THE HALF DECENT FOOTBALL MAGAZINE

Thursday 1 Chelsea progress to the second round of the Cup-Winners Cup after a goalless draw at Helsingborgs, but Newcastle are out on away goals after conceding a penalty at Partizan Belgrade. Hearts are also eliminated despite a 1-1 draw in Mallorca, but will appeal to UEFA because the goalposts were higher at one end than the other. Worth a try. George Graham is the new manager of Spurs. "I will tell the players of my beliefs. I won't change but some of them might have to," he says, all stern and Presbyterian. ""We must never sit on the edge of our seats again wondering if we will be relegated," says Alan Sugar, who seems to have revised his view about bungs and the people who take them. Martin O'Neill looks to be favourite to succeed Graham at Leeds. "It would be stupid of me to say I would never leave Leicester because I was close to walking out in the summer," he says before dashing off to sit by the phone.

Saturday 3 A six-point lead for Villa who win 2-1 at Coventry with the help of a dozy referee's assistant who fails to flag for offside before their second goal. "I hope he will apologise to my family when I can't feed them because I got the sack," bristles Gordon Strachan. Man Utd move to second after a 3-0 win at Southampton, ahead of Wimbledon and Derby, beaten at home by Everton and Spurs respectively. "We are not all pansies at Spurs, I think we can be a tough side to beat," says David Pleat, in charge for the last time. Huddersfield return to the top of the First Division after beating Oxford Utd 2-0, while Sunderland are held at home by Bradford. Stoke's lead at the top of the Second Division is cut to two points after defeat at Reading, while Scunthorpe stay top of the Third despite crashing 4-0 at home to Halifax. Kilmarnock are top in Scotland for the first time since the days of Beatlemania despite only drawing at home with Dunfermline.

Sunday 4 Arsenal are third after a 3-0 win over Newcastle, with Dennis Bergkamp getting his first two goals of the season. Ruud, meanwhile, is gagging to spend the money he has been promised. "I know the players I want. It is like I have them in the fridge waiting to come out." A disturbing image, you'll agree. Jamie Redknapp gets a late equalizer for Liverpool at home to Chelsea who had taken the lead through Pierluigi Casiraghi. Paul Ince and Graeme Le Saux also share the honours in a post-match punch-up. "It is all part of the charm of the game,"Å6§4purrs G®¶rard Houllier, holding Paul's coat. Rangers barge Kilmarnock off the top of the Scottish Premier after a late winner at home to Dundee. Terry Venables claims to have been approached about the Leeds job by "an intermediary". He's up to something.

Tuesday 6 Here's a bad start to the 21st century. UEFA are to expand the Champions League to 32 teams from 2000-01, with the Cup-Winners Cup and UEFA Cup merging into one competition. The top two teams in the Premier League will qualify automatically for the Champions League, while the third place will play off for a place. Scottish League winners will have to go through two qualifying rounds to reach the group stage. "A private company wanted to take over the best part of our club competitions. I am not prepared to sit back and let this happen," bristles Lennart Johansson. Media Partners, the Italian-based company with their own European league scheme, are expected to mount a legal challenge to UEFA's plans. Hull City owner David Lloyd has threatened to close the club down unless he can find a buyer: "I have had my fill of certain people in Hull. Unless someone comes forward with £2 million by Friday, it will be the end of Hull City."

Friday 9 The FA are to take disciplinary action against John Hartson after studying video evidence of his training ground assault on teammate Eyal Berkovic. "This is surely an internal matter for West Ham to deal with," huffs the club's managing director Peter Storrie. Huddersfield miss a chance to extend their lead at the top of the First Division, crashing 3-0 at Swindon, playing their first match under new manager Jimmy Quinn. Hull City are still in business with former chairman Don Robinson supposedly about to buy out David Lloyd. A crowd of 8,500 turn out to see the team stay at the bottom of the Third Division by losing 2-1 to Cardiff, who go top.

Saturday 10 England are booed off after being held to a goalless draw by Bulgaria at Wembley. "We've put a little bit of added pressure on ourselves," says Glenn, understating like a maestro. "Two games ago we were the best thing since sliced bread. We mustn't get carried away that it's all doom and gloom," advises Alan Shearer. Substitute Billy Dodds rescues Scotland with two goals in the last 20 minutes as Estonia are beaten 3-2 after being ahead for most of the match. "I wouldn't say that overall it was dreadful, but at times it was atrocious," winces Craig Brown. Wales put in the performance of the night, winning 2-1 in Denmark with a late goal from Craig Bellamy – "I saw 14 fantastic Welshmen giving everything," says Bobby "Out!" Gould – while Northern Ireland beat Finland 1-0 at Windsor Park.

Monday 12 Paul Gascoigne checks into a clinic for alcoholics, having ended last week slumped on a railway platform after a three-day drink binge. "Gazza has got a problem. It has been building up for a few years," says Bryan Robson. The Sun, meanwhile, offers a crate of brown ale to the first reader who spots Gascoigne in a pub. Gascoigne's "advisers" will bear this in mind, of course, when they sell the next "My Booze Hell" exclusive.

Tuesday 13 Martin O'Neill says for the first time that he would like a chance to talk to Leeds about their managerial vacancy. Leicester chairman John Elsom, however, says, "Leeds can only speak to Martin if they obtain my permission. That will not happen." (He had to shout as Martin was banging on the locked door behind him.) Man Utd have set up a feeder club arrangement with Antwerp, currently in the Belgian second division, with the aim of giving young foreign signings match experience in Belgium before they move to the United first team squad. So that's nice.

Wednesday 14 A 3-0 win for England in Luxembourg, but another stumbling performance which could have been a lot worse had the home side not missed a fifth-minute penalty. "There's no cricket scores any more in world football," says Glenn, harking back to the days when England could be 520 for 2 before tea in Oslo. "We have had to put on our professional heads on to win," he adds, before going for broke with, "The boys were tired, they looked leggy." Language is his plaything. Scotland do the bare neccesary again, beating the Faroes 2-1, but other results in their group, including Bosnia's defeat in Lithuania, who had previously drawn with the Faroes, suggests that the worst the Scots can do is finish second. A Kit Symons goal five minutes from time clinches another win for Wales, 3-2 against BeFlarus, and the Rep of Ireland beat Malta 5-0. Harri Kampmann, the first Finn to manage a British team (don't write in) resigns as manager of Motherwell to be replaced by his assistant Billy Davies.

Friday 16 Gerry Francis, owner of the most distressing hairstyle in the British Isles, returns to QPR as director of football. Steve Watson leaves Newcastle for Aston Villa for £4 million, saying of his former club: "I couldn't tell you what the atmosphere was like there. I don't understand half the players because they are foreign." Former combatants Eyal Berkovic and John Hartson meet up for a reconcilatory dinner. No bread rolls are thrown. "John was just in one of those moods. It was nothing personal against Eyal," says West Ham's Peter Storrie.

Saturday 17 With Villa drawing at West Ham, Man Utd close the gap to four points by beating Wimbledon 5-1. "The gulf between us is very big and getting bigger," says Joe Kinnear. Middlesbrough move up to third after scoring twice in the last five minutes to beat Blackburn 2-1. Everton's goalless run at home stretches to five matches after another stalemate against Liverpool. Afterwards Roy Evans admits that Steve McManaman may be sold during this season rather than being lost under the Bosman ruling in the summer. The McManaman men want a new contract worth £52,000 a week. Southampton get only their second point of the season in a 1-1 draw at Arsenal, though Ars®®ne chides the ref for failing to award a "200 per cent penalty" for a foul on Nicolas Anelka. Huddersfield stay top of the First Division after a 2-0 win over QPR, who are now bottom. The last League club without a win, Wycombe, break their duck by beating Macclesfield 3-0 but remain at the foot of the Second. Hull City still prop up the League despite winning at Scarborough. Glenn Hoddle describes as "a vicious lie" a Sun report that Alan Shearer blamed the manager in a post-match row over England's poor performance in Luxembourg. Glenn does not deny, however, that words were said. "Them discussions are the things that go on time and again in every dressing room." Righto.

Tuesday 20th Villa's sprightly form continues in Europe with a 1-0 win at Celta Vigo in their UEFA Cup second round tie. Liverpool, with Michael Owen rested, are held to a goalless draw at Anfield by Valencia ("It's the best kind of draw," chirps Uncle Roy) and Leeds lose 1-0 away to Roma. Celtic draw at home with FC Z®πrich. In the First Division, Birmingham miss a chance to go top, being held 1-1 at home by Swindon, while Bolton lose their first match of the season, 2-1 at home to Watford.

Wednesday 21 Man Utd go mad in Denmark beating Brondby 6-2. Alex, staging an impromptu masterclass in dourness, says: "We owe it to ourselves to do better next time." And, what's more, "If Barcelona beat us in the next match, I think we will go out." In the other match, Bayern beat Barcelona 1-0. Arsenal concede an injury-time goal in a 1-1 draw with Dinamo Kiev, which puts them joint top of their group with Lens, who win by the same score against Panathinaikos. The match ends with Ars®®ne having speaks with the Polish referee for wrongly awarding a free kick which led to the equalizer. Earlier Kiev had a goal wrongly disallowed but, as Arsene says, "Just because the referee makes one mistake, it doesn't mean he has to make another." Often the way, though. Paul Ince's international ban could get longer still as the FA charge him with misconduct for his reaction to being sent off in Sweden last month. Paul's crafty defence, that his V-sign was directed not at opposition fans but at John Gorman, has been undermined by Glenn's brisk denial that Gorman was the target. Martin O'Neill decides to stay at Leicester, saying: "They offered me a substantially increased contract which it would have been ridiculous not to sign." Leeds are now expected to promote caretaker David O'Leary. In the First Division, Huddersfield still lead after a 1-1 draw at home to Sunderland.

Thursday 22 Chelsea sneak a 1-1 draw at home to FC Copenhagen in the Cup-Winners and Losers Cup thanks to a Marcel Desailly goal a minute from time. Gianluca has a devilish plan for the second leg, though: "We just need to move more and make more chances." Rangers get their best European result in aeons with a 2-1 win at Bayer Leverkusen in the UEFA Cup.

Friday 23 Paolo Di Canio gets an 11-match ban for his assualt on Paul Alcock. "Some of the hype has been offensive. It has to be put in context with other incidents that happen up and down the country," says Danny Wilson. "His was a crime of passion," saysDi Canio's agent, getting mixed up with Rudolf Valentino. The Premier League may be employing employ six full-time match officials from next season if a meeting of the clubs in December votes to back a plan put forward by reffing supremo Philip Don. Scary names on the recommended list include David Elleray and Graham Poll but Paul Alcock is missing. How odd.

Saturday 24 Aston Villa stay top after a 1-1 home draw enlivened by a spat between John Gregory and Paul Merson, who displayed his unhappiness at being substituted. "I don't give a toss if he is unhappy. This is a team game," barks John. "If he keeps saying these things about me in public we'll fall out," squeaks Paul, who's been going public about his feelings too damned often since he fessed up to the booze problem. Well, that's what we feel. Man Utd fail to close the gap, needing a late goal by Jordi Cruyff to save a point at Derby. Liverpool move up to third with Michael Owen, 18, getting four of their five against Forest who stay in the bottom three, alongside Southampton and Coventry, whose meeting at The Dell ends in a first win of the season for the home side and includes one of those flashy Le Tissier goals that now happen about once a season. Sunderland regain the lead in the First Division after beating Bury 1-0, while Huddersfield lose at Norwich. Stoke displace Preston at the top of the Second and Scunthorpe head the Third after Brentford's match at Swansea is one of several called off due to biblical monsoon, with another two games being abandoned at half-time. No such luck for Man City fans who get the full 90 minutes at Maine Road, and a 1-0 defeat by Reading which sends their team down to 11th place. They'll look back and laugh, but not for a bit.

Sunday 25 Arsenal are third after a 2-1 win at Blackburn which ends with the sultan of sulk, Chris Sutton, just back from injury, being sent off after a lunge at Patrick Vieira who had earleir broken his nose. Ars®®ne, however, feels that Vieira is being singled out by ruffians: "Patrick has some scars to show. Teams are going out to bully him." Lively scenes too at Elland Road, where a goalless draw between Leeds and Chelsea is enlivened by coloured card addict Mike Reed who books 12 players. Rangers reach the Scottish Coke Cup Final after beating Airdrie 5-0.

Tuesday 27 Coventry crash out of the Worthington Cup, 2-0 at Luton. "They were bigger in passing ability, in heart and will to win. The only thing we were bigger in was egos," says Gordon Strachan, not known for being unassuming himself. Forest let a three-goal lead slip before squeaking through on penalties against Cambridge Utd, while Liverpool get a questionable spotkick on the way to an edgy 3-1 over Fulham. John Ward clears his desk in the Bristol City manager's office after the club abruptly bring in Benny Lennartsson from Sweden as director of coaching.

Wednesday 28 Coventry say they are prepared to let Dion Dublin go for £6.75 million. "Dion wants to chase medals immediately," says his spokesman, which probably rules out his keenest suitors, Blackburn, who have agreed to meet Coventry's valuation. Villa, with their Dwight millions to spend, are the likely buyers. In the Worthington Cup (it's always going to sound a bit pre-season), Villa lose for the first time season, 4-1 at Chelsea, whose victory is marred slightly by the dismissal of Dennis Wise for a wild tackle in the last minute. Also, Gianluca has a substantial barney with the Villa bench and Dan Petrescu storms off down the tunnel after being substituted. You'd almost think it still mattered, unless you were at Old Trafford where Man Utd Reserves need extra time to beat Bury, or at Derby who lose 2-1 at home to Arsenal's second string.

Thursday 29 Having threatened to retire if Chelsea refused to release him from his contract, Michael Laudrup is to join FC Copenhagen after the two clubs' European tie. "I was confused when I signed for Chelsea," he says, a cry last heard around 1981. Pierre Van Hooijdonk returns to Forest, for the time being. "I am clear in my own mind what I will say to him. It will only take two or three minutes," growls Dave Bassett. Perhaps he could release it as a single.

Saturday 31 Pools Panel in conclave for the second successive week as the rain lashes down. Among the postponements is Villa's match at Chelsea, which means Man Utd are now only a point behind in second place after thumping difficult-to-beat Everton 4-1 at Goodison. Arsenal stay third after a 1-0 win at Coventry, in a game overshadowed by the death before kick-off of a Highfield Road steward, knocked down by the Arsenal team coach. Southampton pick up another point in a goalless draw at Sheffield Wed but they remain bottom. Birmingham go back to the top of the First Division after a home draw with Huddersfield, who equalize while their opponents are still arguing about the dismissal of Peter Ndlovu who gets a second yellow card for diving. "The worst decision I've seen in thirty years of football," says Trevor Francis, overstating nicely. Meanwhile, sales of Palace replica shirts in China may suffer after Fan Zhiyi is one of their two players sent off in a defeat at Grimsby. In Scotland, Rangers stay top after a 2-1 win over Dundee Utd, a point ahead of Kilmarnock, 2-0 victors over Celtic, now seven points adrift in third place. Dr Venglos is losing another patient.

From WSC 142 December 1998. What was happening this month

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