THE HALF DECENT FOOTBALL MAGAZINE

Friday 1 Brian Laws is sacked as Grimsby manager, the writing having gone up on the wall in large, luminous capitals after his side's last match, a 3-0 home defeat to bottom-placed Oldham earlier in the week. Paul Gascoigne is included in the England squad for the match in Georgia, with Glenn Hoddle using a variety of means to justify his decision including religious faith: "One of the big teachings of Christianity is that of forgiveness - I hope that in not casting him aside I have given him a chance to change," and abject bullshit: "Had I not picked him at this stage then I feel it would have been detrimental to him and his family in the long run."

Saturday 2 Man Utd are getting careless: now they lose their 35-match unbeaten home record in the Premiership, going down 2-1 to Chelsea. "I know the thread of what is wrong and so do the players," says Alex Ferguson. Word is that it's something to do with letting in more goals than you score. Arsenal stay top after a heated, injury-strewn draw at Wimbledon, who didn't impress Arsène Wenger: "Today they deliberately avoided playing football and for our defenders it was a heading session." Forest's slide continues with a 2-0 defeat at Villa, which leaves them firmly anchored in the bottom three with Frank Clark admitting that his days could be numbered: "I need some wins under my belt before the takeover, otherwise someone else will be spending the money." In Scotland, Celtic go top after beating Aberdeen while Rangers can only draw at Raith.

Sunday 3 Newcastle are top again after a 3-1 home win over Middlesbrough with two from Peter Beardsley, playing his 700th professional match. Liverpool miss a chance to close the gap at the top, losing 3-0 at Blackburn, the latter's first League win of the season. Caretaker manager Tony Parkes insists that he is not interested in the manager's job. Jack Charlton, however, seems to be thinking about it - "I won't say I don't want the job. But I haven't spoken to anyone about it and I don't know anything" - or else he's been out on a riverbank by himself for too long. Stranraer win the Scottish Challenge Cup after a 1-0 win over St Johnstone, courtesy of an own goal. Some say this is their first-ever trophy after 126 years in existence; others, pedants mostly, point out they did win the Scottish Second Division title in 1993-94. Hartlepool, second from bottom of Division Three and beaten at home by Brighton on Saturday, sack manager Keith Houchen. Over to Keith: "I needed the players to be men out on the pitch, but I'm afraid that all too often they didn't do it." Thanks, Keith.

Monday 4 Coventry leap up a place to third from bottom after a 1-1 draw with Everton, and then announce that Big Ron has been promoted (or not) to director of football - salary somewhere between what Kenny Dalglish was on at Blackburn and what Alan Mullery gets at Barnet - with Gordon Strachan becoming team manager.

Tuesday 5 Something's up on Teesside. Emerson, in Brazil for an international match, says he has played his last game for Middlesbrough: "If they insist I have to return I will simply refuse to play," he says. A rum business, coming just a few weeks after the departure of fellow Brazilian Branco, but it may just be connected to Middlesbrough having turned down a bid for him from Barcelona. Tommy Taylor leaves Cambridge, going well in Division Three, to take over as manager of Leyton Orient, going nowhere fast.Two Eintracht Frankfurt officials resign following investigations into illegal payments the club is alleged to have made to their one-time striker, Tony Yeboah (remember him?).

Thursday 7 Arsène Wenger angrily denies that he is about to resign amid growing rumours that the tabloids are preparing to print stories about his private life: "I do not have to explain anything. I am sad because Arsenal should be respected and so should I." Scotland are ordered to replay their World Cup match with Estonia before mid March next year, though the game may have to be switched to a neutral venue due to the long Baltic winter. Chelsea spend £5.5 million on Gianfranco Zola from Parma, who has signed a four-year contract. And he will, of course, stay for four years. Stan Collymore is fined £20,000 for skipping a Liverpool reserve match on Wednesday. 'A friend' says: "Stan told Roy it wasn't fair and that Robbie Fowler got straight back in the first team when he was fit, and Stan didn't." Yeah, so . . . yeah. Oh, and after a best-of-three arm wrestle it has been agreed finally that the 2002 World Cup Final will be held in Japan with the opening ceremony being staged in South Korea.

Friday 8
Steve Coppell resigns as Manchester City manager on medical advice. "I've suffered from huge pressure I've forced upon myself," he says. Franny seems a bit sceptical: "I don't think a job can overwhelm anyone in thirty days." Team affairs have been left in the hands of the assistant manager, Phil Neal, who says, "I've got the orchestra baton now although they've are not too many singers about." Best of luck, City.

Saturday 9
An unexpectedly comfy win for England in Georgia thanks to first half goals from Sheringham and Ferdinand. Whisper it, but David Batty, playing in that 'hole' we hear so much about these days, is England's best player. "We hunted in pairs, we were tremendous," says Glenn, very chipper. Northern Ireland do even better, forcing a draw away to Germany and keeping up manager Bryan Hamilton's record of not having lost a competitive away fixture. In complete contrast, Wales get a thorough seeing-to in Holland, 7-1, with Bobby Gould following a national trend by blaming the teachers: "In the 15 years that I have been working as a manager I have not been educated to the level I should have been." Or he just picked the wrong team. In the Rep of Ireland's group, Macedonia get the biggest away win ever in a European qualifier - 11-1 against Liechtenstein. At home, stirrings in Division Three where Darlington sack Jim Platt, said to be bound for managerless Hartlepool who swapped places with their local rivals over the weekend, going from 23rd to 22nd. Below them, Brighton's crowd of 1,933 v Mansfield is their lowest post-War attendance, though it is swelled during the match by a further 800 who had been protesting outside.

Sunday 10 Jim Leighton keeps Sweden at bay as Scotland chalk up yet another 1-0 win, courtesy of John McGinlay's early goal. "We were the poorer team on the day. In the long term we can't keep serving up these sort of performances," says Craig Brown, just a tad downbeat. The Rep of Ireland, in one of the easier groups, can afford a couple of bad results and now they've had one, held to a goalless draw at home by Iceland. "I did not want to lump the ball at their three big defenders," says Mick McCarthy. Jack will have winced. Oh, and after a week of mounting hype there's nothing in the Sunday papers about Arsène Wenger other than that his girlfriend is pregnant.

Monday 11 After Emerson, Juninho, quoted in the Italian press: "If any offers came in from Italy I would want to discuss them. The real problem with English football is its structure. Even the tiniest club in Italy is better organized than over here." But apart from that he's happy. Terry Venables, landing on his feet yet again, has been offered the job of Australian national coach. With Peterborough said to be at least £3 million in debt, manager owner Barry Fry puts the entire squad up for sale, confessing, as football folk are wont to do these days, that, "I'm in a nightmare and I cannot escape. I've made the biggest mistake of my life." And he's choosing from a big selection.

Tuesday 12 After a struggle, both Wimbledon (without Vinnie, who's been locked in his bedroom since the Wales debacle) and Southampton prevail in Coca Cola Cup replays. Wimbledon get a last minute equalizer at Luton then go on to win 2-1 in extra time, while Southampton trail Lincoln by a goal until fifteen minutes from time, then score three. Juninho denies everything he was quoted as saying yesterday: "The rumours that I want to leave are not true." Darlington re-appoint their former manager David Hodgson, who resigned from the club a year ago and has been hanging around the car park ever since, kicking his heels (kidding, Dave), while Roy McFarland is to be Tommy Taylor's replacement at Cambridge.

Wednesday 13 Big home wins for Arsenal and Liverpool in their Coca Cola Cup replays against Stoke and Charlton respectively, but a disaster for Coventry, beaten 1-0 by Gillingham at Highfield Road. "We've got to be brave, look in the mirror and to say to ourselves it must never happen again," says Gordon Strachan, clearly a fan of trashy soaps. Man City fans demonstrate against Francis Lee for the first time after the club's 3-2 home defeat by Oxford leaves them in 17th place. Latest applicants for UEFA membership, Andorra, play their first ever international match, losing 6-1 at home to Estonia. Plenty to build on there.

Thursday 14 Rangers go back to the top in Scotland after an early Brian Laudrup goal beats Celtic at Parkhead. Both sides miss penalties late on, Celtic manager Tommy Burns is sent off for rowing with a linesman and the pitch is invaded by a fox (denomination unclear). Liverpool continue to deny that Stan Collymore is for sale, having apparently turned down a comedy bid of £4.5 million from Villa. Still in its early stages, this one. The threatened players' strike is called off after the Nationwide League agree a deal that will involve the PFA receiving around £1.3 million a year for five years. UEFA boss Lennart Johansson is in trouble for racist remarks made to a Swedish newspaper after a recent trip to South Africa which include: "When I came into the assembly hall in South Africa it was full of blackies and it was getting fucking dark when they were all sitting together." "There has been a misunderstanding," says a UEFA spokesman. All to do with context, apparently.

Saturday 16 Newcastle squeak a 1-1 home draw with West Ham, Peter Beardsley getting the equalizer seven minutes from time, and they lose Les Ferdinand with a fractured cheekbone that will keep him out until Christmas. They stay top, though, as Arsenal are beaten at Old Trafford by a Nigel Winterburn own goal - a clinical finish after a neatly constructed series of defensive cock-ups. Liverpool go second after a 2-0 win at Leeds, which also features a knockabout goal, Nigel Martyn's failure to control a clearance near the halfway line giving Steve McManaman a clear run on goal. No surprises in the FA Cup First Round, though among the seven non League teams force draws with League opponents are Farnborough, a minute away from a home win over Barnet, and Sudbury, who have a goal disallowed in a 0-0 with Brighton. Rangers turn down a bid for Paul Gascoigne from Sheffield Utd, apparently looking to make a big signing before their upcoming stock market flotation. Come the end of the season, mind you...

Sunday 17 "None of my players are going anywhere," says Bryan Robson, commenting on Emerson's return from Rio rather than the team's 2-1 defeat at Derby which leaves them three points above the relegation zone. Surely a defender or two might be headed for Division One, at least? Spurs seem to be on the brink of signing a real, live, foreign player, Rosenborg striker Stevan Iversen, one of several dozen young Scandinavian players whose every move (on the pitch, in the disco, at the shops) is shadowed by scouts from the 92 League clubs. Carlisle Utd chairman Michael Knighton threatens to resign after a local paper reports a recent talk he gave to a meeting of UFO enthusiasts in which he described a close encounter he'd had on the M62 20 years ago ("Michael, don't be afraid," they'd said). He believes it's part of a concerted campaign to make him look barmy. Let's press on.

Monday 18 Forest's 2-0 defeat at Sheffield Wednesday leaves them anchored at the bottom, five points adrift of safety. "We got what we deserved: nothing," says Frank Clark, upbeat as ever. Terry Venables is confirmed as Australia's new manager and obliges for pictures holding a boomerang and one of those hats with the corks on. A cue, surely, for another of his splendid marketing ideas. The Carlisle News & Star print a front page apology to Michael Knighton ("We have never asked Michael to resign"). The aliens will be making a statement through their solicitor.

Tuesday 19 Newcastle get an away draw in Metz in the UEFA Cup Third Round first leg, a Beardsley penalty cancelled out by a Srnicek air-swipe. Kev is moved to invoke the trusty First World War metaphor, but gets a bit lost. "We had to go into the trenches and dig it out. That's what we did." Kev, take notes: You're supposed to be in the trench already, which is either under attack - 'tin helmets time' - or which you're aiming to leave with the help of 'over-the-top specialists'. We'll be looking for an improved performance in the second leg. The Scottish FA object to UEFA's choice of Cyprus as the venue for the Estonia re-match, saying they want somewhere more accessible for travelling supporters. The Estonian FA are said to have offered Azerbaijan as an alternative but that may have been a joke lost in translation. Savo Milosevic's transfer to Perugia is called off, so Villa won't now pursue their interest in Stan Collymore, unless they win the lottery twice in a row.

Wednesday 20 A second Champions League home defeat for Man Utd, a first half penalty for Butt's lunge on Del Piero proving enough for Juventus, United squandering several chances after half-time. Fenerbahce beat Rapid Vienna in the other match, so Utd now need to do better in Vienna than the Turks manage in Turin. We can all look forward to more evenings in the blood-chilling company of Bob Wilson, as ITV have signed a new three-year deal for exclusive coverage of the Champions League. So, Super. In the re-arranged Merseyside derby, a late Gary Speed goal equalizes Robbie Fowler's earlier strike and prevents Liverpool from replacing Newcastle at the top.

Saturday 23 Newcastle stay top after a 1-1 draw with Chelsea, Alan Shearer scoring on his return, but are hanging on for much of the second half after David Batty is sent off for elbowing Mark Hughes. Kev's justice antennae are set a-quivering: "Nine times out of ten the person who starts the trouble gets off scot-free" but his target is unimpressed: "Perhaps he gets too emotional after games". Liverpool are held to another home draw, Stan Collymore's first minute opener against Wimbledon levelled by Oyvind Leonhardsen. Man Utd, hit by injuries drop to 7th after drawing at Middlesbrough several of whose players play in rather fetching red gloves. Coventry stay in the bottom three after home defeat against their bogey team, Villa, the match ending in one of those mass jostling bouts where a dozen players all shape to land a punch but no-one actually does: beautifully choreographed.

Sunday 24
Arsenal go second after scoring twice in the last three minutes to beat Spurs 3-1 at Highbury. Rangers' trophy haul for the season begins with the Scottish Coca Cola Cup, in which Paul Gascoigne scores the third and fourth goals in a 4-3 win after opponents Hearts level from two down.

Monday 25 "They play a long time in Nottingham, don't they?" says Blackburn's Tony Parkes after an injury time goal brings Forest a home point in a 2-2 draw with Rovers which keeps the teams in the bottom two places in the Premiership. Charlton reserve player Jay Notley is charged with misconduct after testing positive for three drugs (or a "cocktail" as the papers insist on calling it). He's the third Charlton player to be caught since random testing was introduced.

Tuesday 26 Hokey Cokey Cup holders Aston Villa are out of this year's competition, beaten by a Marcus Gayle goal at Wimbledon, who have now gone 16 games without defeat. In other ties, Ipswich knock out Gillingham 1-0 and Oxford get a last minute equalizer at home to Southampton. In FA Cup replays, Millwall lose at home to Woking, Clive Walker scoring the only goal; Brighton's nightmare season lurches on with defeat on penalties after a 1-1 home draw with Sudbury Town; and in an ice hockey game at Hull, Whitby Town are a minute away from a 4-3 win when the home side equalize. The League team then go on to score another four in extra time, Duane Darby getting six of their eight goals.

Wednesday 27 Spurs crash 6-1 at Bolton in the Hokey Cokey Cup - "It was a total humiliation," says Gerry Francis, "We were out-fought, out-battled, everything" - and elsewhere Leicester beat an under-strength Man Utd 2-0, Middlesbrough knock out Newcastle 3-1 and Stockport get a draw away to West Ham. Liverpool, now hot favourites, beat Arsenal 4-2. Scotland's World Cup qualifier with Estonia will now be staged in Monaco, so it'll be all round to John Collins' place afterwards for sherry and twiglets.

Saturday 30
Arsenal go top after a 2-1 win at Newcastle achieved with ten men after Tony Adams is sent off, ludicrously, 20 minutes into the game after brushing into Alan Shearer. "We need protecting from Shearer not the other way around," says Martin Keown. Wimbledon and Man Utd stay fourth and fifth after home wins over Forest and Leicester, United's team bearing little relation to the highly experimental outfit that lost at Filbert Street in midweek.

From WSC 119 January 1997. What was happening this month

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