Back pages | Anorak - Part 89

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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

Brawl Sports

‘LIKE after a playground squabble, England and Turkey are left squabbling over who started the half-time brawl that marred the countries’ Euro 2004 qualifier on Saturday.

Matt Dawson – one of England’s injured trio

But the English papers have no doubt who is responsible – Turk defender Alpay being variously described as “coward” (Sun), “disgraced” (Mail) and “berk” (Star).

All of which means that Alpay may be on his way from Aston Villa, where he has hardly endeared himself to the fans anyway.

He tells the Mirror that he is poised to quit the Midlands club after reading reports from supporters’ organisations that he is no longer welcome at the club.

Alpay incurred the wrath of English players and fans after taunting David Beckham for missing a first-half penalty in the 0-0 draw.

And he was then seen poking his finger into the England captain’s face as the two teams went off at half-time.

“Alpay’s thuggish half-time attack on Becks sparked a 50-man tunnel brawl in the Sukru Saracoglu stadium,” says the Sun.

And leading the charge for England was the youngest player on the pitch, Wayne Rooney.

The Mail says the 17-year-old Everton star, who was a boxer in his schooldays, landed a right-hand punch on Alpay’s nose during the fracas.

Ashley Cole also squared up to defend his team-mates, while Emile Heskey was said to have been incensed by a racist taunt.

However, no action is likely to be taken against either team by Uefa, despite the incident being described as “a mini-riot”.

The Mail says referee Pierluigi Collina “has mentioned it in passing in his report but has recommended no further action be taken on the basis that he had dealt with the incident at the time”.

As for events on the pitch, the point means that England will spend next summer in Portugal at the European Championship finals as long as their fans don’t misbehave between now and then.

And so will Sven Goran Eriksson, after he confirmed to the Star (at the fifth time of asking) that he would remain in charge of the team.

It was a mixed weekend for England’s rugby players, who thrashed Georgia 84-6 in their opening game of the World Cup, but managed to end up with all three of their scrum halves injured.

To make matters worse, reserve scrum half Austin Healey is also injured, meaning that coach Clive Woodward may have to call up fifth choice Martyn Wood for next week’s crucial game against South Africa.’

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

Eff Off To The FA

‘SVEN Goran Eriksson will quit his job as England coach this weekend whether his side get the draw against Turkey that they need to qualify for Euro 2004 or not.

One big headache

That is the claim in the Express, which says the events of the past week have pushed the Swede over the edge.

Last night, a Swedish paper ran a story saying that Eriksson has already signed a pre-contractual agreement with Chelsea and it is to Stamford Bridge that he will go when he walks out on England.

The Mail agrees that Eriksson is now wondering whether his £3m salary is worth the strain.

“A revolt by his players, which led to spats between best friends David Beckham and Gary Neville, further bewildered a man not used to dressing room unrest,” it says.

The Sun says Eriksson has been offered a staggering £34m over four years to take over from Claudio Ranieri as boss of Chelsea.

If top footballers are obscenely overpaid (as the Mail claimed yesterday), what about top managers?

Meanwhile, the row over Rio Ferdinand’s exclusion from the England squad rumbles on, with the Sun suggesting that England’s stars are preparing to bankrupt the FA by refusing to co-operate in commercial activities.

The paper (which has cynically come down on the players’ side, having originally backed the FA) says the FA gets £20m a year from each of its five major sponsors – Umbro, Pepsi, Nationwide, McDonalds and Carlsberg.

“If they do not get any players, it is worthless and without the £100m there is every chance the FA could go bankrupt,” it says.

There is also every chance that fans’ patience with these preening prima donnas will finally run out if that happens and a bit of sanity may be reintroduced to the game.

How is it that, at whatever sporting event in which they appear, England manage to alienate the local population before the competition has even kicked off.

And so it is with the Rugby World Cup, where England have (in the words of the Mail) “scored an own goal” by refusing to take part in a public ceremony to mark the launch of the tournament.

All four of their pool rivals sent two players to the function in Perth, but England snubbed the invitation and then ignored pleas to change their mind.

A great way to make friends…’

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

Berks v Turks

‘IF the England players were expecting sympathy for their show of solidarity with Rio Ferdinand, they find it in pretty short supply among today’s papers.

Sven Goran Eriksson has plenty to worry about

The sports hacks take pretty well the same view on the back pages that the news hacks take on the front, as demonstrated by Brian Woolnough in the Star.

“How dare our star footballers hold the country to ransom?” he asks, portraying Saturday’s crucial Euro 2004 qualifier as Berks v Turks.

Actually, with Michael Owen missing with a leg injury, it is probably more likely to be Becks v Turks – and in those circumstances the Turks have got to be hot favourites.

The Sun, whose early editions led with the headline “Heroes To Zeroes”, had a Damascene conversion halfway through last night and is now supporting the players.

As evidence, it quotes a Uefa official as saying that England could have played Rio Ferdinand if they had wanted to, while the Turks also said they would not have objected.

But the Sun’s support is only skin-deep – in fact, it only lasts a couple of pages into the paper where we come across Steven Howard blasting this “bunch of prima donnas”.

Meanwhile, the Mirror pays a visit to the Turks’ training camp and finds it “full of laughter, fun…and football”.

“The Turks were so relaxed as their build-up to Saturday’s troubled Euro 2004 qualifier intensified that they hosted a barbecue at the squad’s countryside training camp,” it says.

And it is England who can expect to be on the end of a skewer in jut over 48 hours’ time.’

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

Rio Banned

‘IT is not exactly the most ideal preparation for what is undoubtedly the most important game England have played since last year’s World Cup quarter-final against Brazil.

Innocent until proven guilty?

All 24 members of the squad have apparently said they will boycott Saturday’s match against Turkey if Rio Ferdinand isn’t reinstated to the squad.

The Manchester United centre-half has been left out on FA instructions after failing to turn up for a random drugs test.

“Frantic negotiations were continuing last night,” the Sun says, “in a bid to resolve the row before the squad leaves for Istanbul in 24 hours.”

But so far FA chiefs have refused to back down and coach Sven Goran Eriksson is caught in the middle of an incredible stand-off.

“I could not imagine a worse build-up to a match of the importance of the one we face in Istanbul,” the Swede said.

But former England manager Graham Taylor believes the FA had no choice but to axe Ferdinand even though he has not yet been charged with any offence.

“It’s all very well asking if the FA can afford to do something – but the question is can they afford not to?” he says.

Not so, says PFA boss Gordon Taylor. “He’s been named and shamed without a positive test,” he claims.

Over in the Mirror, Oliver Holt lays into Ferdinand’s employers, Manchester United, and in particular chief executive David Gill, whom he accuses of offering “legalistic semantics” in his player’s defence.

“”What would you say if a Chinese swimmer drove off at high speed one day when the testers came calling?” he asks.

“Would you presume her innocence, would you say she was obviously preoccupied with doing the laundry or would you think she had something to hide?”

Meanwhile, the Express has more bad news for England fans with the news that Michael Owen is almost certain to miss the flight anyway because of his calf injury.

And an England game wouldn’t be an England game without an injury scare over David Beckham, so we are relieved to see the captain arriving for training with his thigh strapped.

Small wonder that Turkish striker Hakan Sukur says his team are laughing as England stumble from one crisis to another.’

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

Football’s Shame

‘FOR a brief moment, it appeared that Sven Goran Eriksson may have a full squad of players to choose from for this weekend’s crucial match against Turkey.

Sven poses for next year’s Chelsea yearbook

But an injury to Michael Owen has been followed by the news that Rio Ferdinand failed to turn up for a random drugs test – and suddenly there is a familiar ring to proceedings.

As if that wasn’t enough, Eriksson is under fire from Liverpool boss who is concerned that the Swede may be using England get-togethers to line up players for a potential move to Chelsea.

The Express says the Frenchman’s views are shared by other Premiership managers, “who are also concerned Eriksson could have a hidden agenda”.

It is widely expected that Eriksson will leave his job as national coach to replace Claudio Ranieri at Stamford Bridge.

And, says the Mirror, “with Michael Owen’s future very much up in the air at Anfield, it has become an extremely contentious issue”.

As for the Turkey game itself, the Mirror’s Matthew Norman is surely not the only person hoping that England fans do misbehave and the country gets thrown out of Euro 2004.

“The major point,” he says, “is that football desperately needs a near-fatal shock – a dose of national humiliation so intense and dramatic that the ostriches who run the game and the country have to raise their heads at last and stare the problems in the face.”

Again, we turn to England’s rugby squad as an exemplar for the so-called beautiful game.

Not only is England’s travelling support not tainted by a group of far-right, racist knuckle-heads, but the team itself is a model of excellence on and off the pitch.

The Sun this morning publishes its 16-page guide to the Rugby World Cup, which gets underway this weekend, with a picture of captain Martin Johnson tearing apart a rugby ball on the cover.

If he can do the same to the Springboks in 10 days time, he will make a lot of Englishmen very happy.’

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

Owen Stuffed

‘NORMALLY, a week before an important England game, we are all invited to rub a cut-out of captain David Beckham’s foot/groin/thigh* (*delete as appropriate) to try to speed his recovery.

Will he or won’t he?

But this morning it is Michael Owen’s turn to hog the back pages as the papers fret over whether the Liverpool striker will be fit for Saturday’s clash with Turkey.

The Star senses bad news, telling its readers unequivocally: “Owen Won’t Make It.”

But a second opinion is available in the Sun, whose headline, “Owen Goin’” suggests that the “injured star will be ready for Turks”.

No doubt the truth is somewhere in the middle, with both the Mail and the Express quoting official reports that he has a 50-50 chance of recovering from a calf injury sustained in Liverpool’s 2-1 defeat to Arsenal.

Also going to Turkey, according to the Express, is Kieron Dyer, despite being caught up in the gang rape case that has cast a pall over English football.

Dyer was yesterday named as the person whop booked the hotel room where the attack is alleged to have taken place, even though he strenuously denies that he was in any way involved.

Also going will be Paul Scholes, who returned for Manchester United in their 3-0 defeat of Birmingham and was, says the Mirror, the star turn.

Brum manager Steve Bruce poured praise on the midfielder, saying: “I cannot pay Paul a bigger compliment than to say that he is the most complete player in the country – the best bar none.”

Meanwhile, the normal war of words has started ahead of the rugby world cup, with the Springboks claiming that England skipper Martin Johnson is one of the dirtiest captains in the game.

But it’s not just the opposition that need worry about Johnson, his team-mate Ben Kay vividly recalls his fellow lock stamping on his face and hitting him while he was on the same side.

“Now I have come to the conclusion where Jonno is concerned – his problem is he is just plain clumsy,” Kay tells the Sun.

An interesting point of view, but one the opposition are unlikely to buy.’

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

Cheer Up, Peter Reid

‘SINCE when has a football club like Leeds United ever cared what its fans thought, far less held off from sacking a manager because of pressure from the terraces?

Keeping the seat warm?

We have little doubt that the Mail is correct in its assessment this morning that Peter Reid was only spared the sack yesterday to save their manager-in-waiting from the start from hell.

In their next five games, the West Yorkshire club face Manchester United (twice), Arsenal, Liverpool and Blackburn – hardly the fixtures on which a new boss would like to cut his teeth.

The paper says costly compensation packages for Reid and whoever the new manager will be (with Nottingham Forest’s Paul Hart the leading contender) were also a consideration.

“But the biggest worry for the chairman, who yesterday refused to put a time scale on how long Reid would last, was the pressure he himself would be under if the new manager got off to a bad start,” the paper says.

Meanwhile, football continues to cover itself in shame with players’ behaviour on the pitch as much in the spotlight as their behaviour off it.

The Mail has started a campaign to name and shame the professional cheats, starting with Manchester United’s Cristiano Ronaldo, who was accused of diving for the second time this season by Stuttgart keeper Timo Hildebrand.

And the other papers report on how Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger stood to applaud a fan who told the club’s AGM that the Gunners had been brutalised by Sir Alex Ferguson’s team.

“Brutes,” says the Star headline, while the Sun hears Wenger tell shareholders that they should be proud of his brawling players.

If footballers want to know how to behave, perhaps they should tune into the rugby world cup to learn what highly skilled and motivated athletes can achieve.

The Mirror watches the England squad getting mobbed as they arrived in Perth, Australia, as the world No.1s.

Coach Clive Woodward thinks Australia are the team to beat, the bookies think the All Blacks are the favourites, but even the antipodeans know that England are a force to be reckoned with.’

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

Chelsea Basted

‘THERE was a time when we tried to convince ourselves that the Premiership was the best league in Europe – a claim that stretched credibility every time our clubs travelled abroad.

A crying shame

Manchester United may have won the European Cup in 1999, but no English team has got to the final since.

And the chances are no English team are going to get to the final this year after both Chelsea and Manchester United crashed to defeat last night.

The Sun says it was “a night of Champions’ League hellski” for Claudio Ranieri’s side of superstars, who went down 2-0 at home to Turkish side Besiktas.

And the puns don’t stop there – club owner Roman Abramovich, we are told, was left “besik as a parrot” as he watched his boys “Turk one hell of a beating”.

Over in the Mirror, there is a hint of the paper’s infamous 1996 front page in the headline “United Surrender”.

One wonders whether it would have chosen the same verb had the English champions lost to anyone but a German side.

As it was, manager Sir Alex Ferguson placed the blame firmly on his defenders, with Rio Ferdinand picked out by the paper as the main culprit.

That at least allows the Mirror to use the headline “Blame It On Rio”.

The mention of Rio inspires thoughts of Brazil, as did West Ham striker Jermain Defoe’s opener last night for the Hammers against Crystal Palace.

The Star said the highly-rated striker went one better than Pele, dummying the Palace keeper before collecting the ball and firing into an empty net.

The great Pele tried the same trick against Uruguay in 1970, but fired wide.

However, even though the Hammers went on to win 3-0, the Mirror senses trouble in the camp.

It said the uneasy relationship between the club’s three front men, Defoe, David Connolly and Neil Mellor, has “created a fascinating sub-plot to the club’s start to the season”.

Defoe angered Hammers fans at the weekend by failing to pass to Connolly when the Irishman was poised to knock the ball in.

And Connolly last night pointedly snubbed Mellor, walking away with not so much as a handshake, when the on-loan striker was celebrating his first goals for the club.

And the call it the beautiful game…’

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

Staying, Staying, Gone

‘IF Alex Ferguson were anything like his beloved Rock of Gibraltar racehorse, he’d be put out to stud, his seed used to rear a new legion of winners.

Bobby Robson c.1861

Images of the brusque Scot rutting are not pleasant at any time, and we apologise for any offence caused. But the Manchester United manager is no thoroughbred racehorse, and he has no plans to be put out to seed.

The Star says that talks are underway for Ferguson to remain at Old Trafford for a further four seasons, taking him to 2007.

It’s becoming increasingly evident that Ferguson doesn’t know when to let got, and the United board aren’t helping him to retire gracefully.

But in 2006, he’ll only be 66, and compared to Bobby Robson, who by then will be in triple figures, he’ll be something of spring chicken.

And the Sun has news that the rheumy-eyed old stager is staying as boss of Newcastle.

The only good news for Magpies’ fans is that his presence will mean that the itinerant and useless Peter Reid will not be coming to stay.

Where the blunt Reid is going does not overly concern the Express, which just says that he’s moving away from Leeds later today.

After just 15 games in charge of the Yorkshire club, the man who arrived to save them and restore some pride is to be shown the door.

The question, however, is not why he’s going but why he was even given the job in the first place.

Like Bryan Robson, Reid possesses an image that outshines his coaching achievements and abilities.

Perhaps he’ll end up at Spurs. After all, as the Sun says, Tottenham have been twice snubbed in their search for a replacement for the departed Glenn Hoddle.

A bid to lure Martin O’Neill to North London is failing, as is one to put Alan Curbishley in the White Hart Lane hot seat. The odds on Reid are shortening all the time.’

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

Cheerio, Peter Reid

‘LEEDS United fans must be unhappy with their club’s start to the season. But things are about to get brighter, as the Mirror leads with news that Peter Reid is facing the axe.

The end of the line?

Reid is not one of the world’s great mangers, or even one of its mediocre ones.

He is a poor coach, a truth illustrated by Sunderland’s inability to kick a ball straight under his tutelage and Leeds’ developing ineptitude.

Reid will now throw teacups, as is his wont, and say how football has become a haven for myopia.

His performances should be judged after an entire season, he’ll say – at which time Leeds will probably be heading for Division One.

If short–sightedness is a trait of the modern game then Arsene Wenger must epitomise things.

But tonight Wenger is looking to the future as he includes the names of three new faces in his squad to face Lokomotiv Moscow in Russia tonight.

The young lads will surely be keen to take their rare chances to shine in the Champions’ League, a game the Star says is “Hit Or Bust” for the Gunners.

The Mail puts it in stronger terms – “Gunners know it’s do or die in Russia”.

Anything other than a win tonight will not help Arsenal’s Champions League’ challenge. Defeat would be disastrous.

But from every tragedy a little silver doth fall. And the Mail hears that a bidding war is taking place for the rights to publish Stan Collymore’s autobiography.

Few players have thrown away quite so much, and Collymore’s story should include some interesting passages.

But it’s hard to counter the Mail’s opinion that it’s the footballer’s relationship with Ulrika Jonsson that will prove most lucrative. Especially is it’s as Honest as her effort.

Another whose autobiography cannot be too many years away is Tim Henman. At an age when he’s thinking about life after tennis, Henman says he plans to take up coaching.

To begin this transition, the tigerish one is fronting a new Find A Star programme directed at schools throughout the land. It’s a project Tim says “is close to his heart”.

And so it should be. After all, if it weren’t for it and other failed programmes like it, Henman would most likely not still be Britain’s best tennis player by a mile.

And then how many books would he sell?’

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

A Schu-In

‘ONLY a freak result in Japan can now stop Michael Schumacher winning a record sixth Formula 1 title after the German won a rain-affected US Grand Prix yesterday.

The German wins

Indeed, for 17 laps yesterday, Schumacher was the 2003 champion, but Kimi Raikkonen came back to take second place and so ensure the championship will go to the wire.

However, such news is predictably overshadowed by the news that David Beckham may miss England’s crucial Euro 2004 qualifier in Turkey with a foot injury.

We seem to go through this every time England have a match these days and it is hard to believe that a sore right foot will keep Beckham away from Istanbul in 12 days times.

As the Indy points out, Beckham was struggling with a groin injury before the matches against Macedonia and Liechtenstein and of course broke his metatarsal just before the World Cup.

And given that Beckham was yesterday talking about being fit to play for Real Madrid in Wednesday’s Champions’ League game against Porto, one must expect the injury to have cleared by Saturday week.

To events on the field and, as an ex-Manchester United player, Beckham will have been glad to see two of the club’s bitterest rivals losing yesterday.

Liverpool were undone by a hat-trick from Kevin Lisbie, while Leeds United went down 4-0 to Everton, with Steve Watson scoring a hat-trick.

The Guardian points out that it is little under a year since Leeds manager Peter Reid was sacked as boss of Sunderland and his position is once again under threat.

“Any more displays as feeble as this,” it warns, “and, for all the financial implications of dismissing him, Reid’s position will become untenable.”

If Peter Reid needs inspiration, he should look to golf and Lee Westwood, who yesterday confirmed his rehabilitation after three years in the golfing doldrums.

The 30-year-old Englishman won the Dunhill Links Championship – his second victory in a month – to show that he is back to where he was before his slump.

And, says the Telegraph, it showed that his ability to handle the pressure of the closing stretch was undiminished.

“Some people are confident when they’re in the lead and some aren’t,” he said. “Luckily, I’m one of those who is.”

Unluckily for Kimi Raikkonen, so is Michael Schumacher.’

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

Infamy, Infamy

‘IT must have been some kind of guarded ‘sorry’ for his team’s behaviour last Sunday by Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger because only one paper seems to have heard it.

Wenger shows his players what to do next time they are upset by someone cheating

But even the Mirror says the apology, after 52 red cards and 148 match bans during his seven years in charge, was just the precursor to a declaration of war on the FA.

“I back aggro six all the way” aren’t the exact words of the Highbury boss, but that is the Star’s interpretation of what he said.

He is to ask the FA for personal hearings for the six players who have been charged after what is now becoming known as the Battle of Old Trafford.

Of course, that might be a tactic to stagger any bans the players might receive rather than a belief in their innocence, but with the myopic Wenger it is hard to tell.

In the Mail, Wenger seems to be claiming that Sky were the real culprits for screening the brawl.

“It is a Sky trial,” said the increasingly absurd Wenger. “There is one guy in a lorry who decides whether to show something again or not. It’s not the FA.”

Over in the Sun, Wenger has widened his attack to include the whole of England.

“We should not have reacted like we did, but I find the sensitivity of this country very selective,” he said.

“Suddenly, the whole of England is so shocked as if there is never any violence in your society. I find that surprising.”

Of course, Wenger is an expert on selectivity, managing to see with 20-20 vision any offence to his side and his eyesight so often failing him when the boot is literally on the other foot.

And his argument is ridiculous anyway – just because everyone has sex doesn’t mean the odd eyebrow wouldn’t be raised if Prince Charles and Camilla Parker Bowles had a quick knee-trembler during the Last Night Of The Proms.’

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

In The Dock

‘THE Guardian’s back page reads like a module at maths GCSE. The case of Arsenal has thrown up so many numbers that you need a calculator and help from an adult to work things out.

‘What, me?’

Helpfully the paper adopts the mantle of educator, saying how the Gunners have been slapped with an unprecedented 12 charges following Ruud van Nistelrooy’s histrionics at Old Trafford last weekend.

And we have distilled things still further and bring you news that Arsenal’s right back Lauren should be free to play once more on April 17 2009.

The paper lists the six players in red and white who are up before the FA’s beak in a series of mocked-up prison mugshots. How proud Tony Adams would have been!

But while Manchester United and Chelsea rub their hands in glee, and that irritating Dutchman pats himself on the back (just as so many Arsenal players did on Sunday), the Times sees some football being played.

Last night Michael Owen became Liverpool’s record goalscorer in European competitions, striking his 21st goal in his side’s 1-1 draw with Uefa Cup challengers Olimpija Ljubjana.

Given that Liverpool have such an enviable record in European competition and so many great players have worn the red shirt, Owen’s achievement is remarkable.

Is he really better than the men who have gone before, like Ian Rush and Roger Hunt? Or did he just start younger, play more matches and win more penalties?

Meanwhile we bring some Chelsea news, courtesy of the Telegraph property section.

Roman Abramovich, the billionaire Chelsea owner, has sold a big stake in a Russian oil company for many millions, so relinquishing some of his interests in his native land and setting up a move to Britain.

The question as to where he will live can best be viewed from the air, where we have spotted a compact and bijou green space halfway down the Fulham Road in trendy SW3.

And while Chelsea prepare to play in Roman’s back garden, or some other new location, Spurs march back to greatness.

Last night the Lilywhites went to Coventry and thrashed the Sky Blues by three goals to two. David Pleat, the club’s caretaker boss is a hero.

The return of the old kerb crawler is sure to enliven Tottenham. Until the big lads from down the Seven Sisters Road come and beat them up…’

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

The Entertainers

‘WE are indebted to Susan Mellor, whose letter to the Independent has caught our eye.

Ben Johnson, seconds before he was knocked to the ground by Martin Keown

Among the miles of words written about how Arsenal are the pariahs of the entire planet (it being the team supported by Osama bin Laden, Frank Bruno and Prince Harry), Ms Mellor makes the point that most fans “rather enjoy incidents like this”.

She is, of course, right, although it’s not just supporters who like a good on-field bust-up – journalists like it too and, alongside Ms Mellor’s letter, the Indy’s James Lawton bangs on about the need to get tough on they who transgress football’s gilded laws.

There can be little doubt that Arsenal’s fans, as a group, are far from appalled by their team’s behaviour.

Did United’s legions swoon in horror when Cantona flew into the Crystal Palace crowd? Think hard before answering. Think of Andy D’Urso recoiling from the Red Devils…

From sportsmanship, gamesmanship, call it what you will, to outright, stone-cold cheating, as the Times shares a cup of something interesting with Ben Johnson.

Those who recall the men’s 100m final at the 1988 Seoul Olympics will recall the name of Johnson with ease. He was, after all, the one who produced the most blistering run of all time.

Shame that it was aided with pharmaceutical rocket fuel.

But enough of us, let’s listen to Johnson. “Regardless of what I did, I am still the best sprinter of all time. Most people loved the entertainment and know the game.”

As for ‘knowing’ the game, we suppose Johnson refers to the nature of athletics, a sport which has, apparently, too often turned a blind eye to the competitors’ use of banned substances.

As for the entertainment, we must offer a wry smile. Like the Arsenal-United fracas, Johnson has given us all much to talk about. Of all the runs in history, his is the one scorched on the memory.

And so it is in a way with Frank Bruno. He was never undisputed heavyweight champion of the world, but he did give us a night to remember when he was beaten up by Mike Tyson.

We cheered as a nation that night. We knew he was most likely going to lose but we hoped that some luck would see him win the day.

Now, as the Guardian says, Bruno is fighting with himself. We wish him well. And thank him for giving us all so much to talk about…’

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

Ruud Boys

‘ANY team that takes so many early baths – 52 under Arsene Wenger’s administration at the last count – cannot be dirty.

‘A monkey’s head, eh?’

That’s the conclusion of this column, and it’s one we are sticking to. Despite much evidence to the contrary.

The rumblings after Sunday’s match between Manchester United and Arsenal fill a large section of the sports pages. All have a take on the events at Old Trafford, with the Telegraph donating a two-page special to matters tribal.

The long and short of things is that Arsenal look set to be punished by the FA. Given that they have been punished before, the Gunners will take their medicine with masochistic glee.

What doesn’t kill us makes us stronger runs the motto at Arsenal these days.

However, judging by the team’s reaction to Ruud Van Nistelrooy’s petulance, a swift chopping of the Dutchman’s head would make Lauren, Keown, Cole, Vieira and Parlour happy lads.

But while Arsenal rock and rumble, Tottenham fall to bits. What is it about Spurs that, even when their big local rivals are in the mire, they up the stakes?

Arsenal explode and Tottenham self-destruct.

The Independent hears words from Glenn Hoddle, former Messiah of the Lane, the man who was supposed to give the Spurs fans their Tottenham back.

He expresses his “shock and disappointment” at losing his job. Note his lack of both feelings in his inability to mould a winning team. Just his shock at being sacked.

The feeling is very much that the great ego that is Hoddle will find others to blame for his demise. After all, he can do no wrong.

He does, though, praise his “great squad”, the one he has built, and say that the “turning point” will come very soon.

And when it does, should it be tomorrow or ten years from now, Hoddle will the first to pat himself on the back for a job well done.

Beyond football, over in the Guardian, Great Britain are seen losing to Morocco in the Davis Cup. Greg Rusedski lost to Hicham Arazi and, with that defeat, Team GB are “doomed” to the Euro-African zone until at least 2005.

Around the time Arsenal will be allowed to play football again…’

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

Brawl For One

‘TWO reasons for Arsenal to celebrate – Ruud Van Nistelrooy’s last minute penalty miss that gave the Gunners a share of the points at Old Trafford and the sacking of Glenn Hoddle by their North London rivals.

Sky TV pictures clearly show Arsenal stabbing and then skinning Ruud Van Nistelrooy

But the papers are most concerned by the behaviour of the Arsenal players, who attacked Van Nistelrooy at the end of the game in what the Star describes as “disgraceful scenes”.

“As ref Steve Bennett signalled the end of the game, Van Nistelrooy was sent spinning as Keown leapt into the air, coming down on the United striker’s shoulder,” it says.

“Then, the startled Van Nistelrooy was barged in the back by Cameroon international Lauren and hit by the flailing arm of Ray Parlour.”

The Arsenal players were furious that the Dutchman had over-reacted when Patrick Vieira had kicked out at him (without making contact) and had got the visiting skipper sent off for a Premiership record eighth time.

If the Star’s headline (“YOBS”) shows what it made of the incident, the Sun’s headline (“CHEAT”) indicates that it has some sympathy for the Arsenal players.

Vieira certainly blamed the Dutchman rather than the ref, telling the Sun: “He made more of the challenge than he should have and he cheated. He tried to stamp on me.”

Meanwhile, Celtic boss Martin O’Neill has emerged as favourite to replace Hoddle, whose tenure at White Hart Lane was ended by Saturday’s 3-1 home defeat to Southampton.

Ironically, Hoddle walked out on Southampton two years ago to manage Spurs.

Some might call that karma, Glenn…’

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

A Sad Day For Sport

‘RUPERT Murdoch’s Sun likes to protect its investments, but today’s leading news leaves a rather sour taste in the mouth.

Sussex celebrate the death of Sol Campbell’s father

“Sol’s Hell,” screams the Sun’s headline. And the story? It’s not that the Arsenal defender Sol Campbell has been banned from playing once more but that his father has died.

Bad news for Sol. Worse news for his father. But terrific stuff for Manchester United who can now face Arsenal at the weekend without the Gunners’ top stopper.

“He’ll miss Utd after dad’s death,” lauds the paper. And it’s another chance to say how in the Community Shield match the England player kicked out at United’s Djemba-Djemba.

This is just one of the most depressing takes on a personal tragedy we’ve ever heard. A man dies and somehow in the Sun’s perverted mind Manchester United profit.

There is more on the United-Arsenal match in the Mirror, where Ruud van Nistelrooy, the jump-jawed Dutchman, is saying how he’s going to murder Arsenal. Kill them. Slaughter them. Rip off their heads.

This football season is only a few weeks old and already the hyperbole has reached a frenzy.

It’s lucky that the cricket season has thrown up a genuine sporting story. The Express offers salvation to we who are tired of footballing hyperbole.

Yesterday Sussex won the county championship. This is a big deal since it’s the first time the southern county has won domestic cricket’s top prize in 164 years of trying.

The long wait was finally ended when the side’s Murray Goodwin thumbed a ball delivered by Leicestershire’s captain Phil Defreitas towards the boundary.

That strike took the Sussex score past the 300 runs they needed to secure a bonus point and with it the championship.

And Murray is every inch the hero. He not only hit the all important run but created his own record score of 335 not out. That’s the highest score a Sussex player has scored in the championship.

Of course, with this being a non-football story, we will put it into football terms. It’s like Swindon winning the Premier League. And Thierry Henry’s mother dying in a terrific plane crash.’

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

Gunned Down

‘LAST night Arsenal were well and truly beaten by Inter Milan in the Champions League by three goals to nil.

Whichever way you look at it, Arsenal were well beaten

It’s caused the Sun to show a picture of a disconsolate Thierry Henry trudging over the turf and to produce the headline “Stun Gun”.

Indeed, the picture seems to say it all, and it says it far better than the club’s manager Arsene Wenger, who is lost for words.

“You have better English than me,” he says to the assembled hacks, “so I trust you to find the words, it’s your job. All I know is, it is just disappointing.”

That the cue for the Star to come up with its word of the day: “STUFFED.”

Of course the season is not over for the Gunners. This was only one game, and with five to go in the Champions League first stage, they can still improve and qualify for the competition’s latter rounds.

Football is all matter of perspective. And Frank Lampard’s has changed a little since he was dropped for Chelsea’s Champions League game earlier this week.

The player had been enthusing about the new life at new Chelsea, making all the right noises about the big squad and the passion to win gongs and pots. But he’s changing his tune.

This prompts the Mirror to say that storm clouds are ahead for the Blues, mentioning how, like Lampard, Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink is also upset at being left out of the club’s biggest match thus far.

“It hurts,” says Lampard of his demotion. “It’s a new and big thing for me because for the last five years I’ve played week-in and week-out for West Ham and Chelsea. I’m one of those players who wants to play every game.”

And Chelsea want to win them all. And few can argue that Makelele and Veron have more to offer than Lampard.

The Mail keeps its eyes on the same story, saying how the wage bill at Chelsea is now £80million a year (not yet a week) and rising.

It also highlights the plight of Lampard and says how the new recruits will also have a detrimental impact on John Terry as the season progresses.

But few will care so long as the club is wining. In any case, the favourite to be the first man out the door at the Bridge remains Claudio Ranieri.’

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

Lucky Stars

‘A GREAT night for British club football in the Champions League saw Manchester United thump Panathinaikos 5-0, Chelsea beat Sparta Prague 1-0 and Glasgow Rangers come from behind to win 2-1 against VFB Stuttgart.

‘Anyone seen Joe Cole?’

All the papers are full of praise, showing pictures of United’s goals and Chelsea’s William Gallas, scorer of the Blues’ only goal.

The Sun also hears from Claudio Ranieri. “I am a very lucky man,” say the Italian, whose mastery of English makes him sound like an Italian Clouseau.

“I am such a lucky man to have so many fantastic players. It means I can change my system at any time. If I want to make alterations I can do that at any time and always know which are the best players to do that.”

The English word Ranieri is clutching for is tinkering, although we will accept meddling or interfering. If other teams weren’t looking forward to a game with Chelsea this season, they will take heart from the news that Ranieri will fiddle while the game goes on.

But sticking with the Champions League, the Mirror takes a look at Arsenal’s preparations for their game against Inter Milan tonight. And it hears the club’s captain Patrick Vieira say that the Gunners have to toughen up.

Given the team’s disciplinary record and aggressive streak, Vieira’s comments conjure up images of the Gunners marching onto the pitch dressed in gloves and boxing boots.

But his point is more educated than a simple call to fight, fight, fight. “It’s not that we are naïve,” says Vieira, “but it’s because we want to play too much. Maybe we should sit back and be more patient.”

While not a call for the return of George Graham, the Gunners must have realised by now that going forward all the time leaves holes in the back.

Defending a lead is something England cricketers must also learn how to do. The Test series against South Africa was there for the winning. Scampering to a 2-2 draw was not good enough.

But Michael Vaughan, England’s captain, has found the reason for England’s failure to win everything – too much cricket.

The Express says that the counties are supporting Vaughan’s pleas for the number of county games to be reduced. This will surely make the game more streamlined and competitive at domestic level.

But where will the fans who attend the county games now go on a damp Friday morning? Over to you Doris Pickles and your dog Boycs…’

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

Uncle Joe

‘DOES Joe Cole have hidden depths? We ask in light of the Mirror’s news that the slack-jawed player was offered by Chelsea chairman Roman Abramovich to Spartak Moscow on a year’s loan.

The twelfth man

The Cold War might be over, but we can’t help but think that Cole is part of something bigger. Is he the third man? Perhaps, but at Chelsea, where he’s staying, he’s very much the twelfth.

Meanwhile, the Star catches up with a few of the Chelsea first XI, which this week includes Damien Duff and Adrian Mutu.

Mutu is seen aboard a flight to Prague for Chelsea’s Champions League clash. Duff is just heard moaning about how little he likes being substituted.

“Soon I’d like to get the full 90 minutes,” says Duff, who has been substituted in all five matches he’s played for the Blues. He complains that he wants to stay on the pitch and that his case for doing so is not being helped by his being played out of position.

A position, which if he keeps whining, will soon be in goal for Siberia Athletic.

Over there, Duff would be wise not to hit the frozen turf too hard. Something Robert Pires, the Arsenal player, should also note when his team play their Champions League games in Moscow and Kiev.

The Express shows Pires falling to the ground and winning a penalty in Arsenal’s 1-1 draw with Portsmouth, and talks about the need to stamp out diving in the game.

Also in the frame is Manchester United’s Ronaldo, who has been accused by Charlton’s players of diving in their match of last weekend.

Pires is heard defending himself. “I did not dive,” says he. Ronaldo is not heard from at all, and as is the way with Manchester United, the talking is left to Alex Ferguson.

Fergie claims that the influx of foreign players is to blame for the burgeoning diving culture. It’s those pesky foreigners that are at fault – although, curiously, none who play for Manchester United.

“I’ve watched some of the tackles on video,” says Fergie of the Charlton match, “and Atlas, the Greek god, would have gone down under some of those challenges.”

Which is clearly a balanced, unbiased and clear view of events. It’s a good job Fergie’s around to tell us what’s what or else we’d think people were cheating…’

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

My Blue Heaven

‘THE Star says that Kevin Keegan “reckons” Nicolas Anelka can “rule the world”. The basis of this hyperbolic claim is that yesterday the sulky po-faced Frenchman scored three goals in Manchester City’s 4-1 win over Aston Villa.

Now appearing in Manchester

That two of the strikes were from the penalty spot fails to put a dent in Keegan’s typical enthusiasm. And so it is that Kev waxes lyrical.

“I think there is still much more to come from Nicolas,” says Kev. “He is 24. I was 27 before I learned what the game was all about.” Only to forget everything when he took over as England’s coach.

Anelka has been hyped and championed for years now, so another story about how great he can be is not such big news. As is the by now usual tale of how someone is all set to buy Manchester United.

The Express says that shares in the club have jumped on the speculation that no less than three foreign billionaires are vying to buy the club.

The paper fails to give a hint – probably because it doesn’t have a clue – as to the identities of this shadowy trio. Could one be Bill Gates, ready to turn United into a 3D computer game? Or some footballer from Real Madrid, seeking revenge for that flying boot?

While we wonder about that, the Mail applauds Europe’s win in golf’s Solheim Cup, the female equivalent of the Ryder Cup.

We are treated to shots of women dressed as men in Comfi-Slax and tank tops running to each other ready to embrace. Catrin Nilsmark, clad in a truly horrible black-and-white check sweater, holds the crystal cup aloft.

If this is doing good work for the emancipation of women in sport, a world that is still run and dominated by men, it does little for the fairer sex in the fashion stakes.

But a win is a win, whatever the cut of the cloth. And it was for Michael Schumacher, that charmless formula one motor racing champion, who yesterday recorded a win at the Italian Grand Prix.

The German now leads the race to be world champion by three points over Juan Pablo Montoya. And it’s causing some debate over who will win the overall prize.

But our money’s on the one with the fastest car. And that’s the German…’

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

Merry Men

‘DID you know that Hernan Crespo’s dream when he was a lad was to be a binman? Yes, it’s true. It’s one of the many useful football facts that the Sun likes to trot out in place of sports reporting.

Crespo only stopped running when he got to the bank

The only surprise is that this back-page story is not supported by a shot of the wee Crespo kicking a ball around some Argentinean slum wearing a Manchester United kit with a Sky satellite dish hanging off his ears.

But the paper presses on regardless. Readers learn that Crespo also wants to a Robin Hood figure. “I‘d take from a bank or businessman and give it to the people,” he says.

Which is pretty much the reverse of being an overpaid footballer, who takes from the people and gives to the bank manager.

How dreams alter with reality.

For Wayne Rooney, though, many dreams have already come true. And the cherry has been put on his cake by way of a few words from on high.

The Express has heard that David Beckham thinks Rooney’s a good player. Which makes it official. “He’s good enough to go out and play in Turkey,” says Day-vid. He adds that Rooney’s “confidence has shot up since Saturday”.

Let’s just hope that a few generous words from Mr Posh Spice don’t inflate the young man’s ego too much.

But he’ll have to watch what he reads, as the papers heap praise on the player, going, as the Mirror does for the umpteenth time, “Looney for Rooney”.

While the Star lists Rooney’s name with another five “kid sensations” who also hit the headlines aged just 17. These are, in no special order: Pele, Ryan Giggs, Norman Whiteside, Diego Maradona and Ronaldo.

But the real, and perhaps only genuine sporting hero in England who might well lift a World Cup is Jonny Wilkinson.

The Mail looks at the rugby union player and what kind of tournament the rugby union Word Cup will be. And news is that the simple scoring system will be supplemented by bonus points.

How these points will be awarded is a clear as Kiwi mud, but with categories as diverse as “Straightest Line-Out”, “Best Use Of The Gouge”, Filthiest Rugby Song” and “Ugliest Front Row”, the South Africans are many people’s dark horses..’

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

Roon At The Top

‘OF all the hype and bilge written about England’s prosaic football team the story that is increasingly hard to deny is that Wayne Rooney is, in football parlance, a bit special.

Wayne has the world at his feet

The face of the England player celebrating his goal in England’s 2-0 win over Liechtenstein last night is plastered all over the papers.

The Express pays reference to Rooney’s Liverpool roots with the headline “The Likely Lad”, before saying how the tyro’s tireless performance rescued England on another night when expectation collided with reality.

The fact now is that England do have a genuine young star, perhaps the most exciting talent in the game. And it’s led England manager Sven Goran Eriksson to tell the Sun, “It will be very difficult to leave him out of the Turkey game”.

It would be nothing short of stupidity. After Michael Owen and David Beckham, Rooney is the only England player who shines.

The Mirror thinks his performance was worthy of a “9” out of what one imagines to be 10. Although keeping our Football Cliche Book 2003 handy, we note that a score of 11 out of 10 is achievable, as is giving 110%.

We also note in the Mirror that Wales have clinched a play-off position for the Euro 2004 Championships. Given the lack of depth in the Welsh squad, this is a terrific achievement.

But it could have been even better had Mark Hughes’ side hung onto their most slender lead against Finland and not surrendered a goal in the 80th minute.

A win would have taken them back to the top of their qualifying group ahead of Italy.

Wales certainly do not lack the fight, but one who many think does lack the basic aggression to succeed is Audley Harrison.

The Mail reports that the Olympic boxing champion needed only three rounds to knock out America’s Quin Navarre in Miami last night.

“I’m going to be world champion,” said Harrison afterwards. “I’ve a long way to go, but I’m happy with my performance.”

It all sounds so good. Until you read the Mirror, which tells of “Scorn In The USA”. Harrison’s opponent, now known as Quinn, is called a “journeyman”, and no better than a “club fighter”.

But let’s listen to some more from Harrison. “I don’t plan to be a contender or a pretender, I’m going to be heavyweight champion of the world,” says the boxer now nicknamed A-Force.

Just as England without Rooney, Beckham and Owen can win a football match…’

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

Turkey’s Brass Neck

‘TONIGHT and for one night only England play Liechtenstein at Old Trafford.

Beckham gets in practice for his crucixion

The minnows of European football are one defensive slip away from being mighty, challenging and surprisingly better than the average nth-rate amateur side.

There are no easy matches in international football – unless your team are any good.

But hush this traitorous talk, this is England. And England have David Beckham, who has wrapped himself in the flag like a hero – or a travelling England hooligan.

All the papers seem to have the same shot of Beckham, his hair down and eyes fixed in a steely gaze as if ready to take on and slay anything that happens his way.

Let’s just hope it‘s not an angry mob of the sort England expect to meet them in Istanbul in a month’s time.

The Sun looks forward, in every sense of the phrase, to the showdown in Istanbul and sees yet more of that lovely headline-making trouble.

“Turk chief raps Sven,” says the paper’s headline. “Crazed Turkish football chief Haluk Ulosoy [he’s so mad he’s changed his name to Hanuk Ulonoy in the Mirror] ripped into Sven Goran Eriksson lat night,” says the story.

“How?” ask we non-crazed readers of the English newssheets.

Well, the paper reproduces the words of a lunatic, delivered in response to sane Sven’s claim that England fans will die in Turkey.

“I think he has forgotten Heysel,” says Ulusoy. “The only reason he does not want England supporters in Istanbul is because they’ll see their team defeated.”

The rantings of a madman indeed. What is this Heysel he speaks of? And since when have England ever lost an important football match? Pah! This fellow’s a menace to society.

And there’s more from whatshisname, thanks to the Mirror.

“Anyway he [Sven] will be sacked from the England job after the game because he will have no credibility left and he will only be fit to mange the national team of Patagonia.”

That’s rubbish. Patagonia has no national team. Put that in your kebab and smoke it, mate.’

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

Alec, Alec, Alec

‘THE picture on the back page of the Mail says it all. It shows the England cricket team smiling broadly in celebration at their victory in the fifth Test against South Africa.

‘And now for Turkey’

On the shoulders of Andrew Flintoff and Steve Harmison sits Alec Stewart, grinning from ear to ear and waving a Cross of St George.

Yesterday was the last Test match Stewart will ever play for England. He’s been a stalwart of the side but, given that his period in the team coincided with some of the most abject English performances ever, his leaving could account for some celebration of its own.

An era of English failure at an end – we hope.

But before we put the tin lid on Stewart’s career, the Express hears a few words from the man.

“This Test wasn’t about Alec Stewart,” says Alec Stewart, “it was about England winning to square the series.”

Ever the team player, Stewart was the one cricketer who sounded like a footballer. For that we will miss him.

And on the subject of football we must turn to the Sun, where the news is that Manchester United’s chief executive has left Old Trafford for a new job at Chelsea.

The paper says that Peter Kenyon, the man on the move, will soon be back to Old Trafford to “steal Ruud van Nistelrooy and other stars”.

Those other stars are not specified and, given that David Beckham has left and Roy Keane is ageing rapidly, the paper cannot really mean the Neville brothers or Nicky Butt?

One place no England fan, or player for that matter, should really be going is Turkey. But the players must go, given that they are scheduled to play in Istanbul in a decisive Euro 2004 qualifier.

Paul Barber, the FA’s spokesman, puts the case clearly. “If our fans love their country and genuinely support our football team, don’t put us in a position where we have the shame of being kicked out of a major competition.”

The message is that England fans who do make the trip should maintain a low profile and avoid trouble.

Then we will not be booted out of the event and, given a good result in Turkey, can all go to the finals in Portugal and really smash the place up for an entire fortnight.

And that’s got to be better for everyone…’

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