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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

Games For A Laugh

‘BRITAIN’S Olympic 2012 bid has taken another blow, and this time from Ken Livingstone, one its main supporters.

‘I believe I can fly’

The farce of the World Athletic Championships, which were moved from London to Paris after the Government and the ridiculous Sports Minister Richard Caborn failed to organise the proverbial piss-up in a brewery did not help.

And Paris is a good place to start talking about this latest blow, since London’s rival city for the games has the infrastructure that London should envy.

Thanks to Ken and his type, a journey that costs around 85p on the Paris Metro will soon cost £2 in London.

If that’s what it will cost in 2004, what will the price of a ride on the stinking hell-hole that is the London Underground be in 2012?

The tarnished image of London as a sporting Mecca does not need to be worsened.

Already an expensive city with dire amenities for tourists, the plan is to make London an extortionate city with bilingual traffic information.

As things stand, London has no chance of getting the games. Paris will win the vote over London and New York – and should win the vote.

But since image counts for so much, Britain should consider making full use of her assets.

Whereas the occasionally suave Minute Man President Jacques Chiraq spoke at the launch of his country’s bid, Tony Blair left the job to Ken and the singularly unimpressive Tessa Jowell.

Now the big guns are needed. Give David Beckham the job of promoting the games.

Becks lives on the continent now and is well placed to talk up a London, his home city, and the London Olympic bid.

Last night he received a standing ovation for his performance. He might sound like a toddler waking up his parents to say he’s wet the bed but he’s the best we’ve got.

And in any case, have you heard Ken Livingstone speak..?’

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


Being Frank

‘IT’S unlike the Telegraph to be hyperbolic but its headline – “Beckham gets the party going” – suggests more than it delivers.

Beckham Jnr – on his way to Chelsea?

England’s victory over Croatia last night by three goals to one was the right result, and the “outstanding” David Beckham did score the home side’s opening goal from the penalty spot. But a party?

The Independent speaks is more prosaic tones, saying how although this was England’s sixth win on the spin it was in keeping with the side’s “habit of producing better results than their performances deserve”. Something the paper calls a “larcenous practice”.

But a win is a win, and if England are winning then what does it say about their opponents? That England are better. If that’s the case, fans will excuse more of the same.

The Guardian saw the game and heaps praise on Frank Lampard, but the Chelsea midfield will be excused for looking less ahead into a glimmering future and more over his shoulder.

News in the Times is that Chelsea are poised to sign Alexei Smertin, a Russian midfielder, taking the Chelsea contingent in the centre of the park into the low hundreds.

Also on his way out, if only on loan to Charlton for now, is Carlton Cole, once seen as the future of the Blues’ attack. Now that’s one Hernan Crespo, the Argentine with the reputation as stretched as his hairband.

It’s looking like Chelsea are tying to buy success sooner rather than later. Roman Abramovich at least realises that every season counts and days in the sun are few.

So shed a tear for Tim Henman who, as the Times says, has been “handed his most awesome draw” in the first round of the US Open – a match with Andy Roddick.

The American with the weapon of mass destruction serve represents a prized scalp or a swift exit for Henman. Can he do it? Can Frank Lampard play for England?’

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


Sol Searching

‘SOL Campbell has threatened to stop playing for England. That’s the Sun’s headline story, albeit announced in more sensational terms – “Sven: I KO’d Sol Quit Threat.”

Sol of discretion?

It seems that the Arsenal player was so fed-up with what he sees as a conspiracy against him by the FA that he is considering not taking their money and playing internationals.

For the time being, England manager Sven Goran Eriksson has talked him round.

As it is, according to the Express, Campbell does still face the prospect of a three-match ban for his reaction to an unpunished foul by Manchester United’s Eric Djemba Djemba.

Whether Sol will be banned for all Arsenal games forever by the FA – with special help from the selective Sky TV camera and the Sun – but allowed to play for his country remains to be seen. In the meantime, he’s out of tonight’s match with Croatia.

His likely replacement is John Terry, who, as the Express says, is out to prove to England that he is Tony Adams’ natural successor.

He might not be wrapping his car around a lamp-post or soiling himself just yet, but he is seen by the Mirror urinating into some bushes. Let us not ignore Terry’s class.

One player who may yet play football for England or some other professional outfit is Liam Botham, the son of cricket legend Ian Botham.

The Independent says that Botham junior is to make his senior debut for Leeds rugby league team in Castleford tonight.

This will be his senior debut in a third sport, having already played first-class cricket for Hampshire and rugby union for Cardiff, Newcastle, Hartlepool and England A.

If Botham were to play professional football, he could always get a game at Spurs, where the team is in its usual dire straits following an injury to Robbie Keane.

The Guardian shows Keane writhing in agony, clutching his ankle as his Republic of Ireland team beat Australia 2-1.

The player hopes to be all right soon, but given the injury jinx at Spurs Keane might not recover fully for years.

As they say at the Lane, get worse soon, Robbie…’

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


Strange Selection

‘IT is hard to fathom England’s selection policy at the moment with Martin Bicknell’s inclusion in the squad for tomorrow’s Fourth test coming as a surprise to the man himself.

All bowled out

It is ten years since the Surrey bowler won the second of his two England caps and, by his own admission, he is probably a bit past his prime now.

There is little doubt that Bicknell’s inclusion is motivated by England’s long list of bowling injuries to which Steve Harmison is just the latest addition.

And so perhaps we should read nothing into it other than England needed a stop-gap with the ability and experience to jump straight into Test cricket.

Like Ed Smith, Bicknell has been picked on his performance in county cricket, although the older man has produced the goods over many years and can consider himself unlucky only to have got two caps.

That is a good thing as it will encourage other county players to believe that they can force their way into the selectors’ thoughts by weight of runs or number of wickets.

However, it is hard to discern a strategy in England’s selections over the past few seasons, particularly in the bowling department.

Players are frequently picked and discarded without even being given a chance to show what they can do.

It was only the retirement of Darren Gough and various injuries that allowed James Kirtley to shine at Trent Bridge.

In fact, there is a feeling that there is something temporary about selection throughout the summer from the moment Darren Gough was picked to play in the first two Tests.

Alec Stewart’s knock in the first innings in Nottingham may have been crucial, but the fact that we know he is on his way at the end of the summer undermines his position in the side.

Nasser Hussain is in transition from captain back to top order batsman, but it will take some time before that is complete.

And then there is the problem of what to do about Graham Thorpe, England’s most talented batsman.

We are not good enough to continue to leave him out, but bringing him back makes the middle order start to have veteran status.

Key to the future, however, is surely Andrew Flintoff, who has developed into an excellent first-change bowler but needs to convince us all that he can bat at No.6.

Headingley would be as good a place as any to start.’

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


David’s Pain In Spain

‘JAMES Kirtley is the toast of backpages this morning. The Mail has “King James” with arms up, jubilant that after being discarded by England on four occasions he finally came good.His six wickets were instrumental in England’s victory over South Africa at Trent Bridge yesterday, which levelled the series at 1-1.

The paper sticks with the story of the day, following England’s progress as the Sussex bowler’s persistence brought his team glory and his own personal rewards.

But Kirtley will have to content himself, as many have before him, with sharing the headlines with David Beckham.

The blonde one is complaining to the Mirror that Alex Ferguson hasn’t called to wish him good luck in his new job in Madrid. “I haven’t spoken to the manager since I left,” says Day-vid. “I can’t remember when I last spoke to him.”

Most of us would be happy never to speak with the gruff, charmless Scot once in our lives let alone go back for more, particularly is he’s kicked a boot in your face.

But Beckham is not that upset, because as he goes onto tell the Mirror he loves being a superstar. He’s also what the Mail calls an “open book”, candid and honest in interview, albeit with big print, small words and lots of pictures.

Over in the Manchester Untied fanzine that is the Sun, David Beckham is just chuffed to bits that the No 7 shirt he vacated at Old Trafford is being worn by the best player the world has ever seen, even if we have only seen him for little over twenty minutes.

There is a concerted bid to reassure all United fans/shareholders that losing Beckham was not a bad thing. Indeed, it was a positive move, given that his replacement is so awesome. Imagine what Ronaldo will be like after an entire half!

Meanwhile, the Express says that the Serious Fraud Office (SFO) are in talks with the Football Association over their investigation into the dealings of John Gregory, the former Aston Villa manager.

Talk of bungs surrounds Gregory’s name. If found guilty of wrongdoing, Gregory will face at least a one-year ban from football, a punishment once dished out to George Graham.

And mention of the former Arsenal manager makes us wonder what happened to him. If you see George let us know. He’s often in the company of his mate Terry Venables…’

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


The New George Best?

‘IF James Kirtley played football for Manchester United, he’d now be hailed as the greatest player ever. Journalists at that team’s sister business, the Sun, would be filling page after page of copy about how wonderful the discovery is.

Only he doesn’t play football. Kirtley plays cricket, and plays it very well. He is not the world’s greatest bowler and, in truth, doesn’t look like he ever will be. But he does have spirit.

On taking the fifth of his six wickets in South Africa’s second innings yesterday, the player visibly welled up. Given that cricket is peopled by many men who look like a stump has been placed squarely up them, Kirtley’s emotion was all too welcome.

And Kirtley got his dues, being voted man of the match by the Channel 4 audience. To many who watched the game this was a somewhat contentious selection.

Shaun Pollock was the obvious choice with his eight wickets and decent run haul. But since this was a vote by the domestic audience it was unlikely a South African was going to be the people’s champion.

Michael Atherton suggested that Nasser Hussain, whose hundred in the first innings and 30 in the second was instrumental in England’s victory, should have been given the bottle of champagne and £10 record token.

But no. Kirtley earned and, vitally, needs the award. Hussain does not. Any young player, especially one making his debut as Kirtley was, needs lots of encouragement.

His performance should be praised from the rooftops. He will accept his reward and bouquets in good grace, bowing his head in real embarrassment at being singled out.

But inside he will be delighted. Being the hero of the day for your country on your international debut is something great in a sportsman’s career.

Kirtley will be eager to prove at Headingley on Thursday that Trent Bridge was no fluke. No competitor has his day every time he plays, and Kirtley will certainly experience moments of utter despair.

But at least he’ll always know that he is capable of doing the job.

And with that lodged in the back of his mind, he’s right now worth his weight in gold.’

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


Bridge Work

‘THE third Test between England and South Africa is likely to be decided today by which teams holds its nerve best in what is sure to be an enthralling couple of hours’ cricket.

Ronaldo beats a cunningly disguised Beckham

England start off as favourites, needing only five more of the visitors’ wickets, while the Proteas needs 138 more runs on a deteriorating pitch.

But the papers are certainly not counting their chickens, with Derek Pringle in the Telegraph suggesting that the pitch is not nearly as bad as batsmen seem to believe it to be.

”Given the Jekyll and Hyde nature of England’s bowling, leaving Trent Bridge victorious cannot be guaranteed,” he says, ”though Michael Vaughan’s team, with bodies refreshed after a night’s sleep, will surely start clear favourites when play gets under way this morning.”

The Guardian praises the England bowlers’ discipline last night in what it calls ”a humdinger of a Test day” – ”a series in the balance, a crazy-paving surface which insisted that something could happen at any moment, and an England side fighting to redeem its reputation before an unashamedly partisan crowd”.

South African all-rounder Shaun Pollock, who took six wickets in England’s second innings, reckons that it could go either way.

”England will not be happy we have two guys at the wicket who scored 90 and 50 in the first innings, so it could be interesting,” he tells the Independent. ”It is all about pressure and who handles it best.”

But James Kirtley believes England are very much in the ascendancy, saying: ”We’ve bowled well out there. If we can create the same mood and the same tempo in the morning there is no reason why we should not finish the job.”

Only time will tell whose optimism is better founded, just as only time will tell whether Chelsea’s band of expensive mercenaries can sustain a challenge for the Premiership title.

Their campaign, however, got off to a perfect start yesterday when they beat Liverpool 2-1 at Anfield, with one of the imports, Juan Sebastian Veron, getting the first goal.

The Sun watches billionaire owner Roman Abramovich celebrate the immediate return on his £75m investment in new players under the headline, ”Yellski”.

”It was so exciting and an incredible experience,” he tells the paper. ”I’m very pleased with the performance and the result. I felt it with my heart and loved every moment.”

Proving that football and the inevitable hyperbole is very much back, the Sun’s Steven Howard salutes Manchester United’s signing Cristiano Ronaldo as the best player since George Best. All on the basis of 29 minutes as a substitute.

”He has a beguiling and lethal mix of grace, balance, speed and athleticism,” writes Howard. ”At times, he looks as if he is floating on air. A butterfly with a machine-gun.”

Meanwhile, the man he replaced at Old Trafford, David Beckham, was jeered as he was substituted during Real Madrid’s 0-0 draw with Valencia.

”David who?” as they now say in Manchester.’

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


The Greatest Test

‘NO-ONE could ever accuse the third Test between England and South Africa at Trent Bridge of lacking excitement.

And not a football in sight

For all the complaints about the pitch, it has so far been as good an example as you could wish for of why the five-day game remains the ultimate form of the game.

And as it enters its final day today, both sides have a fighting chance of victory.

England must start as slight favourites, given the way they bowled last night.

Neil Mackenzie and Mark Boucher can thank a fair amount of luck and a couple of favourable umpiring decisions for the fact that they are still there this morning.

Had one or both of them been out, the match would surely have been all but over.

As it is, England (with only three fit seamers, a ball that is getting softer by the over and on a pitch that is capricious in the extreme) need to take five wickets to square the series and set us up for a thrilling couple of matches at Headingley and the Oval.

South Africa, on the other hand, can take a commanding 2-0 lead in the series if their last five wickets can knock off the 139 runs they need.

So much will depend upon the first hour of play this morning. If England take a couple of wickets, I expect them to wrap up a comfortable win.

If South Africa survive, their confidence will grow and they will regain the upper hand.

However, after a couple of days in which the initiative has swung back and forward between the two teams, the final day is unlikely to be without drama of its own.

Neutrals should hope for an England win because it sets up the rest of the series.

But whoever does triumph, this has been a fantastic advertisement for Test cricket at a time when so much of the world are being seduced by the immediate pleasures of the one-day game.

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


The Sack Race

‘THE season begins in earnest tomorrow, as we the people wonder who will be the first manager for the chop.

Roman has come to bury Claudio not to praise him

And the first name from the hat is Claudio Ranieri. The Italian has called for two ”champions” in every position of the Chelsea team.

He has pretty much got his wish and Chelsea have the strength in depth to be major force. Thus indulged, Ranieri has to turn so much promise into silver.

The FA Cup is not worth its salt to Roman Abramovich, who must expect at least the Premiership title to go to the Bridge. The suggestion is that Ranieri has two seasons to win this prize.

The smart money says he has one. If Chelsea fail, coming home third or lower by a margin of more than, say, eight points, Ranieri will be replaced.

If the Blues are pipped to the title on goal difference or by a single point, Ranieri will be replaced. The thinking will be that if another man had been in charge Chelsea would have fared better.

This does at least take the Italian to the season’s end, and only a dismal showing early on in the season and an early exit from the Champions’ League will hasten his departure.

He is thus 4-1 for the chop, the same odds as Glenn Hoddle. Now Glenn is in trouble. The Messiah’s return to the Lane has not been going according to plan.

Spurs have spent big this off-season – although it’s hard to see Bobby Zamora restoring the glory days just yet. Glenn will get six months to show a marked improvement. If he is failing then, he will finally get the boot.

In the west of the capital, Fulham’s new young boss Chris Coleman is 5-1 to not see out his first season in charge. This is harsh, but not altogether unfair.

Coleman has little experience as a manager and may be too close to the players and his playing days to pack the necessary ruthless punch. This could be the bet to take.

Kevin Keegan and Gerard Houllier (both 8-1) are longer shots. If Keegan goes early it will most likely be by his own volition.

But he’s popular and Manchester City have a fine new ground and David Seaman to counter the cavalier Keegan style.

Houllier is less certain. True, his Liverpool have won a few silver pots, but the title has been well beyond their reach, despite the club spending many millions on new talent.

A poor start this term and the spiky Frenchman could be shown the door.

Mickey Adams (9-1) is popular at Leicester. The biggest threat to his job is nerves and how well he keeps his in the Premiership’s boiler room.

Peter Reid (11-1) should never have been given the Leeds job. But he’ll most likely survive. And Sam Allardyce (14-1) looks like he’s at Bolton for the long haul.

David O’Leary (14-1) at Aston Villa will at least be given the season by Deadly Doug before an inevitable falling-out. And Graeme Souness (16-1) has excelled at Blackburn Rovers. (What price Souness to be the next manager of Spurs?)

Beyond that, the odds are too long to be taken seriously and the likelihood of a sacking or resignation is remote.

The question is who will take over from Ranieri. After all, there must be a second champion in his position…

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


The Two Tons

‘NASSER Hussain turned towards the media centre on scoring his hundred yesterday in response to some of the obituaries that have been written for his career in recent days.

Nasser always did prefer an attack-minded stance at the crease

But anyone coming to bury the former England captain is this morning full of praise for a gutsy innings that has helped England to a good position in the third Test at Trent Bridge.

Hussain finished the day unbeaten on 108, with England 296-3 after a sparkling century from Mark Butcher and an unbeaten 40 from debutant Ed Smith.

The Telegraph’s Derek Pringle salutes the 229-ball innings, which he says ”had plenty of what the Australians call mongrel, an affectionate term for guts and character”.

”Captaincy changed him for the better in many ways, but his return to the ranks will mean a return to type and succeeding largely on his own terms,” he says.

Another player who plays on his own terms is the Cambridge-educated Ed Smith, whose brain and background have apparently been the cause of a bit of mickey-taking.

”He has been an endless source of amusement,” Mark Butcher tells the Times, ”especially for the Yorkshire boys.

”They have never heard anybody speak before like Ed. At the crease, he looks like a million dollars, which is probably what he has got tucked away somewhere.”

If he has, there are plenty of football clubs who would love to see it.

This morning, as Premiership clubs prepare to start their season, the Times profiles Bryan Richardson, Geoffrey Richmond and Peter Ridsdale – three football club chairman whose clubs managed to run up combined debts of £150m while they were in charge, but are still in the game.

”You would think that clubs would base appointments on what recruits have done in the past,” says Roy Whalley, of Walsall.

”Yet there are some characters who make you wonder how they’re still in the game.”

Still in the game is Colin Montgomerie, Europe’s best player for a record seven years in a row but a perennial underachiever in the major championships.

And he is surely soon to be on his way home from the USPGA after an opening 82 left him 16 shots behind Phil Mickelson at Oak Hill.

Both men, the Indy says, have been described as the best players never to have won a major. It is a mantle Monty might wear on his own come Monday morning.

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


Up The Duff

‘LAST night Chelsea played their first competitive game of football of the season. And they won, beating Slovakian outfit MSK Zilinia 2-0.

Even Henry wanted Campbell sent off

”Red Rom Romp,” say the Sun’s headline. ”Damien Dazzler,” applauds the Mail, a reference to an impressive showing from the Blues’ Damien Duff.

But fielding £59m of new talent is still not enough and the Sun says that Chelsea are ready to swoop into the transfer market once more.

Claude Makelele has, the paper reports, gone on strike at Real Madrid. He has delivered the Spanish giant an ultimatum: double my wages of let me move to Chelsea who will.

Makelele’s agent, Marc Roger, is supportive of his player’s despicable actions.

”Claude is pissed off that he’s been saying these things for two years about being underpaid and the club have ignored him.”

And since £40,000 a week is not enough for his prosaic talents, the Frenchman is in a strop.

Meanwhile, it is our duty to divert attention away from Chelsea to Tottenham, the team that Roman Abramovich curiously overlooked in his quest for an English club.

The Express says that the Londoners are ready to make a big buy of their own – 20-year-old Bobby Convey.

The midfielder who plays for DC United will come to White Hart Lane if he’s given a work permit. Let’s hope he is and Spurs can bring back the glory days.

And while London clubs Chelsea and Spurs count the players in, Arsenal count them out.

The news in the Mail is that, following the fractious Community Shield match between the Gunners and Manchester United, Sol Campbell faces a possible FA charge.

Campbell retaliated following a challenge form Djemba Djemba and will now face a possible three-match ban.

”What about the challenge by Djemba?” says Arsenal Wenger in the Mail. ”It was obscene. Why is no action being taken about that?”

So the Gunners are looking at what would effectively be another red card.

It appears that the Red Army might not be in Chelsea after all…

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


A Chance Missed

‘IF England’s selection of three non-capped players for the third Test which starts at Trent Bridge this morning was supposed to galvanise their supporters, it has failed.

England resort to desperate measures

With Graham Thorpe ruled out by injury (but unlikely to have been selected anyway), Ed Smith deserves a chance in the middle order as the form batsman in county cricket.

But a fast bowling line-up of James Anderson, Steve Harmison, Andrew Flintoff and either James Kirtley or Glenn Chapple is unlikely to have Graeme Smith trembling in his pads.

In fairness, the selectors did not have a huge amount of options given the injuries to Matthew Hoggard, Simon Jones, Richard Johnson and James Ormond.

But it is hard to see how Chapple can be the right option, given his lack of wickets for Lancashire this season.

As for the rest of the team, the selectors have really missed a trick in keeping both former captains Alec Stewart and Nasser Hussain in the fold.

With Thorpe unavailable, Hussain’s place was probably saved by the need for experience in the batting line-up.

But Andrew Flintoff’s improved form with the bat this season which culminated in his excellent ton at Lord’s made it the perfect time to say goodbye to Stewart.

Stewart has been a fine servant to England over the past two decades and has been the side’s premier all-rounder for a number of years.

But the appointment of Michael Vaughan as Test captain should be occasion to usher in a new era in English cricket – and it is an era to which Stewart does not belong.

Chris Read, who played so well in the one-day matches, deserves his chance this summer.

He may not be as accomplished a batsman as Stewart, but he is a useful No.7 and has done little wrong behind the stumps for England.

By retaining Stewart, England are only prolonging the inevitable but doing so at a cost.

The selectors talk about consistency of selection, which is an admirable trait at the right time.

With a new captain at the helm, having come off a successful one-day series and a disastrous start to the Test series, this unfortunately is not the right time.

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


Signing On

‘WHETHER you praise Patrick Vieira (”He comes from Senegal, he plays for Arsenal) or condemn him (”My old man’s got a second hand Sierra, it’s dirtier than Patrick Vieira), he’s here to stay.

He comes from Senegal, he still plays for Arsenal

The Mail says that after weeks of speculation the languid Frenchman has finally agreed terms to stay at Arsenal. And since he loves the club so much, he’s only getting around £100,000 a week.

Even the Sun’s appalling oik Steve Howard concedes that this is the best signing of the season so far.

But Howard’s paper cannot tear itself away from its investment, and watches as Alex Ferguson shakes hands with Manchester United’s signing, 18-year-old Cristiano Ronaldo.

Fergie wears a smug grin and Ronaldo wears a jumper that appears to have been designed by the same people that brought you the Arsenal ”Chevron” kit of the 1980s.

But more important than Ronaldo’s front is his back, on which will appear the number 7. ”Here is my new Beckham,” says the headline in the Express.

But the manager under real pressure is not Arsene Wenger or Ferguson but Chelsea boss Claudio Ranieri.

Talking to the Mirror, the Italian, who speaks English like a British package tourist speaks Spanish, is excited and nervous.

”I believe the players are champions,” says Ranieri of the many men his owner has bought. ”If they are nervous, then I will shoot myself.”

Chelsea are set to play a Champions’ League qualifier against the less-than-mighty Zilinia of Slovakia tonight.

You just imagine that if Chelsea are defeated, heads will roll in an instant. But you can equally imagine that if the gig is up at half-time, Roman Abramovich will simply reach into his pocket and buy the Slovakian outfit. It’s a ‘no lose’ situation.

Much like the England cricket team, of whom so little is expected that anything other than outright defeat in the next Test against South Africa would smell of a quiet victory.

But the good news in cricket is that Nasser Hussain has committed himself to England and wants to tour with them this winter.

This prompts the Mirror to announce: ”I’d go to Mongolia to bat for England, says Nasser Hussain.”

And that’s encouraging, sine Mongolia are ripe for the taking. Go on Nasser – the hopes of a nation go with you…

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


Fantasy Football

‘IN the spirit of the newspapers that provide us with so much, we launch our own version of fantasy football.

Faking orgasm on the pitch: 30 points

In our game we ask you to pick the worst team. Points are awarded for own goals, goals conceded, blank sheets, yellow and red cards and appearances before the FA.

In our version, football is given the credit it deserves for being all-embracing.

Any player that appears on the gossip sheets will earn his manager ten points, while a front-page expose as a love rat will earn a whopping 50 points.

If the cheating on a long-suffering wife or girlfriend has occurred with a lap dancer (ten bonus points), a glamour mod-el (30 bonus points) or another man (100 bonus points), so much the better.

And from one vice to another. With your pencil waving over the Blackburn midfield, you must consider the likelihood of vices other than women coming to the fore.

For simplicity sake, we’ll run it like the Government’s own policy of drugs, with categories for A, B and C.

Anyone caught in possession class A drugs will earn his manager 100 points, 60 points for class B and 20 points for class C.

Failed tests for steroids and other performance-enhancing pharmaceuticals will earn 15 points with the possible bonus of 10 points if the accused launches an unsuccessful defence.

If he cries on camera, that’s ten more points and if his defence involves the taking of a cold remedy whose label he failed to read, that’s five more points.

Since alcohol consumption remains a mainstay of the British game, the imbibing of it will not be included unless the drinker climbs into a car while under its influence and is apprehended by the police.

For being discovered drink driving, the player will earn his manager 20 points. If he is found slumped at the wheel with his car attempting coitus with a lamppost, that’s 70 points.

Which leads us to the big one. This can change everything. If your season is going nowhere, this gives hope: prison.

For every day your man stay behind bars, we will give you one point. Given the severity of the offence that warrants such a punishment, this will be stretched to include time spent on parole and wearing an electronic tag.

As for rules, you must restrict your choice to the Premier League and make your team up of one goalkeeper playing behind a 4-4-2 formation.

Worst of luck.

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


Red And Blues

‘ON any given day Rupert Murdoch’s Sun can create a lead story out of Manchester United. Today’s is that Juan Veron is not happy with Alex Ferguson. He calls him two-faced.

Are you Brian Clough in disguise?

”Ferguson wasn’t sincere with me,” says the Chelsea player. ”Two months ago a couple of clubs expressed an interest and he said I wasn’t for sale.”

The difference between two months back and now is that a big offer came in for Seba, as Ferguson likes to call him in public, and that the United board realised they had best cut their losses on the expensive flop.

Meanwhile, Veron’s new club are lining up a £20m move for French striker Djibril Cisse.

Should he actually move to Stamford Bridge, the Frenchman (pronounced Dribble) would be the tenth player Roman Abramovich has bought since he took over the club.

But the biggest coup of the season must be that Charlton Athletic have signed Paolo Di Canio on a one-year contract.

The Express hears the team’s manager Alan Curbishley say what a ”brilliant” move it is.

And Di Canio cannot wait for his first game at the Valley. Whether he is as enthusiastic about away trips remains to be seen.

And so the football goes on. And on. And on.

In the Mail, Manchester United have signed Ronaldo – Cristiano Ronaldo.

Apparently he’s Portuguese and a ”wonder boy”. And they have also signed the Brazilian Kleberson, the man with, undoubtedly, the best name in football.

But this is all small fry compared to Chelsea’s mega bucks. And the Sun says that the Blues will now home in on Edgar Davids, Emerson and Christian Vieri.

Meanwhile, Patrick Vieira is set to resign for Arsenal. And the mention of the Gunners brings us back to the Sun, where the Manchester United fanzine is under the impression that Arsenal’s title challenge is over before it has begun.

”Wenger’s strop idols,” puns the paper. ”Gunners will lose title in red mist”.

You’d almost think United were running scared.

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


Roeder Out

‘WEST Ham fans are notoriously loyal to the team and the club itself is notoriously loyal to its managers.

Hit the Roed, Glenn – and don’t you come back

But something is going to have to give sooner or later because Hammers fans are furious with what has been going on at the club in recent months.

Chairman Terry Brown is the target of most of the vitriol, but manager Glenn Roeder is a more likely casualty.

Most fans were sceptical about Roeder when he was appointed, but he did much to silence them by taking the club to seventh place in his first season in charge.

However, all the fears resurfaced last year when he seemed incapable of reversing his team’s appalling run of form in the first half of the season.

That he regularly fell out with Paolo Di Canio does not make him unique, but bust-ups with Sebastien Schemmel and David Connolly make one question Roeder’s man management skills.

And his performance in interviews, in which he bridles at any semblance of criticism, suggests Roeder has too thin a skin for top-flight management.

Of course, while West Ham keep winning, fans can overlook many of their manager’s shortcomings.

However, from the evidence of Saturday, there will be plenty of occasion to berate Roeder as a coach.

The defence was as mind-bogglingly appalling as it was for most of last season, conceding a goal after only 90 seconds and giving Preston plenty of hope thereafter.

A manager can only do as well as the material he has to work with, but it is increasingly apparent that Roeder has no idea how to organise the back four to give some semblance of order.

Anton Ferdinand looked out of his depth at right back and Tomas Repka is as much of a liability as he ever was.

The problem with a dodgy defence is not only in the amounts of goals it actually concedes, but in what it does to a team’s confidence.

Conceding soft goals like West Ham did on Saturday demoralises your own team and gives heart to the opposition.

All teams who come up against West Ham this season will always think they have a chance of getting a couple of goals.

If Roeder can’t sort it out on the training pitch, he needs to sort it out in the transfer market. If he can do neither, he needs to hand over to a man who can…

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


And They’re Off

‘AT least the thousands who failed to show up to the Community Shield cannot be called fair weather fans.

”Not the face! Anywhere but the face!”

Clever would be a more apt description, given that Sunday was the hottest day ever recorded in the British Isles.

A day for cool heads it was most definitely not. As the nylon and polyester mix shirts melted onto the backs of the crowd that did venture to see the game, the game boiled along nicely.

Phil Neville’s lunge at Patrick Vieira got the ball, and the player, rolling and his work was furthered by Ashley Cole.

But it was knotted handkerchiefs off to Francis Jeffers for actually being dismissed from the field of play. So blatant was his kick at Phil Neville that even his manager Arsene Wenger saw it.

Incidentally, is Phil Neville pitching himself as the new Roy Keane? Given his liking for the fray, he might be.

But anyone who has watched rodeos on cable TV knows that the clown who gets the bruises and the bumps rarely if ever becomes the hero. To be a hero a few brain cells are needed. Sorry, Phil.

Perhaps the most notable thing about the day was that it was not the curtain raiser to the football season. That happened on Saturday.

For those who have had enough of the hot weather, take note of the change in wind direction at Deepdale, where West Ham went visiting.

With Preston North End one goal to the good, the Hammers fans were chanting ”Sack the board”. Given the belated decision to sell off the club’s best stock, you can forgive the chant any lack of originality.

But strikes from Jermain Defoe and David Connolly brought a new song: ”We are top of the league,” sang the Hammerettes and their menfolk.

There are no league tables published as yet, but if there were Walsall and not West Ham would be top of Division One, with Paul Merson to thank for getting them there.

And talking of Merson, this is the time to place your bets on who will win all four professional leagues in England and Wales.

Here goes. Champions of all four divisions will be: Arsenal, Crystal Palace, QPR and Bristol Rovers. Oh, and Phil Neville will star for England.

Between then and now, we can expect many fireworks…

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


Same Old Arsenal

‘A NEW season, but same old Arsene Wenger.

The short-sighted Arsenal manager may not have been able to plead blindness when Francis Jeffers kicked out at Phil Neville to earn his side’s first red card of the season.

They’ve got him now, but how long can West Ham hang onto Defoe?

But his reaction to other incidents involving Ashley Cole and Sol Campbell was classic Wenger: ”The incidents were on the other side of the pitch.”

According to the Independent, even Jeffers escaped his manager’s wrath, despite being the 50th Arsenal player to see red under Wenger.

”He made a mistake – he’s an intelligent boy,” Wenger said, despite all evidence seeming to suggest the opposite.

”He wanted to show how good he is but he made one or two poor touches, miscontrolled the ball and then he feels under pressure.”

And so he goes and kicks Phil Neville.

For the record, Manchester United came out as winners on the pitch in a penalty shoot-out after the Community Shield had finished in a 1-1 draw.

In football that actually matters, West Ham got their season off to a winning start with goals from Jermain Defoe and David Connolly enough to beat Preston.

But the club’s troubles are far from behind them, with the Guardian summing up one of the problems facing the Hammers.

”The trouble with Jermain Defoe,” it observes, ”is that the better he gets, the less likely he is to stay at Upton Park.”

And it remains to be seen whether both Glenn Roeder and David Connolly can both stay at Upton Park after the club’s new striker publicly lambasted the manager for leaving him out of the starting line-up.

”Once again the manager has been undermined,” says the Guardian, ”and sympathy for his medical condition will not outlast an impression that certain players are beyond control.”

Or perhaps it is that Roeder’s man management skills are as poor as the West Ham defence.

In other news, Geoff Boycott has a go at England cricket coach Duncan Fletcher in the Telegraph, accusing him of killing the game by destroying county cricket.

But it is county cricket that is the problem, according to the Times.

”Until there is a better system for sifting the talent in a county game that is increasingly the plaything of cricketers born and bred outside Britain, selection will be partially hit and miss,” it says of the decision to name three uncapped players in the squad to play South Africa at Trent Bridge.

Let’s hope that this time round it’s more hit than miss…

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


Hammer Time

‘A WEEK ago, Paul Merson predicted that West Ham would walk away with the Division One title.

Defoe can’t wait to get that shirt off

In fact, he said the side were so much better than any of the other teams in the division that they shouldn’t so much as lose a game.

Fanciful that may have been, but he was right in saying that West Ham should never have been relegated last year. Play last season again 100 times, he said, and the Hammers would survive 100 times.

But none of that is of much comfort to West Ham fans, who have being forced to watch their beloved club fall apart in front of their eyes in the past few days.

The sale of Rio Ferdinand and Frank Lampard in the past few years may have been justified in view of the inflated prices paid for both players, although it did mark down West Ham as a club of limited ambition.

But the fire-sale that has taken place this summer is a disaster for a club that has done so much so develop its own players.

A total of 15 players have left West Ham since they were relegated and, if Jermain Defoe also goes, it will be 16.

They include England international midfielders Joe Cole and Trevor Sinclair, future England international full-back Glen Johnson and French international striker Freddie Kanoute.

It would be a disaster for any club to lose that amount of talent, especially when the only replacements so far are David Connolly from Wimbledon and Rob Lee from a local old people’s home.

But what makes it worse in West Ham’s case is that it was so avoidable.

Between them, manager Glenn Roeder and chairman Terry Brown have wrought havoc on the club.

The former is responsible for the fact that West Ham line up tomorrow against Preston North End in the Nationwide League.

And the latter is responsible for the club’s dire financial predicament, not least because huge sums of money have found their way into his own bank account.

Even so, one wonders why West Ham have sold the very heart of their team – a home-grown heart at that.

Fans were told that one of Cole, Defoe and Kanoute might have to leave before the season started. Now, it looks as if all three could have gone.

And it is not as if West Ham have got a fortune for them either.

West Ham fans are very angry and they have every right to be.

They have been badly let down by the club and, if results don’t go the right way at the beginning of the season, Brown and Roeder will start to feel that anger close up.

In fact, anything short of an outright promotion place will surely spell the end for both of them.

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


From Bad To Worse

‘WEST Ham manager Glenn Roeder yesterday hinted that he would quit the crisis-hit club if striker Jermain Defoe is sold to Manchester United.

Didn’t he used to work with Graham Taylor?

”I will do everything I possibly can to keep him,” he told the Sun.

Given that Roeder did everything he possibly could to keep the Hammers in the Premiership, those words will come as little comfort to West Ham fans.

In fact, many might consider losing Defoe a small price to pay for getting rid of Roeder, the man who led the club into the dire situation in which they now find themselves.

Les Ferdinand, who played in 14 of West Ham’s last 15 games last season, said: ”Watching the heart being torn out of the team over the last few weeks has been terrible to witness for anyone with a soft spot for the club.

”It must be heartbreaking for the fans because it just seems to be getting worse by the day.”

Heartbreaking indeed, as journalist and West Ham fan David Thomas explains in the Mail.

What really hurts, he says, is that the fans’ loyalty, trust and intelligence have been abused by those in charge of the club.

”West Ham may have 35,000 passionate fans who sell out every home game,” he says. ”Their youth system still churns out stars of the future.

”But they are run by men with small-time ambitions and ability to match.”

If anyone bumps into chairman Terry Brown as he parties at Cowes Week, give him a kick from us.

Meanwhile, Juan Sebastian Veron rubs salt into West Ham fans’ wounds.

”Joe Cole is the best player in England,” he tells the Sun, ”and I’m not saying that just because he is sitting next to me. It’s a pleasure to share the practice ground with him.”

As the papers try to work out how Chelsea are going to accommodate all their new signings (with the Mirror suggesting a 4-4-4-2 system), the Mail watches Alex Ferguson dust off his chequebook.

It claims that Manchester United are ready to make ”significant” moves in the transfer market with Barcelona defender Carles Puyol and Portuguese teenager Cristiano Ronaldo both targets as well as the aforementioned Defoe.

As for Arsenal, they have kept out of the transfer market (apart from the signing of goalkeeper Jens Lehmann) – a move that the Star reckons could make them stronger.

”If Gunners fans think they have no chance this season,” it says, ”they should have more faith.”

That is something West Ham fans know a lot about…

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


Any Old Irons

‘BEFORE we get to the serious stuff, here’s a question for you. After Chelsea, which football club has spent the most money on new players this summer?

Harry Redknapp claims to have found a surviving West Ham player

The answer is Tottenham. And the Telegraph was there to see one of the club’s new players, Freddie Kanoute, make his debut for the Lilywhites.

And it was a start worthy of Jamie Redknapp and Darren Anderton as Kanoute broke down in a training session.

The paper raises a laugh by repeating what Kanoute said on his signing for the North London club:

‘I was very relieved to pass the medical,’ he said. ‘Despite what people might think, I’m not injury prone.’ Just ‘relieved’.

As for the team that Kanoute left, the Telegraph says that West Ham fans are in uproar.

There have been 15 departures from Upton Park since the team were relegated last term, but it’s the sale of the brightest stars, like Glen Johnson and Joe Cole, that has upset the supporters.

And what bigger supporter of the club is there than Harry Redknapp? Over to you, Harry.

‘It’s a sad, sad day for West Ham and their fans,’ says Harry on the eve of Cole’s move to Chelsea.

‘They deserve better. It hurts me to see what’s happening. They’ve sold Rio Ferdinand, Frank Lampard, Joe Cole, Glen Johnson, Trevor Sinclair and Freddie Kanoute – where are they going and what are they doing?’

It’s unlikely they are going anywhere upwards. And what the Hammers are doing only the bank manger can tell.

The main beneficiaries of the Hammers’ tragic policy have been Chelsea. And now the Blues, as the Independent says, have bought Italian striker Christian Vieri for £20m.

The paper lines up the team that could open what promises to be an exciting campaign for the Blues this season, finding places for six new signings.

From a neutral’s viewpoint, the best thing about the Chelsea revolution is that Manchester United will have a team other than Arsenal to fear.

And so to that club in the grim north, and the news that Jermain Defoe is a target. There are, sadly, no prizes for guessing which club Defoe currently plays for.

You can hear the sighs all over East London…

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


Carrying His Bat

‘MARK Nicholas is labouring in the belief that Nasser Hussain has somehow wronged England.

Nasser protects himself against the brickbats thrown at him

Writing in the Telegraph, Channel 4’s pouting cricket presenter says that ‘the bravest thing Hussain could have done was to stay in charge’ for the Lord’s Test.

Nicholas is under the impression that in resigning as skipper between back-to-back Tests, Hussain gave new captain Michael Vaughan little chance to prepare, little time to ‘think clearly and fully’ about the job.

Are we to infer from this that, because Hussain left his job, one that we imagined he long wanted, enjoyed doing and did well, England failed so utterly at Lord’s?

The captain’s job is important, as Hussain has illustrated by his ability to turn the bulk of his predecessor Stewart’s rag-tag bunch of losers into a fighting force.

But captaincy is not the be all and end all. The players who have to bat well under Hussain have to bat well under Vaughan.

The same bowlers who failed so miserably in the St John’s Wood sunshine care not who is the captain when they run up to deliver.

The actions are routine. The skipper can pick who will bowl at a certain time and from what end and seek winning combinations, but he cannot magic up wickets.

The worst thing Hussain did was to drop Graeme Smith when he was not yet in double figures. Hussain’s lack of application cost England dear as the South African captain racked up a massive score.

Had Vaughan done as Smith did, or at least not given his wicket up so cheaply in both innings, Hussain would only be under attack for his lack of impact with the bat and in the field and not his decision to step down.

Hussain did nothing that was not brave or, by inference, cowardly and self-serving in stepping down when he did. He went and he went quickly.

Given what happened at Lord’s immediately after, Hussain should be applauded for his consummate timing – if only it were so with the bat.

The truly amazing thing is that he is still in the team along with that other former England captain Alec Stewart.

In making Vaughan a captain, the selectors must hold the belief that he can be his own man and lead a team to victory. That job started on the first day at Lord’s.

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


Gough Is Off

‘WE will learn at the weekend whether either Nasser Hussain or Alec Stewart will follow Darren Gough into international retirement – either voluntarily or otherwise.

Goughie alerts the umpire’s attention to a low-flying David Gower

But there is a good case for at least one of them not being in the starting XI at Trent Bridge and, for my money, it should be Stewart.

It may seem callous to axe Stewart, who has given such sterling service to England over 130 matches, on the back of a couple of dodgy displays.

Sentiment would at least allow for him to say his farewell at his home ground, The Oval, and the chance to lift his batting average above 40 again.

But the English selectors are not paid to be sentimental – they are paid to pick the team that is most likely to win Test matches.

And for my money, that means that Chris Read should come into the side sooner rather than later.

Not only was Stewart disappointing with a bat in his hand in the last Test, but his keeping has not been up to scratch in the past two games.

By announcing his retirement before the series, he may have hoped to pre-empt talk about his future but, if he is not performing on the pitch, then he knows he is vulnerable.

As for Hussain, there is some doubt over his long-term intentions, with mixed messages coming out over whether he will also retire at the end of the series.

With Anthony McGrath surely now about to make way for Graham Thorpe (two Test matches too late), there is definitely room for a younger batsman in England’s top five.

The names of Ed Smith, Vikram Solanki and Robert Key are mentioned, but one worries that any more than three changes could be unsettling to the side.

If Stewart is dropped (which is, I think, unlikely), it would also mean that Andrew Flintoff would bat at six – another reason for not taking any chances with the top order.

Flintoff is highly talented as he showed with his century at Lord’s, but he still averages a very modest 23 and will have to improve on that if he is to be England’s long-term answer in that position.

As for the bowlers, Gough’s retirement means that there is at least one place up for grabs.

With injury depriving England of Matthew Hoggard, Simon Jones and possibly Richard Johnson, it means the selectors are likely to look to James Ormond or James Kirtley.

James Anderson and Steve Harmison will no doubt retain their place, as will Ashley Giles, who not only is Michael Vaughan’s best mate in the England side but is almost the only spinner in England.

However, in the end the fate of this series is not going to depend so much on the personnel in the England side but their application – something that was sadly lacking at Lord’s.

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


Cole’s To Chelsea

‘JOE Cole, the West Ham captain with the vacant look and slack jaw, is on his way to Chelsea for £6.6m.

‘I’ve got the Blues, they’re multiplying’

As the Telegraph says, Cole will now join former Hammers Frank Lampard and Glen Johnson at the club, showing West Ham to be a sort of feeder club to the Chelsea Blue.

And with Freddie Kanoute already moved to Spurs and Trevor Sinclair to Manchester City, the smart move for any boy in the east London area would be to buy some boots and a West Ham replica kit and get down to Upton Park. Chances are high that you’ll get a game.

If only the Hammers could hang onto their local youth – and that goes for Leytonstone’s finest, David Beckham.

The big news in the Guardian is that Beckham has just scored his first goal for Real Madrid. The paper looks on as the pony-tailed one curls in a free-kick against the mighty FC Tokyo.

Anyone still labouring under the impression that goals scored in pre-season matches do not really count should remember that Manchester United have spent the summer telling us how important such games are. Which means that they are.

But as football grows ever more important, cricket slowly slips from the main news.

And that’s a great shame since Darren Gough, one the sport’s most charismatic players, has decided to retire from Test cricket.

The Times buries the story of Gough’s departure after the football chatter, highlighting the ‘Highs And ‘Lows’ of a career that has reaped for the Yorkshireman 229 wickets from 58 Tests.

That puts him eighth on the all-time list of England Test bowlers, behind the likes of Ian Botham (first), Bob Willis (second) and Derek Underwood (fourth).

But Gough was more than just a wicket taker, giving England a spark of charm at a time when the team was peopled with a bunch of non-entities.

‘I hope that they [supporters] don’t feel that after 229 Test wickets and a body in bits, I’ve let them down,’ says Gough.

No-one does. The real concern is that with Gough gone, the team lacks a bowler with the drive and energy to lift them from their slough of despondency.

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


Taylorphilia

‘IF Phil Taylor had married a former Spice Girl and worn her knickers would he be as big a star as David Beckham?

The Power

There used to be a theory about how if Emmerdale Farm, as it used to be known, was shown as often as Neighbours and at the peak time reserved for EastEnders, it would outperform all its soap opera rivals.

And since sport is so often played out on TV, it might be so with sportsmen.

Imagine if football vanished from the schedules and appeared only when the big tournaments were on.

An EU-backed government ban on sponsoring the game would make the advertisers and company sponsors seek out alternatives. And they’d surely turn to darts.

Phil Taylor, the best player on the planet – if no longer world champion (that honour goes to Canadian John Part) – would be elevated from arrow chucker to English hero.

Phil would travel the globe wearing his official darts shirt (available in Asda at a discount) and wow the crowds.

In this sanitised sporting world, where football fans are told to sit down by police and flag waving at a cricket match means instant dismissal for the waver, darts stands alone.

Fans of the sport are routinely shown in a state of alcohol-laced euphoria. More exposure for the sport would delight the sponsors no end.

The drink firms would be happy to see happy drinkers on TV and the cigarette manufacturers who sponsor Formula One will actually get to see their products being consumed.

Their delight would result in them investing money in the sport’s promotion.

Darts that double as cigarettes would be the must-have thing. No longer do you need two hands – with the Anorak E-Zee Dart, you can just light up and throw.

The one big obstacle to any of this becoming reality is Taylor. We need one of the former Spice Girls to make a move and take a chance on fame.

Phil promises that, if he does wear your knickers, he’ll wash them before returning them – although, given his dart player’s physique, he’ll most likely borrow your bra…

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