THE HALF DECENT FOOTBALL MAGAZINE

Tuesday 1 “We’re in the qualification comfort zone,” says Sir Alex, lolling in his hammock after a 4-0 win over Olympiakos. Newcastle lose again, 2-0 at Juventus, though they have a goal wrongly disallowed for offside when one down. Sir Bobby isn’t sure whether he’s given up yet: “It’s almost impossible, but we won’t say that at the moment.” Oxford Utd make the headlines in the Worthington Cup, beating Charlton on penalties after a goalless draw at The Valley. West Ham are also taken to spotkicks, finally beating Chesterfield 4-3. Sunderland treble their goals tally for the season in winning 7-0 at Cambridge. The FA are to investigate a “throat-cutting” gesture made by Eyal Berkovic to a Man City fan who had allegedly been barracking him during the team’s 3-2 win over Crewe.

Wednesday 2 “I knew it was the right time to put Emile back as a striker,” boasts Gérard, as Heskey scores two in Liverpool’s 5-0 win over Spartak Moscow. Arsenal win again, 1-0 at Auxerre, though Arsène “wasn’t happy at all” about a rough challenge on Ashley Cole which seems to have happened within his line of vision. “These players were telling me they were good enough for the first team,” says Sam Allardyce after Bolton’s second string lose 1-0 at home to Bury in the Worthington Cup. Gary Megson makes similar noises after an under-strength West Brom lose 3-1 at Wigan. Derby’s erratic form continues with a 2-1 home defeat by Oldham. Rushden’s first meeting with Coventry ends in an 8-0 defeat, while Crystal Palace put seven past Cheltenham.

Thursday 3 “I just cannot understand why it keeps happening,” says Claudio Ranieri as Chelsea are put out of the UEFA Cup at the first stage for the third year run­ning, 6-5 on aggregate to Viking FK. Rangers are out too, on away goals to Viktoria Zizkov. Blackburn squeak through on away goals after letting slip a three-goal lead against CSKA Sofia. Ipswich belie their League form to win 1-0 against Sartid in Yugoslavia. Leeds and Fulham are also through. Barnsley are the latest club to go into administration but Football League spokesman John Nagle is not overly concerned: “Most clubs that have come out of the other side do so much stronger.”

Saturday 5
Middlesbrough are the star performers in the Premiership, consolidating third spot with a 2-0 win over Bolton. Newcastle come from behind with the aid of a controversial decision to beat West Brom 2-1 – “It’s about time we got a break,” says Bobby Robson. West Ham get back to losing ways, going down 2-1 at home to Birmingham, while Brett Ormerod scores twice to give Southampton a 2-0 win over a shoddy Man City. “If I have to work that hard for us to lose 2-0, then I don’t think we’re on the right track,” groans Peter Schmeichel. First Division talent-magnets Portsmouth stretch their lead with a 3-2 win at Rotherham. Oldham are clear leaders in the Second after winning 1-0 with ten men at Swindon, whose manager Andy King admits: “I realise the calls for my head come from a majority.” A bad day for Tranmere – having lost 6-1 to Southampton in midweek they repeat the trick against happy-go-lucky bottom club Mansfield. John Cornforth is sacked as Exeter manager shortly after their 1-0 home defeat by York City. Rio Ferdinand’s expensive knee is to have an operation that will keep him out for a month.

Sunday 6 Arsenal get two in the first ten minutes to take care of Sunderland at Highbury, while second-placed Liverpool wait until the last seconds before Michael Owen scores the winner against Chelsea (“Football is fantastic, but also cruel,” laments Ranieri). “As long as we’re in the UEFA Cup I can guarantee our league performances will be affected,” says Graeme Souness after Blackburn go down 2-1 at home to Tottenham – he’ll be glad about that if it means they miss out on Europe this season. In Scotland, it’s 3-3 in the Old Firm match. “I think people throughout Britain would have loved that game,” says Alex McLeish.

Monday 7 After a quiet couple of months, the sack race begins in earnest, with Peter Reid released from his misery by Sunderland, Alex Smith dismissed by Dundee Utd, currently one off the bottom in the SPL, and Steve Coppell taking over at Brighton with Martin Hinshelwood “promoted” to director of football. Man Utd move up to fourth after scoring three in the last four minutes against Everton. Blackburn’s David Thompson is called into the England squad to replace the injured Trevor Sinclair.

Tuesday 8 Exeter claim to be considering Paul Gascoigne as their new manager. “We need to sit down with him to see if he’s serious about this,” says the club’s vice chairman Mike Lewis, as if he didn’t know the answer already. Jan Molby’s offer to resign is rejected by Hull.

Thursday 10 Howard Wilkinson is the surprise choice as new manager of Sunderland, with Steve Cotterill leaving Stoke to become his assistant. Howard has some bad news for his new charges: “We want players who know the only way our opponents get anything is over their dead bodies.” Adam Crozier says the hunt for a new technical director may take a while: “I don’t think there’s any need to dive in and get a quick solution.”

Friday 11 Two England fans are shot by security guards at a bar in Bratislava though neither is seriously hurt. Ipswich sack George Burley. “The directors have decided it is time to draw a line under a frustrating 12 months,” says chairman David Sheepshanks. Coventry ask their first team squad to take a pay cut. “We are concerned by the manner in which clubs are using what is almost emotional blackmail,” says Mick McGuire of the PFA. Hull change their minds about Jan Molby, who is shown the door and replaced by promising youngster Peter Taylor. Exeter decide not to interview Paul Gascoigne.

Saturday 12 England come from behind to beat Slovakia 2-1, Michael Owen getting the winner eight minutes from time. The FA are to complain to UEFA about the racial abuse directed at England’s black players and the rough tactics of the local police, who baton-charge travelling fans. “This was a big one for Scotland,” says Berti Vogts as his team almost guarantee second place in their qualifying group with a 2-0 win in Iceland. Northern Ireland lose 3-0 in Spain. Hoity toity David Sheepshanks denies approaching Ronnie Moore about Ipswich’s managerial vacancy: “We have categorically had no contact with Rotherham. I don’t even know their chairman’s name.” In the Second Division, it’s party time for Mansfield who keep their first clean sheet in a goalless draw at Peterborough, having let in 35 in their previous 12 games. With Boston beating Torquay, Swansea drop to the bottom of the League after losing 1-0 at Oxford.

Monday 14 The Millmoor mystery deepens – it seems a hoax caller contacted Rotherham claiming to be David Sheepshanks. But Ronnie Moore is still hopeful: “Ipswich would be the type of opportunity I’ve been working all my life for.” South African police dismiss a charge of sexual assault brought against Sir Alex Ferguson last week.

Tuesday 15 Roy Keane is banned for five games and fined a record £150,000 for comments made in his autobiography about the Haaland hack. Gary Megson is to send a video to the Premier League showing refereeing decisions that have gone against his team: “If I’m being paranoid and I’m wrong, then fine, I’ll hold my hands up.” Steve Parkin is sacked as a cost-cutting measure by Barnsley, currently 17th in the Second Division. Bolton’s Stig Tofting is jailed for four months for assaulting the manager of Copenhagen’s Cafe Ketchup.

Wednesday 16 David Seaman comes out too far again, conceding direct from a corner for Macedonia’s opening goal in a 2-2 draw with England. Sven is chipper: “I am not going to cry about it – I want to fight for first place and I am sure we will do it.” Wales get their best result in a couple of decades, beating Italy 2-1. Mark Hughes: “I felt we had the weapons that could really worry them, and that’s how it proved.” Mick McCarthy squats over the bacon slicer after the Republic’s 2-1 home defeat by Switzerland. Northern Ireland draw 0-0 with Ukraine. Leicester players are the latest to agree to defer some wages until the end of the season. “Wimbledon” announce that they won’t be moving to the temporary stadium in Milton Keynes until at least 2003. “This not a project that we are prepared to rush or compromise on,” says chairman Charles Koppel through gritted teeth.

Thursday 17 Exeter chairman John Russell has an unusual welcome for the new management team of Neil McNab and Gary Bennett: “What I like most about them is that they are both hungry and will live and eat Exeter City.” England women’s team lose 1-0 at home to France in the first leg of their World Cup qualifier. Leicester face another crisis with dastardly Dennis Wise launching legal action to recover the £2.3 million owed after his sacking.

Saturday 19 Chunky wunderkind Wayne Rooney scores the winner for Everton in a 2-1 win that ends Arsenal’s unbeaten run. “He is supposed to be only 16,” says an admiring but sceptical Arsène. Liverpool take their place at the top after a 1-0 win at Leeds. “People around the club are expecting too much,” protests Terry Venables, whose side are without a win in five games. Howard Wilkinson’s first game in charge at Sunderland ends in defeat, Trevor Sinclair’s winner taking West Ham off the bottom, while lovable character Fabien Barthez does his penalty-delaying thing again before saving from Fulham’s Steed Malbranque, to rescue a point for Man Utd. Alan Shearer’s 300th (and indeed 301st) club goal is in vain as Newcastle crash 5-2 at Blackburn. Gloomy news for Nationwide managerial newcomers: Steve Coppell’s Brighton go two up but lose 4-2 at home to Sheff Utd; Pablo Couñago is sent off as Ipswich go down 3-1 at Reading under caretaker Tony Mowbray (“It’s his Latin temperament,” says Mowbray unhelpfully); Glyn Hodges sees Barnsley lose 1-0 at Tranmere. But Peter Taylor works his magic on Hull, 4-1 winners at Torquay, while Hartle­pool top the Third after a 4-3 humdinger with Wrexham.

Sunday 20 It’s Bolton’s turn to go bottom after they lose 3-1 at Spurs while Charlton are beating Middlesbrough 1-0. The east midlands grudge match ends in a relatively tame 0-0 draw between Forest and Derby, but there are 26 arrests and lots of bad feeling as Wolves win 2-0 at Stoke. “Besides ducking seats and bottles, there was a match out there,” claims Dave Jones. Queen of the South win the Bell’s Challenge Cup, beating Brechin 2-0.
 
Monday 21 Aston Villa are booed off after losing 1-0 at home to Southampton. “The pressure builds on everybody if you’ve had the start that we’ve had,” says Graham Taylor, smiling that tight smile. Gary Lineker is involved with a consortium aiming to take over Leicester, who go into administration with debts of £30 million.

Tuesday 22 Arsenal lose again, 2-1 at home to Auxerre, but still lead their Champions League group. Arsène is still breathing steadily: “There is no basic reason to be alarmist.” Michael Owen, left out against Leeds, gets all Liverpool’s goals in a 3-1 win in Moscow for which Gérard bashfully accepts some credit: “When I bring him back, I know he is the one to score the important goals.”

Wednesday 23 Man Utd reach the next stage of the Champions League with a 3-2 win away to Olympiakos. “We showed big tenacity tonight,” says Bobby Robson as Newcastle keep a slim chance of qualifying by beating Juventus 1-0. Tommy Taylor is sacked by Darlington, four places off the bottom of the Third. Chairman George Reynolds adds to his store of folk wisdom: “Southern managers don’t seem to gel in the north for some reason.”

Thursday 24 Patrick Vieira is cleared of swearing at referee Andy D’Urso after being sent off against Chelsea last month, but receives a two-match suspension for telling him he “has no personality”. FIFA are to present a proposal to the European Commission that would limit the number of foreign players in domestic leagues to a maximum of five per team. UEFA are to back a more moderate plan for first team squads to contain a minimum quota of players from clubs’ youth systems.

Saturday 26 Liverpool extend their lead to five points with a late penalty winner against Spurs; Arsenal lose again, 2-1 at home to Blackburn. Gérard talks tough: “Don’t ask me whether we deserved it – of course we did.” But hey, so does Arsène: “Of course everyone is very concerned, but we will come back even stronger.” Deadly Diego Forlan’s first League goal saves a point for Man Utd at home to Villa. Alan Smith is sent off in Leeds’ 2-2 draw at the Riverside. Portsmouth go six points clear in the First after winning 3-0 at Burnley, while Norwich lose at Bradford. Ipswich fans respond to the rumour that Joe Royle is about to take charge by singing “You can stick the new manager up your arse” during their 1-0 home defeat by Gillingham. “I feel like an alcoholic – as low as you can go,” says Steve Coppell after Brighton’s first derby visit to Crystal Palace for 13 years ends in a 5-0 defeat – they have now lost 12 in a row. Carlisle miss a chance to move off the foot of the League after Swansea twice come back to draw 2-2. Team Bath become the first college team in the hat for the first round of the FA Cup since 1880 after drawing their fourth qualifying round tie away to Horsham.

Sunday 27 James Beattie gets a hat-trick as Southampton come from two down to beat Fulham 4-2. “It’s the end of October and we haven’t won at home,” observes Glenn Roeder accurately as Everton beat West Ham with a Lee Carsley goal at Upton Park. In the SPL, Celtic win 4-1 at Dunfermline but Rangers do better, beating Kilmarnock 6-1. It’s beginning to look like a two-horse race.

Monday 28 Howard Wilkinson gets his first point as Sunderland manager in a 1-1 draw at Bolton and can sense a “change in mentality” among his players. The FA are to investigate scuffles at the end of the Leeds v Middles­brough match with Nick Barmby denying George Boateng’s apparent claims that he racially abused him. There will be also be an enquiry into an alleged stamp by Dennis Bergkamp on Blackburn’s Nils-Eric Johansson. Dennis knows who to blame: “It was a decision made by someone at ITV and then picked up by the FA.” Joe Royle is confirmed as Ipswich manager.

Tuesday 29 Newcastle give themselves a chance of staying in the Champions League with a 2-1 win over Kiev. “That was the most important result of my career,” says Alan Shearer, who scores the winning penalty. Man Utd do no more than turn up in losing 3-0 to Maccabi Haifa. Portsmouth stretch their lead in the First Division to eight points by beating Preston. Burnley join the handful of teams in League history to have scored five and still lose, opponents Grimsby getting six at Blundell Park. Just 849, and that’s a generous estimate, watch Wimbledon’s 2-1 win over Rotherham. Bryan Robson declares his interests in the Stoke City job, the clincher being: “Stoke isn’t that far from where I live.”

Wednesday 30 Consistent as ever, Arsenal suffer their fourth successive 2-1 defeat, away to Dortmund in the Champions League. Arsène isn’t happy about the winning penalty. “It was a good dive by people who accused us of diving before the game.” Liverpool are also beaten, 1-0 at home by Valencia. An unnamed player tests positive for nandrolone, and will face a lengthy suspension if found guilty. George Boateng denies claiming that Nick Barmby had made racist comments.

Thursday 31 FA chief executive Adam Crozier resigns, having refused to agree to the Premier League chairmen’s demand for a new body, the Professional Game Board. An FA spokesman says Sven is “devastated” by the news. Fulham put in the best performance among the English clubs in the UEFA Cup, winning 3-0 away to Dinamo Zagreb. Celtic beat Blackburn with a late goal from Henrik Larsson, but Graeme Souness enjoyed it: “I’m disappointed in the stick I got – I thought it would be more hostile.” Ipswich and Leeds also win 1-0 at home against Liberec and Hapoel Tel-Aviv respectively. Terry Yorath resigns as Sheffield Wednesday manager, whose 1-0 defeat by Millwall last night kept them in the bottom three in the First Division.

From WSC 190 December 2002. What was happening this month

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