Back pages | Anorak - Part 90

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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

Freddie, Steady, Go

‘GIVEN England’s record in recent matches against the South African tail, victory today in the final Test at the Oval is by no means a foregone conclusion.

Another blow to the South African heart

But, if the weather holds, all the papers expect the home side to square the five-match series 2-2 after another good day with bat and ball.

Andrew Flintoff showed yet more evidence of his batting prowess with 95 runs, the second half of which came at a rate of almost two a ball.

And the bowlers (aided it must be said by a couple of generous umpiring decisions) then did their stuff in reducing the visitors to 185-6, a lead of only 65.

But it is Flintoff’s mighty hitting (which brought him 12 fours and four sixes) that sticks in the minds of the hacks who were there to witness it.

Mike Selvey, in the Guardian, said the Lancashire giant “offered the sell-out crowd such a display of clean, cudgelling hitting that it invited comparisons”.

“Gilbert Jessop, the Croucher, must have been like this, they said; Ian Botham in his beefy prime certainly was,” he says.

Derek Pringle, in the Telegraph, says Flintoff has pulled it off more consistently this season than Botham ever did, except in his annus mirabilis against the Aussies in 1981.

“In his last 13 Tests, Flintoff has doubled his average from 12.9 to 24.2, though it might have been more had some of yesterday’s sixes been valued on distance,” he says.

As England stand on the brink of Test success, the footballers stand on the brink of qualification for Euro 2004 after a narrow 2-1 win in Macedonia.

The Times is unconvinced by the performance, saying how “it is impossible to decide whether to love or loathe Sven Goran Eriksson’s side”.

After coming back from a goal down in four of their last six competitive fixtures, it does not doubt the team’s character, but it is unsure about its quality.

Macedonia’s forward Artim Sakiri, however, is very sure – England are not good enough.

“We were better than England and should have won,” he said. “They were panicking in the first half and, if they do the same in Turkey, they will have no chance.”

Elsewhere, Andy Roddick won the US Open tennis, the Great British and Irish amateur golfers retained the Walker Cup and Yan Guo beat Jia Liu in table tennis’ Korean Open.’

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

Caps Off To England

‘CLEVER old England.

England celebrate a dot ball

With the cricket season limping to a close like a middle-aged one-legged runner, the national side steals the headlines with a display of cunning ineptitude.

“England run on empty,” announces the headline in the Telegraph, coming as it does atop a long article about how terribly Michael Vaughan’s team played yesterday.

The bright side is that the review of the state of play – South Africa are 362 for the loss of 4 wickets – takes up the entire front page of the paper’s sports coverage.

Sure there’s a little bit about David Beckham, but when isn’t there?

So it’s hats to off to England and caps all round for anyone who can bowl a ball straight, catch, field, throw, look good in white, or just think up a new excuse for the team’s impending failure. Best of luck.

Elsewhere, in the Independent, there’s some rugby union chat. News is that South African-born England player Mike Catt is in line for a recall to the national side.

Catt’s a dynamic player at his best, and England’s World Cup chances can only be enhanced by his inclusion in affairs.

But another South African is making waves of a less pleasant sort.

Off the field activities have never been rugby’s most alluring part, what with the smashed beer glasses, the fights, more smashed glasses and more fights, the sport is best viewed on the pitch.

But still South Africa’s captain Crone Krige has been forced to deny that there is racism in his side. Well, kind of. What he really says in the Indy is that when he asked the black players if they felt victimised, none of them said yes.

But just as soon as they get back from their crocodile-infested bathing pond with the clean kit for the white guys, we can always ask them again…’

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

No Excuses

‘MARK Butcher is heard by the Telegraph saying that there can be no excuses should England fail to beat South Africa at The Oval in the fifth and final Test of the summer series.

England can’t even catch a cold

“This game will come down to 11 men on the field,” says the Surrey batsman. “The rest is peripheral.”

The “rest” is the state of the county game, the confidence at the heart of the team and just about anything that can be trotted out in the aftermath of an English defeat.

And already Lord MacLaurin, the former chairman of the England and Wales Cricket Board, is talking about restructuring the domestic scene.

He says that the number of top counties should be reduced from 18 to 12, a move that would result in the loss of more than 100 professional cricketers.

Perhaps this would work well, and a more streamlined league, as in Australia, will help the sport internationally.

It’s just a shame that the good Lord didn’t champion such ideas during his six-year tenure as the top nob in English and Welsh cricket.

If he did mention such changes, he did so in a whisper.

Meanwhile, England’s footballers are still gearing up for their Euro 2004 qualifier in Macedonia this Saturday.

And the big news is that Frank Lampard is really up for it. How the Macedonians must fear the Chelsea player.

But while the Guardian watches Frank get into shape, the Times was in Barcelona last night, watching the Catalans take on Seville in an ill-tempered match.

The key thing about this game is that it kicked off around midnight, a schedule that did not prevent 80,000 fans from attending.

The added allure of 100,000 free Kit Kats and bowls of gazpacho soup were in evidence. As were the matchsticks used to prop tired eyes open.’

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

Enlightened And Bitter

‘EVER since Nelson Mandela stepped out of jail, South Africa has promoted itself as an enlightened place. It’s the Rainbow Nation, where white, black, green and gold live in harmony.

Ugly face of the old South Africa

Clearly this is all bunkum, as any of the 10 million South Africans in London alone will tell you – should they break off from enthusing about how great it is back home – racism still stalks the land.

And the Telegraph has spotted some of the verkrampte.

Rugby union was always the sport of the white man, and that’s the way Geo Cronje, apparently, likes it.

The paper says that the South African was expelled from the national squad for, allegedly, refusing to share a room with black player Quinton Davids.

And in the wake of the revolting Cronje, Mark Keohane has resigned his post as the Springboks media liaison officer. And on the way out he’s submitted a dossier, described by the paper as “potentially explosive”.

Looks like the South Africans’ plans for the upcoming World Cup are a little shaky. That’s a deep shame. Let’s take moment to smirk about it…

Something not too funny is the injury blow to Steven Gerrard, the England midfielder. The Guardian say that the tyro will now miss Saturday’s Euro 2004 qualifier against Macedonia, but might be fit to face Liechtenstein four days later.

That leaves England light in midfield. Sorry, as anyone who has watched the team in the past 30 years will note, England have always been light in midfield.

All Gerrard’s absence does is make way for a likely central midfield partnership of Owen Hargreaves and Nicky Butt.

Would either get into the Chelsea side? Unlikely. Everton? What about Spurs?

While you puzzle that out, the Independent looks across the Atlantic to see the players to watch in the new Gridiron season.

And the top star looks like being Jeremy Shockey – “6ft 5in and 18 stone of swaggering braggadocio”.

In other words, look out for the oversized American with the big mouth. Happy hunting…’

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

A New Blue

‘ANOTHER day, another player.

Claude Makelele has been assured a space in the dressing room

Today’s player du jour is Claude Makelele, who is now in the employ of Chelsea Football Club.

The purchase of the Frenchman has taken the club’s spending under Roman Abramovich to a whopping £111.3m.

The Independent lists the names of the now great and good of the Bridge – all 13 of them.

There is a downside to all this inflow, so the Indy also lists the players who have made way for the new faces – all 11 of them.

Still Chelsea have 309 players on the books, which should lead to a happy if somewhat crowded changing room – and lots of work for Doris Goering, the club’s long-standing fan and official orange cutter.

But Chelsea’s spend yesterday – all £16.7m of it – is out of kilter with the rest of British football, which has acquired a taste for the loan. And not everyone is pleased with this development.

Talking to the Guardian, the Professional Footballers’ Association’s deputy chief executive Mick McGuire spots problems on the horizon.

“All of those players can have a bearing on results,” he says. “What if one of those players misses an open goal in a crucial game for his existing club against his loaning club?

“With millions of pounds at stake in the Premier League, that will lead to all sorts of questions and that’s what we are worried about for our members.”

Surely it’s the fans who have most to fear. Players move on loan because they are, in truth, not wanted by their clubs. It’s not a compliment to be loaned out.

The chance to put a dent in the fortunes of the team that doesn’t want you should keep the game on an even and true keel.

For true football madness we must turn to Spain, as the Times does.

Tonight Barcelona will begin playing in the second game of their domestic league season at five minutes past midnight. Frank Rijkaard, the club’s manager, admits this is “an odd hour”.

To ensure than no-one falls asleep during the game, the club are broadcasting an hour-long show called Football For Insomniacs as well as a free dinner for up to 70,000.

“The important thing is that nobody falls asleep during the game,” says Rijkaard.

Which makes us ask: “Would the same thing work at Liverpool…?”’

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

The Blame Game

‘JAMES Beattie earned himself an England call-up and the thanks of half the country when his goal inflicted on Manchester United their first league defeat since Boxing Day 2002.

Beattie heads the wrong kind of ball into the right kind of net

The Southampton striker heaped more gloom on Sir Alex Ferguson with his headed goal two minutes from time and, says the Star, “fired his way into the England squad”.

But elsewhere there are worries for coach Sven Goran Eriksson, with the Mail suggesting that Paul Scholes could miss all three of England’s remaining 2004 qualifiers.

The Star says Rio Ferdinand could miss the games against Macedonia and Liechtenstein with a kidney problem, although its sister paper the Express insists the Manchester United centre-half will report fit.

Goalkeeper David Seaman’s international days are now firmly behind him and, judging by yesterday’s performance against his old club Arsenal, it is not before time.

The Mail watches the 39-year-old beaten twice as Arsenal recorded their fourth win out of four – a 2-1 success at Manchester City.

“What began with Lauren scoring a quite extraordinary own goal concluded with Seaman making the mistake that allowed his former Arsenal colleagues to secure another three points in pursuit of championship glory,” it says.

Not so successful were the British athletics team, who returned home from the World Championships in Paris without a single gold medal to their name.

In fact, we only managed a haul of four medals altogether – two more than last time, admittedly, but still a pathetic tally with all the lottery money that was supposed to boost the sport.

The Express says it is the worst performance by British athletes since the event began in 1983. Ten years ago, we won ten medals, including three golds.

And the Sun is quick to blame Dwain Chambers, who lost a three-yard lead in the last leg of the 4x100m relay to snatch silver from the jaws of gold.

Bizarrely, Chambers blamed his lead, saying: “Ideally, I would have preferred to be level with the American because I was running blind and did not know where he was.”

But it is the culture of blame that is ruining cricket, according to Gloucester supremo John Bracewell – and he blames England coach Duncan Fletcher.

“You must eliminate in England cricket what Clive Woodward has eliminated in rugby – and that’s the excuse environment,” he says.

No doubt Fergie, who once claimed that his Manchester United side lost because they were wearing the wrong colour shirt, would agree.’

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

The Big Bully

‘NO-ONE can dispute Sir Alex Ferguson’s credentials as a football manager. His success at St Mirren, Aberdeen and Manchester United marks him out as one of the greats.

A miserable old man

However, his credentials as a decent human being are not so well-established – and won’t be helped by David Beckham’s revelations over the weekend.

By all accounts, Fergie is supposed to be good company away from football, either on the race-track or over one of his favourite bottles of red wine.

But it would appear that his passion for Manchester United and his unremitting desire to win have developed into a kind of mania.

Gordon Strachan tells a story of how Fergie would drive around players’ houses the night before a game to check that they were all in bed.

That obsessive attention to detail may be one of the reasons why he has been so successful over the years, but it has now become a serious character fault.

Like Maggie Thatcher, Fergie has been corrupted by being in such a high-profile job for too long. She didn’t know when to go and was pushed; he doesn’t know when to go – but is unlikely to get the shove until too late.

There is no doubt that Beckham would have happily stayed at Manchester United had he felt welcome there. That he did not effectively meant there was never any choice for the club or for the player.

That is poor management, whether the £25m the club got for their biggest asset proves to be good business or not.

And to question a player’s commitment to the club just because, as England captain, he goes with the rest of the team to meet the Queen borders on pathological.

As the chief architect in creating at Old Trafford one of the world’s top half dozen clubs, Ferguson’s legacy is safe.

But for his own benefit, he should definitely leave when his contract expires at the end of next season.’

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

A Roman Orgy

‘ANYTHING Roman Abramovich can do, Alexander Mamut can do too.

The next manager of Blackburn Rovers?

That’s the news in the Express, as another Russian eyes a Premier League football club, this time Blackburn Rovers.

A Russian source says that Mamut is “sniffing around in England and will identify the club that makes the most sense to buy and control”.

We humbly suggest that he takes a gander at Anorak FC, a sleeping giant in the modern game, and available for a refreshingly low fee – to be agreed.

Meanwhile, the Mirror says that Alex Ferguson is relishing the prospect of playing Glasgow Rangers in the Champions League. He has a score to settle.

In Fergie’s autobiography, he says: “No other experience in my 40 years as a professional player and manager has created a scar comparable with that left by the treatment I received at Ibrox.”

To refresh readers’ minds, the paper says that Ferguson played for the Glasgow club for two seasons in the 1960s, before being shown the door.

Not he wants revenge. And Newcastle United fans could be forgiven for wanting to exact the same on their French player Laurent Robert, a surrender monkey.

The Sun says that on the night of Newcastle’s Champions League exit at the hands of Partizan Belgrade, dead-ball specialist Robert removed his boots after the final whistle.

As club manager Bobby Robson compiled his list of penalty takers, Robert languished on the turf – boots off, head down.

As Robson says: “We did not take good penalties – but how can you criticise the players who have shown the bottle and courage to take them?”

The comment is aimed as much at Robert as the good men and true. The Sun labelling Robert a “bottler” who let his team down.

As teammates Jonathan Woodgate and Lee Bowyer will, perhaps, remind him, pals always stick together…’

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

Champion Stuff

‘“FASCISTS and Commies” was the verdict of the Arsenal fan sitting to my left as the Champions League draw was made, grouping the Gunners with Inter Milan, Dynamo Kiev and Lokomotiv Moscow.He’s leant nothing from recent history in which Russian Roman Abramovich has spent enough to make the most strident capitalist flush green with envy. And Kiev is an enlightened city these days.

As is the Nezzaurri part of Milan, which boasts an exotic mix of Columbians, West Africans and Turks to go with the Argentines, Italians and French.

The Champions League is no time for anachronism. The expansive game has its natural home in a tournament that chops and changes each year, inviting this time the chance of lesser teams from less glamorous countries to progress by way of knock-out.

Whether they can is a big if.

As it stands the favourites look to have a pretty clear passage to round two. But there are no guarantees – something Manchester United will be all too aware off as they line up against Glasgow Rangers.

This is not the tie Manchester wanted. They are undoubtedly the better side on paper – and of all the British teams involved it is the Red Devils who possess the credentials to progress far into the tournament – but an all-British tie is always dangerous.

Of the others in United’s Group E, Panathinaikos have some appallingly behaved fans and a pretty mediocre side. United will beat them and do the same to the prosaic talents of VfB Stuttgart.

Chelsea are another thing entirely. They have done well in the draw. Lazio are not as mighty as they think they are; Sparta Prague are neat, efficient but ultimately limited; and Besiktas just provide a nasty trip away for the fans and a home win.

The feeling is that Chelsea can progress if they perform well at home. Much the same can be said of Arsenal, who cannot be relishing the prospect of playing two away games on rock-hard pitches.

But if anything can be gained from experience, the Gunners and United should progress. Chelsea would do well to forget about their last European adventures.

As I said, this is not the time to be looking backwards…’

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

Tunnel Vision

‘FOOTBALL is back in the old routine after Portsmouth’s brief spell at the top of the Premier League.

United they fall

After respective wins of 2-0 and 1-0, Arsenal and Manchester United occupy the top two places in the table. Same old.

This, of course, does not mean that the Mirror will heaps praise on the Gunners, rather it dwells on what it says happened in the tunnel after the game.

“TAKING THE PIRES,” screams the headline above a shot of the Arsenal player exchanging views with Aston Villa’s Olaf Mellberg.

The pair then, apparently, took the squabble into the players’ tunnel and squared up. No punches are said to have been thrown – but still the Mirror chooses to lead with the so-called “bust-up”.

The Sun will not miss such a tale and leads its sports coverage with “Gunners in tunnel war”. If this is a war then the Falkland’s Conflict must have been Armageddon.

But never fear because thanks to Newcastle’s dismissal from the Champion’s League the Magpies soon steal the headlines.

“IT SERBS YOU RIGHT,” says the Sun, as Newcastle last night crashed out of the most lucrative club tournament in world football on penalties.

Partizan Belgrade’s Ivica Iliev had made it 1-0 on the night and 1-1 on aggregate, thus taking the game to spot kicks. The visitors scored four; Newcastle scored just three.

Since sport is all about showing your medals, Newcastle’s Alan Shearer must harbour at least a small regret that he never went to Manchester United all those moons ago.

Just as Britain’s track and field bigwigs must rue the lack of funds and facilities that have, in part, led to what the Mail calls the country’s “desperate showing” in the world athletics championships.

At last Kelly Holmes did well, picking up a silver in the 800metres. And the paper catches up with her atop the Eiffel Tower.

Such is the impoverished state of British athletics that you’d forgive Holmes for jumping. But instead she puts a coin in the slot of the telescope and watches the rest of the world pick up the gongs…’

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

Those Who Can’t, Pundit

‘FOLLOWING the somewhat surprising decision by the West Ham board to sack poor old Glenn ‘ratface’ Roeder only three games into the new season, the search is on to find a replacement charged with the unenviable task of turning a team, shorn of it’s brightest stars, into a side capable of returning to the Premiership.

‘Ah! A pox on those nasty bobbles’

All the usual suspects have been linked with the vacancy, from perennial candidate George Graham, to old boy Alan Curbishley.

However, it was the suave, perma-tanned Trevor Brooking who initially emerged as the front-runner in the eyes of both fans and bookies.

All-round nice guy Trev, already a Hammers idol and director of the beleaguered East End club, temporarily oversaw the club’s demise at the tail end of last season following Roeder’s serious illness.

And while he has once again taken over in a caretaker role, the former England playmaker has revealed that he has no intention of making the role a permanent one. For, despite the enthusiasm of the Upton Park faithful, Brooking, like a select band of former pros, has discovered a much easier way of making a living out of the game.

Along with the likes of Alan Hansen, Mark Lawrenson and Andy Gray, Clever Trevor long ago managed to secure for himself a place amongst the country’s elite TV pundits.

And with the BBC having recently secured the rights to show Premiership highlights and revive Match Of The Day from 2004 onwards, Brooking is well aware of the lucrative and, let’s face it, easy-peasy work waiting for him.

Having to seem enthusiastic while discussing the strengths and weaknesses of Leicester City’s offside trap may not be easy, but in comparison to the interminable pressure, personal abuse and precariousness of the dugout, a comfy seat in a studio is infinitely preferable.

Brooking’s fellow Beeb pundit, Mark Lawrenson, found this out the hard way, gravitating to the warm and cosy surroundings of the Beeb only after suffering a disastrous managerial career with Oxford United.

Now, the hideously coifed ‘Lawro’ looks in no rush to return to the reality of football management as, along with partner-in-punditry Alan Hansen, he can make a good living casting judgement over players, teams, managers and clubs safe in the knowledge that he won’t be getting a vote of confidence from his chairman if he messes up.

After all, otherwise, Alan Hansen’s infamous ‘they won’t win anything with kids’ critique of Alex Ferguson’s world-beaters would have lead to a public sacking and a job presenting the World Croquet Championships at 4am on BBC Liechtenstein.

Nowadays, mostly thanks to the broadcasting boffins at Sky, the post-match analysis, itself an exquisite exercise in hindsight, now utilises more special effects than a scene from The Matrix.

With myriad camera angles, 3D graphics and Slo-mo effects, the job of the pundit has been made even easier. Now he can quote the speed of the ball, measure the margin of offside to the millimetre and count the number of hairs on Michael Owen’s chin.

Whether or not he actually provides an accurate analysis matters less. Anyway, there’s always the next match to get that right.

So why would Trevor Brooking eschew all this for the pressures of the real managerial world? He’s already seen what the pressure has done to Glenn Roeder.

And no matter how tedious the questions, cringe-making Gary Lineker’s banter and boring the match, it’s highly unlikely the job will put him in an early grave.

Alan Duffy’

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

Pompey Climbs

‘PORTSMOUTH are top of the Premiership this morning thanks to a goal from Steve Stone and a hat-trick from Teddy Sheringham in a 4-0 win over Bolton.

Crespo looks for his seat in the stands

The Sun leads with a picture of the Premier League table and the other news that Wayne Rooney scored in Everton’s 2-2 draw away to Charlton last night.

Inside the paper it’s all Chelsea. Last night the Blues advanced to the Champions League proper with a 3-0 win over MSK Zilina.

The aggregate score of 5-0 is enough to promote the Blues to the big league and give them the kudos to attract more stars.

And step forward Hernan Crespo, the new boy in the blue shirt, who, as the Mirror reports, is just the latest player to join Roman Abramovich’s £300 million revolution at the Bridge.

Having already spent around £100 million of fresh faces, lashing out three times that amount sounds not so absurd.

But how many players can you get into one team? Will thirty-plus get into just eleven berths? We wait and see.

Over in Spain, Real Madrid are having less of a problem getting all their stars into a starting line, especially since David Beckham has begun his Spanish career badly.

The Express has a shot of Becks kicking a bottle as he was substituted in Madrid’s game against Real Mallorca.

“I was angry,” says Becks. “Any player who is substituted is angry. I am not different. I want to stay on he pitch for 90 minutes, so I am disappointed any time it happens.”

At least he makes the Real pitch from the off. His latter days at United began and ended on the bench. Becks should realise that his career has taken a turn upwards.

Meanwhile, we say well done to Kelly Holmes in winning a silver medal at the world athletics championships.

The Mail is just about the only paper to lead with this non-football action, and shows Holmes coming in second in the 800metres behind Maria Mutola of Mozambique.

Kelly was happy with her performance but has not yet taken in the full impact of Portsmouth’s lofty position on planet football.

We’ll let her catch her breath before asking her opinion…’

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

Back To Becks

‘THE way is clear for David Beckham to return to London’s East End as player/manger of West Ham United.

The new face of West Ham?

Beckham was recently substituted in his first competitive performance for Real Madrid, as they club lost 2-1 to Real Mallorca in the first leg of the Spanish Super Cup.

“We had to sacrifice one of our attacking players and Beckham was the one I chose, it was not because he had a bad game,” says Carlos Queiroz, the Real manager.

Of course it wasn’t. It was to allow the Madrilenos to get used to life without their new big signing, thus allowing West Ham to make an official bid to bring the England captain home.

United fans will now baulk at this idea. Beckham would not be wanted, they say. But consider the options.

Trevor Brooking wants no part in managing a team that will give him only a hiding to nothing. Being the hero at the season’s end is nothing at all like managing a club out of the Nationwide morass. Trevor has nouse to go with those famous ten O-Levels.

After Clever Trevor there is Iain Dowie. Dowie is a Hammers’ fan and did once play for the club. He lacks experience, and after Roeder the club would be unwise to opt for that route again.

But Dowie will point to the fact that while in charge of Oldham he has taken the impoverished club to the Second Division play-offs.

He supports his claim for the West Ham post by saying that he knows as much as he needs to know – “The way you get experience is to do the job,” says he.

West Ham fans would be forgiven for not wanting their club to turn into a school for coaches. Sticking by your manager for years, as the club has a history of doing, is one thing, raising him as your own is something else.

After Dowie there is Alan Curbishley. Could the Hammers bear being turned down by him again? The fans would be delighted to get the man who has performed well at Charlton.

But why lave Charlton to go down a division to West Ham? Curbishley is the long shot.

Which leads us to David Beckham. Mrs Beckham might not fancy exchanging the delights of al fresco shopping in Madrid for Stratford but she would at least be among her own in Essex.

Or what about Geoff Hurst and Martin Peters. And then there’s Alf Garnett.

Suggestions and applications to the usual address.’

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

Testing Times

‘YESTERDAY England surrendered the momentum built up at Trent Bridge and lost the third Test of the summer series against South Africa by 191 runs.

England are looking down and out

The Times was there to see England fail, looking on through parted fingers as the home side lost their final five wickets for 40 runs in 11 overs.

You can change the captain and tinker with the team but England retain the right to collapse like a pack of wet cards.

The paper suggests that Michael Vaughan is a “naïve” captain and was resorting to type when he repeated what the paper calls “tired clichés about the excess of county cricket, its lack of competitiveness and…the fear factor”.

What England are fearful of is anyone’s guess. But favourites are: a) winning, b) concentrating, and c) getting nasty grass stains on those nice clean whites.

Meanwhile, Claudio Ranieri is looking over his shoulder at the looming shadow being cast by Sven Goran Eriksson.

The Express says that the Chelsea manager is agitated that the current England coach is still being tipped as his successor.

“I will have to live with this soap opera,” says Ranieri. “There is nothing I can do if the name of Eriksson comes out of every corner. Between myself and Mr Abramovich there is a total feeling but it’s obvious that this feeling must be fed with victories.”

It’s a good job Ranieri and the Chelsea chairman can communicate by feel, because if the Italian’s language was the only conduit between pitch and boardroom the Blues would soon be staring relegation in the face.

One man who spoke loud and clear last night was Darren Campbell. His performance in the 100m final at the athletic world championships in Paris earned him a bronze medal.

More important, though, is the Sun’s reminder that Campbell once played football in the same youth team as Ryan Giggs.

He might never reach such dizzy heights again, but at least the knowledge that he is the third quickest man on earth will give Campbell some consolation.

Chin up, Darren…’

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

Usual Supects

‘WITH all the league tables on hospital performances, schools and crime, we finally have one we can understand: the Premier League.

Arsenal are a barrier to Chelsea’s progress

Here’s something that needs no explanation and spin.

After just two games, Arsenal, Manchester United and Chelsea are occupying the top three places in the league.

In the olden days before Sky sought to rebrand football as family entertainment, the league table was only published after three games had been played.

But the broadcaster is always in need of filler and what more jam-like than a list of the teams in order.

Liverpool supporters will want to take much notice of the current order, given that their team have scored just one point from six possible.

Newcastle have achieved the same. And with both the Magpies and Liverpool losing six-pointers at home to Manchester United and Chelsea respectively their chances of either team winning the league look remote.

Sure, these are early days, but, as I say, Arsenal, Manchester United and Chelsea are top of the table with the league’s only perfect records.

Of the new arrivals, Portsmouth are getting off to a fine start and were unlucky to surrender two points at Manchester City at the weekend.

Harry Redknapp’s team have spirit, a quality much needed to earn points while the sun is still shining and hope lives.

Wolves looked doomed. After two games? After one game. Conceding nine goals and scoring just one does not bode well, especially when you’ve played Blackburn and Charlton, two decent but by no means top sides.

Leicester are another thing entirely. They should survive. The Foxes showed enough talent against Chelsea to suggest that they will achieve a few notable shocks this term.

If experience counts for something, Leicester’s greybeard squad should keep the club afloat.

Elsewhere, the early signs are that Everton will be a tough team to beat, until they play one of the top three clubs. And Leeds will fade late in the season, when injuries and suspensions take hold, but narrowly avoid relegation.

The surprise package could come from Manchester City or Spurs. If injuries are few and luck smiles, one of them might make it to a top six finish.

Glenn Hoddle has assembled a decent squad at White Hart Lane and Kevin Keegan’s team will score goals.

But this is all educated guesswork. The only clear sings are in the top three places.

The season might be long but, as usual, the team that beats Manchester Untied or/and Arsenal will win the league. And on early evidence, that can only be Chelsea.’

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

Wagging Tails

‘ENGLAND will undoubtedly be the more disappointed side after the first day’s play of the fourth Test, having had South Africa on the rack at 142-7.Once again, their inability to polish off the tail has cost them dear and allowed the visitors to bat their way back into the match.

Resuming this morning on 260-7, South Africa will now have their sights set on a first-inning total well in excess of 300.

On a pitch that offers help to the bowlers, that will be enough to put pressure on England’s top order.

It is hard to know why England so frequently concede so many runs in the latter part of an innings.

At Trent Bridge, for instance, the final five South African wickets notched up considerably more than the first five in both innings – 230 to 132 in the first innings and 81 to 50 in the second.

By contrast, England’s first five wickets contributed 378 of the 563 runs the team scored in the match.

Part of the problem, it seems to me, is that bowlers become impatient when bowling at lower-order batsmen and lose their discipline.

Frequently, they are content to try to get the established batsman off strike so they can have a go at the tailender, but end up overextending themselves and conceding runs.

At times like this, it is crucial that the captain reminds his bowlers of the disciplines that allowed them to take wickets early on.

Even with the old ball, there was plenty of encouragement for the bowlers when they pitched it in the right place.

In the absence of a bowler like Ian Botham, who was brilliant at cleaning up the tail, England need to treat even numbers nine to eleven in the same way as they treat one to three.

Otherwise, we will continue to see excellent positions thrown away like we did yesterday and have so often in the past.’

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

Overstepping The Mark

‘ENGLAND are probably just in the ascendancy after the first day of the fourth Test against South Africa, but the papers know the position should be a lot better.

A Pat on the head

The Mail makes no bones about it, accusing the team of frittering away a dream start which saw South Africa slump to 21-4 at one stage.

South African skipper Graeme Smith was out in the very first over of the day after electing to bat on the notoriously unpredictable Headingley pitch and fellow opener Herschelle Gibbs was out in the second.

But an unbeaten century from Gary Kirsten and an unbeaten 50 on debut from Monde Zondenki dragged the visitors from 142-7 to 260-7 at the close of play.

The Mail says James Anderson, amazingly the most experienced of the four specialist seamers at this level, was the weakest link in attack.

“Fears about his present energy levels, both mental and physical, may have contributed to the decision to go in with five pacemen,” it says.

But it adds that by the end of the day an old adage had come into play – “namely that if four seamers cannot do the job five will not make any difference”.

The Express says England were left ruing a dropped chance and the no-ball from Andrew Flintoff off which Kirsten was caught before lunch.

Over to football, and the Mirror relays a simple message from the FA to Arsenal captain Patrick Vieira: “Shut Up, Vieira.”

It says the FA have told the Frenchman he is talking nonsense after he claimed that the north London club were being victimised following Sol Campbell’s citation for violent conduct.

More worrying for the FA and, in particular, England coach Sven Goran Eriksson is a piece in the Express which shows just how much the international side rely on two men.

Almost half the 58 goals scored by England under the Swede have come from Michael Owen (15) and David Beckham (11). The next highest scorers are Darius Vassell, Robbie Fowler and Emile Heskey, all of whom have found the net four times in the past two and a half years.

It is now 23 matches since Paul Scholes scored for his country, while Eriksson has also complained about the dearth of strikers in the country.

With a wobbly defence and dodgy goalkeeper, that means that just about every area of the pitch is officially a worry. Roll on Turkey!’

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

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