THE HALF DECENT FOOTBALL MAGAZINE

Sunday 1 Leicester are top for the first time since JFK was president after drawing with Sunderland – “We’re grinders,” says Peter Taylor – while Man Utd lose to a Thierry Henry “wonder goal”. “It was so spectacular. He’ll never do it again,” says Sir Alex, comp­limentary yet grudging. Chelsea recover from their midweek embarrassment to beat Liverpool 3-0. “I find it difficult to forgive international players when they make mistakes like we did today,” snaps Gérard.

Monday 2 Wantaway spearhead Stan Collymore faces an FA misconduct charge into an alleged stamp on Paul Gascoigne during Leicester’s recent match with Everton. Evil lord Denis Smith steps down but will be kept on by Oxford in an “advisory role”. Not a good start to the week for Christoph Daum, due to take over as Germany’s national coach next summer, who is accused by a Munich-based tabloid of participating in “cocaine-sniffing orgies involving prostitutes”.

Wednesday 4 Former Argentinian international Claudio Caniggia is the latest arrival in Europe’s most cosmopolitan football city. “I have joined friends at Dundee who are with a very ambitious club that is doing very well,” he says. Paul Bracewell, the last Fulham manager BJ (Before Jean), takes over at Halifax.

Saturday 7 England 0 Germany 1. And a silly winning goal too, a Dieter Hamann free-kick catching the pony-tailed custodian unawares. Booed off, Little Kev decides to step down: “Some parts of it I did very well, but not the key part of getting players to win football matches,” he says. “I don’t want people criticising me because they think I am inadequate. There is some­one out there who can take it onto the next stage that Kevin Keegan can’t do.” “We tried everything to make him stay but he wants to go,” says FA chief executive Adam Crozier. Scotland dampen their fans’ joy at England’s discomfort by struggling to a 2-0 win in San Marino. At least one English coach seems to know what he’s doing as Ireland get another away draw, 1-1 in Portugal. Northern Ireland and Wales both lose a lead in home draws against Denmark and Norway.

Monday 9 Several of the bookies’ favourites for the England job rush to rule themselves out. Aimé Jacquet says: “At the French Federation, I am pursuing passionate work with the coaches. That is fully sufficient for me.” Peter Reid’s denial is more, heh, light-hearted: “If I lose two games on the trot here they’re calling for my head. If I did that with England I wouldn’t even be able to go out.” Arsène Wenger’s non is delivered on his behalf by Arsenal chairman Sir Peter Hill-Wood: “He would have permission to talk to the FA but he would be crazy to take the job, and I know he’s not crazy.” An elderly gent in Newcastle, however, seems keen: “I dare say there are few English managers with as much experience. If something came my way I would have to think about it.”

Tuesday 10 Modest and unassuming national icon Sir Bobby Charlton throws a wobbler over suggestions that England might appoint a foreign coach: “What a disgrace if the country which invented the game couldn’t find someone good enough to manage our national team. Only the emerging countries or smaller nations do that.” Someone have a quiet word. The beleaguered Christoph Daum intends to clear his name: “I gave a sample of my hair to a doctor today. The results will be known in four weeks.” Northern Ireland get their best ever result at Under-21 level, winning 5-2 in Iceland, but there are defeats for Scotland and Wales. The impulsive Alan Smith is sent off in England Under-21’s 2-2 draw in Finland. Arsène gets a 12-game touchline ban and a record £100,000 fine for rubbing a fourth official up the wrong way at the Stadium of Light in August.

Wednesday 11 A good night for the Celts. Scotland draw 1-1 in Croatia (where that nice Craig Brown is sent off for shaking his fist at a match official), Wales share the points in Poland, the Rep of Ireland beat Estonia 2-0 . Only Northern Ireland mess up, losing to a last-minute goal in Iceland. The Anglo Saxons, however, labour on with a goalless draw in Finland, though they might have won if a Ray Parlour shot that hits the bar and bounces over the line had been given. “We have been denied victory but I am philosophical,” says Howard the temp. Tony Pulis leaves Portsmouth, whose hoity toity owner Milan Mandaric says: “I don’t come all the way from Florida to see us get a lucky draw with Stockport.” Next time he’ll close his eyes. Hull City avoid a winding-up order but still face closure in a month if they fail to pay an outstanding tax bill. Forfar’s Dave Bowman is banned until December after receiving four red cards in one match, the last three for excessive swearing after he’d been dismissed. That’s just the sort of have-a-go pluck that England need. Is he eligible?

Thursday 12 Dave Bassett thinks the FA should look in the Nationwide League for the next England manager. “There seems to be a general conception that everyone outside the Premier League is useless but I don’t see that at all.” Portsmouth claim Tony Pulis has not been sacked but instead has time off to deal with a court case against his former employers Gillingham. Meantime, Steve Claridge is in charge. And that’s not a sentence you’ll have seen before. Crystal Palace sack defender Andy Linighan after a incident on a “team bonding” trip that is said to have left owner Simon Jordan prone on the floor. Couldn’t they just hug a tree?

Friday 13 A newspaper poll of 100 respected football figures and Ken Bates produces a 62 per cent vote in favour of Terry Venables to be the new England manager. Arsène is a distant second with 12 per cent. “Terry is the obvious choice. It is important that the England manager is English because he can communicate better,” says Ray Wilkins. Graham Taylor feels that Adam Crozier should be requesting a chinwag: “There are managers who have had many years of experience at the highest levels and for one reason or another they do not get invited for serious confidential discussions.” Arsène says he might consider taking the England job when his Arsenal contract runs out in 2002 – but is also contemplating legal action against his possible future employers over his mammoth touchline ban.

Saturday 14 Man Utd return to the top with a 3-0 win at Leicester. “We’ll see whether it was just an off day,” says Peter Taylor. Arsenal go second after a fractious 1-0 win over Villa. Lee Hendrie is mistakenly shown two yellow cards without being sent off, until opposing players draw the referee’s attention. “I wasn’t going tell him. I don’t want another 12-match ban,” mutters Arsène sarkily. Graeme Le Saux’s dismissal, along with Kevin Kilbane, in Chelsea’s 1-0 defeat at Sunderland triggers an anthropological aside from Claudio Ranieri: “You have to accept the referee’s decision. England is the culture where these things come from.” Carlton Palmer looks set for an FA charge after making a three-course meal of his sending-off in Coventry’s 2-1 win over Spurs. “I was watching some golf this morning and that was as good a swing as I’ve seen,” says Gordon Strachan after a pitchside waterbottle is sent flying on Carlton’s journey to the showers. Watford’s ninth win in ten takes them to the top of the First Division, for a day at least. A week after playing in a team beaten 6-0 at home by Brazil, Giovanni Savarese becomes the first Venezuelan to play in the Second Division, scoring both Swansea’s goals in a 2-1 win over Stoke. Claudio Caniggia scores too, in the last minute of his Dundee debut. Dundee Utd chairman Jim McLean quits in spec­tacular fashion after an alleged incident with a BBC Scotland reporter following his team’s 4-0 home defeat by Hearts.

Sunday 15 Emile Heskey gets a hat-trick in Liverpool’s 4-0 thrashing of Derby but Jim Smith appears to have found solace in a self-help book: “Another match is another chance to stop the rot.” Later in the evening six Liverpool players are in a bar where two people are shot by masked gunmen, though they are not believed to have been the target of the attack. Ten out of ten for Fulham, who come from behind to beat Blackburn 2-1. Terry Venables’s campaign to have himself installed as England manager by popular will continues in the tabloids: “I’m overwhelmed by the response to your polls,” he tells the News of the World. “We know these polls are authentic, a true evaluation of the country.” No comment yet from the Crafty Cockney on the news that his former confidant Eddie Ashby is writing a critical book about their business relationship provisionally titled Terry’s All Gold.

Monday 16 “It has gone past the tea cup throwing stage,” says Bryan Robson, set to review his tactical planning after Middlesbrough suffer another home defeat, 3-1 by Newcastle, who move into third place. Unhappy bench-warmer George Weah is released from his contract at Man City saying: “I will not play for someone who makes me look small in front of younger players.” Steve Bruce leaves Huddersfield, currently second bottom in the First. Alan Cork is the new team manager of Cardiff with Bobby Gould moving upstairs. “This will allow Bobby to pursue a more aggressive transfer policy,” says Sam Hammam, handing over a mallet and a large net.

Tuesday 17 “This team has a remarkable spirit,” says Arsène as Arsenal qualify for the next stage of the Champions League by sharing a violent point with Lazio courtesy of Robert Pires’s last-minute equaliser. Diego Simeone appears to be punched in the face by Gilles Grimandi. Home fans throw missiles on the pitch, fight with police and burn cars. Hey ho. Rangers are held to a goalless draw at home by Galatasaray. Watford miss a chance to regain the lead in the First Division after drawing with Gillingham. Sheffield Wed’s eighth successive defeat, 1-0 at Burnley, is the worst run in their history.

Wednesday 18 Two late goals give Man Utd a 3-1 win over PSV. Leeds get a goalless draw away to Besiktas. Fulham equal Newcastle’s First Division record of 11 straight wins from the start of a season, beating Palace 3-1. Patrick Vieira says he was racially abused during the Lazio match by – surprise – Sinisa Mihaijlovic, who offers a limp defence: “Yes, I called him a black bastard, but he called me a gypsy.” NTL withdraw from their proposed deal to broadcast pay-per-view Premier League matches from the start of next season. Premier League chief executive Richard Scudamore puts on a brave face: “We have a valuable asset and will set about reselling it,” he says. But new bidders will expect to pay a lot less than the £3 million per game agreed by NTL.

Thursday 19 Premier League chairmen reject a proposal by Coventry for more equal distribution of money from the next television deal. A two-thirds majority was needed but only ten clubs voted in favour. “This could be an important day in the demise of a competitive league,” says Coventry chairman Bryan Richardson. The FA deny a claim by former German national coach Berti Vogts that he had been approached about the England job through an intermediary. “They know about my tactical knowledge and the fact that I keep a straight line,” says Berti. “Those are the qualities England needs.” Finally someone finds a job for Joe Kinnear, now “consultant” at Oxford United, who also announce that building work is to resume on their fabled new stadium.

Saturday 21 On FIFA’s World Fair Play Day the killjoys on the Newcastle board fail to make an old man very happy, turning down the FA’s request that Bobby Robson become caretaker manager for England’s next seven matches. Man Utd stay top after a 3-0 win over patched-up Leeds, level on points with Arsenal, who come away from their traditionally bad-tempered trip to Upton Park with a 2-1 win. Liverpool are third thanks to Emile Heskey’s winner against his former club. Jimmy Hasselbaink hits four in Chelsea’s 6-1 win over Coventry, who play with ten men for 70 minutes after the contentious dismissal of teenage keeper Chris Kirkland. Ugo Ehiogu’s Middlesbrough debut lasts a whole seven minutes before he limps off. Still, a snip at £8 million. Derby’s tenth match without a win, a 3-1 defeat at Spurs, makes this their worst ever start to a season. Fulham drop a point at last in a goalless draw at Wolves. “We were the first team to stop them playing it out from the back,” says wily tactician Colin Lee – can he be added to the FA’s shortlist? “We hate Venables more than you,” sing Portsmouth fans during their 3-2 win at Crystal Palace. Walsall lose at Wycombe but stay top of the Second, Chesterfield remain five points clear in the Third. Celtic hold an eight-point lead after beating the crisis club of the new millennium, Dundee Utd. Presumably to his own surprise Germany’s former coach-in-waiting Christoph Daum fails a drugs test. “We must help him,” crows Franz Beckenbauer.

Sunday 22 Sheffield Wed move off the bottom of the First, beating Birmingham 1-0. Hibs retain second place in Scotland with a 6-2 win over Hearts. “My players have no idea about football,” says Dick Advocaat after Rangers’ 2-1 defeat at St Johnstone. Peter Taylor will take charge of England’s next match, a friendly with Italy, helped by Sir Alex Ferguson’s assistant Steve McClaren. The FA claim to have a shortlist of three candidates for the full-time job, believed to be Eriksson, Wenger and Hodgson. “This is the beginning of a journey that should have started several years ago,” proclaims Mystic Adam Crozier.

Tuesday 24 “Our defending was a shambles,” barks Sir Alex after another European upset for Man Utd, beaten 2-1 by Anderlecht. United now have to win their final match at home to Kiev. Rivaldo equalises in the fourth minute of injury time to save a point for Barcelona at Elland Road. “Nobody died, so you have to be philosophical,” says David O’Leary. A draw in Milan would see them through. Fulham are off the top of the First Division after losing 1-0 at home to Preston while Watford win by the same score against Bolton. Palace’s sixth defeat in a row, 1-0 at home to Grimsby, leads to fan demonstrations against manager Alan Smith, who says: “The bottom line is to ask if we have any guts and the answer is ‘no’.”

Wednesday 25 Roy Hodgson goes all coy after being given permission by his employers FC Copenhagen to talk to the FA about the England manager’s job: “I can’t say I would jump at the chance because I don’t even know if I’m being considered.” Arsenal’s 4-2 win over Sparta Prague means they will top their Champions League group. Rangers have Arthur Numan contentiously sent off in a 2-0 defeat in Graz and will have to beat Monaco to qualify. Jumping from frying pan to fire, Colin Todd leaves Swindon to become Jim Smith’s assistant at Derby.

Thursday 26 UEFA Cup snoozefest at Anfield, where Liverpool take 88 minutes to score the only goal by which they beat Slovan Liberec. Celtic do better with a 1-1 draw at Bordeaux. Millionaire playboy Stan Collymore signs for Bradford. “It’s a legitimate gamble,” says chairman Geoffrey Richmond. Sven-Goran Eriksson admits he would be interested in the England job (“I feel I could do it and it’s always good to change”) but Nazio won’t let him discuss it until his contract with them ends in June.

Saturday 28 All the home teams win in the Premiership, including Man Utd and Arsenal, 5-0 winners over Southampton and Man City respectively. “Instead of 11 v 11 we were playing ten against 12,” moans Joe Royle after Rob Styles sends off Danny Tiatto at Highbury. One of the goals was handball and another offside, apparently, which only leaves three. Tottenham complete a winless decade against Chelsea with a 3-0 defeat at Stamford Bridge, where George Graham is the target for abuse from Spurs fans. “I would prefer it if the fans were hugging me,” he says. In the First Division, Sheff Wed hold Fulham 3-3 at Hillsborough. “That’s three on the bounce for us and Fulham are in free-fall,” quips a euphoric Paul Jewell. Crystal Palace, castigated by manager Alan Smith days earlier, get the same result at Bolton. In the Second, Reading go top after a see-saw 4-3 win over Oxford.Rangers lose their third game on the trot, 3-0 at home to Kilmarnock, and are 12 points behind Celtic. “Nobody can field a proper team with ten players injured,” says Dick Advocaat, losing gracefully as ever.

Sunday 29 Stan Collymore, inevitably, scores on his debut as Bradford draw 1-1 with Leeds. “All Stan wants to do is concentrate on his football,” says Chris Hutchings hopefully. David O’Leary is upset that ref Steven Lodge fails to give a penalty when Alan Smith goes over. “You know what he’s like – he doesn’t like to show that anyone can bring him down.” Liverpool win the Merseyside derby 3-1, with Nick Barmby, inevitably, scoring. In the First, West Brom are the latest challengers to stumble, 2-0 at Grimsby.

Monday 30 It is claimed that Sven-Goran Eriksson has agreed to become the new England manager, beginning in July. “We will continue talks and have made significant progress,” says David Davies. Gordon Taylor of the PFA is unimpressed: “I think there will be tears at the end of the day. I just can’t see it working out in England.” Paul Sturrock is the new manager of Plymouth.

Tuesday 31 Eriksson’s appointment is made official by the FA, who hope he will working part-time by March. “We didn’t ever say it had to be a foreign coach, we just wanted it to be the best person,” says Adam Crozier, adding: “Sven is very excited.” Selection panel member David Dein is equally upbeat: “He won’t be fazed by superstars. It’s a brave new world.” The easiest route to Europe is closed to Middlesbrough, who bow out of the Worthington to a late penalty at Wimbledon, and Spurs, beaten 3-1 at home by Birmingham. Man Utd reserves fail to do the decent thing, beating Watford 3-0, limping Leeds lose in extra time at Tranmere. Rangers win a match – but only against Dundee Utd in the CIS Cup. 

From WSC 166 December 2000. What was happening this month

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