THE HALF DECENT FOOTBALL MAGAZINE

Tuesday 1 Fabrizio Ravanelli claims that Man Utd want to buy him: "It's very exciting because they are a more prestigious club," he says in an interview with an Italian newspaper. "There is no foundation in these stories whatsoever," says Martin Edwards. Bryan Robson is unavailable for comment, probably because he's speechless. A doctor treating Diego Maradona claims that he has suffered irreversible brain damage due to his cocaine addiction and might die if he were to attempt to play again. Brighton's home defeat by Lincoln, which leaves them second bottom place in Division Three, is interrupted by a pitch invasion. The FA may now enforce the three point deduction threatened after the abandonment of the match with York in April.

Thursday 3 After Fabrizio, Faustino, who says in a radio interview in Colombia, "I left Italy for Newcastle with the idea of being a champion, but now I am just a substitute. I am not happy." Also thought to be on their way soon are Philippe Albert, subject of a bid from Middlesbrough, and David Ginola, who may be offered to Barcelona in part exchange for Miguel Nadal, whom Kev wants partly because Alex failed to get him (soap opera plot No 55).

Saturday 5 In World Cup matches, Scotland score twice (yes twice) without reply in Latvia, Wales take the lead against Holland but are beaten by three late Dutch goals, two from Pierre Van Hooydonk. Northern Ireland's hopes are all but ended by a 1-1 home draw with Armenia. With several First Division matches cancelled due to international call ups, Wolves miss a chance to move into the top three by losing at home to Mark McGhee's old chums from Reading. QPR's 2-0 defeat at Grimsby ("We are having this initial period with me coming to the club where we are not getting results," says Stewart Houston, trying to avoid putting two and two together) keeps them in the bottom half and thus on course for the first derbies with Brentford for over 30 years next season. Brentford are now the only unbeaten club in the Nationwide League, their 4-2 win over Rotherham keeping them five points clear at the top of Division Two. Show-off of the day is Burnley's Paul Barnes, who scores all their goals in a 5-2 win over Stockport.

Sunday 6
An impromptu national holiday is declared as Man City finally get a new manager. The honour has fallen upon Steve Coppell, previously man without portfolio at Palace, with Phil Neal coming in from Cardiff as his assistant. "We've turned the corner with this appointment," says Franny, a little sunbeam at last. Corners can be deceptive, though.

Tuesday 8 The England U-21 match with Poland at Molineux is held up for two hours while the bomb disposal squad detonate a foil-wrapped cheese sandwich found in the stand where the Royal Marines band were to sit. The game finishes 0-0. Bosnia's first competitive 'home' match ends in a 4-1 defeat to Croatia in Bologna.

Wednesday 9 23 years on, England suffer another Wembley nightmare against Poland - but somehow contrive to win, Alan Shearer scoring twice after the Poles take an early lead. "I had to have some stern words with the players at half-time," says Glenn, wearing his cross face. "We deserved to win the game, let alone get a point," says Polish coach Antoni Piechniczek. In the other match in the group, Arrigo Sacchi's job is safe for another month as a Ravanelli goal is enough for Italy to beat Georgia. A bit of a tiff in the Baltic as Estonia fail to turn up for their game with Scotland, brought forward to 1 pm from 4.45 after the Scots complained about the poor quality of the stadium's floodlights. FIFA won't decide what to do about it until November 7th, but a replay seems the most likely. Also in Scotland's group, Austria surprisingly beat Sweden 1-0 away. The Republic of Ireland get a comfortable 3-0 win over Macedonia with two goals from Tony Cascarino (yes, he's still playing).

Saturday 12 Newcastle are top after a Shearer goal brings a 1-0 win at Derby. "We're not the entertainers anymore, we're the grinders," says Les Ferdinand. Not quite a catchphrase, but getting there. Liverpool, beaten by the same score at Man Utd, drop to third behind Arsenal, 2-0 winners at bottom-placed Blackburn, where home fans call for Ray Harford's dismissal. After Wimbledon's sixth successive win, 4-2 over Sheffield Wednesday, which keeps them in fifth place, Vinnie Jones offers an explanation for their good run: "We slaughtered each other in the dressing room beforehand. There was no way Wimbledon were going to let anyone feast on our carcass after that." Hah, yes, no way. The biggest headlines are made by Spurs' home game with Villa, whose goalkeeper Mark Bosnich is booked, and later interviewed by the police, after making a Nazi salute to the crowd who were barracking him over an incident in the same fixture two years ago when Jürgen Klinsmann was knocked unconscious. "What I did was a joke and although I have apologized to everyone I am upset it has been taken this far," he says, taking it further. A strange day, too, for Bury's David Johnson, who scores his team's winner at Peterborough and then is sent off for inciting the home crowd with his goal celebration. Walsall fans protest outside the club's offices following the home defeat by Plymouth, and Hull City fans demanding the resignation of chairman Martin Fish invade the pitch during their 1-1 draw with Leyton Orient.

Monday 14 Frank Clark could be off to Italy again, shopping for big lads: Forest, short of cash and fourth from bottom, are considering a £30 million takeover offer from video company owner Grant Bovey. At a meeting of member clubs the FA of Ireland unanimously vote to oppose a plan to relocate Wimbledon to Dublin. The English FA confirm that they are to bid for the 2006 World Cup. Villa Park's PR department have been earning their corn: Mark Bosnich now claims to have been doing a John Cleese impersonation (but without the funny walk) as a "jocular acknowledgment" of the Spurs fans' comments. The FA announce that Bosnich will be charged with misconduct. Gordon Taylor alleges that players have been threatened with the sack if they vote in favour of the strike in the PFA's ballot. "Players have been intimidated by chairmen. I know who they are but don't think it will help matters if I reveal it publicly." The man who pioneered tinted specs for football managers is back: Alan Mullery is to become director of football (whatever) at Barnet, without a boss since Ray Clemence palled up with Glenn.

Tuesday 15 The travelling circus otherwise known as the Newcastle defence gets a warm reception in Budapest, where Ferencvaros are gifted three goals in their UEFA Cup tie. Les and Alan get two at the other end and a contentious offside decision prevents an equalizer in the last minute, but still. "In Europe you need to keep a clean sheet and get the job done in the first leg away from home," says Kev, locking the stable door, as per. Aberdeen's record of not having got past the second round in Europe for ten years is unlikely to be disrupted after a 2-0 defeat at home to Brondby. Hot favourite for this month's Orlando Trustfull Award for the best-named overseas player to join an English club is Galatasaray's Dutch defender Ulrich Van Gobbel, the latest beneficiary of Graeme Souness' mania for signing players from his previous team.

Wednesday 16 Eric Gets Himself A Turkaway says the Sun as Man Utd finally win away in Europe, 2-0 against Fenerbahce, goals from Beckham and Cantona. Though not quite the "return to hell" that the papers were hoping for, it is still a fraught evening: a UEFA official has to intervene to stop the stadium announcer whipping up the crowd during the match and the team bus is hit by stones on its way to the airport. Rangers crash again, 4-1 away to Ajax, with Paul Gascoigne sent off during the first half for aiming a kick at an opponent. "It was inexcusable - he had to go," says Ally McCoist, a hint that Paul's formidable bonding powers will have been tested to the limit on the journey home. Up to 85 people are believed to have been killed in a crush at the main football stadium in Guatemala, where a World Cup qualifier with Costa Rica was about to be played.

Thursday 17 Liverpool win their Cup Winners' Cup tie in Sion 2-1, with Robbie Fowler back from injury, getting the first. Paul Gascoigne is fined two weeks wages by Rangers for being sent off against Ajax, with Walter Smith's comment that "understanding can only go so far" fuelling speculation that Rangers are looking to sell "England's unruly star" (Daily Mail). But then who would buy? The court case prompted by Alan Sugar's claim to have been libelled in Terry Venables' biography ends with Terry paying £100,000 to a charity of Al's choice, and another flurry of particularly poor quips - Alan: "He suffers from dyslexia you know. He gets everything back to front.." Terry: "He only shook hands with Mark Bosnich to make it look like he's got a mate." 'Ere, no, missus.

Saturday 19 Arsenal go top after a bad-tempered goalless draw with Coventry which ends with Steve Ogrizovic being carried off with a broken nose after a collision with Ian Wright, of whom Ogrizovic says, "He deliberately kneed me. I hope someone at the club takes him to task or he's going to keep getting away with it." Wimbledon's seventh successive win, 4-2 at Chelsea, lifts them to second place (good enough for a Champions League spot now, of course - ITV bosses, and their advertisers, will be having nightmares soon). Sunderland keeper Tony Coton may not play again after breaking his leg in two places during their match at Southampton. Brighton, six points adrift at the bottom of Division Three after losing at Doncaster, are offered a groundshare with Gillingham for next season. The Irish League game between Portadown and Cliftonville, the only league club with a predominantly Catholic support, is abandoned at half time, the Cliftonville players refusing to continue following earlier attacks on their fans. A nice row is brewing between the English and German FAs after the latter alleges that Sir Bert Millichip has reneged on a promise that Germany would have a free run as European candidates for the 2006 World Cup, in exchange for their backing England as Euro 96 hosts. With Brazil, Argentina and South Africa expected to bid and Big Jo√£o seemingly determined that the event should be held outside Europe, it's going to get a lot dirtier yet . . .

Sunday 20 Wooooh. Newcastle 5, Man Utd 0, the latter's heaviest defeat since they lost by the same score at Everton in 1984 and the worst defeat in Alex Ferguson's managerial career. "I tell our players our fans expect miracles. Today we were near to giving them one," says Kev, relishing revenge for the Charity Shield debacle. Newcastle go top, Man Utd are five points behind in fifth place. Experts on drainage are advised to send their CVs to Anfield after the Merseyside derby is called off due to the appearance of a small lake on the surface of the pitch.

Monday 21 Steve Ogrizovic decides against taking further action against Ian Wright for rearranging his nose, and the police say they won't be pressing charges against players from Coventry and Arsenal after investigating an alleged brawl in the tunnel at half-time. Look out for a sprightly return fixture in April.

Tuesday 22 Chelsea vice-chairman Matthew Harding is killed when a helicopter taking him from their match at Bolton crashes into woodland. Harding, 41, had spent around £20 million of his personal fortune on the club, including buying the leasehold of Stamford Bridge in 1995. Chelsea lose the game 2-1. In other ties, Blackburn's dire run continues with a 1-0 home defeat by Stockport, Wimbledon are held at home by Luton, and Gillingham come back from two down to draw with Coventry.

Thursday 24 A nervous night for Premier League clubs in the Coke: Southampton are held at home by Lincoln (purveyors, according to Graeme Souness, of "the sort of football that in my opinion should never be played"), while Liverpool and Arsenal survive grillings to draw at Charlton and Stoke respectively. Spurs get a last minute winner at home to Sunderland and Leeds lose to Villa again, this time 2-1 at Elland Road, which makes one win in eight games since George Graham took over. Howard Wilkinson might be forcing a smile. Hearts, in pursuit of their first major trophy since 1962, reach the Scottish Coke Final after beating Dundee 3-1. Bloody football, you can't escape it: the next close season will be the shortest ever, just six weeks; 1997-98 will kick off on August 2nd and finish in early May in order to allow England time to prepare for the World Cup Finals (no sniggering at the back).

Friday 25 The least surprising news of the month: Ray Harford resigns as Blackburn boss saying, as so many departing managers have before him, "The final straw was the defeat at Stockport." Will Kenny be tempted back? How about Joe Kinnear? Or one of the Howards? Or Johan Cruyff, who doubtless would be happy to save on Rovers' hotel bills by kipping on the floor at his son's place.

Saturday 26 As responses go, it's novel. Man Utd react to their thrashing at Newcastle by losing 6-3 at Southampton, whose new Norwegian striker Egil Ostenstadt gets a hat-trick. Rascally Roy Keane is sent off after 20 minutes and Alex Ferguson, as you'd expect, is inclined to think the ref's action affected the outcome: "We were terribly disappointed and we just didn't get any crucial decisions." Arsenal go top after a 3-0 win over Leeds at Highbury, where the returning George Graham sees his new team go two down inside five minutes, while Newcastle, kept at bay by Kasey Keller, lose 2-0 at Leicester. At Stamford Bridge Chelsea beat Spurs 3-1 in a match described by Ruud Gullit, who scores the first goal, as "a perfect tribute to Matthew Harding".

Tuesday 29 Franco-Colombian co-operation sees Newcastle through to the Third Round of the UEFA Cup with a 4-0 over Ferencvaros at St James' Park, Faustino Asprilla gets the first two, the third is a spectacular volley from David Ginola. "When you drool over Real Madrid and Barcelona, have a look at the tapes and see if they were any better than us," says Kev, feistily. The habitually 'unsettled' Nick Barmby leaves Middlesbrough for Everton for £5.75 million. Bryan Robson says he will use the money to buy defenders, for a change. A consortium headed by former Spurs chairman Irving Scholar has joined the throng bidding to take control at Nottingham Forest - so Forest fans may be soon be hearing a load of half-arsed ideas about 'diversification', as if they haven't got enough problems.

Wednesday 30 Man Utd lose their 40-year unbeaten home record in Europe with a 1-0 defeat to Fenerbahce in the Champions League. They could still qualify for the final stages, but will probably need four points from their final two matches. "We didn't deserve to lose, but these things happen," says Alex Ferguson, again. Rangers' interest in the competition ends with a 1-0 home defeat by Ajax.

Thursday 31 A nervous night for Liverpool in their Cup Winners' tie with Sion: twice behind on aggregate on the night, they come back to win 6-3. "We defended badly and in Europe you don't normally get away with it," says Roy Evans. According to the Daily Mail, Rangers are talking to Kenny Dalglish about his heading a new Europe-wide scouting network which will help prepare for the (fanfare please) European League which is apparently due to happen within four years. And to which Rangers will doubtless be one of the first clubs to be invited, as they'd represent a guaranteed six points for all the others.

From WSC 118 December 1996. What was happening this month

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