Back pages | Anorak - Part 98

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Premier League news. Stories from the newspapers and BBC sport – sports news from tabloids Daily Mail, Daily Express, Daily Star, the Guardian, Daily Mirror, the times, daily telegraph

Aiming Low

”’TWO years ago, we would never in our wildest dreams have imagined we’d be here,” says Bobby Robson in Monaco, scene of yesterday’s Champions League draw.

Sir Bobby was, as ever, optimistic about their chances

”It’s exciting, it’s great, it’s everything we worked so hard for last season. It’s demanding, it’s exhausting, but we can’t wait for it to start.”

It’s also another episode in the mawkish life of Newcastle United football club. Robson’s rheumy-eyed chatter is infested with all the ingredients that go into making Newcastle United the team most likely to induce feelings of nausea.

It’s the hilarious belief that in this modern era of football, when winning is everything, Newcastle operate as a Corinthian throwback. Manchester United, Arsenal and the rest can chase the mighty euro, but good old Newcastle are just happy to be in there, and, hey, who knows, they might just trip up a few big shots and fancy dans on the way (twinkly-eyed wink to camera).

This bilge has been seen before, notably when Newcastle did become a well-loved team under Kevin Keegan. But under Robson, the Magpies are nothing special. Their fans are not a breed apart, but the same as all others: hungry for success, happy when they’re winning and upset when they don’t.

They do posses a terrific captain in the form of local boy Alan Shearer, who has yet to win anything. But beyond him, true Geordie boot boys are thin on the ground. They have tried to be all things to all people and ended up winning nothing.

But the team that could have won the Premiership is now the team that is happy just to be taking part. And looking at the money they’ve spent in the past few years, can that really be good enough? Bobby, at least, thinks so.

”I kept saying to the chairman,” Bobby tells the Times today, ”give us Barcelona, give us Barcelona.” Why Barcelona? Barcelona have never won the Champions League, are a team in turmoil and are overshadowed by Spanish giants Real. As it is, Barcelona are in another group, and Bobby has to do with some others.

”Juventus, Feyenoord, Dynamo Kiev – all great names, aren’t they?” says Sir Bobby, encouraging an answer to the affirmative. ”But we’re no mugs either and we’re going to enjoy it.” Why not just stick on a hard hat and grab a Tommy gun while you’re at it, Bobby?

Listening to Bobby Robson anyone would suppose Newcastle were a Europe-bound Wimbledon, who had risen from nowhere to give the big boys a bloody nose. They are not. They are part of large public company that wants to make money – and lots of it.

And the reason they are in Robson’s fairytale land is less down to them and more down to the success of Manchester United, Leeds and Arsenal, whose relative successes earned another berth for an English team.

It’s just a shame that it was Newcastle and not a side of genuine no-hopers, rather than the Magpies’ perennial doe-eye failures.’

Posted: 30th, August 2002 | In: Back pages | Comment

Missing Persons

‘IT IS NOW week two of the first season of my post-Crystal Palace season ticket life. A friend phones up. Like me, he gave up his season ticket, though many years earlier. A conversation develops about various building projects taking place in our respective homes, and for a while it is unclear why this discussion is taking place. Then he drops in a casual comment about listening to the Portsmouth game on the radio while up a ladder.

”I bought this new the last time Palace were on the telly”

With the score at 2-0 to ”us” (we are still bonded indelibly at some profound level to this bunch of red-and-blue no-hopers), the friend had moved on to some other task away from the radio. The following day, during a conversation with another Palace fan, he enquired casually about whether the score remained 2-0. Quite why he was shocked to learn that we lost the game is unclear, given Palace’s previous track record. The point was, it still hurt.

This is a team comprised almost entirely of players he had never even seen, yet something nonetheless gripped his heart and shook it.

On Tuesday night, I have taken the cold turkey route, refraining from all sources of information regarding the score. In fact, I only learned the result during the aforesaid conversation. When I say cold turkey, I can’t claim to have undergone any psychological or physiological trauma. Cold turkey sandwich with a cup of tea would be closer to the mark, in terms of emotional intensity.

In fact the experience was quite pleasant, and certainly a lot less boring than listening to the commentary from one of the capital’s other games while waiting for three-minute-old ”news flashes” from Selhurst Park. In fact, I didn’t watch any football at all, save for a brief snippet of half-time chat during Manchester United’s walk in the park with Zalaegenszeg.

When I finally got round to reading the match report, complete with Trevor Francis’s customary gloss on events, I might as well have been listening to a politician discussing transport policy on Question Time. ”What’s my motivation here?” I would have asked, had I been able to muster the enthusiasm to do so. If animals can lose their maternal instincts towards their young within days, maybe I can lose 33 years’ loyalty to a football club in two weeks.

They say when people stop believing in god, they’ll believe in anything. But when you stop believing in Palace, you start believing in DIY and weekend shopping. Whether this is a good thing or not, it’s too soon to tell. ‘

Posted: 29th, August 2002 | In: Back pages | Comment

Ref Chops Souey

‘THERE is always something vaguely pathetic in seeing a manager ”sent off”. With a player you can understand how it happens – a couple of mistimed tackles, telling Graham Poll where to go, punching Dennis Wise… But all a manager can do is shout a bit, have a scuffle with the fourth official or step outside his ‘coaching zone’.

Unlike Hoddle, Souness only throws teacups

So when Graeme Souness was sent off during Blackburn’s 2-2 draw with Liverpool last night, you might have thought he had reason to be embarrassed. Not a bit of it. The Star says Souey congratulated Steve Bennett for the decision, claiming it was the only one he got right all night. ”If you don’t get emotional, you might as well stay at home,” the former Anfield hardman said – with evident pride.

Leeds United’s new boss, Terry Venables, might have wished he had done just that after he left Elland Road to a chorus of boos last night. Even after the 1-0 home defeat to Sunderland, his team are fourth in the table – but that is not enough for the inhabitants of God’s Own Country.

As the Mirror notes, it has only taken El Tel three games to feel the wrath of the fans, but the man himself is remarkably unconcerned. ”If that’s how they feel they should react, that’s OK with me,” he said, no doubt recalling that Des Lynam never gave him such a hard time in the ITV studio.

One man who has swapped the pressures of the middle for the comfort of the commentary box is former England cricket captain Mike Atherton. And this morning he casts his mind forward to the day when Nasser Hussain relinquishes his captaincy, and backs Mark Butcher to take over.

Athers was at a lunch in London to promote his new autobiography and, in the absence of any Roy Keane-like confessions, his best shot at creating controversy is advising the England selectors to overlook Marcus Trescothick and Michael Vaughan in favour of Butcher. ”Mark has a good cricketing brain and is in fine form as a batsman,” he tells the Mail. ”He is old enough to have seen some of the vagaries of the game, on and off the field, and to have gained in experience from them.” Strong words, you’ll all agree.

But not, one suspects, as piquant as some of the revelations likely to come out in David Beckham’s autobiography. FA chief Adam Crozier is clearly worried that Becks’ tales of heavy drinking, hard drugs and endless womanizing are likely to bring the game into disrepute and, through the Mail, advises the England captain to run a draft past him prior to publication. Someone at FA HQ, it seems, is having trouble getting to sleep at night…’

Posted: 29th, August 2002 | In: Back pages | Comment

The Real McCoy

”’WHERE were you when Inamoto won the Intertoto?” the patrons of Fulham will ask each other in years to come.

”It’s OK for him – I’m knackered”

Many were at home watching EastEnders, but around 13,000 did actually see the Japanese boy wonder Junichi Inamoto score a hat-trick that helped Fulham win the season’s first silverware.

The Times shows Moto holding the Toto, a cup that only makes any sense when, as the paper reminds us all, it becomes a passport to the Uefa Cup.

That’s nice for Fulham, but in the great scheme of things football, the Uefa Cup is the European League Cup, and the big prize is the Champions’ League.

And last night Manchester United booked their berth in the continent’s premier contest with a 5-0 demolition of Hungarian outfit Zalaegerszeg.

And like the result, the headlines are predictable. ”Five-star United,” say the Telegraph and Times, while the Sun goes for the pugnacious, ”A bunch of fives”.

But in the numbers game, jump jockey Tony McCoy rei(g)ns supreme.

Having plastered the sports pages with pictures of Manchester United’s overpaid and over-hyped players in various stages of ecstasy, it’s a great pity that the work of Tony McCoy is buried deep within the Times, 10 pages inside the Sun’s back page lead and 12 pages within the Express.

So we turn to the Telegraph’s main sports page, where readers learn how yesterday McCoy became the greatest jump jockey of all time when he rode his 1,700th winner, Mighty Montefalco, to victory in the Uttoxeter sunshine.

”He’s a man in a million, easily the best I’ve seen,” says legendary jockey, and trainer of McCoy’s record-breaking mount, Jonjo O’Neill.

As for the 28-year-old McCoy, well, the likeable Ulsterman is as modest as ever. ”I’m lucky to have a job that doesn’t feel like a job and I’d hate to feel people were trying to retire me at 30 – I may not have reached my peak by then.”

Spoken like a true sportsman, in every sense of the word. And strangely at odds with the likes of footballer Robbie Savage, who, as the Sun reports, is to launch an appeal against his £10,000 ”Jobbiegate” fine.

”The whole thing is ridiculous,” says Savage of the continuing fall-out from his decision to use the referee’s toilet before a game last season. ”I’m appealing.”

And in a way he is, but in so many more ways he isn’t. Football and footballers have much to learn about what is to be a winner and a good sport from the likes of Tony McCoy.

Posted: 28th, August 2002 | In: Back pages | Comment

Ole For United

‘FROM the moment Ruud Van Nisterooy slipped the first goal under Sasa Ilic, there was never any doubt that Manchester United would cruise into the Champions’ League proper.

Paul Scholes takes the news of his injury well

In fact, the 5-0 victory over Zalaegerszeg had all the features of a typical United victory – a David Beckham free-kick, a dodgy penalty (including dodgy sending-off) and a late – and beautifully taken – strike from Ole Gunnar Solksjaer.

But it is certainly true that United will not play a worse team in Europe this season nor that they will have to play a lot better than they have done in the first fortnight of the season if they are to reassert their domestic supremacy, let alone claim European glory again.

Despite drawing 2-2 at Upton Park at the weekend, it is Arsenal who have started the season better of the two, their 5-2 victory over Premiership whipping-boys West Bromwich Albion taking the Gunners to the top of the league.

And amazingly for the richest club on the planet, United’s squad is looking threadbare in places.

The injury to Fabien Barthez has shown up the club’s lack of cover in goal and the departure of Andrew Cole, Dwight Yorke and Teddy Sheringham in the past 18 months has left them depleted up front.

Of course, while they can afford the luxury of Solksjaer on the bench, this is not much of a problem – but injuries and suspensions could easily conspire to leave Sir Alex Ferguson embarrassed by his lack of cover in certain areas.

The injury to Paul Scholes last night just emphasises this, for Scholes can cover in midfield as well as up front. He was replaced by Diego Forlan, who is a decent player but still has not scored in a competitive game for his club.

Apart from Forlan, Ferguson’s options are limited. He can play Ryan Giggs up front, but that often tends to unbalance the side by removing United’s most potent weapon down the left, and – besides – Giggs is not a great goalscorer.

While all the talk has been about United’s defence, it is perhaps going to be their attack that lets them down this season unless Ferguson can bring someone in before the end-of-the-month transfer deadline.

Even after going 3-0 up in the first 20 minutes last night, United did not press home heir advantage as they might have done a few years ago.

This may seem like quibbling in a game that had already been won, but it could pose problems for a team that has traditionally thrived on its ability to suffocate opposition defences, especially at Old Trafford.

The problem stems from the fact that both Roy Keane and Juan Sebastian Veron like to play quite deep, thereby allowing opposing midfields some breathing space.

Whether by dint of team strategy or the fact that he is getting longer in the tooth, Keane does not get forward as much as he used to, and Veron’s style of play does not make him a substitute for Scholes in the more advanced midfield role.

Of course, United still have a formidable first team and high-class cover in many areas of the field. If they are lucky with injuries, none of this might matter. After all, the last time United had to pre-qualify for the Champions’ League, they won it.

But it would only take a bit of bad luck for United to end this season as they did the last – trophyless. And then the pressure really will be on Sir Alex…

Posted: 28th, August 2002 | In: Back pages | Comment

Same Old Story

‘PAPER talk – dontcha love it? Well they certainly do down at the Lane, where Tottenham’s dreams of glory flourish most bountifully during the summer months in between football seasons.

”Do you want to swap these instead?”

And the stuff from which Tottenham’s dreams are woven? Big name transfers, the men who will really turn things around and put the cockerel back on his perch, crowing over north London.

Yet autumn arrives and once again the dressing room is bare. The cries of ”Glory, glory Tottenham Hotspur” become more muted, and the Spurs go limping on.

This season the torture has continued through the start of the season, with Lazio’s Hernan Crespo held tantalisingly in front of the Tottenham faithful. The Express reports that Spurs ”will try to conclude an audacious bid” today, but there is an obvious reluctance to take anything for granted, and the paper adds that Robbie Keane is being lined up as a replacement.

On a positive note, Crespo has said he wants to play for Hoddle – although whether he will be able to dislodge Les ”young at heart” Ferdinand from the spearhead of Spurs’ attacking machine is another matter altogether.

Elsewhere, another reputation is enhanced, as Manchester United are dubbed ”A BUNCH OF BAD LOSERS” in the Sun. Players from Hungarian club Zalaegerszeg, who tonight face United in the second leg of their Champions’ League qualifier, have accused Beckham and co of being ”cold” and refusing to swap shirts after they lost the first match.

But they would gladly forgo their shirts in return for a lucrative draw tonight, which, in the words of coach Peter Bozsik, ”would sort out our problems for two years”.

Finally, Peter Ridsdale tells the paper that he ”wonders about people’s mental state” when he reads some of the abusive letters sent by Leeds fans complaining about the sale of Rio Ferdinand.

”It’s a reminder of how passionate fans can be – in a negative way,” he concludes. And that can’t be good for the game, can it?

Posted: 27th, August 2002 | In: Back pages | Comment

Now You See Him, Now You Don’t

‘JIMMY Floyd Hasselbaink’s two English employers – Leeds and Chelsea – can at least content themselves with the knowledge that they have seen more of the Dutch striker than any of his other clubs.

”See ya!”

Indeed, Hasselbaink is in serious danger of notching up 100 appearances for Chelsea – a feat that could soon spark talk of ‘loyal service’ if the tree trunk-thighed striker is not careful. Which is no doubt why there is talk that he could be on his way before next week’s transfer deadline – off to Barcelona to team up with his former international manager Louis Van Gaal.

Hasselbaink’s agent claims not to know anything about the matter, saying: ”Jimmy loves Chelsea and loves the fans and London is a great city.” But his player offers a slightly different story, happy to talk up the prospects of a move.

”At my age, when a great club like Barcelona knocks on your door you do not say `no’,” he told the press. ”You look at the offer, evaluate it and decide on the best course of action.” And chances are that the best course of action means a return to Spain, where he scored an impressive 32 times in his 41 starts for Atletico Madrid.

Chelsea fans can’t really grumble. Up to now, Hasselbaink has not played for the same club for more than the two seasons he survived at Leeds – and he has certainly seemed to have a keen eye for a dollar (or a euro).

Why are Chelsea likely to be different? After all, they cannot claim to have enjoyed much success in the two years the Dutchman has been at the club, in spite of Hasselbaink’s contribution of 55 goals at a very impressive 0.61 goals a game.

Barcelona may not have had much more success themselves in that time, but they do represent a definite step up from the Blues and they should easily be able to match Chelsea for cash. The only question is likely to be whether a deal can be completed before the transfer deadline. It is only a week away and Chelsea could easily stall negotiations if they chose.

It would certainly represent a big blow if they do lose their star striker. Not only would it be a hard job to replace someone who averages a goal every other game throughout his club career, but time is very tight. The good news, though, is they should save on the cost of a gold clock… ‘

Posted: 27th, August 2002 | In: Back pages | Comment

Chelsea Blues

‘OFF the pitch, it’s not been a good start to the season for Chelsea. For starters, there was the little courtroom drama involving John Terry and Jody Morris, charged with affray over a brawl with a nightclub bouncer.


Yesterday the two were cleared, but ”Stamford Bridge legend” Peter Osgood has warned them in the Sun that they ”risk destroying their careers if they do not learn from their Crown Court escape”.

”Both players have got to grow up and live up to their responsibilities,” he says. ”They must realise that they can’t go out drinking at night and acting like normal fans.” But even most fans probably avoid such incidents if they can help it.

”They are paid so much money and people look up to them,” adds Osgood. ”They’ve got to be careful where they go.” Their team-mate, Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink, is hoping to go to Barcelona, and not just for the sangria, either. The Mirror writes that last night the player ”dropped a bombshell on Chelsea by insisting he wants to join Spanish giants Barca”.

”The Dutch striker claimed he would be ‘enchanted’ at the prospect of moving to the Nou Camp as he threw his Chelsea future into major doubt,” says the Mirror. But can we believe him? After all, when has a footballer ever used the word ”enchanted”, in public or otherwise?

With the club in debt to the tune of £97.7m, Chelsea may be tempted to sell their prize asset, but Hasselbaink’s plea in the Star to ”Flog me to Barca” is hardly going to help their preparations for tonight’s clash with Manchester United.

One man not likely to budge for some time is India’s star batsman, Rahul Dravid, who notched up his second century of the summer against England at Headingley yesterday.

The Independent writes that yesterday’s play ”was a throwback to a bygone era when runs and wickets were given away resentfully”. It might not have been a thrill a minute up in Yorkshire, but there was still some great play, almost all of it from Dravid.

”For the second Test match in a row Dravid was in brilliant form,” says the Indy, which sees his ton as a potential matchwinner. Couldn’t the press at least see more than the first day’s play before writing off England’s chances? ‘

Posted: 23rd, August 2002 | In: Back pages | Comment

That Friday Feeling

‘IT started with Sunday matches, then we had Monday matches, Saturday morning matches – and today we have a Friday match. How long can it be before there are Premiership games on every day of the week?

Crowd scenes on a Friday night

Sky may be limited under their current contract as to how many live games they can show during the course of a season, but they are in a strong position when it comes to renegotiation.

At the moment, football needs TV and it needs its money more than ever. And unless the BBC or ITV decide to take a massive gamble and bid for the rights when they next come round, that means they need Sky. Clubs have effectively mortgaged themselves against Murdoch’s money and it would be a disaster if there was a massive drop-off in revenue.

When Sky first won the rights to broadcast live Premiership games, the relationship was reversed. The fledgling TV channel needed viewers and it needed them quickly – and it was to football that it turned to persuade people to buy a dish. When the deal was renegotiated, football was hot property – and (following Sky’s success on the back of it) regarded as a goldmine by broadcasters.

But some of the lustre has worn off. The market is close to saturation, TV advertising is not bringing in the same bucks and there is a realisation that Sky probably overpaid last time out. The upshot will undoubtedly be greater power to the broadcaster in future – the ability to show more live games, more pay-per-view games and more rearranging of the fixture list to suit the demands of the schedule.

And that can only be bad news for fans. Friday night is not for football. In the past, only Tranmere regularly played on Fridays and that was to step out of the shadow of the two big Liverpool clubs.

But, if Sky get some decent viewing figures tonight, we can expect more big games to be moved in the coming years. Which means trouble for fans, especially those who have to travel the length of the country to get to the game.

Home fans may have to sacrifice their after-work pint on one of the very few nights when there is something good on TV. But away fans face the prospect of having to take a day off work to follow their team or giving the game a miss altogether.

It is a dangerous road to go down. In the longer term, it is surely better to stand up to the TV companies than to further alienate the people on whom the future of the game depends – the long-suffering fans. ‘

Posted: 23rd, August 2002 | In: Back pages | Comment

The Mask Slips

‘WE HAVE long suspected that behind his loveable avuncular facade, Sir Bobby Robson is a seething mass of bitterness and resentment. When he appeared on a recent documentary about Sir Alf Ramsey, he spoke with feeling of the shameful way that England’s most successful manager died in an NHS ward after years of living in straitened circumstances, seemingly forgotten by his former employers at the FA, and by the football world in general. It is possible that Sir Bobby still feels the pain of wounds inflicted upon him during his own reign as England boss.

”Glad to hear that Bobby’s doing the same”

In particular, it must be strange to be feted by the very same newspaper hacks that conducted a merciless campaign against him during his World Cups and European campaigns. Now he has used his column in the Newcastle United programme to air his views on the performance of England under the current boss, Sven Goran Eriksson – who just happened to be in attendance at St James’s park, and will no doubt have perused his complimentary copy while the assembled Geordie nation sang its unintelligible songs about the Auld Gallogeet, the Bleed’n Reeces and the Fog on the Teen.

And he may not have been too happy about what he read. ”I must say I did fancy us to beat Brazil,” says Sir Bobby, speaking of England’s meek submission in Japan. ”When England went one up we were on the verge of glory. But then we were awful in the second half. We’d conceded the equaliser right on half-time and then we went behind following David Seaman’s error. From the moment we went into deficit we never had a shot at goal and never looked like creating a chance.

When Ronaldinho was sent off we should have been able make the numerical advantage count yet we couldn’t and didn’t. We simply didn’t know how to open them up. We seemed to lack the urge and intelligence to win and that disappointed me.” Ouch. Full marks for observation, as Big Ron would say.

But in all that agony, do we detect a cry from the heart – a cry that says ”mea culpa”? For despite all his criticism – delivered, it must be said, in uncharacteristically concise style – Sir Bobby goes on to say that England returned ”with their reputation intact”. Hmm. Which reputation would that be, then? Their reputation for losing games that they should have won?

And when was that reputation acquired? In the years 1986, 1988 and 1990, we’d suggest. Mentioning no names, of course. ‘

Posted: 22nd, August 2002 | In: Back pages | Comment

Let Him Be

‘WHY is it that Ireland can produce a unifying rugby union team but when it comes to football, the nation is split into Northern Ireland and the Republic?

New Northern Ireland kit unveiled

Whether or not it’s something to do with the respective popularity of the games, the kind of people that follow them, or something yet more unfathomable can be debated, but one thing that cannot be argued is that the internecine divide has dealt a devastating blow to Neil Lennon.

The Mail leads with the story of the Catholic Northern Irish player who ever since he signed for Glasgow Celtic, a team with a strong Catholic fan base, has been the victim of a hate campaign. But that still did not prevent his national team manager Sammy McIlroy from making him his captain.

Last night was to be Lennon’s first outing as skipper but in the pre-match build up the player was issued with an ultimatum: play and die. The threat delivered in a phone call to BBC Belfast by an anonymous bigot was all it took to ruin what should have been Lennon’s proudest moment. As it was, the game went on without him, the Irish Province drawing 0-0 with Cyprus.

At around the same time, the Republic were enjoying a fine 3-0 win over Finland. That game’s first goalscorer, Robbie Keane, can be seen celebrating his strike in the Sun, following his customary somersault with a sharpshooters quick draw flourish to the crowd – a not overly sensitive celebration in light of events north of the border.

But if the more narrow-minded Irish want to learn how to enlarge their field of vision they could do worse than look to the Telegraph’s story of Sachin Tendulkar. Yesterday, the world’s best batsman made a surprise appearance at the opening of Headingley’s new East Stand.

But not nearly as surprising as his first appearance at the ground, when in April 1992, the then callow 19-year-old became the first overseas player to turn out for Yorkshire in 129 years. Now, as the paper reminds its readers, Yorkshire have the likes of the Australians Darren Lehman and Mathew Elliott to call upon, but back then Tendulkar was breaking down doors.

And the pocket dynamo was a hit, causing one of the East Stand’s new boxes to be named after him and Chris Hansell, the county side’s chief executive, to say: ”He’s one of us, an adopted Yorkshireman.”

And if an Asian can be taken to the heart of the Yorkshire Republic, there is hope that an Irishman can one day play for the country of his birth without being in fear of his life. ‘

Posted: 22nd, August 2002 | In: Back pages | Comment

Foul Play

‘FOR every action there is a reaction, as Roy Keane and Ashley Cole are discovering. In the Sun, we find that Keane is facing a ban of up to four games after admitting in his autobiography that he deliberately fouled Manchester City’s Alf-Inge Haaland.

”Surely that handstand deserved two points?”

”The FA will charge Keane with misconduct as soon as the player’s controversial autobiography goes on sale in a fortnight,” it writes. The FA takes ”a dim view of what they see as glorifying the incident in his book”, and is under pressure from City and Haaland – who are also pursuing legal action against Keane and United – to penalise Keane further.

”In a bid to send out a strong message to the rest of football, they intend to impose a ban on Manchester United’s captain rather than a fine,” says the Sun. Good to see that the FA has finally learned the lesson that fining sportsmen who make more in a week than most people make in a year isn’t exactly acting as a deterrent.

But will Keane learn his lesson? And what about Ashley Cole?

The Mirror reports that ”Cole faces cheat rap” and could be hauled before the FA after referee Mike Riley rescinded the red card given to Birmingham’s Aliou Cisse on the weekend.

Riley watched video replays of ”Cole’s theatrical response to Cisse’s attempted challenge” and overturned his decision, and now senior figures at the FA are considering taking action against the young England player.

”There is a growing feeling that a stand has to be taken on incidents where players are deemed to have deliberately engineered bookings and dismissals for opponents,” writes the Mirror. ”And Cole, whose reputation has been sullied by a series of accusations over the past 12 months, now faces the shame of being the first player charged on video evidence this season.”

Kanukai Jackson, winner of two gymnastics gold medals in Manchester, has also been reviewing videos – but to rate the weekend’s goal celebrations for the Guardian.

Scoring eight out of 10 is Newcastle United’s Lomano Lua-Lua, who has ”set a high standard for the rest of the Premiership to follow” but needs to work on his backflip technique. His team-mate Alan Shearer’s ”very dull routine” only scored him one point, despite his experience in celebrating goals.

Robbie Keane scored five points for his celebration after scoring for Leeds, though Jackson notes that his combination round-off and handspring would be ”bordering on an illegal move in competition”. He recommends that Robbie add a bit more variety to his routine.

Meanwhile, Liverpool’s John Arne Riise notched up four points with the judge for swinging his shirt during his goal celebration, but comes in for the harshest criticism.

His performance, says Jackson, was veering ”towards rhythmic gymnastics – which I’m sorry to tell him is strictly for women”. ‘

Posted: 21st, August 2002 | In: Back pages | Comment

Same Old Story

‘I LOVE July. There is something brilliant about the coming season. All the teams are equal on points – or rather no points. You have bought a couple of players who are going to complete the jigsaw – plug the holes in defence or provide that killer touch up front. This is your year.

Roeder gets a disturbing sense of deja vu

And then comes August. The big kick-off. Suddenly, the Slovakian under-21 international who had been sold to you on the promise that he had scored goals for fun for Dynamo Bratislava looks like he’d struggle to get in your Sunday league side.

And it turns out that the Polish centre-half, who you were told was wanted by half the clubs in Europe, is actually only wanted by half the police forces in Europe.

Yes, August is all about the shattering of illusions – and they don’t get shattered much more rudely than they did for us West Ham fans at St James’s Park on Monday night.

Okay, so we may have been missing a couple of players, especially Frederic Kanoute – but three of the starting XI had been out in the Far East over the summer. And we had Edouard Cisse making his debut.

But this season was going to be different. We weren’t going to capitulate away from home as soon as the first goal went in as we did last season. Were we?

Oh yes. In half and hour, a decent (but far from spectacular) Newcastle side had scored no fewer than four times – sending them to the top of the table and the Hammers to the bottom.

Suddenly, thoughts of improving on last season’s seventh place and perhaps challenging for a Uefa Cup place were replaced by thoughts of survival. Only 37 games left in which to achieve the magical 40 points.

We could, of course, blame World Cup fatigue, but the West Ham trio only played for just over three hours in total in the course of the competition. The fact is that, just as Chelsea will underachieve again this season and Spurs will be rubbish but keep pretending they are a big club, certain characteristics will never disappear.

And one is that West Ham will get tonked away from home – as they did on several occasions last season and to teams a lot worse than Newcastle – on a handful of occasions during the course of the season.

Another is that they will win a lot of their home games and achieve a respectable mid-table position – low enough to ensure that we don’t qualify for anything too serious and high enough to ensure that come next summer Glenn Roeder will make those two signings to propel us this time to greatness. ‘

Posted: 21st, August 2002 | In: Back pages | Comment

Mum’s The Word

‘THE Sun has a story this morning that is guaranteed to embarrass the England coach no end. Like an anxious mother rushing to defend her son from the loudmouth bully in the playground, Sven Goran Eriksson’s mum has blasted Alex Ferguson for ”trying to wreck England’s chances”.

”I asked her not to say anything, I swear!”

Granny Ulla Eriksson, 76, has ”revealed her son’s stormy relationship with the Manchester United manager”, to the undoubted amusement of the tabloid and its readers.

”Alex Ferguson is a threat to my son,” claims Ulla. ”Sven once told me during a phone conversation that it is pointless having national team games in April or May because Ferguson, in one way or another, always makes sure that his players aren’t fit.” Could it be that Fergie was really the one who broke Becks’ metarsal?

”She reckons Fergie puts club before country every time his United stars are called up for friendlies by the England chief,” says the Sun. Of course he would – after all, it’s not his country they’re going off to play for.

The controversy continues in the Mirror, where Sven himself is having a crack at Fergie. The Swede has told Sir Alex ”he should play David Beckham in central midfield – so he can follow suit for England”.

”I think those people who say Beckham should play inside in midfield might be right,” he tells the paper. ”But it’s not up to me to test that, it’s up to Alex Ferguson. My job is to select the right players and to let them play in positions they already play in at their clubs.”

We can imagine what Fergie’s reply to such a suggestion might be, and doubt it consists of any more than seven letters.

The expletives were probably flying around St James’s Park last night as well, where, the Telegraph reports, Newcastle United hammered the Hammers 4-0. Lomana Lua Lua – ”so good they named him twice” – was so good that he also scored twice.

Alan Shearer and Nolberto Solano also chipped in with goals, while Kieron Dyer had to be content with merely being ”a font of energy and ideas”.

Moving reluctantly away from the football pitch, Graham Thorpe ”looks certain to miss this winter’s Ashes tour after the troubled batsman told Surrey officials he would be unavailable for the rest of the county season”.

The Telegraph says it ”now seems inconceivable that Thorpe will make the Australian trip, the centrepiece of what should have been the biggest cricketing winter in his life”.

Instead, it looks set to be a winter of discontent, not only for Thorpe but also for his erstwhile team-mates, who could do with a batsman who averages 45.74 in Ashes tests and whose surname isn’t Gilchrist, Hayden or Waugh.

Posted: 20th, August 2002 | In: Back pages | Comment

Kick And Tell

‘IT is surprising that in a world where brains are routinely found in feet, sportsmen and woman still like to lend their names to books.

How Vinnie convinced publishers a sequel would be good

Apart from ‘Ten O’Levels’ Trevor Brooking, Martin O’Neill and Gary Bailey, few footballers have ever read anything from cover to cover. This is perhaps why football managers read the riot act to them, because if Dave and Steve had to read it, they’d get stuck on the first word.

And let’s not get too involved with the writing act itself. I was once in the players’ lounge at Arsenal when a certain player began to scratch his name in a child’s exercise book. The fountain pen he had been given was being held the wrong way round, point to the rear.

”Not to worry, ***,” said the autograph hunter’s dad to his son, ”you can always go over it in crayon later.”

But such tales are the stuff of asides and gossip. What players want is to write a weighty tome that says, ”I was a professional footballer and that someone else other than me remembers that goal I scored in training and what I said to such and such”.

For that reason, people like David Batty, John Barnes and Andy Cole all call their books ‘The Autobiography’. It’s just not trying. It makes them sound grand, as if this is the last word on their lives. But, in reality, their lives have not been that interesting, and the headline suggests nothing to the contrary will be found within the covers. Even Roy Keane’s use of the eff word shows more imagination than that.

In essence, the authors of the ”The” autobiographies (and include: Peter Schmeichel, Dennis Wise and Ruud Gullit) have had a successful career, great adulation and adoring fans, but have nothing to say. If it weren’t for football, it’s a decent bet none would have earned a mention in the local free advertiser, let alone the national press.

Vinnie Jones published ‘Vinnie – The Autobiography’ in 1998, but has since thought himself worthy of more comment and released a sequel in 2001, called ‘My Life’. The intervening three years had been interesting, but one would hazard a guess much more so for him than the rest of us.

But he did at least recognise his idiosyncrasies, and knew that Vinnie was a better title than Mr Jones or Vincent.

Using the nickname or the football moniker in place of storytelling ability and the perceived need to develop a character on the page is a trick that has been tried by Stuart Pearce (‘Psycho – The Autobiography’), Barry Fry (‘Big Fry – The Autobiography of Barry Fry’) and Harry Redknapp (‘Arry – The Autobiography of Harry Redknapp’).

But this tactic carries risk, and you can end up looking like an even bigger joke than you already are and calling your book ‘Hell Razor – The Autobiography of Neil Ruddock’. Not just Razor, but Hell Razor, as if being overweight and cumbersome presented a danger to anything other than your heart and children.

If Ruddock wants to tell a good yarn he could do far worse than take a leaf from the likes of Garry Nelson’s ‘Left Foot Forward – A Year in the Life of a Journeyman Footballer’ or Tony Cascarino’s truly excellent ‘Full Time’.

Neither player is the most famous name in football, but they create convincing pictures of what it must be like to be them, slightly above average footballers.

Cascarino’s book is a particular gem, in which rather than employing the high and mighty attitude of a Roy Keane (who appears to be a man surrounded only by people who tell him how great and right he is), establishes a tome in which he can be the butt of the jokes.

Only just into the book, and our hero has been called a ”useless big bastard” by a Celtic fans (his then club). Two lines later, and Cascarino’s playing at Chelsea, where he is booed on his debut.

He is then asked – or is it told? – by his six-year-old son, who has just retuned from school, where his dad had been the topic of conversation: ”You’re not very good, Dad, are you?” At football, not bad, but not all that good. But at telling a story, especially of his own life (the hardest tale of them all), he excels.

It’s just a shame Cascarino isn’t playing for Ireland now. His chapter on Keane would be more illuminating than anything currently being provided by the foul-mouthed one or his current apologists. ‘

Posted: 20th, August 2002 | In: Back pages | Comment

It’s Been Emotional

‘JUDGING by the headlines in today’s back pages, Ashley Cole is playing the wrong sport – perhaps he ought to swap his Arsenal kit for a pair of speedos after a diving controversy during the team’s win over Birmingham City yesterday.

Ashley Cole in action

Birmingham’s Senegalese World Cup star Aliou Cisse was sent off after a second yellow card for the challenge on Cole but, as the Sun reports, ”England man Cole went down in a heap but TV replays showed no real contact”.

”Highbury legend” David O’Leary, with plenty of time on his hands now that Leeds have been taken off them, blasts Cole in the Sun. ”Ashley Cole has conned the referee,” he says. ”His conduct out there was disgraceful. It’s a hard enough job being a referee and Cole’s reaction has not helped him. He is a great player but he’s getting in the habit of getting people sent off.”

Birmingham boss Steve Bruce is set to appeal against the referee’s decision. ”It was a big game for Cisse, his Premiership debut, and it has ended with him being sent off for two very harsh offences,” he tells the Mirror. ”I’m very disappointed with the way it has worked out, and I will ask the referee to take another look at what went on.”

The incident marred an otherwise perfect start to Arsenal’s season, notching up their 14th consecutive win with their 2-0 win over Birmingham. Liverpool also got off to a flying start, defeating Villa 1-0 at Anfield, with John Arne Riise scoring in the second half.

There were clashes off the field as well, with Villa manager Graham Taylor involved in what the Mirror calls ”an angry slanging match with a fan” after his team’s defeat. The Sun prefers to describe the story as ”Taylor in f-word fury”.

Taylor says he will not be issuing an apology. ”Somebody in the crowd used some language at me and I thought he deserved it back. It was wrong of me but we are all emotional people.”

In another case of fans turning on their own, the Sun also reports that ”David Beckham was sworn at and accused of being more committed to England than his club in a confrontation with Manchester United fans”.

Fans at Budapest airport began chanting, ”It’s just like watching City” as the team departed after their Champions League defeat. One supporter told Becks: ”You play better for England than United”, while another told him in a rather rude fashion to leave.

”Emotions were running high,” a bystander noted. Emotion as part of football? Paul Gascoigne has a lot to answer for.

Posted: 19th, August 2002 | In: Back pages | Comment

War Of The Words

‘SIR ALEX Ferguson, who ”sees nothing wrong” with Roy Keane’s autobiography, reckons that old Keno will ”make a top manager” when his leg-crushing days as a player are over.

Roy calmly dictates his biography to Dunphy

Presumably he shares Trevor Francis’s view of management. Francis is currently trying to rise above a farcical incident in which he hit his reserve goalkeeper, leaving him with a black eye and a sore nose (and when you’ve seen the size of Aleksandr Kolinko’s nose, you’ll know that’s nothing to be sneezed at).

Francis has already dismissed the incident as ”a clip round the ear” and ”a bit of fun”. Chairman Simon Jordan – who usually specialises in coining his own idiosyncratic phrases in situations like this – described it rather boringly as ”a storm in a teacup”.

He may well be right. Trouble is, others don’t see it that way. The police got involved straight away, alerting the fourth official (who sent Francis off) and then, in a bizarre twist, offering to act as ”mediators”. All of which goes to show how much energy is going into purging football of all its danger and smoothing down its rough edges.

This is what football types mean when they speak darkly of the ”current climate”. All of which makes the Roy Keane business increasingly bizarre.

How a man like Keane, who had already blown enough fuses to keep a team of electricians in business throughout the summer, was allowed to publish this book without Manchester United’s lawyers paying any attention to its contents is beyond belief.

But it slipped through the net and now we are being royally entertained, first by the revelations, and now by the frantic back-pedalling.

It seems that Eamonn Dunphy is preparing to take the can. This is amusing for many reasons. He made his name with his own groundbreaking warts-and-all account of his life as a footballer, which was admirable in its honesty and his readiness to take responsibility for his own opinions. Also, he wrote the thing himself.

Nowadays most players never even read their own ”autobiographies” which are usually ghost-written by sycophantic journalists who are expert in the use of euphemism and bland football-speak.

Given Keane’s character and Dunphy’s track record as a professional irritant, it is hardly surprising that this book has proved an explosive mix. But what are we to make of Dunphy’s attempts to take the rap for the Alf Inge Haaland section, in which Keane admits to setting out to injure his opponent?

Dunphy claims he used ”artistic license” and ”paraphrased” Keane’s own words. If he did indeed alter Keane’s meaning, then presumably Keane must have approved the manuscript. If he did so without bothering to read it first, then it’s his own fault. He had plenty of time to do so during the World Cup.

Keane has not claimed that the words were distorted. Dunphy claims that this is because he’s ”a man”: ”Fair play to him. No whingeing. No screaming. No ‘I didn’t say that; he made it up’.” Given that Keane is the biggest whinger on the planet when things don’t suit him, we can only conclude that Dunphy is simply trying to get Keane off the hook.

Keane, as he has shown many times before, doesn’t care if he’s on the hook or not. This ”**** the lot of you” attitude is his strength, but it could also prove to be his downfall. In this current climate he may find himself cutting his managerial teeth at Her Majesty’s Pleasure in the services of Lags Eleven.

Posted: 19th, August 2002 | In: Back pages | Comment

United We Stand

‘RUMOURS abound that the Premier League football season starts this weekend, and that there is more than just one team entering. But these are just rumours, and some elements of the press doggedly stick to the belief that Manchester United are the only team involved.

As of this wekend, anyone not wearing this kit will be barred from playing football

The Sun, for instance, leads with ”Keane’s Double Rocket”, a story on how the charmless cove who captain’s the country’s only team ”could” be sued by Alf-Inge Haaland and Manchester City. Unfortunately, the story loses all power with that word ”could”. For it is just as possible that Keane ”could” not be taken to court; that Keane ”could” be innocent of setting out to cripple the Manchester City player; or, most fancifully of all, Keane ”could” act like a man and apologise.

That tale is followed by one about how the only Premiership side are to lose bit-part player Wes Brown for three months. Brown, the Sun laments, has a broken ankle. Inside the paper, readers get to hear of someone calling himself Ashley Cole. But we find out little about what he does and more of how he thinks ”United won’t get one extra point this years even with Rio”. It really is all about United.

And there is Rio Ferdinand on the back of the Mirror, being told by Leeds United chairman Peter Ridsdale that he was only signed as cover for Jonathan Woodgate – for, as events have shown, Woodgate could not rely on the existing ”cover” supplied by Michael Duberry. But Rio is at United, Keane is at United, the Sun’s journalists are at United, and we are all delighted, it would seem, to be United.

But there are pleasures to be had in sport other than reading about Manchester United, and young golfer Justin Rose could be providing armchair fans with such moments sooner rather than later. The Telegraph shows Rose in action at his first American major, the US PGA Championship at Hazeltine, and watches him mark his card with a first-round three-under-par 69, to go into the clubhouse a single shot behind leader Fred Funk. And for this blessing, Rose is ”very pleased”. ”There were a lot of tough tricky shots but I handled them well,” he says.

For readers who only see the favourites, news that there is a golfer other than Tiger Woods must be a shock, so the Times reminds readers that Woods could only manage a 71.

But the best sports news is saved for the Telegraph, which moves yet further away football and sees the Rolex Commodores’ Cup offshore race from Cowes. The race was won by Nick Hewson’s Team Tonic, news that’s followed by a round up of sport that includes some lawn tennis, bowls and equestrianism. All delivered a page before a story that says ”United will bounce back vows Keane”. Phew, thought you might have overlooked that one, boys. ‘

Posted: 16th, August 2002 | In: Back pages | Comment

End Of The Road

‘MUSTN’T grumble. In 33 years of supporting Crystal Palace I have never been ripped off. The players, by and large, have done their best, and the prices have never been extortionate. Over the past decade, while football has been experiencing hyper-inflation, with Chelsea and Arsenal fans forking out hundreds – even thousands – of pounds on season tickets and merchandise, Palace have been the opposite of reassuringly expensive.

”I might miss the odd goal or ten, but I’ll miss you more”

My season tickets have cost me around £120 a season. The beer is cheap, should you choose to avail yourself of the surprisingly luxurious new Holmesdale bar. Our record fee received for a player is the meagre £4 million-and-a-sack-of-coal paid by Birmingham City for Clinton Morrison just in time for the new season. The most exotic item in the club shop is ”P. Nut” – a small, modestly-priced model of a peanut wearing a Palace scarf. The most way-out item of clothing produced by the club was a t-shirt with a strange family of leering acid house-style faces above the legend: PALACE – THE FAMILY CLUB.

Admittedly, we had a few up-market sponsors: Virgin, TDK and now Churchill Insurance. We even signed the god-like Lombardo, who, if he achieved nothing else during his stay at Palace, at least became a cracker of a quiz question. (Which player who won a Champions league medal with Juventus, was transferred to Crystal Palace, becoming player-manager in the same season, was relegated to the Nationwide League and then transferred to Lazio, where he won the Italian Championship?)

In fact, the past decade or so, with its periodic crises (including receivership) has been the most successful in the club’s history. But in a way this has made the club’s ultimate failure even worse. The only trophy in the boardroom is Wimbledon’s miniature replica FA Cup – a constant reminder of our chronic lack of achievement.

We are a club that in 1979 had an attendance of almost 52,000 for a second division promotion game and yet we have been outperformed by a club with a supporter base a fraction of our size. Yet it’s not simply a matter of underachievement. We could have fulfilled our potential and ended up like Spurs or Aston Villa: clubs frustratingly close to the serious action but never in with a chance of winning.

And what’s the point of that? I supported Palace because I wanted them to win the league – something which, believe it or not, was just about plausible in the days when Derby, Ipswich and Forest were winning cups, league titles and even European honours. But now Palace have no chance of anything other than a place in the Premiership, where they will fulfil their allotted task of providing Arsenal and Manchester United with a tithe of six points each per season. Occasionally they will have a run in the FA Cup or – heaven forbid – the Worthington, and that’s it.

Who needs it? Not me – life’s too short. So I cancelled my season ticket and gave up this summer. On Tuesday I had the strange experience of listening to a home game on the radio, and although I could feel myself being drawn in, I managed to keep calm and affect an indifferent air. It’s a 12-step programme and I’m not cured yet. But I want to be, and I know that eventually I’ll prevail. ‘

Posted: 16th, August 2002 | In: Back pages | Comment

Dog’s Breakfast of Champions League

‘DAVID Beckham’s bottom lip is probably visible from space right now, so prominent is it after Manchester United’s shock loss in Budapest last night.

Pout, pout, let it all out

Beneath the headline ”Incredible Sulks”, poor Becks is doing a great impression of a toddler whose mum has just refused to buy him a bag of sweets. But it wasn’t merely Becks’ own contribution that saw his team go down to the Hungarian minnows Zalaegerszeg – it was a team effort.

Still, notes the Mirror, ”Sir Alex Ferguson blamed everything but his own players last night as Manchester United endured a disastrous start to their Champions League campaign”, which saw them concede a goal in the 90th minute.

”Fergie blamed the referee, the state of the pitch and the swirling wind for his team’s defeat but refused to acknowledge their clear failings against the Hungarian champions,” says the paper.

The game didn’t get off to the best start for the Red Devils, with Wes Brown injured in the second minute. The defender will be out for at least a month, joining Gary Neville and Rio Ferdinand in the casualty tent.

Ferguson may not be willing to look at his players’ performances for clues as to why they lost, but in the Sun, Zalaegerszeg coach Peter Bozsik has a plausible explanation. ”Manchester United are a fantastic side – but they took this match too easily.” Really? It’s not like Fergie’s boys to be complacent.

The Sun’s Neil Custis writes that Fergie is now ”staring at his worst nightmare”. ”After spending £80 million in a year in a bid to win back the European Cup, he may now not even get into the competition’s first stage.”

Newcastle United had better luck in Sarajevo, where Kieron Dyer struck a winner against Zeljeznicar in the 56th minute. Dyer’s first European goal puts Bobby Robson’s team on track to win a place in the group stages.

”I was telling the lads all week I was going to score,” said Dyer. His team-mates are especially pleased that he did it on the pitch. ‘

Posted: 15th, August 2002 | In: Back pages | Comment

Writing the Wrongs

‘IF Roy Keane’s autobiography were a true self-made tome, we would possibly expect it be called ‘Roy: Hard But Fair’, ‘Roy: Being Red – Seeing Red’ or ‘Roye’.

The sweet and gentle Roy

Instead, the much-hyped version being serialised in the national press offers just the simple ‘Keane – The Autobiography’. Simple man – simple title. But it isn’t just Roy’s work, as the book is collaboration between the genius of Keane and the writing know-how of Eamonn Dunphy.

Those unaware of Dunphy’s works will nonetheless be able to call to mind the dishevelled figure who spent the summer beaming in live from Dublin to explain how Roy Keane had been wronged and that the entire Irish team were out to get him. It was not Roy who had let the Republic down, went the argument, it was the team that had turned on their captain.

This was a hard position to defend. Dunphy was building an argument. And Dunphy knows what to say and when to say it. When required, the skilled writer can pull on the mask of ”in all seriousness” and say on RTL television the footballing gem: ”As a striker, you know better than anyone that a team can’t win unless they score goals.”

Dunphy’s skill is talking sense while keeping his words and structure in the sphere of football chat. And so in his new book lines like: ”I’d waited long enough. I ******* hit him hard. The ball was there (I think). Take that you ****” are delivered less from Keane’s foul mouth and more from Dunphy’s sensationalist pen.

So when we hear that Alf-Inge Haaland, the player on the end of that Keane tirade, is considering legal action, we should not make a beeline for the courtrooms. Even when it is noted that the words were delivered by Keane after he’d nobbled the Manchester City player.

If Keane has deliberately attacked another player, then any criminal case will involve the police. (Nowadays, Keane’s actions would result in an instant £80 fine for anti-social behaviour).

But the law regarding injuries occurring on the sports field is essentially a branch of the law of negligence, albeit encompassing the law relating to assault and battery. The onus falls upon the victim to prove that the player had gone into the tackle with the intent to injure.

This must be weighted against the risk of being a competitive, professional footballer. For example, Paul Elliot, when at Chelsea, lost his case against Dean Saunders and Liverpool FC (Dean Saunders, who was playing for Liverpool at that time tackled Paul Elliott, a Chelsea Defender. Elliott’s knee ligament was torn and sadly he was unable to play again).

The courts ruled that Elliott’s loss, however unfortunate, was in the course of normal play. But a court did decide in favour of Brian McCord, a former Stockport County player, when his career was prematurely ended due to a high tackle by Swansea City’s John Cornforth.

The court ruled that Cornforth’s tackle ”was an error which was inconsistent with his taking reasonable care towards his opponent”. An award of £250,000 was ordered to be paid to the injured party.

And in 1988, Gordon Watson of Bradford City sued Kevin Gray and Huddersfield Town after a high tackle left Watson with a fractured leg. Watson won, because, the court said, Gray should have known that the type of tackle he was making carried with it a significant risk of serious injury.

But what seems bad for Keane is tempered by the fact his words come in a book, and that they have been conjured with the help of a professional writer. Keane wants his book to sell; so does Dunphy. And that asks for a splash of scandal.

In any case, nothing will happen until the book has been published, and the words can be read in context. Then we might hear how Keane has breached the peace (see every game), acted in a threatening manner (call Andy D’Urso) and insulted the racial origins of the Irish team manager.

Alf-Inge Haaland had best get in line. ‘

Posted: 15th, August 2002 | In: Back pages | Comment

Rob Roy

‘THE Press should thank Roy Keane. They should get together and write an open letter to the Manchester United captain and thank him for creating news where there was none. With the transfer market flat, Roy first left the World Cup in a huff and now hogs the back pages thanks to his comments in the case of Roy ”Mustard” Keane versus Alf-Inge ”Ouch” Haaland.

”Dear Alfie, get worse soon. Lots of love, Roy”

And, although the non-fight is over, the war rages on. Players’ union chief executive Gordon Taylor tells the Mail that the spat could incite crowd trouble. Noting how Keane plays for Manchester United and Haaland for Manchester City, Taylor says that the ”vendetta” could ”incite trouble and tarnish the game”.

While Manchester hooligans wonder how a simple ice-cream dessert can cause a disturbance, Alex Ferguson stands by his man. Pictured in the Times, the brusque Scot says that Keane has no case to answer. ”There’s been a bit of to-ing and fro-ing between the two of them over the years,” says Fergie of Keane and Haaland, ”but most of it has come from Haaland, who always has plenty to say.” Especially to his nurse and the other medics who have been trying to save his career ever since Fergie’s boy gave him a good talking to.

But injuries are part and parcel of sporting life, and nowhere more so than in the English cricket camp. The Times watches as Craig White tears a side muscle and rules himself out of the third Test against India, joining a host of other players on the treatment table.

But in the Mirror the message is to leave them there. The cricket board should a take a leaf out of our alleged NHS practice and not bother themselves to repair the already ancient, choosing instead to concentrate on the young. And the message comes from Ian Botham. Except that it isn’t his message, not really. Sure Beefy says that ”this season has been all about promoting young talent”, but he then picks his own party to tour Australia, and includes the likes of Alec Stewart, Graham Thorpe and Andy Caddick. Not players who appear to be in the first flushes of youth.

But, then, the Mirror and Botham should not be too harshly treated – at least they are trying to talk about something other than Roy Keane. Oh, haven’t your heard? It seems that Roy has a bad temper. And remember, you heard that news here first. ‘

Posted: 14th, August 2002 | In: Back pages | Comment

The Gold Rush

‘WE love the Commonwealth Games. Every four years we can pretend we’re world-beaters as we dominate the likes of St Kitts & Nevis, Nauru and Wales in the medals table.

England expects…

In turn, of course, we get thrashed by Australia, but that is a price worth paying for all those gold medals we rack up.

Yesterday, the following names were added to the British sporting pantheon: Craig Fallon (Under-60kg judo), Georgina Singleton (Under-52kg judo), James Warren (Under-66kg judo), Nathan Morgan (long jump), Karen Pickering (200m freestyle), the men’s table tennis team, the mixed badminton team and, last but most certainly not least, the women’s bowling team.

Remember those names – because you’ll be tested on them later. The Sun doesn’t care whether the medals are won in the egg and spoon race [where, sadly, we trailed in fifth after a clash with the Cayman Islands just after the start], as long as they are English. And this morning it celebrates England’s great eight with the headline, ”Goldilots”.

The Mail claims England’s performances in the pool stole the limelight from Aussie swimming sensation Ian Thorpe, although one doubts whether Karen Pickering and Zoe Baker feature ahead of Thorpedo in today’s Sydney Morning Herald or Melbourne Age.

Thorpe had a quiet day in the pool yesterday, winning just two golds, setting one world record and one Commonwealth record. But we had a world record of our own, courtesy of Zoe Baker – although, as it was in a semi-final, it did not mean gold. Yet.

All of which excitement almost overshadows the news that the start of the Premiership season is only just over a fortnight away, and football is beginning to creep back into its rightful place in the sport pages – everywhere.

The news in brief is that Juventus have been given first crack at Freddie Ljungberg if the midfielder decides he wants to leave Highbury (Star); Brazilian Kleberson could become the third World Cup winner to join the Premiership after he was offered to Leeds for just £4m (Mirror); Turkish World Cup star Ozalan Alpay could be the man to replace Rio Ferdinand at Leeds (Sun); and Leeds boss Terry Venables has given his striker Alan Smith licence to carry on kicking after the man who could start a fight in an empty phone box was sent off in a pre-season friendly in Bangkok (Express).

In speedway yesterday, Isle of Wight beat Rye House 55-34, while Reading edged out Trelawny 46-44.

And anyone remember who won the Under-66kg Judo again?’

Posted: 31st, July 2002 | In: Back pages | Comment

There Used To Be A Football Club Here

‘GEORGE Best is still alive as this is being written. With luck he will be on the road to recovery when this is being read. Already the news programmes are running mini-obituaries; everybody seems to fear the worst.

”It’ll all be different this year…”

We shall hold our fire until the time comes, and with a bit of luck, that won’t be for some considerable while. Instead we’ll turn our attention to another case of long-term decay: the slow but inexorable demise of Tottenham Hotspur Football Club.

Tim Sherwood has been fined £30,000 for making critical remarks about the club’s transfer policy. The traditional transfer policy at Spurs is to sell its stars and spend the summer dropping heavy hints that the club is about to sign X, Y and Z – none of whom ever arrive.

Although Spurs fans should know better – and do in their heart of hearts – they still buy their season tickets, full of hope, if not expectation, of better things.

The club motto should be changed to ”Jam tomorrow”, or ”Light at the end of the tunnel”, or ”Every morning brings a new day”. Because Tottenham’s glory is always about the past or the future, never the present.

Even the transfer talk isn’t particularly optimistic. A Chinese international is lined up, but there’s precious little else to cheer about.

The rebellious Sherwood described the club as ”a million miles away from the championship”. Would that this were true! The unpleasant truth is that the Premiership trophy – and the FA Cup – are currently residing just a few miles down the road at Highbury.

And while the Arsenal players are preparing to compete with the cream of Europe, their Tottenham counterparts are polishing their Worthington Cup runners-up medals and thinking about what might have been.

Spurs are now to Arsenal what Everton are to Liverpool and Manchester City are to United. Except that Tottenham’s glory days are even further back in history.

It’s now more than 40 years since Spurs won the league championship. Even their cup reputation is fading fast: their last FA Cup win was in 1991, since when Arsenal have won it three times without even getting particularly excited about it.

Sol Campbell’s transfer said more about Tottenham’s problem than Tim Sherwood ever could. But that doesn’t mean Sherwood isn’t right. His folly is to imagine that things could possibly be any other way.

Spurs are not a great club; they are a formerly great club. The sooner the supporters come to terms with it, the better for their long-term mental health.

”There used to be a football club here,” said Keith Burkinshaw when he left as Spurs manager 20-odd years ago. How prescient he was! ‘

Posted: 31st, July 2002 | In: Back pages | Comment

The Worst Penalty In The World…

‘WHAT are the worst penalties of all time? Most people’s answers to that question will be dependent not upon the penalty kick itself, but rather its significance. The more important the result of the kick, the more it is remembered, and the more its quality is questioned.

NASA was pleased with the result of installing a camera on Waddle’s penalty ball

This is clearly unscientific, not to mention unfair. Penalties cover a broad spectrum. At one extreme there are powerful shots accurately placed in the very corners of the goal, where it is effectively impossible for the keeper to reach them.

These are very difficult to execute even on an empty training ground with no goalkeeper, let alone in a high-pressure game with millions watching. Alan Shearer was a master of this art, and Gary Lineker was another you would be happy to bet your life on.

Then comes a huge band of penalties which are good, pretty good, or poor, but which manage to beat the keeper. All of these are treated as good penalties because they went in, yet even the best of them will be regarded as poor if it is saved – even if the save was a one-in-a-hundred combination of guessing the right way, diving early, and the ball happening to strike a leg and stay out of the goal.

So when Stuart Pearce hit his 1990 World Cup semi-final straight down the middle, he was a villain because the German keeper blocked it. But when David Beckham did the same against Argentina in the summer, the keeper dived away from the ball and Golden Balls was a hero.

Other important misses are a combination of so-so kicks and lucky guessing, or – cruellest of all – good kicks and great saves. But the most entertaining variety are the absolute stinkers – the kind of high, wide and handsome effort that Chris Waddle produced in 1990, when he put the first ever football into orbit and left a nation heartbroken.

Until this week, Chris Waddle’s penalty would have been the third-worst I have ever seen. Number two would have been that amateur video clip that is trotted out from time to time on sports comedy shows, in which the penalty taker stubs his toe into the ground, falls over, and the ball trickles along for a couple of seconds before coming to rest about a yard from the spot.

And number one would of course have been Diana Ross missing the open goal from about two yards during the opening ceremony of the 1994 World Cup, whereupon the goal mechanically split in two as though blasted apart by the shot which Ms Ross was supposed to have smashed into it.

But now a new candidate has come straight in at number one, and candidate is the operative word.

Edmund Stoiber, the Conservative candidate for the German Chancellorship, decided to play the football card by taking a penalty in a football ground.

His kick not only missed the goal altogether, but smashed into the face of a woman standing some way behind the goal, knocking her glasses aside and cutting her face so badly that blood poured from the wound.

For poor technique and high drama, we defy anyone to beat that. ‘

Posted: 30th, July 2002 | In: Back pages | Comment