Tuesday 2 Chelsea gazump Man Utd over PSV’s Arjen Robben, who will join them in the summer for £13 million. PSV chairman Harry van Raaij accuses United of cutting their original bid in half: “We were very disappointed over how low they believed they could push us.” The top two in Division One, Norwich and West Brom, draw 0-0 at Carrow Road. Forest, unbeaten in five games under Joe Kinnear, go four points clear of the drop zone after a 1-0 win at Wimbledon. Plymouth stretch their lead in the Second to four points after beating Sheffield Wed 2-0, as Bristol City are held 1-1 at home by Wycombe.
Wednesday 3 Liverpool ease into the next round of the UEFA Cup with a 4-2 win at Levski Sofia. Meanwhile, Gérard Houllier, who’s received a death threat being investigated by Merseyside Police, responds to another wave of criticism: “When fans and some former players attack me they attack my team.” Newcastle and Celtic are through, too. Having been pointed in the direction of the door recently, Ken Bates decides to step down as Chelsea chairman, saying: “It has become clear it is a clash of eastern and western values.” There are raised eyebrows around Old Trafford, and indeed Goodison Park, as former Everton manager Walter Smith, 56 and out of work for two years, is appointed Sir Alex’s assistant until the end of the season. Hearts want to play a league match next season at the Melbourne Cricket Ground (capacity – 90,000) with Celtic as the likely opponents. Sure to prove a huge boost for the game down under.
Thursday 4 Paul Sturrock leaves Plymouth to become Southampton manager. Argyle vice-chairman Peter Jones seems to be coping: “We have a choice – squeal like a stuck pig or roll up our sleeves and get on with it.” Nine Leicester players are arrested, four on charges of sexual assault, after an incident at a La Manga hotel.
Saturday 6 Man Utd come from behind to beat Fulham 2-1 in their FA Cup quarter-final, after Steed Malbranque becomes the first visiting player to score from the spot at Old Trafford since Ruel Fox for Norwich 11 years ago. In the day’s other tie Arsenal win 5-1 at Portsmouth. In Division One, Wigan lose 3-2 at home to Crewe to fall further behind West Brom, who win 3-0 at home to Coventry. At the bottom Forest lose for the first time under Joe Kinnear, 2-1 at Gillingham, while Ronnie Wallwork scores twice as Bryan Robson’s Bradford beat Rotherham 2-1. “The lads know the gaffer will leave if we go down. Playing for him is an inspiration,” says Ronnie. At the top of the Second, Plymouth and QPR both draw, while Bristol City lose again, 2-0 at second-bottom Stockport, now eight points clear of Wycombe. In the Third, second-placed Hull lose 1-0 at Mansfield and Huddersfield go level with Oxford in third after a 1-0 win at the Kassam Stadium.
Sunday 7 Sunderland beat Sheffield United 1-0 in one FA Cup quarter-final, while Tranmere’s John Achterberg saves a penalty from Kevin Muscat as Rovers draw 0-0 at The Den in the other. “It would be nice to go back to Holland in the UEFA Cup next season,” says Achterberg, in a departure from the usual approach of taking it one game at a time. Birmingham go fifth, level on points with Newcastle, after a 2-0 defeat of Bolton. In Division One Norwich beat Ipswich 3-1. “[Norwich] are simply not good enough to be top. If they are to stand a chance of staying up they will need 15 new players,” advises Ipswich’s Fabian Wilnis. In the Scottish Cup fifth round, Celtic beat Rangers 1-0.
Monday 8 Their team-mates are home but Frank Sinclair, Keith Gillespie and Paul Dickov are in a Spanish jail. “If they’re guilty of anything, they’re guilty of being unprofessional 24 hours before a training session,” says Micky Adams. Leeds sack Jody Morris for turning up drunk.
Tuesday 9 Man Utd are out of the Champions League, Porto’s 89th-minute equaliser taking them through 3-2 on aggregate. “You get shocked in life and I suppose you couldn’t see that one coming,” says Sir Alex, who is philosophical about a wrongly disallowed goal that would have had his team 2-0 up before half-time: “You can’t understand it, but that’s football.” Chelsea eliminate Stuttgart with a 0-0 home draw.
Wednesday 10 Arsenal complete a 5-2 aggregate win over Celta Vigo but Arsène plays down their chances: “I wouldn’t make us super-favourites as Real and Milan are in there. If you look at their calibre, you become humble.” Chelsea will “vigorously defend” a lawsuit brought by Ken Bates, who claims up to £2m in expenses. Brian Talbot, who quit Rushden on Monday, is now Oldham manager.
Thursday 11 Rab Douglas and two Barcelona players are sent off during Celtic’s 1-0 UEFA Cup home win. Newcastle come from behind to beat Mallorca 4-1. Laurent Robert, who makes two and scores another, continues to baffle his manager: “In the first half, he took a corner and it took him 17 and a half minutes to get back to the halfway line, but in the second half he was a player again.” Liverpool are held to a 1-1 home draw by Marseille, whose reaction has Gérard all fired up: “I think Marseille have done my team talk for the second leg for me by singing in their dressing room.” The Leicester three are released.
Saturday 13 Arsenal stroll on with a 2-0 win at Blackburn. Thierry Henry, who gets the first goal from a free-kick described as “a poxy award” by Graeme Souness, is denied another by the referee after lifting the ball off Brad Friedel’s foot as he took a goal-kick. Chelsea make harder work of their own 2-0 win, at Bolton where Sam Allardyce is not mollified by his side’s good performance: “We are paid to win, not entertain and lose.” David Beckham, meanwhile, attacks rumours linking him with a move to Stamford Bridge: “Why do people have to lie? There is no question of me putting in a transfer request.” Leicester, whose fans display banners saying “Keep The Faith”, get a first win in 14, 1-0 at Birmingham. West Brom are joint leaders of the First, winning 2-1 at Crewe while Norwich lose to Cardiff. Debutant Paul Peschisolido scores in Derby’s 1-0 win over Rotherham – they’re now only two points adrift and one point separates the next six clubs. In the Second, Brentford drop into the relegation zone after a 2-0 home defeat by Stockport. At the bottom of the Third, Carlisle are two points behind Macclesfield after a 2-0 win over Oxford, which pushes the latter out of the automatic promotion places.
Sunday 14 “This a terrible result for us,” whispers Sir Alex, as Man Utd lose 4-1 for City’s first home win in five months. Michael Owen misses another penalty in a 2-0 defeat at Southampton. Newcastle fail to go fourth, Andy O’Brien’s late own goal settling their match at Spurs. David Pleat, possibly delirious, is dreaming of a UEFA Cup spot: “We’re just like Arsenal, focusing on the next game.” Wolves’ home form deserts them in a 4-0 defeat by Villa, to the despair of Dave Jones: “It took us half an hour to even get a tackle in.”
Monday 15 There will be a two-week winter break for the Premier League next season after a plea by Sven sways the 90-man FA Council. Liverpool confirm billionaire Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra wants to buy a stake. Dwight Yorke and Graeme Souness nearly come to blows in training but the latter plays it down: “I used to see worse virtually every week as a player. We live in a man’s world.”
Tuesday 16 Millwall reach the FA Cup semis for the first time since 1937 after a 2-1 win at Tranmere. Chairman Theo Paphitis expects to get a call: “If Chelsea are looking for another manager they should be thinking about nobody but Dennis Wise.” Norwich and WBA go 11 points clear in the First after beating Gillingham and Wigan respectively, though Nigel Worthington is disturbed by boos from the Carrow Road crowd during a goalless first half: “Supporters versus players at their own stadium is really not helpful.” Leicester’s Three Amigos play in a reserve match at Southampton, while Micky Adams hits back at critics: “I’ve been told by people who don’t know me that I am being too soft. I won’t say anything until I know the facts.” The G-14 clubs decline to take part in the next FIFA World Club Championship in 2005: “We have no wish to fill the schedules even more,” says Bayern president Karl-Heinz Rummenigge.
Wednesday 17 “Tonight even the misses were quality,” says Gérard as Michael Owen’s mini-crisis comes to an end with two goals in Liverpool’s 3-0 win over Portsmouth. At the bottom of Division One Burnley are ten minutes short of a first away win since September when, tsk, their former player Gareth Taylor scores Forest’s equaliser in a 1-1 draw. West Ham’s win 4-2 over Crewe takes them third.
Thursday 18 Rio Ferdinand is said to be “devastated” after his eight-month ban for failing to take a drugs test is upheld, though the appeal panel say that he didn’t avoid the test for “drug related” reasons. “Wimbledon”’s creditors accept a takeover bid from a consortium led by music promoter Pete Winkelman. Andy Cole makes a complaint to the Professional Footballers Association over not being given enough time off by Graeme Souness. Martin Allen leaves Barnet to take over at Brentford in place of Wally Downes. John Taylor is dismissed by Cambridge, 20th in Division Three. More surprisingly, Brian Flynn leaves Swansea, whose 2-1 defeat at Macclesfield on Saturday was their only loss in six games.
Friday 19 Leeds are taken over by a consortium headed by insolvency practitioner Gerald Krasner, who says: “The club is off life support and can now move forward.” The new board will include Peter Lorimer and the son of ex-Bradford chairman Geoffrey Richmond. Oxford suspend Ian Atkins after Bristol Rovers announce he has agreed to join them in June. Wales fail to have Russia thrown out of Euro 2004 for Yegor Titov’s positive drugs test.
Saturday 20 On the windiest day of the year several matches are postponed and two, at Northampton and Mansfield, abandoned. An Everton fan is killed by flying debris en route to the 1-1 draw at Leicester. Dippy Duncan Ferguson is sent off in the first half and may be charged by the FA after gesturing to the home crowd and shaking Steffen Freund by the throat. At the other end of the table, Arsenal’s 2-1 defeat of Bolton equals the record for an unbeaten start to the season, though Arsène spots a fault: “In the last ten minutes we became a little tense.” Sir Alex is buoyant after Man Utd’s first clean sheet in ten games, a 3-0 win over Spurs: “We intend to go to Highbury next week to win.” Liverpool’s 90th-minute winner at home to Wolves takes them fourth; Newcastle also leapfrog Charlton after beating them 3-1. Two of the Premiership’s stingiest defences take a day off at the Riverside where Middlesbrough beat Birmingham 5-3. Seventeen-year-old Dean Bowditch becomes the youngest Ipswich player to score a hat-trick, in their 4-1 defeat of Watford. The wind plays a part in Derby’s 4-2 win over Forest, whose keeper Barry Roche kicks a plastic coffee cup in attempting to clear a back pass, Paul Peschisolido picking up the loose ball to score, and in QPR’s equaliser in a 2-2 draw at Wycombe, where Martin Rowlands’ cross is picked up by a sudden gust and drops just under the bar. Rangers stay second in Division Two as Bristol City’s promotion nerves jangle again with a 2-0 home defeat to Oldham.
Sunday 21 Yakubu Aiyegbeni settles the Hampshire derby – only Portsmouth’s second post-war League victory over Southampton. They now trail Leicester only on goal difference. Mounted police have to prevent away fans from invading the pitch at Millwall, who miss two penalties but still beat West Ham 4-1. Blackpool win the LDV Vans Trophy, their third victory at the Millennium Stadium, beating Southend 2-0.
Monday 22 Leeds move off the bottom after beating Man City 2-1 with a late penalty, awarded by Alan Wiley, that angers Little Kev: “It’s not this referee’s job to help Leeds.” Claudio Ranieri is said to have told his players he won’t be at Chelsea next season. Chief executive Peter Kenyon just waffles on about the meejah: “This unprecedented and continuous speculation about Claudio’s future is unhelpful to our manager and the players.” There’s further intrigue at Liverpool where businessman Steve Morgan has said he will put £50m into the club in exchange for shares and a seat on the board.
Tuesday 23 Craig Bellamy has a fight with Newcastle coach John Carver before the team fly out to Mallorca for their UEFA Cup tie – horseplay and high jinks are not suspected. Barnet take legal action against Martin Allen, who now may have to serve two months’ notice before being allowed to return to Brentford. Former Cameroon coach Claude Le Roy is allegedly set to be the new manager of Cambridge. “It’s the most exciting appointment in our history,” says chairman Gary Harwood, clean forgetting about John Beck. Sheffield Utd still trail the top two in the First Division by seven points after being held to a 1-1 draw by Derby. Sunderland are a point behind them in fourth after beating Gillingham 2-1.
Wednesday 24 “You’ll have to kill us to reach the Champions League semi-finals,” says Claudio after Arsenal leave Stamford Bridge with a 1-1 draw, Robert Pires equalising with a header of all things after Jens Lehmann’s miskick had let in Eidur Gudjohnsen for the opening goal. Aston Villa reject a takeover bid from a group led by former Man City defender Ray Ranson, now an insurance broker and provider of “advice” to Leeds.
Thursday 25 Despite taking the lead through Emile Heskey (yes, him), Liverpool go out of the UEFA Cup after a controversial 2-1 defeat at Marseille. Phil Thompson goes through his repertoire of hand signals to the crowd and Gérard seethes over the home side’s equalising penalty and consequent red card for Igor Biscan: “Tonight the referee has inflicted a terrible blow on Liverpool Football Club.” It’s a happier night for his mooted successor, though: “This is up with some of the great evenings we had last year,” says Martin O’Neill as defensive heroics, notably from goalkeeper David Marshall, earn Celtic a goalless draw at Barcelona. Newcastle’s 3-0 win in Mallorca completes a 7-1 aggregate success, though empty-room row specialist Laurent Robert still manages to fall out with Sir Bobby over being substituted. Ken Bates offers to invest upwards of £10m in Sheffield Wednesday but does little to reassure current boss Chris Turner: “I don’t know of a successful manager who’s ever played as a goalkeeper.” Brian Laws leaves Scunthorpe.
Saturday 27 The nation wakes up to a Sun front page showing a grainy picture of Sven paying a visit to Peter Kenyon’s house, apparently for talks that will lead to a summer exit from Soho Square. With Stamford Bridge ringing to cries of “We don’t want Eriksson”, Wolves shake Chelsea by taking a second-half lead but finally succumb 5-2, Jimmy Floyd getting a hat-trick. Leeds stay second bottom after slapstick defending helps Birmingham to a 4-1 victory. Blackburn lose again at their unlucky ground, Ewood Park, as Portsmouth round off what Harry Redknapp acknowledges as a “terrific week” with a first away win, 2-1. Claus Jensen misses a last-minute penalty in Charlton’s 2-1 home defeat by Villa that pushes them down to eighth. In the First, Burnley’s injury-time winner at Bradford lifts them out of the bottom three at the expense of Derby, who lose 2-1 at Sunderland. The Second Division relegation battle between Chesterfield and Grimsby is likely to feature in anthologies of wacky facts as their 4-4 draw is watched by 4,444. Carlisle’s Conference escape bid seems doomed after a 2-1 home defeat by Southend; second bottom Macclesfield are three points adrift after Marc Richards scores all Northampton’s goals in their 4-0 win.
Sunday 28 Arsenal set the record with a 1-1 draw against Man Utd, whose late Louis Saha equaliser seems to dampen the mood. “We have reminded everyone that we are not dead yet,” says Sir Alex, while acknowledging that the title is heading for Highbury. Leicester and Liverpool share a goalless draw that isn’t much use to either, though it does keep the latter in fourth place due to Newcastle’s 1-0 defeat at Bolton. Earlier, the FA announce that Sven has signed a new England contract taking him up to Euro 2008, turning most of the unread or as-yet unbought Sundays into a pile of pointless chip paper. No change there, then.
Wednesday 31 Sweden stretch their unbeaten run against England to 11 with a 1-0 win in Gothenburg. Among the eight substitutes used is Jermain Defoe, who gets his first cap as an early replacement for the injured Darius Vassell. “I was looking for answers from this game and he was definitely one of them,” says Sven. Anthony Gardner and Alan Thompson also make their debuts. Northern Ireland get their first win in two and half years thanks to David Healy’s goal in Estonia. The Republic beat the Czechs 2-1 with a last-minute goal from Robbie Keane. Wales win by the same score in a bad-tempered match in Budapest that ends with Hungary coach Lothar Matthäus confronting Robbie Savage. “It needs a little more time,” says Berti, after Scotland lose 2-1 at home Romania.
From WSC 207 May 2004. What was happening this month