THE HALF DECENT FOOTBALL MAGAZINE

Saturday 1 Leeds are bottom of the Premiership after a 4-1 home defeat by Arsenal. Mark Viduka is left out of the squad after missing a players’ meeting and arriving late for training. “If I started looking over my shoulder with all this speculation, I wouldn’t be able to look forward,” quips Peter Reid. Chelsea beat Everton 1-0 at Goodison Park, but defeat fails to stop Wayne Rooney dressing up as Oliver Hardy for his 18th birthday party, where guests include Atomic Kitten, Robbie Williams and “more than 200 friends”. Man Utd beat Portsmouth 3-0 at Old Trafford, Cristiano Ronaldo pausing long enough between performances of the hokey-cokey to score his first goal for the club, while at White Hart Lane Jay-Jay Okocha inspires Bolton to a 1-0 win over Spurs. Manchester City beat Southampton 2-0 at St Mary’s amid rumours that Nicolas Anelka’s absence from the City side is a consequence of his failure to attend a clay pigeon-shooting trip. “Mills is just a fucking idiot,” observes the usually unflappable Paul Ince after Danny Mills’s altercation with Lee Naylor creates confusion from which Gaizka Mendieta scores Boro’s first goal in a 2-0 victory over Wolves – a surly afternoon ends with police quelling a full-time mêlée in the tunnel.  First Division leaders Wigan beat Crystal Palace 5-0, Andy Liddell’s two goals making him the club’s all-time highest goalscorer. Wimbledon win their first game at Milton Keynes, 2-1 against Bradford, but stay bottom. West Brom’s Darren Williams faces a police investigation for kicking a spare ball off the pitch and injuring a woman in the crowd during the goalless draw with Sunderland. QPR are the only club in the top nine of the Second Division to win, beating Stockport 2-1 at Edgeley Park and moving up to third place. Leaders Plymouth draw 2-2 with Oldham, while Brighton also draw 2-2 against Peterborough in Mark McGhee’s first match in charge. In Division Three, leaders Hull are held 2-2 at home by Macclesfield, allowing Doncaster and Oxford to edge closer as both win.
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Sunday 2 Liverpool move up to seventh in the Premiership after a 2-1 win over Fulham at Loftus Road. Danny Murphy scores the winner from the penalty spot after substitute Florent Sinama-Pongolle is tripped by Zat Knight. Gérard Houllier denies speculation that Michael Owen could be on his way to Real Madrid for £25m. Leicester beat Blackburn 2-0 at the Walkers Stadium, a fifth successive  defeat for Rovers who drop down to second from bottom. “We are gutted in that dressing room and he’s one of those  gutted people,” says assistant manager Tony Parkes of  Graeme Souness. Pictures  of Robbie Fowler “dragging  on a hand-rolled cigarette”  at a nightclub in Colchester  are published in the News of  the World.

Tuesday 4 Chelsea are set up to qualify for the knockout stages of the Champions League after a 4-0 win at Lazio, the last three goals coming after the spitting Sinisa Mihajlovic is sent off. In the Walkover of Britain, Man Utd beat Rangers 3-0. Tony Adams is the new manager of Wycombe and John Ward takes charge at Cheltenham.

Wednesday 5 An Ashley Cole goal two minutes from time beats Dinamo Kiev, giving Arsenal their first win in eight CL games. “It was becoming an obsession for us,” says a twitching Arsène. Celtic, too, still have a chance of reaching the knockout stages after a 3-1 home win over Anderlecht. Bryan Robson will not be Nigeria’s next coach after the country’s sports ministry refuses to meet his salary demands.

Thursday 6 Newcastle continue their good from in the UEFA Cup, winning 3-2 at Basel. Hearts record one of the best results of the night in beating Bordeaux 1-0 away, though manager Craig Levein advises caution: “They are better than than us, so they are not out yet.” Liverpool slosh to a 1-1 draw on a mudbath of a pitch in Bucharest. Man City are held 1-1 at home by Polish club Groclin.

Saturday 8 “I expect I’ll be reading about Martin O’Neill again now,” sighs Gérard after Liverpool’s fifth defeat of the season, 2-1 at home to Man Utd. Arsenal go a point clear after coming from behind to beat Spurs 2-1 with a deflected shot that loops over a distraught Kasey Keller: “It was going to take something strange to beat us and that was strange.” “Sometimes you have to take a kick in the teeth to learn a lesson,” says Micky Adams after Leicester’s second straight win, 3-0 at Man City, lifts them up to 15th. “I’ve not experienced anything like that before,” says Alan Pardew as First Division leaders West Brom come back from three down in 18 minutes to win 4-3 at West Ham. Nicky Law is sacked by Bradford, whose 1-1 draw with Walsall is their 12th match without a win. In the FA Cup first round, Burton Albion win 2-1 at Torquay and Stevenage Borough beat Stockport by the same score. Ford Utd draw  2-2 at Port Vale. Second Division leaders Plymouth lose 3-2 at Northampton and Wrexham are beaten 4-1 at Yeovil. Gainsborough Trinity suffer the biggest defeat, 7-1 at Brentford.

Sunday 9 Chelsea’s 5-0 hammering of Newcastle takes them back to the top but Claudio Ranieri warns: “My players are young and don’t realise how long the season is.” Hornchurch, one of three full-time professional teams in the Ryman League, knock Darlington out of the FA Cup, 2-0, a 94th-minute goal for Accrington Stanley beats Huddersfield and Canvey Island get a  1-1 draw at neighbours Southend.

Monday 10 Peter Reid is sacked by Leeds. “I don’t think it’s a lost cause but it’s a very difficult task,” says caretaker Eddie Gray, who intends to reinstate mardy Mark Viduka, dropped from the squad after a bust-up with Reid. Blackburn move out of the bottom three at Everton’s expense after beating them 2-1 at Ewood Park. David Moyes does his glacial stare: “The players tell me they are going to respond to this. I hope they keep their word.”

Tuesday 11 “I thought it was a wind-up,” says Spurs’ Anthony Gardner on learning that he’s in the England squad for the Denmark friendly. Scott Parker and Glen Johnson are the other uncapped players included. Lomano LuaLua, out of favour at Newcastle, uses his personal website to ask for a loan transfer: “It has got to the point where I’m starting to wonder what I’m doing here.” Dennis Wise gets the Millwall manager’s job on a permanent basis. Lincoln manager Keith Alexander is in hospital after collapsing with a brain haemorrhage.

Thursday 13 A hectic day for Alan Smith, who’s arrested for throwing a bottle into the crowd against Manchester United  last month, called up by England, then dropped a few hours later. The PFA’s Gordon Taylor is fit to burst: “It’s as though one part of the FA doesn’t know what the other is doing.” David O’Leary is set for an urgent pow-wow with Doug Ellis after “sources” claim he is unhappy at Villa and would consider a return to Leeds (no, really).

Saturday 15 Scotland grab one of their best results in years, a James McFadden goal beating Holland 1-0 in their Euro 2004 play-off first leg. “That was a team today that beat a group of individuals,” says Berti. Wales get a goalless draw in Russia but Mark Hughes isn’t booking his villa on the Algarve yet: “We’ve had false dawns before.” Norwich miss a chance to go top of the First Division, losing a 100 per cent home record in a 2-1 defeat by Watford. QPR replace Plymouth as leaders of the Second after beating them 3-0. Southend move into the relegation zone in the Third after crashing 4-0 at Yeovil.

Sunday 16 England’s 3-2 defeat by Denmark is their first loss for nine games under Sven, who is unhappy over the Alan Smith ban: “This is the second time it has happened and it is bad for football. Have we become a laughing stock?” The players release a statement expressing “concern that the FA are reacting to outside pressures”.

Tuesday 18 Ryan Giggs is charged with improper conduct by UEFA after an unpunished elbow on Russia’s Vadim Evseev, but he will be available for tomorrow’s match. Alexander Mostovoi, banned from the return leg, will complain to his parents about the rude Welsh boys: “Almost all of them made ugly faces at us and shouted dirty words.” More power games at Old Trafford, as Sir Alex sues Man Utd shareholder John Magnier for the millions of pounds he claims to be owed for a racehorse’s stud fees. Jody Morris is charged with rape.

Wednesday 19 Frustration for Wales, beaten 1-0 at home in their Euro 2004 play-off by Russia. “The players deserve credit for taking Welsh football somewhere it has not been before,” says Mark Hughes, whose future as national-team manager now seems to be in doubt. Humiliation for Scotland whose 6-0 thrashing in Holland, for whom Ruud van Nistelrooy gets a hat-trick, is their worst defeat since 1961. Berti: “You can blame me but please don’t blame my players. The quality of the two teams is different, that’s all.” In FA Cup replays, Southend’s 3-2 win at Canvey Island almost counts as a shock; Ford Utd take Port Vale to within seven minutes of a penalty shoot-out before losing 2-1.

Saturday 22 “It’s going to be difficult for anyone to come here and get results,” sighs Eddie Gary as Leeds’ sixth straight defeat, 2-0 at home to Bolton, keeps them stranded at the bottom. Gordon Strachan doesn’t comment on rumours that he may return to Elland Road after Southampton’s 1-0 home defeat by second-placed Chelsea but chairman Rupert Lowe is unhappy: “The drumbeats continue but we are not instigating them.” Leaders Arsenal set a Premiership record of 13 matches unbeaten from the start of the season with a 3-0 win at Birmingham. Man Utd stay third after a 2-1 win over Blackburn, for whom Dwight Yorke has a goal contentiously disallowed for offside. Graeme Souness has a view, as per: “In another stadium that would have been allowed to stand.” “Well done Paolo,” says Micky Adams insincerely after Charlton grab a 1-1 draw at Leicester via a dubious penalty won and scored by you-know-who. West Brom go a point clear in the First after one of the division’s five goalless draws, at home to Reading.

Monday 24 A thrilling start to the week for Bradford City fans as Bryan Robson is confirmed as their new manager. Dundee may have to release their entire squad after going into administration with debts of £13m. Meanwhile, two of their players, Nacho Novo and Brent Sancho, are charged with assault over an incident in the city centre. West Brom’s Lee Hughes is arrested in connection with a fatal car accident on Saturday evening.

Tuesday 25 “Who would have believed we’d do this?” asks Arsène as Arsenal go bonkers in Milan, beating Internazionale 5-1 – the biggest ever home defeat for an Italian team in Europe. Celtic need a point to qualify for the next stage after a 0-0 draw with Bayern. Wimbledon draw level with Bradford at the foot of Division One after a 1-1 draw with West Ham. The latter are without a win in eight games under Alan Pardew, who is feeling the pressure:  “There are murmurs of discontent about me and I can understand that.”

Wednesday 26 Chelsea’s 0-0 draw with Sparta Prague takes them into the knockout rounds of the Champions League. Man Utd, also through, win 1-0 at Panathinaikos despite resting five players for Sunday’s game at Stamford Bridge. Rangers are free to concentrate on trying to qualify for the UEFA Cup following a 1-0 defeat in Stuttgart. Leeds could go into administration after failing to reach an agreement with creditors over their £90m debts. Mark Hughes says he will stay on as Wales manager. Lee Hughes is charged with causing death by dangerous driving and leaving the scene of an accident.

Thursday 27 Man City are out of the UEFA Cup on away goals, after a 0-0 draw against Groclin in Poland. “We entered the competition through the back door and we’ve gone out through the back door,” says Kev. Hearts are gone, too, losing 2-0 at home to Bordeaux. Liverpool and Newcastle are through after 1-0 wins. Sven is said to be “disappointed” that the FA have leaked details of a proposed new four-year contract – Roman will have been on the phone, sharpish. Trevor Brooking, though, is delighted to be working for the FA as their new director of football: “It will be a wonderful challenge to share my passion.”

Saturday 29 The FA may ban pre-match fireworks after a Wolves fan is injured by a stray rocket before the 1-1 draw with Newcastle. Dave Jones’s side stay second from bottom, but are now level on points with Leeds whose first win in seven games, 1-0 at fourth-placed Charlton, leaves the home manager in despair: “It’s crazy what has happened to us.” With the three teams directly below them all winning, Everton drop back into the relegation zone after a 2-0 defeat at Bolton. Wayne Rooney, out of sorts again, reacts badly to being substituted and appears to get a warning from David Moyes: “He is is still young enough to  be playing for our youth team.” In the First, West Brom and Norwich retain places on the front row of the grid after wins over Forest and Crewe respectively. Alan Pardew finally breaks his duck  as West Ham crush Wigan 4-0. “At half-time I thought, ‘What am I doing here?’” says Bryan Robson after Bradford City stage the best comeback of the day, from two down at the break to win 3-2 at home to Millwall. QPR continue to lead the Second after a 3-0 win over Sheffield Wed who have slipped to 17th; Oxford stay top of the Third with a 2-1 win at Rochdale. Sticking doggedly to their self-appointed task, Carlisle are now 12 points adrift at the bottom of the League after a 1-0 defeat at home to Doncaster. Gerry Collins is bade farewell by Partick Thistle, whose latest defeat, 3-1 at Celtic, leaves them with two points from 14 SPL games.

Sunday 30 Cornered after the Euro 2004 draw, at which England are paired with France, Croatia and Switzerland, Sven wearily refuses to be drawn on whether he’ll accept a new contract: “It’s much too early to say yes, no, whatever.” In the Premiership, Middlesbrough break  a club record for successive clean sheets in the top division, a stonking  five, Sun Jihai putting into his own net for a 1-0 win at Man City. Liverpool move to within  a point of fourth place  after coming from behind to beat Birmingham City 3-1. With Arsenal held 0-0 at home by Fulham, Frank Lampard’s penalty winner against Man Utd takes Chelsea top. Sir Alex waves it away: “If we lost this game in March it would be a major result. But it is not March, it is November.” Claudio Ranieri just settles down for some squat thrusts:  “All I know is work, work and work.”

From WSC 203 January 2004. What was happening this month

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