THE HALF DECENT FOOTBALL MAGAZINE

Friday 1 Dennis Wise, Frank Lampard, Steve Guppy and Trevor Sinclair are the new names in Little Kev's squad to play Belgium. Paul Ince is recalled in place of David Batty, making sure the squad contains no less than the mandatory three players who have been sent off for England in the past 18 months. Newcastle sign Kevin Gallacher from Blackburn for £700,000. A consortium of Icelandic businessmen has made a bid of £6 million to buy Stoke City, hoping to install the national team coach Gudjon Thordarsson as manager in place of the luckless Gary Megson.

Saturday 2 Strugglers' Saturday sees Steve Staunton scandalously sent off in Villa's dismal 0-0 with Liverpool, a game mystifyingly described as "just balloons on sticks" by John Gregory. Bottom club Sheff Wed go goal-crazy against Wimbledon, winning 5-1 in front of a suitably Wimbledon-sized crowd, 18,077. Sunderland are second after pasting Bradford 4-0 at Valley Parade. Everton are reportedly the target of a £50 million bid from Chris Evans and Terry Venables – possibly both in the top two on any fans' list of undesirable owners. India's Baichung Bhutia makes his debut as a sub for Bury, and gets booked after two minutes. "We will probably get more fans than if we'd signed Ronaldo," Bury manager Neil Warnock had predicted. They get 3,603.

Sunday 3 Chelsea record their biggest ever win over Man Utd, 5-0, aided by another blunder by Massimo Taibi, whose failure to gather the ball in the first minute lets in Gustavo Poyet . Nicky Butt is sent off in the first half for kneeing Dennis Wise, who allegedly provoked him by pulling a hair out his thigh. It's a man's game all right. "I now understand how other managers have felt after being well beaten," says Alex humbly. More tantrums at Upton Park, where Patrick Vieira and Marc-Vivien Foe are sent off in West Ham's 2-1 win over Arsenal, Vieira coming back for afters with Neil Ruddock on the pitch and a policeman in the tunnel. "He spat at me and as far as I'm concerned that is the lowest of the low," says Ruddock, whose finely graded moral code is legendary among his fellow professionals. "It was cheating by Di Canio," offers Arsene. Leeds go top after a 2-1 win at Watford, but "you get no prizes for being top now" as David O'Leary is tediously at pains to point out. FIFA's new plan to abolish transfer fees is slated by everyone. "This will kill off the Football League," says Ron Noades.

Monday 4 Fur flies over Parkhead as Celtic chief executive Allan MacDonald suggests that his club and Rangers should form a league with the top clubs in Holland, Portugal and Belgium: "In terms of spectators we are the fifth biggest club in the world, yet the money we receive from broadcasters is minuscule." Scottish Premier League chief Roger Mitchell is not impressed: "I am sick of these stories because under UEFA guidelines it cannot happen." Steve Staunton has his comedy red card rescinded by the FA.

Tuesday 5 Patrick Vieira apologises for spitting at Neil Ruddock: "Although I was subjected to provocation, I am ashamed of my action." The PFA's Gordon Taylor responds to Sports Minister Kate Hoey's claim that players spitting sets a bad example to those impressionable youngsters: "If a player has to clear his air passages to breathe properly then he's going to do it." Scotland qualify for the Euro 2000 play-offs after beating Bosnia 1-0. "We didn't play well but we're there," says Craig Brown, not for the first time.

Wednesday 6 Man Utd chairman Martin Edwards makes £41 million by offloading half his 14 per cent stake in the club to City institutions. "The £140 million he has made since the share flotation in 1991 dwarfs the demands of the greediest players," says a spokesman for supporters group Shareholders United, who had hoped that the shares would be sold to ordinary fans. The over-publicised Frank Leboeuf claims English football is the dirtiest in the world. "I have never seen so much violence on the field. Your referees just don't exist." "It's a good job he wasn't around when I was playing," fumes Gordon Strachan, halfway out of his jacket.

Thursday 7 More jockeying for position at Leicester, where a new chairman and vice chairman of the club's plc are appointed by Martin O'Neill's nemesis, chief executive Barrie Pierpoint. O'Neill, meanwhile, has said that he won't sign any new players until peace is restored: "I don"t know where I stand any more and that makes it very difficult to negotiate." Ian Atkins resigns as manager of Northampton.

Saturday 9 A play-off lifeline for England as Sweden beat Poland 2-0. "We've got in the back door but who's to say we won't come out of the front door?" says Kev, a trifle over-excited. "We don't expect thank-yous from England – we didn't do it for them," says Henrik Larsson, scorer of the second goal. The Republic of Ireland are a minute away from direct qualification when Macedonia score to force a 1-1 draw. "England are thrilled to be in the play-offs and so are we," snaps Mick McCarthy. "Why should we fear England?" says Craig Brown after Scotland beat Lithuania 3-0. "I would still love the job," says Wales' manager-elect Mark Hughes after they lose 2-0 at home to Switzerland. Northern Ireland's 4-1 defeat in Finland means they finish with a goal difference of   minus 15.

Sunday 10 England beat Belgium 2-1 but struggle until Jamie Redknapp's 25-yard winner midway through the second half. Kev confessed to having been cross at half-time: "I have not got angry before but we had forgotten we were Premiership players. We got sucked into the continental way."

Monday 11 Arsene launches an attack on Neil Ruddock for Patrick Vieira's dismissal at Upton Park: "Hearing Ruddock claiming to be a nice guy was shocking. Some people behave like monsters and the next day say they're not guilty." To which Ruddock replies: "Wenger knows Vieira is heading for a big ban and is trying to drag someone else down."

Tuesday 12 Wake up, it's the Worthington. A crowd of just over 15,000 sees debutant Stefan Malz score the winner as Arsenal beat Preston 2-1. "The competition has lost some credibility but we are still interested," sniffs Arsene. Alan Shearer misses a penalty in Newcastle's 2-0 defeat at Birmingham, Bradford are beaten 3-2 at home by Barnsley and Stan Collymore gets his first goal for nine months in Fulham's 2-1 win at West Brom. "Stan gets on fantastically well with the other lads and I will be discussing his future soon," says Paul Bracewell. Colin Lee announces that Wolves will not be making an offer for Collymore whom he describes as "not mentally sound". Portugal are the surprise choice as hosts of Euro 2004, defeating bids from Austria/Hungary and Spain.

Wednesday 13 An "unseeded" draw for the Euro 2000 play-offs produces Scotland v England, with the Republic of Ireland meeting Turkey. "It's a fantastic draw," says little Kev, jumping about and grabbing passers-by. "The Scots are fanatical about their football and so are the English." "I'm convinced what rivalry there is can be friendly," says Craig Brown, possibly troubled by visions of the new Hampden being rearranged by travelling fans. Man Utd put out a reserve side at Villa Park in the Worthington and duly lose 3-0. "Our priority is the European tie next Wednesday," snaps Sir Alex. Chelsea follow suit and are beaten 1-0 at home by Huddersfield – "All the players were good enough to be in our squad," shrugs Gianluca. Derby field their best team but still lose 2-1 to Bolton at Pride Park. In another night of disappointing crowds, there are under 9,000 at the Riverside to see Juninho score the goal that beats Watford. The sponsors aren't worried, though: "Over 70 per cent more fans attended Worthington Cup games than the rugby union World Cup," says a spokesman, seeking comfort in pie charts. Harry Redknapp is to sue the Mirror for misrepresenting a passage in Eyal Berkovic's biography in which the player is quoted as saying "no foreign player really survives at West Ham" which is "run like a pub team". "It's a disgrace," says Harry.

Thursday 14 Sam Allardyce unexpectedly resigns as manager of Notts County, who suspect that he's angling for the vacant job at one of his old clubs, Bolton. A rare spot of good news for Northern Ireland fans as manager Lawrie McMenemy decides not to accept the contract extension offered by the Irish FA.

Saturday 16 Plenty of fighting spirit today with a record 14 players dismissed including Chelsea's Dennis Wise and Marcel Desailly at Anfield where Liverpool win 1-0. "If you want me to talk about the referee and not my team, I won't do it," says Gianluca. Bobby Robson, however, is quite prepared to reflect on Warren Barton's first- half red card at Coventry. "It was stupid. I was very angry. He'll be fined." Newcastle go on to lose 4-1 and remain one off the bottom, ahead of Sheffield Wed, beaten 2-0 at Leeds, whose ninth win in a row is their best run since 1931. Man Utd, 4-1 winners over Watford, are a point behind in second. Arsenal move up to third after winning by the same score against Everton, who are apparently about to be bought by an EM Warburg-Pincus, which sounds like one of Groucho Marx's pseudonyms but is apparently an American financial corporation. Most confused referee of the day is Barry Knight, who sends off Southampton's Kevin Davies but later retracts a red card for a second booking give to Davies's team-mate Hassan Kachloul after realising that the player had not received a yellow earlier. "All I know is that the referee had a very poor game today," groans David Jones . In the First Division, David Platt will dock his own wages after being one of two Forest players sent off in their defeat at Sheffield Utd – "I should know better at my age," he says – while Blackburn also lose two at home to Grimsby but still manage a draw. Fulham and Charlton are joint leaders of the division after 1-0 wins over Swindon and Portsmouth respectively. Managerless Notts County lead the Second Division, Barnet lose their unbeaten record at home to Peterborough but still top the Third by four points. Yet another day to remember for shell-shocked Aberdeen fans as their team is beaten 7-0 at Celtic.

Sunday 17 Middlesbrough halt their slide with a 2-0 win over West Ham who have Shaka Hislop dismissed in the first half. Harry Redknapp blames Arsene Wenger for his team having a penalty appeal turned down after Di Canio appears to be fouled. "I said that Di Canio would get booked in his next game for diving. Wenger opened his big mouth and got him booked." The point won in a goalless Bristol derby takes Rovers back to the top of the Second Division. Craig Brown confirms that Ipswich striker David Johnson might be called up by Scotland. Johnson, who has played for England B, was called into the Welsh squad and has been capped by Jamaica in friendlies, can switch allegiance because he hasn't played in a competitive match.

Monday 18
Sunderland march up to third after a 2-1 win over Aston Villa, helped by a controversial penalty when Niall Quinn appeared to handle the ball before it brushed the arm of Mark Delaney. "Mr Elleray is Mr Elleray. I think he made a cock- up again," says John Gregory, pulling out handfuls of that suspiciously jet black hair. A rival bidder for Everton emerges in the shape of a consortium called "Project Toffee", one of whose members happens to be an associate of the incumbent evil doer, Peter Johnson.

Tuesday 19 Europe again and two defeats this time, Man Utd going down 1-0 in Marseille – "I wish they'd scored earlier because we started to play after that," shrugs Alex – and Arsenal crashing 4-2 at Wembley. Tony Adams has a torrid night, conceding a debatable penalty then slipping to allow Luis Enrique to score Barcelona's second. "Tony is down because he is a winner and winners don't like it when they don't win," says Arsene, flustered for once. Man City fans reach for the oxygen cylinders as their team go top of the First Division after winning 1-0 at Birmingham while Charlton go down at Ipswich and Fulham lose for the first time this season, at home to Wolves. In the Second, Brentford's 2-1 defeat by Gillingham  leaves Wigan as the only unbeaten team in the League. Chester's first home win of the season, against Cheltenham, brings them level with this season's surprise flops Leyton Orient at the bottom of the Third. Sam Allardyce is confirmed as the new manager of Bolton.

Wednesday 20 After the usual build up, "Welcome to Hell" banners and all, Chelsea stroll to victory in Istanbul, thrashing Galatasaray 5-0. "Everyone had a great defensive match without the ball," says Gianluca. Rangers beat PSV Eindhoven 4-1. Both they and Chelsea will remain in Europe into the new year, either in the UEFA Cup or the next phase of the Champions League. Madness at Motherwell where Aberdeen, without an away goal all season, win 6-5. "I won't hear anyone say we are not entertaining," says manager Ebbe Skovdahl. Adam Crozier, a director of the advertising agency Saatchi & Saatchi, is to become new chief executive of the FA in January. "Everyone is thrilled by Adam's appointment," says his stand-in David Davies, smiling bravely. Villa take Benito Carbone on loan until the end of the season. "He is fully committed when he plays and that is how I judge all my players," says John Gregory.

Thursday 21 Mixed fortunes in the UEFA Cup. West Ham go down 2-0 to Steaua in Bucharest – where Harry Redknapp is told by the referee to substitute Paolo di Canio to avoid having him sent off – and Celtic lose Henrik Larsson with a broken leg during their 1-0 defeat in Lyon. Leeds, however, beat Lokomotiv Moscow 4-1 and Newcastle win 2-1 in Z¸rich, though Bobby Robson is not happy: "We were coasting against a team which, with respect, is of a low standard. I have a lot of work to do." David Johnson opts to play for Scotland. "He could be our trump card," says Brown. "He is very realistic that he has no Scottish roots," says his agent.

Friday 22 Anguish at Lancaster Gate as the Daily Telegraph alleges that the chief executive-to-be Adam Crozier falsified sales figures while working for them in 1987. "I should have mentioned this, but it was all a long time ago," says Crozier. "The FA regard what happened as a youthful indiscretion," says a spokesman. The big feud at Old Trafford goes public with Martin Edwards questioning whether Sir Alex should be allowed to move upstairs when he retires in 2002: "Is that going to be a comfort or a hindrance to a successor? It would be difficult for him to resist being involved."

Saturday 23 Almost like old times at Stamford Bridge as Chelsea squander a two-goal lead against Arsenal, for whom Kanu scores a match-winning hat-trick in the last 15 minutes. "I still don't believe it. I am still in shock," says Gianluca. Man Utd sink to their fourth defeat in five games, 3-1 at Spurs whose third goal from full-back Steve Carr flies in from 35 yards. "I find it hard to analyse this one. We deserved to win," says Sir Alex. Michael Owen's teenage hamstring lets him down during Liverpool's draw at Southampton but he's likely to be fit again before England's match at Hampden. Bradford move out the bottom three after their first home win season, 3-1 against Leicester. "The chairman has had some moaning letters lately but we can take heart from this," says Paul Jewell. Mass hysteria on Moss Side as Man City go three points clear in the First Division after beating Blackburn 2-0 – "Saying we're struggling to acclimatise is a cop out," snarls Brian Kidd – while Fulham and Charlton draw.

Sunday 24 Leeds' nine-match winning run comes to an end in injury time at Goodison where David Weir secures a point for Everton in a 4-4 draw. "We try to win games and sometimes we try to help the other team too," says David O'Leary, whose side had taken the lead after trailing 3-2 at half-time. "Hand on heart, we're not going to finish top of this league," says Peter Reid, but Sunderland would have taken Leeds' place had they not conceded a late equaliser at West Ham. Watford's 3-1 defeat by Middlesbrough keeps them in the bottom three. "I must keep my nerve now," says Graham Taylor, and he's right.

Tuesday 26 A 1-1 draw for Chelsea in Milan means that a draw in their last match at home to Hertha will be enough for them to qualify for the Champions League second round. Daffy Dennis Wise not only stays on the pitch but gets the equaliser a minute after Milan score. "Sometimes he makes mistakes and sometimes I am not happy with him but overall he is great for the team," says Gianluca. Rangers are left needing to beat Bayern in Munich after a 2-1 home defeat by Valencia.

Wednesday 27 Man Utd's 2-1 win in Zagreb takes them through to the last 16 of the Champions League. Alex is underwhelmed: "A win is a win. I think the players showed they didn't want to suffer any longer." Arsenal bid a tearful goodbye to the competition after losing to a Gabriel Batistuta goal for Fiorentina at Wembley. "There is something missing in this team, whether it is in the defence or attack I don't know," says Arsene staring at the floor. Embarrassment for Celtic. They let slip a chance to go top of the Scottish Premier by losing at home to Motherwell, who played most of the game with ten men. "Just a blip, I hope," says John Barnes.

Thursday 28 Man Utd confirm that they will not be entering the FA Cup this year. "We are aware of how agonising this decision has been for Manchester United. It was for us too," says a highly sensitive FA spokesman. Patrick Vieira is banned for six games and fined a record £45,000 for spitting at Neil Ruddock after being sent off at Upton Park. Arsene is displeased: "The punishment was very hard considering there was a lot of provo≠cation." Arsenal now want the FA to investigate racist remarks allegedly made by Ruddock. Steffen Iversen's penalty gives Spurs a 1-0 first leg lead in their UEFA Cup tie with Kaiserslautern. "I'm a super optimist so I think one-nil will be enough," says George.

Saturday 30 A new case of Ribena is cracked open at Elland Road as Leeds maintain their one- point lead at the top with a 1-0 win against West Ham. Man Utd, 3-0 winners against Villa, move up to second. European hangovers are blamed for poor performances by Chelsea, beaten 3-1 at Derby – "I have to say I am a bit worried about this," says Gianluca – and Arsenal, who sleepwalk through a goalless home draw with Newcastle – "I'd like to be able to apologise for the way we played but I won't," snaps Bobby Robson. "It's going to take a massive effort now," sighs Danny Wilson as Sheffield Wed's mini-revival judders to a halt at Leicester, where they lose 3-0. Man City go six points clear in the First Division by beating Port Vale while their nearest pursuers Charlton lose to Birmingham. Ipswich are second after beating Grimsby. In the FA Cup first round, Carlisle go down 2-1 to Ilkeston Town of of the Doc Martens League, who have moved up in the world since Michael Knighton played for them. League scalps are also claimed by Hereford, who beat York 1-0, and Enfield, 2-1 winners at Chesterfield.

Sunday 31 Sunderland are second again after beating Spurs 2-1. "We didn't play with the passion of a George Graham team," growls the eponymous Spurs manager with the extremely big head. Peter Reid keeps his emotions in check, though: "We just need to get over the 40-point mark and I might have a smile." Watford stay second bottom after crashing 4-0 at Coventry. The next Newcastle v Man Utd match should be lively after Andy Cole's new book, serialised in the Sunday Mirror, hits out at Alan Shearer's unassailable position in the England team. "Shearer has been the chosen son of all our national managers in the 1990s. It's an issue which really bugs me."

From WSC 154 December 1999. What was happening this month

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