THE HALF DECENT FOOTBALL MAGAZINE

Saturday 1 Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink thumps in a header at St James’ Park, but it’s for Newcastle who go on to win 2-1 and move into joint second place. Debutant Jonathan Woodgate chances a prediction: “Yes, I think we can win the title.” Juninho marks his Middlesbrough comeback with the equaliser in a 1-1 draw against Everton, who move up into the fourth Champions League spot, though David Moyes is taking it steady: “Our next target is a top-half finish.” “This match was about the players who spilt blood,” says Glenn Roeder as a Di Canio-less West Ham draw level with Bolton after beating Spurs 2-0. Hope is receding for the other two in the relegation area, though Howard talks of a “near top-drawer performance” as Sunderland slide to a late and unlucky defeat, their sixth in a row in the league, 1-0 at Fulham. West Brom lose by the same score at Southampton. Portsmouth fans, banned from visiting the New Den, miss seeing their team thrash Millwall 5-0 . Wigan go 15 points clear in the Second with 3-1 win over Chesterfield. In the Third, Hartlepool’s stately progress  is slowed slightly by a 2-2 draw with local rivals Darlington. At the bottom end, Exeter stem a run of four defeats with a home point against the equally desperate Bristol Rovers.

Sunday 2 Liverpool win the Worthington  Cup, beating Man Utd 2-0 with goals from Steven Gerrard and Michael Owen and a star performance from the previously fallible Jerzy Dudek. Gérard feels vindicated: “I was supposed to be under pressure but I can tell you none of it came from anyone at Anfield.” Sir Alex expects a reaction: “People can either accept defeat and go away or they can fight back.” Arsenal’s 2-0 win over Charlton takes them eight points clear and Arsène can’t resist a dig at the day’s main event: “It doesn’t have any significance  for either side as both would sooner  accept a Champions League place.”  Well, miaow.

Monday 3 Birmingham go six points clear of the relegation area after a 2-0 local derby win on a wild night at Villa Park. Before the first goal, Dion Dublin is sent off for butting Robbie Savage. Later Joey Gudjonsson goes too for a lunge at Matthew Upson. Rival fans try to square up to one another and there is another one-man pitch invasion, this time from a Villa fan. Robbie Savage is substituted for his own safety before the final whistle. “Towards the end there was some serious provocation going on but I am delighted with the reaction of my players,” says Steve Bruce. Graham Taylor refuses to speak to the press afterwards.

Tuesday 4 “We’ll have to get used to losing more often in the Premiership,” says Harry Redknapp as Portsmouth’s promotion push receives a slight setback in a 2-1 defeat at Wimbledon. Forest move up to third after a 4-1 win at Gillingham. Uri Geller’s mystical powers must have returned suddenly as Exeter win for their first time in ten matches, 1-0 against Wrexham, though they remain bottom of the Third. Dion Dublin talks about his sending off: “I simply lost it. I was utterly in the wrong.”

Wednesday 5 Man Utd are back on their own in second place, beating Leeds 2-1 while Newcastle lose 1-0 at Middlesbrough. Reading return to third place in the First with a 1-0 win at Norwich. Sheffield Wed thrash Coventry 5-1 but stay in the bottom three, which Stoke move out of by beating Brighton 1-0. Unhappy with his manager’s fondness for spending, David Bernstein resigns as chairman of Manchester City.

Friday 7 Robbie Savage says he has received death threats after the Birmingham derby: “Things are said and done in the heat of a match but let’s move on.” Chatty Craig Bellamy is reported to the FA for an alleged four-letter outburst at Andy D’Urso following Newcastle’s defeat on Teesside. FIFA postpone the world youth championship, due to start in the UAE at the end of month.

Saturday 8 Frank Lampard scores a late equaliser for Chelsea as their FA Cup quarter-final at Arsenal finishes 2-2. Arsène doesn’t need the extra fixture: “I would rather finish games in one day but replays make money and clubs will not vote for it.” Michael Owen FC move back into the top six with their first home win since November, 2-0 against Bolton. Brighton move out of the bottom three in the First after a 2-2 draw with Rotherham. Sheffield Wednesday may rue an Enckelmanesque own goal by keeper Paul Evans in a 1-1 draw at Leicester. Derby supporters boo John Gregory throughout the 4-1 defeat at Preston. Oldham are only two points off a promotion place in the Second after beating Colchester 2-0 while Crewe and Cardiff both lose. The bottom seven in the Third all draw, though fourth-bottom Swansea could lose points for having too many loan players in their squad for last week’s match with Wrexham. Celtic’s 1-0 win over Rangers takes them to within three points of their rivals with a game in hand.

Sunday 9 Sheffield United beat Leeds in a cup tie for the second time this season, Steve Kabba’s goal taking them into the last four of the FA Cup. El Tel talks of “a reassessment of the whole campaign” in the summer when the Leeds board want to raise at least another £15 million in sales. Watford will be able to pay staff who deferred some wages earlier in the year after a 2-0 win over Burnley. Southampton beat Wolves by the same score, the first a spectacular overhead kick by the league’s most in-form natural baldie, Chris Marsden, who assumed initially that someone else had scored: “I was just trying to help it back into the danger area.”

Monday 10 The four-legged think-tank, Howard Wilkinson and Steve Cotterill, are sacked by Sunderland after just two wins in 20 league matches. “It’s clear something had to be done to arrest the decline,” says chairman Bob Murray, as though he’d just woken up. Grimsby stay bottom of the First after conceding an injury-time equaliser in a 2-2 draw at Forest. The cloud looming over Derby grows darker with Craig Burley planning to sue the club for the medical treatment that allegedly delayed his recovery from injury.

Tuesday 11 Newcastle still have a chance of reaching the last eight of the Champions League after a 2-2 draw away to Inter. UEFA are likely to investigate racial abuse aimed at Newcastle’s black players by Inter fans and, allegedly, Christian Vieri during a row with Lomana Lua Lua. Arsenal are held  1-1 at home by Roma who have Francesco Totti sent off in the first half after Bafta-nominated Martin Keown makes the most of a flailing arm. Fabio Capello is fuming: “You English are always trying to teach good sportsmanship. This time you failed.”

Wednesday 12 Mick McCarthy is announced as the  new manager of Sunderland. “My reaction when I was offered the job? Yee-hah!” he says. McCarthy also reveals that the Irish players in the squad had been quizzed about him by anxious team-mates: “They wanted to know ‘is he  a big-nosed miserable sod?’” Gary Neville scores his first European goal as an under strength Man Utd draw 1-1  at home with Basel in the Champions League. In the  First Division upwardly mobile Reading miss a chance  to close the gap on second-place Leicester by losing 1-0  at home to Wolves.

Thursday 13 Celtic and Liverpool draw 1-1 in the first leg of an eventful UEFA Cup quarter-final tie. El Hadji Diouf is charged by police after spitting at a group of home fans, two of whom are arrested for trying to get on to the pitch. Port Vale, in administration with debts of £2 million, are to be taken over by a supporters group, Valiant 2001.

Saturday 15 Blackburn become the first team to do the double over Arsenal for three years, winning 2-0 at Ewood Park. Arsène thinks it was a team effort: “Everyone was to blame.” Man Utd are only two points behind after a 1-0 win at Villa. “Relegation is not too much of a concern,” says El Tel, feigning nonchalance as Leeds’ 3-2 home defeat by Middlesbrough leaves them a catchable seven points ahead of the bottom three. Mick McCarthy gauges the size of his task as Sunderland are beaten 2-0 at home by Bolton but he’s happy enough: “I love a scrap and I love confrontation.” Sheffield Wed are five points from safety at the foot of the First after losing 1-0 at home to Ipswich while Grimsby and Brighton both win by the same score. Swansea are dumped back on the bottom of the league after a 2-1 defeat by Carlisle, which is interrupted by a pitch invasion from home fans after the visitors’ opening goal. There’s a major shock in the quarter-finals of the FA Trophy with Conference leaders Yeovil beaten 2-0 at home by Burscough of the Unibond.

Sunday 16 Chelsea go back into the fourth Champions League spot with a 2-0 win at West Brom, who look doomed. Liverpool are two points behind after a 3-2 win at Spurs, where M Gérard confronts Mauricio Taricco in the tunnel at half-time claiming that he was trying to get El Hadji Diouf sent off. Glenn is almost stirred to anger himself: “I don’t know what angle he is coming from.” Rangers win the CIS Cup with a 2-1 win over Celtic for whom John Hartson misses a penalty in the last minute. Feverish excitement in the Sunday papers as Alan Shearer appears to claim that he would like to come out of international retirement: “I feel I could still do a job for England.”A few hours later, however, thousands of street parties have to be cancelled as he changes his mind: “After much consideration... I do not wish to be considered for future selection by the England coach.”

Tuesday 18 A Man Utd second string lose 2-0 to Deportivo in the Champions League but Sir Alex is more concerned by the “triumphalism” of Arsenal: “They’ve been saying they’ll win the treble, haven’t they?” In the First Division, Grimsby’s 90th-minute winner at Rotherham lifts them out of the relegation zone while Ipswich move to within two points of the play-offs with a  3-1 win over Reading. Positions continue to be frantically swapped in the Third with Boston dumped back on the bottom after Exeter beat Lincoln. UEFA pass judgment on Salivagate with El Hadji Diouf being suspended for two European games, though Liverpool had already decided to withdraw him from the return match with Celtic.

Wednesday 19 Arsenal are out of the Champions League after a 2-1 defeat in Valencia whose time-wasting annoys Arsène: “They laid down and stayed down.” Home fans boo Arsenal’s black players but Patrick Vieira doesn’t expect action: “UEFA keep saying they will do something but nothing ever happens.” Newcastle bow out too, losing 2-0 at home to Barcelona, though a win wouldn’t have been enough as rivals Inter won in Leverkusen. Sir Bobby believes they will do better: “A lot of the players I’ve got are kids – they’re puppies.” Portsmouth stay on course for 100 points after winning 4-0 at Coventry. John Gregory’s tortuous tenure at Derby may be drawing to a close after a 3-0 defeat at Forest. Swansea return to the foot of the Third after Boston’s 1-0 win over Darlington. Concerned that he may have given the wrong impression, Sir Alex denies stoking up a feud with Arsène: “It’s something manufactured by the press. No matter what you say, it’s con­strued as psychological warfare.” The Conference will go up from 22 to 24 clubs next season, after a proposal put forward by Stevenage Borough – currently second bottom. There will also be a regionalised second level from 2004-05.

Thursday 20 Celtic become the first Scottish club to beat Liverpool in Europe, winning 2-0 at Anfield in the second leg of their UEFA Cup quarter-final. Gérard takes solace in management-speak: “They had higher levels of energy than us.” Martin O’Neill looks at the bigger picture: “People talk about us joining the Premiership. This hasn’t done us any harm.” The magic of the cup: George Reilly, who scored Watford’s winner in their FA Cup semi-final with Plymouth in 1984, has had part of an ear bitten off by an attacker who whispered “Plymouth” into his other ear after a fight on a building site.

Friday 21 El Tel is sacked by Leeds in an announcement made to the Stock Ex­change, though the decision was taken yesterday. Peter Ridsdale explains himself: “We believe it was time for a change. The people who pretend they are not in relegation trouble are more likely to get sucked into it.” Popular TV personality Peter Reid is the surprise choice as caretaker manager: “When Peter Ridsdale called I knew it was a great opportunity and I snapped his hand off.” UEFA clear Chris­tian Vieri of charges of racially abusing Lomano Lua Lua.

Saturday 22 “It must be a worry for Arsenal,” whispers a concerned Sir Alex as Man Utd return to the top with a Van Nistelrooy hat-trick in a 3-0 over Fulham. Newcastle are still in the hunt too after a 5-1 win over Blackburn. Chelsea boost their Champions League chances with a 5-0 thrashing of happy-go-lucky Man City. “It’s a happy dressing room now,” says Glenn Roeder, possibly thinking of a certain absent player as a 2-0 win over Sunderland moves West Ham out of the bottom three for the first time in 50 years, ha, four months. Birmingham move further away from trouble too, a Geoff Horsfield goal in injury time seeing off West Brom. A bad day then for Bolton manager Sam “The Dark Destroyer”Allardyce, who loses his Laurel North West UK regional darts final to Southampton’s Peter Castle. “I don’t want to talk about Leeds,” says the man most likely, Paul Hart, as his Forest side cement their play-off position in the First with a 4-0 win over Norwich. Wolves do likewise, thrashing Gillingham 6-0. It’s Stoke’s turn to move out of the bottom three after a 2-1 win at Watford. Crewe’s first ever win at Luton, 4-0, keeps them in the second promotion spot in the Second Division, still propped up by Huddersfield whose players, unpaid for three months, apply for the club to go into administration. Swansea and Exeter, who both draw, remain in the relegation positions in the Third but the bottom seven are covered by just two points – and only three points separate third-placed Scunthorpe from Torquay in 11th. It’s just mad.

Sunday 23 Arsenal are two points clear again after a contentious 2-1 win over Everton, who claim a foul and an offside in the build-up to Patrick Vieira’s winner. “These players are feeling sorry for themselves,” says an unsympathetic Peter Reid after Leeds’ fourth successive League defeat, 3-1 at Liverpool. Inverness Caley knock Celtic out of the Scottish Cup for the second time in four seasons, winning 1-0 in their quarter-final tie.

Monday 24 “I believe that will have put the jitters up my old mate Reidy,” says The Dark Destroyer as Bolton move back up to fourth bottom, and only two points below Leeds, after beating Spurs with an injury-time penalty from Jay Jay Okocha. Police are to question Craig Bellamy about an alleged racist incident outside a Cardiff nightclub. Meanwhile his club sign Darren Ambrose from Ipswich for a cut-price £1 million. Contrary to David Moyes’s advice, Wayne Rooney is included in England’s squad for their forthcoming Euro 2004 fixtures.
tuesday 25 Arsenal reach the last four of the FA Cup with a 3-1 replay win at Chelsea where Thierry Henry is once again hit by objects thrown from the crowd. Real Madrid claim to be interested in signing David Beckham – “It looks like he is our next big project,” says the club’s general manager Jorge Valdano – playing one of those psychological games prior to the club’s Champions League meeting next month. Southend, one of the few Third Division clubs not liable to be either promoted or relegated, sack manager Rob Newman.

Wednesday 26 Good news for intense men with red hair as Fulham say they are looking for “the next David Moyes” to replace Jean Tigana, who will leave at the end of the season. Mick Wadsworth is dismissed by Huddersfield, currently bottom of the Second Division, for the second time this season having been removed then reinstated in January when the club couldn’t afford to pay him off. Wales’ Euro 2004 qualifier in Serbia is put back until August. Dion Dublin is formally charged by the FA for his illegal header in the Birmingham derby, as is Christophe Dugarry who is alleged to have spat at Joey Gudjonsson.

Thursday 27 Brentford chairman Ron Noades says he will leave the club in the summer, blaming fan pressure: “They have put up posters saying I am wanted for the murder of Brentford FC.” Former Bee Herman Hreidarsson’s move from Ipswich to Charlton is the main activity on transfer deadline day.

Saturday 29 “I am sure that we haven’t gone backwards since the World Cup,” says Sven with fingers crossed after England struggle to a 2-0 win in Liechtenstein with goals from Owen and Beckham. Five England fans are hospitalised, two with gunshot wounds, after pre-match fighting in nearby Zurich. Scotland top their group after beating Iceland 2-1 while Germany are surprisingly held to a draw at home by Lithuania. Wales keep up their 100 per cent record with a 4-0 win over Azerbaijan, in front of the evening’s biggest crowd, 72,000. A late Gary Doherty goal gives the Rep of Ireland a 2-1 win in Georgia. Northern Ireland lose to a late goal in Armenia and are now without a win in eight games. Ipswich and Norwich move to within two points of the play-off places in the First after wins over Gillingham and Bradford City respectively. York City mark their takeover by a supporters’ trust with a 2-0 win over Southend Utd which takes them into an automatic promotion place in the Third, where Exeter City are now two points adrift at the bottom. More magic, Uri, quick.

Monday 31 Peter Ridsdale resigns as chairman of Leeds, citing “the intensity of personal criticism”. He will be replaced by economics professor John McKenzie, who says: “If I am able to help rebuild Leeds it will probably be because I am a reasonable businessman.” With John Gregory still suspended, George Burley is named “interim” manager of Derby.

From WSC 195 May 2003. What was happening this month

More...