched Wales run in four tries against the tournament favourites before succumbing 53-37, suggests that England “will have felt distinctly uneasy at the growing freedom with which Wales played”.

On only two occasions in their history have the All Blacks conceded more points in a match, which Wales looked like winning in the early stages of the second half.

The New Zealand Herald said it was almost the greatest upset in the tournament’s 16-year history and has provided “an enormous reality check” to the New Zealand squad.

However, England were also rediscovering their form at the weekend, albeit against the part-timers of Uruguay as they ran in 17 tries in a 111-13 victory.

In the Telegraph, Paul Hayward sees in England’s performance “a welcome deflation of angst” as a second-string side showed exactly what they could do with ball in hand.

The only blemish on the day was provided by Joe Worsley who had to apologise for what the Telegraph describes as “a puerile gesture” as he left the field after being sin-binned for a high tackle.

The flanker raised his hands to applaud the crowd and made a mock bow while the victim of the tackle Joaquin Pastore lay prostrate on the turf.

In a country where the England rugby side appears to be as unpopular as a warm beer, this will have done little to endear the Poms to their hosts.

In what was a good weekend for English sport, Tim Henman roared to the best victory of his career when he defeated Andrei Pavel in straight sets to win the Paris Masters.

It was the list of players that Henman had beaten on the way to the final, however, that was really indicative of his form as they included World No.1 Andy Roddick, Wimbledon champion Roger Federer and Henman’s Wimbledon conqueror Sebastien Grosjean.

The Indy says the victory, achieved (says Henman) because he was “strong between the ears”, has propelled the 29-year-old from No.40 in the world rankings to No.14.

“Until now,” says the Guardian, “Henman has been better at talking about mental strength than showing it. Now it seems the penny has dropped.

“He looked more relaxed this week than ever and played with a freedom that has allowed his talents to thrive.”

If Michael Owen wants his talents to thrive, many observers believe he will have to leave Liverpool – but speculation that a £25m move to Real Madrid is in the offing have been downplayed by manager Gerard Houllier.

‘It’s about trust and care. Michael knows us, loves us and I’m convinced he wants to stay,’ Houllier tells the Sun.

‘This speculation will not get to him. I haven’t heard from Real Madrid but they can reverse the figures quoted and they still won’t get him.’

Owen may have other ideas.’

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

Fine and Dandy

‘FOR all the sport that is on the back pages this morning, they may as well be the court circular – except the court in this case would be a judicial one.

‘See you at White Hart Highbury’

So let us done a horsehair wig, pick up our gavel and see what sentences were handed down yesterday.

Order! The Mirror reports that Arsenal have been hit with fines totalling £275,000 for the post-match brawl at Old Trafford and seen four of the culprits banned for a total of nine games.

Lauren is hit the hardest with a four-game ban and a £40,000 fine, while Martin Keown gets a three-game ban and both Patrick Vieira and Ray Parlour a one-game ban.

Order! The Sun says that, while the Gunners suffered a “Halloween horror”, the FA got away with a £4,400 slap on the wrist for the half-time brawl in the tunnel in Istanbul.

The paper suggests that Soho Square chiefs were laughing all the way to the bank after making a £270,600 profit on the two incidents.

Order! The Express suggests that England’s rugby players got off as lightly as the footballers for fielding an extra man for 34 seconds of last weekend’s game against Samoa.

The paper says coach Clive Woodward was smiling after hearing of the £10,000 fine for sending Dan Luger onto the pitch while centre Mike Tindall was receiving treatment for an injury.

“The transgression had brought accusations of arrogance in Australia and demands by the Wallabies’ injured No.8 Toutai Kefu that England be docked points,” it says.

There was never any realistic prospect of that seeing as the transgression occurred in the 81st minute of a match in which by that time England were leading comfortably.

However, Woodward will no doubt be pleased that the matter is now over – a lot more pleased than Arsenal and Spurs fans will be when they read in the Mail that the two rivals may end up sharing a ground as the game’s cash crisis bites.

The paper suggests that “the nightmare scenario is moving closer” with Leeds United’s record loss not a problem that is confined to West Yorkshire.

Indeed, if Arsenal keep throwing money away like they did yesterday, both clubs could find themselves playing on Hackney Marshes instead.’

Posted: 31st, October 2003 | In: Back pages | Comment

Rio’s Sabbatical

‘POOR, old Rio Ferdinand. The Telegraph says that the Football Association have taken a tough line on the player, charging him with misconduct for missing a drugs test.

‘What’s the Caribbean like at this time of year?’

Or have they? They could have charged him with “wilfully” avoiding the test, a charge that carries a possible punishment of a two-year ban from the game.

As Gordon Taylor, the players’ union chief executive, puts it: “From Rio’s point of view, the charges are good news. It’s certainly a lesser charge and a lesser charge should carry a lesser punishment.”

There are no guarantees. However, as is the way with these things, the player will maintain his innocence whatever, his club will vow to fight his corner and football will beat its chest and say how it’s time to clamp down on drugs cheats.

It’s all just so pathetic, made even more so when you realise that, if Ferdinand does get a three-month ban (as many see likely), he will be paid a weekly fortune to do pretty much nothing but keep fit. As we say, poor Rio.

We would like to report that football is bigger than one player’s indiscretion.

But it’s hard to find support for that argument on a day when the papers relegate the draw for the fourth round of the Carling Cup to an afterthought.

But when you realise that the pick of the round, as revealed in the Independent, is Tottenham Hotspur versus Manchester City, you have to acknowledge that the League Cup is a minor issue.

The big issue, particularly if you are an Australian, is how to deal with the England rugby union team.

It’s clear to any Australian that what the Times calls “Lugergate” (Dan Luger briefly appeared as England’s 16th man on the field of play against Samoa) should result in England’s dismissal from the tournament.

A more sensible approach is found in the Times, where England face the more likely outcome of a financial punishment.

But since this incident is without precedent, they could get the wish of many South Africans and have points deducted.

Or be shot.’

Posted: 30th, October 2003 | In: Back pages | Comment

Missing Link

‘IN recent years Manchester United have set many a benchmark in footballing excellence.

Police are worried that Paul hasn’t contacted home for three days

And now the Telegraph brings us tales of a new achievement. As the headline shouts: “Scholes missing for four weeks.”

Given the furore that met with Rio Ferdinand’s disappearance for a mere couple of hours, Scholes looks certain to get the papers’ tongues wagging.

But then we read that he’s missing because he’s had an operation on “both groins”. That sounds pretty painful.

But for footballing agony, readers should go to the Times and read about the “avalanche of debt” that threatens to “sweep Leeds into the abyss”.

Last night the Yorkshire club lost to Manchester United 2-3 in the Carling Cup – but it’s the club’s finances rather than their inability to win a football match that are most threatening.

Having published the club’s financial report just yesterday, the full horror of the Leeds chairman’s position is made apparent.

“Now you can see the size of the nightmare,” says Professor John McKenzie, who replaced Peter Ridsdale last season.

Not everyone is crying. Take Robbie Fowler, who by some quirk of idiocy at Leeds will be paid £500,000 a year by the club until 2006 – even though he now plays for Manchester City.

And then there’s Robbie Keane, who will pick up £200,000 a year – while he plays for Spurs.

If that makes no sense, then the Rugby World Cup won’t help your understanding of modern sporting matters.

Yesterday, Georgia lost to Uruguay by 24 points to 12. “Hurrah!” or “Curses!”, depending on your allegiances.

And that’s the thing with rugby union – aside from the southern hemisphere’s big three and England and France from the north, the game is very thin on talent.

It lacks the ability to cause an upset. Which makes it so very much unlike football – which seems to upset just about everyone…’

Posted: 29th, October 2003 | In: Back pages | Comment

Baaad Sports

‘PHEW! The Telegraph leads with the great news that England’s footballers are in the clear over the tunnel dust-up in their game in Turkey.

Bleating like a lamb

That just leaves the London hotel rape case, the Leeds sexual assault case and the drugs case to clear up.

It’s clear that football is working hard to clean things up, and tomorrow we will learn the fate of one Rio Ferdinand, perhaps the only rich young man who doesn’t spend the better part of his day with a mobile phone glued to his ear.

The Independent says that the defender is likely to learn tomorrow what charges have been levelled against him by the FA. And Fifa, football’s equivalent of Interpol, are talking about the matter today.

The impression is very much that Ferdinand will face some kind of ban. It’s a likelihood that causes the Telegraph’s Henry Winter to speculate on what will happen next.

In his Seven Step plan, Winter begins, somewhat traditionally, with “Step One: Ban Ferdinand for three months.” It’s a nice idea.

But we call on Rio to write whatever sentence he gets on the palm of his hand lest he forget and accidentally turn up for a match, or even a drugs test. Oh, the irony!

But football is not all about drugs and sexual excesses. Really, it’s not. It’s about money. And today the Guardian learns of how little of it some clubs have.

To begin with, the paper says that Tottenham have just announced a loss of £7.1m. That’s pretty big, but is nothing when compared to the fortunes – or lack of them – of Leeds United.

A bailiff-style rap on the door now as the Guardian tells the world that today Leeds are expected to announce a yearly loss of almost £50m.

That is, the paper says, the worst in Premiership history.

It all makes for bad sports news. But if we are talking of bad sports, then we should look to the Times and its news from the Australian camp at the Rugby World Cup.

Eddie Jones, the Australian head coach, is calling for a tough punishment for the 34 seconds in which England accidentally fielded 16 players on the pitch against Samoa (albeit only 15 who were able to walk).

“They should be reprimanded,” says Jones. “It’s a very serious situation.”

Indeed it is. After all, how can it be that Australia can be so superior in minority sporting matters yet so worried by England that they need to bleat?

Anyone would thing they were looking for excuses already…’

Posted: 28th, October 2003 | In: Back pages | Comment

Not So Sweet Sixteen

‘ENGLAND’S rugby players look anything but world beaters at the moment, but at least they are still in the World Cup.

England must try harder

They were given an almighty scare yesterday by a Samoan team that played some sublime rugby at times to lead 10-0 midway through the first half and 22-21 midway through the second half.

In the end, England recovered to win 35-22, courtesy of two late tries, but the match has provided England with a much-needed “wake-up call”.

The mask of invincibility that has surrounded the No.1 ranked side has well and truly slipped and captain Martin Johnson was moved to admit after the match that they will struggle to beat Uruguay next week unless they pick up their game.

“England,” says the Telegraph, “were discordant through the midfield and flustered in their control of the ball.

“Their penalty count was once again far higher than their usual single figure target. England were lucky not to have a player yellow carded. The ledger of negatives was substantial.”

The only people who do not appear unduly concerned by the performance are the players themselves, most of whom seem to be writing a column for one paper or another.

Lewis Moody admits that England played right into the Samoans’ hands in the first-half but urges England fans to look at the broader picture.

“World Cups,” he says, “are won on the back of hard games like the one we had yesterday.” They are also lost in games like yesterday’s.

Scrum-half Matt Dawson says in his Telegraph column England got what they expected, which only makes their inability to handle it the more worrying.

Indeed, such was their difficulties in coping with 15 “highly motivated and very talented Samoans” that at one stage England had 16 players on the pitch.

And the Indy says World Cup organisers are to investigate how Dan Luger joined the action while Mike Tindall, the man he was supposedly replacing, was being treated for an injury on the pitch.

If England are to progress, they might need to slip a few extra players into their XV.

Elsewhere, Arsenal went to the top of the Premiership again after a 1-1 draw at Charlton took them a point ahead of Chelsea and two points ahead of Manchester United, who lost 3-1 at home to Fulham.

And in the Times Michael “Ned” Kelly continues his memoirs of his time as head of security at Old Trafford with tales of former chairman Martin Edwards’ fetish for looking under the doors of the cubicles in ladies’ toilets.

All of which is much more interesting than anything any of the England rugby players have got to say.’

Posted: 27th, October 2003 | In: Back pages | Comment

Cheats Prosper

‘“FACE it, cheating is a way of life,” says former England rugby player Stuart Barnes with reference to the World Cup currently being played in Australia.

Would anyone pick Alpay?

But his comment could apply across the sporting spectrum as the front of the Telegraph’s sports section makes clear.

From America, we hear that middle-distance runner Regina “I hope I’m a role model to other women” Jackson has become the latest athlete to test positive for the new designer steroid, THG.

Back here, Manchester United have been forced to deny that they have tried to cover up evidence crucial to the investigation into Rio Ferdinand’s missed drugs test.

But the main story is that Turkish centre-half Alpay has made an unceremonious departure from English football after his contract was terminated by Aston Villa.

Alpay, who is expected to join German club Hertha Berlin, blamed the English media’s obsession with David Beckham for his plight.

The former Fenerbahce player earned the opprobrium of English fans after goading Beckham following his penalty miss in Istanbul last month.

But he told the Telegraph (with good reason): “This wouldn’t have happened if the confrontation had been with any other player than David Beckham.” (If only it had been Dennis Wise.)

We now turn to the Independent in search of sporting action and all we can see is England’s cricketers sitting round on the pitch in Bangladesh after a floodlight failure brought a premature end to the third day’s play in the inaugural test between the two countries.

And we note in passing that Manchester United’s Paul Scholes is single-handedly flying the flag for England in Europe, having picked up more yellow cards in Champions’ League matches than any other player.

Scholes’ 20 cautions is four more than his closest rival, Luis Figo.

And in the Times we learn that Andrew Miller, the Japanese fly-half, became the first player in this rugby World Cup to record a “full house” – a try, conversion, penalty and dropped goal.

If nothing else, such information should come in useful in a pub quiz in the near future.

But if you don’t remember it, don’t worry – you can always do what everyone else does and use your mobile to phone a friend.

Cheating – everyone’s doing it these days.’

Posted: 24th, October 2003 | In: Back pages | Comment

Pills And Thrills

‘ONE day on from Arsenal’s pain in the Ukraine and the papers are awash with how great English football is.

Rio hears his offer on a new house has been accepted

The Star leads with news of Chelsea’s Champions’ League win over Lazio, and the Express hails Claudio Ranieri’s “British Bulldogs”.

The paper hears Chelsea’s Italian manager praise the fighting spirit of the British players in his team, a spirit that enabled the Blues to overturn a one goal deficit to win 2-1.

Last time we looked, Adrian Mutu, scorer of the game’s winning goal, was from Romania – although Chelsea did employ four British players last night, which goes some way to backing up Ranieri’s claim.

And from British grit to the ‘Battle of Britain’, the headline adopted by all the papers every time two British teams play each other in European competition.

This time, the Mail reports, the spoils went to Manchester United, who defeated Glasgow Rangers 1-0, thanks to a goal from Phil Neville, that most unlikely of champions.

The player, who looks like Albert Steptoe’s less bright son, even prompts the Sun to launch the headline “Phil The Thrill, a tribute to “the most important goal” of Neville’s career.

At least the headline is not ‘Rio The Pill’. Today, as the Mail reminds us all, is the day when Rio Ferdinand will learn his fate for missing a dope test.

The paper links the England defender’s name with that of Dwain Chambers, the athlete who tested positive for the so-called designer steroid, THG, and who tells the Mirror that he’s innocent of all charges.

The Mirror says that ever since his naming Chambers has been “crying his eyes out”. If found guilty of cheating, he faces a lifetime Olympic ban and a two-year suspension from athletics.

With so many endorsements and cash in athletics, it’s no wonder Europe’s fastest man is feeling down.

But others might soon be sharing his tissues, as the paper explains how up to 20 American athletes – including past Olympic champions and world record holders – are said to have tested positive for banned anabolic steroids.

And now the International Association of Athletics Federations has decided to retest all 400 samples taken from athletes at August’s World championships.

And if many cheats are sprung it could be brighter news for British athletics. With the top seven runners in each final race sacked, the spoils might go to an unlikely source.

We might just win some medals, after all…’

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