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You didn’t have to be a supporter of West Ham or an admirer of their captain, Mark Noble, to find his send-off poignant on Sunday.
The outpouring of emotion, the pomp of the occasion, it said something about the modern game. Noble never won a thing, bar promotion, playing for West Ham. He was the club’s Player of the Year just twice in 18 campaigns. No England caps, one inclusion in the PFA’s team of the season, and that was in the Championship a decade ago. Yet he was loved, revered, idolised. Why? Because he’s a throwback.
The tributes all spoke of him coming from Canning Town, a walk from the old stadium, Upton Park. He grew up wanting to play for West Ham, and West Ham alone. They don’t make them like that any more. ‘He’s one of our own,’ is a 21st century football song.
You didn’t have to be a West Ham fan or an admirer of Mark Noble to find his send-off poignant
You wouldn’t have heard it 30 years ago because, back then, every club had their Noble, and probably more than one.
When West Ham lifted the European Cup-Winners’ Cup in 1965, 10 of the starting XI came through the club’s youth system, nine came from London and five from the East End. Bobby Moore said it felt like winning a European trophy with the school football team.
That will never happen again. And while there will always be one-club players, they may largely represent the elite.
Ryan Giggs, Paul Scholes and Gary Neville were happy at a very successful Manchester United, the same way there is little incentive for Phil Foden to leave Manchester City, or Trent Alexander-Arnold Liverpool.
Yet nobody is expecting Declan Rice to see out his time with West Ham as Noble did. Even Harry Kane wouldn’t still be one of Tottenham’s own if the decision was his. It could be argued that Noble wasn’t quite good enough to attract the offers that will come Rice’s way. He wasn’t given the chance to play Champions League football or win the title.
Noble grew up wanting to play for his local club and his head was never turned in 18 campaigns
His successor Declan Rice will not be expected to see out his time with the club as he did
Yet there was interest from Arsenal during Arsene Wenger’s time, there were links with Newcastle, plus QPR, West Bromwich Albion and Stoke when they were Premier League clubs.
He could have made a bit more money, pocketed a signing-on fee somewhere. He chose to stay. Few stay these days.
And fewer come from Canning Town. Noble’s origins blared out at the London Stadium on Sunday as if he’d been unearthed in Timbuktu.
Yet Canning Town used to be the hunting ground. My father’s stall is in Canning Town. Players’ mums were his customers. Mrs Brush, Mrs Curbishley — the team and their families came from the local community.
That is what Noble represented. That is why Sunday’s celebration was shot through with slight melancholy. We love our modern league and what it represents. But time was, ‘he’s one of our own’ wasn’t a boast; it was a fact so mundane nobody even bothered to mention it.
Noble could have pocketed more money by moving elsewhere but unlike most he chose to stay
Leeds are the Damned United!
Leeds’ peril in the face of relegation is being made worse by release clauses in the contracts of many leading players. Leeds sensibly made provision for compulsory pay-cuts if they went down, but the trade was that players would be allowed to leave, for a price.
There could be bargains, if stars such as Raphinha or Kalvin Phillips get to move for about £30million. Yet what was the alternative? If Leeds had presumed a Premier League future, as it appears Everton have, there would be complaints they were poorly run and faced ruin. They’ve been through that before, so wisely insured against it. Now they are charged with losing important players.
Clubs can’t win. Damned if you do, damned if you don’t. The Damned United indeed.
Leeds will have to sell star players on the cheap if they go down after including relegation release clauses in their deals, but they’re damned if they do and damned if they don’t
Tsimikas glory shows why fringe players are happy to hang around
Kostas Tsimikas has featured in little more than a third of Liverpool’s games this season.
Eight starts in the league, three in the FA Cup, three in the Carabao Cup, four in Europe, and seven further appearances across all competitions as a substitute. One of those came at Wembley on Saturday, and showed why fringe players hang around successful clubs.
Anything can happen. Tsimikas ended up scoring the winning goal in an FA Cup final shootout, just as Divock Origi scored in a Champions League final, having already put two past Barcelona in the incredible semi-final comeback.
We all wonder why fringe players aren’t driven to play more, why they don’t demand transfers to clubs who will make them certain starters.
Yet stick around Liverpool, do your job, don’t complain and there is a chance of a coat-tail ride to glory. On the day, it is a squad game and your chance may come.
Kostas Tsimikas’ glory in the FA Cup final showed why fringe players are keen to hang around
Tsimikas could have been a starter elsewhere but reaped the rewards of being a backup star
By Sunday morning, Tsimikas holding the FA Cup and winking for the camera was the defining image of Liverpool’s triumph, his nine-minute involvement and what followed, arguably the greatest moment of his professional career. So, yes, he could have stayed at Olympiacos and played many more games, he could have gone to Leicester or Sheffield United and been one of the stars – but does he get to score that goal in an FA Cup final; or the Champions League final if fortune dictates?
That is why players think long and hard before making the step down.
Khan’s bid for London Olympics so shameless
The problem with modern politicians is that they are permanently on the campaign trail. No sooner are they elected than the re-election bid begins. Sadiq Khan, the London mayor, is a prime example. So, despite London hosting a successful Olympics in 2012, less than 10 years later he claims to be in discussions with the IOC about hosting them again.
How horribly presumptuous. There are 206 National Olympic Committees recognised by the IOC comprising many thousands of cities and regions. Yet London thinks it should get another go little more than 20 years from the last? Why always us? And why always the same location?
London has held three Olympics already, more than any other city. It will be joined by Paris, when it hosts its third Olympics in 2024. Yet its last was 1924, 100 years before. Los Angeles will also have hosted three in 2028. It will have waited 44 years after the second.
No city in Germany has been host since 1972. The continent of Africa has never hosted them. And while Asia has been awarded eight Games, winter and summer, Japan accounts for four and Beijing two. Meanwhile, no city on America’s east has ever been host, and no city in South America, apart from Rio De Janeiro.
What makes London so special that we get a fourth go? Apart from how it will look in Khan’s re-election brochure, obviously.
Sadiq Khan’s bid for the Olympic Games to return to London is horribly presumptuous
FIFA outrage is laughable
It has been quite the week in the growing field of sportswashing. First it was revealed that Newcastle would play in a green and white away kit next season, mimicking the colours of their Saudi Arabian owners, then an investigation by Scandinavian media groups discovered that hotels on FIFA’s official list for the Qatar World Cup were still discriminating against gay guests.
FIFA’s reaction was to feign horror, threatening to terminate contracts with any hotels that continued to discriminate. Newcastle’s reaction has been silence. At least there’s a certain honesty in that. Whatever the Premier League may believe about connections between the Public Investment Fund and the state, everyone knows Newcastle are Saudi owned. Why pretend otherwise? Newcastle are now a flagship for the country of Saudi Arabia, and the colours will confirm it. We may not be comfortable with this, but it’s the truth.
FIFA’s outrage that homophobic prejudice remains rife in Qatar, however, is rich in the extreme. What did they think, that it had all gone away with the award of a stupid football tournament? Don’t be so ridiculous. FIFA gave their crown jewel to a repressive state that stands opposed to gay rights. So don’t act shocked, don’t pretend this could not be predicted. This is your homophobic festival of football, gentlemen: own it. As you must also own the deaths and slave labour.
FIFA’s outrage that homophobic prejudice remains rife in Qatar is rich in the extreme
Newcastle went silent after their new Saudi-themed kit was leaked, but at least there’s an honesty in that
Christensen ‘cramps’ should bother Barca
Thomas Tuchel classed Andreas Christensen as one of the key players Chelsea have lost in this season of uncertainty, but he leaves under a cloud, having deserted the club hours before the FA Cup final.
Christensen claimed to have felt unwell, but there are suggestions from within that this was not uncommon. Maurizio Sarri highlighted the stomach issues Christensen experiences on matchdays three years ago. So what is interesting is not that it happened again, but that Christensen’s decision became public. Clearly, someone inside was none too impressed with the timing. It left Tuchel hurriedly changing personnel for a big match at short notice.
Equally, if a man suffers with stomach cramps around major games, that might be an issue given Christensen has now signed a five-year contract with Barcelona. No pressure at the Nou Camp, obviously. No occasions.
Andreas Christensen pulling out of the FA Cup final should come as a concern to Barcelona
Neves sale would be no random cash-in for Wolves
Wolves fans are threatening to riot if Ruben Neves is sold this summer. Yet will it be entirely a club decision? Neves has been linked with Arsenal, Manchester United and Barcelona, and cannot be blamed if his head is turned with Wolves missing out on Europe. Equally, there is a price that would be of obvious interest. Wolves could do a lot with £60million, or more.
Put simply, have faith. There has been a successful recruitment process at Wolves involving the identification of promising young talent, particularly from Portugal, on the advice of Jorge Mendes. That is how they got Neves, from Porto, at the age of 20 for £15.8m.
He captained Porto in a Champions League fixture at 18, so was obviously destined for greatness. But Neves turned his back on them and major European football to play for Wolves, no doubt having been sold the move as a pathway. That is how the next generation of Portuguese recruits will arrive, too.
It works. Wolves are now an established Premier League side with European ambitions. Selling your best player always meets resistance; but at least here it is part of an established process, not a random cash-in.
Wolves cashing in on Ruben Neves this summer should not trigger abuse from supporters
Rangers suit’s ploy depressingly selfish
Rangers play in the Europa League final on Wednesday. It is a fabulous achievement. Their comprehensive defeat of RB Leipzig was one of the shocks of the tournament and should give them every hope against Eintracht Frankfurt. Yet no sooner had the noise around Ibrox subsided when Alastair Johnson, a Rangers director and former chairman, piped up.
‘Rangers showed they can be an appealing team,’ he said. ‘We want to be talked about in European tones and be part of the football discussion wherever it goes.’
It won’t surprise anyone to note that although Johnson is Glaswegian, he is based largely in the United States.
What is it with these guys? Why is everything an exclusionist project? Rangers are part of the discussion, but the discussion involves playing in UEFA tournaments with qualification open to all, not getting in with the cartel and locking your competitors outside.
Eintracht Frankfurt did not use their first appearance in a European final since 1980 to openly talk on how to slice the game up between an elitist cabal. Johnson could have used Rangers’ progress to show how wrong it was that 12 clubs sought to ring-fence European football for their own gain. Instead he tried to wheedle his way into their gang. How depressing.
Beynon track not out of reach for Birmingham
An inadequate track at the Alexander Stadium is said to be one problem with making Birmingham the home of UK Athletics. Beynon’s BSS 1000 track, installed for the Commonwealth Games, is of slightly lower quality than the Beynon BSS 2000, laid in Eugene for the World Athletics Championships this summer. That surface is said to be ‘Olympic calibre’ and ‘built for the best’.
Yet would that be such an obstacle? A Beynon track costs upwards of £300,000 and UKA would receive between £10million and £15m to finance the move. You never know, there may be a way out of this.
Haaland release clause will keep Madrid lurking
Erling Haaland’s arrival at Manchester City may not after all decide the destination of the title for the next 10 seasons, as was predicted. It transpires he has a release clause in his contract, somewhere in the region of £150-£170million. Doesn’t mean it will ever be triggered but, equally, that is not the action of a man planning to see out his career in Manchester. Real Madrid will continue to lurk, in the shadows and the gossip columns.
Under advice from Ben Stokes, his captain, England coach Brendon McCullum is likely to relax the midnight curfew. For that’s the problem with English cricket.
Not the batting, not the bowling, the fact that everyone can’t get on it until 2am. It’s been holding us back for years.