Players

The marriages of four England players on one weekend took football’s relationship with celebrity culture to new heights – or, as Barney Ronay sees it, new depths

Footballers, even quite famous ones, used to get married in a registry office in front of three people. They took honeymoons in Whitby before setting up home with Sue/Meg/Jakki in a modern semi, where they might stand out as the only people in the street with a double-glazed conservatory or a new patio. Best of all, you wouldn’t know anything about it, beyond the odd appearance in the “at home with…” feature in Shoot!. All things considered, this seemed to be enough.

Ryan Giggs is a Manchester United legend, but did he really deserve the five-star treatment in Cardiff when he called time on his Wales career? Huw Richards doesn’t think so

John Toshack is clearly more of a sentimentalist than he looks. His decision, born perhaps of his years in Spain where such tributes are a regular feature, to take off Ryan Giggs just before the end of the European Championship qualifier against the Czech Republic allowed Giggs a solo ovation from the crowd for his last appearance for Wales. It fit with the mood of elegiac acclaim that had filled Welsh column inches and airwaves since Giggs had announced his international retirement earlier in the week.

Chris Taylor went to listen to a player with radical views on Italian football culture

A lecture called “Money, Politics and Violence: does Italian football have a future?” doesn’t sound a barrel of laughs. As one of the speakers, John Foot, author of Calcio, A History of Italian Football, once wrote: “Calcio is a stinking corpse riddled with maggots.” Foot now admits his outlook, written following the death of a policeman in Catania, was a little pessimistic. Now he compares the game to American televised wrestling – “violent, over-the-top, hysterical and fake” – but he still feels that it has a bright future.

Israel's new star is held up by right tape. Shaul Adar reports

With the Euro 2008 game against England only weeks away and Israel’s top scorer in the qualifying campaign suspended, you might expect that the domestic league’s top striker would be picked to play. But, not for the first time, Israel has shown itself to be very different from the rest of the football world

A hundred years ago it was the Manchester United players who were the outcasts. As the PFA celebrate their centenary, John Harding looks at all those who helped make the players’ union

In December 1907 a group of professionals from the two Manchester clubs, Preston North End, Sheffield United, Bradford City, West Bromwich Albion, Newcastle United, Tottenham and Notts County gathered in the Imperial Hotel opposite Manchester’s Piccadilly Station to launch the Association Football Players’ Union.

David Beckham’s mission to explain his sport to Americans while making lots of money is going well. For a start, as Mike Woitalla writes, more of them have discovered that Los Angeles has a soccer team

On the second Friday of 2007, nearly every American newspaper reported the deal on its front page, next to news that made the man seem all the more appealing. On the Miami Herald’s page one, he celebrated a goal beneath photos of hooded protesters dressed as Guantánamo prison detainees and of US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. In the New York Times he took a shot while, to his right, Rice argued ­emphatically for a troop increase in Iraq.

Phil Ball analyses David Beckham's time in the Spanish capital

Back in the mists of time, during David Beckham’s first season in Madrid, Guillem Balagué of Sky was given the privilege of interviewing the great man in situ. They sat together in the Asador Donostiarra restaurant, a regular haunt of Real Madrid’s bons vivants, Beckham looking splendid in his Lucius Malfoy haircut phase and Balagué asking all the right (pre-selected) questions. Becks seemed relaxed and happy, trusting Balagué. As he supped on a glass of red wine, he agreed to show his startling prowess in Cervantes’ tongue, “Tienes un poco de chorizo por favor?” (Have you got some salami sausage please?) He seemed Euroman incarnate, the symbol of a new era. Not only was this a man who could generate greenbacks by the million and play football half-decently, he could also meld into the sophistication of Madrid, a city whose hauteur and social mannerism know few limits. Balagué did to Beckham what Martin Bashir did to Princess Diana – teased him out and appeared to humanise him. It was a weird occasion, during a weird time when Beckham, if you recall, was everywhere – even in M & S.

The publishers paid a fortune for the rights and the papers serialised them, but few others have coughed up to read the life stories of Rio, Ashley, Frank and Wayne. Barney Ronay finds out why

It hasn’t been a great summer for England’s World Cup players. Forget the red cards and penalty misses, the terrible wives and girlfriends, the slow congealing of arrogance into bewilderment. The real problems start when you log on to Amazon and check out the book section. Rio Ferdinand: sales ranking 302; Frank Lampard: 393; Wayne Rooney: 1,038; Ashley Cole: 2,181. In literary terms, our boys have taken a hell of a beating.

Famous people attract the attention of all sorts of undesirables and footballers are no exception. Taylor Parkes looks at a book that charts the game's underworld connections

People have been fascinated by gangsters for as long as gangsters have existed; there are few better illustrations of people’s reluctance to grow up. Organised crime can be an interesting subject and Graham Johnson’s lightweight, quickly written book holds the attention very well. The problem is the popular fascination for gangsters, the image of the underworld boss as sexy, charismatic rebel – rather than the ultimate Thatcherite, responding to poverty and communal desperation by making things worse for everyone but himself. It’s a kind of perverted romanticism that appeals to those whose closest contact with gang culture has been the films of Guy Ritchie or the lyrics of Biggie Smalls, and it’s no surprise that so many footballers, raised to worship guile and machismo but rarely skilled in decision-making, go for gangsters a big way.

As Obafemi Martins arrives on Tyneside one question still remains – how old is the Nigerian? Filippo Ricci reports

Before Newcastle’s UEFA Cup tie against Ventspils in August, Obafemi Martins was paraded in front of the crowd. Glenn Roeder was delighted with his £10 million signing from Internazionale – though he did face some slightly unwelcome questions regarding just how old the new man was. “We at Newcastle have never questioned his age. It is disrespectful to question his age, around the world we have a good reputation. He is 21, we know he is 21, we always have done, we have a talented young player.”

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