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The Two Tons

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Up The Duff

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

Even Henry wanted Campbell sent off

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Chance Missed

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

England resort to desperate measures

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Signing On

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

He comes from Senegal, he still plays for Arsenal

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fantasy Football

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

Faking orgasm on the pitch: 30 points

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Worst of luck.

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

Red And Blues

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

Are you Brian Clough in disguise?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

You’d almost think United were running scared.

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

Roeder Out

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Same Old Arsenal

‘A NEW season, but same old Arsene Wenger.

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

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

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

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

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

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

And so he goes and kicks Phil Neville.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And They’re Off

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

”Not the face! Anywhere but the face!”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Between then and now, we can expect many fireworks…

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

Hammer Time

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

Defoe can’t wait to get that shirt off

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

From Bad To Worse

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

Didn’t he used to work with Graham Taylor?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

That is something West Ham fans know a lot about…

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

Any Old Irons

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

Harry Redknapp claims to have found a surviving West Ham player

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

You can hear the sighs all over East London…

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

Carrying His Bat

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

Nasser protects himself against the brickbats thrown at him

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Gough Is Off

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cole’s To Chelsea

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

The Power

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cannon Fodder

‘ALWAYS good to start with a story about whinging Australians. And today’s is called Brendan Cannon, a hooker for the Australian rugby union team.

Tiger Tim’s burning bright

Brendan is keen to prove that, in a recent game against the equally unlovely Springboks (won 29-9 by Australia), he was bitten on the shoulder.

For the record, Cannon has removed his shirt for the Guardian’s cameras and got a close male friend to point to the angry red weal on his right shoulder.

Another making a point is Alex Ferguson, who is seen shaking the hand of Ronaldinho in the Telegraph.

While we get to see the face of the Brazilian – who turned down a move to Old Trafford in favour of Barcelona – we cannot see Fergie’s red mush.

The initial impression is that it’s a handshake of friendship. However, further examination suggests something more complex.

Fergie is using one of those grips favoured by strict headmasters, placing his hand over that of Ronaldinho’s in a show of strength and perceived superiority.

Not that the Goofy one appears to have noticed. Footballers are typically not the sharpest tools in the box, an impression supported by an admission in today’s Times.

According to the paper, David Beckham has ‘admitted’ that he is not overly blessed in the English language.

He’s also having a tough time getting to grips with Spanish, making Becks illiterate in two languages. What he might call bisexual.

One of our other sporting exports is Tim Henman – and he’s been having some joy.

Following his triumph at the Legg Mason Classic earlier in the week, Timmy’s in Montreal for the Masters Series event.

The Telegraph says that Tim’s game has been improving of late, and that his latest tournament win puts him among the seeds at the upcoming US Open.

While we ponder whether Tim will win that Grand Slam for a few seconds, the Times has more football news, chiefly that Juan Veron is on his way to Chelsea.

Which passes for more football news, until the game proper begins very, very soon…

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

A Real Test For England

‘ONE can only imagine that England got seduced by the ease with which they beat Zimbabwe into believing that Test cricket is an easy game.

The MCC were glad they replaced the old pavillion gate with a revolving door

How else can one explain the abject performance in the first two Tests against South Africa in all facets of the game?

In Test cricket against the best bowlers in the world, batsmen are always going to get the occasional ‘jaffa’.

They just have to hope that they don’t get an edge, that the edge doesn’t go to hand or that the ball misses the stumps.

But English batsmen have been making life easy for the South African bowlers by getting themselves out.

In this Test, it is hard to think of a dismissal of a top-order English batsman (with the exception of Mark Butcher in the first innings) that was solely due to the bowler.

Michael Vaughan, Marcus Trescothick, Andrew Flintoff, Nasser Hussain and Alec Stewart have all been out hooking – forgivable, perhaps, when you have 100 to your name, but not when you have just made it into double figures.

Vaughan’s second-innings dismissal was also a shocker, made worse by the fact that England needed him to bat for the best part of two days to try to save the game.

Of course, it was all compounded by some woeful catching. Nasser Hussain’s dropped catch (of Graeme Smith on only 8) was just the most expensive of a succession of errors.

These weren’t half-chances – they were all relatively straightforward catches that the fielders would expect to snap up at least nine times out of ten.

They didn’t just drop one, they dropped five – and that doesn’t count the more difficult caught-and-bowled chances that went to ground.

The dropped catches do not just have an effect on the result of this match, but on the result of the whole series.

They have allowed players to build up their confidence by spending time in the middle at the same time as sapping the confidence and morale of the England bowlers.

As for the bowling, the disappointing thing is that England still don’t seem to have much of a game plan, particularly against Graeme Smith.

Or if they do, they don’t have the skill or the discipline to bowl to it.

It is time for Michael Vaughan and Duncan Fletcher to read the riot act to the existing players and also to bring in a couple of new faces.

Graham Thorpe must return in place of Anthony McGrath, whose shortcomings as a batsman have been ruthlessly exposed by the South Africans.

Hussain should probably stand down as it is becoming increasingly apparent that his mind is not fully on the job.

And there is also a case for bringing in Chris Read for Alec Stewart, although probably two changes is as many as the side can absorb in one go.

One thing’s for sure, the British cricketing public will not tolerate another below-par display at Trent Bridge.

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

Countdown To Kick-Off

‘ENGLAND have not even lost the Test series against South Africa yet, but the papers’ attentions are already turning to the country’s proper summer sport – football.

Would the last West Ham striker please close the gates on the way out?

There is now less than a week left before the season kicks off and the papers that briefly flirted with cricket over the past couple of weeks are back in the arms of their one true love.

The Sun celebrates by publishing a special 32-page soccer mag, covering friendly matches as if they matter and predicting that West Ham’s Jermain Defoe will be a Manchester United player by the weekend.

The paper claims that Sir Alex Ferguson is prepared to offer £10m for the 20-year-old, who it says has already bought a house in Manchester.

However, if Defoe does leave, he will be very much second fiddle to Ruud Van Nistelrooy, with the Express claiming that Ferguson wants the Dutchman to commit to Old Trafford for the rest of his career.

‘The United boss is ready to offer his Dutch striker a new six-year deal that would make him one of the club’s highest-paid players on about £80,000 a week,’ it says.

Up to now, it may have been Chelsea who have made all the running in the transfer market, but Ferguson does not expect them to make the running in the Premiership.

Indeed, the United boss happily tells the Mirror that the Blues are not ready to win the title and it will again come down to a battle between United and Arsenal.

One team that we can all agree won’t be challenging are Spurs, who managed to get booed off the pitch in a pre-season friendly yesterday.

They are relying on another striker from West Ham to revive their fortunes, with Freddie Kanoute expected to make the move across London by the end of the week.

All of which leaves Hammers fans wondering who will lead the line this season, given that it looks like they will be without their three first-choice strikers.

And if anyone doubted that October’s crucial Euro 2004 qualifier in Turkey will be a heated affair, Steven Gerrard poured petrol on the flames yesterday by being sent off in Liverpool’s game against Galatasaray.

The Mail says the England midfielder had already been booked for joining in an ugly brawl before he was sent off for dissent.

He is already suspended for the first three Premiership games following his red card at Chelsea on the final day of last season.

And so finally to cricket, where the papers expect to see wholesale changes after England’s dismal innings defeat to South Africa yesterday.

Only Michael Vaughan, Marcus Trescothick, Mark Butcher and Andrew Flintoff (who scored a marvellous 142 yesterday) are considered safe from the axe.

Alec Stewart, Darren Gough and Nasser Hussain should start looking for publishers for their memoirs…

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

Jay K

‘JURGEN Klinsmann was always something of an odd fish. Not for him the mock Tudor mansion in the Hadley Wood stockbroker belt, rather the behind the shops pied-a-terre in Hampstead.

The man who put the dive in football

When he played for Spurs, locals often saw Jurgen pootling up the road in an ordinary VW Beetle, the car with the common touch.

The cutting edge of Osvaldo Ardiles’ infamous flying V formation, in which Klinsmann played like the Red Baron in boots, he spearheaded the improbable and often kamikaze attack.

And then he left London. He left for good, going to live in the Americas. No, not Paraguay, but somewhere in California amid the rich and famous.

And then nothing. Jurgen slipped from view. Until now. The new face at the Orange City Blue Stars, a college team, looks just like Jurgen.

He’s got the same angular nose, the same high-stepping run, albeit reduced by age, and almost the same thatch of straw-like hair.

Hell, he even dives like Jurgen Klinsmann.

The only thing is this Jurgen’s called Jay Goppingen. Only it isn’t Herr Goppingen, it’s Jurgen pretending to be so.

”I do it for fun and it keeps me young,” says Klinsmann of his alter ego.

Pretending to be someone else sure is fun. Many is the time I have jinked from foot to foot in the manner of a George Best in his pomp, and finally when at the bar ordered a pint of creme de menthe and a liver sandwich.

But why Jay Goppingen? By way of an education into the Klinsmann mind, Goppingen is a town in Germany.

It possesses a castle built, partly with stones from the ruined castle of Hohenstaufen, by Duke Christopher of Wurttemberg in the 16th century and now used as public offices.

Jay is a bird and the 10th letter of the alphabet, although the German aussprache (pronunciation) is yot and nothing like jay at all.

If you are the real Jay Goppingen perhaps you’d like to tell us about the root of your name. Or just call yourself

Jurgen Klinsmann…

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

Captain Hook

‘MICHAEL Vaughan’s captaincy could have got off to a worse start, although it’s hard to imagine how as England were played off the park by South Africa yesterday.

You’d never catch an Englishman dancing like that

But this time it was the batting that let England down, as the team was tamely dismissed for 173 on what looks to be a decent batting track.

By the close of play, South Africa were only 22 runs behind with nine wickets in hand.

And to make it worse, the visitors’ captain Graeme Smith is still there on 80 not out, having been dropped by Vaughan’s predecessor Nasser Hussain on eight.

In recent Tests, England’s batting has been pretty solid – in their previous 15 Tests, they have failed to pass 300 in at least one innings on only one occasion.

In that time, their average first innings score is actually over 400 – which makes yesterday’s performance that much worse.

The Telegraph is quick to blame the batsmen, accusing them of throwing away their wickets ”in a flurry of ill-conceived shots”.

”If the only demon was the occasional two-paced nature of some of the short balls, several of England’s batsmen, Alec Stewart and Andrew Flintoff among them, seemed intent on exorcising them by hook or by hook.”

Chief beneficiary was Makhaya Ntini, who took five wickets on what he described as the best day of his career.

”If my grandfather was alive, he would have slaughtered a cow,” he said.

New captain Vaughan was another England player out hooking, but he manages to escape the blame, his 33 runs being the side’s top score until surpassed at the very end by Darren Gough’s 34.

The Guardian says the fragile optimism surrounding England after Test success against Zimbabwe and one-day success against South Africa belies the horrors of last winter.

”The summer has belonged to the masters of spin,” it says, ”and not of the Ashley Giles variety.”

With Chelsea taking a 24-hour breather from the transfer market, there is little to report from the world of football apart from the fact that Manchester United have been accused of running scared from the top club teams in the United States.

And so to darts, where the Times reports that Phil ”The Power” Taylor was on half wattage as he cruised through his World Matchplay quarter-final against Dennis Smith.

”It was conclusive but hardly convincing,” it says, ”and Taylor will almost certainly have to play better than this if he is to prevail against Peter Manley tonight.”

If you’re going out, set your videos…

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

China In His Hand

‘THE Sun says that David Beckham ‘thrilled’ fans by saying ‘I love you’ in Mandarin Chinese. ‘Wo Ai Li’ too, roared the appreciative crowd, who as luck had it were Chinese.

Looking out on a bright future?

And Dave’s linguistic skills extend even beyond that. ‘I’ve learnt a few words,’ says Dave to the paper. ‘Hola, Gracias, Muchas Gracias, Si, Solo and Cuidad [Watch Out!].’

Dave is, of course, being modest, having schooled himself in many more than these few notable gems.

What about muchas muchas gracias, muchas muchas muchas gracias and, our personal favourite, gracias muchas?

And it’s big thank you to the Mirror for showing us ‘the stars making cricket sexy’. You’d expect such a feature to come with a shot of a few soap actresses clad in cricket pads and helmets.

Instead you get to see James Anderson brooding in denim, a shirtless Darren Gough and Marcus Trescothick looking for all the world like a Prince Edward/Prince Andrew crossbreed.

Meanwhile, the Star says that Alex Ferguson is angry, upset and red in the face. The story could end there, given that this is Fergie’s usual state.

But the Star says that the bellicose Scot is angry today because Manchester United are tying to sell Juan Sebastien Veron against his wishes.

Like it or not, the Express says that Veron has agreed to join Chelsea in a package deal worth £40m.

It’s a little more cash than Michael Vaughan will earn for being England’s new cricket skipper. Not that the top batsman is too bothered.

Talking to the Sun, Vaughan says that he’s looking forward to the challenge of replacing England’s most successful captain in a generation.

‘The job has definitely come sooner than I expected, but I feel ready for the challenge.’

And let’s just hope he is ready. England take on South Africa today at Lord’s and a good result will mark a seamless transition from Hussain to Vaughan.

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

Rising From The Ashes

‘HERE’S a question for you – in the 67 Test matches that England played under the captaincy of David Gower, Mike Gatting and Ian Botham, how many did we win?

Five Test wins as captain between them

The answer? Only seven. That’s right – just seven matches and those were confined to just three series.

In 1984-5, England (under Gower) won twice in India to take the series 2-1 and followed it up with three wins over Australia to take the Ashes series 3-1.

They next won a Test in Australia in 1986-7 where Gatting recorded his only two Test match wins as captain in what is up to now England’s last Ashes triumph.

Botham, of course, failed to win a single match of his 12 games in charge.

All of which should at least put some of the criticism Nasser Hussain (with 17 wins) has received as captain into perspective.

The golden age of English cricket is a myth – or at least it is so long ago that most people can barely remember it.

In fact, Hussain’s record as England captain bears comparison with anyone since Mike Brearley.

Alec Stewart won only four of his 15 games in charge, half as many as he lost; Mike Atherton won 13 but lost 21; and even Graham Gooch had a win-loss record of just 10-12.

Apart from Hussain, the only full-time captain since Brearley to have a positive win-loss record is Bob Willis, who won seven, drew six and lost five of his games in charge.

It is Hussain’s misfortune (and those of his immediate predecessors) that he has played against Australia when they have been at their peak.

Both Gower and Gatting are (incorrectly) remembered as successful captains of England because they both managed to win Ashes series.

Brearley is revered because he won three of the four series he played against Australia.

What is forgotten is that he never captained England against the West Indies, the dominant side of the time, and that his job against Australia was made easier by the Packer rebellion.

It should also be remembered that Brearley’s Test average (mainly coming in as an opening batsman) was a lamentable 22.

History will, I think, be very kind to Hussain’s captaincy. What it makes of his successor could well depend on how he fares against the oldest enemy of them all.

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

Juan For The Road

‘THE Mirror says that Arsenal have given Patrick Vieira one week to sign a new deal or find himself on the transfer list. And already the vultures are circling.

The last piece of silverware Veron picks up in England

The Sun says that Zinedine Zidane, the Real Madrid and France playmaker is keen to play alongside the leggy Frenchman. He says that signing the Frenchman would be ‘very good for us’.

Just as signing Juan Veron would be as good for Chelsea as it was for Manchester United.

The Sun says that the Mekon-like Argentinean is on his way to the Bridge and will be a Chelsea player by the end of this week for a fee of £15m.

Can it be just two years ago that Veron was being hailed as the brightest and best thing to have happened to English football – ever?

He’s now surplus to requirements at the club which lashed out £29.1m for him.

In football, as in all sports, there are no guarantees of success.

There was, though, always the guarantee that David Beckham would fail to communicate with his new team-mates at Real Madrid.

The Mail says that Beckham is uncertain of his role in the Madrid team because he can’t understand the Spanish instructions.

Those of us who have heard Alex Ferguson, Beckham’s manager at Old Trafford, grapple with English, will be confident that Beckham will eventually get to grips with Spanish.

The more important Beckham matter is found in the Star where the dyed-blonde footballer is shown with his hair down.

For the past couple of months Beckham has had his hair in a ponytail, enthuses the paper. And now, with no hint of explanation or warning, he has released the ribbon.

We can only wonder what mighty deeds he will do next. There are already rumours that he will ask the local peluquero to repalce the ribbon with a new one.

But this is, as we say, only a rumour.

The other sporting news is that Chev Walker and Ryan Bailey, two members of the Great Britain’s rugby league squad, have been sent to jail folwing a fight outside a Leeds nightclub.

This is some news since the fight actually resulted in a crimal conviction for two of those involved and that it did involve either Lee Bowyer of Jonathan Woodgate, both of whom were in Newcastle at the time.

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

Thanks, Nasser

‘NASSER Hussain’s England will not go down as one of the best ever England sides.

A force for good

The record of played 45, won 17, drawn 13, lost 15, shows Nasser’s record as captain slightly over the average.

He will though be recalled as someone who kept England going. In 1999, when Nasser was appointed England captain, taking over from Alec Stewart, England were not a great outfit.

Granted, Stewart had just led England to their first major Test series victory for 13 years, when they beat South Africa 2-1. But the cricket played was routinely dreadful.

Hussain was seen as a straight bat both on and off the pitch at a time when England had too many sloggers and slicers.

His first job was to galvanise the team and take on New Zealand. A gentle opener on paper, but the Kwis could have been excused for thinking the same.

He started spectacularly well, leading England to a two-and-a-half-day victory over New Zealand after England had been 45 for 7, but lost the series.

England were officially ranked as the worst Test team in the world – a position not helped by a pretty poor tour of South Africa, in which England twice losing Tests by an innings.

But then came a kind of dream-like state. Under Hussain, England won four Test series in a row for the first time since Mike Brearley in the later 1970s.

Zimbabwe and the West Indies were relatively easy meat, although it was the first series victory over the latter for three decades, but away wins against Pakistan and Sri Lanka were magnificent.

Few teams go to the sub-continent and return with anything other than a bad stomach. England went and came back with heads held very high. They were on a roll.

Although they have not been able to sustain that improvement, especially in two desperately disappointing Ashes series, England are now ranked fourth in the world.

After a period of prolonged and sustained dire Test cricket, Hussain has helped turn England into a competitive force.

Those who watch the live game for more than a reason to leave the office or to see how far a popped champagne cork can encroach onto the playing surface can now open the fingers covering their eyes a notch wider.

Thanks to Hussain’s hard work, England have a restored sense of worth. It’s now up to Michael Vaughan, the new skipper, to take things on a stage further…

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