THE HALF DECENT FOOTBALL MAGAZINE

Wednesday 2 England surprise many by playing Wayne Rooney from the start and go on to beat Turkey 2-0 at the Stadium of Light, with late goals from Darius Vassell and a penalty by David Beckham, who says: “It wasn’t a bad display for a team of no-hopers, was it?” Around 100 England supporters are arrested before the match after trouble in Sunderland city centre and at the ground and there is a pitch invasion after the second goal during which a spectator appears to strike Turkey defender Alpay. There is also allegedly a punch-up in the players’ tunnel. UEFA are to investigate. Scotland concede a dubious penalty to lose 1-0 in Lithuania. Northern Ireland have two sent off in a 2-0 home defeat by Greece (“There is not a thought in my head about not carrying on,” says Sammy McIlroy), while the Republic draw 0-0 in Albania. Fulham announce that they are considering a “revised plan” to move back to Craven Cottage.

Saturday 5 Arsenal drop two points at Villa, Kolo Touré belting in an own goal in a 1-1 draw. Arsène curls his lip: “When I saw their team sheet I knew they were only going to defend.” Man United draw level at the top, recording their biggest win over Liverpool for 50 years, 4-0 at Old Trafford, aided by the fourth-minute dismissal of Sami Hyypia for conceding the penalty from which Ruud van Nistelrooy opens the scoring. “If we play like that we can beat anybody,” says Peter Reid as his New Model Leeds go bonkers at Charlton, winning 6-1. West Ham are four points adrift in third bottom spot after a draw at Southampton but Glenn Roeder is content: “We were as proactive as we could be.” Directly above them, Bolton beat Man City 2-0 and so draw level on points with Birmingham, who concede a particularly soft opening goal in a 2-1 defeat at Spurs, keeper Andy Marriott failing to spot Robbie Keane coming up behind him at a goal-kick. For the second time this season, chilled-out entertainers Burnley are involved in an 11-goal match, losing 7-4 at home to Watford for whom Michael Chopra, on loan from Newcastle, scores four. In a bad day for East Anglian play-off hopes, Ipswich lose 4-3 at home to Forest, while Derby halt a run of five successive defeats with George Burley’s nephew Craig scoring in their 2-1 win over Norwich. In the Second, Cardiff miss a chance to close up on promotion rivals Crewe by losing 2-1 at home to QPR. Bournemouth get another turn in the third automatic promotion spot in the Third Division with a 2-0 win at Scunthorpe. Bristol Rovers join Exeter in the drop zone after losing 2-1 to nearly-promoted Rushden.

Sunday 6 Newcastle go down to a controversial 2-1 defeat at Everton, with David Unsworth’s penalty winner coming after a move in which Thomas Gravesen badly fouled Olivier Bernard, unseen by the referee. Sir Bobby seethes: “It was a very poor non-decision. The title has gone for us now.” Sir Alex stokes up the pressure before Tuesday’s Champions League tie in Spain by claiming that Roberto Carlos, sent off for Brazil against Portugal last week for striking a referee, should be banned from the game:  “But I am sure he will play because it is Real Madrid.  That just shows their power.” Bristol City win the LDV Vans Trophy, beating Carlisle 2-0.

Monday 7 Blackburn stay in contention for a European place with a 4-0 win at a possibly under-motivated Fulham. Sir Alex apologises for having claimed that the Champions League draw had been fixed to keep all three Spanish clubs apart, but UEFA officials are fuming. “This really raises doubts about his integrity. They should take his knighthood away,” says Friedrich Stickler of the Austrian FA, who conducted the draw.

Tuesday 8 “We have to recognise we could have lost by more,” says an unusually subdued Sir Alex after Man Utd are beaten 3-1 at Real Madrid in their first leg of their Champions League quarter-final. But he perks up: “We have an away goal and that is important. It is a marvellous challenge.” Leicester are three points away from a return to the Premiership after a 1-0 win over Forest. Bristol Rovers move out of the relegation area in the Third with a 1-1 draw at Rochdale.

Wednesday 9 Sunderland expect to sell at least 15 players in the summer, by which time their total debt will be nearly £30 million. “The place needs to be freshened up,” says chief executive Huw Roberts, who also announces his resignation. Whether West Ham are relegated or not, Freddie Kanouté announces that he’s off: “I’ve worked hard to get back to fitness but I’m still not getting a game. Enough is enough.” Stoke’s 2-0 win over Rotherham takes them out of the bottom three in the First Division.

Thursday 10 Celtic miss a penalty in being held to a 1-1 draw by Boavista in their first leg of the UEFA Cup semi-final. England’s next Euro 2004 match against Slovakia may be played in an empty stadium after UEFA charge the FA for failing to prevent racist abuse of Turkish players. “There has been a continued problem with England fans. We have to act,” says a UEFA spokesman. Everton abandon plans to move to the proposed King’s Dock stadium on the Liverpool waterfront.

Saturday 12 Man Utd go three points clear after thrashing Newcastle 6-2 at St James’ Park. Sir Bobby is chastened: “We’ve been taught a lesson and I told my players a few home truths,” while Sir Alex returns to a familiar theme: “It would be a terrible blow for Arsenal if it didn’t happen for them now.” “My little lion is growing up very well,” says Claudio Ranieri of goalscorer Carlton Cole as Chelsea stay on course for Europe with a 1-0 win over Bolton. The latter now hold a three-point lead over West Ham, who draw 2-2 with Villa. Freddie Kanouté scores his side’s equaliser and denies having said he wants to leave: “Someone is trying to sabotage the team with these stories.” “Everyone has to realise we are no longer a Premiership outfit,” says Mick McCarthy as Sunderland go down after a club record tenth successive defeat,  2-0 at Birmingham. West Brom are nearly gone too, though they do get their first penalty this season, or “since there were mammoths on the pitch” according to Gary Megson, in losing 2-1 to Everton. Portsmouth miss a chance to clinch promotion to the Premiership, being beaten 2-1 in injury time at home to Sheffield Wednesday, who duly move off the bottom of the First. Leicester also fail to get the three points they need, drawing 1-1 at Rotherham. A lively afternoon for Rochdale forward Lee McEvilly, who fills in as emergency goalkeeper then scores his team’s equaliser in a 2-2 draw with York from a penalty won by himself after he’d gone forward for a free-kick. “We have been waiting for this for 108 years,” says the  cobwebbed chairman of Yeovil, who claim a place in the Football League with a 4-0 win at Doncaster.

Sunday 13 Arsenal reach their third FA Cup final in succession with a 1-0 win over Sheffield United. David Seaman’s spectacular one-handed save from Paul Peschisolido prevents a late equaliser, but is over­shadowed by a row over perma-smiling Graham Poll’s role in Arsenal’s goal, firstly for not spotting a foul on Wayne Allison then for barging into Michael Tonge. Neil Warnock, as might be expected, has strong views: “The referee actually seemed to enjoy that performance.  It was so one-sided it was untrue.” Southampton reach the final for the second time in their history after a 2-1 win over Watford and are guaranteed a place in the UEFA Cup even if they lose.

Tuesday 15 “I’m stunned by what has happened,” says Harry Redknapp as Portsmouth are promoted to the Premiership after a 1-0 win over Burnley. Paul Jewell’s little moon face is lit up as Wigan go up from the Second after rivals Crewe draw at home with Bristol City. Shrewsbury stay in the bottom two in the Third after conceding a decisive last-minute goal for the third successive home game in a  3-2 defeat to Macclesfield. Wales could lose six points from their Euro 2004 qualifying group after FIFA suspend Azerbaijan, whom the Welsh have already beaten twice, over a row between the country’s government and their football federation. FA of Ireland officials are unhappy that Georgia’s next qualifier, against Russia, will be played behind closed doors after a penknife was thrown at Kevin Kilbane during the Republic’s 2-1 win there last month.

Wednesday 16 No change at the top after a 2-2 draw at Highbury. Sir Alex is the happier: “You’ve seen two great teams tonight and our boys have got the momentum now.” Arsène is troubled by the late dismissal of Sol Campbell for an elbow on Ole Gunnar Solskjaer. “I would love a linesman to do that to Manchester United as I’ve never seen it.” Patrick Vieira limps off in the first half and may miss the rest of the season. Cardiff cack it again, squandering a chance to move into the second automatic promotion spot in the Second Division by losing 2-0 at Peterborough.

Thursday 17 Jean Tigana is sacked by Fulham two months ahead of schedule, a club statement claiming that there has been “unrest in the squad” since it was announced that he would be leaving in June. Paul Gascoigne’s Chinese club deny reports he has gone to a drying-out clinic in Arizona.

Friday 18 Trevor Francis is dismissed by Crystal Palace, currently 11th in the First Division. Chairman Simon Jordan has plans, big plans: “I am totally committed to playing in the Premier League and I will ensure the new manager can achieve this aspiration.”

Saturday 19 No change at the top with Man Utd beating Blackburn 3-1, helped by an Andy Cole penalty being saved by sub keeper Ricardo, whom Graeme Souness thinks should have been dismissed for the preceding foul: “It was a monster decision. At big clubs you don’t always get what you should.” Arsenal stay in touch with a 2-0 win at Middlesbrough after which Arsène talks the talk: “After Wednesday the momentum was with Manchester United but I think we levelled it today.” A Danny Murphy strike secures a 2-1 win for Liverpool in a bad-tempered derby which Everton finish with nine men; police are to investigate reports that Wayne Rooney spat at opposition fans. There will also be an inquiry into alleged fisticuffs after Bolton’s 1-0 win over West Ham, which leaves the latter on the brink of the drop. With West Brom going down despite a 2-1 victory at hapless Sunderland, Gary Megson demands spending money: “It’s my name above the door so I want as much weaponry as I can for next season.” “I’m a bit emotional,” says Micky Adams as Leicester return to the Premiership after a 2-0 win over Brighton. Rushden are promoted from the Third after a 2-1 win over Carlisle, as are Hartlepool despite a  4-0 defeat at Scunthorpe. Wrexham hold a four-point lead in the third promotion spot after a 2-0 win over Kidderminster, where the start is delayed after a stand roof blows off. Celtic’s 2-1 SPL defeat at Hearts leaves them eight points behind Rangers, who reach the Scottish Cup final with a 4-3 win over Motherwell.

Sunday 20 Sir Alex hits out at growing rumours that Ryan Giggs is heading for Inter: “This is the club which says it has no money. Do they think they are going to get a player for nothing?” Dundee get the other Scottish Cup final place with a 1-0 win over Inverness Caley.

Monday 21 “I don’t want to be in the UEFA Cup,” says Claudio Ranieri after Chelsea’s 4-1 win over Everton takes them up to third, above Newcastle who are held to a 1-1 home draw by Villa, leaving Sir Bobby to set a target: “It would appear that we need three victories from three games.” Liverpool are a point further back after scoring twice in the last four minutes to beat Charlton 2-1. Glenn Roeder is hospitalised after collapsing a couple of hours after West Ham’s 1-0 win over Middlesbrough, which leaves them three points behind fourth-bottom Leeds. After a 3-0 defeat at Man City, Sunderland still need another two wins to avoid breaking Watford’s worst ever Premiership points total. Sheffield Wednesday’s 1-1 draw at Brighton is their fifth match without defeat but they’re still relegated from the First, as are Grimsby after losing at home to Walsall. Sheffield United and Wolves clinch play-off places but Ipswich may have blown their chance, conceding two late goals in a 2-1 defeat at Rotherham. Northampton Town become the first club to be relegated from the Second after a 4-0 defeat at Tranmere. With Bristol Rovers and Boston both winning twice over Easter, relegation issues in the Third ought to be decided between four clubs. Shrewsbury, beaten 2-1 at Bournemouth, are a point adrift at the bottom, Exeter moving above them with a 3-0 win at Swansea. The latter are a further point ahead, level with Carlisle, who are thrashed 6-1 at Wrexham.

Tuesday 22 “I tell you what, this was an important result,” confides Peter Reid as Leeds reach the 41 points that ought to keep them up, two Mark Viduka goals seeing off Fulham. Bristol City go above Cardiff into third place in the Second after beating them 2-0. David Rushbury resigns as manager of Chesterfield, currently one place above the relegation area after five successive defeats. It’s Italy 2 Spain 0, as Juventus and Inter knock out Barcelona and Valencia respectively to reach the Champions League semis.

Wednesday 23 Behind three times to a Ronaldo hat-trick, Man Utd recover to beat Real Madrid 4-3 with two goals from substitute David Beckham, but go out of the Champions League on a 6-5 aggregate. Sir Alex isn’t too downcast: “We’ve seen football of incredible imagination that people will be talking about for years.” AC Milan beat Ajax 3-2 in the last minute to set up a semi-final derby with Inter. In inviting bids for their next TV deal, the dastardly FA remove the guarantee that England’s home matches have to be shown by a terrestrial broadcaster, meaning that Sky could get exclusive rights when the new contract starts in 2004. Glenn Roeder is diagnosed as having had a stroke and won’t return to West Ham this season – television’s Trevor Brooking will be caretaker manager. Merseyside police won’t be charging Wayne Rooney with unlawful saliva transmission.

Thursday 24 Celtic reach the UEFA Cup final, a late goal from Henrik Larsson knocking out Boavista  2-1 on aggregate. Martin O’Neill is elated: “It’s so long since I was in a European final that I can’t remember, but I will enjoy this one.” Football League chairmen vote to increase the divisional play-offs to six teams from next season. Clubs who go into administration face points deductions and possible relegation, and there will be a salary cap on Third Division clubs, to be extended eventually to the other two divisions. According to the tabloids, Jermain Defoe, Harry Kewell and Paul Robinson will be looking over posh houses in Cheshire soon as Man Utd prepare to spend the squillion pounds they’ll receive from selling David Beckham to Real Madrid.

Saturday 26 Arsenal squander a two-goal lead to draw 2-2 at Bolton, Martin Keown heading into his own net for the equaliser. Arsène emerges after a very long chat with his players with a wartime lyric in his head: “What looks dull and dark today might be a bright tomorrow.” Newcastle stay third with a 1-0 win at Sunderland, still pointless under Mick McCarthy. Chelsea, held 1-1 at home by Fulham, are now level with Liverpool for whom Michael Owen scores four, including his 100th Premiership goal, in a 6-0 mauling of West Brom. Stoke are eight minutes away from safety in the First when they concede the only goal of the game at Palace. Brighton are three points behind with one game left after a 4-0 win over Watford. “I can’t wait for the summer so I can build a new team,” says Stan Ternent after Burnley let in seven at home again, while scoring two, against demob happy Sheffield Wednesday. Crewe are promoted from the Second, from which Huddersfield and Mansfield drop out, the latter’s match at Tranmere being abandoned when a spectator takes groundhopping to new heights by climbing a floodlight pylon. The final relegation place rests between Cheltenham and Chesterfield. Wrexham are promoted from the Third with a 5-0 win over Cambridge. With the three above them all winning, Shrewsbury, beaten 3-0 at Hartlepool, are three points adrift at the bottom.

Sunday 27 Portsmouth clinch the First Division title  by beating Rotherham 3-2, while Leicester draw with Norwich. West Ham live in hope of welcoming Harry  back to Upton Park next season after a Kanouté goal is enough to win at Man City. Celtic’s 2-1 win at Rangers leaves them five points behind in the SPL with a game  in hand. Oh, and Man Utd go five points clear after goals from Scholes and Van Nistelrooy beat Spurs 2-0. Sir  Alex knows he’s on the verge: “We won’t rest because there is no rest in this game.”

Tuesday 29 Shrewsbury are relegated to the Conference after a 3-2 home defeat by Carlisle, who save themselves in the process. Mark Bosnich is banned for nine months for cocaine abuse, though the Sports Minister Richard Caborn criticises the FA for imposing a “lenient” sentence. Real Madrid issue a public denial of their alleged interest in signing David Beckham.

Wednesday 30 Scotland’s dismal record in friendly matches continues with a 2-0 home defeat by Austria; the Republic of Ireland beat Norway 1-0. The FA won’t be taking up the ticket allocation for England’s match in Turkey in October. Kevin Ratcliffe resigns as Shrewsbury manager, saying: “The buck stops with me as I’ve brought in the players and I’ve picked the team.”

From WSC 196 June 2003. What was happening this month

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