Tuesday 1 “I think Arsenal are out of the title race,” says Sir Alex after a Cristiano Ronaldo double spurs Man Utd to a 4-2 Highbury win. Another vindictive encounter starts in the tunnel with Roy Keane and Patrick Vieira squaring up to each other; later Wayne Rooney breaks the UK all-comers record for swear words yelled in under a minute during a disagreement with referee Graham Poll and Mikaël Silvestre is sent off for butting Freddie Ljungberg. Fernando Morientes gets his first goal for fifth-placed Liverpool as they prevent Charlton moving ahead of them by winning 2-1 at The Valley. Middlesbrough are still without a league win in 2005 after a 2-1 defeat at Portsmouth. There’s a dramatic end to West Brom’s match against Palace, with the home side taking a 2-1 lead in injury time only for Aki Riihilahti to equalise; Iain Dowie’s side had played with ten men for 80 minutes following the dismissal of defender Gonzalo Sorondo. Fredi Kanouté is sent off at Bolton, after which Spurs concede two late goals to lose 3-1, their third defeat in a row. Motherwell reach the Scottish League Cup final for the first time in 50 years after a 3-2 extra-time win over Hearts.
Wednesday 2 “A fight not a football match,” says José as Chelsea beat Blackburn with an early goal by Arjen Robben, who limps off shortly afterwards, and helped by Petr Cech saving Paul Dickov’s penalty. A bad-tempered evening ends with a Mark Hughes complaint about José: “He wasn’t gracious enough to shake my hand.” Three penalties are missed in a 1-1 draw at Craven Cottage, one by Fulham and two by Juan Pablo Angel, who had given Villa the lead. The home team go on to equalise in the last minute. David O’Leary is too angry to talk to the press afterwards. Birmingham halt their run of four successive defeats by beating Southampton 2-1, with a debut goal for Uruguay striker Walter “The Rifle” Pandiani, who is “distraught” at being quoted as saying that he didn’t want to join the club. Norwich stay below the Saints in second bottom after losing to a late own goal at Everton. Rangers are in the Scottish League Cup final after a 7-1 thrashing of Dundee Utd.
Thursday 3 UEFA want to bring in quotas of “home-grown” players for Champions League and UEFA Cup squads: four from 2006-07, then six then eight. The introduction of similar rules for domestic leagues will also be opposed by clubs – “We’re unanimously against it,” says Arsenal’s David Dein.
Friday 4 The FA may move the 2006 FA Cup final to a Wednesday evening to give Sven more time with his England squad before the 2006 World Cup (which they could yet be watching on TV, of course). In the Championship, Sunderland’s 1-1 draw at Wolves takes them level with second-placed Wigan.
Saturday 5 “We keep asking questions of Chelsea and they keep answering them,” says Roy Keane, who gets his 50th goal for Man Utd in a 2-0 win over Birmingham. Arsenal race to a three-goal first-half lead at Villa and win 3-1. David O’Leary is quaking: “They were a really angry, wounded animal.” Andy Cole gets Fulham’s first league goal at Anfield since 1968, but they lose 3-1. It’s Liverpool third’s straight win – “I’m convinced we will finish fourth,” says Rafa, channelling Gérard. Bolton return to the top six with a seventh win in a row, 1-0 at Palace. West Brom dominate against Norwich but lose 3-2 to an 85th-minute goal from Damien Francis. Robbo has identified the glitch: “We are not good on basic defending.” Mido makes a sensational start for Spurs with two goals in their 3-1 win over Portsmouth. Newcastle are jeered off to a “bonding session” in Dubai (Freddy Shepherd’s going, too) after a 1-1 draw with Charlton. Ipswich lead the Championship by five points after winning 2-0 at Sheffield Utd (“We haven’t passed the ball but we’ve got the points so who cares?” says Joe Royle), while Wigan are beaten 1-0 by heroically boring Stoke, who haven’t scored or conceded more than one goal in any of their last 17 league games. Derby go fifth after a 3-2 win at Brighton. At the bottom Rotherham and Forest (one of only two League clubs not to win away this season) take a point that’s no use to either. In League One, the top three all draw, as do fourth-placed Sheffield Wed, 0-0 at Barnsley, after which Paul Sturrock denies that he may return home to manage Dundee United. Yeovil’s 3-1 defeat at Macclesfield mean they lead League Two only on goal difference from Scunthorpe and Swansea.
Sunday 6 Chelsea drop points to Man City again, in a 0-0 draw at Stamford Bridge. Petr Cech’s ninth straight clean sheet is a record for the top division. José stifles a yawn: “I don’t know any other league in the world where the leaders are nine points clear.” James Beattie scores after four minutes of his return to Southampton, but Everton need an injury-time goal from Marcus Bent to salvage a 2-2 draw. The Saints, unbeaten at home since September, stay one off the bottom; Harry remains chipper: “We looked like a proper football team today.” Celtic’s 3-0 win at Dunfermline in the Scottish Cup is overshadowed by Pars chairman John Yorkston’s comment that Celtic defender Bobo Balde had “caused more injuries this season” than Dunfermline’s widely criticised plastic pitch. “Ignorant,” says Martin O’Neill.
Monday 7 Manchester United tell the Stock Exchange that they have received a takeover proposal from Malcolm Glazer, valuing the club at around £800 million. “We will fight this tooth and nail,” says a spokesman for supporters group IMUSA. The Premier League confirm reports that Walter Pandiani’s move to Birmingham was completed after the transfer window had closed – but only because a fax was jammed.
Wednesday 9 No goals for England and Holland. One debutant, Andy Johnson, gets half an hour on the right of midfield (“He can cross from there but he can’t get into the middle to head them in,” says Iain Dowie) while the other, Stuart Downing, plays on the left as a substitute for Shaun Wright-Phillips, who has missed the two best chances. Holland are wearing black-and-white shirts as part of Nike’s anti-racism initiative. Gary Neville, for one, wonders about their motives: “We have to make sure the campaign is not cheapened by companies like Nike getting a lot of PR out of it for nothing.” “Football’s about highs and lows but I seem to have more than most,” says Craig Bellamy after getting both goals in Wales’s 2-0 win over Hungary. The Republic of Ireland keep up their excellent record in friendlies by beating Portugal 1-0; the North’s defeat by the same score to Canada is their 12th home match without a win.
Friday 11 José Antonio Reyes is to sue a Spanish radio station for a prank phone call, supposedly from Real Madrid director of football Emilio Butragueño, during which Reyes said that he would be delighted to leave Arsenal for Real. Roy Keane is to retire when his contract expires in 2006.
Saturday 12 Chelsea’s 1-0 win at Everton is aided by James Beattie’s eighth-minute dismissal for butting William Gallas. David Moyes initially defends his player, then changes tack after seeing the video: “His actions were unacceptable and, self-evidently, had a detrimental effect on his team-mates.” Liverpool fail to narrow the gap, losing 2-0 at Birmingham, while Euro hopefuls Bolton and Middlesbrough draw goallessly at the Reebok. Having criticised Blackburn for their “bully tactics” beforehand, Nigel Worthington sees his Norwich team capitulate 3-0 at Ewood Park. Another piledriver from Thomas Hitzlsperger secures Villa’s second away victory of the season, 2-1 at Portsmouth. The top three in the Championship win and Preston, unbeaten in ten games, move up to fourth with a 2-1 victory at QPR. Coventry keep up their 100 per cent record under Micky Adams with a fourth straight defeat, 2-0 at home to Burnley, and are now only two points clear of the relegation area. Luton triumph in the top-of-the-table match in League One, an 89th-minute goal by Ahmet Brkovic beating Hull; Bradford City’s 2-1 win over Sheffield Wednesday is their first victory at Hillsborough since 1913. Crawley Town, chasing a play-off place in the Conference, have manager Francis Vines arrested for “threatening language” after his team’s 2-0 defeat at Woking, during which they have two players dismissed. Another week, another lead blown by West Brom, this time to go down 3-1 at Spurs in their FA Cup fourth-round replay. Derby take Fulham to extra time before losing 4-2; Brentford miss a seventh-minute penalty at Hartlepool, for which home defender Jack Ross is sent off, but go on to win 1-0. German referee Robert Hoyzer is arrested after admitting to fixing several lower league and cup games in 2004.
Sunday 13 United win the Manchester derby courtesy of two own goals from Richard Dunne, the first a deflection of Wayne Rooney’s shot, the second an emphatically sliced clearance. But Sir Alex thinks the luck is going elsewhere: “Chelsea aren’t playing well but they’re getting all the breaks.” Sheffield Utd face a Cup trip to Arsenal after beating West Ham 3-1 on penalties.
Monday 14 Yes, it’s a St Valentine’s Day Massacre at Highbury, where Palace lose 5-1. Arsenal’s 16-man squad is made up entirely of overseas players, the first time this has happened in English football. “I don’t look at the passports of people, I look at their quality,” says Arsène. The Football League announce a three-year sponsorship deal with DIY retailer Wickes, who are to be “Official Home Improvement Partner of The Football League Championship” with advertising at every ground – on poorly painted rickety MDF frames? Roy Keane might hang around for a while yet: “The manager told me on Saturday he’ll be the one deciding when I’ll retire.”
Tuesday 15 Steven Gerrard, Thierry Henry and David Beckham play for a Europe XI beaten 6-3 by a World XI in a Tsunami Relief Fund match in Barcelona. The event raised £2.3m, so if each player in the squad had donated 0.5 per cent of their annual salary then... no, silly suggestion. The PFA’s Gordon Taylor worries about Arsenal’s non-British squad: “There’s a real danger of what happened in Scotland happening here, and that’s the last thing anybody wants.”
Wednesday 16 Brentford and Southampton fall out over ticket allocations for Saturday’s Cup tie. It is feared travelling fans will buy spare tickets for home sections of St Mary’s. “If there is a disaster someone will have to look in the mirror,” says Martin Allen. Discussing Ashley Cole’s tumble during the recent Arsenal v Man Utd match, Roy Keane suggests that players might wear “wristbands for anti-diving”. Meanwhile, Bolton’s Tal Ben Haim has been cleared of “improper conduct” over the incident that led to Wayne Rooney picking up a three-match ban.
Thursday 17 To a background of “sack the board” chants from travelling fans, Newcastle come from behind to win 2-1 at Heerenveen in their UEFA Cup tie; Lee Bowyer is sent off after scoring the winner. Middlesbrough twice take the lead at Grazer AK before drawing 2-2. José starts shadow boxing over Chelsea’s Champions League trip to Barcelona: “My history as manager cannot be compared with Frank Rijkaard, because he has zero titles and I have lots of them.”
Saturday 19 An old-fashioned day in the FA Cup, with surprises all over the place. Brentford go two down in the first half at Southampton but rally to draw 2-2. “You don’t get a team to play like that by diving in a river,” says Martin Allen, fed up with questions about his pre-match swim in the Solent. “You’d have to ask them if they think the FA Cup is special,” says Alan Curbishley after Charlton lose 2-1 at home to Leicester, Dion Dublin getting the winner: “The instinct is still there – it sort of hit me on the back of the head.” Sheffield Utd get a last-minute penalty to draw 1-1 at Highbury, where Dennis Bergkamp, one of the few Arsenal first-teamers on show, is sent off during a first-half rumpus. Just over 16,000 see Bolton beat Fulham 1-0. Wayne Rooney receives the expected hostile reception at Goodison, where Roy Carroll is hit by a coin during Man Utd’s 2-0 win, prompting the BBC and Sky to ask whether the FA should schedule matches at 5.30. Yes, really. In the Championship, Derby’s club-record sixth successive away win, 3-1 at Rotherham, takes them fourth. Coventry halt their slide with a 2-1 victory at Reading, while Plymouth’s eighth match without a win, a 5-0 thrashing at West Ham, leaves them four points above the relegation area; third-bottom Gillingham take a 90th-minute lead at Wolves, but concede an equaliser straight away for a 2-2 draw. In League One, a 1-0 win at Bradford keeps Luton seven points clear; Stockport get their second win in 11 matches under Chris Turner but are 13 points adrift of safety. The country’s top scorer, Phil Jevons, gets one of the goals in the 2-1 win at Chester that keeps Yeovil top of League Two. Struggling Kidderminster could have got to within two points of third-bottom Rushden, but lose a two-goal lead in a 4-2 defeat at Shrewsbury.
Sunday 20 Chelsea are knocked out of the FA Cup 1-0 at Newcastle. Trailing to Patrick Kluivert’s early goal, they use all three subs at half-time (“My life is a risk,” says José), but within minutes Wayne Bridge is carried off with a broken ankle. Carlo Cudicini’s injury-time dismissal means he will miss the Carling Cup final. In the FA Cup, two more Premiership clubs fail to beat Championship opponents – Spurs are held to a 1-1 draw by Forest, while there are hurled coins and three pitch invaders during Burnley’s 0-0 draw with Blackburn, one of whom attempts to fight Robbie Savage. Mark Hughes criticises the security arrangements: “In this day and age it just shouldn’t happen.” Rangers go three points clear in the SPL after a first league win at Celtic in five seasons, 2-0.
Tuesday 22 “I feel like crying after watching that,” says Arsène, suddenly sounding like a lower-division fan as his side come unstuck in Europe again, with a 3-1 defeat at Bayern, though Kolo Touré’s 88th-minute goal offers some hope for the second leg. Liverpool also take a three-goal lead at home to Bayer Leverkusen, who get one back late on from another Jerzy Dudek fumble. Southampton end a run of seven straight away defeats but stay in the bottom three with a goalless draw at West Brom. Sunderland are only three points off the top of the Championship after beating Rotherham 4-1, while Ipswich lose 2-1 at home to Watford. Luton, 1-0 winners over Walsall, extend their League One lead to nine points, with second-placed Hull scrambling a late 1-1 draw at MK Dons, who would have been out of the bottom four if they’d won. The meeting of the top two in League Two ends with Yeovil beating Scunthorpe 4-3; Swansea drop out of the promotion places by losing at Darlington. Oh, and Graeme Souness plans to offer £20m for a Real Madrid squad player, Oweninho: “He’s only 25 and very talented.”
Wednesday 23 Chelsea take the lead at Barcelona, but go down 2-1 after Didier Drogba is sent off for clattering into the goalkeeper. José and staff refuse to comment on the game, but allege that Barcelona coach Frank Rijkaard was seen talking to referee Anders Frisk at half-time. AC Milan come away from Old Trafford with a 1-0 lead after Hernán Crespo seizes on an error by Roy Carroll. Sir Alex keeps his chin up: “We have a terrific opportunity still, because we can score away from home.” Wigan return to the top of the Championship after a 2-1 win at Coventry.
Thursday 24 José Antonio Reyes is to be charged with misconduct for striking Sheffield Utd’s Danny Cullip during Saturday’s FA Cup tie. Brian Talbot leaves Oldham, whose 5-1 defeat at Bristol City yesterday was their fifth straight loss. Middlesbrough and Newcastle are through to the last 16 of the UEFA Cup after 2-1 home wins.
Saturday 26 Arsenal’s title ambitions are finally extinguished at Southampton, where Peter Crouch secures a point for the home side after Thierry Henry had opened the scoring. Just before Arsenal’s goal, Saints’ David Prutton is sent off for a second yellow and seems set on fighting the officials before being led away. Robin van Persie follows suit in the second half, getting a brisk ticking off from Arsène as he heads for the tunnel. Man Utd sidle up to within six points of Chelsea, Wayne Rooney scoring both goals in a 2-1 win over Portsmouth – Carroll is dropped from the 16. Everton consolidate in fourth after a 3-1 victory at Villa, their first there since 1987. Palace go four points clear of the bottom three after two Andy Johnson penalties defeat his former club Birmingham (“Faults? He could be six foot two,” says Iain Dowie). Martin Jol doesn’t quite deny interest in the vacant Ajax job after Spurs’ 2-0 win over Fulham. A great day for Sunderland, who go joint top in the Championship after defeating Cardiff 2-1 while Wigan lose by the same score at Gillingham and Ipswich are beaten at home again, 2-0 by QPR. Grzegorz Rasiak scores both Derby goals in a 2-2 draw at Forest, who are six points adrift of safety. Dave Hibbert marks his full debut for Port Vale with two goals in a surprise 3-1 win over League One leaders Luton. Brentford make the best recovery, scoring twice in the last eight minutes for a 3-3 home draw with Sheffield Wed. League Two leaders Yeovil lose 2-1 at Grimsby, but are five points clear of a pack of five clubs now in joint second place.
Sunday 27 Middlesbrough hang on to sixth after coming back twice in a 2-2 draw with Charlton, while resurgent Newcastle beat seventh-placed Bolton 2-1. Referee Mike Dean, who was due to take the Newcastle match, is suspended for setting up a horse racing website that offers betting advice. “He is a public figure and certain standards are expected of him,” says a Premier League spokesman. Chelsea win a dramatic Carling Cup final against Liverpool, who take the lead within a minute through John Arne Riise. Steven Gerrard contributes an own goal to force extra time, during which Didier Drogba and Mateja Kezman puts Chelsea two up before Luis Garcia gets one back. After Chelsea’s equaliser, José Mourinho is sent off for “shushing” the Liverpool fans behind the dugout, though he claims it was directed at the press box: “I know you must be frustrated because you can’t write negative things about me now.” Well...
From WSC 218 April 2005. What was happening this month