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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 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

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 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

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

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