Saturday 1 Leicester are relegated after a 2-2 draw at Charlton after which Micky Adams forecasts the “rape and pillage” of his squad by other clubs. Wolves are all but down, too, despite a 2-1 home win over Everton. Man City go six points above the relegation area by beating Newcastle 1-0. Walsall stay third bottom of the First after losing 1-0 at Palace. Only Gillingham, beaten 5-2 at home by Coventry, can finish below them. In the Second, Rushden drop into the bottom four for the first time after losing 2-0 at Colchester. Hull clinch promotion from the Third with a 2-1 win at Yeovil. Carlisle join York in being relegated to the Conference after conceding a late equaliser in a 1-1 draw with Cheltenham.
Sunday 2 The competition to be best of the also-rans hots up, Villa moving briefly fourth then fifth with a 1-0 win over Spurs, a point behind Liverpool who beat Middlesbrough 2-0. Short of winning their last two matches by an aggregate of at least 40-0, Leeds are relegated after a 4-1 defeat at Bolton. Mark Viduka puts them ahead with a first-half penalty before being sent off shortly afterwards. “If we’d got as good a team as we have fans we’d have won the league,” sighs a tearful Alan Smith, who expects to be off soon.Watching his current club Barnsley lose 1-0 at home to Bristol City, former Leeds chairman Peter Ridsdale doesn’t quite offer his condolences: “I have absolutely nothing to say.”
Monday 3 Eric Black is sacked by Coventry despite a good record in his four months in charge. “We need to push for the Premiership,” says chairman Mike McGinnity, which doesn’t explain why Peter Reid is taking over. Aldershot and Shrewsbury will contest the Conference play-off final after penalty shoot-out wins over Hereford and Barnet respectively. Arsenal Ladies win the FA Women’s Cup, with Julie Fleeting hitting a hat-trick against Charlton.
Tuesday 4 Arsenal keep their unbeaten run going, José Antonio Reyes’s goal securing a 1-1 draw at Portsmouth. Porto win 1-0 at Deportivo to reach the Champions League final. West Brom’s 4-1 defeat at Stoke means Norwich wrap up the Division One title despite losing at Sunderland. After six fun-packed years, Stan Ternent is to leave Burnley.
Wednesday 5 A dramatic night at Stamford Bridge where Chelsea are ahead on away goals for 60 seconds, between Frank Lampard’s 44th-minute strike and Hugo Ibarra’s opener for Monaco. Fernando Morientes later adds a second for the visitors, who win 5-3 on aggregate. “Everyone knows how low we feel right now,” says Claudio, folding his casual slacks into a suitcase.
Thursday 6 Marseille knock Newcastle out of the UEFA Cup, Didier Drogba scoring twice. “We still have something to fight for,” says Sir Bobby, thinking of Champions League qualification. José Mourinho is said to have verbally agreed a four-year deal with Chelsea. Steve McMahon leaves Blackpool after a row over transfer funds.
Saturday 8 Chelsea will finish second after drawing 1-1 at Old Trafford, with Ruud missing a penalty. “Don’t be so sure I’ll be leaving,” cautions Claudio, while Sir Alex sets a target: “We must break free from the situation of being nearly men.” Liverpool’s 3-0 win at Birmingham takes them to the brink, the very edge, of Champions League qualification. Villa’s European hopes are dented by a 1-1 draw at Southampton. Alan Smith is mobbed by home fans after Leeds’ 3-3 draw with Charlton: “If I was 32 I’d stay here, but I’m not, I’m 23, and there’s a lot of football in me.” QPR are promoted from the Second after winning 3-1 at Sheffield Wednesday; Rushden and Grimsby are relegated, the latter due to Chesterfield getting an 88th-minute winner at home to Luton. Torquay are promoted automatically for the first time since 1966, taking the final spot in the Third by winning 2-1 at Southend while Huddersfield draw with Cheltenham. AFC Wimbledon say farewell to the Combined Counties League by beating Wallingford.
Sunday 9 “We can gain immortality,” says Arsène after Arsenal’s unbeaten run stretches to 37 games with a 1-0 win at Fulham. Newcastle may have blown their hopes of fourth place after a 1-1 home draw with Wolves, Alan Shearer missing a late penalty. After the match Sir Bobby responds angrily to some boos from the crowd: “I have to remind one or two people that this club has played 28 times in Europe in the past two seasons.” The last Old Firm match of the season is settled by a Chris Sutton goal in the 90th minute, giving Celtic their first clean sweep against Rangers since 1971-72. Palace lose 2-1 at Coventry but squeak into the First Division play-offs thanks to a late West Ham equaliser at Wigan. Ipswich qualify, too, via a home draw with Cardiff. Despite a 3-2 home win over Rotherham, Walsall are relegated to the Second because rivals Gillingham get the point they need in a 0-0 draw at Stoke. There are ructions at Portsmouth, where Harry Redknapp threatens to resign over Milan Mandaric’s plans to change the coaching staff. “If Harry doesn’t like it maybe he will have to go,” says Mandaric.
Monday 10 Thai prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra wants to pay up to £40 million for a 30 per cent stake in Liverpool, who will decide on his offer later this week – it’s all to do with the brand, apparently. “This was not unexpected,” says Eddie Gray on being sacked by Leeds; Gordon Strachan is favourite to become their fifth manager in just over two years. Premiership sponsors Barclaycard announce the worst idea of the century so far: the appointment of a Chant Laureate who will tour grounds devising new songs for each club. Sigh.
Tuesday 11 Countering the bid from Thailand, building magnate Steve Morgan repeats his offer to invest heavily in Liverpool (“We are closer to the bottom than to the top and that has to change”) – a new manager is said to be his first priority. Leicester City’s players are cleared of all charges relating to the alleged assault at La Manga in March. “I’ll try to keep it bubbly,” says Paul Merson on being appointed full-time manager of Walsall.
Wednesday 12 Newcastle are free to concentrate on qualifying for the UEFA Cup: a 3-3 draw at Southampton leaves them five points behind Liverpool with one game to play. Sir Bobby is baffled but defiant: “Football is a mystery but we live to fight another day.” Leeds’ close-season sale begins with Paul Robinson moving to Spurs for £1.5m.
Thursday 13 Wales won’t be at Euro 2004 after the Court for Arbitration in Sport rejects their appeal against Russia’s play-off win. Liverpool reject Steve Morgan’s proposed cash injection, worth a total of £73m, on the grounds that it undervalued the club’s shares. The row between Milan Mandaric and Harry Redknapp deepens with both claiming that the other wanted to get rid of Jim Smith. “I think the whole thing has gone too far now,” says Harry.
Friday 14 Steve McClaren will be Sven’s assistant at Euro 2004, replacing Brian Kidd, who has had an operation for cancer. Nicolas Anelka’s brother Claude takes over Raith, whom he apparently intends to make into serious rivals to Celtic and Rangers. No, he does. Palace beat Sunderland 3-2 in the first leg of their play-off semi.
Saturday 15 Arsenal finish the league season unbeaten, coming from a goal down to beat Leicester 2-1. “I’ve always had that dream and we have fulfilled it,” says Arsène. Villa lose 2-0 at home to Man Utd, so Newcastle’s 1-1 draw at Anfield puts them in the UEFA Cup. Sir Bobby surveys his perspiring team: “It’s been a tough time and we’re bushed, for sure.” Yakubu Aiyegbeni scores four in Portsmouth’s 5-1 win over Middlesbrough. Everton’s defeat by the same score at Man City means they finish 17th. Claudio Ranieri doesn’t yet know if Chelsea’s 1-0 win over Leeds is his last match in charge: “I can only go away and slow down for a while because I don’t know how long my summer will be.” Ipswich beat West Ham 1-0 in the first leg of their play-off. In the Second, Bristol City draw 1-1 at Hartlepool while Huddersfield are favourites in the Third after winning at Lincoln. Inverness are Scottish First Division champions but must wait to hear if they will be accepted for promotion. South Africa will host the 2010 World Cup.
Sunday 16 Shrewsbury return to the League, beating Aldershot on penalties in the Conference play-off final. There are away wins in the play-offs for Brighton, 1-0 at Swindon, and Mansfield, 2-0 at Northampton. Harry Redknapp says the Portsmouth bust-up has been resolved: “I apologised to Milan for swearing at him.”
Monday 17 “It was a travesty to be two down at half-time so we had a chat and went gung-ho,” says Iain Dowie after Palace reach the First Division play-off final by beating Sunderland 5-4 on penalties. Darren Powell’s 91st-minute goal took the game into extra time, which Palace played with ten men after Julian Gray’s late dismissal. Mick McCarthy thinks Mart Poom was fouled before Powell’s goal: “We have all broken our nuts for 50 games and it came down to what I think is not the greatest decision I’ve ever seen.” England’s Euro 2004 squad is announced. Ledley King and Jamie Carragher are in; Darius Vassell is preferred to Alan Smith and Jermain Defoe, who are among five players on standby, including Everton reserve Richard Wright.
Tuesday 18 West Ham reach the First Division play-off final with a 2-0 win over Ipswich. “We are going to see the rebirth of a big club,” says Alan Pardew, waving his forceps. Joe Royle is suitably disconsolate: “Some of my lads just froze.” Leeds tell Man Utd that they won’t accept less than £10m for Alan Smith. Or at least that’s their story this week. Emile Heskey moves to Birmingham for £6m. Meanwhile, Rivaldo says he would love to play for Celtic because “Scotland is a paradise for forwards”.
Wednesday 19 Bristol City score twice in the last five minutes to defeat Hartlepool 3-2 on aggregate in their Division Two play-off semi-final. In the Third, Huddersfield come back from two down to draw 2-2 with Lincoln. PSV’s technical director Frank Arnesen is to do whatever it was David Pleat did before he became Spurs’ acting manager. Valencia beat Marseille 2-0 in the UEFA Cup final.
Thursday 20 “Swindon deserved to go through but we are thrilled to be in the final,” says a frank Mark McGhee after Brighton score in the 120th minute to take their play-off tie to penalties, which they win 4-3. At Northampton Mansfield take a three-goal lead before the home side force extra time but lose on spot-kicks.
Friday 21 Steve Morgan withdraws his offer to invest in Liverpool, but he still has plenty to say: “I would implore the board to bring all of the uncertainty surrounding both the club and the manager to a rapid conclusion.” Leeds reject Everton’s surprise offer of £7m for Alan Smith, to be paid in instalments over the next century.
Saturday 22 Millwall hold off Man Utd until the 43rd minute of the Cup final when Cristiano Ronaldo scores. Ruud adds two more in the second half, one a penalty. On collecting the trophy all the United players wear the No 36 shirt in memory of team-mate Jimmy Davis, who was killed in a car crash in August. Sir Alex is already looking ahead: “This won’t do us any harm as far as next season is concerned.” “It was all too much responsibility for them,” says Dennis Wise of his players, presumably including himself, given that he could easily have been sent off. The BBC’s viewing figures for the final are their second-lowest ever, just over six million. At Hampden the departing Henrik Larsson scores twice for Celtic as they come from behind to beat Dunfermline 3-1.
Sunday 23 “It’s always difficult to respond to rubbish,” says Bill Kenwright of reports that Wayne Rooney is to join Man Utd for £40m. Kieron Dyer’s agent is equally forthright in responding to stories that his client may be dropped from the England squad if he misbehaves at their training camp in Sardinia: “I’d love someone to tell us what this is all about because we haven’t got a clue.” Hednesford win the FA Trophy, beating Canvey Island 3-2. Real Madrid’s fifth successive defeat, 4-1 at home to Real Sociedad, means they finish fourth and will have to cancel a Far East tour in order to play Champions League qualifying matches. Now that’s just careless.
Monday 24 Gérard Houllier is sacked by Liverpool but doesn’t appear to bear a grudge: “I arrived here six years ago as a Liverpool supporter and I leave as an even bigger supporter.” Rick Parry explains: “The board decided that change was necessary if we were to realistically challenge for the title next season.”
Tuesday 25 After an internal review of transfers, Man Utd announce they will no longer use the Elite Sports Agency where Jason Ferguson, son of Sir Alex, is a director. Darlington finally escape the clutches of George Reynolds, who sells up to a consortium backed by the supporters’ trust.
Wednesday 26 “Not a lot of people would have been brave enough to take that step,” says the unassuming Alan Smith on joining Man Utd for £7m. “Grrr,” say Leeds fans on all media outlets. Back at Elland Road, Kevin Blackwell is appointed manager. Porto win the Champions League beating Monaco 3-0.
Thursday 27 For the first time José Mourinho admits he may be heading for London: “I have some offers in my wallet, but one which I very much want to accept is that from Chelsea.” Telford drop out of the Conference after going into liquidation. Wales draw 0-0 in Norway, a Matt Holland goal beats Romania in Dublin and James McFadden scores as Scotland win (yes, win) 1-0 away to Estonia. Dunfermline manager Jimmy Calderwood is to take over at Aberdeen, replacing Steve Paterson.
Saturday 29 Near the relegation zone when Iain Dowie took over in December, Crystal Palace are promoted by beating West Ham 1-0 in the First Division play-off final. Dowie is already focusing on that 17th place: “We have got to come up with a format for keeping us up, but we’re not going to go bananas.” That annoying chairman mercifully keeps his gob shut for now. Alan Pardew, meanwhile, contemplates a shake-up: “We still carry Premiership wages and there will have to be some tough decisions.”
Sunday 30 Brighton get their third promotion in four seasons, a late penalty from Leon Knight enough to defeat Bristol City in the Second Division play-off final. Scotland’s choice of Trinidad as friendly opponents pays off as they race to a four-goal lead before half-time, finally winning 4-1. Wales beat Canada 1-0, Northern Ireland draw 1-1 in Barbados.
Monday 31 The Third Division play-off final goes to a shoot-out after a goalless draw; Huddersfield finally beat Mansfield 4-1 on penalties. In the least surprising news of the century so far, Claudio Ranieri is sacked by Chelsea. Meanwhile, Spurs have a vacancy waiting to be filled...
From WSC 209 July 2004. What was happening this month