Tuesday 1 Chelsea’s 1‑0 Champions League defeat at Real Betis is apparently their worst performance under José: “The first half was too bad to be true.” Liverpool lead the group after a 3‑0 win over Anderlecht, during which the visitors’ Nenad Jestrovic is sent off for racially abusing Momo Sissoko. Rangers can still progress despite a 2‑2 draw in Bratislava against Artmedia. It emerges that a Roy Keane interview for MUTV in which he heavily criticised team‑mates was not broadcast on Sir Alex’s insistence. Luton’s 4‑0 defeat at runaway Championship leaders Sheffield Utd is made worse by the news that plans for a new ground are to be scrapped. Mike Newell is unhappy with his board: “These people have been in charge for 18 months, so why has it taken them 18 months to find out they can’t build a stadium?” Millwall are four points adrift at the foot following a 2‑1 defeat at Burnley. Peter Shirtliff is named Mansfield manager.
Wednesday 2 From bad to worse for Man Utd, who are beaten 1‑0 at Lille and drop to third in their CL group. “We just have to see it through. It is not a problem,” says Sir Alex, while travelling fans chant Roy Keane’s name. Arsenal, though, qualify for the knockout stage by beating Sparta Prague 3‑0. Thierry Henry, scorer of the first, celebrates by mimicking the penalty routine that he and Robert Pires cocked up against Man City. He’s a card, you see.
Friday 4 Arsène turns down José Mourinho’s offer of a truce over their recent public spat and says he may still take legal action over being described as a “voyeur”.
Saturday 5 “I can’t deny that I am not unhappy to have 25 points,” says Paul Jewell as Wigan win again, 2‑0 at Portsmouth. Birmingham’s fifth successive defeat, 1‑0 at Newcastle, is their worst run in 12 years, though the goal is down to another mistake by keeper Maik Taylor. They’re kept off the bottom by Sunderland, who are beaten 3‑1 at Arsenal. Villa lose for the third game in a row, 2‑0 at home to Liverpool, whose first goal is a soft late penalty for a foul on Peter Crouch. David O’Leary is hopping: “The referee couldn’t wait to give certain decisions in favour of their big players.” Charlton lose their 100 per cent away record with a 4‑1 defeat at Blackburn. Sheffield Utd lead the Championship with a stonking 44 points after a 3‑2 win at Palace, three points ahead of Reading, 2‑1 winners at QPR, and a further 12 in front of third‑placed Watford. Millwall remain the only League club without a home win, losing 3‑1 to relegation rivals Crewe. In the FA Cup, Burscough of the Northern Premier score twice in the last two minutes to knock out Gillingham 3‑2; Tamworth from the Conference win 2‑1 at Bournemouth. Among the four League clubs held to draws by non-League opposition are Forest, whose first appearance at this stage since 1950 ends 1‑1 with Weymouth. Colchester equal a club record with a 9‑1 defeat of Leamington.
Sunday 6 Man Utd 1 Chelsea 0, Darren Fletcher scoring in the first half. A fired-up Sir Alex tells a post-match TV interviewer that reports of him being under pressure were “absolute bollocks”. José affects nonchalance about his team’s first defeat in 40 league matches: “Manchester United are not good enough to be champions, only to finish closer to us.” Everton’s 1‑0 defeat of Middlesbrough takes them out of the bottom three. Chasetown of the Midland Alliance, four levels below the Conference, draw 1‑1 with Oldham in their FA Cup first-round match.
Monday 7 Bolton go third by beating Spurs 1‑0, Kevin Nolan ignoring what Sam Allardyce says is club policy by shooting from outside the area. Graham Rix, who was set to be the new manager of Crawley Town, is the astonishing choice as Hearts’ new coach; he’ll work with a director of football yet to be appointed. Lennie Lawrence joins coach Paul Trollope as the new management team at Bristol Rovers.
Tuesday 8 Liverpool chief executive Rick Parry admits to meeting with US multimillionaire Robert Kraft, owner of the NFL’s New England Patriots, in relation to funding for the club’s proposed new stadium. Terry Venables claims not to have been approached about the Ireland manager’s job despite suddenly being made odds‑on favourite. Abel Xavier has tested positive for a steroid in the second sample from his September drugs test.
Wednesday 9 Celtic’s 2‑0 win over Rangers in their CIS insurance Cup quarter‑final could mean curtains for Alex McLeish, whose side are third in the SPL, 12 points behind leaders Hearts. Cardiff’s 3‑1 win at Sheffield Wednesday takes them up to fifth in the Championship, their highest League position for 22 years (when they went on to finish 15th).
Thursday 10 Portsmouth owner Milan Mandaric, thinking aloud, appears ready to sack manager Alain Perrin: “Maybe it is a matter of motivation, like some English managers find, such as Neil Warnock. Maybe it is time for street-fighters, not professors.” Colin Hendry is fired by Blackpool, currently 21st in League One.
Friday 11 The Scottish FA confirm that they won’t be contributing players to the British Olympic squad due to take part in the 2012 London Games. The chief executive of the new Wembley stadium concedes that it may not be ready for this season’s Cup final, but the FA’s Brian Barwick is on the case: “We have taken the prudent step of booking Cardiff’s Millennium Stadium.” A record crowd for an England Under-21 match, 34,574 at White Hart Lane, sees a 1‑1 draw with France in the European Championship play-off first leg.
Saturday 12 England actually look like a good team in beating Argentina 3‑2, with two Michael Owen goals in the last three minutes. “I always said this would not be a normal friendly but a real one,” says Sven of a highly competitive match that passes off peacefully, though the tabloids gorge themselves on stories of the Argentina players singing inflammatory songs beforehand. Scotland avoid defeat at Hampden for the first time in eight friendlies there, drawing 1‑1 with the USA. Swansea take over at the top of League One after a 2‑1 win away to previous leaders Southend; MK Dons move out of the relegation area for the first time by winning 2‑1 at struggling Tranmere, whose manager Brian Little is criticised by his chief executive for not having spent enough money. Man Utd discover that their dressing room was bugged before the Chelsea match after the perpetrators attempt to sell the tapes to the Sun.
Monday 14 In the presence of Sky cameras seeking a cataclysm, Forest win their FA Cup first-round replay 2‑0 at Weymouth. Terry Venables graciously lets it be known that he would, in fact, be prepared to consider the Ireland job. More stirrings at Southampton as Clive Woodward’s “head of sports science”, Simon Clifford, departs; the club deny that it was due to him having criticised other members of the coaching staff.
Tuesday 15 Sports Minister Richard Caborn announces that under the UK’s presidency of the European Union, there will be a continent-wide investigation into “football’s excesses”, including players’ salaries and the activities of agents. The big bananas of UEFA and FIFA will attend a confab to this end in early December. England Under-21s won’t be at the European Championship after losing 2‑1 to their French counterparts through a late penalty. Northern Ireland’s seniors draw 1‑1 with Portugal. There are no surprises in the FA Cup replays, though Halifax and Harrogate take League opponents Rushden and Torquay to penalties. After only five months in charge, Neale Cooper resigns as manager of Gillingham, relegated in May and now third bottom of League One.
Wednesday 16 After four previous play-off defeats, Australia qualify for the World Cup in a penalty shootout against Uruguay. Trinidad are there, too, Wrexham’s Dennis Lawrence scoring the only goal of their match in Bahrain. FIFA are to investigate the violence involving both teams at the end of Turkey’s play-off with Switzerland, which the latter won on away goals. Sepp Blatter narrows his eyes: “We will act here and we will act tough. This was anti-fair play.” “I have never seen an international side perform as badly as that,” says John Toshack of Wales’s 1‑0 defeat in Cyprus. In the FA Cup, Burton Albion knock out Peterborough, 1‑0. The government say they would back any England bid to host the 2018 World Cup, to the surprise of the FA who have not made any announcement yet.
Thursday 17 The Premier League reach agreement with the European Commission, who had threatened legal action over Sky’s monopoly of live coverage. More than one broadcaster will acquire rights to Premiership games in the next TV deal, beginning in 2007-08. Rangers chairman David Murray expects to replace Alex McLeish in December if the team’s poor run continues: “We must see a marked improvement in performances. If not, reluctantly, Alex would have to go.”
Friday 18 Roy Keane leaves Man Utd, seemingly after another flare-up, though the direct cause is being kept under wraps. Sir Alex pays tribute: “He is already one of the great figures in our club’s illustrious history.” Portsmouth are first to offer him a new home – “Roy Keane is exactly the kind of positive character we would welcome,” says chief executive Peter Storrie – but Celtic are the most likely destination. Derby lose their status as the only League club to score in every match this season with a 3‑0 defeat by Wolves.
Saturday 19 Chelsea are nine points clear again after beating Newcastle 3‑0, while Wigan end a run of six successive wins by losing 3‑2 at home to Arsenal. José has a post-match attack of modesty – “I said pre-season that we will win the title on the last day of the season and I still think so” – while Paul Jewell is wary of the praise directed at his players: “I don’t want it to be a glorious defeat and to be patronised.” Charlton slide down to halfway after a fourth home defeat, 3‑1 to Man Utd. Everton are back in the bottom three after a 4‑0 thrashing at West Brom, after which an ashen David Moyes keep his players in the dressing room for almost another 90 minutes. Sunderland stay anchored to the bottom after a 3‑1 home defeat by Villa. Championship leaders Sheffield Utd require a late equaliser for a 2‑2 draw with bottom club Millwall, but are still ten points clear of third-placed Watford. Leeds stage the comeback of the season: three down at Southampton with 20 minutes left, they win 4‑3. Harry Redknapp shakes his head: “I can’t put my finger on why that happened but it’s no use shouting and screaming.” QPR have nine players booked, but no one sent off, during their 3‑1 defeat at Plymouth. Huddersfield’s 0‑0 draw with Bradford keeps them two points behind League One leaders Swansea, who won last night; three Rotherham players are dismissed in a 1‑1 draw at Barnsley. In League Two, Wycombe’s 3‑1 defeat of Grimsby takes them a point clear of Leyton Orient, held 2‑2 at home by Stockport; Mansfield’s match at Shrewsbury is called off after their goalkeeping coach Peter Wilson dies of a heart attack during the warm‑up. Alex McLeish will have started packing away his desktoys after Rangers’ 3‑0 defeat at Celtic.
Sunday 20 Middlesbrough score twice late on to beat Fulham 3‑2, though their equaliser, a Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink shot deflected in by a prone Yakubu Aiyegbeni, appears offside. “We are away from home and have to take that into consideration,” says Chris Coleman, darkly. West Ham get an injury-time equaliser for a 1‑1 draw at Spurs, who will make a complaint about some away fans’ racial abuse of Egyptian striker Mido.
Tuesday 22 With Old Trafford resounding to chants of “Keano”, Man Utd fail to score for the fourth time in five Champions League games; their 0‑0 draw with Lille leaves them in need of a win away to Benfica in their last match. Eric Cantona dispels any thoughts Malcolm Glazer may have had about getting him involved: “I don’t like these kind of people. I will fight in whatever way to get Glazer out of this club.” Arsenal ride their luck in winning 1‑0 at Thun with a late penalty. Reading go top of the Championship by winning 3‑0 at Ipswich, while Sheffield United draw at Wolves.
Wednesday 23 Liverpool and Chelsea both qualify for the CL knockout stage, through a 0‑0 draw with Betis and a 2‑0 defeat of Anderlecht respectively. Rafa Benítez takes a moment to compliment the still goalless Peter Crouch’s teamwork: “We have qualified because he, for me, has been the key to everything we do.” Rangers still have a chance after a 1‑1 draw in Porto. Abel Xavier receives an 18-month ban for his failed drugs test; Middlesbrough will sack him if he loses an appeal.
Thursday 24 Alain Perrin is sacked by Portsmouth after just four wins in his 21 games in charge. Club captain Dejan Stefanovic doesn’t quite manage a fond farewell: “Some players had good opinions of him and some had bad.” Middlesbrough’s goalless draw in Alkmaar takes them through to the next stage of the UEFA Cup; Bolton can still qualify after a 1‑1 draw against Guimarães.
Friday 25 Having been seriously ill for several weeks, George Best dies aged 59. “He was the greatest talent our football has ever produced, easily,” says Sir Alex. The mysterious MSI consortium, who may have links to Roman Abramovich, drop their interest in West Ham after failing to agree a price with the club’s directors.
Saturday 26 Birmingham City win the battle of the bottom two, 1‑0 at Sunderland. Mick McCarthy ticks several boxes: “We showed no character, spirit, aggression or determination – which is a worry.” Chelsea take an 11-point lead with victory at Portsmouth. Before the match Harry Redknapp is asked about rumours that he might return to Fratton Park: “If I said I wanted to go back now I would be crucified. That’s all I need.” With Wigan losing 2‑1 at home to Spurs, Arsenal go second after a 3‑0 defeat of Blackburn; in scoring the second, Thierry Henry becomes the first player ever to get 100 league goals at Highbury. “This is his garden here and he feels completely at ease,” says Arsène. The minute’s silence for George Best is not observed by some of the crowd at the Man City v Liverpool match and is cut short at Millwall, where visiting Leeds fans disrupt it. Their team go on to win 1‑0 with an injury time own goal, keeping them fourth in the Championship. Reading take a four‑point lead with a 2‑0 win at Plymouth while Sheffield United, whose manager Neil Warnock is being strongly linked with the Portsmouth job, lose 4‑2 at Leicester. Swansea’s 2‑2 draw at Tranmere means they only lead League One on goal difference from Huddersfield, who beat Forest 2‑1. Wycombe’s League Two lead extends to three points after they beat Carlisle 1‑0; Grimsby and Leyton Orient are joint second. Celtic’s SPL advantage is cut to a point as they fall to a first home defeat of the season, 1‑0 to Dunfermline, while Hearts draw 1‑1 at Motherwell courtesy of a last-minute penalty.
Sunday 27 Man Utd are second after coming back from conceding a first-minute goal to beat West Ham 2‑1. Joseph Yobo’s header sets up another 1‑0 win for Everton to move them out of the bottom three, at Portsmouth’s expense, though visitors Newcastle should have had a penalty at 0‑0 for a James McFadden handball – Graeme Souness duly skips the post-match press chat. Six Bolton players are booked and El Hadji Diouf gets a second yellow card for dissent after the final whistle in the 2‑1 defeat at Fulham. Sam Allardyce believes that Graham Poll’s performance was affected by the new earpiece he was testing out: “Incidents in the game were caused specifically by the referee being wired up.” Hibs are only three points off the top of the SPL after a 2‑1 victory over Rangers, for whom this was a club record eighth game without a win. “I don’t quit and I’m not a quitter,” says Alex McLeish, just so you know.
From WSC 227 January 2006. What was happening this month