THE HALF DECENT FOOTBALL MAGAZINE

Saturday 2 FA Cup headlines are made at Rushden, where Leeds are held to a goalless draw, Forest, who lose 1-0 to Portsmouth – Dave Bassett’s non-attendance at a post-match press conference fuelling speculation that he may be about to quit – Upton Park where Swansea are minutes away from beating West Ham before a Julian Dicks goal forces a replay, and at the Dell, where metropolitan fat cats Fulham are denied victory by a last-minute equaliser from Southampton’s Egil Ostenstad. Yeovil also concede a late goal in a draw at Cardiff but the other non-League team, Southport, are beaten 2-0 at home by Leyton Orient. This week’s FA inquiry will look into an incident during Chelsea’s 2-0 win at Oldham when referee Paul Durkin was struck by a hot dog (tomato sauce, no onions) though stewards claim it was only a sausage roll.

Sunday 3 Man Utd recover from a goal down to beat Middlesbrough 3-1 with the help of a penalty decision, given for Neil Maddison’s “trip” on Nicky Butt, that Alex is happy with for once: “If Graham Barber gave it must have been a penalty.” Another questionable spotkick, acquired and scored by Michael Owen, sets Liverpool on the way to a 3-0 win over Port Vale. In Scotland Rangers go four points clear at the top, and ten points ahead of Celtic, after the Old Firm “New Year’s Day” match ends 2-2. There are 50,000 Scots in the crowd and eight on the pitch.

Monday 4
A Cup shock looks on the cards for half an hour at Preston, where the home team race into a two-goal lead against Arsenal, before eventually going down 4-2. Controversy surrounds Arsenal's third goal, which is preceded by Preston defender Ryan Kidd being laid out by an elbow from substitute striker Fabian Caballero (don't ask). "I think there was an elbow incident and that was disappointing," says home manager David Moyes. "We don't need to start fights to win matches," snaps Arsene.

Thursday 7 Dave Bassett is sacked as manager of Nottingham Forest, who have gone 17 games without a win. A director's comment that the club need a "larger than life character" supports a rumour that Ron Atkinson is to take over and effectively rules out Nigel Spackman. Oldham chairman Ian Stott suggests a merger between his club, Bury and Rochdale, under the name "Manchester North End". If there is a worse idea during 1999 we'll be shocked, but not surprised.

Saturday 9 Chelsea are back on top after beating Newcastle 1-0. "Chelsea have to win the championship now because there is so much quality in their side," says Ruud, a little mischievously. "Of course we don't have to win the title. If he is trying to be smart we won't fall for that," snaps Gianluca, swallowing the bait. Villa draw at Middlesbrough where the headlines are made by a post-match Gascoigne rant about overseas players complaining about playing too many games ("I don't like the foreign lot coming here and moaning") – Paul himself having settled so well in Rome. Charlton slump to their eighth successive defeat, 3-1 at Southampton, who move ahead of them for the first time. Forest remain stranded at the bottom after a 4-0 thrashing at Coventry for whom Darren Huckerby scores a hat-trick. "He scares me sometimes," says Gordon Strachan. In the First Division, Sunderland need a last-minute equaliser to draw with resurgent QPR but they're still nine points clear of Birmingham, who move into second after beating Port Vale, while Ipswich lose at home to Grimsby. Mansfield's player-coachTony Ford equals Terry Paine's record number of League appearances by an outfield player in his team's match against Brentford.

Sunday 10 After a kick-off delayed for nearly an hour by a power cut, Man Utd move into third place after thrashing West Ham 4-1. "I couldn't name a single player who had a good game today," groans Alex, ha, no, it was Harry Redknapp.

Monday 11 Ron Atkinson, still poolside in the Caribbean, is to be Forest's manager until the end of the season. Peter Shreeves, who comes in as assistant manager, says: "It's a massive task." "If Forest fans had drawn up a list of contenders, Big Ron wouldn't have been on many of them," says the supporters club chairman. Ron's predecessor may not be out of work for long, to judge by comments from a spokesman for Wycombe Wanderers, who have just dumped their manager Neil Smillie: "Maybe we could take on someone like Dave Bassett until the end of the season and pay him a good bonus if he keeps us up." Merger meister Ian Stott resigns as Oldham chairman, apparently to concentrate on his bid to become the new chairman of the FA.

Tuesday 12 Terry Venables may be about to leave Crystal Palace, having objected to the proposed sale of striker Matt Jansen by chairman Mark Goldberg, who says, "We now have a squad of 40 and that has to reduce in size. We have to be leaner and meaner." Goldberg himself is about to be sued by his own lawyers for unpaid bills. The FA have completed the purchase of Wembley for £103 million. Rebuilding work will begin next year. "A new national stadium is crucial to the 2006 World Cup bid," says an FA spokesman, putting inverted commas around the last word. UEFA have formally rejected Sepp Blatter's plan for a two-yearly World Cup. "The project would produce negative consequences in sporting, commercial and medical contexts and would have damaging effects on domestic competitions," says a spokesman. Noted football fan Rupert Murdoch sticks his oar in, suggesting that there might be a biennial world cup for clubs if the Blatter plan falls through: "Soccer is so strong and so popular that we should see a major international competition more than every four years." And what Rupe wants he usually gets, aside from a smack in the mouth.

Wednesday 13 Finally, a Cup shock, as Swansea beat West Ham 1-0 at the Vetch in a third round replay. "This is better than anything I have experienced before," says their manager John Hollins. "This has been happening off and on for 35 years while I've been associated with the club. I can only hope this is the last," sighs Harry Redknapp. Less surprising is Southampton's second cup elimination by Fulham this season, Barry Hayles getting the winner five minutes from time. Rushden take the lead at Elland Road but eventually go down 3-1 to Leeds. "I hope I look back in May in the Wembley dressing room and think that Rushden was the hardest game we had," says David O'Leary, a tad presumptuously.

Thursday 14 John Hartson joins Wimbledon from West Ham for £7.5 million. "Wimbledon's style of play needs someone like me," says Hartson, by which he means "a strong target man" rather than a bad tempered fatty. "Business is business," says Harry Redknapp, who is now expected to bid for Paul Merson, unsettled at Villa, where he has been criticised for taking a trip to New York while recovering from injury. "No one has spoken to me since I returned and I don't need that," he says. After another day's negotiating with the beleaguered Mark Goldberg, Terry Venables is to stand down as Palace manager and will instead take up a "consultancy" role, until the club can afford to pay him off. Director of football Steve Coppell will take temporary charge once again (and might even allow himself a wry smile along the way).

Friday 15 Nwankwo Kanu joins Arsenal from Inter for £4 million and says "I think I have joined a club that can win the European Cup" (can you get jet lag flying from Italy?). Wimbledon players welcome new boy John Hartson by setting fire to his suit, cos you've got to be able to have a laugh.

Saturday 16 Chelsea stay top of the Premiership after a last-minute winner at home to Coventry, who have Gordon Strachan ordered from a dugout after holding on to the ball to prevent Chelsea taking a quick throw in when one of their opponents lay injured. "It was like a Monty Python sketch with people bumping off each other's chests," he says. A video of the incident has been sent to the FA, who may have other things on their mind just now. Man Utd move up to second after a 6-2 win at Leicester, while Liverpool put seven past Southampton, their fifth win in six games. "What is good is that we are cutting out the Spice Boys reputation," says Gerard Houllier, joining the queue for Louise's autograph. Spurs and Wimbledon share a cantankerous draw at White Hart Lane with David Ginola claiming to have had four clear penalties turned down by the referee. "He only loses his balance when he's in the box," snarls Joe Kinnear. "Am I going to put a smile on players' faces? I am not a comedian," sniffs Big Ron after his Forest debut ends in a 1-0 defeat by Arsenal. The First Division's form team Bradford City move into second place after a home win over Crewe, with Bolton now third after winning at Sheffield Utd. "We always raise our game against the top sides," says Joe Royle, chancing irony as Man City's mini-revival continues with a 3-0 win over Second Division leaders Fulham. Elsewhere in the division, Reading's Madejski Stadium stages one of the strangest games of the season, with visitors Bristol Rovers winning 6-0 win after a goalless first half. "The players know exactly what my thoughts are," says home manager Tommy Burns, which is nice.

Sunday 17 Charlton recover from two down to get a last-minute equaliser in a 2-2 home draw with Newcastle, who have defender Nikos Dabizas sent off late in the second half. "I don't know what we have done wrong but again circumstances changed the game," says Ruud, who will be more depressed still when he hears that his own brand of designer underpants have been knocked down to bargain price at Newcastle's biggest department store.

Monday 18 Villa draw level on points with Chelsea at the top after a 3-0 home win over Everton, who have defender Alec Cleland dismissed after just ten minutes. The retuning Paul Merson gets the third goal and does the badge-kissing thing beloved of players intent on a transfer. John Rudge, in charge at Port Vale for 15 years, is relieved of his managerial duties. "The board had no alternative. We are staring the Second Division in the face," says chairman Bill Bell. Port Vale fans will organise a demonstration at the ground next weekend to protest at Rudge's treatment. Mick Tait is relieved of his duties as manager of Hartlepool though his last signing, Peter Beardsley, rules himself out of contention to take over. At least we think that's what he said. Blackburn are half way towards being able to field an entire team of strikers after signing Matt Jansen from Palace for a "bargain" £4 million. Sol Campbell is charged with assault for an alleged attack on a steward after Spurs' match at Derby in October. The case will come to court in early March and he could face a prison sentence if found guilty.

Thursday 21 Aston Villa have offered £5 trillion for Juninho, apparently surplus to requirements at Atletico Madrid. Middlesbrough, though, claim they have first refusal on their former player in the event of Atletico selling, so chairman Steve Gibson duly sets off for Madrid with a very large suitcase and written confirmation that Fabrizio Ravanelli and Jamie Pollock are no longer with the club. That Kaiser-baiting 2006 plan comes a step closer to reality as Coventry City receive official planning permission for a new 45,000 seater stadium with retractable roof and sliding pitch, or vice versa. Steve Wignall resigns as manager of Colchester.

Friday 22 Brian Horton leaves Brighton to become the new manager of Port Vale, to the dismay of his former chairman Dick Knight, who says, "I believe we have far more potential than Port Vale, who are not even the biggest club in the Potteries." Northern Ireland join the USA and Iran as joint winners of FIFA's International Fair Play Award for 1998 in recognition of Catholic Cliftonville and Protestant Linfield meeting in a League game at the former's Solitude ground for the first time in 30 years last October. Former FIFA president Jo„o Havelange is named as one of the members of the International Olympic Committee who received gifts worth a total of £4 million from the organisers of Amsterdam's failed bid to land the 1992 Olympic Games. "I remember him because he had very specific wishes," says a spokesman. Ulp.

Saturday 23 Fulham provide the biggest surprise in this year's FA Cup, winning their fourth-round tie at Villa Park 2-0. "You've got to look at the history of Fulham over the last 20 years to understand what a result like this means to us," says Kev. Stan Collymore fails to turn up for the match, apparently in protest at being left out of the starting line-up. "We're trying to find out what's wrong with him but he's not injured," says John Gregory. There are few surprises elsewhere, though Derby need a late goal to beat Swansea at the Vetch and Coventry survive the first-half dismissal of George Boateng to win 3-0 at Leicester. "I love these players. I feel like going around each of them and tucking them in," coos Gordon Strachan. (Don't dwell on it or you'll have nightmares.) Spurs and Wimbledon will have to play each other for a fifth time after a 1-1 draw at Selhurst Park, David Ginola equalising Robbie Earle's opener and even earning a grunt of praise from Joe Kinnear: "I have never questioned his ability. I would love to be his manager." "That was not an Alan Ball side," says a shrill man in a cloth cap after Portsmouth crash 5-1 at home to Leeds. In Scotland, Aberdeen's decline continues with a 1-0 home defeat by Second Division Livingston, while Kilmarnock, second in the Premier League, go down 3-0 at local rivals Ayr Utd.

Sunday 24 Man Utd score two late goals, the second in injury time, to keep up their 77-year unbeaten run in FA Cup ties against Liverpool, who had led through a Michael Owen goal after two minutes. "I'll have to give him more games," says Alex of Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, whose winner was his 11th goal in nine matches this season. Emmanuel Petit becomes the seventh Arsenal player to be dismissed this season, for swearing at an assistant referee towards the end of their 2-1 win at Wolves. "There is a big campaign against us, we are not a dirty side," huffs Arsene, his little face all scrunched up.

Monday 25 Oxford are a minute away from beating Chelsea in their FA Cup fourth-round tie when they concede a penalty contentiously awarded by the singular Mike Reed for Kevin Francis's challenge on Gianluca Vialli. The scorer Frank Leboeuf claims to have been threatened by Oxford manager Malcolm Shotton after an earlier clash with the home side's Paul Tait, saying, "I told him to wait for me in the tunnel so we could talk but it was obvious he wanted to fight." "We are far too professional to let it carry over into the replay," says Shotton, working on his Ali shuffle.

Tuesday 26 Leicester look set for another trip to Wembley after winning 2-1 at Sunderland in the first leg of their Worthington Cup semi. Villa announce that Stan Collymore is to receive stress counselling. "Maybe I am a bit old-fashioned but I am totally bemused by it all," says John Gregory.

Wednesday 27
The third instalment in the scintillating Spurs-Wimbledon saga ends in another draw, goalless this time, at White Hart Lane in the Worthington. "I don't have a clue where a goal will come from," beams George Graham. "I don't care how we get to Wembley, I'm just desperate to get there," says Joe Kinnear, who grabs another opportunity to goad David Ginola by shouting "How's your hammy?" as his adversary limps off past the Wimbledon bench. (Well, unless David's got a sick hamster.) West Ham sign Cameroon international Marc-Vivien Foe from Lens and Sheffield Wed exile Paolo di Canio for a (heh, heh) knockdown £1.5 million. Paolo's previous doesn't concern Harry Redknapp, however: "I know a lot of players who have pushed referees and the referee hasn't fallen down." Sunderland reserves attract a crowd of 33, 517 for their free admission Pontins League match with Liverpool.

Thursday 28 Man Utd's proposal that the Premier League be cut from 20 to 18 clubs is voted out at a meeting of club chairmen, with only Arsenal backing the idea. "Should we really be changing the face of British football because Arsenal and United are in Europe a lot?" says Charlton's Richard Murray. Some changes are made to accommodate clubs in Europe, though, with the third round of the FA Cup moved back to before Christmas and the Worthington Cup final rearranged for February. Juninho visits Villa Park for talks over a £10 million deal. "The next time he comes back it will be to sign," says John Gregory, but Atletico Madrid may pull out of the deal after an angry reaction from their own fans. Mick Wadsworth leaves Scarborough to become manager of Colchester. "I have to be honest and say I was in tears," confesses Jason McAteer on leaving Liverpool to join Blackburn for £4 million.

Friday 29 Glenn Hoddle scores the most spectacular own goal of his career, saying in a Times interview that people born disabled are being punished for sins in a previous life: "You and I have been given two hands, two legs and a half-decent brain. Some people have not been born like that for a reason." "I hope the fans can see that I am only looking to improve myself," says Steve McManaman after agreeing to join Real Madrid in a deal worth £14 million over five years. Liverpool will not receive a fee unless they allow him to go before his contract expires in June.

Saturday 30 Villa miss a chance to go top, losing 2-1 at Newcastle, for whom Alan Shearer scores his first League goal in four months. "I could have done with Stan today," says John Gregory. Forest win for the first time in five months, a Pierre van Hooijdonk goal proving enough at Everton, who remain on target (if that's the right word) for the lowest number of home goals scored by a team in the top division. Bottom six habituees Southampton and Coventry also win, against Leeds and Liverpool, the latter's goal in a 2-1 defeat at Highfield Road scored by sub Steve McManaman, whose appearance is greeted by boos from the away end. In the First Division, Oxford move out of the bottom three after beating Barnsley but get more bad news with the revelation that managing director Keith Cox is wanted in the US on charges of money laundering and tax fraud. Leaders Sunderland lose for only the third time this season, 2-1 at Watford, but their lower division counterparts Fulham and Cardiff stretch further away from the pack after comfortable home wins. At the bottom of the League, Hull's late equaliser at home to Shrewsbury narrows the gap between themselves and Scarborough, beaten 5-1 at Scunthorpe, to just one point.

Sunday 31 "This could turn into a two-horse race by the end of March," says Alex, as a Dwight Yorke goal in injury time at Charlton brings Man Utd's fifth win in a row and moves them above Chelsea, who lose 1-0 at Arsenal. "This was our most important win," says Arsene. "After a few years it is like working for the weather forecast office, you know when the storm is coming". Best to stock up on sou'westers in case he's not speaking metaphorically.

From WSC 145 March 1999. What was happening this month

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