THE HALF DECENT FOOTBALL MAGAZINE

Thursday 1 Chelsea go out of the UEFA Cup after a 1-1 draw with Hapoel Tel-Aviv. Claudio Ranieri keeps his sunny side up: “The result went against us but it was a brilliant performance.” Leeds survive a scare in Troyes, where they lose 3-2 but go through 6-5 on aggregate. Ipswich save their best till last again, winning 3-1 in Helsingborg. Stung by rejection, Crystal Palace chairman Simon Jordan refuses to accept Steve Bruce’s attempt to resign as manager: “At no time will Steve be allowed to talk to Birmingham.” Bruce will not, however, be taking charge of Palace’s team at the weekend.

Friday 2 The Bishop of Oxford blesses the pitch at Oxford United’s supposedly unlucky new ground. “There was talk among some players of a sense of evil – they interpreted it as a curse,” says a church spokesman.

Saturday 3 Short-term league leaders Aston Villa go down heavily at Newcastle (“I thought 3-0 flattered them,” says jubilant Bobby Robson), while Middlesbrough score five in the second half to beat a woeful Derby, whose only goal comes from the returning Fabrizio Ravanelli. Ade Akinbiyi saves himself from more ritual humiliation by getting the winner for Leicester over Sunderland, now in the bottom six themselves. Leicester’s assistant manager Micky Adams says: “We’ve been asking him to be nice and relaxed, to enjoy his football – ‘let’s see your pearly whites’.” Top scorers in the First Division are Man City, who beat Gillingham 4-1, and Preston, who put six past managerless Stockport. “We could have played anybody in the Premiership and they would have struggled in the first half,” says ever-optimistic Kev. Brentford stay top of the Second, while Luton’s 4-1 defeat at Mansfield is the most eye-catching result in the Third.

Sunday 4 Michael Owen scores twice as Liverpool beat Man Utd 3-1. Sir Alex blames the slackers: “Maybe some players have been here too long and take success for granted.” Leeds stay top with a 2-1 win over Spurs. Arsenal fall back after losing 4-2 at home to Charlton (“We are not mature enough,” says Arsène), thanks in part to a Massimo Taibi-like performance from Richard Wright, while “brilliant” Chelsea need a last-minute winner from Sam Dalla Bona to beat Ipswich at home.

Monday 5 Arsenal reserves beat their Man Utd counterparts 4-0 in The Cup They Couldn’t Care Less About. Paul Scholes, left out of the starting line-up on Saturday, will face Daddy’s wrath after refusing to travel to the game. Four Newcastle players, including the con­valescent Kieron Dyer, are sent home from Marbella for declining to attend a dinner in honour of club president Sir John Hall. Resting “actor” Vinnie Jones will play for Carlisle in a friendly and may sign for them until the end of the season. Darren Anderton and Kevin Phillips are re­called to the England squad for the friendly with Sweden.

Tuesday 6 FIFA announce that diving or feigning injury will be punishable by a direct red card at the 2002 World Cup. “Cheating is the human face of the game but we must be strict,” says Sepp Blatter, wagging an expensively manicured finger. Carlton Palmer takes over at Stockport, saying: “I will expect an extra 20 per cent from everybody immediately.”

Wednesday 7 West Brom move up to second in the First Division after a 1-0 win at Bruce-less Birmingham. Mick Wadsworth, lately training ground shouter at Newcastle and Southampton, is to be Oldham’s head coach, with Iain Dowie in assistance. Brazil, determined to do it the hard way, lose 3-1 to Bolivia in their World Cup qualifier and still need to beat Venezuela to make sure of getting through.

Friday 9 The PFA announce a near-unanimous vote in favour of strike action which could begin any time after November 23. “The vote indicates the strength and solidarity of all the players through the divisions,” says Gordon Taylor. If the next round of negotations fails next week, the Premier League will try to prevent a strike through a High Court injunction. Steve Parkin leaves Rochdale to take over at Barnsley. David Moss is the new manager of Macclesfield.

Saturday 10 Ireland will take a 2-0 lead to Iran for the second leg of the World Cup play-off. In the European first-leg games Turkey are all but through after winning 1-0 in Austria, while Germany draw 1-1 in Ukraine, Slovenia come from behind to win 2-1 against Romania and Belgium beat the Czechs 1-0. In the friendly at Old Trafford, it’s England 1 Sweden 1. Debutant Trevor Sinclair wins an absurd penalty by which England take the lead before Wimbledon-bound Hakan Mild equalises. “I should be honest and not say that I have seen enough,” says Sven of the recalled Kevin Phillips. Craig Brown declines to say whether he’ll take up an offer to become Saudi Arabia’s coach for the duration of the World Cup finals. In the First Division, carefree Bradford (72 goals for and against in 18 games) prevent Norwich going top by winning 4-1 at Carrow Road. Brighton are the new leaders in the Second after Brentford lose 3-2 at Stoke, thanks to a late winner from Belarussian defender Sergei Shtaniuk.

Sunday 11 Australia draw 1-1 with France in their friendly in Melbourne, which degenerates into an all-in brawl after a foul by the ever-popular Kevin Muscat seriously injures Christophe Dugarry. “It was an act of brutality,” says France coach Roger Lemerre. Mexico beat Honduras 3-0 to secure their World Cup spot.

Tuesday 13 England Under-21s qualify for the European championship after a 1-0 win over Holland. The FA dismiss rumours linking the England manager with a summer move to Man Utd. “Even if we win the World Cup Sven will not be going,” says Adam Crozier, jaw set in steely resolve. The High Court will rule next week on whether Crystal Palace can make Steve Bruce serve out his contract which expires next summer. Owner Simon Jordan will settle for £1 million in compensation from Birmingham and a nice big box of chocs, no truffles. Burnley move back to joint top in the First Division with a 1-0 win over Watford but Stoke fail to take the lead in the Second, crashing 6-1 at Wigan.

Wednesday 14 Germany clinch World Cup qualification with a 4-1 win over Ukraine. Franz Beckenbauer remains downcast: “Germany and England will be also-rans at the World Cup. It can only be won by France or Argentina.” Slovenia will be at the finals for the first time after a 3-2 aggregate win over Romania. Portugal’s “friendly” with Angola is abandoned when their opponents are reduced to six men after four red cards and an injury, the first time this has happened in an international since 1977.

Thursday 15 The Republic of Ireland lose to an injury-time goal in Tehran but still qualify for the World Cup on a 2-1 aggregate. Mick McCarthy: “I’m happy for the supporters, the players and my family who won’t have to put up with a grumpy dad coming home.” Brazil stagger into the finals with a 3-0 win over Venezuela. Norwich miss another chance to go top of the First, losing 2-1 at Stockport, for whom manager Carlton Palmer scores a debut goal. Sheffield Wed caretaker Terry Yorath gets the job on a full-time basis.

Friday 16 Jaap Stam is reported to be in “a state of shock and confusion” after testing positive for the steroid nandrolone. In the FA Cup first round, last year’s semi-finalists Wycombe get a shock at Hayes before going through 4-3.

Saturday 17 A last-minute equaliser from Gus Poyet gives Tottenham a point in the Sol Campbell reunion match against Arsenal at White Hart Lane. Liverpool go top after drawing 1-1 at Blackburn, while Southampton are bottom thanks to a bizarre winner for Derby at Pride Park. “I travel all over Europe watching games and I’ve never seen anything like it,” says Gordon Strachan after Paul Jones allows James Beattie’s sliced clearance to drop into the net. Gordon’s old club Coventry go down 2-0 at home to Burnley, who are now top of the ever-changing First Division carousel. Canvey Island provide the biggest upset in the FA Cup first round, winning 1-0 at nine-man Wigan, but no fewer than eight non-League sides draw with League opponents, the pick of them Newport County, who lead twice before drawing 2-2 at Blackpool.

Sunday 18 Leeds fail to make their usual Sunday return to the top thanks to a 2-0 defeat at Sunderland, despite Peter Ridsdale hiring a private plane to fly his three Irish players back from Iran (“I was looking after the interests of our shareholders,” he says touchingly). His manager David O’Leary has identified the remedy: “I still need to spend money.” Ipswich’s terrible run continues with a 2-1 home defeat by Bolton, in which Town’s new French winger Ulrich Le Pen is carried off after 13 minutes of his debut. Everton and Chelsea draw 0-0. In the Cup, Stoke see off Ryman League Lewes with a 2-0 win, but Hereford beat Wrexham 1-0 and Swansea thrash QPR 4-0. “We look like a bunch of losers,” observes Rangers boss Ian Holloway. Oxford United manager Mark Wright denies allegations that he racially abused the referee Joe Ross during last month’s game against Scunthorpe.

Monday 19 Paul Kitson announces to the world that he is still alive by scoring a hat-trick for West Ham in a turbulent 4-4 draw at Charlton. “It was entertaining from my point of view, except when we had to defend,” says Glenn Roeder.

Tuesday 20 After more talks with the football authorities break down, the PFA announce that they will strike from December 1. “There is still a big gap between us,” says Gordon Taylor. “We will have to take all steps necessary to prevent what we consider to be illegal action,” says Premier League chief executive Richard Scudamore. In the Champions League, Liverpool lose 3-1 at home to Barcelona and Man Utd concede a late equaliser in a 1-1 draw away to Bayern. Australia win 1-0 in the first leg of their World Cup play-off with Uruguay in Melbourne. The much-maligned Kevin Muscat gets the goal with a penalty ten minutes from time in front of an 84,000 crowd.

Wednesday 21 Arsenal’s woeful away form in Europe continues with a 2-0 defeat at La Coruña. “Playing Wright was wrong,” says Arsène with a straight face after England’s new goalkeeping hope, carrying an injury, slips up for the second goal. Rookie Stuart Taylor will have to fill in for three weeks. Crystal Palace miss a chance to go top of the First, crashing 3-0 at Gillingham. UEFA say they will drop the second group stage of the Champions League from 2003-04. Director general Gerhard Aigner states the bleedin’ obvious: “The clubs wanted more money, but now we have too many games.”

Thursday 22 The Premier League and Football League will seek an injunction to block the players’ strike. Ipswich beat Inter 1-0 in the first leg of the UEFA Cup third round tie with virus sufferer Alun Armstrong staggering off the bench to score ten minutes from time. Leeds win 2-1 away to Grasshoppers. Celtic are beaten 1-0 by Valencia, Rangers draw 0-0 at home with Paris SG. Lazio are to bid for Michael Owen. “It will be difficult, but we must try to prise him away from Liverpool,” says club owner Sergio Cragnotti, under pressure after the team’s European elimination. Crystal Palace win a temporary High Court injunction preventing Steve Bruce from leaving without nine months’ notice. John Beck’s second spell as Cambridge manager ends with his resignation after only eight months in charge.

Friday 23 The threatened players’ strike is called off after the PFA reach an agreement with the football authorities that will be worth £52.5 million over three years. “I hope there is a new spirit of mutual respect and working together,” says Gordon Taylor. Mark Wright is suspended by Oxford pending further inquiries into his alleged racist remarks. Ian Atkins steps in as caretaker manager.

Saturday 24 Another stomach-churning day for ITV Sport with just three goals scored in six Premiership games. Spurs get one to win at West Ham, while an Alan Shearer penalty beats Derby, who miss from the spot themselves. The other goal, conceded by Charlton, brings Southampton’s first home win of the season, possibly helped by a local witch having performed “a pagan Celtic cleansing” of their new stadium the previous day. Wolves hold on to second place in the First with a late winner at Wimbledon. “I need to bring in some strong characters,” says Carlton Palmer after an unhappy return to Sheffield Wed, where bottom-placed Stockport crash 5-0. Brentford slip out of the top two in the Second after their first League derby with QPR for 36 years ends in a goalless draw. Plymouth hold a six-point lead at the top of the Third after nearest rivals Rochdale concede two goals in the last minute to draw with Lincoln. Newspaper reports suggest that a two-tier Premier League, codenamed “the Phoenix League”, is being planned for next season, with the involvement of 14 clubs from the current First Division clubs plus the quarrelsome duo from Glasgow.

Sunday 25 Liverpool survive the first half dismissal of Dieter Hamann to go two points clear at the top after beating Sunderland 1-0. Second-placed Leeds’ Alan Smith is dismissed for the fifth time in three years during a sour 1-1 draw with Aston Villa – “There were a few mad moments,” concedes David O’Leary. “It was an absolute disaster,” says Sir Alex of Man Utd’s 3-1 defeat at Highbury, though he declines to blame Fabien Barthez, who is at fault for two of the goals. Celtic extend their SPL lead to ten points after a 2-1 win over Rangers. Football League chief David Burns dismisses reports of an impending breakaway. “As far as I’m concerned the Phoenix League is a dead duck.”

Tuesday 27 Phone-in lines on Merseyside are jammed as Robbie Fowler agrees to join Leeds for £9 million, saying: “I’m not interested in recriminations. Like every footballer, I just want to play.” Watford cause a Worthington upset, beating Charlton 3-2. Alan Shearer gets his 100th goal for Newcastle in their 4-1 win over Ipswich, while Blackburn put out Man City, 2-0
wednesday 28 Claudio Ranieri gets just what he needed a day ahead of what is predicted to be a stormy Chelsea AGM with a 2-0 win at Leeds in the Worthington. Sheff Wed cause a major shock, winning 1-0 at Villa, who won’t like Terry Yorath’s explanation of his side’s victory: “We just had to defend against high balls and we’re good at that.”

Thursday 29 Phoenix League proposals, such as they were, are shelved after a meeting of the club chairmen who agree to consider ways of redistributing TV money. One of the main plotters, Geoffrey Richmond of Bradford City, expects big changes soon: “It is still a question of when rather than if Premier League II is created.” At the Chelsea AGM, practical businessman Ken Bates accuses Americans of being “cowards” for not packing out his hotels and puts down a protesting shareholder by calling him a “wanker”.

Friday 30 Trevor Francis is the new man in charge of Crystal Palace, saying: “I see this as a great opportunity to be a manager in the Premiership.” Palace owner Simon Jordan doesn’t seem about to release Trev’s predecessor from his contract: “If I have to pay two managers for the next nine months then that’s my problem.”

From WSC 179 January 2002. What was happening this month

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