THE HALF DECENT FOOTBALL MAGAZINE

Wednesday 1 Arsenal stay five points clear but only after a nervous last few minutes in which Chelsea score twice before losing 3-2. “I like to win games like that when you’re tired,” says Arsène, making an excuse even though he doesn’t need to. “It was like watching the tide coming in,” says Howard Wilkinson as Man Utd score two late goals to beat Sunderland 2-1 having trailed for 75 minutes. Liverpool drop down to seventh after a tenth winless match, a 1-0 defeat at Newcastle, but Gérard sticks his chin out, sort of: “I don’t want to commit suicide before the end of the season.” Several fixtures are postponed due to bad weather, and one, Reading v Leicester, is called off at half-time due to a waterlogged pitch.

Thursday 2 The Edinburgh derby ends in a manic 4-4 draw with Hibs taking a two-goal lead in the last min­ute only for Hearts’ 18-year-old sub Graham Weir to score twice in injury time. French striker Christophe Dugarry joins Birming­ham in the first high-profile move after the opening of the transfer window, but he is unlikely to be joined by lovely Lee Bowyer after Leeds hold out for a bigger fee.

Saturday 4 Shrewsbury take the FA Cup headlines after a 2-1 win over Everton – who have never before lost to a team three divisions below them. “I’m sure my chairman would have liked a draw,” says Shrews manager Kevin Ratcliffe after his side’s last-minute winner. Non-League Farnborough win 3-2 at Darlington and Dagenham & Redbridge get a draw at Plymouth. Other surprises are Preston losing 2-1 at home to Rochdale and West Ham winning a home match, 3-2 against Forest. Southampton hand out a 4-0 thrashing to a collection of players apparently representing Spurs.

Sunday 5 Cup specialists Liverpool win 1-0 at Man City. Newcastle’s long wait for another FA Cup triumph has at least another year to run after a 3-2 defeat at Wolves. But Craig Bellamy is only interested in the Premiership, apparently.

Tuesday 7 Worthington Cup holders Blackburn Rovers take a step towards another final with a 1-1 draw at Old Trafford. Terry Fenwick is Northampton Town’s new manager, replacing the sacked Kevan Broadhurst. He has big ambitions, albeit not for his new club: “I’m looking at this as my first stepping stone to Premiership football.”

Wednesday 8 In the other Worthington semi, Michael Tonge scores both goals as Sheffield Utd come from behind to beat Liverpool 2-1. “There were a couple of things I did not like,” says Gérard, though he is referring some of the home side’s tackling rather than their goals. “When your own club comes in for you it is special,” says Lee Bowyer, starry-eyed on joining West Ham for the rest of the season. More importantly, Coventry’s academy director Steve Ogrizovic is forced to deny an internet rumour that he’s being held hostage in Kazakhstan.

Saturday 11 West Brom are two points adrift at the bottom after losing 3-1 at home to Man Utd while the four teams ahead of them draw. Lee Bowyer’s debut for West Ham, marked by protests outside the ground, ends 2-2. “It’s criminal that we have to get the plane home without three points,” says Gordon Strachan, set for a sulk over his complimentary white wine as a dubious penalty helps Middlesbrough to come back from two down to draw 2-2 with Southampton. Liverpool are booed off after their 11th winless game, a 1-1 draw with Villa (“a difficult period but a challenge,” as Gérard sees it). Charlton complain about the “beach” at Stamford Bridge on which they lose 4-1. Walsall suffer from similar conditions at the Bescot where a bad bounce causes keeper Jimmy Walker to miskick and present Wolves with the only goal. All but two matches in the First Division are drawn, the exceptions being Millwall’s 4-0 thrashing of Watford and resurgent Sheffield Wednesday’s recovery from two down to beat Reading 3-2. Crewe’s 2-1 win at Colchester, one of only four matches on in the Second Division, sees them leap three places up to second. Postponements, too, in the Third where Rushden move to within two points of leaders Hartlepool with a 2-0 win at Kidderminster.

Sunday 12 “Our fluent game is coming back,” says Arsène, stopping just short of purring after Arsenal regain their five-point lead with a 4-0 win at Birmingham. Thierry Henry’s double make him the fifth player to score 100 League goals for the club. Robbie Keane scores a hat-trick in Spurs’ 4-3 defeat of Everton.

Monday 13 “I waited a long time to come to Portsmouth with a good side,” says Neil Warnock enigmatically as Sheffield Utd close the gap on the top two in the First Division with a 2-1 win at Fratton Park. Fulham hope to sign Sergei Rebrov, who is said by his agent to be “on the verge of a breakdown” after being overlooked by Spurs. Cheltenham, a point off the bottom of the Second, sack Graham Allner.

Tuesday 14 Dagenham join fellow Conference side Farnborough in the last 32 of the FA Cup, beating Plymouth 2-0 in their third-round replay. Sunderland and Bolton field weakened sides (no jokes please) for their tie at the Stadium of Light, won 2-0 by the home team and watched by just 14,550. Third Division Bournemouth knock out Crewe on penalties. Oldham go second in the Second Division with a 2-1 win over Brentford. The FA avoid a bust-up with Everton by announcing they will not be selecting Big Ginger for the World Under-20 Championship in March – when England will also be playing Euro 2004 qualifiers. Gambling makes the news with Eidur Gudjohnsen confessing to having lost £400,000 in London casinos, while an England player, believed to be Michael Owen, is said to have paid a team-mate £20,000 for card-game debts built up during the 2002 World Cup.

Wednesday 15 Worth a try – Charlton want their match at Chelsea to be replayed, claiming that it contravened rules in not being played on grass. It’s revealed that Fulham signed an agreement to build flats on Craven Cottage, given planning permission, in September 2002. “A precautionary move,” according to a club spokesman. “It’s another new challenge,” says brush-comparison man Paul Gascoigne, heading for trials in China.

Thursday 16 Robbie Fowler’s proposed £7 million move to Manchester City is called off, seemingly because City want to make part of the fee conditional on appearances. Robbie, however, has his own spin: “I just thought I had something still to do at Leeds.” (Possibly “Venables Out!” in big letters on the manager’s door.) York City’s sup­porters’ trust provide them with enough funds to continue trading until the end the month, by which time a new owner will be in place, according to club chairman John Batchelor.

Friday 17 Sheffield Utd move to within two points of second-place Leicester, coming from behind to win their city derby 3-1. Good news for computer games retailers – Wayne Rooney’s wages have gone up from £90 a week to £13,000 after he signs a three-year contract with Everton, the maximum term permitted for a 17-year-old.

Saturday 18 “Arsenal know we’re on their coat-tails,” says Sir Alex, dipping into his psychology manual again as a Diego Forlan goal in injury time gives Man Utd a 2-1 win over Chelsea. Newcastle are third after a 2-0 win over Man City begun by an Alan Shearer goal after ten seconds following a poor clearance by keeper Carlo Nash. Liverpool win at last, 1-0 at Southampton courtesy of Emile Heskey’s first League goal in four months. “He’s shaking his head now and saying ‘Welcome to England’,” says Steve Bruce after Christophe Dugarry’s debut in Birmingham’s 1-1 at Blackburn includes a boot on the bum from Andy Todd, who is duly sent off. Portsmouth have won only once in eight games, but a 1-1 draw at Brighton still stretches their lead in the First to five points as Leicester lose 3-2 at Gillingham. Swansea are five points adrift at the foot of the Third after losing 3-1 at York. “I had to keep asking what the score was,” says Cowdenbeath manager Keith Wright whose team win 7-5 at Brechin City.

Sunday 19 Arsenal are made to sweat by a West Ham side reduced to ten men after Steve Lomas’s 15th minute dismissal, but eventually win 3-1, all three from Thierry Henry. Dennis “Hitman” Bergkamp may be in trouble for elbowing Lee Bowyer in the build-up to his team’s second goal. Fulham ease relegation fears with a 1-0 win over Middlesbrough, which is preceded by supporters’ protests over the club’s redevelopment plans. Michael Owen denies newspaper reports that he has spent millions in betting, including on football matches, over the last two years. David O’Leary talks of a “despicable attempt to blacken my name” after Leeds announce that they are investigating all the transfers negotiated by their former manager. Brian Clough has a liver transplant.

Tuesday 21 Liverpool reach the Worthington final with a 2-0 win over Sheffield Utd. Bad blood generated during the first leg spills over at the final whistle with Neil Warnock alleging that Stéphane Henchoz spat at him. Warnock also claims that Chris Kirkland should have been sent off by Alan Wiley for handling outside his area: “That was a Premiership referee looking after a Premiership club.” “Sometimes Neil speaks too loud,” says Gérard. “He fancies the fight,” says Glenn Roeder on signing Les Ferdinand.

Wednesday 22 “It wouldn’t matter if we were playing tiddlywinks, it would still be a great game,” says Sir Alex, looking ahead to a Worthington final with Liverpool after a Scholes double helps Man Utd knock out holders Blackburn, 3-1 at Ewood Park. Newcastle are four points clear in third place after a 1-0 home win over Bolton. “We want a new back four,” sing West Ham as their team stay bottom with a 4-2 defeat at Charlton. Sunderland chairman Bob Murray accuses Man Utd of “despicable behaviour” in making an approach for striker David Bellion, who has refused to return to the club since going to France for treatment. “It is increasingly difficult for any English youngster to make an impression there,” says centre-back Matthew Upson on leaving Arsenal for Birmingham City. Bubbly Brian Kidd becomes Sven’s new right-hand, on a part-time basis. Exciting times ahead for Cheltenham who have appointed Bobby Gould as their new manager.

Thursday 23 The FA announce that an unnamed Third Division player tested positive for the steroid Nandrolone in December and that two other players have had traces of marijuana (noooooh!) in their samples. “Spurs are just punishing Sergei,” says a director of Fenerbahce after failing to agree transfer terms with Rebrov’s employers. With Newcastle’s pursuit of Brazilian midfielder Kleberson also set to fail, chairman Freddie Shepherd has advice to offer: “Foreign clubs have to come into the real world with their demands. The Premier League is no longer a soft touch.”

Friday 24 Having spent a fortnight training with Sunderland, Japanese midfielder Kazuyuki Toda suddenly sprints off to sign for Spurs. “I do have a reaction and that’s one of disappointment,” says Howard. Middlesbrough pull out of deal to buy Seth Johnson, which may affect Leeds’ chances of holding on to Jonathan Woodgate, for whom Newcastle are prepared to pay £10 million.

Saturday 25 Farnborough prepare to deposit £500,000 after losing their “home” FA Cup fourth-round tie at Highbury 5-1. “It would have been more real down there,” says Arsène, forgetting to add “man”. Fellow Conference side Dagenham are knocked out by a last-minute goal at Norwich. “This is as bad as it gets,” says Gary McAllister whose Coventry side are beaten 2-0 at Rochdale, currently 17th in the Third. Gary Megson is aghast again as West Brom lose 1-0 at Watford: “We treated it like a testimonial.” Ipswich recover from three down at Sheffield Utd only to lose 4-3 in the last minute. Millwall also concede a 90th minute goal, from forgotten man Kevin Davies, that rescues a draw for Southampton. Mark Viduka is sent off for elbowing Gillingham player/ manager Andy Hessenthaler in a 1-1 draw at Priestfield, a decision Leeds are unhappy with: “If Mark had meant it he would have killed him,” says Dominic Matteo helpfully. After 11 successive wins, Second Division leaders Wigan finally lose, 2-1 at Swindon. Crewe leapfrog Oldham into second place after a 3-1 win at Boundary Park. Swansea get their first win in seven games but are still four points adrift at the bottom of the Football League. In the Scottish Cup, First Division Falkirk thrash Hearts 4-0 and Morton of the Third win away at Ross County, two divisions above them.

Sunday 26 Models of consistency, West Ham take their league form into the FA Cup, crashing 6-0 at Man Utd. “It was excruciating,” says Glenn Roeder, who gets an hour’s pep-talk from Sir Alex after the match, possibly advice on what do with his spare time once he’s out of work. Chris Kirkland will miss the rest of the season after injuring a cruciate ligament during Liverpool’s 0-0 draw at Palace. Steed Malbranque scores all Fulham’s goals in their 3-0 win over Charlton. Chelsea win 4-0 at Shrewsbury, where keeper Carlo Cudicini is nearly hit by what police describe as a “home-made shrapnel bomb” fired from outside the ground (nothing to do with the man in the coracle). The FA of Ireland narrowly avert disaster by choosing youth coach Brian Kerr, rather than second favourite Captain Marvel, as their new national team manager.

Tuesday 28 Bolton and Sunderland stay firmly in the mire, losing at home to Everton and Southampton respectively. Howard goes nautical: “When you are in a lifeboat you can only keep rowing and bailing out for so long.” Aston Villa win away for the first time, 5-2 at Middlesbrough, who hadn’t previously lost at home. In the clash of the big debtors, Leeds concede two late goals to lose 3-2 at Chelsea. Farnborough owner/manager/self-promoter Graham Westley decamps to Stevenage Borough, but insists that he won’t be keeping any of the money made from the FA Cup run. Paul Gascoigne joins Gansu Tianma, currently bottom of the Chinese second division and based in what is allegedly the world’s most polluted city. So that’ll work.

Wednesday 29 Liverpool scramble a 2-2 draw with Arsenal thanks to an Emile Heskey equaliser in the 90th minute from a corner that a very grouchy Arsène doesn’t think should have been given: “But what can you do?” Newcastle also score late at Spurs for a 1-0 win that takes them up to second. Knees are raised in east London as West Ham finally win a home match, 2-1 against Blackburn. Glenn risks a forecast: “They played the Great Escape music. Perhaps we’re about to do it ourselves.” West Brom are beaten 1-0, what else, at home by Charlton and are now two points adrift at the bottom. Robbie Fowler thinks again and will join Man City for £6 million, half of it payable on appearances. Sergei Rebrov’s tortuous transfer to Fenerbahce finally goes through. Steve Whitton is sacked by Colchester, currently in the Second Division relegation zone. Former Boston Utd manager Steve Evans is banned from football from 20 months following an FA inquiry into financial irregularities at the club. The FA deny Ken Bates’s claim that they have “dismissed out of hand” Charlton’s complaint about the Stamford Bridge dunes – a verdict is due in February.

Thursday 30 Leeds agree to sell Jonathan Woodgate to Newcastle for £9 million. Terry is disappointed – “It’s one of those things you just don’t think is going to happen” – but unlikely to resign given that his contract is worth another £2 million. Ian McCall leaves Falkirk to become manager of Dundee Utd, replacing Paul Hegarty.

Friday 31 In a late flurry of activity before the transfer window slams shut, Middlesbrough buy Bolton’s Michael Ricketts and Malcolm Christie from Derby, with the latter’s team-mate Chris Riggott coming on loan. Rufus Brevett joins West Ham from Fulham; Southampton sign Danny Higginbotham from Derby and Nottingham Forest’s David Prutton.

From WSC 193 March 2003. What was happening this month

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