Offside, 9 January

Football's 2002: missile-throwing, bankruptcy and the World Order is overthrown.

Duleep Allirajah

Topics Politics

By now you’ve probably had your fill of reviews of 2002 and zany ‘alternative’ New Years’ honours lists (ho ho ho). Surely Offside won’t resort to such lazy journalism, I hear you say.

Sorry to disappoint you, but try as I might I just couldn’t find a sexy angle on the transfer window (unless you’re the sort of person who gets turned on by Birmingham City transfer gossip). So here is my review of the world of football in 2002.

At the start of 2002 missile-throwing was all the rage in Britain. Coins, bottles and cigarette lighters were thrown at Cardiff, a bottle of beer was thrown at Spurs striker Les Ferdinand, and a half-eaten meat pie was hurled at a linesman at Millwall.

‘Standards are falling, the old social order is crumbling and nothing is emerging to replace it’, wailed Chelsea chairman Ken Bates as he trudged up and down the Kings Road wearing a sandwich board. But somehow, despite the blitz of flying coins and meat pies, the social order managed to survive.

Indeed, the recent clash between Barcelona and arch-rivals Real Madrid demonstrated that we British are still in the Rymans League when it comes to missile-throwing. Madrid’s Luis Figo was pelted with a range of objects including mobile phones, beer cans, a whiskey bottle and, most impressive of all, the head of a roast suckling pig. Not only does La Liga attract the world’s top players, but Spain can also boast the most ingenious missiles in international football.

It was a good year for prophets of doom as the football bubble, which had been at bursting point for the past few years, finally went pop. At the end of March 2002 ITV Digital collapsed, leaving the Nationwide League £178million out of pocket. ‘It’s a doomsday scenario’, whimpered Gordon Taylor of the Professional Footballers’ Association. ‘I think the Football League is facing the biggest crisis in its history’, declared Bradford City chairman Geoffrey Richmond.

It was reported that anywhere between 30 and 50 league clubs faced bankruptcy. Ten months on and – surprise, surprise – no Football League has actually gone bust. Several clubs have gone into administration, but no club has so far been dissolved. Most clubs have reduced their wage bills by releasing squad players and, in the case of some First Division clubs, persuading the playing staff to take pay-cuts. Nationwide League clubs look set to emerge from the ITV Digital crisis leaner and fitter, quite literally so in the case of Swindon Town who dispensed with the services of high-earning salad-dodger Neil Ruddock.

2002 was the year when the world football order was apparently turned on its head at the World Cup finals in Japan and Korea. France, Italy and Argentina all committed footballing hari-kiri, while South Korea and Turkey reached the semi-finals.

Why did football’s traditional powers screw up in such dramatic fashion? The French blamed the rigours of European football, the Italians and Spanish blamed the referees, and the English blamed an old bloke with a ponytail. Could it be that the balance of power in world football is shifting? ‘It’s a truly global game now’, declared US coach Bruce Arena, whose team reached the last eight. ‘Federations all over the world are getting stronger and there’s no longer an established order.’

In reality, the USA and South Korea were fit but very average teams who were just plain lucky that their superiors performed like a bunch of girls. Football writer Brian Glanville hit the nail on the head when he described the tournament as ‘exciting at times not thanks to a general levelling up but to a dumbing down’.

‘I’m bad, I’m bad’, shrieked the baby-dangling pop mentalist Michael Jackson. And of course, crazy jive-talking cat that he his, when Jacko says ‘bad’ he actually means ‘good’. (He also sang ‘Your butt is mine’ on the song Bad, but I’ll let that one go.) Bad also means good in the Offside household where we raise our glasses to the Baddest Footballer of 2002.

In an age when footballers are expected to behave like saints on and off the pitch it’s difficult to find any candidates for this particular title. Birmingham City’s Robbie Savage deserves an honourable mention for speaking out in support of that endangered species – the footballers’ Christmas party. ‘Just because we are part of a high-profile industry, does that mean we are supposed to behave like Trappist monks and adopt Scrooge-like mentalities over the festive period?’ said the Birmingham midfielder as more and more clubs banned players’ parties.

However, one man stands head and shoulders above the rest: Roy Keane. He’s passionate, he’s outspoken, he’s violent, and he’s a winner – a rare combination in the modern game. His unquenchable desire to win and his simmering contempt for the happy-go-lucky amateurism of the Irish national team came to a head with his famous tirade against Mick McCarthy on the eve of the World Cup. ‘You were a crap player and you are a crap manager’, he told McCarthy. ‘The only reason I have any dealings with you is that somehow you are the manager of my country and you’re not even Irish you English cunt.’

Keane’s willingness to speak his mind subsequently earned him a five-match ban after he admitted in his kick-and-tell autobiography that he had deliberately set out to hurt Alf-Inge Haaland. He also ruffled a few feathers in the Manchester United dressing room after he accused his team-mates of losing their hunger and being more interested in Rolex watches, fast cars and mansions.

In my opinion football needs more men like Roy Keane who refuse to suffer losers gladly. And if you don’t agree with me you can stick it up your bollocks.

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