THE HALF DECENT FOOTBALL MAGAZINE

Wednesday 1 Another stumble for Liverpool, beaten by a Roberto di Matteo goal at Chelsea, prompting the first Gullitism of 1997: "We are a rough diamond that needs to be polished every day but it's beginning to have a nice shine." Arsenal close the gap to two points with a 2-0 home win over Middlesbrough, who drop into the bottom three after Blackburn and Forest win away at Everton and fast-sliding West Ham respectively. Man Utd, held at home by Villa, stay third but Newcastle are only a point behind them after beating Leeds 3-0.

Friday 3
Rangers all but wrap up their ninth successive Scottish League title with a 3-1 home win over Celtic, clinched with two late goals from Erik Bo Andersen, which stretches their lead to fourteen points. A judicial report into the Olympique Marseille corruption investigations alleges the club spent around £12 million in bribes to opposing players and officials and referees in European and domestic matches over a number of years. The club's former owner Bernard Tapie and ex French national team manager Michel Hidalgo are among 20 people to be charged with match-rigging.

Saturday 4 In the FA Cup Southampton have two players dismissed in a 3-1 defeat at Reading. Graeme Souness isn't happy that the match was staged on a frosty pitch and says of referee Graham Poll, "He has a reputation for wanting to make a name for himself and he has done that today." Harry Redknapp is equally unhappy after West Ham's 1-1 draw at Wrexham: "Playing in these conditions is not what football is about. The only instructions I gave to my players was to boot the ball over their back four." Well, it worked for Jack Charlton. Elsewhere, Arsenal are held at home by Sunderland and there are big wins for Sheffield Wed, 7-1 over Grimsby, and Middlesbrough, 6-0 v Chester.

Sunday 5
The day's Cup headlines are made by Ian Culverhouse of Swindon, whose dismissal at Goodison Park, for an alleged handball on the goalline after just fifty seconds, is the fastest in Cup history. Everton go on to win 3-0. Charlton get a late equalizer at home to Newcastle, and Man Utd ease past injury hit Spurs 2-0 ("I firmly believe that getting into Europe is a realistic goal," says Gerry Francis, already planning his Summer hols).

Tuesday 7
Duck everybody. Howard Wilkinson is appointed as FA Technical Director, his job defined by FA chairman Keith Wiseman as being "the production of a structure in England that will raise playing standards in our young players to world class levels". "Lancaster Gate is where my job is, but I will do everything in my power not to work from there," says Howard, already pining for the parade ground, er, training pitch.

Wednesday 8
Hankies out. Kevin Keegan resigns as Newcastle manager, saying, "I feel I have taken the club as far as I can." Having had an offer of resignation turned down by the Newcastle board after the Boxing Day defeat at Blackburn, Keegan then asked to be released from his contract at the end of the season, before it was eventually agreed that he should go now. "It has all happened rather quickly, but the club has to go on and Kevin would want that," says Sir John Hall, as though speaking of the dead. "People are saying it's like the Queen dying, but I think it's a lot worse," says John Regan of the Newcastle Independent Supporters Association. Kenny Dalglish and Chris Waddle are among the favourites to take over. Middlesbrough's season takes a turn for the better with a 2-1 win over Liverpool in the Hokey Cokey Cup Quarter-Finals, and Wimbledon are also through to the last four after a 2-0 win at Bolton.

Friday 10 Sir John Hall is in Spain chatting up Bobby Robson and John Toshack (over whom he faces "a tug of war with Nigeria" according to the Sun). Bobby insists he's staying put: "Newcastle's offer was very flattering, but I have a two year contract here." Tosh, however, is keeping his options open: "Unless things change I have a contract until June and I am sticking to it." Ipswich's Adam Tanner has been charged with misconduct by the FA after testing positive for cocaine, classified as a performance-enhancing drug (though it never seemed to do much for Elton John).

Saturday 11 A poor day for all the teams at the top: Liverpool are held to a goalless draw at home by West Ham, Arsenal go down to a cracking Tony Adams own goal at Sunderland, where Dennis Bergkamp becomes their fifth player to be sent off this season ("I don't know how some judgments are made here. They are not all the same," says a befuddled Arsène) and Wimbledon concede a late equalizer at home to Derby. In the Little Kev Memorial match at Villa Park, Newcastle take a two-goal lead but are pegged back to 2-2 and might have lost had Shaka Hislop not saved Dwight Yorke's penalty. Before Middlesbrough's match with Southampton Bryan Robson denies reports that he has offered to resign, then sees his team sink to the bottom after a 1-0 home defeat.

Sunday 12
Man Utd go second after a 2-1 win at Spurs, their winner another long shot from David Beckham. "Everyone is up there cutting each other's throats. It is that kind of race," says Alex Ferguson, thinking back to his school sports days. "I am fed up with saying how well we played and get nothing," quips the ever jocular Gerry Francis. Sir John Hall is to make another attempt to lure Bobby Robson from Barcelona, though his son, Douglas, a Newcastle director, is said to favour Kenny Dalglish.

Monday 13 An FA Cup shock, at last, as Hednesford Town of the Conference knock out York City 1-0. They'll meet Middlesbrough next. Sir John Hall is at the Nou Camp to see Barcelona lose 3-2 at home to second-bottom Hercules after holding a two-goal lead. Bobby might be available soon after all.

Tuesday 14
Kenny Dalglish is the new Newcastle manager, Bobby Robson having decided to honour his contract with Barcelona (though they may yet have other ideas). "I'll try my best to give the people and the players here what they want - and that is success," says Kenny. "One thing is for certain - the players will give 110%," says Terry McDermott, usefully. Middlesbrough have three points deducted as punishment for abruptly calling off their game with Blackburn the Saturday before Christmas. They'll appeal, natch, but Fabrizio thinks they're doomed anyway, as he tells an Italian newspaper: "Middlesbrough are going down. It saddens me to say that but the situation is truly tragic." More FA Cup cancellations, including Watford's match with Oxford, called off minutes before kick off, while the referee in charge of the Gillingham-Derby tie needs a police escort after abandoning the game with only 25 minutes left. On the opening day of the Grobbelgaate (copyright WSC) bribery trial, the prosecution claims that Brucie and Hans first contacted the Asian syndicate about throwing matches in 1992 and that John Fashanu acted as a middleman, organizing cash payments after games. Funny business is suspected in at least a dozen matches involving Wimbledon or Liverpool.

Dalglish Day One (Wednesday 15) In the FA Cup, Newcastle need extra time to defeat Charlton 2-1, Alan Shearer getting the free kick winner ("I'm not educated enough to wax lyrical about Alan," says Kenny), Arsenal's first in a 2-0 win at Sunderland is a great individual effort from Dennis Bergkamp which leaves Peter Reid confessing: "I started clapping myself until I realized I was Sunderland's manager," and Stockport claim another scalp, winning 2-0 at Stoke. Coventry's match with Woking is among another crop of ties called off due to the big freeze but neither club is happy - "The referee's decision simply did not make any sense," says Coventry secretary Graham Hover. After Fabrizio, Gianluca, out of the Chelsea starting line-up in recent weeks, complains in an Italian newspaper: "Gullit has used me very little and I'm not satisfied with this. I'm here to play and become a legend in London with Chelsea." The latter's managing director, Colin Hutchinson, describes their reported £17 million offer for AC Milan's Paolo Maldini as having been "tongue in cheek". Scamps, they are.

Saturday 18
Liverpool win at home, whatever next, 3-0 against Villa and stay two points ahead of Man Utd, who survive a penalty claim when Darren Huckerby is brought down by Gary Neville and go on to win 2-0 at Coventry. Kenny is said to be heading for airport, chequebook in hand after seeing Newcastle throw away a two goal lead in the last three minutes at Southampton, courtesy of a Hislop fumble and a Le Tissier strike in injury time. At the bottom Middlesbrough record only their second win this century, beating Sheffield Wed 4-2, all four goals from overseas players including debutant Gianluca Festa. Fabrizio, all fired up, is sent off for double dissent, ie staring out a linesman and making flappy hand movements.

Sunday 19
Ian Wright makes a non-scoring return for Arsenal, back in second place after a 3-1 home win over Everton, who have now lost five in a row and won't want to be reminded that Norwich began their long march to relegation at roughly the same time two seasons ago. Nor will Spurs, whose defeat at Forest is their fourth in succession, the game turning on the dismissal of defender Ramon Vega for striking Colin Cooper. Port Vale was the place to be for excitement, though - the home side are four up at half-time against QPR but then concede four themselves in the second half, including three in the last five minutes. "We let it slip through our fingers like water through a colander," says Vale manager John Rudge, who must have drained a few vegetables in his time.

Monday 20
West Ham's troubles grow with a 2-0 home defeat by Leeds which ends with chants for the dismissal of Harry Redknapp: "No one is hurting more than me," he says, or possibly sings. Brighton supporters are to sue the FA who they claim are in breach of their own constitution in not punishing the club's board for alleged misconduct.

Tuesday 21 Millwall call in administrators after shares in their parent company, Millwall Holdings, are suspended. The club were first quoted on the stock market in 1989 but they are said to be losing £250,00 a week and and shares are currently worth just 4p each. Chairman Peter Mead says they will launch a new share issue worth several million, "which will mean that we won't have to carry on selling all our best players just to cover losses". So, all settled. No such problems for Rangers, who receive £40 million from billionaire Joe Lewis in exchange for a 25% stake in the club. Chairman David Murray retains a controlling interest, and is now expected to seek a stock market floatation before the end of the century. Then their domination of the European scene will be complete.

Wednesday 22 Stockport and Southampton draw 2-2 in their Hokey Cokey Quarter-Final, the visitors rescued from defeat by an Egil Ostenstad goal five minutes from time. An FA commission rules that Bristol City will have two points deducted if there is any repeat of the crowd trouble that erupted at the end of the Bristol derby at Ashton Gate last month. Alan Buckley is sacked by West Brom, currently seventeenth in Division One. The club, floated on the Alternative Investment Market last month, say they are looking for a "high profile" successor. Chris Evans it is, then. Italy warm up for Wembley by beating Northern Ireland 2-0 in a friendly in Palermo, their first goal from Gianfranco Zola.

Thursday 23
'Millionaire bookie' Michael Tabor criticizes the West Ham board for failing to respond to his offer of a cash injection of £30 million. "The way things are going this season time is running out," he says. "Tabor is just shouting his mouth off and not doing the club any good," says West Ham chief executive Peter Storrie, presumably not intending to hang around if the takeover bid is accepted. The chairmen of fifteen Scottish clubs call for a restructuring of the League for next season, with a sixteen team Premier League and two lower divisions of twelve. The five best supported Premier League clubs, not invited to the initial discussions, are believed to be opposed to the plan. Celtic, in fact, are said to be considering ways to get into the English Premier League, including buying up Wimbledon. (No, really.)

Friday 24
Bournemouth go into receivership with debts of £4.5 million. They have until the end of the season to raise the £300,000 needed to stave off closure. "This club has been a shambles for years, losing money hand over fist without paying for it," says director Roy Pack, a voice of calm in troubled times.

Saturday 25
Cup surprises - you wait for ages then they all come at once. And in the last minute, too, which is when Woking get their equalizer in a Third Round tie at Coventry ("Our display was indefensible," says Gordon Strachan), and when Wrexham snatch a winner against West Ham at Upton Park. The latter prompts an after-match demonstration in front of the directors box by home fans, and an offer of resignation from Harry Redknapp, who says, "I won't stick around if I'm not wanted." Joe Royle is also under pressure after seeing Everton beaten 3-2 at home by Bradford City, one of whose goals is a thirty yard lob from Chris Waddle. More late goals at Old Trafford, where Paul Scholes puts Man Utd 1-0 up v Wimbledon in the 88th minute only for Robbie Earle to equalize a minute later, and the Riverside where Middlesbrough are held to 1-1 by Hednesford until four minutes from the end after which they score twice, the visitors getting one back in injury time.

Sunday 26
A Cup classic at Stamford Bridge where Chelsea come back from two down at half-time to beat Liverpool 4-2. It's the first time Liverpool have lost a competitive match after being 2-0 up at half time since a game at Blackburn on 13th August 1964 (when °ÆDiddy Wah Diddy' by Manfred Mann was number one and Cilla Black was really hip). Mark Hughes, on as sub for the restart, scores the first, about which Ruud Gullit says "When we got that goal Liverpool were afraid, I could hear them talking about it from where I sat," with Gianluca Vialli getting the third and fourth. Another surprise at St James' Park where Forest, trailing to a Les Ferdinand goal, hit back with two from Ian Woan in the last fifteen minutes.

Monday 27 Man Utd go top after coming from behind to beat Wimbledon 2-1, the winner from Andy Cole. "It could be one of those seasons where you have to hold your breath all the way to the end," says Alex. Arsenal move into second spot after a 2-1 win at West Ham and are then unable to leave Upton Park for over an hour due to a demo by home fans demanding the board open talks with would-be benefactor Michael Tabor. Stockport reach the semi-finals of the Hokey Cokey after beating Southampton 2-1 at The Dell, a result which prompts a right old rant from Graeme Souness, "whose stunning wife Karen is a former Miss Stockport" (the Sun). Says Graeme: "When something like this happens it affects your home life. I will try my best to be a good husband to my wife and father to my kids. It will be hard to do as we just froze." Well, yes, whatever. Stockport manager David Jones, meanwhile, settles for, "We fear no one."

From WSC 121 March 1997. What was happening this month

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