THE HALF DECENT FOOTBALL MAGAZINE

Sunday 1 Leeds jump up to mid table after two early goals, including Ian Rush's first for the club, see off Chelsea at Elland Road. Civil war within the Premier League is being predicted after the announcement that Rick Parry is to leave his job as chief executive to take up a similar post at Liverpool, where one of his first tasks may be to negotiate the club's first pay-per-view TV deal. "I believe there is stability and vision at the top of our great game," he says in signing off. He may have been laughing. Tabloid coverage of Parry's departure includes reference to the "so-called Big Five" of which Newcastle now appear to a member, to the exclusion of Spurs. That should swell Alan Sugar's postbag.

Monday 2 Liverpool are second after a 2-0 win at Spurs, their second a tame McManaman shot that takes a freak bounce over Ian Walker, almost identical to a Collymore goal at Blackburn last season. "It was lucky we brought that portable divot with us," says Roy Evans. Arrigo Sacchi leaves his post with the Italian national team to return to AC Milan. It is thought likely that his successor (under-21 coach Cesare Maldini is favourite) will restore some of the players omitted by Sacchi, including Baggio, Vialli and Signori. But probably not Silenzi.

Tuesday 3 Newcastle are dominated by Metz but still contrive to reach the UEFA Cup Quarter-Finals on a 3-1 aggregate after two late goals from Asprilla, who will miss the next match after a booking for taking his shirt off while celebrating the first goal. "Maybe some of the luck which deserted us at the end of last season was repaid tonight," says Kev. What luck was that, then? Middlesbrough stay fourth from bottom after losing 2-0 at home to Leicester. "We have got to show more fight and character," says Bryan Robson, as you'd expect. Further down the League Brighton's home defeat against second from bottom Darlington, after they'd twice been in the lead, leaves them nine points adrift. During the match deputy chairman David Bellotti breaks a personal record, leaving after only two minutes following abuse from the home fans. Another man in trouble, Francis Lee, sells his majority stake in Man City to an existing shareholder, Stephen Boler. A new share issue is expected to bring in around £11 million and another manager. (Phil Neal has not been seen looking at houses in the Manchester area.)

Wednesday 4 Man Utd become the first English club in 11 years to reach the last eight of the European Cup, or whatever it's called now, after beating Rapid Vienna 2-0 while Fenerbahce lose in Turin. With the match goalless Peter Schmeichel makes The Greatest Save Ever! (Daily Mirror), scooping the ball off the line and over the bar in Banksesque fashion. Rangers bow out with another defeat, 2-1 at Auxerre. Surprise of the night is AC Milan's home defeat by Rosenborg, which knocks them out and puts their opponents through to meet Juventus. Arsenal take a three point lead in the Premiership after beating Southampton 3-1, West Ham are booed off after losing by the same score at home to Villa, now fifth. Jimmy Case is sacked by Conference-bound Brighton. "We have 24 games left and we have to get off that bottom place," says Chief Executive David Bellotti from behind a locked door. Grimsby reveal that they failed to persuade Jack Charlton to become their (hem hem) director of football a couple of weeks ago. Odd that he turned them down - plenty of fishing there. Emerson is fined by Middlesbrough for failing to return from his latest trip to Brazil. His fines now add up to six weeks wages, around £96,000. "We can see Barcelona involved in all of this," says Boro chairman Steve Gibson.

Thursday 5 Emerson's in no hurry to return from Rio: "It is to do with my wife. She is the most important thing in my life and until she is well I cannot come back." Also, Fabrizio's got the hump again: "I've not come to this club with the promise of relegation. But at this stage, without any new signings I can hardly see how it can be avoided." Give him a hug, Bryan.

Saturday 7
Patrick Vieira's last-minute goal denies Derby a win at Highbury and sends Arsenal four points clear. Wimbledon go second after a 3-1 win at Sunderland ("We don't talk about the title because I don't want to put pressure on these players," says Joe Kinnear), while Liverpool slip up at home for the first time in a year, losing 1-0 to Sheffield Wed, for which Roy Evans offers an improbable excuse: "Maybe some of us have been reading too many newspapers or listening to the radio." Do they have radios in nightclubs? In the FA Cup, there are away wins for Woking and Stevenage at Cambridge and Leyton Orient respectively (the latter result not, strictly speaking, a shock), but the most dramatic win of the day comes at Blackpool where home team manager Gary Megson is chased to the dressing room by fans after Hednesford get the only goal two minutes from time. Ally McCoist's two goals in Rangers' 4-3 win over Hearts makes him the all-time top scorer in Scottish League history. Celtic's 2-1 defeat at Motherwell leaves them eight points adrift.

Sunday 8 West Ham come back from two down with 12 minutes left to draw 2-2 at home with Man Utd, Julian Dicks getting the penalty equalizer. "European games always seem to take their toll," says Alex Ferguson. Spurs snatch John Scales from Liverpool for £2.6 million after he had already had a medical at Leeds, whose chairman, Bill Fotherby, says: "I felt sick when he rang me up. He used us to push up Tottenham's offer." Leeds were of course involved in a similar incident during the summer when they nicked Nigel Martyn from Everton, but don't mention that to Bill. Middlesbrough are to help Brazilian tax authorities with their enquiries into Juninho's transfer, the money from which seems to have been paid into a bank account outside Brazil to avoid tax. Jo√£o Havelange announces that he is to retire as FIFA president in 1998: "The difficult thing is not arriving but knowing when to go," he says, shouting above the roar of a cheering crowd.

Tuesday 10 The City Ground stages Newcastle's first goalless draw for eighteen months, Forest squandering several chances to win. "I think confidence is a major problem for us," says Frank Clark, under-stated as ever. The Premiership sign a new sponsorship deal with Carling worth £36m over the next four years. "We have to be very careful. We are aware that the gravy train could end," says Rick Parry, who'll shortly have a first class carriage all to himself. Brighton are docked two points as punishment for pitch invasions during their match with Lincoln in October, leaving them 11 points adrift. The most relaxed man in Britain, Des Lynam, is to join the FA team trying to arbitrate in the Brighton crisis, though his offer to "bang some heads together" doesn't sound overly helpful.

Wednesday 11
Tough UEFA Cup draw for Newcastle, at home to Monaco, easier for Liverpool, away to Brann Bergen of Norway. Tony Yeboah, fit again but on the bench for Leeds' last two matches, wants a transfer: "The manager has not explained the situation to me and I'm not happy with that." Get yourself a drink-driving conviction, Tony - George respects those. Steve Gritt, once co-manager of Charlton, is the new boss of Brighton. "I'm sure some people will think I'm mad but it's a challenge and I'm up for that," he says.

Saturday 14
Middlesbrough's rubber-legged defence holds out for all of 29 seconds at Anfield before Robbie Fowler gets the first of his four goals in a 5-1 win which takes Liverpool into second place. Wimbledon are third after a late winner against Blackburn. Asked for the secret of the team's success, Joe Kinnear confides, "It's just hard work and confidence. Most of this coaching talk is a load of cobblers." Wales' World Cup hopes recede further after a 0-0 home draw with Turkey but Northern Ireland win, 2-0 at home against Albania.

Sunday 15
Sunderland strike another blow for the promoted clubs with a 3-0 win over Chelsea. "What worries me about this team is that they give away stupid goals," says a very cross Ruud. The Bristol derby ends in a 1-1 draw and a pitch invasion prompted by Rovers' late equalizer after which some of their players are attacked on the field. What's that lumbering over the horizon? Darned if it doesn't look like an FA inquiry.

Monday 16
Several elderly (sorry, 'experienced') Serie A stars are being linked with a move to Ewood Park after it is confirmed that Sven Goran Eriksson will take over as Blackburn manager in the summer, if not before. Frank Clark denies that he is about to leave Forest for Man City, as anyone would, and comes over all technical: "We have to make ourselves much harder to beat. In modern terms we'll operate what they describe as the 'pressing game'." Phew, anyone follow that? Vinnie Jones is fined £7,000 by Wimbledon for his joke guide to his teammates personal habits published in the Sun the previous weekend. "I am the leader of these boys and when you live by the sword you die by it," he says, clearly repentant.

Tuesday 17
Liverpool go top after Forest old boy Stan Collymore scores twice in a 4-2 win over his former team-mates. Newcastle slip up again losing 2-1 at Coventry. Peter Beardsley, filling in for a speechless Kev, says: "Write us off at your peril. It will just make us all the more determined." At your peril, remember. To no-one's surprise, the Sports Council announce that Wembley, a suburb of North London, is to be the site for the new National Stadium. Building work will begin in 1998. The rival bidder, Manchester, will get funding towards the construction of a Stadium of the North (that's the large area outside the South-East of England), likely venue for the 2002 Commonwealth Games.

Thursday 19 Frank Clark resigns as Forest manager, saying, "I suspect I would have been out like a shot the moment the new owners put their feet under the boardroom table." Fist-clencher extraordinaire Stuart Pearce will be caretaker manager until the end of the season. Neil Ruddock is being charged with disrepute by the FA after comments made in the Sun about Alan Sugar, which included, "I don't like Sugar because his meanness had dragged Spurs down. He seems to treat football as one big ego trip." (But who doesn't, eh?)

Friday 20
Peculiar doings at Middlesbrough, who call off their match at Blackburn after injuries and a virus leave them with only seven fit first team players. "We can't possibly field a team that would do anybody justice," says Bryan Robson, as if that were news. Blackburn want to be given the three points ("Are we playing Sunday league football now?" asks Tony Parkes, fast becoming the King of Sarcasm), but it's likely that Boro will escape with a fine.

Saturday 21
Two goals from Alf-Inge Haaland, the second in the 89th minute, bring Forest their first win since the opening day of the season, 2-1 over Arsenal, who have Ian Wright dismissed for 'clashing' with Nikola Jerkan ten minutes from time. And it's a good day for the struggling clubs in general, with Coventry winning 2-0 at Leicester and Southampton get their first-ever Premiership win without Matt Le Tissier in the team (go on, look it up), beating Derby 3-1. Man Utd's recent slump ends with a 5-0 thrashing of Sunderland at Old Trafford, the home fans' delight no doubt intensified by Peter Reid's post match comment: "I don't think I've ever suffered a 5-0 before, not even when I was at Manchester City."

Sunday 22
Wimbledon's unbeaten run comes to an end with a 5-0 thrashing at Villa Park, which lifts the home side up to fourth. "The run's been a little bit of a fairy tale," says Joe Kinnear, with his customary cherubic smile, "The trick now is to bounce back." For the first time in a while the world's press descend upon Brisbane Road where Leyton Orient's 2-0 win over Brighton marks Peter Shilton's 1,000th League match. "At the back of my mind, I'd like to get back into management," Peter says, possibly not conscious that it's firmly at the back of everyone else's mind, too, after his debacle at Plymouth. Man Utd assistant manager and Fergie-hugger-in-chief, Brian Kidd, is said to have turned down the manager's job at Man City for the second time.

Monday 23 Liverpool are three points clear after a 1-1 draw at St James's Park, Robbie Fowler equalizing after Alan Shearer had put Newcastle ahead. "If we can't win it then I'd be happy for Liverpool to take it," gushes Kev. Sir John Hall may think differently, of course. Notts County, second from bottom in Division Two, borrow an idea from Forest in making captain Gary Strodder caretaker manager after sacking Colin Murphy. Kenny Dalglish's 'scouting' job for Rangers turns out to be a consultancy role for a sports marketing company owned by the club's chairman David Murray, with golf likely to take up much of his time, as per. Just when things have gone a bit quiet on the Emerson front, up pops Fabrizio again, criticizing English clubs' training methods and facilities and saying of Middlesbrough, "We are in a difficult situation and one I did not expect. Before signing promises were made to me and they have not been kept." Season-ticket holders might be thinking along similar lines. Alan Shearer comes third in the European Footballer of the Year Award, won by Germany Matthias Sammer with Bobby Robson's Barcelona's Brazilian Ronaldo in second place.

Thursday 26
Another opportunity for Roy Evans to say, "Sometimes it is more difficult at home when you are denied space," as Leicester City become the latest team to get a 1-1 draw at Anfield. Arsenal are three points behind after a goalless draw at Sheffield Wed, but Man Utd are closing fast, third now after a 4-0 win at Forest, their final goal from Andy Cole playing his first game of the season. Another returnee, Juninho, scores twice as Middlesbrough get their first win in twelve games, 4-2 against the last team they beat, Everton, whose 'title challenge' has lasted as long as it takes to say it. Newcastle's poor run continues as they lose 1-0 at Blackburn where Alan Shearer is welcomed back with hearty cries of, "You lying bastard!" Yo ho ho, Al.

Saturday 28 Man Utd sidle up to second place after a Cantona penalty is enough to beat Leeds, Arsenal drop to third after being held to a 2-2 home draw by Villa after which Arsène Wenger becomes the first Arsenal manager ever to utter the words, "You have to say it was great entertainment." Wimbledon bounce back with a 3-1 win at Everton and Newcastle are now behind them in fifth after thrashing Spurs 7-1. "At least we didn't capitulate like we did at Bolton," says Gerry Francis, clutching at a clump of straws with both hands. "If we beat Leeds in New Year's Day we'll be back in the melting pot," says Terry McDermott, getting carried away. In the Conference, not a merry Xmas for Stuart Beevor who scores a first hat-trick for Stevenage against Hayes, his first goals of the season, only for the match to be abandoned due to the icy pitch.

Sunday 29 Liverpool are five points clear thanks to the sudden reappearance of a fine old tradition: the Dave Beasant cock up. With the game at The Dell scoreless fifteen minutes from time, Dave's sliced clearance goes straight to John Barnes who rolls it into the net from 40 yards out. "I didn't have a chat with him because we all make mistakes," says the new model Graeme Souness (will he ever be back to normal, doctor?). Frank Clark is sworn in (it happens so often they've a special ceremony) as Man City's fifth manager of the season. Compliments of the season, Frank.

From WSC 120 February 1997. What was happening this month

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