THE HALF DECENT FOOTBALL MAGAZINE

Saturday 1 Man Utd stay a point clear after a late Eric Cantona goal brings victory over Southampton. Stan Collymore keeps Liverpool in second place with the only goal at Derby, who play for most of the second half with ten men after Darryl Powell is sent off. Arsenal are still third but three points adrift after a goalless snoozeathon at Leeds - for whom it is a tenth clean sheet in 15 games since George Graham took over. A godsend for the tabloids as UEFA announce that they will be backing Germany's bid for the 2006 World Cup. World At War! says the Mirror; Kraut of Order! - says the Sun. "Unannounced pacts behind closed doors are no substitute for democracy and fairness," says the FA's David Davies. The final decision will be taken in three years' time. FIFA are said to favour South Africa as hosts but that may change if Joao Havelange fulfils his promise to step down as President in 1998. Meantime it will go on, and on, and on.

Sunday 2 Business as usual at St James' Park where Newcastle come back from 3-1 down against Leicester with 13 minutes left to win 4-3, Alan Shearer completing a hat trick with the winner in injury time. "You know what Newcastle are like. You never know what is going to happen," says their new manager, after a long lie down.

Monday 3 The 2006 World Cup row rumbles on, with former FA chairman Alberto Millichip taking the rap from UEFA for failing to speak out at a meeting of the executive committee when they decided to back Germany's bid... in 1993. "Sir Bert was there and he raised no objections," says a UEFA spokesman. "We are determined to press on with our bid," says Graham Kelly. Plymouth's Neil Warnock is the fourth League manager to be sacked in 1997, club chairman Don McCauley explaining the dismissal with what sounds like an introduction to a mini series: "He thought he was God and could walk on water - it was a power game."

Tuesday 4 Arsenal are free to concentrate on the League after losing their FA Cup Fourth Round tie to a Rod Wallace goal for Leeds. "Arsenal ran out of ideas. They started going long ball," says George Graham sniggering behind his hand. Man Utd are also out, beaten by a Marcus Gayle goal for Wimbledon. Peter Schmeichel, up for a corner in the last minute, gets the ball in the net with a sort of overhead bicycle slice, but is given offside. "This has got be our greatest night," says Joe Kinnear, clean forgetting to complain for once. Woking's run ends with the 79th minute own goal that enables Coventry to sneak a 2-1 win, while Division One leaders Bolton are beaten 3-2 at home by Chesterfield.

Wednesday 5 Little Kev (Remember? Grey hair, bags under his eyes, very emotional) reveals that he decided to leave Newcastle after the 7-1 victory over Spurs. "I looked at Gerry Francis and thought 'Oh no, how must he be feeling deep inside'. I wanted to go over and give him a cuddle. I went straight home and knew that was it." Do you get the feeling that Kev's life will end up as a soap opera on cable? Ray Harford is the new manager of West Brom, whose chairman Tony Hale says, "I shall be bitterly disappointed if Ray doesn't take us into the Premiership within two years." So, er, that's next season, Ray.

Saturday 8 Wolves and Barnsley, winners over Huddersfield and Port Vale respectively, close the gap on Division One leaders Bolton, beaten 3-2 at Reading whose manager Jimmy Quinn has to go in for goal for most of the second half. That distant rumbling sound that's been getting louder by the week in Division One is finally beginning to take human shape and, eek, it's... Man City, whose 3-0 win over Southend is their seventh successive game without defeat. Things are also looking up for Brighton where a crowd of 8, 412, including delegations of fans from most other League clubs and some from abroad, sees a 5-0 win over Hartlepool, which leaves them only six points adrift at the bottom of Division Three.

Sunday 9 Southend 'suspend' manager Ronnie Whelan and sack his assistant Theo Foley after both had been sent off during Saturday's match at Manchester City for protesting about a Georgi Kinkladze tackle. "If the managers cannot be disciplined how can we expect the players to behave," says Southend chairman Vic Jobson, dubiously. Millwall's administrators sack Jimmy Nicholl and release twelve players on free transfers. "I knew what was going to happen three weeks ago but quitting did not cross my mind," says Nicholl. Former manager John Docherty takes temporary charge.

Tuesday 11 "Oooh... bother it," say the 4,000 Scotland fans who forked out on a trip to Monte Carlo to see their team held to a goalless draw by Estonia in a World Cup qualifier. Still, it was a day out. "I apologize to all travelling fans for an extremely poor performance," says Craig Brown, overlooking the fact that the five who came all the way from Estonia will have been quite pleased. Better news for Northern Ireland, who beat Belgium 3-0 in a Belfast friendly. Wales and the Republic of Ireland, meanwhile, eke out a goalless draw at the Arms Park. Today's managerial departee is Graeme Sharp who leaves Oldham, blaming the board for not giving him any money to spend (bloody parents, eh?).

Thursday 13 A Gianfranco Zola goal in the first half brings England's first home defeat in a World Cup tie. "It is what I dreamed about as a small boy," he says, warming up for Chelsea's Cup Final appearance. England's best chance comes when Italian goalkeeper Angelo Peruzzi saves at Alan Shearer's feet two minutes from time. Otherwise they're a big disappointment, "Hoddle's gamble", Matt Le Tissier, being taken off after an hour. "There is no way we are out of this competition," says Glenn. "We will come back kicking and fighting like English teams always have," says Stuart Pearce. (Sometimes Stuart almost seems to be laughing at himself. Almost, but not quite.)

Friday 14 Brighton lose their appeal against having two points deducted for a pitch invasion in October, while Millwall and Bournemouth are both asked by the League's board to provide assurances that they can fulfil their fixtures for the rest of the season. Sydney-based tycoon Terry Venables becomes the new owner of Portsmouth after acquiring a 51% stake in the club for a token £1.

Saturday 15
Southend's new manager is... Ronnie Whelan. "After due consideration we have reinstated him," says a club spokesman. So, it will be just as if nothing happened. Chelsea insist that Gianluca Vialli will not be moving to Southampton, although the player has had talks with Graeme Souness, but West Ham finally land a new forward, signing Arsenal's "big bustling number nine"(Daily Mirror ), John Hartson for £4 million. John's in double figures already this season - for yellow cards, natch.

Sunday 16 A great day for Football League clubs at the expense of the Premiership, with Chesterfield beating Forest 1-0 thanks to a penalty from Tom Curtis - "Superlatives can't do justice to the way our lads played," says manager John Duncan - and Portsmouth winning 3-2 at Leeds - "The one thing I did not expect was the way we didn't play," says George Graham, too upset to make sense. Wrexham win by the same score at Birmingham City, Wimbledon come back from behind to beat QPR 2-1 and Coventry belie their League form to win 2-1 at Blackburn.

Monday 17 In the Cup Fifth Round, Chelsea blow a two-goal half-time lead at Leicester to draw 2-2, Eddie Newton equalizing with an own goal two minutes from time. "Leicester were lucky. They created nothing," says Ruud, declining to be gracious. "We'll try and bring the first team down for the replay, then," says Martin O'Neill, whose side were missing nine regulars. The FA are to study police reports of the fighting that broke out in the home end after Chelsea's opening goal. Sheffield Wed also need the help of an own goal to win at Bradford, where defender Nicky Mohan puts through his own net five minutes from time. In the quarter-final draw (involving Gordon Banks, currently serving an FA ban for selling Cup Final tickets on the black market), Chesterfield and Wrexham are paired together, so for only the seventh time ever there will be a team from outside the top two divisions in the semi-finals. Path®¶ newsreels will be coming back next.

Wednesday 19 The Hokey Cokey Semi-Final 1st leg between Leicester and Wimbledon finishes goalless. Leicester defender Robert Ullathorne, signed from Osasuna the previous day, breaks an ankle after just twelfth minutes and will miss the rest of the season. Oxford United may be getting Juventus reserve players on loan from next season. "They have managed to combine the technical brilliance of the Continentals with the power and pace of the British. They will show us how they go about doing it," says Oxford chairman Robin Herd. "We will have to be sure it fits in comfortably with the wishes of the majority," says League chairman David (hem hem) Sheepshanks. Scotland manager Craig Brown decides not to take action against midfielder Ian Ferguson, whose abusive comments about Scotland fans at the end of the match against Estonia were picked up by media microphones. "His comment was made in frustration at the outcome of the match," says Brown. Ferguson had initially claimed to have been abusing the Estonian players. Nice boy.

Thursday 20
Man Utd beat Arsenal 2-1 at Highbury, with early goals from Cole and Solskjaer. Dennis Bergkamp getting one back in the second half. Towards the end of the game, Ian Wright's two-footed challenge on his old buddy Peter Schmeichel brings Alex Ferguson rushing onto the pitch to protest and there is a scuffle between the two players in "the tunnel of hate" (Daily Mirror) at the end. Liverpool stay second after thumping Leeds and their fast collapsing defence 4-0. The Stockport v Southampton Hokey Cokey Semi-Final is rained off. Scunthorpe, in the bottom half of Division Three, part company with manager Mick Buxton, and Blackburn concede that Sven Goran Eriksson will not become their new boss at the end of the season - he is to sign for Lazio instead but may have to pay Rovers for breaking an agreement.

Friday 21
Peter Schmeichel may face criminal charges for racial abuse following police investigations into a previous flare-up with Ian Wright during Arsenal's match at Old Trafford in November. Both players are also likely to face FA disciplinary action over their latest punch up. Belgian police are investigating claims that Anderlecht bribed the referee of their 1984 UEFA Cup Semi-Final 2nd leg match with Nottingham Forest, which they won 3-0 after being two down from the first leg. Two men claim to have paid off the referee on the instructions of the club. Anderlecht deny attempted bribery but admit passing money on to the men "in order to safeguard the image of the club". As you do.

Sunday 23 Man Utd recover from conceding a Gianfranco Zola goal after two minutes to draw 1-1 at Chelsea, David Beckham getting the equalizer. To the disappointment of boxing fans everywhere Denis Wise and Roy Keane last the entire game without swapping punches. Liverpool stay second after a textbook demonstration of how to miss chances from every conceivable angle in a 0-0 draw with Blackburn. Middlesbrough are equally wasteful at home to Newcastle, who hang on to the early lead given them by Les Ferdinand. Southampton stay in the bottom three after surrendering a two goal lead in a 3-2 defeat by Sheffield Wed. Chesterfield make the headlines again with a League record five players being sent off in their match with Plymouth at Saltergate, four in a last minute brawl resembling the saloon scene in an old Western, among them the home team's Kevin Davies and Darren Carr who will now miss the FA Cup Quarter-Final against Wrexham. Also off is former Millwall manager Jimmy Nicholl, dismissed on his playing debut for Bath City (it's going to be one of those years, Jim, best take a long break).

Monday 24 Arsène Wenger gives up on the title - "It's an impossible dream for us" - after seeing Arsenal beaten 1-0 at home by Wimbledon, who are now sixth. "I have never had this amount of points or been safe at this stage of the season. It's a wonderful feeling," says Joe Kinnear, almost breaking into a smile.

Tuesday 25 West Ham are out of the bottom three after their first win since December - 4-3 against Spurs. Julian Dicks, 'hair' now shorter than ever, gets the penalty winner 15 minutes from time. "That was entertainment at its best," says Harry Redknapp, a view not shared by Gerry Francis. Stuart Pearce may have £16 million to spend after the consortium headed by billionaire Nigel Wray, and also involving former Spurs chairman Irving Scholar, have their takeover bid for the club accepted at a shareholders meeting. "I'm mad about football and it was Forest's style of play that appealed to me," says Scholar, who obviously hasn't seen them recently. Much to the supporters' displeasure, Scunthorpe's new manager is to be Brian Laws, ex-Grimsby, still facing a charge of misconduct from the FA over the incident in which Ivano Bonetti broke a cheekbone.

Thursday 27 Chelsea edge past Leicester in their FA Cup Fifth Round replay courtesy of a Frank Lebouef penalty three minutes from the end of extra time awarded (by this season's most card-happy ref, Mike Reed) for a supposed foul on Erland Johnsen and hotly disputed by Leicester players. "It was an unbelievable decision and I won't let people forget it. I'd rather we went out at Southend in the Third Round than lose like this," says Martin O'Neill. An 87th minute winner from Dean Sturridge completes Derby's comeback from two down against Coventry in their FA Cup Fifth Round tie, while Middlesbrough take a two goal lead from the first leg of their Hokey Cokey Semi-Final against Stockport at Edgeley Park. Roy Hodgson is to leave Inter to become the new Blackburn manager in the summer which, as every newspaper has realized, will make him °ÆRoy of the Rovers'. "He almost climbed down the phone when we contacted him," says Rovers chairman Robert Coar.

Friday 28 Here's a strange one - Dave Bassett leaves Palace to become general manager at Nottingham Forest. Ron Noades declares himself "reeling" at the news; Basset says, "This is a great new challenge. Stuart is very happy with the decision as well." Hmmm.

From WSC 122 April 1997. What was happening this month

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