Clubs

It's been ten years since Manchester United conceded a Premiership penalty. Only three teams have been awarded an Old Trafford penalty during that time, all failing to score. Paul Benjamin talks to Ruel Fox – the last visiting player to score from the spot there – and referee Peter Jones, to find out why this is so

It came as a surprise to learn recently that December 4, 1993 was a more momentous occasion than being my first trip to Old Trafford with Norwich. I had no idea that when Ruel Fox stepped up to thump the ball past Peter Schmeichel, it would be the last Premiership penalty scored there by the visitors for ten years. I realise now that this is quite a phenomenal record – or at least would be for any other team. But somehow, because it’s Manchester United, I’m not all that surprised.

Stockport County have been reaping the benefits of breaking into the Chinese market and developing contacts in the more isolated western provinces, as Hugh Wilson writes

Everybody wants a piece of the Chinese market these days, but Stockport County are not perhaps the most obvious candidates to exploit European football’s global popularity. Still, while Man­chester United and Real Madrid have concentrated their brand-building activities on the big cities and eastern seaboard, County have been quietly developing contacts in China’s more isolated western provinces. In these regions – and this may come as something of a surprise to the Edgeley Park faithful – County are the most respected European club side of them all.

Red Devils fan Ashley Shaw considers the problems facing Manchester United, with the help of a recent book

The decline of Manchester United has never been more apparent. The club’s hegemony is chal­lenged on and off the pitch by richer rivals and would seem to have all but disappeared following the recent loss of key personnel at all levels. When one factors in the date with calamity suggested by the civil case brought by the manager against the largest shareholder and the continuing spat with the Football Association over Rio Ferdinand’s memory lapse, it seems harder not to reach for cliche and file United under “club in crisis”.

Jon Spurling examines what's afoot at Arsenal in the light of some new books

In recent months, there has been a growing feeling among Arsenal fans that the club has slipped into a “house of cards” existence. The Glorious Game, Alex Fynn’s latest tome – co-written with The Gooner’s Kevin Whitcher – does little to assuage those fears. One is left feeling that if a single ace in the pack, namely Arsène Wenger, Patrick Vieira, or Thierry Henry, were to depart – or if the proposed move from Highbury is mishandled – then the whole fragile edifice could come crashing down. As an analysis of Arsenal’s current status in English football – and a portend of things to come – The Glorious Game is as good as it gets. Granted unprecedented access to David Dein, youth development officer Liam Brady and most intriguingly Wenger himself, the interviews with the club’s prime movers and shakers reveal a great deal.

Liverpool seem bedevilled by uncertainty. Reds fan Robert Fordham wonders why

Too often, a book about one season at a club suffers from being out of date the moment it is published. It no doubt upsets John Williams no end that Liverpool are the same gutless and passionate, half-decent and diabolical, outdated and forward-thinking collection of skilled players and hopeless ones that they were in 2002-03. It certainly upsets me.

Well, United, anyway. Oh, and it’s a city. Darren Fletcher reports on how Mr Fry has extended his control of Peterborough but has also responded to his many critics

For years Posh fans have winced at media references to “Barry Fry’s Peterborough United”. But finally the term has some credence as he now owns 99.6 per cent of the club, becoming the first Eng­lish football man­ager to double up as owner. In April this year, former owner Peter Boizot finally sold his stake to a consortium funded by Colin Hill, a prop­erty developer, and led by former chairman Alf Hand. The deal went through in 24 hours and was pas­sed off to sup­porters as Posh being sav­ed from those who sought to make a fast buck from redeveloping the London Road site.

Terry Staunton investigates the changing of the guard at Pride Park

Having spent the best part of two years reading stories with more than a hint of obituary about them, fans of Derby may not appreciate the irony that the club’s new chairman is more used to presiding over inquests.

Matthew Brown on player power, principles and racism in the modern game

Suddenly player-power seems to be all the rage. But the England squad weren’t the first footballers this season to stand up to their employers on a matter of principle. Just a few weeks earlier, former Chelsea striker Mark Stein and two of his team-mates declared they would never play for Dagenham & Redbridge again following allegations of racism against the Daggers manager Garry Hill and the club chairman Dave Andrews’ instant and unequivocal backing for his man.

Plenty of clubs are in financial difficulties but only a couple can appeal to recording artists for salvation. Port Vale fan Rob Rushton talks about Robbie Williams's unwillingness to provide financial help to his hometown club

I cannot recall the exact date, but I vividly remember Port Vale playing Watford in Division Three in the mid-1970s, when the Vale fans behind the goal sang: “You can stick your grand piano up you arse,” to Watford chairman Elton John. Either good advice, or pure jealousy – you decide – as Elton’s millions boosted Watford up the league to the First Division.

David Harrison savours Elton John's support for Watford when many clubs don't have the luxury of celebrity backers to help ensure their survival

It happens wherever you go, without fail. Has done for the best part of 30 years. Most recently this summer at a bus stop in California. As soon as the international lang­uage of the tormented traveller has been ex­hausted, there’s an absolute inevitability in the ex­change that follows. “So, you guys are English. Where you from? Sure I’ve heard of it – that’s Elton John’s ball-club!”

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