Wednesday 1 “If you defend badly you deserve everything that happens to you,” growls Sir Alex as Man Utd concede two goals in three minutes in a 2-1 defeat at Stuttgart. After Chelsea’s 2-0 home defeat to Besiktas Claudio Ranieri defends his decision to make five changes from last weekend’s team: “It is easy to second-guess after the match but I did what I thought was right.” Rangers concede a late equaliser to draw 1-1 at Panathinaikos.
Thursday 2 “We like to think we are a caring and consulting club,” says Leeds chairman Prof John McKenzie, who decides not to sack Peter Reid after consulting with fan groups and shareholders. An Arsenal tenancy at Wembley could still happen after the board admit at their AGM to being £200 million short of the money needed for the new stadium at Ashburton Grove.
Saturday 4 Arsenal come from behind to beat Liverpool 2-1 at Anfield, Robert Pires scoring the winner, but the headlines belong to an injury to Michael Owen that could put him out of next weekend’s Euro 2004 qualifier in Turkey. Man Utd beat Birmingham 3-0 in a one-sided game at Old Trafford, all three goals coming after keeper Maik Taylor is sent off for upending Paul Scholes. “Today 67,000 people have been bored out of their trolley,” says a disgruntled Steve Bruce. Alan Shearer scores his 250th League goal as Newcastle respond to Bobby Robson’s call to produce the “game of their lives” by edging out Southampton 1-0. Fulham are fourth after a 2-0 home win against Leicester, Luis Boa Morte scoring twice. “I can’t stop thinking about the job. I’m losing my hair and my mates,” enthuses Chris Coleman. “How can I describe that goal? C’est magnifique,” gushes dizzy David Pleat after Freddie Kanouté’s 30-yard volley sets up Spurs’ 3-0 home win over Everton, while Wolves win at last, Colin Cameron scoring in a 1-0 home victory over Manchester City, to go level with Leicester at the bottom. West Brom top the First Division after a 2-0 win at Gillingham, while Wimbledon remain bottom after a 1-0 defeat at Preston. Speculation linking Steve Coppell with a move to Reading fails to prevent Brighton topping Division Two with a 3-0 home win over Blackpool. “We mustn’t think we’ve won the league already,” cautions Peter Taylor, as Hull City extend their lead in Division Three with a 5-1 win at Northampton.
Sunday 5 The FA delay announcing England’s squad to face Turkey amid rumours that a player may be facing a misconduct charge. Chelsea are a point behind leaders Arsenal with a game in hand after an 88th-minute header from Hernán Crespo completes a 2-1 win at the Riverside. “Football is such a cruel game,” sighs Steve McClaren, after a Mendieta-inspired Boro dominate the second half but end up fourth from bottom. Aston Villa draw at home to Bolton; Juan Pablo Angel equalises Kevin Nolan’s opener but has a tame penalty saved by Jussi Jaaskelainen. Celtic beat Rangers 1-0 at Ibrox to top the SPL. The News of the World publishes an interview with “party organiser” Nicholas Miekle, who is linked, along with several players, with the alleged rape of a 17-year-old at the Grosvenor House Hotel. Kieron Dyer, who is reported to have been elsewhere at the time, is said to have simply booked the room.
Tuesday 7 Rio Ferdinand is left out of England’s squad to face Turkey after failing to appear for a drugs test, supposedly because he was moving house that day and forgot. “It’s a pity but I’ve been told and I have to accept that,” says Sven, through gritted teeth. A Man Utd spokesman says the club is “deeply troubled” by the decision. According to PFA chief Gordon Taylor, the England players are considering a strike over Ferdinand’s omission. BSkyB are to sell their 9.9 per cent stake in Man Utd to Irish businessmen JP McManus and John Magnier, who will now own a quarter of the club. Craig Bellamy is fined £750 for his part in an altercation outside a Cardiff nightclub in March. A Leeds player is helping police investigations into an alleged sexual assault on Monday evening. On a lighter note (though not if you’re Nigerian) Bryan Robson is to be Nigeria’s new national coach on a six-month contract.
Wednesday 8 After meeting officials, England’s players decide to soldier on but criticise the FA in a statement: “We feel they have let us down very badly.” FA chief executive Mark Palios responds: “I have no doubt we have acted entirely properly throughout this extremely difficult and complex issue.” Colin Calderwood is the new manager of Northampton.
Thursday 9 Sol Campbell receives a £20,000 fine, rather than the expected ban, for his Community Shield kick at Eric Djemba-Djemba. Harry Redknapp is not pleased at getting a two-match touchline ban for a sarky thumbs-up to the fourth official at Molineux in August: “He was a young guy trying to make a name for himself.” “This club is set up for the Premiership,” says Steve Coppell on joining Reading. Jody Morris is suspended by Leeds after being released on police bail in connection with Monday night’s alleged assault.
Friday 10 Two Premiership players are interviewed by police investigating the London hotel rape. Man Utd claim to have withdrawn their threat of legal action against the FA over the handling of Wee-gate. Forty England fans are deported upon arriving in Turkey.
Saturday 11 England qualify for Euro 2004 after a 0-0 draw in Istanbul. The anticipated trouble doesn’t happen among supporters but in the players’ tunnel at half-time, where David Beckham reacts to being taunted by Alpay – the two had clashed earlier after Beckham skied a penalty. Several players are involved in the scuffles. “They’ve never failed when it matters,” says Sven, adding that he is “fed up” with questions about whether he’ll leave for Chelsea next summer. Scotland reach the play-offs with a 1-0 win over Lithuania; Wales are there, too, but their poor form continues with a 3-2 home defeat by Serbia & Montenegro. The Rep of Ireland finish third in their group after losing 2-0 in Switzerland. Northern Ireland stretch their run without a win to 13 games after losing to a penalty in Greece. Wigan miss a chance to go top of the First Division after Derby come back from two down to draw 2-2 at Pride Park with the aid of a controversial spot-kick – “If that was penalty, I’m a Chinaman,” says the distinctly Caucasian Paul Jewell. Brian Little takes over at Tranmere.
Monday 13 “We are the underdogs and we like those situations,” say Berti Vogts, disguising a gulp as Scotland draw Holland in their Euro 2004 play-off. Wales get Russia, with Mark Hughes making now-or-never noises: “We are at the point where we can go forward for the next ten years or we can stand still.” It is claimed the Istanbul tunnel fracas was started by Hasan Sas spitting at Ashley Cole, while there is some confusion over whether Wayne Rooney (middleweight, southpaw) swung a punch at Alpay.
Tuesday 14 Chelsea’s 0-0 draw at Birmingham City takes them back to the top of the Premiership on goal difference. Sheffield Utd replace West Brom on top of the First Division after beating them 2-0 at The Hawthorns. Ipswich score five before half-time in a 6-1 win over every striker’s favourite team, Burnley. FIFA want a three-month ban on Rio Ferdinand and will impose it themselves if the FA fail to. Alpay is set to be left out of Villa’s squad for the Birmingham derby this Sunday; Turkey coach Senol Gunes seems ready to drop him, too: “He cannot play on in the national team under these circumstances.” Video footage of the tunnel fight emerges, meaning players may be charged by UEFA. Marcio Maximo, the first Brazilian to manage a British team, resigns after four months, two wins, at Livingston.
Wednesday 15 Blackburn keep up a tradition of European failure, going out of the UEFA Cup after a 1-1 home draw with Genclerbirligi. Southampton also lose their tie, 2-1 on aggregate to Steaua Bucharest, with Gordon Strachan regretting several missed chances: “We are a better team than them.” “It certainly wasn’t exciting,” sighs Little Kev, as a Nicolas Anelka penalty takes Man City through against Lokeren. Liverpool and Newcastle complete aggregate wins of 4-1 and 6-0 over Olimpija Ljubljana and NAC Breda respectively. England strike ringleader Gary Neville tightens his mouth even further and says there is nothing to apologise for: “We had to play under massive pressure because of the stand we took. But we had the balls to see it through.” Contrary to their manager’s wishes, the Arsenal board accept all nine FA charges against their players over the Old Trafford gloat-in. Sammy McIlroy resigns from the Northern Ireland job to take over at Stockport. Mark McGhee is sacked by Millwall, seemingly on the insistence of the players. Wimbledon’s administrators say the club have until the end of the year to find a new owner to avoid going bust.
Saturday 18 Arsenal replace Chelsea at the top after a 2-1 win gifted to them by Carlo Cudicini spooning the ball directly into the path of Thierry Henry. Man Utd’s 1-0 win at Leeds takes them up to second, a point off the lead. Liverpool slide towards mid-table after a third successive defeat, Patrik Berger’s early goal for Portsmouth proving to be enough. “I don’t want to make excuses but I have got a lot out injured or suspended,” says Gérard. Bolton’s 6-2 thrashing at Man City is their third four-goal defeat away from home this season. Wolves hoist themselves off the bottom after a goalless draw with Fulham. Dennis Wise is sent off four minutes after coming on as a sub in his managerial debut for Millwall, who do at least win, 2-0 against Sheffield Utd. The latter are replaced at the top of the First by Wigan, who beat Gillingham 1-0. Brighton stay top of the Second despite losing by the same score at Bournemouth, but just six points separates the next 15 clubs. Hull still lead the Third where Carlisle can start to think about trips to Margate and Telford after going seven points adrift at the foot. Two departures: bumptious Bobby Gould resigns at Cheltenham with the club blaming his “appalling treatment” by the local press, while Kidderminster sack Ian Britton after the goalless draw at Swansea that leaves them third bottom.
Sunday 19 Leicester stay at the foot after a late goal from Freddie Kanouté gives Spurs a 2-1 win at the Walkers. No goals and the minimum of excitement in the Birmingham derby and Everton’s match with Southampton.
Monday 20 The FA are waiting to receive Rio Ferdinand’s mobile phone records for the day he missed the drug test but, mysteriously, they are yet to turn up – other than in Sunday’s papers. Sir Alex receives a two-match touchline ban and a £10,000 fine for turning the air blue in front of Uriah Rennie at Newcastle in September. He is said to be “disappointed” but won’t appeal. Charlton are seventh after a 1-0 win at Blackburn. Jan Molby is back for a second spell at Kidderminster, this time as director of football. Derby County chairman Lionel Pickering sells up to a “Monaco-based” consortium hours after putting the club into receivership.
Tuesday 21 Arsenal’s winless run in Europe stretches to eight games with a 2-1 defeat in Kiev but Arsène thrusts out his jaw: “I still believe we will go through.” Celtic lose 1-0 at Anderlecht despite the latter being down to ten men for most of the match. Newcastle edge into the top half of the table, coming from two down to beat Fulham 3-2 with a couple from Alan Shearer, described by his manager as “marvellous and quite magnificent”. Wigan are two points clear in the First after a 1-1 home draw with Sheffield Utd. Ipswich’s 4-3 victory at Palace, secured in injury time, is their eight win in the last nine. Watched by 24 travelling fans, Wimbledon win 1-0 at West Brom and are now only five points adrift at the bottom. Bournemouth go second in Division Two, a point behind Brighton, after thrashing Luton 6-3. Jody Morris is questioned by police in relation to another alleged sexual assault said to have happened some time ago.
Wednesday 22 A fifth-minute goal from Phil Neville is enough for Man Utd to win their CL game at Ibrox. Home fans will nonetheless have enjoyed Sir Alex’s post-match verdict: “With their tradition Rangers were never going to give up. It’s a British spirit thing.” Claudio Ranieri, meanwhile, talks of “the English fighting spirit of players like John Terry and Frank Lampard” as Chelsea come back from a goal down to beat Lazio 2-1. Plymouth go top of Division Two after a 3-1 win at Sheffield Wednesday.
Thursday 23 Alpay parts company with Aston Villa by mutual consent. “I wanted to leave anyway,” he says, “but this wouldn’t have happened if the confrontation had been with any other player than David Beckham.” Wayne Rooney turns 18 – but David Moyes is not happy with plans for a celebrity-heavy party: “I don’t think he needs this. It smells too much of publicity.”
Friday 24 The FA reveal that two unnamed players have tested positive for recreational drugs in the past three months. Glenn Hoddle responds to David Pleat’s recent criticisms of him: “He wasn’t supportive of me at all. The position he holds at the club has made it impossible for any manager to get the success that’s needed.”
Saturday 25 Chelsea return to the top after a 1-0 win over Man City. Sir Alex talks of a “lazy performance” as Man Utd lose 3-1 to Fulham, the latter’s first win at Old Trafford since 1963. Sir Alex, meanwhile, has his say on illegal substances: “If there were any danger of one of our players dabbling in any kind of drug, he would quickly be gone from Manchester United.” Words to remember. Fulham are now fifth, just behind Birmingham, whose 1-0 win at Bolton is their seventh clean sheet. Steve Bruce defends (ha!) his team’s safety-first approach: “I could have gone the other route, got five or six flair players and been bottom of the league.” Andy Cole’s dismissal during Blackburn’s fourth successive defeat, 2-0 at Southampton, leads to Graeme Souness getting involved in a post-match pushing contest with home coach Dennis Rofe. Wolves stage the comeback of the season, beating Leicester 4-3 after being three down at half-time. “How do you work on that on the training ground?” asks a trembling Ian Walker. West Brom move back to the top of the First with a 3-0 win at Rotherham while Wigan are beaten 2-0 by Walsall. Plymouth and Hull stretch their lower-division leads to three and four points respectively. Macclesfield sack David Moss after a 2-1 defeat to fellow strugglers Southend.
Sunday 26 Arsenal stay second after a 1-1 draw at Charlton whose goal is from a penalty awarded for what Arsène saw (yes, saw) as a dive by Matt Holland: “There was no water underneath but it was nice.” For the fourth time in a month, Sky’s live Sunday game is a 0-0, between Spurs and Middlesbrough. Heh.
Monday 27 Leeds announce losses of £49.5 million, a record for a football club in the UK. “Leeds United lived the dream – and I inherited the nightmare,” says chairman Prof John McKenzie, adapting a quote of his predecessor Peter Ridsdale so as to clarify blame.
Tuesday 28 No Carling Cup shocks, though Arsenal reserves are given a fright by Rotherham, whom they beat 9-8 on penalties after a 1-1 draw. “The younger players did ever so well and even the more experienced players got caught up in the game,” says Arsène, looking up from his paper. Roque Junior puts Leeds ahead twice against Man Utd, who win 3-2 in extra time. Alan Smith may be in trouble for throwing back a bottle hurled from the crowd. Two QPR fans are arrested during their defeat by Man City for racially abusing the watching Ian Wright after he celebrated a goal scored by his stepson. Mohamed Fayed dismisses rumours that Thailand’s billionaire prime minister may buy Fulham: “This is a club I love passionately and I have no intention of selling.” Mark McGhee is the new Brighton manager.
Wednesday 29 Wee-gate latest: Rio Ferdinand is charged with “failure or refusal to take a drugs test” and must now persuade the FA’s disciplinary panel that he simply forgot. Meanwhile, Man Utd report former chief executive Peter Kenyon to the FA for working for Chelsea, in talks to sign Real Madrid’s Michel Salgado, when he is still supposed to be on “gardening leave”. West Brom’s 2-1 win at Newcastle is the only Carling Cup surprise. Sir Bobby can’t believe it: “Somebody tells me that we’ve had 30 shots at goal, we’ve had 23 corners.”
Thursday 30 Arsenal are fined £175,000 for the Old Trafford bust-up and have four players suspended, including Lauren for four games and Martin Keown for three, though the bans won’t come into effect until late November. David Hodgson becomes Darlington manager for the third time, replacing Mick Tait.
Friday 31 Sir Alex thinks Arsenal were let off lightly by the FA: “I think it’s obvious to anyone they’ve been doing deals for years.” Arsène responds: “For some people, even if you hanged us it would not be enough.”
From WSC 202 December 2003. What was happening this month