THE HALF DECENT FOOTBALL MAGAZINE

Monday 3 For the second time this season a Premiership match is abandoned due to floodlight failure: West Ham have just equalized after being two down at home to Palace when Upton Park is plunged into darkness. "The electricans said they just couldn't get to the bottom of it," says Harry Redknapp, looking even more perplexed than usual.

Tuesday 4 Goals from Ian Taylor and Dwight Yorke take Aston Villa on to the Third Round of the UEFA Cup. Opponents Bilbao pull one back twenty minutes from time but fail to force the draw that would have taken them through. "Now we can look forward to going on our travels again before Christmas," says Brian Little. (And that was the best quote too. God, he's boring.) "We just didn't stick the ball in the net enough times," says Roy Evans, flashing that marvellous old boot room wisdom as Liverpool beat Strasbourg 2-0 but go out 3-2 on aggregate. 

Wednesday 5 Man Utd are now almost certain to qualify for the Champions League knockout stage either as group winners or best runners-up after a 3-1 stroll at Feyenoord. However, Denis Irwin is badly clogged and will be out until Christmas. "That was the nastiest tackling I have seen in Europe," says Gary Neville. "****!" says Alex, caught on camera. "Ptui!" says Feyenoord coach Geert Meijer, aiming his chewing gum at Alex after a touchline barney. Newcastle, left without any recognized forwards, are beaten 2-0 at home by PSV. They need to win their last two matches to have any hopes of qualifying. In the same group Barcelona are out after crashing 4-0 at home to Dinamo Kiev. Another month, another club for Micky Adams - this time it's Brentford, where David Webb's last act before resigning as chief executive is to sack the management team of Eddie May and Clive Walker. "Brentford are a bad team but there is potential here," says Micky, bold as you like.

Saturday 8 "That was English football at its best," trills George Graham as Leeds stage the comeback of the season. Three down at home to Derby in half an hour, they get two back before half-time, equalize with eight minutes left then add the winner in injury time. Blackburn also leave it late, scoring twice in the last ten minutes to defeat Everton 3-2 and move into second place. "I feel for David Pleat," says Sheffield Wed's caretaker manager Peter Shreeve as Andy Booth, back after being out since August, gets a hat-trick in a 5-0 thrashing of Bolton, all the goals coming before half-time. Liverpool, by contrast, get the four that beat Spurs in the second half. "I'm going to have a talk with Alan Sugar to see where we go from here," says Gerry, feeling for the door handle."Maybe the chairman will have no alternative but to bring in someone else," says an equally gloomy Danny Wilson as Barnsley crash again, 4-1 at fast-improving Southampton. In Division One, Swindon are three points clear at the top after beating Bradford 1-0 while Forest draw at Sunderland. Right at the bottom, Doncaster, now managed by crusty old Danny Bergara, draw with Barnet to move a point closer to Brighton, who lose 2-1 to Rotherham before another crowd of under two thousand at Gillingham. Rangers move into second place in Scotland after Richard Gough, back from Kansas City, gets the only goal in the season's first Old Firm game. Hearts stay a point ahead after their customary win in the Edinburgh derby. The USA clinch a World Cup place by beating Canada 3-0 and Jamaica need only a point from their last match at home to Mexico after a 2-2 draw in El Salvador.

Sunday 9 Man Utd's lead at the top is cut to one point after former Old Trafford apprentice David Platt (yes, he's still playing) gets a late winner for Arsenal in a 3-2 win at Highbury. United are two down before pulling level with a pair from Teddy Sheringham, who makes a big thing with the badge kissing having been jeered by the Arsenal crowd. During the match Peter Schmeichel and Nigel Winterburn both appear to be struck by objects thrown from the crowd. A good game and a nasty one - just the sort Sky like. "It was important for football that Utd didn't run away with the title," says Arsène, almost smiling. "A lot of managers will be cheering this result tonight," says Alex. Chelsea are fourth after a 2-1 home win over West Ham notable chiefly for a punch up between team-mates John Moncur and Eyal Berkovic. "That's not something you want to see," says Harry Redknapp, understating nicely. Oh, and Chelsea's players have added to their repertoire of stupid goal celebrations - Zola's team-mates now kiss his boot. One day the makers of end-of-season comedy videos will pay for what they have unleashed.

Monday 10 Stewart Houston and Bruce Rioch are sacked by QPR, currently 13th in Division One, prompting immediate speculation that Gerry Francis may be due for a return to Shepherd's Bush. Rioch is favourite for the Sheffield Wednesday job after the latter are turned down by Howard Wilkinson, now happily ensconced with his charts and graphs at FA HQ. Bryan Hamilton, lately of Northern Ireland, has expressed an interest but his calls aren't being returned. Also on his way is Roy Aitken, dumped by Aberdeen who were beaten 5-0 at Dundee Utd on Saturday and have won just four league matches since last December. Bryan Hamilton's keen on that one too.

Wednesday 12 International friendlies: Scotland are unlucky to go down 2-1 in France, who win through a late penalty and are booed off by their supporters, while Wales miss several chances during a 3-0 defeat in Brazil. Juventus reserve striker Michele Padovano opts for Crystal Palace in preference to Middlesbrough. "He knows he's coming to score goals," says Steve Coppell, firmly. QPR caretaker manager John Hollins says he'd like the job permanently. The club's owner Chris Wright says he's prepared to wait months if necessary for the right man (might he be thinking of his next door neighbour, Gerry?).

Thursday 13 "This has filled a void in my life," says Ron, a 58-year-old recluse, on his surprise appointment as new boss of Sheffield Wednesday. The plan is that he will move up to a general manager role in the summer when Wednesday hope to appoint a younger man, possibly Danny Wilson. The contract to broadcast Premiership matches overseas, taking effect when the current deal expires next year, is to go to a consortium formed by satellite channel Canal Plus and sports agent Mark McCormack's TWI. The agreement will earn the Premiership around £100 million over three years, a slight improvement on the existing deal, worth only £9 million per year. So, there will be even less excuse for hiking up admission prices - but you can bet they'll find one. England lose 2-0 in Greece in the first leg of their European Under-21 championship play-off match.

Saturday 15
England beat a very lacklustre Cameroon 2-0 at Wembley with first half goals from Paul Scholes and Robbie Fowler. Rio Ferdinand and Chris Sutton win their first caps as second half subs. Ireland fail to qualify for France 98 after losing 2-1 to Belgium in the second leg of their play-off tie. Italy, Croatia and Yugoslavia complete the list of European qualifiers. Jamaica reach the World Cup Finals for the first time after getting the draw they needed at home to Mexico. In the FA Cup, Hereford gain revenge over last season's League relegation rivals, Brighton, by beating them 2-1 in their First Round tie. There are also surprises at Hull, where Hednesford of the Conference win 2-0, at Luton, beaten 1-0 by Torquay, and, arguably, at Woking, who lose 2-0 to Second Division strugglers Southend.

Sunday 16 Everton deny rumours that their hugely unpopular chairman Peter Johnson is looking to sell his controlling interest in the club. Johnson is already believed to have been approached by English National Investments, the company owned by multi millionaire Joe Lewis, through which he owns several European clubs and has a big stake in Glasgow Rangers. Chile are the last South American team to qualify for the World Cup thanks to a 3-0 win over Bolivia and there are huge sighs of relief at FIFA HQ as Japan get there too after beating Iran 3-2 in their Asian Zone play-off. Iran will now meet Australia for the one remaining place.

Tuesday 18 Gerry Francis is to be replaced as Spurs manager by Christian Gross from Swiss club Grasshoppers. The news is announced in Switzerland without comment from Alan Sugar or Gerry, possibly because he's busy on the blower to QPR. Shock of the night in the Coke Cup comes courtesy of those erratic funsters at Leeds, beaten 3-2 at home by Reading for whom Trevor Morley gets the winner five minutes from time. Elsewhere, Dennis Bergkamp, still suspended for League matches, scores the extra time goal that enables Arsenal to beat Coventry, Michael Owen gets the first hat trick of his career as Liverpool beat Grimsby 3-0, and last season's beaten finalists Middlesbrough progress by beating Bolton 2-1. This may be the final season in which all League clubs compete in the Coke Cup, with the Premiership now requesting that their clubs have the option to opt out of the competition from next season. They also want to cut the number of teams relegated to the Football League from three to two from 1998-89 (though that may not be soon enough to save Everton). The League has yet to respond publicly but their officials are known to have booked sessions at a boxing gym.

Wednesday 19 Chelsea and West Ham are through to the Coke Cup quarter-finals after home wins over Southampton and Walsall respectively. Alan Stubbs get a last-minute equalizer for Celtic at home to Rangers who have taken the lead through Marco Negri after Paul Gascoigne has been sent off. Gerry Francis confirms that he has left Spurs voluntarily - "I felt it would give the club a lift and the players a release if I resigned" - though Alan Sugar appears to have tried to dissuade him (why, Alan?). Intriguingly, it turns out that Christian Gross's agent also represents J®πrgen Klinsmann, who may be looking for a new club in the summer... Newcastle United, strapped for spare cash these days, have abandoned plans for a new stadium on a greenfield site. Instead, St James' Park will be redeveloped to a new capacity of 51,000.

Saturday 22 Man Utd are back on top after a 5-2 win at Wimbledon, where home fans stage a post-match demonstration in protest at the revival of plans to move to Dublin. Blackburn are second following a 1-0 win over Chelsea for whom Gianfranco Zola squanders a hat trick of easy chances. Ian Wright has another strangely quiet day as Arsenal are beaten 2-0 at Sheffield Wed. "I've never looked forward to a kick-off so much or felt so anxious for the final whistle," says Ron. Barnsley move off the bottom after a 1-0 win at Liverpool, and are replaced by Everton (remember the 'Big Five'?), who suffer their third successive defeat, 2-1 at Villa.

Sunday 23 Trevor Francis is odds on to be the next managerial casualty as Birmingham are beaten 1-0 at West Brom, who move up to second in Division One. Hearts move four points clear in the Scottish Premier after a 5-3 win over Kilmarnock.

Tuesday 25 Aston Villa lose 2-1 away to Steaua Bucharest, who had led by two at half-time before Dwight Yorke got a goal back. In the FA Cup replays, two triumphs for the new Rymans (ie Isthmian) League; Hendon win 1-0 at Leyton Orient and Basingstoke beating Wycombe 5-4 on penalties. Slough of the Conference take Cardiff to extra time before losing 3-2 and there's another desperate result for Burnley, beaten 3-0 at home by Rotherham of Division Three.

Wednesday 26 Newcastle bow out of the Champions League with a 1-0 defeat against Barcelona in a four-fifths empty Nou Camp. "We didn't lack ambition. We just don't have any strikers," says Kenny. In the Premiership, Everton remain bottom after conceding two penalties in the last ten minutes at Chelsea, who are now third. In the FA Cup non-League Solihull Borough are beaten on penalties by Darlington. Wimbledon's move to Ireland appears to be on again, in principle at least, as it is revealed that a consortium including Dons chairman Sam Hammam have received unofficial backing from the Irish government for their plans to build a 40,000 capacity stadium in Dublin in time for the start of the 1999-2000 season. "The move will just not be allowed to happen," says a spokesman for the FA of Ireland.

Thursday 27 Man Utd are through to the last eight of the Champions League with a 100% record from their five group matches after a 3-0 home stroll against Kosice. "If we can keep all the players fit and free from suspension we can go all the way," says Alex, beginning to plan what he'll write on the Champions League Final postcard to be sent to the Feyenoord manager.

Saturday 29 Chelsea move up to second after Gianfranco Zola gets a hat trick in a 4-0 win over Derby. Comeback specialists Leeds do their party piece again, two down at Barnsley they win 3-2. "It was a Gross impertinence," quips a strangely serene, possibly sedated Howard Kendall, after Everton lose 2-0 at home to Spurs, their fifth defeat in a row. Afterwards fans stay behind to chant for the resignation of chairman Peter Swales, er, Johnson. Terry Venables will be free to pundit away to his heart's content next summer as Australia fail to qualify for the World Cup after drawing 2-2 with Iran in the second leg of their playoff and so going out on away goals. No laughing at the back.

Sunday 30 Liverpool win 1-0 at Arsenal who have now failed to score in five of their last six games. "If we play like we did today we cannot win the championship," mutters Arsène, clearly in need of a cuddle (and a few goals). Man Utd, meanwhile, take a three point lead at the top after a 4-0 thrashing of Blackburn. Celtic get only their second trophy of the decade with a 3-0 win over Dundee Utd in the Scottish Coke Cup final.

From WSC 131 January 1998. What was happening this month

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