THE HALF DECENT FOOTBALL MAGAZINE

Friday 1 Tony Pulis, out of work since leaving Portsmouth two years ago, takes over at Stoke. Steve McLaren resigns as Sven’s assistant, saying: “It was never intended to be long-term and it has dragged on.”

Saturday 2 Liverpool stretch their lead to seven points thanks to a Michael Owen double against West Ham, while Man Utd need a deflected effort from Phil Neville and a late Diego Forlan winner to see off Southampton – “They are better players than I thought,” says a surprised Gordon Strachan of his own team. Grim at the bottom for Bolton, 3-1 losers at Birmingham, and West Brom, who go down 2-1 at home to Man City. Leicester’s players continue to improve with every pay cut, winning 2-0 at First Division leaders Portsmouth in farcically wet conditions. “I had to tell the players to just boot it,” says frustrated purist Harry Redknapp. Brighton finally end a run of 12 defeats in a row by beating Bradford 3-2. Almost two whole divisions separate south Wales’ finest as Cardiff stay top of the Second with a 3-0 win over Peterborough, while Swansea are bottom of the Third after a 1-0 defeat at Cambridge.

Sunday 3 Steve Marlet’s horrible slice into his own net is enough to get Arsenal back to winning ways at Loftus Road. Sunderland score once, which is lavish by their standards, but only enough for a draw at Charlton, while the man-boy does his stuff again to give Everton their first top-flight win at Leeds since 1939. “They are very low in the dressing-room,” admits TV, whose cheery grin is getting a bit more forced each week. No goals again for Villa at Blackburn (“It’s becoming a bit mystifying,” says Graham Taylor helpfully) or between Tottenham and Chelsea. It’s all a bit easier in Scotland, where John Hartson helps himself to four for Celtic in a 7-0 rout of Aberdeen.

Tuesday 5 Mick McCarthy resigns as Ireland manager: “I didn’t enjoy the crowd’s reaction after the Swiss game. My situation was affecting the players.” John Toshack is the surprise favourite to take over. Another candidate is John Aldridge who says: “I’d practically swim the Irish Sea to accept it.” And we’d all like to see that. Man City fans get a sudden flashback to the bad old days, losing 1-0 to Wigan in the Worthington Cup. Basel win 2-0 in Moscow, which means Liverpool will have to win their final match in Switzerland.

Wednesday 6 Worthington Cup shocks wherever you look. Pride of place goes to Oldham, 1-0 winners at West Ham. Glenn Roeder is fit to burst: “Some people don’t like words like donkey-work and sweat on shirt.” “It’s no good feeling sorry for ourselves,” says TV doing his teeth-baring bit as Sheff Utd score twice in injury time to beat Leeds 2-1. Spurs lose by the same score at Burnley. Sunderland go berserk and score three, coming back from two down to beat Arsenal’s second string at Highbury – “Don’t ask me about five defeats in six games because I’m not interested,” says Arsène in between loud hums. Holders Blackburn scrape through on penalties after a 2-2 draw with Walsall. The G14 clubs says they will limit wage spending to 70 per cent of their annual turnover from 2005-06. FIFA rule against the FA of Wales who wanted players to be released by their clubs four days before the forthcoming Euro qualifier in Azerbaijan – they will now leave 48 hours beforehand.

Thursday 7 “Europe in five years is the goal I have set myself,” says Chris Turner planning his hols in advance on leaving Hartlepool to take over at Sheffield Wed. With John Toshack having agreed to join Serie B club Catania, the Ireland job seems to be a choice between, um, Peter Reid and, heh heh, Bryan Robson.

Friday 8 Man Utd say they have started legal action against Lazio, fast becoming a financial chasm of epic proportions, over £12.5 million they are owed for Jaap Stam’s transfer. Macclesfield’s Chris Byrne is shot in the thigh by three masked men in Manchester. “I am not totally surprised,” admits Town’s manager David Moss.

Saturday 9 Man City’s first derby win since 1989, 3-1 at Maine Road, leaves Sir Alex fuming: “I’m not happy about it, and the players know it.” Leaders Liverpool also lose, 1-0 at Middlesbrough, while Arsenal beat Newcastle by the same score. For the third home game running, Bolton get a late equaliser to force a 1-1 draw, this time against West Brom. Aston Villa complete a goal-happy week by putting three past Fulham, who have now lost four on the trot in the league. “It’s important to spread the goals around,” says Graham Taylor, whose five main strikers now have one each. In the First, Portsmouth and Leicester win again, while Norwich go third by beating Chris Turner’s new charges 3-0. The performance of the day is by “Wimbledon’s” David Connolly, who gets four (one for each travelling fan) in a 5-3 win at Bradford. “We’re winning, I’m scoring and it’s all very pleasing,” he says. Turner’s old club Hartlepool stay four points clear in the Third by winning 2-1 at Exeter. Chelsea reserves’ spare keeper Mark Bosnich is reported to have tested positive for cocaine, which might give his employers a chance to save £40,000 a week.

Sunday 10 Leeds remember how to play for 45 minutes, putting four past a West Ham side whose first-half performance is described as “diabolical”, “woeful” and “appalling” by Glenn Roeder. It finishes 4-3, leaving West Ham and Dr Martens League Folkestone as the only two sides in the top eight divisions yet to win at home. Sunderland also go on a spree, scoring two in the league for the first time this season as they beat Spurs 2-0. Even Kevin Phillips gets one. “The patient’s improving,” says Dr Wilko, although it still can’t get to the toilet by itself.

Monday 11 Sven-Goran Eriksson confirms that he is to stay on as England coach, working under the FA’s acting joint chief executive David “Teflon” Davies: “I regret that Adam Crozier went away but I want to go on as before.” Resurgent Brighton concede a late equaliser in a 1-1 draw at Wolves, but Steve Coppell refuses to get carried away: “I have told the players not to look at the table. It’s not good for us.” An inquest reveals that the brain disease that killed former West Brom and England striker Jeff Astle may have been brought on by heading hard leather footballs.

Tuesday 12 Liverpool are out of the Champions League after a 3-3 draw with Basel, who had been three up at half-time. M Gérard opts for a brave face: “I have mixed feelings. We were awful in the first half yet showed so much spirit in the second.” Brendan Menton resigns as FA of Ireland secretary after a report criticises the “shambolic” preparations for the World Cup. Portsmouth striker Rory Allen, injury-hit for two years, quits professional football and goes off to follow the Ashes, like a fool. Fulham turn down the offer of a groundshare at Stamford Bridge, whose hard-up owners wanted £15 million up front for a 25-year lease.

Wednesday 13 Newcastle qualify for the second stage of the Champions League with a 3-2 win at Feyenoord, thanks to a Craig Bellamy goal in the last minute, and with the help of Juventus who win 2-1 away to Kiev. Bobby Robson is all of a lather: “I’m pretty ecstatic – but I’m pretty numb as well, so I’m a bit of both.”

Thursday 14 In the UEFA Cup, Fulham complete a 5-1 aggregate win over Dinamo Zagreb. Leeds are through too after Alan Smith refrains from lamping anyone and instead scores all four in a 4-1 win against Hapoel Tel-Aviv. Celtic win 2-0 at Ewood Park – “It doesn’t make us the best team in the world,” warns Martin O’Neill. Ipswich go out on penalties to Slovan Liberec.

Saturday 16 Arsenal go top again after a 3-0 derby caning of Tottenham, though Glenn is unhappy over the sending-off of Simon Davies, whose first yellow is for a tackle which makes no contact with Ashley Cole. “Players sometimes go down in order not to get hurt,” reveals Arsène. “If they keep standing, they might get killed.” Suddenly stingy Chelsea keep another clean sheet, beating Middlesbrough 1-0, and move up to third. “Football is about turning up every week,” says Little Kev, back in cross mode after City lose 1-0 at home to Charlton. Dennis Wise gets the equaliser as Millwall come from two down to draw with his old club Leicester, who have Brian Deane sent off for a lunge at Wise. “Everything I touch turns to gold,” says Wise, which might explain Callum Davidson’s poor form. Star performance in the FA Cup comes from Harrogate Railway, who win 2-1 at Slough and are the lowest ranked team left in. Morecambe, Chester and Southport knock out league teams, while Margate and Vauxhall Motors draw with Leyton Orient and QPR respectively. England fail to qualify for the women’s World Cup, losing 1-0 to France in St Etienne to go out 2-0 on aggregate.

Sunday 17 More good news for Arsenal as Liverpool can only draw 0-0 with Sunderland, who fail to contrive a single effort on goal or even win a corner, and Man Utd are held 1-1 at West Ham. “The goal was clearly offside,” says Sir Alex. “Hopefully we’ll get the breaks in the second half of the season.” Tel needs an even quicker change of luck as Leeds go down to a fourth successive home league defeat, 4-2 to Bolton, who move off the bottom at the expense of West Brom thanks to two late goals. “We are back to square one,” Terry claims, though it looks worse than that. Everton are fourth after winning 1-0 at Blackburn. Robbie Savage, who plays for Birmingham in their draw with Fulham, against the wishes of the Welsh FA, will now miss the Azerbaijan game after straining his groin.

Monday 18 Eleven withdrawals from the squad mean players from the League of Ireland will be capped for the first time since 1986 in the Republic’s friendly with Greece. Wimbledon’s David Connolly denies caretaker manager Don Givens’s claim that he refused a call up: “If it hadn’t been for the stitches in my heel, I’d have been there like a shot.” The French FA want Nicolas Anelka to be banned from turning out for Man City on Saturday after he refuses to join the national squad: “I don’t feel there are people who want to see me wear the jersey.” Simon Davies has one of Saturday’s yellow cards rescinded by referee Mike Riley.

Tuesday 19 The FA announce that construction work on the National Football Centre at Burton-on-Trent has been put on hold while a “full financial review” takes place. “There’s been a gross error of judgment somewhere,” says former technical director Howard Wilkinson. Unfortunately, the scheme to redevelop Wembley, set to cost at least £750 million, is not under threat.

Wednesday 20 Wales win their Euro 2004 qualifier 2-0 in Azerbaijan, equalling a national record of eight matches undefeated. “We are one game nearer the finals and I think we will go close now,” says a jubilant but restrained Mark Hughes. Scotland lose 2-0 in Portugal, the Republic of Ireland draw 0-0 in Greece. Roger Mitchell resigns as chief executive of the Scottish Premier League, whose chairman Lex Gold doesn’t quite manage to look on the bright side: “Yes, the SPL can be described as being in disarray and to suggest otherwise wouldn’t make sense.”

Thursday 21 Football League chairmen agree in principle to a salary cap, with clubs spending no more than 60 per cent of their turnover on wages, possibly to be implemented from next season. The PFA are yet to give their approval, however. Mike Newell is the new manager of Hartlepool.

Saturday 23 It’s tight at the top, with Arsenal and Liverpool both losing 3-2, at Southampton and Fulham respectively. “I have been in England a long time and I still don’t know what is a sending-off,” says Arsène, despairing at Sol Campbell’s dismissal for conceding the penalty that put the Saints 2-1 ahead. Gérard accentuates the positive: “I like being down because you always learn more about your players from a defeat.” Everton’s fifth successive 1-0 win, at home to West Brom, moves them up to third. Alan Shearer gets his 100th League goal for Newcastle but complains of “shambolic” defending in a 5-3 defeat at Man Utd. Portsmouth march on in the First Division, going 12 points clear of third place after winning 3-1 at second-bottom Sheff Wed. In the Second, Mansfield is once again the place for goals, with Bristol City scoring three in the last four minutes to win 5-4. Thrills of a different kind in Exeter’s 2-1 home defeat by Cambridge, with five sent off, two from each side going for their involvement in a last-minute brawl. “Sometimes energy can be channelled in the wrong way,” says New Age guru Terry Butcher after his Motherwell team finish their 3-1 defeat at Hibs with only eight men.

Sunday 24 “With that referee in charge it was always going to be difficult,” says Graeme Souness, who feels Blackburn were playing both Uriah Rennie and Charlton in a 3-1 defeat. Leeds stay 14th after losing 2-0 at Spurs, for whom the rejected Robbie Keane scores the second goal. El Tel is facing front: “Nobody at the club is accepting these defeats, but they are there.” Aren’t they though?

Tuesday 26 “That goalscoring monster Van Nistelrooy killed us,” says Christian Gross, as Ruud scores two to help Man Utd come back from a goal down to win 3-1 in Basle. Facundo Sava for once doesn’t put on his mask after scoring, having contributed an own goal to Fulham’s 2-1 UEFA Cup defeat at Hertha Berlin. Vauxhall Motors knock QPR out of the FA Cup on penalties after a 1-1 draw. In another first-round replay, Margate beat Leyton Orient 1-0.

Wednesday 27 Thierry Henry scores all Arsenal’s goals in a 3-1 win away to Roma. “I wouldn’t swap him for any striker in the world,” says Arsène, all bright-eyed again after the gloom of recent weeks. Newcastle have Craig Bellamy sent off after six minutes during a 4-1 home defeat by Inter. Sir Bobby is glowering: “It was irresponsible and for that the team has suffered.” Alan Shearer may also be suspended if UEFA take action over an elbow on Fabio Cannavaro missed by the referee. Burton Albion narrowly miss causing an FA Cup surprise, losing on penalties to Oldham after a 2-2 draw.

Thursday 28 In the cup they don’t want to win, Michael Owen scores the only goal for Liverpool in Arnhem. Leeds put their squabbles aside for a night, drawing 0-0 away to Málaga. Celtic beat Celta 1-0.

Saturday 30 Arsenal go four points clear after a 3-1 win over Villa, who are miffed at the spot-kick that seals it. Graham Taylor does not mince his words: “I felt we were playing well and then the bloody referee gives a penalty like that.” Chelsea are back in third after a 3-0 win over Sunderland, who drop back into the bottom three thanks to a rare goal from Daniele Dichio that gives West Brom victory over queasy travellers Middlesbrough – the Baggies’ four league wins have all been by 1-0. Portsmouth squeak past Walsall 3-2 to maintain their lead in the First, though the next six clubs all win too. “The title is ours to lose,” says Harry Redknapp, though he still wants to sign a few more players to make sure. Swansea climb off the bottom of the Third with a 2-0 win over Shrewsbury, to be replaced by Boston.

From WSC 191 January 2003. What was happening this month

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