Is Southgate making it up as he goes along?

Say what you like about Gary Lineker, and plenty do, but he’s a terrific presenter and when he’s not running it, Match of the Day dials down a notch. If he wants to bang on about the language of Suella Braverman and 1930s Germany, well it’s a free country – though elsewhere you might find his lachrymose response to the Gaza war somewhat tiresome. When Lineker decided to ramp up his cosy, own-brand T-shirt style by using his podcast to call the England team’s (admittedly lacklustre) performance against Denmark ‘shit’, doubtless the bevvied-up boyos at the Croydon fan zone would have downed a few more pints in appreciation. He might

The perils of going to Manchester United

Plodding up Wembley Way to the FA Cup Final at the weekend surrounded by a phalanx of well-refreshed Manchester United fans was not a savoury experience, but the game was something else. What was clear was how good United were, full of bite and high-throttle energy, ready to go for broke against the best team in the world, and playing in a way that hasn’t been seen all season. So Manchester City couldn’t pull off their ‘double-double’ – the League title and the Cup in two successive years. For the first time, United played for their manager, Erik ten Hag, and Pep Guardiola couldn’t do anything about it. On this

Is pro-golf eating itself? 

Spare a thought for Manchester United’s Erik ten Hag. He’s got a fairly crummy, injury-hit team who appear to have given up running (apart from Alejandro Garnacho who is still young enough to think that it’s OK to belt down the left wing and then deposit the ball somewhere, though not in goal). His new owner is pictured in the stands with his head in his hands and he has to cope with the choleric visage of his predecessor Sir Alex Ferguson watching on with an expression of scarcely controlled contempt, while two former United godfathers, Gary Neville and Roy Keane, fulminate in the Sky commentary box about how crap

What does the Olympic torch have to do with Hitler?

The original Olympic Games established a basic canon of seven games unchanged over some 900 years: foot, horse and chariot races, boxing, wrestling, pankration, and pentathlon. This year’s Olympics feature 42 games, adding for the first time ‘competitive breakdancing, an urban sport that originated in the hip-hop culture of 1970s block parties in the US’. It has been ever thus since the Games were first revived in Wenlock in 1850, when soccer, cricket and quoits appeared. The first ‘Olympics’, started in Greece in 1859 – a minor, one-day event in the context of a huge agro-industrial exhibition – featured climbing the greasy pole. In 1865 a National Olympian Association was

County cricket needs Bazball

It’s freezing cold and everywhere is flooded, so it must be the start of the county cricket season. Surrey, last year’s champions, head for Old Trafford on Friday, in what should be a three-sweater day, aiming to make it three titles in a row. And who would bet against them? It’s a superb tournament, the county championship, much more than just an opportunity for elderly gentlemen to spread their wings with a sandwich lunch. But it could certainly do with some reforms. This goes against a lot of current thinking, but why not revert to three-day matches with a points system heavily weighted against draws? This would provide considerably more

Where did all the good English football managers go?

It’s not easy for most right–thinking people to care much about golf and golfers apart from gasping in wonder at the size of their bank balances. Right now the Saudi–backed LIV tour and the American and European tours are making occasional grunts of peace towards each other. Soon the various professional golf bodies will have so much money they will be able to club together and buy Saudi Arabia. But what you can be certain of is that no one has ever watched a LIV event of their own free will or is ever likely to, despite the presence of some of the world’s best players, like Jon Rahm, Bryson

Sometimes rugby can be the most exciting sport of all

After the failure of Bazball – ending in England’s dismal capitulation on the cricket fields of India – let us give thanks for the emergence of Borthball in front of the Twickenham faithful. And it certainly was much needed: Steve Borthwick’s England rugby team had apparently been trying to convince us that they really weren’t very good at the game before donning Superman cloaks last Saturday to give a classic fooled-you performance against Ireland’s dogged champions. Playing fearlessly with speed, adventure and aggression, this young(ish) England side produced one of the greatest games of the century. Playing with speed and aggression, this England side produced one of the greatest games

Farewell to rugby’s King John

You couldn’t miss the heartbreaking irony of one of the greatest rugby players who ever pulled on his boots passing away just as the latest tournament was getting under way featuring 18-stone behemoths smashing into each other. Barry John, who retired at 27 and died last Sunday at 79, could have walked through brick walls and emerged unscathed. Was he the finest fly-half ever? He was certainly the most beautiful to watch. He played just 25 games for Wales and a handful for the British and Irish Lions, including the 1971 tour of New Zealand when he helped them to their only series victory against the All Blacks. It was

Video games aren’t a total waste of time

My wife argues with the children about video games. I argue with the children about video games. The children argue with each other about video games. Consequently, I argue with my wife about video games. It is a total nightmare – and it’s one that in various versions will be replicated in houses with young children up and down the country. The problem, in part, is a cultural divide. It frustrates me, too, when the children refuse to come off Rocket League or Fifa when they’re told to (‘I’m in the middle of a game!’). I’m also wary of the addictive nature of these things. But at the same time

My sporting questions for 2024

Could this be the year when England’s men win their first international football trophy for 58 years? After all, they have the best striker in Europe in Harry Kane and the best attacking midfielder in Jude Bellingham, both of whom are being treated like Wellington and Nelson at their respective clubs BayernMunich and Real Madrid. This should be about time too that pundits admit that the way Bellingham lit up the European Championships in Germany makes him, at the very least, Bobby Charlton’s equal. If he is not Sports Personality of the Year in 2024, something very odd must have happened in the space-time continuum. If Bellingham is not Sports

Will the US catch the birdie at the Ryder Cup? 

At last the Ryder Cup is here – well, in Rome – and with it Europe’s biennial chance to stick it to the Americans in a sport that matters in a format that we can all relate to. Even if you regard golfers as extremely well-off people largely determined to make themselves better off, the frenzied emotions and belting patriotism of the Ryder Cup should be enough to challenge even the most surly of gloomsters. And while Americans have to seek solace and comfort in the company of other Americans, it takes something special and inspiring when an Irishman can join forces with a Swede and be cheered on by

How many Britons smoke?

Puffed up Just 12.9% of Britons smoke cigarettes, figures out this week showed – the lowest on record. How does the UK compare? – The highest smoking rate is in Nauru (48.5%), the lowest is in Ghana (3.5%). – 24.5% of people in France are daily smokers compared with 11.5% in the US. – In Germany, the overall smoking rate is 34%, an increase from 26.5% in March 2020. For young Germans aged between 14 and 17, this has almost doubled between 2021 and last year, from 8.7% to 15.9%. – Maybe it’s the price of a pack. The average cost of 20 cigarettes in the UK hit £14.47 after

Real football fans watch non-League football

Oxford City vs Rochdale at Court Place Farm doesn’t have quite the same ring as Chelsea vs Liverpool at Stamford Bridge, but last Saturday’s match was important all the same. At this level, you feel part of the match, which never happens in an executive box at the Emirates ‘The Hoops’, Oxford’s oldest football club, founded in 1882 when Gladstone was prime minister and Old Etonians won the FA Cup, were playing their first ever home game in the fifth tier of English football. Rochdale, whose 102-year membership of the Football League ended in May, were playing their first away game in the Vanarama National League. Seven hundred and eighty-one

Stress Test: some cricket fans can’t cope with the Ashes

The current Ashes series is proving a once-in-a-generation classic, one of those contests that cricket fans spend decades dreaming about. How are some of those fans reacting? They’re refusing to watch. I’m talking about the ‘I just can’t stand the tension’ brigade. The ones who, when the run chase gets down to 30 with three wickets left, run from the room shouting: ‘It’s no good, my nerves won’t take it.’ They pace up and down, fingers in ears, determined to avoid learning the result until the match is over. Only then do they creep back in and discover the news. It’s madness. You wait years for the drama of a

Roger Alton

Cricket, tennis and the Women’s World Cup: what a summer 

Great sport needs great rivalries, and that is why anyone with a pulse must celebrate being in the throes of an unrivalled confluence of extraordinary sporting occasions right now. As commentators grind on about what a bad place the world is in – ignoring the far worse places the world has been in over the years – a few hours spent watching the magnificent Wimbledon final between Carlos Alcaraz and Novak Djokovic is just the sort of high-octane thriller we all need, as well as a ringing endorsement of the qualities of man. And now there is the fourth Ashes Test of a brutally close series, and the closing stages

What happened to Italian football?

Neither Sandro Tonali nor AC Milan wanted to part ways. The young midfielder is from the outskirts of the city, has been a fan since boyhood and his dad’s an ultra. He wanted to become a Rossoneri icon like his hero Gennaro Gattuso. The top brass at Milan saw him as a future captain. Tonali was instrumental to the club winning Serie A ­– Italy’s top league – last year and reaching the European Champions League semi-final two months ago. Milan’s legendary manager from the 1990s, Fabio Capello, says Tonali is ‘the recipe to win’ and that he could have played in ‘the great Milan teams’ from 30 years ago. But no

Barbie’s world: the normalisation of cosmetic surgery

If Barbie were a real woman, she wouldn’t be able to walk. Her enormous head would loll forward on her spindly neck, her tiny ankles would buckle under her elongated legs, and she would be forced to move about on all fours. In the upcoming Barbie film, Margot Robbie nails her character’s toothy smile and blonde bouffant, but even she cannot come close to imitating Barbie’s monstrous proportions. More adventurous imitators have tried. It’s rumoured that the so-called ‘Eastern Bloc Barbie’ – a 37-year-old Moldovan by the name of Valeria Lukyanova, one of several plastic surgery addicts dubbed ‘human Barbies’ – had ribs removed and her eyelids trimmed in her

Watch out Wimbledon: padel is taking over

For the past 15 years, I’ve had an entirely healthy compulsion – my wife, I suspect, would disagree – to play tennis at least twice a week. I assumed this habit was so ingrained that nothing short of a calamitous injury could ever keep me from my fix. Spain is where the craze took hold. Now it’s the country’s second most popular sport, after football I think I may have been mistaken. Recently, I’ve discovered a new sport which is proving, if anything, more addictive. Time will tell if this is a fleeting crush, or the start of something more enduring – but I am beginning to wonder whether my

Roger Alton

If you thought Lord’s was rowdy, get ready for Leeds

Shouldn’t we all just calm down a bit after Lord’s? Once prime ministers decide to intervene, you know things have gone too far. Rishi Sunak has made it clear he wouldn’t want to win a match that way apparently, which feels very much like Tony Blair’s decision to wade into the case of Corrie’s jailed heroine Deirdre Barlow. Mark you, that really was important. So… was Jonny Bairstow out after being stumped by sharp-eyed Australian keeper Alex Carey? Undoubtedly. Should the Australians have withdrawn their appeal? Possibly, because Bairstow had good reason to think the over was finished when he moved out of his ground. But had England gone on

In defence of Australia

What a week it has been for cricket. It began with that scalding ICEC report on the ‘racist, sexist and elitist’ state of the game in England. This report was commissioned by Ian Watmore, briefly the chairman of the England and Wales Cricket Board, as a kneejerk reaction to Azeem Rafiq’s accusation of institutional racism. The report was presided over by Cindy Butts, who has been an activist for Black Lives Matter and perhaps has an axe to grind. As it stands, the report is devastating for English cricket, but much more needs to be known about the way in which it was put together and about the credentials of