Back pages | Anorak - Part 92

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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

The Holy Roman Empire

‘WE must begin by thanking Roman Abramovich for arriving on these shores, buying Chelsea and, in threatening to buy just about every footballer in the world, drive David Beckham from the backpages.

‘Hmmm – it’ll make a great site for luxury flats’

Abramovich, a confirmed Zionist, is every inch the Messiah. Thank God for him.

And so to today’s Chelsea news, and the Sun’s story of how the Blues are ready to buy Manchester United’s Mekon man, Juan Sebastian Veron, for £14m.

The paper says that the deal is done and the Argentine is on his way to London.

This is good news for Chelsea who have been labouring under the false impression that Frank Lampard will deliver the midfield skill to win championship medals.

Meanwhile, the Mail reminds its suspicious readership that Veron once played under Sven Goran Eriksson at Lazio. Put two and two together and you have an England manager who could leave his post to take over at the Bridge.

The only trouble with this story is that Eriksson has issued a statement saying he is committed to England.

But, with this being the Mail and Sven being foreign, the FA are advised by the paper to summon their manager home from Sweden immediately.

Another man who could be on the move is West Ham’s Joe Cole. The Sun says that Cole could be off to Barcelona for £20m. Or he could just stay at home with his mum in Romford.

If sports fans want to see athletes who really travel they should look to the Express and the Tour de France.

The Tour is a great spectacle, taking in dramatic scenery, edge-of-the-seat racing and French people determined to get run over.

But the man to watch is Lance Armstrong, competing to win his fifth straight title. The Express reports that the Texan now leads the Tour, having taken over the yellow jersey from Frenchman Richard Virenque.

Armstrong is keen to do well and says that he is flattered by the Chelsea offer, but must wait until the race is over before considering his options…

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

The Weight Of Expectation

‘POOR, deluded Michael Vaughan, what has he done? The English paying public can always be called upon to give the new boy a few games to settle in, excusing him some crushing defeats at the outset.

Michael Vaughan now really has his hands full

But now the England captain has shown us how good he and his team can be, we’ll be expecting more of the same.

Happily for Vaughan, the next one-day series is in Bangladesh, where the greatest threat to English dominance is climate and something unpleasant in the local water.

England should win that series and then move onto the more difficult trial when they take on Sri Lanka in Dambulla and Colombo.

But England should not worry since they are now the third best one-day team in the world, having moved up from No.7. You have to go back to the mid-1980s to find the last time the boys in blue held so lofty a position.

Back then, Australia were a pretty tired-looking bunch. The Green and Golds are now, without doubt, the world’s best side by some margin.

The Australians’ rise to the top has been a masterclass to all in just what careful planning, patient training and good captaincy can achieve.

That South Africa are currently ranked No.2 in the ICC order can only give England an added shot of confidence.

And England are getting things right. South Africa did not play well in the NatWest series final at Lords.

The tourists’ dismissal in just 32.1 overs for a measly 107 runs cannot all be attributed to fine England bowling, of which there was plenty.

South Africa clearly have problems in their team. But more should be made of England.

‘It’s wonderful to have performed like that in front of 30,000 people when the pressure is on,’ said Vaughan after Saturday’s win. ‘We fully expect to best South Africa in the Test series.’

The new skipper’s learning curve is surely heading for a steep rise. Hasn’t he studied the captains that have gone before him?

The rule is a simple one: always talk up the other team. Saying how you’re going to beat them makes you sound uncouth, brash, confident – Australian.

Vaughan is delivering a sense of expectation to the England faithful.

If he carries on leading winning teams – although the Test side remains Hussain’s domain – we will soon expect victory.

And if England can sort out their middle order, the thing is, we just might get what we wish for…

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

Blues Bottle

‘SVEN Goran Eriksson is surely not the only one embarrassed at being caught having secret talks with new Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich.

What turnip will follow the Swede?

The London club would no doubt prefer Claudio Ranieri not to have found out in such dramatic fashion that he is not their first choice to take charge of the club next season.

And the FA, which has pinned so much faith on Eriksson, must be disturbed by the Swede’s lack of loyalty.

However, calls to sack Eriksson for this lack of judgement, are premature and should be resisted.

So far, Eriksson has done nothing more than have discussions with a club – discussions which may have had more to do with his future after his England contract runs out.

Even if the Swede was contemplating jumping ship sooner than that, for instance after the European Championships in 2004, what would be gained by getting rid of him now?

Apart from the enormous expense that removing Eriksson would entail, there is no obvious replacement.

And the timing is such that England would be forced to enter the vital period of their qualification either with a new manager or a caretaker manager.

The jury are still out on Eriksson as an international coach, although his record in competitive fixtures is highly impressive.

It would be in everyone’s interests to wait until next summer before making a decision on the future.

By that time and if England do not perform as we believe they should, then it may be possible to effect an amicable separation.

One can understand why Eriksson is tempted by a return to club management and, after four years in charge, it may be the time for him to go.

The FA will also have had another year in which to groom a successor.

And judging by events this week, it is a task they should be focussing on as a matter of some urgency.

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

Roman Legion

‘WHAT would the papers have done had Roman Abramovich not decided to kill a boring afternoon by buying a football club?

Roman was surprised by how much shorter and less talented Thierry ‘Glenn’ Henry looked in the flesh

David Beckham was safely ensconced in Madrid and, try as they might, no-one was much interested in where Ronaldinho will be breaking mirrors next season.

But along came the Russian billionaire and suddenly the hacks could pick a Fantasy XI for Chelsea and pretend that it was real news.

The Sun looks forward to ‘the biggest cash splash in football history’ after ‘Red Rom’ made offers worth £48m in 48 hours.

All very impressive, but the only thing the Blues have to show for it so far is Glenn Johnson, West Ham’s England Under-21 right-back who arrived for £6m.

If they want Christian Vieri to leave Inter Milan and come to Stamford Bridge, the Mail says they will have to raise their £20m offer.

A bid is also in for Real Madrid midfielder Geremi, with the Sun claiming the Blues are favourites to land the player.

The Mirror suggests that Abramovich has also made an official approach for £17m-rated Blackburn winger Damien Duff.

And the Express thinks that Andrei Shevchenko and Edgar Davids are also on the club’s shopping list.

To cricket and England are gearing up to take on South Africa in tomorrow’s final of the NatWest Series, with Jonty Rhodes tipping a victory for the visitors.

England’s batting, he warns, is too reliant on one of two players, notably Michael Vaughan and Marcus Trescothick and the bowling often depends on James Anderson.

‘The possible fly in the ointment for South Africa is Andy Flintoff,’ he concedes.

‘In one-day cricket, one man can turn a game and Flintoff has it in his armoury to alter the course of any match.’

Let’s hope he does just that tomorrow…

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

Bad Delivery

‘EVER since he first cocked his arm on the international cricket stage, Pakistani fast bowler Shoaib Akhtar has been a controversial figure.

Akhtar is on the front foot

It’s not allegations for throwing the ball that have landed the bowler in trouble this time but comments he made in interview with the Guardian newspaper.

In this world shrunken by the media, a man in Pakistan read the interview and took offence. He claims that criticisms made by Akhtar against other Pakistani players were defamatory to the reputation of the entire Pakistan nation.

It’s as good a time as any now to review the offending comments.

‘Wasim [Akram] and Waqar [Younis] are in decline,’ said Akhtar. ‘I have to make it all happen. There is so much pressure on me.’ Akhtar went on to say that his job might be made easier had he been born in Australia.

As a collection of comments these stand right up there with other statements of the bleeding obvious, like how England selectors favour players from Surrey and that Ian Botham should go and live in Australia.

For his part, Akhtar is far from contrite. ‘It’s some kind of cheeky fella trying to get famous – I’m not too bothered about it,’ he says.

But he is bothered, or he should be. Criticising players who have performed for longer than you and at a consistently high level is a brave move for any player, especially one whose bowling action is often called into question.

Indeed Younis, a revered figure in his homeland, is unimpressed, and has instructed his critic to ‘shut up and bowl’.

The Guardian has reminded its readers that earlier this year Younis was accused of inflicting ‘mental torture’ on a Pakistani litigant by appearing in a drink advert in India.

That issue was made more comical by the fact that the target of the campaign denies having ever been in such a commercial.

The one thing for certain is that cricket in this region of Asia is big news. Perhaps it’s the only place on earth where its stars get more press and cause a greater stir than David Beckham’s knickers.

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

Mashing The Swede

‘FOR those sports hacks like Jeff Powell who have never forgiven Sven Goran Eriksson for not being English, the pictures of him apparently in discussions about taking on the Chelsea job are the final straw.

Sweden’s Mary Archer

But should the FA have expected anything different?

After all, it is well-known that lying and cheating are a way of life in the big country called Abroad, which is from where Eriksson hails.

‘Dispatch the blackguard back to the Swedish vegetable patch whence he came,’ screams Powell in the Mail after this latest perfidy.

‘England is not to be treated like sad old Mary Archer by her Lord Jeffrey Lothario. Nor like Nancy Dell’Olio, come to that.

‘This is our England, our pride and joy. Sometimes she is our despair but still she is ours and woe betide any man who trifles with her favours.

‘Cuckolding the England team is a treacherous offence, no less.’

With tears welling in our eyes and hatred in our hearts for Abba, Volvos and Tiger Woods’ girlfriend (hint to picture editor), we get ready to hear the other side of the argument.

And that is provided by Steve Curry, who argues that the FA could not afford to sack the England coach, especially with no obvious replacement.

‘There is an old saying that even when you have chosen your meal, there is nothing wrong in looking at the menu,’ he says – and a veteran of a great many menus he looks too.

Meanwhile, all talk in the papers is how Leeds are accusing Liverpool of ripping them off over the deal to take Harry Kewell to Anfield.

The Elland Road club claim they will get only £3m from the sale of the Aussie star – less than the player himself will pocket.

‘Kops And Robbers,’ says the Mirror, which claims that Kewell had threatened to sit out the remaining year of his contract with Leeds if he wasn’t allowed to leave.

One person who won’t be moving clubs this summer is Thierry Henry, with the Gunners telling Chelsea that their star player is not at sale, even for £70m.

‘It’s only money after all and we are trying to build a team here at Arsenal, not destroy one,’ chairman Peter Hill-Wood tells the Express.

England’s cricketers have done a pretty good job of destroying the opposition this summer – and South Africa will have to fight back without the services of Nicky Boje, who broke his leg during Tuesday’s match.

Also absent is Lance Klusener, who (says the Express) is to take legal action against the South African Cricket Board for leaving him out of the tour party.

The hard-hitting all-rounder is claiming unfair dismissal in a case that could have interesting repercussions for the rest of the sporting world.

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

Catch Wins Match

‘IF England cricket is known for one thing it is not ‘brilliant catching’. But those are the words used by the Telegraph in connection with their win over South Africa.

An eyecatching display

The paper watches with what one imagines to be an expression of slack-jawed disbelief as Andy Flintoff pulls of an ‘exceptional catch’ to stop Jacques Kallis’ hopes of big innings.

The effect of sharp fielding and solid batting – with captain Michael Vaughan knocking up his highest one-day score for England at 83 runs – led England to victory after just 39 overs of their allotted 50.

Any more performances like this and English cricket could finally be the summer’s biggest sport. In the meantime we have to make do with the game of football transfer rumour speculation.

The Times gets the ball rolling – or not – by starting at the top.

News is that Sven Goran Eriksson, the England manager, has been meeting and talking with Chelsea’s new chairman Roman Abramovich.

The paper says that Sven is ’embarrassed’ at being spotted at the meeting, which included agent Pini Zahavi, and has issued a statement.

He says that he has known Zahavi for many years and Mr Abramovich for several months. He also says that he accepts that his meeting ‘may create unfortunate speculation’.

He then goes onto commit his future to the England cause, and tells the world how he is ‘thoroughly enjoying’ the European Championship qualifying campaign.

Other transfer speculation is found in the Guardian, where the papers say the balance of power has shifted away from ‘cash-strapped’ Arsenal towards Chelsea.

As yet, none of Arsenal’s stars have taken the Chelsea bait and signed on for the Blues, but the paper hints that moves for Robert Pires and Patrick Vieira might be in the offing.

But with so much in football being speculation and hype, it might be all a load of hogwash. It really is too hard to tell.

So let’s have some more cricket instead.

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

Freddie Is Ready

‘ENGLAND’S victory over South Africa in yesterday’s one-day international may have made little difference to the triangular tournament.

Freddie – the bedrock of the England middle order

Both sides are already through to contest the final at the weekend and yesterday’s match was only really about confidence ahead of that match.

But it is England who will have taken the most out of the game and not just for the fact that they won by four wickets with 11 overs to spare.

The English bowling attack again caused problems for the batting side, but this time on a pitch that was generally reckoned to be a decent surface.

The fielding was, for the most part, outstanding with some excellent catching.

And, despite the continuing frailties at the top of the order, the batting held firm when it might have crumbled.

However, the best thing to happen to England in their one-day matches this summer is the emergence of Andrew Flintoff as a player around whom England can build their side.

Yesterday, he not only helped rescue England in partnership with Michael Vaughan (as he had done against Zimbabwe on Sunday), but he took a stunning slip catch to dismiss Jacques Kallis and chipped in with a wicket in his nine overs.

While Vaughan has rightly been receiving the plaudits in the last 12 months as England’s top batsman and James Anderson has been hogging the bowling headlines, Flintoff has been working hard on his game.

He is now an integral part of the England team in both forms of cricket and should be able to assume the all-rounder mantle in the Test side when Alec Stewart retires.

Arguments rage about where Flintoff should bat in one-day cricket, but in Test matches England would love for him to be able to come in at No.6.

That would allow Chris Read (or James Foster) to bat at No.7, followed by the four bowlers.

It was the balance of the side when, dare we mention his name, Ian Botham was in his prime – and it served England well.

Flintoff will never be as good a bowler as Botham was in his prime, but he does have the potential to be as good a batsman.

And, as we saw yesterday, he also has the knack of taking blinding catches…

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

Getting Becks’ Number

‘WANT to know the real reason why David Beckham now wears No.23 on his back? The Guardian tells us that it’s because Posh told him to.

‘Come on, Day-vid, let’s try again – 20, 21, 22 and…’

Originally, the England captain had been offered the No.4 shirt of departing Real Madrid captain Fernando Hierro, and the now famous 23.

Neither David nor the club could reach a decision – until Mrs Beckham popped her skinny neck round the door and made her thoughts known.

And so it is that David Beckham now wears the No.23 in Spain.

Such a story does little to scotch rumours that Posh leads David by the nose. But in football rumour is part and parcel of the game.

Mindful of that, and in the interests of science, the Times produces the ‘Footski Index’, a graph showing how likely it is that Chelsea will buy the players they are rumoured to want.

Ranging from ‘You’ve lost your roubles’ to ‘Perestroika!’, the man most likely to be wearing Chelsea blue next season is… well, take a look at the list of hopefuls and make your guess.

The men wanted by the Roman Abramovich regime are: Thierry Henry, Joe Cole, Harry Kewell, Wayne Rooney, Ronaldinho, David Beckham and Scott Parker.

The winner is… yes, Scott Parker. You can already hear the fans at the Bridge let out long sigh at that one.

Another thing that might never actually happen is a London 2012 Olympic Games. The Independent leads its sports coverage with news of the London bid.

The paper hears Jacques Rogge, president of the International Olympic Committee, emerge from a meeting with Tony Blair, in which the pair discussed how London can win the day.

And the key concern is security. ‘If you look at what I’d say were essential elements in a bid, I would put security first,’ says Rogge.

This is, apparently, good news for London, which can call upon the services of Peter Ryan, an ex-Metropolitan Police officer who co-ordinated security at the Sydney and Salt Lake City Games.

Which is a fillip to the London bid, and bad news for anyone who wants to park near the stadium.

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

Wiping The Slaters Clean

‘SEEING how Tim Henman has affected EastEnders’ output, it was spiriting to see two of the Slater sisters being allowed to work the Wimbledon crowd.

Kat among the pigeons?

Not being a fan of that soap opera, I am unsure who or what Lucy Rusedski and Oonagh have slept with and the position they occupy in the great morning bathroom line-up.

They are, though, Slaters to the core, right down to the assisted hair colour, the inch-think layer of slap and the way they can make an audience cringe.

Other lasting memories of this year’s Wimbledon are few, but a couple do linger in the memory as far as today.

The pick of the bunch has to be Tim Henman’s shot against David Nalbandian. The ball had bounced twice, but Tim, tigerish to the last, was so keen to hit it back he forgot to count.

Should we give Henman the benefit of the doubt? Did he know the ball had bounced twice?

Is it as easy to count from the stands and the sofa as it is when you are an outstretched arm away from the ball?

Let’s just call it Henman’s fighting spirit, rather than outright cheating.

It’s a similar tenacious approach to the game that saw Greg Rusedski, the player married to one of those Slater girls, deliver his best volley in ages, albeit one of abuse.

Here were the British players showing their mettle. The foreigners cheat (only they didn’t), so why don’t we? The foreigners swear and curse (only they didn’t), so why don’t we?

After years of waiting, British tennis was finally ready to fight dirty.

Meanwhile, the rest had moved on. The Williams girls, who conduct themselves with grace and poise in the face of much unwarranted criticism, were unstoppable.

Mark Philippoussis, a shy man off the court and on it, fought a final with the quiet, modest Swiss, Roger Federer.

There was no swearing. There were no histrionics. It was all very much in keeping with the best traditions of Wimbledon.

Perhaps Greg and Tim can learn from the foreign stars and less from EastEnders…

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

Roger And Out

‘NO, Tim Henman has not had cosmetic surgery, grown his hair long and adopted the look of a winner. That man holding the racket and Wimbledon trophy on the cover of the Independent’s sport section is Roger Federer.

Swiss ace

Roger is the first Swiss man to win at Wimbledon, or to win any tennis Grand Slam event for that matter. And he did it by beating Australian Mark Philippoussis in straight sets.

Of course, the paper’s tennis ace, John Roberts, knew Federer would win all along. In a section entitled ‘You read it here first’, Roberts takes out his trumpet and gives it a hearty blow.

‘He will have to overcome his suspect mental strength over the course of the championship,’ said Roberts of the now champion in the run-up to Wimbledon. ‘If he does, he will make a splendid champion.’

Nothing like a good ‘told yer so’ to make someone feel important, even if it is blackened by a big ‘if’ and masked by thousands of words about all the other players and a certain Tiger Tim.

The other major tennis story is found in the Guardian, where Martina Navratilova is seen winning her 20th Wimbledon trophy, 30 years after winning her first.

She tied Billie Jean King’s record of a score of Wimbledon titles by winning the mixed doubles contest with her partner Leander Paes.

At 46-years-old, the durable player is now the oldest person to be a Wimbledon champion – a fact that means Tim Henman has years to go before he can call it a day.

Meanwhile, the Formula One motor racing procession is still going on. Yesterday, Ralf Schumacher won the French Grand Prix, beating Juan Pablo Montoya and brother Michael into second and third places respectively.

The Telegraph says that Williams, for whom Ralf Schumacher drives, is ‘running hot again’.

We simply say, ‘Told you so’. We told you Schumacher would win the race. And we’ll tell you now that if he drives better than everybody else, he’ll win the drivers’ title.

You heard it here first…

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

Balls To Henmania

‘YESTERDAY, Wimbledon got a worthy champion in Roger Federer, the fourth seed who at last lived up to his undoubted promise to claim his first Grand Slam title.

Federer kneels before image of Henman

In his matches against Andy Roddick and Mark Philippoussis he showed just what a great player he is and led us all to believe that this title will be the first of many.

While Roddick relies exclusively on power, the 21-year-old Swiss brilliantly varies the pace and angle of his shots.

And the fact that in both matches, he served more aces than his opponent shows that he is no slouch in the power game himself.

The final may not have been a great match in terms of drama but, as an exhibition of shot-making, it was spectacular.

It was a fitting climax to a tournament that had been for too long overshadowed by the British obsession with Tim Henman.

One can understand the British desperation for their first men’s champion in three-quarters of a century, but Henmania has got totally out of hand.

And the chief culprits are not the sad people with their face paint and their Union Jack hats, but the BBC and the print media who are only too happy to pour petrol on the flames.

Until Henman is knocked out of the tournament, which this year did not happen until the second Thursday, it is to all intents and purposes a one-man event.

Only after his obituary has been written do we discover that a whole tennis tournament has been going on without our knowledge.

The rest of the players – and the British tennis public – deserve a lot better than that.

Certainly, Roger Federer who played some of the most sublime tennis Centre Court has ever seen deserves better than to be a sideshow to a man whose chances of ever winning the tournament decline with each passing year. ‘

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

Time Out For Tim

‘SO now Tim Henman is free to concentrate on the league, or whatever it is tennis players do when they’ve crashed out of the knock-out events.

‘There’s always someone who leaves early to miss the traffic…’

Henman is good enough to be the best British player in a sport, but is unlucky to have chosen the sport of tennis.

Even his most die-hard fans, the menopausal Henmaniacs who ooh and aaahh with each volley and lob, have no idea what he does for the other 50 weeks and three or four days of the year beyond Wimbledon fortnight.

Do his parents travel the world watching young Tim? Does his mum, Jane, pack up her range of tennis clothing and open her car boot in Madrid, Manila and other tennis spots?

Does Tim’s dad, Tony, sit there impassive as a stuffed turbot at the other Grand Slam events, as he does at Wimbledon?

There was a story that someone saw Tim’s dad move. But on further examination it proved to be wind.

And if you wonder how Motionless Tony gets to his Centre Court seat, we hear that it’s partly down to the magic of Wimbledon and part Stena technology.

(Tony never leaves the seat, but just descends into a cavity beneath the stands where he waits for the first union Jack of summer.)

Tim’s wife Lucy can’t be expected to travel the world in pursuit of her man – the pair have a child, and uprooting the little ‘un is not easy.

Besides, having your children see you at work is nice once but who’d want them there every day?

So with few witnesses, we can only guess what Tim does beyond Wimbledon.

Some cable TV station follows the ATP Tour, on which Tim is, apparently, a player, but if they can mock up the 1969 moon landings in a TV studio in Teddington, they can make Tim play tennis in Dubai.

So, farewell, Tim, it is time to get back into your box.

Next year you will be one year older, and we will be a year wiser. You might win Wimbledon; you might not.

The only thing for certain is that in 2004 Henman will still be the British No.1 by a country mile, and that tennis will still be something that goes well with Pimm’s.

Although a cucumber sandwich is a close second…

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

Grrroans All Round

‘WIMBLEDON came to a sudden and abrupt halt yesterday when Tim Henman was knocked out and we all realised we didn’t know who on earth was left in.

‘I hope you lose in the semis and your family are killed in a horrible accident’

The Tiger growled his way to the second week for the eighth time – a record only matched by ‘Pistol’ Pete Sampas and ‘Jimbo’ Jimmy Connors.

But much to the dismay of the misfits, miscreants and Miss Bromwich 1997s who constitute his fan base, he lost out at the quarter-final stage to Sebastien Grosjean.

The Telegraph says ‘the feeling of despair and emptiness…was gruesomely evident’ when Henman hit his final return into the net, although it’s unclear whether this despair refers to Henman himself, his fans or the media.

The latter certainly has had to turn to their programmes and find out who else is involved in the tournament.

Not that it would be such a hard guess in the ladies’ singles, where the Williams sisters will use Centre Court to settle their domestic squabble.

In the men’s, Mark Philippoussis beat Alexander Popp (a British passport holder when he was two sets to nil up; a German now he’s lost) to set up a semi-final with Grosjean, while Andy Roddick and Roger Federer will fight it out for the other final place.

Not that the rest of the sports news makes good reading – South Africa easily beat England in the one-dayer at Old Trafford and Bowdoin Rowing Association (US) beat Durham University by one length in the Henley Royal Pooh-Sticks Regatta.

So back to Tim – and stand up and take a bow, wherever you are, Martin Collins a supermarket manager from Watford when the Times caught up with him.

‘Dressed in tennis whites, with a Union Jack thrown across his shoulders and his face painted to resemble a tiger, he laid out his ‘I love Henman’ tablecloth and toasted the British No.1 with a large beaker of sparkling wine.’

Ignore the cynics, Martin – it is people like you who put the Grrrr into Grrrrreat Britain…

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

Reign In Spain

‘TIM Henman might be as charismatic as a stuffed shirt, but he is the master of suspense.

Tiger or a drowned cat?

Yesterday the rain fell and broke Henman’s match with Sebastien Grosjean into four.

The fifth, and what we hope will be the final part of the Wimbledon quarter-final, will be played today.

The Times says that the schizophrenic weather – rain, then sun, then rain, then sun, then rain again – was in keeping with Henman’s performance, which says everything about ‘why he is loved, why he is feared, why he is despised’.

We know the Tiger has his fans and his critics, but despised is surely too strong a word to ever use in the context of the British No.1.

Just tell the Henmaniacs that someone hates their man and watch them tear the villain to pieces.

Which is pretty much what the baying mob that went to see David Beckham in Madrid would have done to their new idol had a large wire fence not separated them.

One boy did manage to wriggle under the divide, and the Telegraph watches as he dashes up to the England captain and wraps his arm around him.

Given the furore over the Prince William birthday bash, you’d be unsurprised if the papers immediately began speculating over what would have happened if the boy had been a bomb or was a terrorist on a mission of evil.

Of course, as with the Prince and the comedy terrorist incident, it’s all good publicity, and Beckham was keen to play the good guy, giving the new arrival his spare No.23 shirt and a few friendly pats on the head.

And get used to number 23 being the new number to have. As the Guardian says, this number has magical qualities.

We learn that American basketball legend Michael Jordan wore the number in the pomp.

And if that’s not enough to turn your head, know that the number is also worn at club level by Sol Campbell, Christian Ziege, Carlo Cudicini and Jamie Carragher.

It was also the number being worn by Deportivo La Coruna’s midfielder Aldo Duscher when he broke a bone in Beckham’s foot.

Which is very, very interesting…

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

The Real Story

‘IF anyone had any doubts that Real Madrid’s interest in David Beckham was based solely on his ability as a footballer, yesterday’s press conference will surely have dispelled them.

‘And when do I get to wear this shirt?’

It is certainly no accident that Beckham has been given the No.23 shirt – the same number as that worn by basketball legend Michael Jordan.

And the words from the club and the player were chosen to try to counter the view, particularly in Spain, that this is purely a commercial decision.

Beckham himself felt the need to stress how important football is to him, something that is taken for granted with any other player.

‘Of course I love my family,’ he said. ‘I have a wonderful life, but football is everything to me and joining Real Madrid is a dream come true.’

Real president Florentino Perez also stressed that the club believe in Beckham as a footballer.

But he also made it clear that Beckham’s contribution to Real Madrid will not be confined to the pitch.

‘He is a man of our times and a symbol of modern-day stardom and what is certain is Real have signed Beckham because he’s a great footballer and a very dedicated professional,’ Perez said.

‘His team spirit is unsurpassed and he is one of the best English players of all-time and if only because of that he is with us.

‘We love Beckham because he makes us the best team on and off the pitch.’

However, the test will be how Beckham goes down with Real fans. They care little for the club’s profile in Asia or for its merchandising reach – they only care that it wins.

There is not a side in the world that would not want to have Beckham in its squad, but it is now up to the man to prove himself on the pitch.

Only if he does that will Perez be right in his prediction that Beckham ‘is a great player who is going to become part of the club’s great history’.

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

Golden Oldies

‘YOU join us in 2049, where Lord David Beckham of Dolce & Gabbana is about to renew his wedding vows with Lady Posh in a pay-per-view Golden Balls event sponsored by Eazy Dentures, ‘for the tooth with added bite’.

Taking the piss

‘I give you this Tiffany gold and diamond ring as a symbol of our vows, and with all that I am, and all that I have, I honour you,’ says David.

The vow is promptly translated into 52 of the world’s most popular languages. When peace is restored, it’s time for Victoria to speak.

‘I give you this CD of my greatest hits as a small yet tasteful medallion of our eternal love.’

She turns to the camera built now into David’s forehead. ‘In buying this CD, you the people of Earth will know that you support us in our love. And I think that is something really important.’

A screen drops down from behind the effigy of Jesus (with football boots and David Beckham tattoo). David and Victoria kneel before it. The rest of the world follows.

The screen flickers into life and we see pictures of David and Victoria’s greatest moments. There’s the original wedding, the births of Brooklyn, Romeo and Real.

And there’s the video of the day he signed for Madrid, the tour of Asia and the footage of David pissing into a cup on his medical examination for the Spanish giants.

Oh, you haven’t seen that? Well, you should have subscribed to the Real Madrid TV channel, where the medical was relayed live yesterday.

The entire thing was, as with all things Beckham, sponsored, and the Spanish health insurance company Sanita were happy to pick up the £250,000 tab, and keep Beckham free from germs.

The rest of the video was familiar to all. The shot of David leading England to victory in the Best Dressed Team section of the 2006 World Cup; his Giorgio Armani tattoo (with washing instructions and official logo); and his conversion to Islam and subsequent marriages to Ulrika Jonsson, Kathryn Blair and Geri Halliwell.

What happens to David next is anyone’s guess. Although, you can bet it will come with a label and a large marketing budget.

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

Chelsea Pillage

‘KEN Bates, the man who helped transform Chelsea from a second division outfit into a leading Premiership football club, is gone.

Ken Bates – in his reserved seat

Bates has sold his controlling stake in Chelsea Village for £29.6 million. And the new owner, as seen in the Mail, is one Roman Abramovich, a Russian oil magnate.

Looking for obvious puns about Chelski, and finding them on the front page of the Sun, we turn to the back of that paper, where former Blues’ favourite Peter Osgood is happy to see Ken go.

‘Thank God for that,’ says Osgood, who was sacked from Chelsea’s hospitality staff last year.

‘Ken Bates is not the nicest man in the world and I don’t like the way he treats people. I’ve never been a fan of his.’

Liked and loathed, Bates was at least a character, a rare breed in a game where corporate facelessness now provides the game’s chairmen.

But what of the new man in charge?

The Express profiles Abramovich, ‘a new breed of Russian’, and hears Bates say that he’s good news for the club.

‘With this guy’s help and financial muscle we can be one of the top four or five clubs in Europe,’ says Bates.

Or the new broom could just realise the potential of the ground, sell it off and move the entire operation to Mitchum or Moscow, those hotbeds of Chelsea fervour.

Things are always less certain than the Ken Bates’ hype.

And it remains less than clear whether Tim Henman will be victorious in this year’s Wimbledon.

In readiness for today’s match between Tim and Sebastien Grosjean, the Sun puts the game in perspective.

‘Blimey…I’m Bigger Than EastEnders,’ says the headline, created in light of Monday’s performance, when Henman’s victory over David Nalbandian delayed the soap opera by one hour.

If he can now delay his departure until he’s lifted the cup, we’ll all be grateful…

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

Tiger Feat

‘FOR the seventh time in eight years, Tim Henman has reached the quarter-final at Wimbledon – a record practically unsurpassed in recent years.

Flying the flag

Given the amount of pressure Henman is now under to give Britain its first men’s singles champion for three-quarters of a century, the feat is nothing short of remarkable.

And in his past four visits to the quarter-final, the British No.1 has every time progressed to the semi-finals, losing there on each occasion to the defending champion.

For the moment, Henman’s thoughts will not stray beyond Wednesday when he meets the winner of the Grosjean-Ferrero match.

But the defeat of Andre Agassi means that Henman could easily find himself as the highest seed in the bottom half of the draw when he steps out to play tomorrow.

That is not to say that there are not plenty of obstacles in his path to reaching the final.

Sebastien Grosjean, who leads Juan Carlos Ferrero by two sets to one overnight, beat Henman a couple of weeks ago at Queen’s.

Mark Philippoussis, who played magnificently to defeat Agassi, beat Henman when they last met at Wimbledon – in the fourth round in 2000.

And then there is Alexander Popp, who has only played one Wimbledon before in 2000 when he reached the quarter-final.

There are a lot of things Henman will be delighted about following his match against David Nalbandian, whom he had never previously beaten.

But his serve, which he lost five times in four sets yesterday (including three times in a row) is still a major worry.

Against the likes of Philippoussis, a single service break is pretty well the difference between success and defeat and Henman needs to get more penetration on his delivery.

Whether Henman can go further this year than he has been before is highly doubtful, but even if he doesn’t his is a magnificent achievement.

It is only when he is no longer a challenger that his record in SW19 will be recognised – and the championship itself will regain a bit of sanity.

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

No Quarter Given

‘HOT flushes all round this morning as housewives’ favourite Tim Henman dominates the back pages after his fine win over David Nalbandian.

A Hen Party

The Sun reminds us all that Henman is now in the quarter-finals of Wimbledon for the seventh time in eight years, an excellent record for Britain’s sole tennis hope.

Tim’s chances of winning have been greatly enhanced by the failure of Andre Agassi, who had been favourite to win the title.

The Sun watches the charismatic American fail to beat the big-serving Australian Mark Philippoussis, losing in five sets.

Add to this the fact that the crowd are behind Henman and the Chiswick Challenger’s chances look even better.

The Henmaniacs, who queue for tickets and paint their faces in the manner of Russian escort girls, are praised by their hero in the Mirror.

Henman says that the crowd ‘were really phenomenal’. He goes on: ‘The noise was really incredible and that really helped me.’

And an enthusiastic crowd can be expected when David Beckham takes his medical in Madrid.

The Sun says that the urine sample and heart test will be sponsored by Spanish private health company Sanitas.

The firm has paid an ‘incredible’ £250,000 for the right to stick their name on Beckham’s vial of urine in an examination that will be screened live on Real Madrid’s own TV station this afternoon.

Presumably, the golden liquid from Golden Balls will then be auctioned off by the droplet, sold as a cure for impotence, shyness and other sporting ailments.

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

The Rules Of Engagement

‘BY popular demand (how I’ve pleaded), we are pleased to relive British tennis’ most famous moment since Cliff Richard made it rain.

”Come on, Timmy!”

Take it away, Greg Rusedski. ”I can’t do anything if the crowd f***ing call it. Absolutely f***ing ridiculous. At least replay the point. F***ing ridiculous. F***ing ridiculous. F***ing ridiculous.

”It’s f***ing ridiculous. F***ing ridiculous. Some w**ker in the crowd changes the whole match. Well done. Well done. Absolutely sh*t”.

He swears like a native does that Greg – and no native of Canada either, but one born and bred on British filth.

We all know by now that he swore because some idiot had called ”Out!” when the ball hit by his opponent Andy Roddick was marginally good, causing Greg to pause and lose the point.

Now step forward the man with the foghorn voice and dodgy vision, Lithuanian Evaldas Zilionis.

With a name like that, you almost expect him to offer up a cheery ”Hello, Peeps”. Instead he just pleads ignorance.

”I don’t understand the rules, but I was trying to get the point replayed.” In mid-point? And what’s a point, anyhow, when you don’t understand the rules? As an admission of culpability, it’s a failure.

And one spotted by the crowd gathering in on Mr Zilionis, who, as the heckler says, ”were calling me a moron”. ”Yes, I feel a bit of a moron,” agrees Mr Zilionis.

So which of Rusedski or Zilionis behaved the worse? Is the reaction excused by the cause?

The feeling is that it is. Showing passion when you are losing a match is easily excusable. Rusedski resorted only to verbal violence.

But Mr Zilionis cannot be so readily forgiven. Like a football fan who goes to the match equipped with a whistle, and blows it at will, Zilionis has taken things too far.

But in answer to his claim of ignorance, let’s fill him in on one key Wimbledon rule.

The crowd must wait until the point is over, or the non-British player is about to serve, and then scream something out. ”Come on, Timmy,” usually does the job.

Failing that, a rendition of Summer Holiday is the done thing.

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

Raining On Tim’s Parade

‘TODAY, weather almost certainly not permitting, Tim Henman will walk onto Centre Court for his eighth fourth round match at Wimbledon in eight years.

Andre Agassi does his hilarious impersonation of Tim Henman

And once again we will get our face painted, put a Union Jack hat on and collectively scream ‘Come on, Tim’ as we try to propel the Tiger into his seventh quarter-final.

The Independent recalls that only Mark Philippoussis in 2000 has beaten Henman at this stage of the tournament.

And his list of victims, which includes Pat Rafter, Richard Krajicek, Jim Courier and Todd Martin, is a highly impressive one.

To that list Henman will have to add the name of last year’s runner-up David Nalbandian if he is to realise his dream of winning the tournament this year.

However, the Guardian says the weather and the match scheduling, which has Henman out last on Centre Court to maximise the BBC’s ratings, could count against the No.10 seed.

Also, he has never beaten the Argentine (although they have only met twice), so when he does eventually get on court, he will start off as underdog. Or undertiger.

Britain’s interest in the Winter Olympics is normally confined to a group of Scottish housewives with their brooms out.

We certainly couldn’t care less normally where the event is held, but the Guardian reports on how we should all be crossing our fingers that Vancouver gets the nod for the 2010 games.

The Canadian city is the red-hot favourite, but its success ‘could sound the death knell’ for New York’s bid to host the 2012 games.

If, however, Salzburg gets the gig, then Barbara Cassani’s job of convincing the IOC to bring the games to London in 2012 ‘will begin to look like a mission impossible’.

Meanwhile, Olympic champion Denise Lewis’s decision to continue to work with discredited coach Dr Ekkart Arbeit has attracted criticism from the highest quarter.

IOC president Jacques Rogge said it was ‘not a good idea’ for Lewis to associate herself with a man who was a major figure in East Germany’s state-controlled doping regime of the 1970s and 1980s.

And the Telegraph believes that what was originally portrayed as a little local difficulty could have implications for London’s Olympic bid and British sport as a whole.

Finally, the Times reports that Andrew Caddick has managed to pick up a back injury while recuperating from a foot injury and is likely to miss the whole of the South Africa series.

And Fifa, in its infinite wisdom, has decided to ban players taking their shirts off to celebrate a goal.

It’s good to see that with everything going on in football, someone has got their priorities right.

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

Death In The Afternoon

‘THERE are truly shocking pictures on the front of the papers this morning of Marc Vivien Foe, the Manchester City midfielder who collapsed and died during a match yesterday.

”I never touched him, ref”

The 28-year-old had a suspected heart attack towards the end of the Confederations Cup game between Cameroon and Colombia.

And the Sun shows the referee and two Colombian players frantically trying to summon medical help for the prone father-of-three.

The Mirror says Foe was walking unchallenged in the centre circle when his heart suddenly stopped. He collapsed and never regained consciousness.

He was carried on a stretcher off the pitch and to the medical room where doctors battled in vain for 45 minutes to revive him.

Meanwhile, the game carried on in his absence with his team-mates unaware until they came off the pitch that he was dead.

And even amid tragedy sport does carry on with Tim Henman powering through to the third round at Wimbledon.

Yet again, Henman is the lone British representative in the draw for either of the singles.

For him it is a case of ”business as usual”, but the Express hears him hold out some hope that his former coach David Felgate will turn things round.

”He has as good a chance as anyone because I know how brutally honest he can be and how tough he will be on some of the players,” he says.

”I’m sure it will be a shock to them, but we have got to break out of the rut we are in.”

Zimbabwe’s cricketers broke out of their rut yesterday as they recovered from 15-4 to overhaul England’s 191 in the first of the Nat West one-day internationals.

Grant Flower’s unbeaten 96 was the match-winning innings and prompts the Mail’s headline: ”England’s Weeds Are Shown up By Flower.”

But, despite an ”insipid” performance by England, Michael Vaughan has ruled out an emergency call to Graham Thorpe to boost the side’s batting.

However, he said he might drop down to No.5 in the batting order to try to lend experience lower down.

”Obviously I am a little bit worried, but we have inexperienced players and have got to give them a little leeway. But we have got to learn a little bit faster than we have been doing.”

This weekend’s match against South Africa would be a good time to start.

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

Balancing Act

‘TWO brilliant innings by Marcus Trescothick have allowed England to gloss over what is a fundamental problem in their one-day batting line-up – not enough batsmen.

Vaughan worries about his top order

His quick-fire 86 in the second of the matches against Pakistan had effectively won the match for England before the middle-order was exposed.

And his unbeaten ton in the third of the three matches saw England home after the middle order had been blown away by Pakistan.

However, England cannot expect one man (or even two or three men) to get all the side’s runs.

And, looking at the line-up at the moment, it seems that that is what they are expecting.

I argued before – and yesterday’s defeat by Zimbabwe just emphasises the point – that England need another specialist batsman in the side.

With an inexperienced Vikram Solanki opening and Jim Troughton or Robert Key coming in at No.4, the top order batting looks frail.

There is a lot of sense in promoting Andrew Flintoff to No.5 – he is a much better batsman than the lower middle order slogger he has at times been cast as.

But that can only work if the batting round him is stronger than it is at present.

Michael Vaughan insists he will stick with the personnel who have been selected for the series – and he is right to do so.

Bringing back Graham Thorpe would be seen as a panic measure and would send out the wrong signals, even though it is clear the side would be better for his return.

But he does need to alter the balance of the side if England are to achieve their objective, which is building a team for the future.

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

Out Of Order

”’I CAN’T do anything if the crowd f***ing call it. Absolutely f***ing ridiculous. At least replay the point. F***ing ridiculous. F***ing ridiculous. F***ing ridiculous.

”I’m telling you, man. She’s as thin as a f***ing rake”

”It’s f***ing ridiculous. F***ing ridiculous. Some w**ker in the crowd changes the whole match. Well done. Well done. Absolutely sh*t.”

Thanks to the Independent for reproducing that tirade, as delivered by Greg Rusedski to an incredulous and unapologetic umpire as he slumped to defeat at Wimbledon.

The key question now for Rusedski is what fine he will earn for his outburst. Staying with the Independent, readers learn that the maximum fine under All England Club rules is $10,000.

Which is about $426 per asterisk.

Of course, it is not right and proper to make light of so public a fit, but Rusedski was, as the Times says, incensed by a voice calling ”out” from the vicinity of the line judge when the ball was in.

Rusedski lost the point to Andy Roddick and a considerable amount of his cool. And with that went the any hope of salvaging the match.

Back to more important Wimbledon matters, the Times watches Daniela Hantuchova, the No.9 seed, lose to Shinobu Asagoe 12-10 in the deciding set.

”My God, she’s thin,” is the assessment of the Slovakian’s performance by the paper’s resident tennis watcher.

”She’s about an inch wide,” says Alison Kervin. ”She weighs less than a feather.” Her arms are so tiny they ”look almost doll-like”.

Alison really knows her tennis. And one question remains to be answered: ”Why would an athlete allow herself to become so terrifying thin?”

Answer: To allow the likes of Alison Kelvin and fat women to talk about tennis like they know which end of the racket is up.

The papers should stick to what they know about: football. And the Guardian says that Paul Gascoigne has been threatened with legal action by his Chinese club Gansu Tianma.

It seems that Gazza has not been seen in China since football was suspended following the outbreak of the Sars virus.

A representative for the player says his client has not returned because he is in dispute over his pay.

”********* ***** ******* ****,” he said.

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