THE HALF DECENT FOOTBALL MAGAZINE

Friday 2 Martin O’Neill denies being approached by Liverpool – “I’m going to try and remain calm and say that story is totally and utterly untrue” – while Lazio coach Roberto Mancini is the latest to be linked with the Spurs job. The transfer window opens with a creak: Leicester sign Nikos Dabizas from Newcastle and turn down a Blackburn bid for Muzzy Izzet; Wolves sign Romania striker Ioan Ganea on a short-term deal; Eyal Berkovic may take a wage cut to leave Man City for Portsmouth.

Saturday 3 “This happens to us every year,” sighs Alan Curbishley after Charlton are the only Premiership team on the end of an FA Cup upset, losing 3-2 at Gillingham. Telford create a bigger shock, winning 1-0 at Crewe. The other Conference clubs, Accrington and Scarborough, draw with Colchester and Southend respectively. Chelsea have to come back twice for a 2-2 draw at Watford who benefit from a “1966 bounce” for their first goal. Freddie Kanouté, off soon to play for Mali to the fury of David Pleat, emphasises his value to Spurs with all three goals in their 3-0 win over Crystal Palace. Wolves need an 89th-minute equaliser to grab a 1-1 draw at Kidderminster; Portsmouth get an equally late winner against Blackpool. Second Division leaders Plymouth score five in the first 18 minutes on the way to a 7-0 win over Chesterfield. In the Third, reanimated Carlisle are only six points behind next-to-bottom Darlington after another win, 2-1 against Boston. Celtic stretch their SPL lead to 11 points after beating Rangers 3-0, a club record 18th successive win.

Sunday 4 No shocks today, though all the winners recover from setbacks. A Jens Lehmann blunder puts Leeds ahead but Arsenal respond with four. Man Utd trail at Villa but win 2-1 with a Paul Scholes double. Louis Saha gets two Fulham goals to see off Cheltenham, who had led inside three minutes. Liverpool endure a very uncomfortable hour at Yeovil before Emile Heskey puts them ahead,   with Danny Murphy adding a second after a tumble by Harry Kewell, who says – according to defender Hugo   Rodrigues – “But this is football, man, I had to dive.”

Tuesday 6 “I am fed up with Sir Alex Ferguson trying to disrupt my club,” says Mohamed Fayed, turning down an approach for Louis Saha. Villa go sixth after beating Portsmouth 2-1 with a fluke late winner, a clearance bouncing in off Darius Vassell’s thigh. Alan Smith is banned for two games for throwing a bottle into the Elland Road crowd in October. Norwich claim that chants of “black bastard”, reportedly aimed at Joseph Yobo in Saturday’s Cup tie with Everton, were in fact “fat bastard” directed at Wayne Rooney.

Wednesday 7 A very good evening for Man Utd ,who weather a Bolton fightback to win 2-1 away and extend their lead to three points, as Arsenal draw 1-1 at Everton. Chelsea slip back, losing 1-0 at home to Liverpool (“It was ugly,” concedes Gérard). Ronaldo flies in to watch but is ordered home by Real Madrid before he reaches Stamford Bridge. With Leeds losing 1-0 at Newcastle, Wolves look set to move off the bottom until a late Blackburn equaliser. Stéphane Dalmat scores twice in Spurs’ 4-1 win over Birmingham while Freddie Kanouté describes the club’s attempts to block him from playing for Mali in the African Nations Cup as a “bloody shambles”.

Thursday 8 The case against the Premiership footballers accused of gang rape last September is dropped due to “insufficient evidence”. Gordon Strachan is to quit Southampton when his contract expires in the summer. Bill Dearden leaves Notts County, third bottom in Division Two, and will be replaced by ex-Coventry coach Gary Mills.

Saturday 10 Arsenal beat Middlesbrough 4-1 in the first of four meetings scheduled for a fortnight, Danny Mills starting things off by clashing with Thierry Henry as the striker is about to convert a penalty, wrestling with Robert Pires and arguing with Massimo Maccarone over who gets to take a late Boro spot-kick. Portsmouth come from behind to beat Man City 4-2, extending Kev’s men’s trot to 14 without a win. “I could have said things after the game but they might have been taken in a negative way,” says an unusually considerate Graeme Souness after Blackburn lose 4-3 at home to Bolton after taking a two-goal lead. “Glenn Hoddle? You can’t rule anyone in or out,” says chairman Rupert Lowe, asked to speculate on a replacement for Strachan. “He can be as unhappy as he likes. As long as he keeps performing like that I don’t care,” says Chris Coleman as the unsettled Louis Saha scores from the spot in Fulham’s 2-1 home win against Everton. First Division leaders Norwich lose 1-0 at home to Bradford, Alun Armstrong scoring the goal and praising his manager: “He is Bryan Robson and, as a player, that’s all you need to know.” In the Second, a 1-0 win at Blackpool sees QPR narrow the gap on leaders Plymouth, held 0-0 at Grimsby. In the Third, Leo Fortune-West scores a hat-trick in the first 14 minutes as Doncaster beat Orient 5-0. Rangers ease the pressure on manager Alex McLeish by beating Hibs 2-0 in the Scottish Cup. Amateur club Spartans spring a surprise with a 4-1 win at Arbroath. Third Division East Stirlingshire, chasing only their second win of the season, go 2-0 up against leaders Stirling only to have three men sent off and concede three goals in the last two minutes.

Sunday 11 Man Utd’s winning run is ended by a 0-0 home draw with Newcastle, whom ref Paul Durkin later admits should have had a penalty for Tim Howard’s trip on Alan Shearer. The latter offers sympathy: “I think it would be a bit much for Alan Shearer to be given a penalty in front of the Stretford End, don’t you?” Chelsea are five points off the top after winning 4-0 at Leicester. “The new squad is like a child. If he makes a mistake and you put pressure on him he cannot grow,” observes Claudio.

Monday 12 The FA are to investigate Tim Howard’s transfer to United, which is said to have involved a six-figure sum being paid to the business partner of Sir Alex’s son, Jason Ferguson. There are suggestions that the move is linked to Sir Alex’s dispute with the club’s biggest shareholder John Magnier, whom he is suing over racehorse sperm. Gary McAllister quits as Coventry manager to look after his seriously ill wife – coach Eric Black takes over.

Tuesday 13 Tranmere provide the Cup shock, winning 2-1 at Bolton after extra time. Sam Allardyce’s decision to field a team that could be described as “experimental” (Bolton’s goal is scored by a Ricky Shakes) is reflected in the attendance of just under 9,000. “We made them look like Real Madrid,” sighs Rotherham’s Ronnie Moore after his side’s 2-1 home defeat by Northampton, who now face Man Utd. Man City maintain their supply of erratic England goalkeepers by signing David James to replace the retiring David Seaman. Charlton insist they are not interested in selling Scott Parker to Chelsea in exchange for Joe Cole (he’s so last year), plus £7 million.

Wednesday 14 Man City win at last, 3-1 against Leicester with two late goals in a Cup replay. Scarborough beat Southend 1-0 so will host Chelsea, 4-0 winners against Watford. Claudio is delighted: “It is a nice place and has a good beach.” Italy coach Giovanni Trapattoni denies agreeing to take the Spurs job, as you would.

Thursday 15 It emerges that Man City left Leicester on Wednesday without five players, including Robbie Fowler and Steve McManaman, who were still drinking in a stadium bar. Kev returned to collect them “with a face like thunder” according to witnesses. Nicky Butt is to be allowed leave Man Utd, though would-be buyers may have to find weekly wages of £45,000. Shenanigans at the seaside as Steve McMahon withdraws his resignation as Blackpool manager shortly after the club hold a press conference to announce his departure. Former England Under-21 defender Ben Thatcher is to do a Kanouté and make himself available for Wales, thanks to a grandparent.

Saturday 17 Wolves move off the bottom after a Kenny Miller goal beats Man Utd. “That will be good for our confidence,” says David Jones, deadpanning expertly. Leeds, beaten 2-1 at Southampton, now prop up the table. Leicester are set to move out of the bottom three when Middlesbrough score twice in injury time (“Bizarre,” says Steve McClaren) to force a 3-3 home draw. “They’re not going to be in trouble,” says a sympathetic Graeme Souness after Blackburn extend Man City’s winless run to 11 games with a 1-1 draw. Helder Postiga scores his first League goal in Spurs’ third successive win, 2-1 against Liverpool, who are now five points behind fourth-placed Charlton, 1-0 winners at Everton despite the brooding Scott Parker staying at home. Division One goes doolally with 54 goals in 12 games. Norwich stay top after a last-minute equaliser in a 4-4 draw at Rotherham, who’d been down to ten before half-time. Walsall and Watford also suffer first-half dismissals in 6-1 and 5-1 home thrashings by Coventry and Palace respectively. Draw fiends West Ham surrender a two-goal lead with 20 minutes left in a 3-3 at Sheffield Utd, who remain third. Oh, and Ipswich beat Crewe 6-4. Plymouth’s eighth win in nine games, 3-0 over Rushden, keeps them two points clear of QPR in the Second. More than 21,000 see Hull stay top of the Third with a 4-2 win over promotion rivals Oxford. At the bottom, Carlisle are just a trifling seven points adrift of safety after a fourth win in six, 2-0 over Yeovil.

Sunday 18 High dudgeon at Villa Park where the home side fume over Arsenal’s goals in a 2-0 win: Thierry Henry’s quickly taken free-kick and a debatable penalty. David O’Leary gives the credit to Mark Halsey: “I feel very hard done by, two poor decisions by the referee have decided the game.” “The luck was not with us,” sighs Claudio, as Birmingham leave the Bridge with a 0-0 draw.

Monday 19 Laurent Robert’s hot streak continues with an overhead goal in Newcastle’s 3-1 win over Fulham, whose fans display a banner reading: “Saha You’re A Disgrace.” Louis is finally heading to Old Trafford for £12.8m. “I can’t blame United but some of the people around Louis have been very disrespectful and very dishonest,” says Chris Coleman. Rio Ferdinand lodges an appeal against his eight-month ban, a tantalising hour before the deadline.

Tuesday 20 A Juninho goal gives Middlesbrough a 1-0 win at Highbury in the first leg of their Carling Cup semi. Arsène defends his selection: “I am happy with what I have done. We didn’t gamble because we played a team with every chance of winning the game.” Leeds’s creditors give them another week to find the £5m they need to avoid administration. But the players reject a proposed pay deferral, apparently suggesting that Alan Smith and Paul Robinson should be sold instead. Ray Graydon is to be replaced as Bristol Rovers boss by coach Phil Bater.

Wednesday 21“I think he’s the best player this club has ever seen,” says Sam Allardyce of Jay-Jay Okocha, who departs for the African Nations Cup after scoring two brilliant free-kicks in Bolton’s 5-2 win over Villa in the first leg of their Carling Cup semi. Kenny Miller scores another vital goal for Wolves, a last-minute equaliser in a 1-1 draw with Liverpool. Charlton turn down another Chelsea bid for Scott Parker. “They must be shown that they can’t take our best players without us putting up a fight,” says chairman Martin Simons, limbering up. “I think it’s one of the toughest jobs in world football,” says Lawrie Sanchez, on being appointed manager of Northern Ireland ahead of favourite Jimmy Nichol, whose club Dunfermline wanted more compensation than the Irish FA could afford.

Thursday 22 Leeds turn down Spurs’ offer of £5m for Paul Robinson and James Milner and will ask their three most recent managers to defer severance pay owed to them. Carl Cort is to join Wolves for £2m, less than one third of the fee Newcastle paid for him three years ago. Bobby Robson wishes him well: “Carl will prove to be a Premiership player and he might kick us in the teeth one day – and I hope he does.” Wales fans start checking on flights to Portugal after Russian midfielder Yegor Titov is banned for a year after testing positive for a stimulant after the first leg of the Euro 2004 play-off. The FA refuse to allow Scarborough players to be sponsored by a new lad magazine whose name, right, would have been spelt out on their bared buttocks, right, if they scored. Hyuk hyuk.

Saturday 24 Bottle-blond Lee Trundle makes the Cup headlines, scoring the second of the two late goals by which Swansea knock out Preston, 2-1. Tranmere’s 1-0 win at Luton takes them into the last 16 for the fourth time in five years. Colchester hold Coventry 1-1 at Highfield Road. Holders Arsenal bring back their first teamers and duly dispatch Middlesbrough 4-1, with the best goal of the game scored by their English (gasp) teenager David Bentley. Newcastle’s Cup odyssey has at least another year to run after they lose 2-1 at Liverpool, for whom the reanimated Bruno Cheyrou scores both. Chelsea go through 1-0 at Scarborough with an early goal from John Terry, but might have conceded a penalty for handball by William Gallas ten minutes from time. At the foot of the Second, Tony Adams’s Wycombe mess up a six-pointer against next-to-bottom Chesterfield, taking a two-goal lead but drawing 2-2. Hull’s 2-0 victory at Cheltenham takes them four points clear at the top of the Third.

Sunday 25 Man Utd, captained by wanderlusting Nicky Butt, can afford to miss a spot-kick on the way to a 3-0 Cup win at Northampton. “We enter competitions to win them,” says Alan Pardew after West Ham’s 3-1 victory at Wolves. As you might expect, Sean Davis, who would have joined Everton in the summer but for a failed medical, puts Fulham ahead at Goodison. Less predictably, the recently profligate Francis Jeffers gets an injury-time equaliser. The tie at the City Ground follows league form with Forest, seven games without a goal, beaten 3-0 by Sheffield Utd. It seems the First Division may be renamed “the Football League Championship” next season on the advice of an advertising agency hired to “revitalise” the League’s “brand”. Club chairmen will vote on this, and other captivating ideas, in June.

Monday 26 Sir Alex’s adversaries John Magnier and JP McManus want an independent inquiry into Man Utd’s recent transfers and may try to force a vote of no confidence in the board at an emergency general meeting. In response the club announce an “internal review” of all recent deals. Wales formally protest to UEFA over Yegor Titov.

Tuesday 27 Bolton reach the Carling Cup final 5-4 on aggregate after a 2-0 defeat at Villa, who are handicapped by Gavin McCann’s first-half dismissal for slapping Emerson Thome. “I’m speechless,” croaks Sam Allardyce. David O’Leary, who appeared intent on confronting referee Steve Bennett directly after the match, restricts himself to saying: “We restored pride and played them off the pitch with ten men.” Arsenal buy Sevilla striker Jose Antonio Reyes for an initial fee of £10m that may double depending on success. Arsène is thrilled: “We play with pace, movement and technique, and he has all of that.” In the Second, Bristol City’s seventh straight win, 1-0 over Colchester, takes them to within two points of second-placed QPR.

Wednesday 28 Weeks after he was offered a one-year rolling contract extension, Sir Alex signs a deal worth an annual £4.5m. “He has the board’s 100 per cent support,” says Man Utd’s chief executive David Gill. At Sven’s behest, Premier League chairmen agree in principle to a two-week winter break in January to begin next season. Meanwhile, bad weather cause the Middlesbrough v Arsenal Carling Cup semi second leg to be postponed a week. “We played like the weather – cold, damp and miserable,” says Neil Warnock as Sheffield Utd miss a chance to go second in the First, losing 2-0 at Derby, who vacate the drop zone.

Thursday 29 Charlton agree to sell Scott Parker to Chelsea for £12m. Alan Curbishley is not best pleased with his prodigy: “Some players kiss the badge one week and then they kiss someone else’s the next.” Nolberto Solano joins Aston Villa for £1.5m. Leeds finally raise the £5m needed to avoid administration after the players accept a 25 per cent pay deferral. That man John Magnier writes to the Man Utd board asking for inquiries into the “astonishing fees” paid to agents involved in 13 transfers over the past four years.

Friday 30 Fulham’s Luis Boa Morte claims that he was racially abused by Duncan Ferguson during the FA Cup tie at Goodison last week. Motherwell fans have been asked to give their long-sleeved replica shirts back to the club, currently in administration, as they don’t have enough for the first team to wear.

Saturday 31 Louis Saha scores on his Man Utd debut in a 3-2 win over Southampton, marked by rude songs about Irish horse owners and a furore over the winner, scored by Ruud van Nistelrooy, who was offside when the move started. “I saw the referee on Sky before the game wanting to be a celebrity. Will he come out and explain himself?” fumes Gordon. Charlton lose 2-1 at home to Bolton but Liverpool can’t take advantage, missing a dozen or so chances in 0-0 draw with Everton, and nor can Newcastle, who concede a last-minute equaliser at Birmingham: “‘If’ is the biggest word in football,” sighs Sir Bobby. Leeds are three points adrift after a 3-0 defeat to Middlesbrough. Wolves’ third away point of the season in a goalless draw at Portsmouth brings them level with Leicester, thrashed 5-0 at home by Villa. After the third goal Ian Walker confronts a pitch invader, who blatantly dives in the box. Norwich and West Brom increase their lead in the First, beating Sheffield Utd and Watford respectively. There are defeats, though, for the top two in the Second, Plymouth losing 2-1 at Brighton and QPR 4-2 at lowly Chesterfield, a result that aggravates Rangers boss Ian Holloway: “There’s a horrible smell at this club and it’s the smell of complacency.” Former Scotland manager Ally McLeod dies aged 73.

From WSC 205 March 2004. What was happening this month

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