The Joe Royle Column

CHELTENHAM is upon us and the eyes of the racing world have been focused on the excitement of a big meeting, which has been a welcome distraction for them.

CHELTENHAM is upon us and the eyes of the racing world have been focused on the excitement of a big meeting, which has been a welcome distraction for them.

I have the odd £10 or £20 on the horses but that is all. A lifetime ago when other players went off for golf in the afternoon I worked in the Bookies, settling bets and taking money.

I have seen gambling for a long time and I have seen people addicted. People have come in wearing a well-trodden path from the dole office, pub and betting shop and it can be addictive.

The Sport of Kings is in the dock and not content with just dragging racing through the mud football is being sucked in too.


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But if Michael Owen wants to gamble then that's up to him, he has enough money to do it if he wants.

It is the people who can't afford to gamble who get hurt the most.

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We know about Paul Merson's addiction problems and it is a shame to see. He has long been one of my favourite players ever since I saw him as a kid at Arsenal and he has been doing it since. Whether as a midfielder, up front or in a free role he has been one of the talents of English football.

Whether it has been alcohol or gambling, it is a shame things have never run smoothly for Paul. The dangers are there for all to see.

Owen knows as an England footballer that he only has to sneeze and it will be in the papers.

If he wants to phone Kieren Fallon for tips then that is up to him. But I would say this, jockeys are not always the best tipsters.

I have been at races when we have had tips from jockeys and not had one winner from them in six races.

At the moment racing is getting the sort of bad press football gets. Only Kieren Fallon knows the real answer to what happened. I have seen the horse that he lost on recently from being a long way ahead and I would have thought if there were that much money involved and he wanted to lose he would have made it look better than a nose in the last few metres of a race.

WRITE Manchester United – and Sir Alex Ferguson – off at your peril.

It has been a big week in the Premiership, with United losing to City, and Chelsea have emerged as the main challenge to Arsenal.

Chelsea have found the knack of winning games without playing particularly well, built on a solid back four with players who can pinch a goal.

So Alex must be wondering where all his luck has gone. Traditionally he has been lucky but then you see a goal disallowed as it was in the European game last week and then a last-minute free kick going against him, which were the sort of things that went for him in the past.

It was similar with the derby game, they could have gone in at half-time three or four up, yet ended up losing 4-1, and I can empathise with him on that.

I know a lot of people are using terms like 'the wheels have come off' or 'United are a spent force' but I would hold on.

They still have say in the season. I know Fergie, he will be spitting feathers but they still have a Champions' League place and FA Cup final to play for. Most managers would like to be in that position.

United have two big games coming up against Arsenal, although even if they win the league game it is hard to envisage the Gunners slipping up.

Although you can never hand out trophies in March, credit to Arsenal, they are a great team who keep moving forward. Any team that goes unbeaten until March are great – make no mistake about it.

They are one of the truly great sides, even with their tradition.

But I would still be wary of writing United, and Sir Alex, off.

IN the past I have not been slow to criticise agents and the one good thing about the transfer window is it has curtailed a certain amount of agent movement.

But equally in the case of Matt Elliott, who we signed this week, a lot of credit has to go to his agent, Jonathan Barnett, who helped us sign him.

He has been very pro in Matt coming to us and has been a friend to the club. We have to be fair and say when agents are bad but in this case he swung the deal for us.

THE rumours surrounding Sven-Goran Eriksson continue. Rio Ferdinand is going to Chelsea as is David Beckham and, as Eriksson has had lunch at the Bridge, he is going there in the summer.

But I would not read too much in to it. The rumour mills go into overdrive because of transfer windows. There are no rock solid stories for reporters so it is open season on Eriksson. Only he and Abramovich know the true story.

So as one story has it that Eriksson is leaving England it follows that the next one is going to be – who replaces him? So we have Martin O'Neill in place even before Eriksson has gone.

All this is another reason I feel the transfer windows are not successful. The supporter needs to read about his team and transfer movement as often as possible, especially in the Premiership, with all the hype Sky has created with its coverage.

The window starves them of that to a large extent so the media have to find other things to write about.

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