Anorak

Back pages | Anorak - Part 93

Back pages Category

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

No-One For Tennis

‘EARLIER this week the BBC’s coverage of Wimbledon tennis was interrupted for a few words from newly-converted tennis fan Nell McAndrew.

No, Nell, that’s a stool, not a tennis racket

Nell, a model whose quest for publicity recently saw her ”marry” Dale Winton, was now available to talk up the summer sport.

She’d never played it, save for an exhibition match with Tim Henman, in which she made an exhibition of herself.

Nell, Britain’s answer to Anna Kournikova, was soon joined by a man, a fashion designer, who had created a range of tennis T-shirts.

The gear was nothing too special, although the TV presenter Craig Doyle said he thought it was ace.

The only notable thing was that the clothes were black, like the man who had designed them. Here was Wimbledon breaking a written rule – the one about white clothes – and an unwritten rule – the one about black people.

Of course there are black faces at Wimbledon. There are the Williams sister for starters. And for finishers.

But they get less press than the menopausal fans who flag wave for Tim Henman. These fans are an embarrassment to the sport. To them it is a hobby, up there with macramé and scrabble.

This is not Henman’s fault, he can only do his best, but he must be concerned that his appeal goes little further than the Beaconsfield Cake Club.

It is, perhaps, a product of how the game is sold. To the BBC, the channel that covers Wimbledon, the domestic Grand Slam event is a chance for lots of cheap sun-kissed telly.

It is fronted by Sue Barker, the most boring presenter of all time – the epitome of how introverted a sport becomes when it employs sportspeople as journalists.

She chortles at the sight of patriotic men in Union Jack waistcoats. She creases up at the mere mention of Henman Hill, delighting in what she would doubtless call the ”very Britishness” of it all.

We should, however, be thankful that she is not one half of a double act. Had Sue married Cliff Richard, her former and seemingly only boyfriend, we might have been lumbered with tennis’ answer to Richard and Judy.

”This is just great,” says Cliff to his livin’ doll. ”Look! There’s a Union Jack,” splutters Sue, excited as a puppy to see the flag now used as a picnic blanket on the aforesaid Hill. ”Groovy,” says Cliff.

So please let’s change things before they get any worse. Tennis is a sport, and should be treated like one.

If Britain is ever to produce a champion it will need to be at the new all-inclusive All England club. And not the last refuge of the Empire culture.

Posted: 26th, June 2003 | In: Back pages | Comment (1)


Different Time Zones

‘HAD Manchester United adopted the same policy towards their managers as many continental clubs do to theirs, Alex Ferguson would today probably be no more than a footnote in the club’s history.

”Allo, Allo”

His name would have been mentioned in the same breath as Dave Sexton and Tommy Docherty and Ron Atkinson.

As it is, United persevered with the Scot when results were not going for the club and have been rewarded with eight league titles, a European Cup and several domestic cups.

With the record Ferguson has, there would be no question of United sacking their manager, despite the fact that he has only brought the continent’s greatest prize to the club once.

Compare United’s treatment of Ferguson with Real Madrid’s treatment of Vincente Del Bosque.

He is the manager who in the four years since he took over from John Toshack has guided the club to two European Cups, two league titles, one European Super Cup and one World Club Championship.

And he is, from the day after he saw his Real side clinch the league title, a man out of a job.

Of course, Del Bosque has been helped by having many of the world’s best players to call upon – Zinedine Zidane, Raul, Ronaldo, Luis Figo etc.

But that in itself brings problems and the manner in which Del Bosque has managed to meld these massive individual egos into a team says a lot for his skills as a manager.

It may be that the new coach, whoever he may be, will be able to take Real on to even greater heights, but the contrary is also true.

Club president Florentino Perez is the toast of one half of Madrid having made the club undoubtedly the best in the world, but that popularity will only last for as long as they are winning.

If the new coach does not have early success, it may not just be him who gets it in the neck from the fans – Perez will rightly start feeling the heat too.

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


Paper Tiger

‘EVER the showman, Tim Henman delighted his legion of suburban fans on Henman Hill with his 6-2, 7-6, 3-6, 6-1 victory over the lesser talents of Tomas Zib.

Tim crushes a fly with his bare hand

Surely the papers will be full of how Grrreat Tim is and how he put the roar back into tennis.

But none if it. The Guardian says that, if this is to be Henman’s year of triumph, he ”could hardly have made a worse botch of it”.

The paper even senses that the overriding feeling among his fans was of relief and not joy. Nor a typical hot flush.

The Independent continues the theme, announcing by way of a headline that ”Henman survives a battle against uncertainty”.

But Henman is certain of one thing. ”The bottom line is I haven’t been good enough,” he says.

That’s a candid assessment of the reasons why he has not been Wimbledon champion. But the signs are that he’s not getting better and is now battling age and a sore shoulder as well as some of the world’s best talents.

But British tennis is not all about Tim Henman. Really, it is not. It is about middle-class values, belonging to a club and Jamie Delgado, the man in the Telegraph’s eye.

The paper watches as the man who was once Britain’s best young prospect takes a set off the great Andre Agassi. And he must be delighted. After all, the paper hears him enthusing about just being there.

”Oh, it’s unbelievable,” said Jamie before his defeat, ”just what you always dream of. It’s as good as your wildest dreams.”

If tennis dreams are made of just being there, what do wild tennis dreams consist of – being there naked save for a well-placed strawberry?

And talking of also-rans, the Times says that Tottenham Hotspur are set to sign a player.

News is that Spurs are inching towards a £8.3 million deal for Helder Postiga, the Porto and Portugal forward.

These are heady times indeed at The Lane…

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


Tall Order

‘WHAT’S 6ft 10in high and likes to beat Australians? No, it’s not Martin Johnson – he is a bit smaller than that.

Daniela Hantuchova also won yesterday

The answer is Croatian tennis player Ivo Karlovic, who yesterday knocked defending Wimbledon champion Lleyton Hewitt out of the tournament.

The Times salutes the lofty one, showing him taking the acclaim for his historic win. Ranked as the world’s 203rd best player, Karlovic was given no chance against the world’s No.2.

But sport can throw up the unexpected, and yesterday it did just that.

Hewitt, as the Independent says, has become only the second defending men’s singles champion and top seed ever to lose in the first round.

The first was Manuel Santana of Spain, who in 1967 lost to American Charlie Pasarell.

History lesson over, the Telegraph returns to current matters, revealing that Juan Sebastian Veron is eyeing a move from Manchester United to Italy – anywhere in Italy.

”I’m flattered that a few teams are looking at me,” says the man who arrived with much hype and pomp for £28 million in 2001.

But the real shock move is the Real shock move – the news that Real Madrid have released their manager Vincente Del Bosque from his job.

The Guardian says that the man who has just led the whites to a league title, and a total of seven trophies in just over three years in charge, is out of a job.

But the search for the man to take over from him has the paper pointing the finger at Manchester United.

No, not Alex Ferguson – the thought of his gruff manners taking charge of the Madrid finery is too ridiculous. No, the man in the frame is Carlos Queirox, Fergie’s number two.

Looking at the scurry to the United exit is all very interesting, but it should not be allowed to deflect our attention away from the fact that Australia has suffered something of a sporting double whammy.

First the rugby, now the tennis. Next minute they’ll be losing their grip on the one world sport that puts them on the map: rugby league.

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


A Lack Of Colour

‘WHEN David Beckham went to Spain, he just became another Manchester United fan who lives a long way from the club he purports to support.

A Spurs fan

The statistics from the FA Premier League’s National Fan Survey say that, on average, Manchester United fans live 99 miles away from Old Trafford.

And this figure does not take into account the legion of United fans that we are continually told live and breathe the club in Thailand and deepest Laos. These are the fans who actually go to Old Trafford with a season ticket.

More than 80,000 supporters from last season’s 20 Premiership were asked to fill in a form about what they do and do not do.

The overriding statistic is that, since only around 29,000 fans responded, the majority of fans care not a jot for surveys.

We can also suppose that of the thousands who did, there exists a certain degree of falsehood.

It’s not a perfect science. But we are able to see a few trends.

United have the fewest number of season ticket holders who were born within 20 miles of the ground (around 55%), which is the same as Southampton, a club that until Portsmouth’s resurgence were the only decent side south of the capital.

Sunderland top this table, with over 90% of its most loyal fans being born and bred in the locale.

Top of that list, Sunderland are bottom of at least one another – the one that reveals the typical male supporter’s income.

Sunderland fans are the poorest in the top flight (although they are now one of the poorest in the second by dint of their recent relegation). Only 5% of their supporters earn in excess of £50,000 annually, and 77% earn less than £30,000 a year.

The richest are fans of Tottenham Hotspur, who can boast that 32% of their supporters earn in excess of fifty grand per annum, putting them ahead of Chelsea (2nd) and Arsenal (3rd).

Indeed, of the 20 clubs, the top seven are all from the south of England, with only Southampton (5th placed) interrupting a string of London clubs and their wad-waving fans.

Other stats show that Manchester United have the highest proportion of married support, while West Ham, Everton and Arsenal have the most single fans. Make of that what your will.

These singletons should head to Middlesbrough, home to the highest concentration of female support (21%) and away from Arsenal, which has the lowest (8%).

But the real talking point must be that, on average, only 2% of fans are from an ethnic background, with 98% of all fans polled ticking the box marked ”white”.

Tottenham and Arsenal have the highest proportion of non-white fans with 6% apiece, but this is still lower that you’d expect given the number of black footballers.

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


England Expects

‘GREAT teams are measured, in the end, by what they win and this England rugby team so far has only one Six Nations grand slam and a couple of Six Nations championships to its credit.

Winner takes all

In 1999, Clive Woodward asked to be measured by the team’s performance in the World Cup and was duly pilloried when England lost to South Africa in the quarter-final.

But after England’s back-to-back victories in New Zealand and Australia, even the notoriously partisan antipodean press have had to admit that this England side is genuinely world-class.

What is more, Jeff Probyn, the Fred Trueman of English rugby, had to admit that this side was as good as, even better than, the side in which he played in the late 1980s and early 1990s.

The fact is that this current side are a class above that side, partly as a result of professionalism, partly as a result of the coaching and partly because they are a far more complete XV.

However, that side did have the distinction of winning three grand slams and reaching the final of the World Cup in 1991.

Whether this side are the best side in the world is a moot point. If they don’t win the World Cup, their No.1 ranking at the moment is an irrelevance.

As the Will Carling side would acknowledge, winning is what counts.

And the bookies, who are in most instances a shrewder judge than world rankings, are still not convinced.

England remain second favourites for the World Cup behind the All Blacks – and deservedly so.

There is no doubt that both they and Australia will improve for the Tri-Nations series coming up before October.

England, on the other hand, have only three internationals – two against France; one against Wales – all of which are likely to be used to experiment with fringe players, before they kick off against South Africa.

However, one thing this England side has got is a belief in itself – a belief that can only have been strengthened by the last two weekends.

It is still a very tall order for England to win the World Cup in the southern hemisphere, but at least we know for sure now that this side is capable of doing so.

And, if nothing else, this tour has achieved one thing – it has at last made the arrogant Aussies and Kiwis sit up and take notice of what is without doubt a very good rugby side.

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


Tiger, Tiger

‘WIMBLEDON opens its gates this morning, a guarantee, normally, of three things – rain, an outbreak of Henmania and more pictures of Anna Kournikova.

”Same old balls, please…”

This year, however, the greyest cloud over SW19 is the threat that next year’s championships will not take place with the players threatening to boycott the event in a row over money.

The Mail says a rival charity tournament would be held over Wimbledon fortnight next year unless the ATP receives a larger chunk of money from the four grand slam events.

The last time a Wimbledon boycott was held was in 1973 when Brit Roger Taylor got to the semi-finals of a tournament won by Czech Jan Kodes.

A boycott could be the only way Tim Henman manages to get further than the semi-final stage he has reached in four of the past five years.

However, enough of such dispiriting talk, particularly after a great weekend for English sport.

England’s rugby players confirmed their position as the World No.1 side with an emphatic win over Australia in Melbourne, but coach Clive Woodward is not resting on his laurels.

In the Mail, he warns that there are no guarantees the players who beat the All Blacks and Wallabies will be in the squad for the first World Cup match.

”Fifteen players have been inked in,” he says. ”That means we have 26 competing for the final 15 places. They’ll be put under severe pressure as part of the process to see how they respond.

”We’re all pretty good under pressure. We thrive on it.”

England’s cricketers also thrived on pressure yesterday, as a young side held their nerve to win the decisive one-day match against Pakistan.

Man of the match was Marcus Trescothick, whose unbeaten 108 saw England home with an over and a half to spare.

Skipper Michael Vaughan admitted to the Express that his side had had a bit of luck. ”To fight back from 1-0 down and beat this lot shows the character of the side,” he said.

”There is not a lot between the two teams and we had slightly the better of the conditions at The Oval and here.”

Another lucky British winner was Lennox Lewis, who retained his world heavyweight championship in controversial fashion after his opponent Vitali Klitschko was stopped in the sixth round.

The Ukrainian claims that a head-butt by Lewis was responsible for the cuts on the left side of his face which were the reason for the fight being stopped.

But Lewis tells the Sun that, if Klitschko wants a rematch, ”it will give me a chance to batter the other side of his face”.

Sentiments far removed from the genteel surroundings of the All England Lawn Tennis And Croquet Club, where a tiger is getting ready to roar.

Come on, Tim. Grrrrr!

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


All Guns Leaving

‘READING today’s headlines, you’d be excused for thinking that Arsenal are cashing in and putting up the closed signs.

The England pack weigh in

The Express says that Leeds United want the Gunners’ Sylvain Wiltord plus £3m in cash to see that Harry Kewell heads to Highbury.

The Star leads with the news that ”Now Real Want Vieira”. The ”Now” seems a little unnecessary given that for the past three years Real Madrid have been in hot pursuit of the Arsenal captain.

And inside the Express, which seems to have a hotline to the Arsenal camp, readers learn that Barcelona, still sore from losing out on the David Beckham deal, are targeting Thierry Henry.

We also hear in the same paper that Robert Pires, who will captain France tonight as they play Japan, is wanted by Valencia and, yep, you guessed it, Real.

As Arsenal turn into a feeder club for the big Spanish outfits, the Sun takes a look at the warm-up for England’s rugby union match against the Australians.

And it sees Irish referee David McHugh in the centre of a ”protocol row”.

On the eve of the kick off, McHugh will be the guest of the Australian Rugby Union at Melbourne’s Savoy Ballroom.

It seems the Aussies are pulling out all the stops to make sure their boys can swan it over the Poms for a while longer.

It’s just a shame that Lennox Lewis is too busy to be drafted into the English pack. How we would thrill to the sight of Lennox showing Nathan Jones what a flying punch really looks like.

But we must not wish for such things. Violence is only part of sport when it is within the rules. And Lewis will legally use his fists in Saturday’s bout with the dangerous Vitali Klitschko.

The Mail calls the Ukrainian challenger a ”plodding behemoth”, a hulking robot who looks more like the ”tragic monster in the ring than Dr Frankenstein in the throes of creation”.

Meanwhile, Lennox has ”dancing feet” and ”does not scare easily”.

He sounds not a little unlike Jonny Wilkinson.

Posted: 20th, June 2003 | In: Back pages | Comment


Skinning The Wallabies

‘BEATING New Zealand at rugby on their own patch was sweet. But there is something sublime about even the idea of smashing the Wallabies.

”Last into the showers is a girl…”

The likes of David Campese, the ‘hand of God’ Australian whose act of pragmatism cost England dear in the 1991 World Cup, are delighting in doing the English team down.

The overwhelming phrase they use in an English context is boring. England are dull. England are a bunch of orcs. England are ugly. If England win, it will be a dark day for rugby.

Well, look to the Heavens boys and those gathering black clouds because England have the best chance of beating the Aussies in an age.

The language from the Australian camp belies fear. They are at home and are expected to win. Unlike in Britain, the Australians breathe sport. Sport is what gives their country so much of its presence in the world.

If the British didn’t play rugby and cricket against them, ask yourself how often the antipodeans would make a British news bulletin?

They need the British because they need competition for the sports in which they undoubtedly excel. And England – who because of cricket bear the brunt of the Aussies’ assault – are too happy to accept the role of loser.

If England win on Saturday, the Australians will take it hard. A nation raised on whingeing Poms – who, in truth, barely utter a whimper as they are smashed to smithereens by McGraths and Gillespies – will be upset by their own whingeing.

It has already begun. Eddie Jones, the Wallaby coach, is playing his get out of jail card.

”It’s really important we have one of the most influential referees in the world and I hope he will be very strict in enforcing the ruck and tackle,” he says.

”If he does that, there will be clean ball for both sides. If he doesn’t, it might be quite an ugly affair.”

Ah, ugly. That would be another reference to England, seen Down Under as the ugliest side ever.

But at least the hosts will show how us to play fair, picking the likes of Nathan Gray at fly-half, a man remembered for his flying elbow which punctured Richard Hill’s head in a Lions match.

They like to play fair do these Aussies. And let’s just hope that when England hit the winning points, they behave like the gentlemen and non-moaners they are.

We can learn a lot from the Aussies. So let’s begin with leaning how to beat them…

Posted: 20th, June 2003 | In: Back pages | Comment


Looking To The Future

‘ENGLAND have four years before the next World Cup arrives, by which stage the fact that they lost against Pakistan in their first match under Michael Vaughan’s captaincy will be long forgotten.

A welcome sight for England cricket fans

The challenge is to develop a group of players by 2007, all of whom have not only the ability but also the experience to compete with the world’s best.

The match on Tuesday night against Pakistan was just the first step on a long road, during which several names will no doubt fall by the wayside.

There are excuses for such a young side, but the batting was certainly a disappointment, especially after a decent start.

Andrew Flintoff is clearly a much batsman than a late-order slogger and promoting him to No.5 might help in the short term.

However, in the longer term, I suspect that England will have to find another top-order batsman who can bowl if the balance of the side is to be got right.

When Paul Collingwood is fit again, he will no doubt return to the side, but the danger is that England’s middle order will then consist of too many all-rounders and too few specialists.

Where England do look a decent side at the moment is in the bowling department.

Flintoff may not be the most penetrative bowler, but he is very hard to get away, as he demonstrated in the World Cup where he was the most economical of all the bowlers on display.

Darren Gough won’t be around in 2007, but at the moment he is still well worth his place in the side and will help bring along some of the youngsters.

James Anderson looks set to develop into an excellent player for England and will only get better the more games he plays.

Obviously, England will need to win their fair share of games while they are developing. Confidence, after all, is an important ingredient of a successful side.

But in the meantime, there is some truth in the old adage about winning not being as important as how you play the game.

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


Slim Pickings

‘TAKING it as read that the back pages will be about you know who (and if you don’t, how we envy you), we turn to the story that immediately follows.

Another thin excuse for a shot of Daniela Hantuchova

The Sun hears news that Spurs are still in business and that Glenn Hoddle is every bit as popular as he was when in charge of the England team.

Stefan Freund has accused the Spurs manager of lying to him when he said he was part of the team’s plans for next season. And it is an accusation that seems based on some fact, as we read that Freund has been released by Spurs and is now looking for a club.

”It’s clear Hoddle has a problem with man management,” says Freund. ”The players who have gone…are players who say something in the dressing room and he can’t handle that.”

The German does, though, reveal that he shares a common goal with Hoddle’s Spurs, saying, ”My target now is to stay in the Premiership”.

But the main news of the day is that the Mirror has joined the Mail’s campaign to tell the world how thin ”tennis babe” Daniela Hantuchova is.

”It’s a thin line between being fit..and being anorexic,” says the headline, the words attributed to Virginia Wade.

And with no Anna Kournikova to ”Phwoarr!” at, it’s time for another shot of the Slovakian player’s crotch.

It’s a nice touch and shows that, even without Anna around, the sports pages know how to cover woman’s tennis.

Of course, men’s tennis is as strong as a Tim Henman backhand. But it could be stronger, especially if Tiger Tim listens to the words of ”former Wimbledon bad boy” Ilie Nastase.

Speaking to the Express, the Romanian says that if Henman wants to win Wimbledon, he needs to toughen up.

He will need to run around the house naked three times before going to bed, chanting ”I am the Tiger” as he goes.

And he will also need to convince the rest of that he can do it. And that is some job. Come on, Timmy. Grrr!!!!

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


No Anna

‘TO paraphrase the legendary Sporting Times’ mock ”death of English cricket” headline, we signal the death of women’s tennis.

Good shorts, Daniela – but could you do something about the top?

Burn the bra and put it in small A-cup, this is the day when women’s tennis died.

Anna Kournikova has pulled out of Wimbledon because she has hurt her back. How this crippling injury came about is not known, but it’s unlikely to have involved picking up a championship trophy or leaping the net in triumph.

In other sports the loss of the world’s 77th best – and falling – player would be a mere blip on the radar, but in tennis terms it’s a disaster, the death knell of the female game.

What now will the papers have to write about with Anna not in attendance? We half expect woman’s tennis to disappear completely from the papers, replaced with more shots of David Beckham.

A shot of Becks hitting a tennis ball with his wife Victoria would give the game some exposure. But it would not be enough.

It is panic stations in the world of tennis, and scouts are looking up skirts and down tops for the next star of the game.

Daniela Hantuchova is one option. She’s tall, not at all bad looking and is from the frozen wastes of East Europe. She is also stick thin, which gives us something to focus on.

We will hear about her 44-inch long legs. And then we will hear that they are too thin. There are rules about 44-inch long legs, and Daniela’s will be seen as rule-breakers.

The Mail has already started the ball rolling, saying how the ”legs of Bratislava” have become the ”spindles of Slovakia”.

It’s all building up in time for the Wimbledon championships.

But something is still missing. If Daniela could just tighten the top and raise the hemline of her skirt, the sport of women’s tennis might attract the attention it is accustomed to.

Come on, Daniela, it’s for the good of the game…

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


Out! Out! Out!

‘READING today’s news that David Beckham has been signed by Real Madrid evokes memories of the last days of Margaret Thatcher’s regime.

Putting the pain into Spain

Such is the boredom with hearing, seeing and breathing in the Beckham nonsense that it’s a wonder no paper begins with the headline: ”Beckham. Beckham. Beckham. Out! Out! Out!”

For those readers who mistake Beckham for the sports pages, the newspapers have all placed the news of the England captain’s £25 million sale from Manchester United to Madrid on the front cover.

Readers get ”El Becko” in the Star; ”Sold” in the Mirror; and ”Yes, he’s on his way at last” in the Mail.

On the back pages we see more pictures of Beckham and more pictures of his wife, the limpid Posh. Dressed like her husband in dark jacket and white vest, the Posh one flicks her hair (Mail) and aims for the cameras.

So let’s change the tune and give it a hearty: ”Posh. Posh. Posh. Gone! Gone! Gone! Yipppeeee!!”

This leaves us with time to look at the Sun and see England lose the one-day cricket match to Pakistan. Michael Vaughan, England’s new one-day captain, will have better days than these.

England scored a low 209 for nine wickets of their allotted 50 overs. It would never be enough against a spirited Pakistan side, and so it proved to be. It was, nonetheless, close and England were only killed off with four balls left to go.

But the big news should be Saturday night’s big heavyweight bout between Lennox Lewis and the hulking Ukrainian Vitali Klitschko.

The Express features the great white hope in conversation, hearing of his four languages and PhD.

We learn of his love for the Ukraine, even though he now lives in sunny California. And of his respect for Lewis.

Over in the Sun, Lewis is reading about Beckham. ”I am always going to be 10 times more famous than David Beckham,” says Lewis.

Perhaps so. But he should concentrate more on his preparations for a tricky fight than the moves of a footballer.

But at least if he loses, we’ll know who’s to blame. That’s right – Posh.

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


Word Games

‘BEING a sports journalist must be as easy as learning how to spell Beckham.

Anna suspected someone had turned the heating up

Showing how easy that is, all the papers ignore the welter of sporting activity, tales of the men and woman who are playing actual games, to spell out the word ”Beckham”.

The Sun even finds that too taxing and shortens the entire thing to ”Becks”, a masterstroke of brevity and the sub-editor’s art.

Very soon the letter ”B” will be all that appears on the backpages. And after that perhaps nothing, save a Real Madrid-like whiteness.

And that would be appropriate because the story that passes for news is that Beckham, Becks or B is off to Real Madrid.

The Mirror says that if/when he goes to Spain, Manchester United will ”only” get £18m for him. How United will survive on so meagre a sum is beyond our understanding.

And if that’s grim, take a look at the Mirror’s other story, this time about Arsenal’s Nigerian player Kanu.

Having summoned the IT department to locate the underused un-Beckham letters ”n” and ”u”, the paper reveals that Kanu is being offered £1m to leave Arsenal.

So desperate are the Gunners to rid themselves of their lackadaisical striker that they are offering to pay him seven figures to go.

Yes, we know, a million pounds is an insult, tantamount to a slap in the face. But football is undergoing a dip in fiscal fortunes and tough choices are being made.

And it’s the same with Wimbledon. Well, not yet, but very soon the tennis tournament will be put of business, as the Express brings the grim news that Anna Kournikova – the world’s only female tennis player – has pulled out of Wimbledon.

In tears, the Russian-born ace has been forced to withdraw from this year’s Wimbledon because of a niggling back injury.

And no Anna means two things: the death of tennis and lots more Becks.

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


In England’s Defence

‘WHAT does Australian rugby coach Eddie Jones know about Premier League football? Not very much, it seems.

Billy Whizz

He has welcomed the England XV to Australian shores following their historic 15-13 defeat of the All Blacks with a misdirected barb ahead of this weekend’s match with his Wallabies.

”They’re playing that Premier League soccer,” he said. ”Get down the other end and have a few set plays and take what they get down there.”

Anyone who has watched any Premier League football recently will not have a clue what Jones is on about.

And nor will anyone who has watched England’s recent performances on the rugby field.

It is true that England were poor in attack, especially behind the scrum, at Wellington.

But the All Blacks didn’t create a whole lot more – and they are supposed to have the most exciting and creative back line in world rugby.

Indeed, the only try of the game came from a kick and chase from the Kiwis, which should not have counted anyway as the chaser was clearly offside.

Australia know that any victory against the All Blacks in New Zealand is a very impressive achievement and the quality of the English defence will have made a mark.

However, if they think that there is no more to England’s game than a solid defence, a big pack and Jonny Wilkinson’s boot, they might be in for a shock on Saturday.

Conditions in Melbourne will hopefully be better than they were at Wellington, where rain and swirling wind made life difficult for both teams.

Both sides will then be encouraged to attack each other out wide – and give us the chance to see Ben Cohen and Jason Robinson and Joe Roff and Wendell Sailor in full flow.

In fact, it should be just like a Premier League football match – flowing from end to end with pace, skill and plenty of passion.

We hope Eddie Jones enjoys it.’

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


All Right

‘ENGLAND’S win against the All Blacks elevates the rugby union team to a new plateau of excellence. When faced with the best, the team dug deep and won.

England are unstoppable

And New Zealand on their own patch are the best. England are top of the world ranking – and were going into last Saturday’s match at Wellington’s Westpac stadium – but the All Blacks are always tops at home.

At least that’s what the Kiwis have been brought up on. The All Blacks play at home and the All Blacks win. They had lost once to England on home turf, but that was back in 1973, a result widely considered a fluke.

When England went down to 13 men, we expected the Kiwis to rack up the points. In an eight-minute spell with two spare men on the field New Zealand scored no points. To rub salt into the wound, England scored three.

But still the mood said that the Kiwis would win. With the shirt comes the legend. Deep in every Englishman’s psyche lies a seed that was planted in their youth: the Kiwis are the best there is.

The danger was that England would suddenly realise that they were up against the revered All Blacks. A splash of water – or in Josh Lewsley’s case, a kick in the head – would wake them from the dream of victory.

The game bought to mind images of Muhammad Ali, with the Kiwis in the role of the Louisville Lip. Like Ernie Shavers, England had hit the champion hard. The champion had wobbled.

Here was the crunch point. Would England back off like Shavers had done, unable really to comprehend that the legend was reeling? Or would they seek to press home their advantage?

Over to Martin Johnson, England’s captain on the day. He knew that many thought England would crack after the Kiwis had scored the game’s only try.

”Let’s crack them, let’s not fold,” he told his team-mates. And so it was.

At the vital moment, England realised that they were no longer just another side on the up; they are the best in the world.

And to be the best you take on everyone, reputations and all. As a result, it’s no longer merely hopeful to say that this England side can win the World Cup.

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


Black And White

‘IT cannot be often that the election of the Barcelona president has led the sports pages over here, but of course any story with just of whiff of David Beckham is big news.

A Black mark for New Zealand rugby

And Joan Laporta’s campaign to take on the top job at the Catalan club was based on a promise to bring the England captain to the city.

Whether he will succeed is another matter, with the Guardian suggesting that Laporta’s success has prompted Real Madrid to make a move for the player.

It quotes reports in Spain, suggesting that Manchester United chief executive Peter Kenyon and managing director David Gill met with Real director Pedro Lopez on Friday.

But Barcelona, who are prepared to make Beckham the highest-paid footballer in the world, are confident they can get their man.

Vice-president Sandro Rosell has said that, ”given 24 hours with Beckham in Barcelona”, he could persuade him and his wife to move to Catalonia.

It sounds unlikely, however, given that it’ll probably take more than 24 hours just to explain to them where Catalonia is.

Away from football, the Independent leads with more predictable news that Michael Schumacher has recovered from a slow start to the season to take the lead in the Formula 1 drivers’ championship.

The German duly won the Canadian GP yesterday, his fourth victory in the last five races, and now leads Kiki Raikkonen by three points.

Less predictable was England rugby players’ 15-13 victory over the mighty All Blacks – only their second success in New Zealand ever.

But the match – and full-back Josh Lewsey’s face – has been scarred by an incident in which All Black lock Ali Williams was seen stamping on the No.15’s head.

And coach Clive Woodward is furious that Williams has been cleared of foul play by the New Zealand rugby football union.

”If this had been an England player, then I bet we wouldn’t have had the same verdict,” he tells the Telegraph.

The panel decided that the stamp, which required Lewsey to have half a dozen stitches and has left his face looking a bit of a mess, was accidental.

The Telegraph calls the judgement ”ludicrous” and says it sends out the wrong signals.

It recalls that five years ago, All Black lock Ian Jones was cleared of stamping on prop Graham Rowntree, while England lock Danny Grewcock got a five-match ban for kicking an opponent.

There’s one rule for the All Blacks, it seems, and another for the All Whites.

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


Guess Who’s Beck

‘AFTER a mercifully brief interlude, during which England played and won a match without him, David Beckham returns to his rightful place on the back pages of the papers this morning.

”Cricket is the new rock ‘n’ roll”

Not that any of the papers are any the wiser as to where the England skipper will be playing next season – except that they all agree it won’t be in Manchester.

The Express insists that Beckham will go to Barcelona if neither of his first-choice clubs – AC Milan and Real Madrid – can reach an agreement with the Old Trafford board.

The Mirror says Beckham’s advisers asked Real 15 questions in a secret meeting, such as whether he would be a first-team regular and whether he could wear the No.7 shirt.

”Another meeting is planned for June 23,” the paper says, ”when Real are expected to table a formal offer for the player who has become an outcast at Old Trafford.”

The Sun claims that AC Milan are so keen to sign Beckham that they have offered Andrei Shevchenko £1m to give up his No.7 shirt.

All well and good, but if neither Milan or Madrid do come in for Beckham, he had better hope that Joan Laporta wins the race to become Barcelona president on Sunday.

His rival, Llius Bassat, certainly doesn’t seem too keen on splashing out £30m on the 28-year-old.

”Our club is in the crap financially,” he said, ”and starting to rebuild with Beckham would put us in the shit.”

With the Mail warning that England’s potentially decisive Euro 2004 qualifier against Turkey could be played behind closed doors after crowd violence at the Turks’ game against Macedonia, you have to delve inside the paper before you can find any genuine action.

And we find that Tom Watson rolled back the years to lead at the end of the first round of golf’s US Open, Greg Rusedski lost a tennis match and Atomic Kitten will play at one of cricket’s Twenty20 matches.

Jenny Frost apparently is a useful medium pace bowler and No.7 batsman.

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


Rearguard Inaction

‘SVEN Goran Eriksson has an impressive record as manager of England in competitive fixtures, having lost just one match out of 18 – and that to the world champions.

”Yours!”

By rights, he should be lauded by the football establishment, by the media and by the fans.

But anyone who saw the first half of England’s Euro 2004 qualifier against Slovakia on Wednesday will find it hard to express unreserved admiration for the Swede.

It is hard to recall a worst performance over 45 minutes than the shambolic effort that was England’s first half – and there have been a few dire games to choose from.

The absence of three-quarters of the first-choice defence is only a partial excuse.

The problem was not so much lack of ability (although, if Danny Mills is the second best right back in England, we really are in trouble).

The problem was that no-one – in defence, midfield or attack – seemed to have a clue what they were supposed to be doing. And the person at fault for that must be Eriksson.

The Swede cannot complain that he had not had enough time with the players – he has had two friendly matches and a training camp to get it right.

So, either he is not getting his message across to the players or they are not listening.

On the second-half performance, Slovakia are a very average side. It shows just how awful England’s first-half was that they made them look quite good.

To Eriksson’s credit, he realised that the famed diamond formation wasn’t working early on and made the change before half-time.

By that stage, Danny Mills had shown conclusively that he is not an international standard full-back – not even for the Faroe Islands.

In the second half, England were a lot better and thoroughly deserved their victory at the end.

Michael Owen’s first goal might have been the result of a soft penalty, but Slovakia should not complain about that.

England definitely had the worst of the decisions, with Gareth Southgate almost being mugged in the area only a couple of minutes later and then Frank Lampard having a goal disallowed by one of the most perverse offside decisions I’ve ever witnessed.

But they shouldn’t have needed rescuing – by Owen, the referee or whoever.

In this qualifying group, England have now been behind in three of the five games they have played – in both games against Slovakia and twice in the game against Macedonia.

They cannot expect to keep coming back, especially against better teams.

It is now a matter of some urgency that Eriksson sorts out the mess that is the England defence and allows the rest of the team to play a bit of football.

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


On His Owen

‘READING the Times this morning you can imagine Michael Owen jumping up and down on the spot screaming ”Look at me! I’m over here!” in a bid to gain attention.

”And I want to live in…Milan”

Last night the boy wonder – he’s still just 23 – celebrated winning his 50th England cap with a fine display of running and scoring, that brought him two goals and England a 2-1 over Slovakia.

And the Times leads its review with: ”England back on course after Owen mends it like Beckham.”

Yes, the poor lad who worked so hard last night is still forced to share the headlines with a player who never even took to the pitch.

Even when Beckham isn’t there he remains an integral part of English success.

Inside the paper, Simon Barnes says that the ”ghost” of England’s absent captain is ”omnipresent”, going as far as to award the man-of-the-match award to the Beckham one.

”He was, after all, the most conspicuous player on display at the Riverside Stadium last night, and effortlessly the most talked about,” he gushes.

Only he wasn’t – not if you really watch England play and are a football fan rather than a Beckham worshipper.

Thankfully, such trite nonsense is missing from the Telegraph, where Owen is rightly seen as England’s lone saviour. ”Owen rescues England,” says the bold headline.

The Guardian even manages to look beyond just England and tell its readers that Ireland beat Georgia last night by two goals to nil and that a plucky Northern Irish side that have lost about 2,000 games on the trot have drawn 0-0 with Spain.

”Unbelievable” is the world the paper uses to begin its review of the Northern Irish game.

Incredible might be just as apt, especially when we learn that Ireland are ranked 111th in the Fifa ranking, while Spain are joint second with France.

But now to the most important story in sport, and the most important question: where does Victoria Beckham want to live?

The Independent lines up the brochures – Manchester, Barcelona, Madrid and Milan – and take us through the plusses and minuses for each.

And the winner is…Milan. Well, the winner for us, because the verdict is that she’d be too busy shopping to relaunch her signing career.

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


Narrow Escape

‘PELE. To Cruyff. To Zico. To Tardelli. To Zidane. To Best. To Maradona. To Mills… What happens next?

Danny Mills is called in to see Sven

I’ll tell you. The ball is ballooned at five hundred miles per hour straight into the stands. Mills turns and like the gimp looking for his security box runs back to his berth on the right side of defence.

Of course, Mills is not lucky enough to play with the world’s greatest ever players. He has to make do with Phil Neville, Matthew Upson and Frank Lampard.

There are the likes of Michael Owen and Steven Gerrard, who Mills can take the ball off and then put an end to the any move. But they are in the minority.

The fact is that England have no width. Relying on a plodding fullback to get forward is a joke. Mills moves with all the grace of James Bond’s old adversary Rosa Klebb trying on some new shoes.

Mills is everything that is wrong with the England side. Clearly not all of this is his fault, and he should be rightly proud that he is playing for this national side.

But he is no winger. So why is he playing on the wing? This is a question Sven Goran Eriksson can answer. But we won’t need to put it to him because we know the answer: there are no decent English wingers.

Darren Anderton is an option. And much as I would like to criticise the limping tampon, I can’t argue with the notion that he at least provides width.

Steve McManaman is another option to occupy the wide left or right. But he pretty much disappeared the day he went to Spain.

This paucity of wing options is set to be more evident should Trevor Brooking, who commentated on last’s match, take charge of England’s affairs.

He’d consider playing Wayne Bridge and Ashley Cole on the left, one behind the other.

I can feel the tears beginning to well up at the very thought of it.

The only option for England – until Ryan Giggs sees the light or the likes of Jermaine Pennant or some other young prospect makes the grade – is to play all England games on a very narrow pitch.

Something as wide as the players tunnel should do it, with a neat security-conscious 5-4-1 formation.

It won’t be pretty, but at least we shan’t have to look at acres of space behind the opposition’s fullbacks that no England player has the guile or speed to get into.

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


David And Goliaths

‘IN today’s Beckham fanzine, the Telegraph says that our hero is off to Barcelona. The Guardian says that he was off to Barcelona, but Real Madrid are set to ”hijack” the deal.

”Grrrrrrrr!”

The Times says that, although a deal has been agreed for the player to go to Barcelona, the player’s agents and lackeys are not happy.

The Catalan club are not even guaranteed a place in the impoverished Uefa Cup next season, having to win their berth with a series of good performances in the InterToto Cup.

This is surely not a great venue for Beckham, the world’s most bankable footballer.

So Becks is said to be unhappy at how United are treating him. And United, as the Times reports, are about to be miserable as Alex Ferguson should Real Madrid sign Ronaldinho from under their noses.

The football wheel turns and wherever it stops no-one yet knows. The only thing for sure is that the richest clubs are all in pursuit of the biggest names.

Which makes us wonder what Tim Henman would be worth if he were a footballer. Less Manchester United glamour and more a willing and trusted Blackburn Rovers stayer.

But Henman has no plans to change career, and the Telegraph spots the Chiswick Champ hitting ball on racket at the Stella Artois tournament.

And it was a close thing, as Timmy defeated ”seasoned” Italian Davide Sanguinetti 7-3 in a last-set tie-breaker.

And Henman was quick to blame the grass and the balls for the narrow margin of his victory.

”The court’s pretty slow,” he notes. ”With my style of game I’d prefer them to be quicker, with a bit lower bounces, but I don’t make those decisions.”

But the men and women who run British tennis do. And we look forward to a lightning quick Wimbledon surface and deflated balls.

Oh, and lots and lots of rain.

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


Back To The Future

‘ONLY one thing matters in tonight’s clash between England and Slovakia at the Riverside tonight and that is the result.

England will expect goals from the Owen-Rooney combination

After making up for the disappointment of the home draw against Macedonia with a deserved 2-0 win over Turkey, England must not surrender the momentum.

They know that if they win the three games against the minnows of the group – Slovakia, Macedonia and Liechtenstein – they will not need more than a draw in their final match in Turkey to qualify for Euro 2004 as group leaders.

That in itself will not be easy, but having to win over there is much, much harder.

Of course, England should win – but Slovakia are not push-overs. They took the lead against England in Bratislava and were only narrowly beaten by Turkey at the weekend.

With wins in Macedonia and at home against Liechtenstein, they can still just about qualify for second place – so they have plenty to play for apart from pride.

The crucial part of the game for England is likely to be the defence.

Traditionally, England’s problem has been scoring goals, but recently it has been at the back where they have shown greatest weakness.

With an inexperienced back five, comprising David James, Ashley Cole, Matthew Upson, Gareth Southgate and probably Danny Mills, it is vital that Sven Goran Eriksson tightens things up.

England have leaked goals to Macedonia and Slovakia already in this qualifying group – and have looked shaky at the back in their recent friendlies.

They conceded a goal a piece against South Africa and Serbia-Montenegro, and three in that woeful match against Australia.

With the likes of Michael Owen and Wayne Rooney up front and Steven Gerrard and Paul Scholes in midfield, you have to fancy that England will score against most opposition.

However, whether one goal will be enough depends on the performance at the back. ‘

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


Kiwis Take Flight

‘ENGLAND are turning into a rugby superpower. The Independent says that yesterday England played and beat New Zealand Maori in their own back yard.

The NZ Maoris get it in the neck

For those who fail to realise the significance of this, the paper publishes a fact that should be registered: before yesterday, England had not won a single match on Kiwi soil since June 4 1985.

The mood in the England camp following their 9-23 win, which included two tries for and none against, is buoyant to say the least. Going into Saturday’s international in Wellington, the team are in good shape.

The Telegraph notices that England fielded a second string outfit, made up of benchwarmers and future prospects. But even they displayed a ”ruthless side”.

And being ruthless is often what marks the winner out from the losers. Take Michael Schumacher, the pragmatic German motor racer.

The Telegraph says that the reigning Formula One world champion has just agreed to drive for Ferrari until the end of 2006.

However, it looks unlikely he’ll be partnered by Rubens Barrichello, who is, the paper says, not seen as a part of the Ferrari future.

So the reds are looking for a new face. If you are a driver skilled in pulling over to let your ruthless teammate take the lead, apply to the Ferrari team.

There will surely be much competition for that job, far more than the interest generated in the battle to become leader of London’s Olympic bid.

The Guardian says that Sir Christopher Meyer, Britain’s former ambassador to Washington, Lord Simon, the former chairman of BP, and Charles Allen, the head of Granada, have all ruled themselves out of the contest.

Which means no Briton is left on the shortlist. The Independent says that the three still in the hunt for the job are Barbara Cassani (American), Kevin Roberts (New Zealander) and Gerry Robinson (Irish).

And we wish the eventual victor every success. After all, winning on foreign soil will be a recurring theme of the 2012 London Olympics.’

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


The Two David Beckhams

‘THERE is no denying that David Beckham is a high talented footballer. It’s the fact that surely lies at the root of his appeal.

Two Beckhams is bad enough

But Beckham comes with baggage, Gucci caseloads of the stuff. Beckham has so much additional clobber that he is like a walking emporium, of the type built by his pal Giorgio Armani and patronised by his wife, Victoria.

I do believe that beneath it all, Beckham is the consummate footballing professional. His pinpoint passing ability is a skill self-taught as much as it is innate. He is the worker making the best of his gifts.

In the changing room, it’s hard to believe that Beckham is the cynosure he off the pitch, wanting to take the centre stage and take on the role of leader. Can Beckham upstage the likes of Roy Keane or Alex Ferguson? Not unless they let him.

Whichever team secures Beckham’s services for next season would be wise to realise that he is a man who plays for the team. If they want an individualist, they should go for Paolo Di Canio.

The differences between Beckham the player and Beckham the TV awards presenter, popstar husband and walking advertising board are deep.

When he speaks, we cringe. The voice is not one of a star of the big or small screen. It’s something the firms that pay to advertise with him seem to realise, showing him in magazine stills rather than moving images.

The one time we’ve seen him in motion on camera, his paymasters at Vodafone gave him a non-speaking role. Beckham is seen head down at a humble supermarket checkout playing a game on his phone.

The message is that Beckham is approachable and down to earth. And it’s hard to believe he isn’t.

It’s just that he’s been overblown and paraded around – often by his publicity hungry wife – to such an extent that he’s become a man viewed from the wrong side of a red rope.

Beckham the footballer will go to Madrid or Milan and play well. What happens to Beckham the star remains to be seen. ‘

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