Football

Gareth Southgate has finally shown some bottle

The provisional England squad for the Euros unveiled by manager Gareth Southgate contains one notable omission: Jordan Henderson. That’s a big surprise, not because the midfielder deserves to be on the plane to Germany this summer, but for what it says about the thinking of the normally ultra-loyal Southgate, who is often accused of picking his personal favourites for the squad, regardless of club form. His decision to omit Henderson and some other under-performing England stalwarts sends a strong message to all the players. The England manager had this to say about why he left Henderson out: ‘The determining factor was the injury he picked up in the last camp.

Is pro-golf eating itself? 

Spare a thought for Manchester United’s Erik ten Hag. He’s got a fairly crummy, injury-hit team who appear to have given up running (apart from Alejandro Garnacho who is still young enough to think that it’s OK to belt down the left wing and then deposit the ball somewhere, though not in goal). His new owner is pictured in the stands with his head in his hands and he has to cope with the choleric visage of his predecessor Sir Alex Ferguson watching on with an expression of scarcely controlled contempt, while two former United godfathers, Gary Neville and Roy Keane, fulminate in the Sky commentary box about how crap

The strikers giving Southgate a headache

Poor Gareth Southgate. Having three outstanding finishers is giving him a thumping headache ahead of the European Championship. Harry Kane, Jude Bellingham and Phil Foden are thrilling football crowds with their goal-scoring talents in three of the best domestic leagues in the world. Most national team managers would welcome such a golden trio: but for Southgate it is a case of pass the paracetamol. He must wish the quality in his squad was more evenly spread so he didn’t have to keep picking Harry Maguire as the central defender when he has the turning circle of a small ocean-going liner. Kane is the only one of the trio who’s an

Wayne Rooney, the war buff

I blame Thierry Henry and I never blame Thierry for anything. He’s funny, charming and was a majestic footballer. But it was his outrageous handball assist for a France goal against the Republic of Ireland in 2009 that ushered in VAR – Video Assistant Referee – technology to rescue on-field refs from ‘clear and obvious’ errors. VAR was meant to end debates over refereeing decisions. Yet this form of VAR, usually a man in a ref’s outfit sitting behind a bank of screens in an industrial unit near Heathrow, has caused carnage in the Premier League. Some decisions take five minutes while fans chant obscenities. Football’s many Luddites blame the

County cricket needs Bazball

It’s freezing cold and everywhere is flooded, so it must be the start of the county cricket season. Surrey, last year’s champions, head for Old Trafford on Friday, in what should be a three-sweater day, aiming to make it three titles in a row. And who would bet against them? It’s a superb tournament, the county championship, much more than just an opportunity for elderly gentlemen to spread their wings with a sandwich lunch. But it could certainly do with some reforms. This goes against a lot of current thinking, but why not revert to three-day matches with a points system heavily weighted against draws? This would provide considerably more

What the Messi row reveals about Chinese football

40 min listen

The Argentinian football star Lionel Messi has been trending on Weibo – and unfortunately, not for a good reason. It all started when Messi sat out a match in Hong Kong earlier this month. His reason – that he was injured – wasn’t good enough for some fans, and keyboard nationalists quickly took offence when Messi played in Japan, a few days later. The furore has dominated Chinese social media over the last few weeks, and even led to the cancellation of some upcoming Chinese matches with the Argentinian national team, as authorities demanded an apology from Messi. What a mess. But beyond its seeming triviality, this episode tells us

Surprise package: Tackle!, by Jilly Cooper, reviewed

Jilly Cooper, queen of the British bonkbuster, has turned her attention to football for her 18th novel. She was inspired after sitting next to Sir Alex Ferguson at lunch one day. She also thanks Kenny Dalglish, Alan Curbishley and ‘my wonderful neighbour’ Tony Adams in her acknowledgements. Her friend, the former home secretary Michael Howard, even took her to a Liverpool match, where she met Steven Gerrard.  Her legions of fans need not worry, however. We are still in Rutshire, the village Cooper created for her earlier novels; Rupert Campbell-Black, the hero of Riders, Rivals and Mount!, who was allegedly partly modelled on Andrew Parker Bowles, still lives in Penscombe

How sport helped shape the British character

Faith in state planning was central to Harold Wilson’s pledge to modernise Britain. It was his rhetorical vision of a country guided by strategic foresight and ‘forged in the white heat of technology’ that helped him win the 1964 election. But Wilson also displayed the same attachment to planning in his personal life. Back in 1934 he joined the Port Sunlight tennis club, not because he was interested in the sport but because he felt it would provide the right environment to approach one of its young female members, a shorthand-typist called Gladys Baldwin. Unlike his ‘white heat’ agenda, the policy worked. After a lengthy courtship, during which Gladys dropped

Surprisingly addictive and heartwarming: Netflix’s Beckham reviewed

If you’re not remotely interested in football or celebrity, I recommend Netflix’s four-part documentary series Beckham. Yes, I know it’s about a famous footballer who happens also to be a celebrity and who, furthermore, is married to the famous model/celebrity/whatever who used to be in the world’s most famous girl band, the Spice Girls. But trust me, you’re going to be hooked. One of the things that hooked me was the way it enables you to play catch-up on all the David and Victoria Beckham stories you pointedly ignored during the past three decades because, damn it, that pair were quite overexposed enough already without needing any of your attention

A tribute to Alf Ramsey, football’s forgotten hero

No better book about England’s victory in the football World Cup of 1966 and what followed it has ever been written. Duncan Hamilton’s Answered Prayers has the authority of a work of history and pulses with the narrative power of fiction. Its unlikely hero is Alf Ramsey. He emerges as a curiously complicated character through whom Hamilton tells his story. The men in charge of the FA were regarded as a vengeful, ungrateful bunch of heartless incompetents This is not a tale of the glory of that sunny day. It is instead a kind of melancholy eulogy. England won despite English football’s powers that be – ‘unpleasant men’ such as

Luis Rubiales and the weirdness of a kiss

A kiss is just a kiss, no? But when it’s Jenni Hermoso, the forward of the victorious Spanish women’s football team, on the receiving end, and the president of the Spanish football federation, Luis Rubiales, doing the kissing, and it’s during the official post-match ceremony in front of an interested global audience… it’s different.  Immediately afterwards, Miss Hermoso declared that she ‘didn’t like it’. Rubiales was defiant. ‘It was a kiss between two friends celebrating something,’ he declared, calling his critics ‘idiots and stupid people’. He may have had in mind the minister of equality in Spain’s caretaker government, Irene Montero, who described the kiss as ‘a form of sexual

Letters: Hollywood owners have ruined Wrexham FC

Wild abandon Sir: As upsetting and pointless as is the National Trust’s cancelling of the fishing lease on the River Test at Mottisfont Abbey (Letters, 19 August), it is all of a piece with the way the National Trust is going. On the 13,000-acre Wallington Estate in Northumberland, the Trust has recently spent a small fortune elaborately fencing off 50 acres to release beavers on one of the two farms they have recently taken out of agricultural production. They trumpet their intention to create ‘Wild Wallington’ by abandoning it to nature and planting trees on as much of the estate’s farmland as they can. The farms at Wallington were wrested

What the future holds for women’s football

Well, that’s the end of that. Football, like an unrepentant runaway, stubbornly refuses to come home. Spain, deservedly probably, edged the thrilling, almost unbearably tense final and England will return to a warm, if not ecstatic, reception. England’s first football World Cup final in 57 years was undoubtedly that rarest of phenomena these days: a truly national event, with a TV audience likely to set a record for any female sports broadcast. It will also open a conversation about the importance of and future of women’s football. What should that conversation be like? I have a few suggestions and a few appeals.  For a start, can we stop comparing the

Real football fans watch non-League football

Oxford City vs Rochdale at Court Place Farm doesn’t have quite the same ring as Chelsea vs Liverpool at Stamford Bridge, but last Saturday’s match was important all the same. At this level, you feel part of the match, which never happens in an executive box at the Emirates ‘The Hoops’, Oxford’s oldest football club, founded in 1882 when Gladstone was prime minister and Old Etonians won the FA Cup, were playing their first ever home game in the fifth tier of English football. Rochdale, whose 102-year membership of the Football League ended in May, were playing their first away game in the Vanarama National League. Seven hundred and eighty-one

Shades of Kafka: Open Up, by Thomas Morris, reviewed

Thomas Morris has a knack of writing about ordinary things in an unsettling way and unsettling things in an ordinary way. He described his debut collection of ten stories set in Caerphilly, We Don’t Know What We’re Doing, as ‘realism with a kink’. Open Up, a slimmer second offering of five stories, amps up the Kafka. One is narrated by a seahorse, another by a vampire. Morris’s attitude towards his characters remains central: while displaying their darkest secrets, you sense he’s on their side. Here, the narrators are all male. From a young boy to a thirtysomething, they negotiate masculinity’s contradictory demands, accused of being distant, passive and unambitious. Individually,

Am I allowed to make fun of women’s football? 

I’m loath to write about the current Fifa World Cup because criticising women’s football is textbook ‘misogyny’ – at least, that’s what Sadiq Khan thinks. The centrepiece of his recent ‘Have a word’ campaign is a video of young men discussing the women’s Euros, with viewers encouraged to press a button saying ‘Maaate’ when a line is crossed. The idea is to nip such behaviour in the bud before it escalates into violence. One particularly noxious youth describes the Euros as a ‘joke’, clearly marking him out as a potential rapist. She made a complete horlicks of her spot-kick, firing the ball over the crossbar But is that really evidence

Much of the mysteriousness is inadvertent: ITV’s The Reunion reviewed

The Reunion opened in 1997 with some young people being carefree: a fact they obligingly signalled by zipping around the South of France helmetless on motorcycles while laughing a lot. Love appeared to be in the air as well – given that they consisted of two couples: the men in charge of driving (different times), the girls holding them tightly around the waist. But then matters took a darker turn as a voice-over intoned that ‘memory is a false friend’ and we sometimes ‘create our own truth’. And with that, we cut to present-day London where, despite its taste for banalities, the voice-over turned out to belong to a respected

What does a supercomputer say about QPR’s chances?

The football season gets under way again on Saturday – or at least it does if your team isn’t in the Premier League, which starts a week later. My beloved Queens Park Rangers are off to Vicarage Road to take on Watford and I’ll be there with my three sons to cheer them on. We ‘did the double’ over the Hornets last season – the only team we beat home and away – so there’s a smidgen of hope. But there are also plenty of reasons to be pessimistic, and not just about the opening game. Last season we conceded 71 goals, the second worst defensive record in the league

Letters: why AI may be a force for good

Parris review Sir: Matthew Parris (‘Coutts, Farage and the trouble with choice’, 29 July) omitted to mention the initial, fundamental and obvious matter of the breach of client confidentiality committed by Dame Alison Rose, who he says should not have resigned. This is surely the gravest offence any bank official – let alone the head of NatWest – can commit. Yet he puts her resignation down to a ‘silly media storm’, which was actually started by the BBC, to whom the client information was given. Further, his article relates mostly to the discretion which institutions such as banks have in choosing who to admit. But this issue wasn’t about a client’s

The Premier League’s sleeping pill problem

The footballer Dele Alli was applauded recently after he spoke of his sleeping pill abuse. ‘It’s a problem not only I have. It’s going around more than people realise in football,’ he said during a filmed interview with Manchester United’s former captain Gary Neville. It’s not the first time we’ve heard this. Footballers are ‘taking too many sleeping tablets and painkillers’ and addiction is becoming a ‘big issue’, former pro Ryan Cresswell warned last year. (He said his own addiction left him ‘gripping on for dear life’.) He claimed the problem is affecting stars at the very top level: ‘For me, it started with one after every game… to one