THE HALF DECENT FOOTBALL MAGAZINE

Wednesday 1 Holders Spurs slink out of the Worthington Cup at Fulham, their 3-1 defeat described by George Graham as "by far our worst performance since I became manager". A crowd of 17,000 sees Aston Villa trounce Southampton 4-0. "The crowds have been crap because we've played crap until tonight," says the forthright John Gregory. In the Scottish equivalent Rangers' mini-crisis continues with an extra-time defeat at Aberdeen (yes, Aberdeen). Huddersfield threaten legal action against the Football League for referee Jeff Winter's failure to award a penalty during their Worthington match against Wimbledon. That'll work. Darlington are the lucky losers drawn to play at Villa in the third round of the FA Cup. "I have a direct line to the big man upstairs," says their safe-cracking chairman. The government rejects plans for the new Wembley, on the grounds that it would not be able to stage major athletics tournaments as well as football matches.

Thursday 2 Leeds lose 2-1 to Spartak Moscow in the first leg of their UEFA Cup third round tie in chilly Sofia, where two of the three goals are scored by players wearing mittens. "I'm manager of the greatest club in the world," says Neil Warnock on leaving Bury for Sheffield United.

Saturday 4 Man Utd are back on top with Ole Solskjaer scoring four in a 5-1 defeat of Everton. "I haven't seen defending like that since the Boys' Brigade," says Walter Smith, reliving a childhood trauma. Sunderland stay fourth after taking revenge for their August thrashing at Stamford Bridge, beating Chelsea 4-1. Aston Villa's winless run stretches to nine games as they suffer the ignominy of losing to a goal by the walking accident, Duncan Ferguson. After seeing his team thump Watford 5-0, former Wimbledon owner Sam Hammam declares that his successor, Kjell Rokke, wants to sell players to clear a small overdraft: "This club is not a cement factory. If he doesn't love Wimbledon then he must leave." A 1-0 win over QPR takes Huddersfield to the top of the First Division. In the Second, Millwall's grudge match with Cardiff passes off in relative peace with only 25 arrests outside the ground. Leyton Orient fans stage a post-match demonstration after the team's defeat by Carlisle which keeps them one place off the bottom.

Sunday 5 Leeds are two points clear again after winning 1-0 at Derby with an injury-time penalty for a foul on Harry Kewell. "Looking at the video, their fella dived," says Jim Smith. "I've seen the replay and it was a definite foul," says David O'Leary, tuned to a different channel. Sheffield Wednesday sink further into the mire with a 4-1 defeat at Liverpool. Arsenal vice-chairman David Dein admits the club paid an agent nearly £1 million for his role in the transfer of Silvinho but the Premier League don't see a problem: "Agents do get paid and he is licensed so there is no breach of the rules," says a spokesman.

Monday 6 Former Newcastle goalkeeper Peter Keen admits to organising the black market sale of 1999 Cup final tickets. They were exchanged for what turned out to be £32,000 in Monopoly money. Keen may be sacked by his new club, Carlisle, but will be consoled by his immense collection of little plastic hotels. Celtic admit to being interested in a player called Scheidt (first names Rafael Felipe). "Unlike most Brazilian defenders, he can defend," says John Barnes, who's been a manager for four whole months now. Fun with numbers during Spurs' goalless draw with West Ham when the fourth official indicates two minutes of added time with 87 minutes on the clock. The referee duly finishes the match a minute early. George Graham throws a water bottle at the man with the board, the wholly uncontroversial Graham Poll.

Tuesday 7 Tin hats ahoy as England draw Germany, plus Greece, Finland and Albania, in the 2002 World Cup qualifiers. Kev's post-draw ramble includes the observation that "We've got to go out and perform because the only thing certain about the Germans is that they'll be up for it." Craig Brown is happy with a "relatively even group" including Belgium and Croatia, bizarrely placed among the third seeds. Ireland suffer for recent qualification failures by getting Holland and Portugal, the Welsh FA bemoan the lack of a "big financial draw" in a group including the Czech Republic and Denmark, Northern Ireland may as well plan for Euro 2004 after drawing Norway, Ukraine and Poland. Chelsea are well placed for the Champions League quarter-finals after a goalless draw at Lazio to which Gianluca contributes by being sent off for arguing with the fourth official: "The team played better after it happened," he said. Rangers are knocked out of the UEFA Cup after losing a penalty shoot-out to Dortmund. Man City slump to their third successive defeat, 2-1 at home to Stockport. Blackburn, now in the top half of the First after beating Bolton 3-1, are refused permission to talk to Alan Curbishley about their managerial vacancy.

Wednesday 8 Man Utd 3 Valencia 0, first goal from Roy Keane who, to the relief of us all, signs a new four-year contract worth £52,000 a week, saying: "It's about ambition not money." The cost of rebuilding Wembley may prompt the Football League to move its major events permanently to Cardiff, which will host the Worthington and play-off finals for the next three years. Little Kev does his heart-on-sleeve number again, declaring that England's World Cup qualifier with Germany should be staged at either St James' Park or Anfield, rather than the larger Old Trafford, "because both are special grounds for me". That Country and Western album can't be far    off now.

Thursday 9 A late goal by Lucas Radebe takes Leeds past Spartak Moscow and into the last 16 of the UEFA Cup. "All the words beforehand didn't bother me. We're doers, not talkers," says David O'Leary. Arsenal draw 3-3 with Nantes to complete a 6-3 aggregate win, but ArsËne is unhappy: "We stopped defending like crazy." Newcastle are out after a goalless home draw with Roma. "I think that I'm finished with football now," says Alan Ball, sacked as manager of Portsmouth. TV company NTL increases its shareholding in Newcastle to 9.8 per cent in a deal that "earns" the Hall family around £6 million. Club chairman Freddie Fletcher suggests that fans give thanks: "People should remember the debt of gratitude owed to the Halls. We are now the fifth biggest club in the world."

Saturday 11 Some dismally low crowds for the first FA Cup third round to be played in December, including 4,505 for Wimbledon v Barnsley and 11,644 to see a rare Sheff Wed win against Bristol City. Burnley put up the performance of the day, beating Derby 1-0 at Pride Park. Darren Ferguson, son of Sir Alex, scores the decider in Wrexham's 2-1 win over Middlesbrough. "We were slack," admits a glum Bryan Robson. Harry Redknapp is equally downcast after West Ham lose 1-0 at Tranmere: "I just don't know why things like this happen to us in the cups. It's been going on for over 30 years." Hereford and Exeter get goalless home draws against Leicester and Everton respectively. Chelsea's domestic dithering stops at Boothferry Park where they beat Hull City 6-1. In Scotland, Celtic's 6-0 win at Pittodrie takes their aggregate score in three matches against Aberdeen to    18-0. Tony Parkes takes over at Blackburn on a full-time basis, the team having been unbeaten since he became caretaker.

Sunday 12 Germany again, with Romania and Portugal, in England's group for Euro 2000. "I told their coach Eric Ribbeck that we might as well go on holiday together as well," quips Kev, looking greyer by the day. In the Cup, Sheffield Utd are held to a 1-1 draw at home by Rushden. Newcastle impress George Graham during their 1-1 draw at White Hart Lane: "That was the biggest side we have faced since the old Wimbledon teams."

Tuesday 14 Another cup trauma for Middlesbrough, beaten 2-1 at Tranmere in their Worthington quarter-final. "It really does hurt because we were so close to Wembley," says Bryan Robson. For John Aldridge the result has wider significance: "The cup run has given us cash. Gone are the days when clubs could steal our top players for nothing." In the semis Tranmere will meet Bolton, for whom Eidur Gudjohnsen scores a spectacular solo goal in a 2-1 win against Wimbledon. His manager Sam Allardyce declines to get carried away: "His value went up by £2 million with that goal then down by a million when he missed a sitter."

Wednesday 15 Gareth Southgate repeats his Euro 96 nightmare, missing the vital spot-kick as Villa lose on penalties at West Ham in their Worthington quarter-final after a 2-2 draw. "Isn't it strange how these things happen?" says an unusually subdued John Gregory, banished to the stands after his recent tantrums. "My players never practise penalties because it encourages negative thoughts," advises Harry Redknapp. Leicester also win a shoot-out in their delayed fourth round tie with Leeds and will now play Fulham.

Friday 17 The Football League announce that West Ham fielded an ineligible player in their Worthington Cup tie with Aston Villa. Manny Omoyimni, who came on as a sub in extra time, had already played in the competition while on loan at Gillingham. "We believe the consequences should reflect the seriousness of the offence, which is without precedent," says Villa secretary Steve Stride. "Why didn't the kid say anything to me?" asks Harry Redknapp. Derby spend £3 million on Belgian international striker Branko Strupar, though Jim Smith doesn't seem overly excited. "He's the best we have seen in the market place we can work in." Sunderland become the fourth club to join Rupert Murdoch's extended family after BSkyB pay £6.5 million for a five per cent stake. "It is still a fairly small voice in the overall picture," squeaks a Premiership spokesman, possibly under sedation.

Saturday 18 A mixed day for Paolo di Canio, who scores twice for West Ham after they had conceded three early goals to Man Utd, then misses a clear chance for an equaliser. A minute later, United score a fourth and return to the top. Sunderland stay third with a 1-0 win over Southampton, who are now only two points above the relegation zone after Bradford and Derby both win, the latter beating Leicester with a fluky lob from Darryl Powell. "He hasn't scored in three years and that includes training," says Jim Smith. There's worse news for Leicester fans in Martin O'Neill's post-match comments: "I want to win titles but I accept that a provincial club cannot do these things." Aston Villa miss two penalties but still record their first win in ten League games, 2-1 v Sheffield Wed – "We handled it very well, apart from the goals," says Danny Wilson. Watford's 3-1 home defeat by Everton is their 13th match without a win. It's been a bad couple of days for West Brom. A day after chairman Tony Hale resigns after a row over the sale of striker Kevin Kilbane to Sunderland they have two players sent off during a 3-1 defeat at Ipswich, then another two fight each other during the post-match warm-down during which a steward is injured while trying to intervene. Reading fans express their displeasure with the team's place in the Second Division relegation zone by throwing underwear on to the pitch during the 2-2 draw with Wrexham. "The pants thing certainly didn't help," says manager Alan Pardew. Leyton Orient are back on the bottom after losing at Macclesfield while Chester beat Halifax.

Sunday 19 Leeds are top again, two goals from Steve McPhail beating Chelsea, who have Frank Leboeuf sent off for the second time in a month. "I am angry with Frank although maybe the referee was not the best in the world," says Gianluca. West Ham and Aston Villa will replay their Worthington Cup tie at Upton Park. "We will go there and do the business because we felt we were robbed last time," bristles Doug Ellis.

Monday 20 Three quarters of Leicester's "Gang of Four" resign, with chief executive Barrie Pierpoint set to follow after an upcoming EGM. "Martin O'Neill has manipulated the situation to his own advantage," says departing director Phil Smith. West Ham company secretary Graham Mackrell resigns over the Worthington Cup saga. Despite a late rush of votes for Manny Omoyimni, Rivaldo wins the European Footballer of the Year award, with David Beckham in second place.

Tuesday 21 A nervous night in the FA Cup for Everton, who take 85 minutes to score the one goal that beats Exeter, and Sheffield Utd, who need penalties to see off Rushden 5-4 after a 1-1 draw.

Wednesday 22 Spurs are thrashed 6-1 at Newcastle in their FA Cup third round replay. "Too many players were, to put it politely, off form," says George Graham as Christian Gross's laughter echoes across the Alps. Hereford take the lead at Leicester before losing 2-1 in extra time. "They were fantastic and we were frightened," says Martin O'Neill. The new Wembley will not now include an athletics track. Football will have the stadium virtually all to itself and will get to keep four-fifths of the £120 million received from the Lottery. The Football Task Force bows out with a final report that is not backed by representatives of the FA, Premier or Football Leagues, possibly because it calls for ticket prices to be tied to the rate of inflation, and the creation of a Football Audit Commission to monitor clubs' treatment of fans. Nigel Worthington resigns as manager of Blackpool, two off the bottom in the Second Division.

Friday 24 Everton director Bill Kenwright claims to have agreed a £20 million takeover deal, owner Peter Johnson having previously been asking for more than twice that amount. "This is a great Christmas present for all Evertonians," says a spokesman for the club's shareholders association.

Sunday 26 Leeds stay two points ahead with a 2-1 win over Leicester. "When you look at the demands of the Premiership you need athletes and that's what we've got," beams David O'Leary. Man Utd take 75 minutes to break down Bradford before running out 4-0 winners. Sunderland are thrashed 5-0 at Everton ñ "That really hurt because a lot of my friends came to see us," says a blushing Peter Reid ñ but they stay third because Arsenal lose 3-2 at Coventry. George Graham has a shouting match with spectators who boo the substitution of David Ginola during Spurs' 4-0 win over Watford. "The supporters have to understand what the manager is trying to do," says David, cryptically. Watford are now just two points ahead of Sheffield Wed who get their second win of the season, 1-0 against Middlesbrough. "When everyone does their job correctly we are a decent side," insists Danny Wilson. Chelsea field the Premiership's first all-foreign team in their 2-1 win at Southampton. "It makes no difference as long we talk the same language on the pitch," says Gianluca. In the First, Man City, 2-0 winners at West Brom, leap over previous leaders Huddersfield who draw at Crewe.

Monday 27 In the last round of Scottish Premier League matches before a four-week winter break, Rangers' 1-1 draw at Celtic keeps them four points clear. Aberdeen, seemingly a hopeless case until this month, are only a point adrift of second-bottom Kilmarnock after a 3-1 win over Dundee Utd.

Tuesday 28 Leeds' lead is cut to a point as they lose 2-0 at Arsenal ñ "Our physical power dominated them," says ArsËne in uncharacteristically butch mood ñ while Man Utd come back from two down to draw with Sunderland, though Peter Reid is unhappy about the free-kick that led to the equaliser: "We should sack our groundsman because their player went over a pop-up sprinkler." "This team is developing some kind of personality," says GÈrard Houllier after fifth-placed Liverpool's seventh consecutive home win, 3-1 against Wimbledon. Parisian loanee Xavier Gravelaine scores twice as Watford get their first win in 13 games, 3-2 over Southampton. Man City take a four-point lead into the next century thanks to a last-minute winner against Grimsby while nearest challengers Huddersfield lose 2-1 at home to Charlton, now joint second. Wigan and Barnet lead the Second and Third Divisions. Chester look favourites for the Conference after crashing 5-1 at home to relegation rivals Leyton Orient.

Wednesday 29 Middlesbrough's failure to install undersoil heating at the Riverside causes their match with Coventry to be called off due to a frozen pitch. Still, it gives them more time to get their nine injured players fit. Chelsea put out an all-foreign side again, though English substitute Jody Morris comes on to score in a 3-0 defeat of Sheffield Wednesday who become the first Premiership side to end a year on a single-figure points total. While his employers Aston Villa are drawing 1-1 with Spurs, man of leisure Stan Collymore blows his chance of a move to Montpellier by refusing to take part in a practice match.

Friday 31 The five members of England's 1996 World Cup team not previously to have been given awards receive MBEs in the New Year's Honours List, as do Viv Anderson,Rochdale's 40-year-old player-coach Tony Ford and television's Ian Wright.

From WSC 156 February 2000. What was happening this month

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