Back pages | Anorak - Part 96

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

Sheep In Wolves’ Clothing

‘BIG city teams will always rise to the top in the long run. Newcastle, Manchester City and Chelsea have had dips, been in close proximity to the old second, third and fourth divisions, and returned to be in the Premier League.

Pack of Wolves

The bigger teams draw the crowds, giving gravy to the belief that they will rise again.

And so to Wolverhampton Wanderers, who have just been promoted to the Premiership, having beaten Sheffield United in the Division One play-off final.

Wolvers were one of the big clubs in the 1950s – a point that must be made to anyone under the age of 156. To anyone under the age of 19, the sight of Wolves even in the top flight is a new one.

It’s been a long road back to the top since the 1983-1984 season, when Wolves finished bottom of the then Division One table with a lowly 29 points.

To place this in some context, Wolves had finished 6th in 1980-81, only to be relegated from the Canon First Division in 1981-1982, along with Leeds and Middlesbrough.

In between then and now, Wolves’ successes have been rare and humble. The team finished runner-up to Queens Park Rangers in the old second division in 1982-1983, gaining promotion for an entire season before the trap door opened up anew.

In season 1987-1988, the Old Golds finished first in the Barclays Fourth Division, followed a year later by victory in the Barclays Third Division.

In 1992-1993, they found themselves elevated from the Barclays Second Division to the much grander sounding Barclays League Division One as the Premier League was born.

The Endsleigh League Division One and Nationwide League Division One made a change, albeit in name only, but Wolves never made promotion to the top level.

In that time, they spent heavily on players, upgraded the ground in readiness for much-delayed promotion and have been referred to as a sleeping giant.

They have maintained a sense of hope. And that’s the thing. With a large body of fans, Wolves would always return to the top one day. Big city teams always enjoy another day in the sun.

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

Blades Blunted

‘THE domestic football season came to an end yesterday when Wolverhampton Wanderers returned to the top flight after 19 years and 13 days in the lower divisions.

Happy like the Wolves

Thanks to a 3-0 win over Sheffield United, the Old Golds have hit the Jackpot, as the Guardian says.

The other story of the day is that United’s bellicose boss, Neil Warnock, was banished to the stands after a frank and free exchange of views with the game’s referee, Steve Bennett.

While we and the Guardian celebrate with Wolves’ Paul Ince, who is pictured ”doing” the Paul Merson (swigging back an imaginary drink) and then raising his fingers around an imaginary smoke, we cannot help but feel that Warnock would have been a welcome character in the Premier League stable.

But the play-offs are a hard business, as the season’s work is decided over 90 minutes. Of course, you can give your team an edge by waking up their opponents in the middle of the night.

The Times reports that Neil McNamara, 39, who was once employed as a minder for Cardiff City’s chairman, Sam Hammam, has been arrested following an incident at the hotel Queens Park Rangers

footballers were staying in on the eve of their Division Two play-off decider with, er, Cardiff.

It is said that the Cardiff City fan allegedly set off a fire alarm at 3am, thus causing the visiting team distress.

”The incident disturbed the sleep of our players,” says Nick Blackburn, the QPR chairman. ”If the person responsible did have anything to do with Cardiff City I would be very disappointed.”

It is, though, an intriguing story, worthy of the South Americans and Italians at their most poetic.

But when it comes to true poetry there is only sport that hits the heights – boxing.

And when we think of boxing, minds instantly turn to Herbie Hide, the former British and World Boxing Organisation heavyweight champion.

Tonight Herbie’s back in the ring for a bout with Zambia’s Joseph Chingangu. Last time out the African decked Hide in two rounds. But this time it will be different. Won’t it?

”Chingangu is a bum,” says Hide, who knows all about those, having been put on his last time the pair met. ”He won’t last a round this time.”

Hide then pays tribute to his own ”smooth face” and how the road to riches is open wide for him. We wish him well.

And if you want to know more, the Telegraph’s story includes a shot of the would-be champ’s T-shirt. ”WARNING,” says the message, ”I’m not crazy, but the voices in my head are driving me nuts.”

That’ll be Mike Tyson, then. And the bells…

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

England Expects

‘ZIMBABWE were as bad as we expected them to be in the first Test of the summer at Lord’s, so it is hard to make judgements on the England performances.

The new McGrath

However, we couldn’t be anything but encouraged by the fact that the batsmen scored over 450 again – for the seventh time in eight home Tests- even if it was against some pretty poor bowling.

And, as for the bowling, James Anderson is obviously someone who can lead the England attack for many years to come, injury and form permitting.

Steve Harmison bowled with far greater control than he did in Australia, but still didn’t look as threatening as he should.

For a start, he needs to make the batsmen play more deliveries; he doesn’t move the ball a lot, but he seems to lack a plan to get batsmen out with his main weapons, pace and bounce.

As for Matthew Hoggard, I thought he was the pick of the England bowlers in both innings and was unlucky to be overshadowed by Anderson on Saturday.

With Andrew Caddick and Andrew Flintoff both looking to regain their places after injury and Darren Gough looking for an international return, there is genuine competition among England’s pace bowlers for the first time in ages.

As for the batting, Marcus Trescothick looks a much better player now that he has reverted to his normal game.

The Somerset opener is not as technically gifted as, say, Michael Vaughan – but he has a good eye and a method that more or less works for him.

He will, we imagine, always be suspect against the best attacks, but in the meantime he will mash a few more average ones.

Mark Butcher has cemented his place as No.3 for some time to come with his second successive Test century.

Butcher’s average may be a modest 34, but since the beginning of last summer (and including a difficult Ashes tour) he has been averaging a much more respectable 48.

Robert Key will surely get another chance, but he needs to take one of them very soon and establish himself in the middle order if he is not to be overtaken by one of the other young pretenders.

With Nasser Hussain and Alec Stewart established in the side at least for this summer, the other question mark hangs over Anthony McGrath.

What do the selectors do when Andrew Flintoff is fit?

The Yorkshire captain’s debut could hardly have gone better, but it was against a very poor Test side.

Flintoff looks the better bet as a Test player, while McGrath’s international future will probably be confined to the one-day game.

No-one, however, can take away his fifty and three wickets on debut at Lord’s.

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

The Herd Mentality

‘AS soon as someone comes on the radio and says ”We’ve had a lovely day…” you know that their team has just lost a match.

The losers

Losers love telling everyone who bothers to listen about how they can put football into a wider context. Southampton fans worked this trick at the FA Cup final.

One after the other they went onto the talk shows and told the world that they had had a brilliant day out and had sang all the way through the game.

They had, though, lost, and since the entire focus of their wonderful day out was winning the FA Cup, the day was something of a wash-out.

They even stayed in the ground right to end, watching the Cup presented to Arsenal. This, we were told by the voices and nodding heads was a sign that they were great fans. They are what football is all about.

Only it is no such thing. Southampton fans stayed behind because it required less thought than leaving. When you’ve waited 26 years to get somewhere, racing off to beat the traffic loses its shine.

And Celtic fans have done much the same. It’s undeniable that thousands of their fans turned up in Seville with a song in the hearts.

The television bragged that, with only around 25,000 tickets to go round, there would be more fans in Spain without tickets than with.

And yes, these are the same TV commentators who usually bemoan the fans who travel without a ticket.

The thing is that Celtic painted themselves into something of a corner. Once seen as good blokes one and all, they could not then storm off in a huff, or worse.

The herd mentality works just as much for violence as it does for staying in the ground after closing time or being a gallant loser. Football fans do as they are expected.

It is, of course, an improvement to smashing the town centre.

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

A Bad Break

‘DAVID Beckham is a great example to the nation’s youth. Soon, courtesy of the England captain, they will be able to name all 216 bones in the human body.

”Ahh! Not me scaphoid!”

Last summer, Becks introduced us all to the metatarsal after contriving to break one of his and almost missing the World Cup.

Last night against South Africa, he broke his scaphoid, a bone located between his thumb and forefinger.

Even England manager Sven Goran Eriksson, who must be bright because he speaks at least two languages, learnt something.

”I fell very sorry for him,” said the Swede. ”If you gave me a million dollars, I don’t think I could have named the bone.”

A couple of coughs from a Welsh lecturer and all of us could probably have got that one right.

England won last night’s match – described in the Telegraph as ”a sparky friendly” – 2-1, but the injury count could be more important than the result.

Rio Ferdinand also had a scan on his knee and, says the Telegraph, with Chelsea’s John Terry also struggling with a thigh strain, Jamie Carragher has been called up.

While England’s footballers were beating one southern African team, England’s cricketers were playing themselves into a good position against another southern African side.

On a difficult pitch and a predictably rainy day, they had got themselves to 184-3 before rain bad light stopped play, with Marcus Trescothick and Mark Butcher both passing 50.

In the Times, Christopher Martin-Jenkins calls that a ”very respectable” start to the season, for which they can thank ”the experience of their first five batsmen and a fair amount of luck besides”.

But they were aided, he says, by the Zimbabwean bowlers’ inability to find the right line and length on a pitch offering considerable help.

”The consequence was that England did not so much wriggle off the hook as avoid it altogether,” he writes.

And finally to golf where Annika Sorenstam opened up as the first woman to play in a men’s PGA tournament for 58 years with a very respectable 71.

And had she putted better, it might have been a 66, says Martin Johnson in the Telegraph.

”She actually appeared to thrive in this claustrophobic environment,” he says, ”and broke into a warm smile at the first of many inevitable shouts of ‘Yo the woman’.”

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

A Friendly Too Far

‘DOES anyone know exactly why it was necessary for England footballers to prepare for their Euro 2004 qualifier against Slovakia by travelling to South Africa for a friendly match?

”Black” Beckham meets his grandfather

In footballing terms, the logic is baffling.

The players are surely already tired enough after a gruelling domestic season – and it is not clear what good this friendly match will do.

A number of the team that will line up at the Riverside on June 11 are missing and there are several players out through injury.

We can expect a repeat of the lacklustre performances in previous friendlies, most notably against Australia.

Had Sven-Goran Eriksson been judged on his team’s performances in friendly matches, he would surely be out of a job by now.

In competitive matches, by contrast, he has only lost once – and it is hard to draw a connection between the teams that line up for the two.

In that light, one has to wonder about the wisdom of playing friendly matches at all, particularly ones that involve a 12-hour flight.

It would appear, therefore, that the decision to play the match in South Africa has more to do with off-the-field requirements than the game itself.

Many of those are important – the encouragement of the game in southern Africa, demonstrating support for a 2010 World Cup bid (and looking for reciprocal support for an England bid at a later date?) and giving the players a chance to meet Nelson Mandela, for instance.

But it is the timing that is strange. After all, so soon after the FA Cup final means that Ashley Cole, Wayne Bridge and James Beattie have all been excused the trip.

South Africa is hardly en route to La Manga, where England will hold a training camp ahead of their friendly against Serbia-Montenegro and then match against Slovakia.

So, tonight’s game is, literally and metaphorically, a diversion. A draw and no injuries is about the best we can hope for.

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

Tourette’s In Nets

‘TODAY’S most interesting sporting news is found not on the back pages but inside the darkest recesses of the Mail.

Porto players play dead

The paper says that Manchester United are poised to sign disabled goalkeeper, the American Tim Howard.

It must be swiftly said that Howard’s disability is manifest not by a missing limb or poor vision but in Tourette’s syndrome.

Symptoms of this illness include nervous tics and an inability to control speech, ”leading to uncontrollable outbursts, often in swear words.”

Given the usual abuse dished out by footballers, it’s unlikely anyone in the game will even notice the player’s disability. And as for the tics, anyone remember Bruce Grobbelaar?

As it is, one of Howard’s possible future team-mates, David Beckham, was on the move himself yesterday, flying in to Johannesburg for a chance to meet Nelson Mandela.

The Sun looked on and noticed that the party that travelled for an audience with the great man did not include eight of the England squad.

Paul Scholes, Steven Gerrard, Gareth Southgate, Phil Neville, Danny Mills, Joe Cole, Paul Robson and Gareth Barry are the octet who dared to fly in the face of accepted opinion and decline the invitation.

To the Mail this is tantamount to heresy, and it moans loud and long about the ”PR fiasco” and how eight footballers chose to stay in bed rather than meet ”one of history’s great statesmen”.

At least Southampton’s James Beattie and Wayne Bridge had good excuses for not being in South Africa.

As the Sun says, they were excused the arduous trip because Sven Goran Eriksson wanted them to rest after the FA Cup final.

How funny then that they managed to pull on their kits yesterday for a game with Aberdeen, in something called the Friendship Cup.

But for sheer comedy nothing can top yesterday’s spectacle at the Uefa Cup final in Seville, where Porto’s players acted the clowns, falling over at the drop of an eyelash and writhing in mock agony to the delight of their fans.

Celtic boss, Martin O’Neill, whose side lost the Uefa Cup final 3-2 in extra-time, is not best pleased.

”I was not pleased with how the game was won,” he says in the Express. ”Loads of things were going on out there.”

He says fans of his club noticed the gamesmanship and showed their displeasure when Porto collected their winners’ medals.

”Celtic fans are the most fair-minded in Europe,” continues O’Neill, ”and you saw the reaction they gave which just about sums it up.”

Sadly, it does not. The best way to sum up a game football is by looking at scoreline.

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

Trouble Dogs Leeds

‘THE leader who turned grown men into babies is back in the biggish time. The Star reports that David O’Leary has been appointed as the new boss of Aston Villa.

Oink! Oink! Pigface is back

And he’s a changed man. ”I’ve learned a lot and I’ve made mistakes,” says O’Leary. ”The biggest one I made was that I became too opinionated in newspapers and you won’t be getting that any more.”

Readers will also recall how O’Leary became too opinionated on television and in his book, Leeds in Trial, and on radio and the Internet.

But he soon gets back to talking the usual stuff, about how he plans to make Villa into a top six club – ”where it belongs”.

It really seems that O’Leary has learned from his time at Leeds, chiefly that miracles cannot be worked over night and that ambition must be tempered with reality.

The situation at Leeds comes under more scrutiny in the Express, where we hear that ”Peter Ridsdale’s reputation as a football chairman sleeps with the fishes”.

Using a phrase borrowed from a gangster film would seem to suggest that not all is what it should have been at the Leeds Ridsdale built.

The club’s news chairman, Professor John McKenzie, is pretty damning of his predecessor’s regime. ”There’s been irresponsibility and indulgent spending,” he says.

”In my view, the place has been managed in an indulgent way,” he says, going on to criticise the ”frivolous nature of the expenditure”.

And so it seems to have been as the Express mentions the nearly £6m spent on paying off managers O’Leary and Terry Venables, the fleet of over 70 company cars, which cost £600,000 a year to run, and private jet travel for executives.

There is also the matter of the tank of tropical fish, which Ridsdale rented for a princely sum of £20 a month.

These are said to have been the first casualties of McKenzie’s purge on waste.

Meanwhile, the Mail gets ready for the final of the Uefa Cup, and Celtic’s chance to relive the glory of 36 years ago when they lifted the European Cup.

”I’ve told my players this is once-in-a-lifetime chance and they must grab it,” says Celtic manager Martin O’Neill.

Celtic play Porto tonight in Seville. We wish them the very best of luck.

Posted: 21st, May 2003 | In: Back pages | Comment

Men Only

‘APART from ice dancing and things with horses, women fail to compete on an equal footing with men in sport.

Annika Sorenstam prepares for a meeting with Vijay Singh

Some East German athletes of the 1970s could lay claim to being every bit as good as their male counterparts – and so good were they that a few were made honorary men, complete with Adam’s apples and the ability to dress to the right or left.

And unless Swedish golfer Annika Sorenstam has a mobile pharmacy in with her clubs, she will be whipped out of sight by the rest of the field at this week’s PGA Tour’s Colonial Tournament.

It is 58 years since a woman last entered a professional men’s tournament. In 1945, Babe Zaharias competed at the Los Angeles Open, making the cut.

Since then no mixing on the professional fairways has been allowed. It’s the way Peter Alliss, the pompous ass, would have dreamt it – the big boys out on the course, boring the socks off each other, while the little ladies potter about chattering about macrame and how wonderfully clever darling Peter is.

But now golf’s men’s club has been opened up to women. And Vijay Singh, the world’s seventh best golfer is put out. He says he hopes Sorenstam misses the cut, and that women have no place in the men’s game.

Doubtless some voices in the less enlightened parts of the golfing US would also prefer it that Singh, a man of dark skin, didn’t play the game either.

And, as luck has it for the good ol’ boys, the Fijian has withdrawn from the tournament, giving the excuse that he needs a week off.

”I told my wife last week if I won a tournament I would take a week off,” Singh said, just before, one imagines, he patted her on the head and sent her back to the kitchen.

But why withdraw? Why does it matter that a woman plays with men? She has no chance of winning.

Sorenstam is the best female golfer in the world, the winner of 43 tournaments, 19 in the last two seasons, but she’s still not good enough to compete with the top men.

I recall that Bobby Riggs was 55 when he challenged Billy Jean King to a game in 1973, with the words: ”I want Billie Jean King… I want the women’s lib leader!”

Riggs was confident that no woman, however skilful, would beat him. Billie Jean won in three sets, proving little more than Riggs was wrong and that a young fit woman can beat an ageing still fit man.

Sadly for Sorenstam, she’s not up against Seve Ballesteros or Arnold Palmer but some hungry young American golfers. She won’t win the tournament, but she will attract interest to the game.

And that is no bad thing in a sport that before Tiger Woods came along was as alluring to the young and female as Peter Alliss.

Posted: 21st, May 2003 | In: Back pages | Comment

One For Joy, Two For Sorrow

‘READERS of any newspaper will know what Sir Bobby Robson is seen as some avuncular figure, the old boy we don’t mind talking to.

”Why doesn’t anyone like me?”

Others will know him as the hard-nosed footballer manager who is so desperate for Newcastle to win something – anything – that he has bought Lee Bowyer.

Quick as a panda car with lights ablaze you will have realised that such a move, as touted in the Sun, means the reforming of the unlovliest partnership in football: Bowyer And Woodgate.

Whereas once Kevin Keegan’s Newcastle were everyone’s favourites, they are now set to be the least loved outfit in the land.

But Bowyer is not the only man making ready to tread on pastures new. According to the Mirror, John Terry, the Chelsea captain, is contemplating a move to Arsenal.

The Express says that the player wants to discuss a new contract with Chelsea, but the Blues aren’t talking.

”I want to stay but if you wait around and nothing happens, you have to look after your own interests,” he says.

Which is the kind of thinking that, given the Mirror’s story, should have Aston Villa fans heading for Villa Park with their placards of protest raised high.

News is that Bryan Robson has thrown his hat into the ring to be the new Villa boss.

The paper says that Robson made a ”grovelling” bid to be the Birmingham side’s new boss, ”gushing a ”fawning tribute to unpopular club chairman Doug Ellis”.

Despite any protestations to the contrary, Robson is one of the worst club managers around, and Villa fans must be praying that he is not the new man in charge.

”My record is as good as anybody’s,” says Robson – like he means it – ”and I made Middlesbrough into a Premiership club.”

Of course you did, Bry – and Steve Gibson, the club chairman who bought the players, had little or no say in the matter.

We can only wonder why Robbo’s stopping just at Villa, as the Mirror’s back page says that the Real Madrid job is up for grabs.

Do you suppose the Spaniards know he’s available?

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

In A Stew

‘IS Alec Stewart the best wicket keeper-batsman in England at the moment? Yes, almost certainly.

The Methuselah of English cricket

Should he have been selected for the two-Test series against Zimbabwe, which starts on Thursday? Almost certainly, no.

Stewart is 40 years old and, although he remains remarkably agile for a man his age and although his desire is still as great as ever, he is past his prime.

Whatever Nasser Hussain and the selectors say about not being able to take the opposition lightly, this series is a great opportunity to blood new players.

Three have already been chosen in the squad for the first Test.

James Anderson has earned his chance by his performances in Australia and at the World Cup.

James Kirtley is another who already has experience of playing for England in one-day internationals.

And Anthony McGrath has been given then opportunity to stake a claim to an all-rounder spot by Andrew Flintoff’s continuing bad luck with injuries.

Maybe it is this inexperience towards the bottom of the batting order that has persuaded the selectors to choose Stewart ahead of pretenders like James Foster or Chris Read.

If so, one can only hope that the return of Flintoff and/or Andrew Caddick prompts a bit of a change of heart.

There never is a right time to swap your most experienced player for a relatively untried youngster, but it is hard to think of a better time than now.

Without their one genuinely world-class player, Zimbabwe should be no match for England.

Surely, batting Foster or Read (both of whom have experience of Test cricket in far harder circumstances) at No.7 wouldn’t have been too much of a gamble.

If the top six cannot perform against a side as inexperienced as Zimbabwe, they do not deserve to win.

The problem now is that, if Stewart gets runs against this below-par bowling attack, then he will become impossible to drop for the rest of the summer.

And that, in the longer term, is bad news for England.’

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

Gold Rush

‘FOR those who hang to the belief that all Arsenal fans smoke those little cigars that come in individual plastic wrappers, there is news.

”Do Not Sit On The Sink”

They do so because they look so sophisticated yet grounded (it says here) and because the wrapping prevents the urine wetting and thus spoiling the tobacco.

You see, urine is a substance Arsenal fans know too well. Those Gooners contemplating buying timeshares in Cardiff (for the second and third weeks in May), would do well to wrap everything they own in plastic wrap.

Should the Welsh capital run out of the protective film, a plastic bag round the feet and some official Anorak Comfi-Wellies must be the go.

The Cardiff urine problem can be traced all the way to the lower concourse at the city’s Millennium Stadium, where the toilet troughs have burst their banks.

But since not everyone gets to see Cardiff’s Golden Waterfalls, you’ll have to take our word that they do exist.

Just think that these wonders would not have sprung forth had the stadium designer’s plan been followed to the letter.

Our study says that the stadium’s planners have allocated a generous two-inch width of trough for each crowd member, with the ground at full capacity.

If just the bit that does the pissing was extended forward to the wall, all male fans at the ground could go to the toilet during the 10-minute rush before the game and the half-time interval with no fear of drowning.

But men will be silly about these things, so instead they have adopted the architect’s plan B: wait in a cell-like, piss-soaked room and then go anywhere you can.

This ploy involves making use of the three to four sinks in each urine-soaked hole. If you can get to the cubicle, the move is to hose the seat and wall.

But our favourite was demonstrated by the man who ripped up the rulebook and on seeing the lattice-work plastic bucket under the said sinks, ventured forth and pissed freely in it.

A nice effect resulted, as piss cascaded down the white bin and seeped suggestively through the gaps. For novelty value it matches the Golden Waterfall, although the size and volume of the GWs marks them out as the must-see attraction.

This wonder will be appearing again on days which, as luck has it, coincide with the play-off finals for the three Nationwide divisions.

Next week: The Magic Box – marvel as three thousand women queue to get inside two toilets.

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

Not So Able Seaman

‘DAVID Seaman lifted the FA Cup in Cardiff on Saturday, but it looks as if he has played his last game for Arsenal.

Seaman is grateful for Manchester City’s equal opportunities programme

The Independent reckons the 39-year-old will pre-empt any decision over his future by signing for another Premiership club, probably Manchester City.

Friend Bob Wilson tells the paper that Seaman still wants to play.

”I think it will boils down to whether Arsenal can get him to stay against an offer he gets from Manchester City of anyone else.”

Thierry Henry and Freddie Ljungberg are definitely staying at the north London club, however – with the Frenchman committing himself to the club until 2007 over the weekend.

The Guardian says Dennis Bergkamp is likely to sign on for one more season, but reckons Francis Jeffers and Nwankwo Kanu could be on their way over the summer.

At Highbury next season, there is likely to be a new centre back (with Philippe Mexes and Jean-Alain Boumsong the most likely candidates) and a new goalkeeper.

Whether Saturday’s goalscorer Robert Pires and club captain Patrick Vieira will still be in the country is another matter.

Michael Schumacher duly won the Austrian Grand Prix yesterday (his third victory in a row) despite his car catching fire during a pit stop.

Padraig Harrington held his nerve to win the Deutsche Bank-SAP Open in a play-off with Thomas Bjorn and shake off his near-miss demons.

And England named three new caps in their cricket squad to face Zimbabwe in the first Test on Thursday, but none of them was a wicketkeeper.

That means Alec Stewart, who is even older than David Seaman, will play – a decision that Derek Pringle (writing in the Telegraph) reckons serves no useful purpose.

”Few doubt he can still outperform James Foster or Chris Read, the most likely of the young shavers waiting in his slipstream,” says Pringle, ”but his own game, especially his keeping, is in decline.”

When the combined ages of England’s goalkeeper and wicket-keeper is just one shy of 80, maybe it’s not just Stewie’s keeping that’s in decline.

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

Good As Gold

‘FOR the second time in the space of six months, the Australians have failed at the final hurdle to register a whitewash series victory against one of their oldest rivals.

”And this stump’s for Darren Lehman…”

In Sydney, they were outplayed for pretty well the whole game by an England side inspired by the batting of Michael Vaughan and the absence of Shane Warne and Glenn McGrath.

In Antigua, the West Indies overhauled a record fourth innings total to complete a remarkable Test win and salvage some pride from the series.

Is it a coincidence that Australia seem so often to fail in the last match of a dead series?

History suggests not – which is good and bad news for the teams trying to bridge the gap between Steve Waugh’s team and the rest of the world.

The most favourable interpretation suggests that the difference between Australia and the rest is not actually as great as it seems.

Even the Aussies cannot win Test matches playing at anything less than 100% intensity – and they do not always respond when under pressure.

The less favourable interpretation holds that the Aussies can always raise their game when they really need to.

It is only in dead rubbers – like the ones in Sydney and Antigua – that they are vulnerable.

Before the West Indies get carried away by this lone success, it is worth looking at the difference between the two sides over the series.

For Australia, all six top-order batsmen averaged comfortably over 50, with Ricky Ponting averaging 130 and Steve Waugh and Adam Gilchrist averaging over 70.

For the West Indies, only Brian Lara and Omari Banks averaged over 50.

Five Australian bowlers averaged under 40; only one West Indian did.

It is always great to see the Australians beaten and it is good to see the West Indies showing their mettle again, but one Test hasn’t changed too much.

All we do know is that, good as they are, this Australian side is made of the same flesh as the rest of us. They are not invincible.

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

Olympic Games

‘THE Maine Road Home for Elderly and Distressed Goalkeepers is pleased to announce that it is moving to new, luxurious premises in Greater Manchester.

Britain’s Olympic bid is up and running

And it is delighted to introduce its latest resident: a Yorkshire lad (but we won’t hold that against him!) called Mr Seaman.

Mr Seaman has lived in London for many years, and has picked up a few funny southern ways, such as wearing his hair in a ponytail, but we are sure that everyone will make him very welcome.

He replaces Mr Schmeichal, who will be missed by all the staff and residents, and he will be arriving next week, as he plans to stop off in Cardiff over the weekend.

The Sun reports that as a special treat, Mr Seaman, who is an Arsenal fan, will be allowed to lead the team out onto the pitch before the FA Cup final – a welcome change from the rather ”ageist” policy of choosing only young children as club mascots.

Well done, David! Although the Telegraph usually takes a keen interest in the elderly, it is too busy blowing its own trumpet to give much thought to Mr Seaman.

”TELEGRAPH SET THE AGENDA – AND THE ANSWER IS… YES,” screams the headline. And the question was: will London bid for the Olympics?

Ken Livingston has come out fighting and reckons that London can beat its rivals – principally Paris and Madrid – and land its first Olympic games for over half a century.

The plans are fantastic, and the world will surely fall in love with the plucky East End bid. Fisher Athletic’s ground will be redeveloped into a 9,000-seat stadium.

A new changing room, with a shower and a hairdryer will be installed at the Plaistow baths. The congestion charge zone will be extended to Stratford in order to clear roads for the marathon, and Tesco will be offering its car parks for the use of team coaches.

And it all makes sound business sense. ”For every pound Londoners pay they are going to get back £3 in investment,” says the man formerly known as Red.

”If you said to most Londoners that if they put in 25 per cent for buying their house we would put in the other 75 per cent, they would jump at it.”

Only Ken himself understands the connection between those two statements, but we’re sure it all adds up.

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

Turnip For The Books

‘IT would good to say that Real Madrid’s defeat in the semi-finals of the Champions’ League is good for football competitiveness.

He’s even got the shirt on the wrong way round

No-one, save fans of the winning club, likes to see the same victors year on year.

But, as the Times reports, the Madrilenos lost to Juventus, themselves one of the richest teams around.

That 4-3 aggregate victory for the Old Lady of European football sets up an all-Italian final with AC Milan at Old Trafford.

This, or course, was not how it was supposed to be. And while we look to next year and hope that a British team can go all the way in the continent’s premier contest, we hear news of Aston Villa.

Villa are about as far removed as you can get from winning the Champions’ League, especially since they are now without a manager.

Yes, folks, Graham Taylor has left the Birmingham club – and he’s got a few words to say.

Asked if changes were necessary at the club he has now managed for two spells, Taylor told the Independent: ”I believe so. The structure has to be looked at on and off the field, people have to be able to look at themselves and say it’s time for a change.”

Without naming names, that sounds like a dig at the Villa chairman, Doug Ellis. And that’s a cue for the Indy to list the 11 men who have taken charge of Deadly Doug’s club.

As it is, few Villa fans will lament the loss of so dull a manager as Taylor, whose way with words could turn the most beautiful poetry into a work of plodding tripe.

A bit of hype doesn’t hurt the morale of the man in the stands.

And so we turn to the Telegraph and news that Tony Blair is ready to support a British bid to host the 2012 Olympic Games.

London is tipped to get the Government’s nod to start preparations for a bid.

And the news is that we’ll be up against the French, as President Jacques Chirac puts his weight behind Paris.

The only downside is that Londoners will have to pay for the honour of having their city overrun by even more tourists, as a ”special” tax prepares to take hold.

But since we are unlikely to win the race, Londoners can spend their cash on something else – like a one-way ticket out of here.

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

Wrecking Our Game

‘GIVEN the idiocy of the average football hooligan, the decision by the police to publish photographs of 29 men who invaded the pitch during England’s Euro 2004 qualifier against Turkey is a non-event.

It’s bed with no tea for you, son

Northumbria police, who are circulating the pictures, are keen to name and shame the culprits.

They are keen to try and prevent a repeat of the scenes at Sunderland when England play at Middlesbrough’s Riverside Stadium for the crunch tie with Slovakia on 3 June.

We are no supporters of football hooliganism, and football-related violence is a scar on the national game, but jumping around on the pitch when your team have scored is not the greatest crime.

It is, though, an offence. FA spokesman Paul Barber points out the maximum fine for invading the field of play is £1,000. He’s duly called on magistrates to fine the offenders the maximum amount.

He goes on to say: ”Pitch invasions are not clever and they’re not cool. The players don’t like it.”

It’s as if the FA has adopted the broken window policy, the line of thought best espoused by the former mayor of New York, Rudolph Guiliani, which said that a single broken pane of glass leads to more crime. Neglect fosters crime and fear.

It’s just that the FA has chosen to repair the fractured glass while all around the yobbos are removing the bricks.

The FA had also said those who were convicted of offences at Sunderland would be banned from watching the national side for life.

Whether this ban includes watching England on TV as well as from the stands is not stated, but you can bet that if asked the FA would answer to the affirmative.

They want to be seen to be doing something about a problem that is already out of hand.

The police can only stop a few criminals from spoiling the fun. They can arrest, stick pictures up, name and shame all they want but the culture of football violence is so ingrained that removing 29 rotten apples from the badly damaged barrel is useless.

If the FA is truly serious about ridding the game of its criminal element, they should exercise a zero-tolerance policy, and talk to the idiots like the overdeveloped children they are.

The next one who boos another country’s national anthem can stay behind while everyone else can go.

Had they done this years ago, the berks could have been locked in the old Wembley.

How we would have cheered as the wrecking balls swung into action…

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

Lara’s Dream

‘AFTER a brief hiatus, Italian football has returned to the pinnacle of the European stage.

West Indies avoid the whitewash

Last night AC Milan beat local rivals Inter on the away goals rule – the game finished 1-1 – to move into the European Cup final.

The Telegraph says that AC won because ‘their approach was more adventurous from the beginning’. But since this is Italian football, that means two AC players crossed the halfway line in the game’s opening stages, opposed to Inter’s one, or none.

For sheer excitement, tortoise racing can match the football on offer in Italy. And neither of those sports comes close to the high-octane thrill-a-minute sport that is Test cricket.

The Guardian leads with a picture of the entire West Indies cricket team kissing the wicket at St John’s in Antigua.

The reason was that the West Indies had made the highest ever fourth wicket winning total of 418 runs.

That’s just awesome, and it gets even better when the opposition are revealed as our dear friends, the Australians.

The Times shows the scorecard, with centuries for Sarwan and Chanderpaul, a ‘modest contribution’ from Brian Lara of 60 runs, and seven wickets down.

A score of 60 for an English batsman against the Aussies would be no little achievement, but for one of the world’s best, it’s a walk in the Caribbean sunshine.

‘I can hardly put into words what has happened,’ said Lara. ‘It is fantastic to see us show this mettle and character.’

And it can’t be bad for cricket per se to see a side upset the world’s best.

And while the Italians go wild, the West Indians party into the small hours, the British read in the Independent that Greg Rusedski is injured.

The British No.2 pulled out of the Zagreb Open after feeling pain in his back. It would have been his first match in almost nine months, but it was not to be.

And it is indeed a shocking thing. How can a sportsman who has not played for the best part of a year still be the second best tennis player in Britain? Who’s the third best? Tony Blair..?

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

Friend Or Defoe?

‘JERMAIN Defoe’s decision to put in a transfer request only 24 hours after West Ham was relegated is akin to a widow getting remarried the day after her husband’s funeral.

You could wait until you got off the pitch, Jermain

In other words, it is indecently hasty – and it is no great surprise that the board turned down the request.

That is not to say that the young striker will still be at Upton Park next year, which must be very unlikely.

But had the board acceded to a request (which was leaked to the Sun on the morning of the final game), it would have sent a message to the other players – and other clubs.

Defoe is only 20 years old and has understandably probably got a bit caught up in all the speculation linking him with Manchester United.

But whoever is advising him really doesn’t know what they’re doing.

West Ham fans accept that they will lose many of the better players.

The career of a footballer is short and they cannot be blamed for wanting to play at the very top level.

When Trevor Brooking was a player, he would still get picked for England when West Ham were in the old Second Division.

Those days are probably gone, just as we are unlikely to see non-top flight teams win the FA Cup as Sunderland, Southampton and West Ham did.

What the fans find harder to accept is a scramble to the door by players, many of whom are responsible for the club’s dire plight today.

Paul Ince has never been forgiven for moving to Manchester United, not because he left but the manner (being pictured in a Man U shirt while still a West Ham player) in which he did it.

Had Defoe bided his time, he could have returned to Upton Park (when the Hammers return to the Premiership) and received a warm welcome.

By the indecent haste in which he has put in this transfer request, he is likely to get a similar reception to the one he gets at Charlton.

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

Seaman Overboard

‘THE England squad for friendlies against South Africa and Serbia-Montenegro and the Euro 2004 qualifier against Slovakia has been named.

The (pony)tale is over

And the first notable point is that David Seaman’s name is not on the list.

The Telegraph leads with the news that Seaman’s international career – ‘one of the greatest goalkeepers to pull on gloves for England’ – is at an end.

Add to that the news that Arsenal, Seaman’s club, will not be offering him a playing contract next season, consigning the Yorkshireman to a coaching job.

‘Sooner or later it had to happen,’ said Seaman in conversation with England coach Sven Goran Eriksson.

At the other end of the field is Wayne Rooney, the 17-year-old wonder kid.

It should be an honour for him to play, and an honour for Everton, his club side, to watch their brightest hope wear the three lions. But it’s turning into a row.

The Times says that David Moyes, the Everton manager, has argued, and is still arguing, that Rooney should not make the trip to South Africa in nine days time.

The result of this attempted interception has been to propel the one who must be protected into the limelight.

Another Englishman who is the centre of attention is Tim Henman, the man on whom tennis fans still pin their hopes of British success at Wimbledon.

The Independent shows Tim winning only his third match of the year (from nine played), beating American Jan-Michael Gambill in the second round of the Masters Series in Hamburg.

‘I am starting to be a bit more aggressive with my serving and I feel 100 per cent with the shoulder,’ says Timmy. ‘There are no problems physically.’

If the rest of the Wimbledon hopefuls can pick up an injury or two, Tim should be in with genuine shout of victory. Just a thought.

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

A Sending-Off

‘SO farewell David Elleray, the man in the black with the schoolmasterly manner and the disarming expression.

‘Off to detention with you’

He’s a Housemaster at Harrow school, don’t yer know. Of course you do know, because it is one of those facts that every commentator and his dog trot out on sighting the referee.

But we won’t be seeing him in his black shorts again, because the man has just retired, hung up his whistle and put his little back book to bed.

From his first football league experience, running the line in 1983 at a Southend versus Walsall game – when he disallowed a goal for the home side about 10 minutes into the game and the chant of ‘kill the lino’ went around the ground – Elleray has been in the thick of it.

He once had to abandon a match at Maine Road, when the home team was winning 2-0. Back in December, he showed Everton substitute Wayne Rooney the red card late in the 1-1 draw at St Andrew’s for a foul on Birmingham’s Steve Vickers.

And who can forget the magic moment when Elleray red carded Dennis Irwin because, having received one yellow card, the Irishman ran a ball back across the touchline.

Irwin was duly suspended and missed the 1999 European Cup Final versus Bayern Munich in Barcelona.

But Elleray has never been card happy. It’s just that we know who he is, so we notice what he does.

Aside from the Thing From Tring, the unlovely Graham Poll, little is known about the 23 men who have refereed games over the past Premiership season.

What we do know can be distilled as follows. Uriah Rennie: black belt in some martial art, big and the first black referee in Premier League history.

Graham Barber: a friend of Gary Neville. Paul Durkin: small, ginger, bares a suspiciously close resemblance to Paul Scholes. Andy D’Urso: fails to stand ground when confronted by vein-popping players.

And that is it.

These are the non-people of the most hyped, commented upon league in the land. And let’s leave it that way. Indeed, let’s just give them numbers and do away with their names.

So goodbye Number 5, you were a man in black – much like all the rest, only better.

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

The Bubble Bursts

‘I THOUGHT I had resigned myself to West Ham’s relegation months ago. I was sure that I had done my mourning after the defeat at Bolton.

‘When I open my eyes it will be 1966 and we’ll have won the World Cup…’

But even when the odds were firmly stacked against us on the last day of the season, a small glimmer of hope remained.

And for just a while yesterday that glimmer seemed almost a ray as Michael Ricketts got Middlesbrough back into the game at the Reebok Stadium and Les Ferdinand put the Hammers ahead at St Andrew’s.

So dominant were West Ham at that stage that it almost seemed possible they would score the eight goals they needed to overtake Bolton on goal difference.

But then – as has been the case so often for us this year – two cruel pieces of luck dashed what hope we had.

A wicked deflection off Rufus Brevett gave Birmingham an equaliser totally against the run of play and Middlesbrough were harshly reduced to 10 men as they enjoyed their best spell of the match against Bolton.

That was when we all knew the game was finally up – that we were down on a record number of points and having lost just the one game in three months.

It is nothing short of a tragedy for West Ham, who will surely now see the core of what could – and should – have been a very good side broken up.

Unlike Bolton, who managed to field a side this year without a single British player, West Ham have developed many of their own stars.

They may have had to sell Rio Ferdinand and Frank Lampard already, but they could now lose Joe Cole, Michael Carrick, Jermain Defoe and even Glen Johnson – all of whom came up through the youth team (even if Defoe was poached from Charlton).

And of course that doesn’t include the likes of Trevor Sinclair, David James and Freddie Kanoute.

Yesterday’s game was a microcosm of West Ham’s season – but we all know that the damage was done in the first half of the season.

Had there not been a transfer window, Glenn Roeder may have been able to act sooner in response to our awful start.

But those are all ‘ifs’ and ‘buts’ and ‘maybes’. The harsh truth is that the Hammers will start next season in Division One with a very different squad.

Just because it’s been coming for months doesn’t make it any easier.

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

The Vultures Circle

‘THE vultures are already circling overhead, ready to feast on the carrion of what was once West Ham United Football Club.

West Ham reveal new signing

Bolton’s win against Middlesbrough yesterday condemned the Hammers to relegation – and now, according to the Sun, ‘it is a scramble for the lifeboats’.

The paper dubs the Hammers players ‘the most talented bunch ever to be relegated from the top flight’ and predicts plenty of interest from other clubs.

‘Keeper David James interests Manchester City,’ it says. ‘Joe Cole has been targeted by Everton, Manchester United have their eyes on Jermain Defoe and Freddie Kanoute may switch to Fulham.’

The Star says Juventus have expressed an interest in Kanoute, while Liverpool boss Gerard Houllier is a long-time admirer of Cole.

But the Mirror asks whether other clubs will be interested in what it calls ‘this bunch of losers’.

‘It means West Ham’s biggest worry may not be relegation but how on earth they will survive without the riches of the Premiership while being saddled with a squad of overpaid under-achievers,’ it says.

What was agony for West Ham was ecstasy for Bolton, whose boss Sam Allardyce is pictured in several papers doing an after-match jig with star player Jay-Jay Ococha.

Allardyce agreed that it had been ‘a freak season’ in which West Ham had been relegated on a record 42 points.

‘I feel the whole world has come off my shoulders,’ he tells the Express. ‘I’m floating six feet above the ground.’

At the other end of the table, Chelsea secured the fourth Champions’ League spot by beating Liverpool 2-1 and Blackburn pipped Everton to a Uefa Cup place with a 4-0 thrashing of Spurs at White Hart Lane.

The Mail says there was a poisonous atmosphere at Spurs on Teddy Sheringham’s farewell game for the club as some of the crowd shouted: ‘We want Hoddle out.’

From two Glenns managing in the Premiership this season, we may have no Glenns next season.

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

Tuff Love

‘IT doesn’t say much for the health of our summer sport that the best thing to happen to cricket recently is Phil Tufnell’s appearance on I’m A Celebrity…Get Me Out Of Here!

‘Mom, why am I so tall?’ asked Daniela

However, that’s the opinion of Michael Soper, deputy chairman of the England and Wales Cricket Board.

‘People like heroes, however unlikely,’ Soper tells the Telegraph.

‘He was a bloody good spinner but, bless his heart, he has done more for cricket in these past 10 days than anyone I know, raising cricket’s profile.’

Tufnell has also given young ITV viewers a fair indication of what they can expect if they take up the game – hours of sitting doing nothing and waiting for the rain to stop.

But cricket is in a healthy state, compared with our winter sport – football.

All the papers today splash on the news that after months of looking for a new chief executive to replace sacked Adam Crozier, the FA have achieved exactly what their name suggests.

The Indy reveals the lengths the organisation has gone to in its search with its headline: ‘FA left in void as man from Mars pulls out.’

‘Cash-strapped and rudderless’ though it may be, we would never have believed that the FA would have got the stage where it had to look outside Earth for a boss.

But the Telegraph has no doubt who’s to blame for this latest fiasco – FA chairman Geoff Thompson.

‘Thompson’s handling of the situation leading up to Adam Crozier’s departure last year and the search for a successor that carried all the hallmarks of Inspector Clouseau at his most bumbling will surely be used by business schools the world over as part of their ‘how not to’ seminars,’ it says.

Not so. The way things are these days, he will almost certainly get a knighthood and a six-figure pension.

As to actual sport, well there were a few games of tennis played yesterday.

One of them was by Anna Kournikova (hence its inclusion in the papers) in the Cloister Cup, a third division tournament with total prize money of just £15,000.

For the record, she won against Maria Fernanda Alvez…but only because the Brazilian retired with a thigh injury midway through the deciding set.

Also playing was Daniela Hantuchova, although there was considerably more attention paid to the Slovakian’s weight than her tennis.

The 20-year-old admitted she was thin, but denied that she was anorexic.

‘I eat almost everything,’ she told the Guardian, ‘especially what my mum cooks. Unfortunately, it’s not as often as I like.’

Come on, Mrs Hantuchova. Pull your finger out…

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

Curse Of The Ex

‘THERE is little worse for sportsmen and women than having to listen to the carping from the sidelines of those who preceded them.

‘Thank god we don’t have to listen to us’

But you cannot shut an ex-player up, especially one with a newspaper column or a TV microphone to hand.

While they are still active, players like nothing better than to have a go at ‘the media’ for any real or imaginary criticism they have had to endure.

But no sooner has the last ball been kicked or bowled or hit then the player is signing a lucrative contract for a bit of media work.

Hypocrisy? It stinks.

The worst offenders are the likes of Ian Botham, who with a straight face manages to attack the Press from the Sky commentary box.

That would of course be the same Mr Murdoch who signs his pay-check at the end of every month as the one who owns the Sun and the Times, would it?

Ex-players, of course, do have something to contribute to our understanding and appreciation of their sport.

At their best, they manage to convey exactly what the player or players we are watching are going through, the pressure they’re under, what they’re trying to achieve etc.

At their worst, they just grandstand – using their privileged position to boost their own profile and denigrate the efforts of the people who have succeeded them.

Adam Hollioake recently said he would never watch cricket on Sky because the commentary was so awful.

He is not alone. The presence of Botham and – worse – the irredeemably dull Bob Willis sees to that. They even make Paul Allott sound vaguely interesting.

It is no coincidence that all three are ex-players because the best commentators are almost without exception journalists rather than former exponents of the sport themselves.

It is high time the TV companies recognised this. We’ve all had enough of the Sky team, of Garth Crooks’ interviews, of listening to Sally Gunnell…

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