Players

George Best's illness wasn't so much a news story as an excuse to revisit some familiar haunts. Football needs to kick its obession with Best's drinking and womanising, says Dave Hill

Perhaps the People got the nearest to the truth. Lacking a bedside interview or a hack who could recall getting legless with good old Bestie, the boy who could always sink a few bottles more, they chatted up a fellow drinker at his local.

Stephen Wagg examines the press coverage lavished on Stan Collymore's latest indiscretion

“Sounds like a nice bloke,” I said innocently to my mate as we drove out of Watford on February 12. We were listening to Stan Collymore tell Radio 5 about the welcome he’d had at Leicester City and of his pleasant surprise at being able to get through 90 minutes of Premiership football after nearly a year away. But it seems I was wrong. The following day in the Observer, former Crystal Palace manager Alan Smith, now apparently a consultant psychiatrist, pondered whether Collymore was “an ultra-sensitive soul” or “simply mad”.

Cris Freddi pays tribute to Sir Stanley Matthews

It’s almost as if he just fancied seeing in the new millennium. Or maybe he thought 85 was quite a round number. We all assumed Stan would go on for ever.

With footballers receiving unprecedented levels of public attention, Gordon Taylor, chief executive of the Professional Footballers Association, talked to WSC about the things that keep him busy

There has been a series of violent incidents in high-profile matches lately. Are footballers getting out of control?
It’s always been difficult. We have tried all sorts over the years. We’ve worked to make sure that players know the laws of the game, we’ve got referees to visit clubs, we’ve tried to have ex-players as referees. One thing I was disappointed about over this past weekend [February 12 – involving the games at Chelsea v Wimbledon, Newcastle v Man Utd and Leeds v Spurs] is that referees lately seemed to have grasped that we were out of touch with the rest of the world and that not every foul deserved a caution. We saw some great games as a result, then the wheels came off. Someone asked me, where do you see football today, on Valentine’s day? I said, well, we don’t want any more massacres. But football is a microcosm of society. They’re saying to me “oh this is a really sad time for football” as though there is some­thing we could do to make sure it would always be on the straight and narrow. I said we’ve had prisons since civilised society began and we’ve haven’t got less now. You can fill the prisons up but it doesn’t mean to say you’ve got law and order.

John Harding pays tribute to Cliff Lloyd, the man who formed what is known today as the Professional Footballers Association

Cliff Lloyd, OBE, who died earlier this month, was the last link with the old Players’ Union, the organisation reformed by Billy Meredith back in 1907 and now known as the Professional Footballers Association. Indeed, Lloyd was one of the last to speak to Meredith when, in 1957, he visited the ailing Welshman in his Manchester home. Lloyd recalled that Meredith had a string of  medals in a box beneath his bed which, he pointed out, had done little for him in financial terms.

What do you do when you stop being the world's best player? Diego Maradona still hasn't come up with a satisfactory answer, as Martin Gambarotta reports

Of all the visits Diego Maradona received while ailing with a faulty heart in a private clinic in Buenos Aires, one stood out for its symbolism and could well have a place in local football lore in the future. The visit lasted 15 minutes. Enough time for an 18-year-old boy by the name of Javier Saviola to drop his national team shirt at the feet of Diego’s hospital bed. Saviola, River Plate’s new sensation, had just ended the season as the league’s top scorer. Only one other player had accomplished a similar feat when he was younger: Diego Maradona.

Between acting, punditry and chat shows, does Ally McCoist have the time to score goals for Kilmarnock? Graeme Jamieson reports

Is the fairytale over? Breaking his leg against Rangers in October may have been Ally Mc­Coist’s last act in football. Those cheery souls in the Scottish press suggested that the Kil­marnock striker, who will retire at the end of the season, would never play again. The offic­ial line is that he’ll be back after the winter break. The question is, should he bother?

Foreign players were effectively banned before 1978 but, as Matthew Taylor discovers, there were ways for a select few to ply their trade

Before the arrival of Ossie Ardiles and Ricardo Villa at Tottenham in 1978, foreign players were rarely seen on British football pitches. A mixture of xenophobia and sheer arrogance convinced the authorities that there was little need or desire to import players from abroad. The British – mainly the English – clung to an assumed role as footballing masters who had nothing to learn from their continental pupils, especially on home soil. Even so, the British game was never com­pletely insulated from the outside. The place of for­eigners in our domestic football did not suddenly emerge as an issue in the wake of the Bosman judg­ment, or even in 1978. There had, in fact, been a trickle of foreign footballers into this country for almost a century before the present flood.

Jan Age Fjortoft talks to Mike Ticher about his own adjustment to English football and the effect foreign players have had on the game

When I arrived in English football I found you could walk into the dressing-room and be completely accepted. I was taken into the group straight away at Swindon, although it probably helped that it was a small club. I’ve never had a problem at any club, but I think that’s a bit to do with my personality as well. And of course I already spoke English. But the English mentality is that in principle you are valued as part of the team. There’s lots of selling and buying in English football and so you get used to having new faces in the dressing-room. I don’t think that affects foreigners in any different way from anyone else.

Shaul Adar covers the fallout over Eyal Berkovic's controversial autobiography

The furore over the excerpts from Eyal Ber­kovic’s book printed in the Mirror has not come as a surprise to anyone in Israel. Let’s be clear about one thing, however. Berkovic does not say in his autobiography,The Magician, that West Ham are racist. He does claims it is an unprofessional, unpleasant, ill-managed club in which nepotism plays an important role. One chapter is called “Frank Lampard Snr – West Ham’s biggest trouble”. He accuses the club of being xenophobic and says “they can’t stand foreigners” but he takes care not to call any­body a racist. 

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