THE HALF DECENT FOOTBALL MAGAZINE

Tuesday 2 Man Utd finish top of their Champions League group with a 2-1 win over Sturm Graz. "The competition will be more exciting for everyone from now on," yawns Alex. Arsenal's magnificently meaningless last group game ends in a 3-2 win in Stockholm. The FA are to take no action against Neil Ruddock over garlic-related remarks allegedly made to Patrick Vieira. "We fully accept that he is not racist ñ as his many black friends in the game will testify," says one of those FA spokesmen. Charlton regain second spot in the First Division after winning at Crewe. Moneybags Wigan, still unbeaten, go top of the Second by beating Chesterfield. Another bad day at the office for Barry Hearn as Leyton Orient slip to the bottom of the Third after losing at Darlington while rivals Chester win at Shrewsbury. Exciting times ahead in the Potteries, possibly, as Stoke City are bought by a consortium of Icelandic businessmen.

Wednesday 3 Chelsea win their Champions League group by beating Hertha 2-0. "Now we have got to perform in the same manner against West Ham on Saturday," says Gianluca, publicly criticised by his cuddly chairman for "errors of judgment" during the team's three successive League defeats. Rangers' 1-0 defeat in Munich condemns them to the UEFA Cup (oh, the hardship). Man City restore their six-point lead at the top of the First Division by beating Portsmouth 4-2. The habitually baffled Brian Kidd, once courted by City, is sacked by Blackburn, currently two points above the relegation zone. Jack Walker explains himself: "We so wanted it to work out for him but results have not been good enough. It's as simple as that."

Thursday 4 Last-minute UEFA Cup exit for Spurs who concede two goals in injury time to Kaiserslautern. "The players are upset but I like that because it shows they care," says George. Mmm, he's so tough. West Ham are out too after a goalless draw with Steaua. "It's all right," says Harry, "we can go into the Essex Senior Cup now." Celtic again lose 1-0 to Lyon in front of a funereal Parkhead. Newcastle go through 5-2 on aggregate against FC Z¸rich and Leeds do even better, beating Lokomotiv 3-0 in Moscow. Andy Cole and Coventry's Steve Froggatt are the surprise selections in England's squad for the Euro 2000 play-offs. Scotland have to omit the nomadic David Johnson after discovering that he is not eligible to play for them because his mother was born in England.

Friday 5 BSkyB return to Manchester, putting up £5.5 million for a 9.9 per cent stake in Man City, pending shareholders' approval. "We have been investing in the game for many years. Our acquisition of minority shares in Manchester City and other clubs is a demonstration of our long-term commitment," says managing director Vic Wakeling.

Saturday 6 Andy Cole states his claim for a England place with a goal from a overhead kick in the 2-0 win over Leicester that takes Man Utd back to the top. "It's interesting what will happen with England now," says Sir Alex, like he's bothered. Michael Owen, Cole's chief rival for the job of chumming up with Alan Shearer, wanders around Anfield to little effect in Liverpool's 2-0 defeat of Derby, a result which moves them up to sixth. Sunderland stay third despite again being a man down before half-time after the dismissal of Chris Makin. Referee Graham Barber later misses a Brian Deane elbow which leaves Paul Butler concussed: "We won't be taking things further," says Peter Reid. "Trial by TV is a dangerous road to go down." "If you pay to come in you're allowed to boo," concedes John Gregory, subjected to a crowd chant of "You don't know what you're doing" for substituting Paul Merson during Villa's 1-0 home defeat by Southampton, which leaves them without a win in six matches. "After seven weeks of losing I can't tell you how important that point is," says Graham Taylor, apparently the No 1 target for bossless Blackburn, after Watford's 2-2 draw at Hillsborough. In the First Division Man City's lead is cut to four points after they draw at QPR while Charlton, who have two games in hand, beat Walsall. Huddersfield, 4-0 victors over bottom placed Swindon, are a further point behind. No change in the Second, where none of the top six teams wins. Peterborough take over the lead in the Third with their seventh win in eight home games, while Leyton Orient remain bottom after a boo-infested home draw with Northampton.

Sunday 7 Leeds suffer their first defeat in 13 matches, 2-0 at Wimbledon. "Our long balls created problems," beams Egil Olsen, reading from his prepared script. David O'Leary thinks differently: "It's not possible to compete in Moscow on a Thursday then compete in London three days later." No, we've often found that. Quite a derby at White Hart Lane, where Arsenal have two sent off in their 2-1 defeat. Fredrik Ljungberg is dismissed, either for butting David Ginola or for pushing Justin Edinburgh, and delights the home crowd further by making a rude sign on his way off. Martin Keown also departs just ahead of full-time. "If it was a butt Fredrik deserved to go, otherwise it was very harsh," says Arsene who has no view on the "V". Rangers take a four-point lead in the SPL after beating Celtic 4-2 at Ibrox.

Monday 8 Arsene is summoned to an emergency board meeting at Highbury to discuss the team's disciplinary problems. The two players sent off at White Hart Lane take the total dismissed since Wenger took over to 26 in three years. And he was looking the other way each time. Jake King is sacked as manager of Shrewsbury, currently two off the bottom in the Third.

Tuesday 9 The FA announce that a "lucky loser" from one of the FA Cup second round ties will be added to the third round draw in place of Man Utd. So they could end up knocking out the team who knocked them out in the previous round. That'll be one for the pub bore. In FA Cup replays, Wycombe's match with Oxford City has to be abandoned just as the two teams prepare for a penalty shoot-out after an electrical fault triggers fire alarms in a stand. Hmm. Tamworth are four minutes away from winning at Bury when the home side equalise and go on to win 2-1 in extra time, while titchy Whyteleafe take the lead at Chester but lose 3-1 after having a player sent off. Brian Deane is charged with misconduct by the FA for his alleged elbowing of Sunderland's Paul Butler.

Thursday 11 England's European Championship Under-21 play-off match with Yugoslavia, set for neutral Luxembourg, is postponed because the Yugoslav FA claim that the security arrangements for the match wouldn't prevent disruption by Kosovan demonstrators. David Johnson is eligible for Scotland after all: it seems that FIFA reg≠ulations supersede the player qual≠ification rules agreed between the four British FAs. "If we get past England he could become an option for us again," sighs Craig Brown. News of Jack Walker's wad has travelled far ñ Blackburn officials sorting through the applications for the vacant manager's position will have found a CV from former German national coach Berti Vogts. With Graham Taylor unlikely to be shifted from Watford, Joe Kinnear remains favourite.

Friday 12 Charlton move to within a point of First Division leaders Man City after beating Grimsby 5-2. Snooker cues are lofted in triumph as Leyton Orient's 1-0 win at third-placed Rotherham lifts them off the bottom of the Third Division.

Saturday 13 Scotland 0 England 2, both goals in the first half from Paul Scholes. "The little holes he gets into make him very difficult to get picked up," says Kev. Scotland miss some chances, the best from Kevin Gallacher a minute after England's opener. Andy Cole comes on as a late sub for England and goes out of his way to pass to new buddy Alan Shearer even when clean through himself. "I couldn't be more pleased," beams Kev. "Apart from the two goals we were the better team," says a "cautiously optimistic" Craig Brown. The Republic of Ireland are held 1-1 at home by Turkey, Lee Carsley conceding a penalty shortly after Robbie Keane had opened the scoring. Slovenia beat Ukraine 2-1. Denmark win 5-0 away to Israel, whose coach denies reports that the squad had been out partying the night before: "I said goodnight to all of them myself." Barnsley's 3-1 win at fading Fulham takes them up to fourth in the First Division.

Sunday 14 Huddersfield are two points off the top in the First after a 3-1 win at Forest, who remain three points above the relegaton zone. Palace move out of the bottom three after a 3-0 win over QPR who have two players sent off in a stormy finish prompted by an offside-looking second goal. Gerry Francis is livid: "Players can be convicted on video evidence. I wonder if you can use the same procedure with officials."

Monday 15 The new Wembley is unveiled, complete with "triumphant arch". It is due to be completed in 2003 and will hold 90,000. When the removable athletics track is in place, however, the capacity will fall below the required level for staging an Olympic Games (and London's bidding, apparently). Sports Minister Kate Hoey is duly unimpressed. "A national stadium should represent all sports but what we've got is a national football stadium. I would start it all again if I could." Strange doings at Heathrow where Derby striker Esteban Fuertes is sent back to Argentina having apparently tried to enter the country on a false Italian passport after a club trip to Portugal. Gary Megson is replaced as Stoke boss by Iceland's national coach Gudjon Thordarsson. Less exotically, Kevin Ratcliffe is the new manager of Shrewsbury.

Tuesday 16 Millionaire spearhead Davor Suker admits to having bought £20,000 of shares in Man Utd, saying: "If Arsenal were in the same market, I would put money on them." An FA spokesman is unruffled: "As long as it's not more than a ten per cent stake in a whole club, it is regarded as for investment purposes only." Bolton's Andy Todd, son of the recently sacked Colin, has left the club for Charlton after a "nightclub incident" in which assistant manager Phil Brown received a broken jaw. Wycombe win their replayed cup tie with Oxford City 1-0.

Wednesday 17 England 0 Scotland 1. Don Hutchison scores in the first half, David Seaman's point blank save from Christian Dailly prevents the game going to extra time. "You'll laugh, but I think we can go on and win it," yells Kev over a roar of mirth. "Everything we did tactically was right but I still feel gutted," says Craig Brown. "I've got a bit of leeway to experiment before next summer," says Kev, still shouting, but to a empty room. Ireland are out after a goalless draw in Turkey which ends with a punch-up involving fans and police as well as players. Slovenia cause a big shock, holding Ukraine to a 1-1 draw and so knocking them out 3-2 on aggregate. Denmark complete their rout of Israel with a 3-0 win. In the least surprising sacking of the season, John Toshack leaves Real Madrid, currently eighth in the Spanish league. The Welsh FA, still to ratify the appointment of Mark Hughes, may turn up on his answering machine soon.

Thursday 18 Righteous frothing in the tabloids, which reveal that Kevin Keegan joined several of his players in staying up all night after the Hampden match, playing cards and drinking. "Most managers would have gone to bed at half-one but not Kevin. That shows the man," says an awestruck Paul Ince. As if Sheff Wed haven't got enough problems, Belgian striker Gilles de Bilde now faces a possible two-year jail sentence for smuggling his two dogs, Zico and Diego, into the country to avoid quarantine laws.

Saturday 20 Man Utd stay a point clear of Leeds after both struggle to see off lowly opponents. Derby's Jim Smith is sorely troubled by David Beckham's role in the dismissal of Stefan Schnoor in his team's 2-1 home defeat. "They were all on first name terms out there. The ref asked how Posh Spice was and then sent our lad off." Leeds get a questionable penalty in a 2-1 win over neighbours Bradford. "The linesman gave that," mutters Paul Jewell, "but we're not despondent. That word doesn't exist at our club." Arsenal's 5-1 thrashing of Middlesbrough ñ in an alarming white and purple number ñ takes them up to third ahead of Sunderland, beaten 2-0 at home by Liverpool. Michael Owen, scorer of the first goal, has a much happier return to League football than his international striking partner, who is barracked by home fans ñ "Where were you on Wednesday night?" ñ during Newcastle's 1-1 draw at Vicarage Road. Bobby Robson and Graham Taylor both defend his honour: "We seem to have a section at all grounds who shout obscene things at Alan," fumes Bobby. "Our crowd showed an immaturity by having a go at one of the top players around," agrees Graham. Man City's 1-0 win at Charlton keeps them two points clear in the First Division. Huddersfield are second after beating West Brom by the same score. In the competition formerly known as the FA Cup, Enfield hold Preston to a draw at Deepdale and Hayes force a replay with Hull City who have their mascot, Roary, dismissed for cavorting with intent.

Sunday 21 Sheffield Wednesday lead twice but lose again, 4-3 at West Ham. Hammers' captain for the day Paolo di Canio scores from a penalty contentiously given for a foul on Trevor Sinclair and is involved in a clash with Danny Sonner which sees the latter sent off with his side leading 3-2. "We had no luck but we can still escape," says Danny Wilson. "I cannot believe they are bottom of the Premiership," smirks Paolo. Hereford's 1-0 win over Hartlepool just about counts as a Cup surprise. In the unorthodox third round draw, the lucky losers are denied a bumper payday in front of a big crowd ñ they'll be away to Aston Villa.

Tuesday 23 Whoops. Defensive mistakes by Roy Keane and Henning Berg gift Fiorentina the goals by which they beat Man Utd in the Champions League. BSkyB sell shares in Man Utd after being ordered to cut their 11.1 per cent stake to below the ten per cent threshold permitted by the Premier League. Adrian Heath resigns as manager of Sheffield Utd, who drop to second bottom after a 3-1 home defeat by Port Vale. Swansea's Walter Boyd sets a record for the fastest sending off. Dis≠missed for elbowing a Darlington player straight after coming on as a sub, he was technically on the field for nought seconds because play was stopped at the time.

Wednesday 24 Chelsea 3 Feyenoord 1. "This has sent out a message to the other teams in the competition," says Gianluca. "Now we have to do it again against Bradford on Sunday." Dave Bassett turns down an offer to become manager of Blackburn, who are now said to be keen on Howard Wilkinson (nice that someone is).

Thursday 25 In the UEFA Cup, Newcastle are beaten by a penalty at Roma, while Arsenal rouse themselves to score two late goals in a 3-0 win over Nantes. Rangers beat Dortmund 2-0. Leeds' match in Moscow is frozen off and will now be played in Sofia. Claims by Spartak officials that Leeds offered "generous induce≠ments" to stage both matches at Elland Road are described as "utter nonsense" by David O'Leary.

Saturday 27 Sunderland and Leicester continue to entertain European ambitions after wins at Watford and Coventry respectively. "Just give me another nine points," says Peter Reid, still marked by the final day relegation of 1998. Liverpool move back down to sixth and have that nice Michael Owen booked for diving during a 1-0 defeat at West Ham. "You don't know what you're doing," chorus Middlesbrough fans to Bryan Robson as Juninho is substituted, for the fifth time in ten games, during the team's goalless home draw with Wimbledon. Hudders≠field win the big game in the First Division 1-0 at Maine Road, but Man City stay two points clear. Preston join Wigan as joint leaders of the Second after winning at Bury, Barnet replace Peterborough at the top of the Third after beating them 2-1.

Sunday 28 Leeds are in front again thanks to Michael Bridges's injury-time winner at home to Southampton. Patrick Colleter's dismissal for a dust-up with Lee Bowyer a minute earlier leaves David Jones hopping mad: "I wouldn't want that referee in charge of a Sunday league game. If his assessor marks him as anything less than minus ten, something's wrong." The previously dormant Thierry Henry scores both goals as Arsenal come from behind to beat Derby. Newcastle fans report David Ginola and Tim Sherwood to the police for abusive behaviour during Spurs' 2-1 defeat at St James' Park. "Fans exploit the fact that flair players get more hyper," says George Graham. (Yes, but what about Tim Sherwood?) Pigs fly in formation across Scotland as both Rangers and Celtic lose, Dundee winning 2-1 at Ibrox, Motherwell applying more pressure to the beleaguered John Barnes with a 3-2 win at Fir Park.

Tuesday 30 Man Utd are world club champions after a Roy Keane goal beats Palmeiras in Tokyo. "I'm very proud that we are the first English club to lift this trophy," says Sir Alex. In the Worthington, Arsenal put out a reserve team at Middlesbrough ñ albeit with the top scorer from France 98 in attack ñ and are beaten on penalties after a    2-2 draw. Boro will be away to Tranmere, 4-0 winners against Barnsley, in the excitingly predetermined quarter-finals. The winners of that match will play either Wimbledon, who win 2-1 at Huddersfield, or Bolton, who beat Sheffield Wed 1-0 with the help of a missed penalty. Non-League Hayes take Hull City to extra time in their FA Cup second round replay before losing 3-2.

From WSC 155 January 2000. What was happening this month

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