Wednesday 1 In the Champions League Man Utd recover from conceding a goal in the first minute to beat Juventus 3-2 at Old Trafford. "This is a measure of how far we've come," says Alex beaming fit to burst. "If we put another three goals past Peruzzi in Rome next week we will be on our way to the World Cup finals," says Phil Neville, getting carried away. Newcastle come back from two down in Kiev to draw with two late goals, the second a bizarre deflection. Their luck is offset, though, by an injury to Tino Asprilla which will keep him out for at least a month. In the Coke, Sheffield Wed go out to Grimsby on a 4-3 aggregate. "It was another bad night at the office," says David Pleat, who may not be working late for much longer.

Thursday 2 Bad news for bar staff around Manchester - Roy Keane's cruciate injury will keep him out for the rest of the season.

Saturday 4 Barnsley's first League match at Highbury since 1915 ends in another thrashing, 5-0, with Dennis Bergkamp getting another two to take his total to 11. "If we don't score the first goal we struggle," says Danny Wilson, correctly. Man Utd are second after a 2-0 home win over Palace and Blackburn, 1-0 winners at Wimbledon, stay third. Les Ferdinand is cheered and David Ginola booed on their return to St James' Park for Spurs, who lose to a last-minute goal from Warren Barton which gives Newcastle another 1-0 win. "Beresford and Barton are so prolific we don't have a problem in the striking department," says Kenny, making with the jokes again (must be stress). Stan Collymore and Bolton's Andy Todd are sent off at the end of Villa's 1-0 win at Bolton for what referee Graham Poll describes as "one of the better punch-ups you'll see in the Premiership". David Pleat's safe for now after Italians Di Canio and Carbone combine for all three goals in a 3-1 win over Everton. No respite for Lennie Lawrence, though, as Luton lose their first match to Watford in ten years, 4-0 at Kenilworth Road, and are kept off the bottom of Division Two only by Burnley (no wins in ten games for Chrissy).

Sunday 5 Chelsea lose 4-2 at Liverpool having had defender Bernard Lambourde sent off midway through the first half. "Our matches with Chelsea always end up niggardly," says Roy Evans, meaning niggly. Sheffield Utd remain the only unbeaten team in the League after a 2-1 win at Middlesbrough. Graeme Souness, greatest living practitioner of the art of landing on your feet, is relieved of his coaching duties by Torino, currently 14th in Serie B, and is set to receive £750,000 as a pay-off. Rangers next stop?

Monday 6 The perennially tense Brian Horton is sacked by Huddersfield, winless and bottom of Division One. Leicester miss a chance to close to within a point of Arsenal at the top of the Premiership by losing 2-1 at home to Derby. Wales call up a non-League full back, Garry Lloyd of Barry Town, for their World Cup match with Belgium. "I'm amazed, stunned," he says, and that's before he's even heard Bobby Gould's tactical plan.

Tuesday 7 "My experiences in the past have taught me that I don't like dealing with people who sometimes tell you lies," says Terry Yorath explaining why he has returned from the Lebanon to become coach, rather than manager, at Huddersfield. Their new boss is ex-Halifax defender Peter Jackson, who seems to have left his previous club without their consent, but there can't have been any fibs involved otherwise Terry would be back in Beirut already.

Wednesday 8 Another with an understandably low opinion of football directors is Jan Molby, just sacked by Swansea, pre-season favourites but currently struggling in Division Three. "I get the feeling they want a man they can manipulate," he says of the club's new owners, Silver Shield. Micky Adams, sacrificed as part of the new dawn at Fulham, is set to take over.

Saturday 11 England are through to the World Cup finals after a 0-0 draw in Italy. "We were very composed, passed the ball well and deserved to win," says Glenn Hoddle. Both sides' best chances to score come in injury time, Ian Wright hitting a post from a tight angle when clean through, and Christian Vieri heading wide of a gaping goal moments later. Paul Ince is off for ten minutes in the first half to have stitches in a head wound and comes back bandaged up, looking in his words, "like a black Terry Butcher". Italy's Angelo Di Livio goes off permanently in the second half for a wild hack at Sol Campbell. During the match police fight with a group of England supporters who had been placed in a section of terracing with Italian fans on either side. Scotland are through, too, their 2-0 home win over Latvia guaranteeing qualification as the best placed second-placed team. The Republic of Ireland avoid the 12-0 defeat that would have condemned them to third place in their group; a 1-1 draw with Romania means they be in the play-offs. Wales are beaten 3-2 in Belgium. Unluckiest team of the night are Finland who, needing a win to make the play-offs, concede a 90th minute own-goal equalizer at home to Hungary.

Tuesday 14 Arsenal and Man Utd field severely understrength teams in the Coke Cup Third Round with very different results. Utd, without six players who'd played in the World Cup at the weekend, lose 2-0 at Ipswich - "It's the best team I could pick. We can't complain about the result," says Alex, dispensing hugs and kisses all round. Arsenal, with six players starting for the first time, beat Birmingham 4-1 in extra time. "Without European qualification at the end of it how do you expect us to take it seriously?" says Arsène. Holders Leicester lose with a first choice team, 3-1 at Grimsby, though their fans will gain some solace from the defeat of arch nemesis Mark McGhee's Wolves, beaten 4-2 at another of his former clubs, Reading. Celtic reach the final of the Scottish Coke Cup after a 1-0 win over Dunfermline.

Wednesday 15 Lucky Gerry Francis, laid up with a bad back and so not present to hear Spurs fans express their displeasure at the team's 2-1 home defeat by Derby in the Coke. Chelsea have Gianluca Vialli sent off but hang on to beat Blackburn on penalties after a 1-1 draw. Howard Kendall has a pitchside barney with some of his players after Everton's 4-1 defeat at Coventry. Brian Little will be equally displeased by Aston Villa's 3-0 capitulation at Upton Park, which may hasten the arrival of Paul Gascoigne. Villa are said to have offered £4 million for him. The Football League and their °ÆSuper' counterparts in Scotland are to discuss turning their respective Coke Cups into a British Cup at the semi-final stage, on the assumption that this will discourage bigger clubs from fielding reserve teams in order to get the hell out as quickly as possible. There have been worse ideas, but not many.

Saturday 18 Arsenal stay top after a weird 0-0 draw at Palace where they might have had two penalties. Dennis Bergkamp's fifth yellow of the season means he'll miss the forthcoming game with Man Utd. "It's only in England that Bergkamp gets into trouble with refs," says Arsène, sniffing a plot. Blackburn reclaim second place after a 1-0 home win over Southampton. Man Utd are a point behind after coming back from two down to draw 2-2 at Derby, thanks to Andy Cole's equalizer six minutes from time. Chelsea stay fourth following a cracking Frank Leboeuf goal two minutes from time against Leicester. The Foxes' debutant goalkeeper Pegguy Arphexad, whose arrival was first heralded in WSC No 128, proves to be as good as his name. Newcastle get their now customary one goal per game, but also let in four at Leeds, and are being strongly linked with two former players, Andy Cole and Paul Gascoigne. The perils of building up big pecs is demonstrated by Neil Ruddock, who chests in an own goal which fairly flies past David James (who had pinched the ball at him) for Everton's opener in the Merseyside derby. The new Michael Owen, Danny Cadamarteri, adds a second to extend Everton's unbeaten run against Liverpool to seven matches.

Monday 20 Barnsley end a run of six successive defeats and keep a clean sheet at home for the first time this season in beating Coventry 2-0, a result which doesn't deter Valea Veledo, running for president of managerless Benfica, from declaring that he wants Gordon Strachan to be the club's new boss (Terry Venables having allegedly turned down the same offer).

Tuesday 21 Liverpool crash to a 3-0 defeat in their UEFA Cup tie in Strasbourg. "We just can't defend. Sometimes you get disillusioned and I certainly am tonight," says an exasperated fan, Roy, who travels everywhere with the team. Aston Villa, however, get a 0-0 draw in Bilbao and might have won had Dwight Yorke not missed an open goal ®§ la Savo or Stanloi. "I'm not going anywhere," says Gordon Strachan, by way of confirmation that he's staying at Highfield Road. There's a joke in there, but we'll press on.

Wednesday 22 In the Champions League Newcastle are beaten 1-0 in Eindhoven. To qualify they'll need to win their remaining two home matches, against PSV and then leaders Kiev, who beat Barcelona 3-0. Manchester United, however, keep up their 100% record in the Champions League this season with a 2-1 home win over Feyenoord. A few miles away, Man City fans chant, "We're shit and we're sick of it," as their team lose 1-0 at home to Stoke to remain in the bottom four of Division One. The replay of Derby's match with Wimbledon, abandoned in September when the floodlights failed, ends in a 1-1 draw and a right old rant from Joe Kinnear unhappy about the home side's penalty equalizer: "It seems to me that referees have not got any bottle any more. They come to new stadiums like this one and it appears to me that their bums start twitching." Micky Adams resigns as Swansea manager after less than a fortnight in charge, unhappy that the money promised for new players hasn't materialized (does it ever?).

Thursday 23 Chelsea lose their Cup Winners' Cup tie in freezing Tromso 3-2, having been two down inside 20 minutes. "It was crazy. My players couldn't see because of snow in their eyes," says Ruud, brooding under his bobble hat. Bryan Hamilton is sacked as Northern Ireland manager, with Jimmy Nicholl, currently at Raith, favourite to take over.

Friday 24 The FA's official inquiry into the trouble at the Italy v England match places the blame on the Italian police who, it alleges, launched "premeditated" attacks on English fans. The report also criticizes members of the government's Football Task Force (ie David Mellor) for making "generally unhelpful" comments in the build-up to the match about the treatment England fans might expect. "A judgment of this kind appears unjustified and mean spirited," says an Italian police spokesman.

Saturday 25 "You get performances like that once or twice a season," says Alex, a sunbeam again as Man Utd go back to the top after a 7-0 thrashing of Barnsley with Andy Cole getting a first half hat-trick. Danny Wilson, who is likely to have spent much of the second half thinking up lines for the post match press conference, offers: "There was nothing between the sides apart from the seven goals." Blackburn stay third after a 1-1 draw at Newcastle, who must dream of the day they score more than once in a home game, and Liverpool are now up to fifth after a 4-0 win over Derby - "After weeks like that you can either lie down and die or stand up and be counted," advises Roy Evans. Further down Crystal Palace get their fourth away win of the season, 3-1 at Sheffield Wed - "Now we have a fight on our hands," says David Pleat - and David Hirst scores twice on his home debut as Southampton come back from behind to beat Spurs 3-2, leaving Gerry still unsure as to whether he'll be needed to sign club Christmas cards this year. In Scotland, all the doubts about Wim Jansen's methods are cast aside as Celtic top the Premier League table for the first time this season after beating St Johnstone while Rangers lose at Dundee Utd.

Sunday 26 Bolton get their first win at the Reebok stadium, a Dean Holdsworth goal proving enough to beat a Chelsea side missing their Italians (Zola and Di Matteo on World Cup duty, preparing for the play-offs) and several others. Arsenal stay second after a 0-0 draw at home to Villa and will now be missing Emmanuel Petit for the big game with Man Utd in a fortnight after he is sent off for manhandling referee Paul Durkin. Arsène Wenger says the club will appeal against the dismissal, but adds: "I do not know if we have much chance because we are Arsenal." Discuss.

Wednesday 29 The Republic of Ireland do well to draw 1-1 with Belgium in the first leg of their World Cup qualifier. Unfortunately the game was in Dublin so they now face an uphill task to reach France. Italy also get a 1-1 draw, away to Russia in a blizzard, the surreal conditions rounded off by a huge grinning Snickers bar - or was it a spark plug? - capering away behind one of the goals. Croatia beat Ukraine 2-0 in Zagreb and Yugoslavia will fancy their chances of reaching France after taking a 7-1 first leg lead away to Hungary, whose team may be talked about for as long as Puskas and co but for different reasons.

Thursday 30 The FA say they will fine or even ban players or managers discovered to have bet on matches after an official report finds evidence that such practices, including putting money on the time of the first thrown in, are widespread. The report's author, Sir John Smith, says: "I did not hear any rumours of corruption but if there is a potential for corruption to exist it almost certainly does." Dalglish describes reports that he may be joining Rangers as manager when Walter Smith leaves next summer as "an insult" to Newcastle fans. "I don't want people to think that just because I watched Rangers as a kid I'm going to go back there," he adds. Hmm. Bobby Robson, meanwhile, reiterates his interest in returning to management in England (was he a Newcastle fan?) though he may yet be tempted by Benfica, who also seem keen on Graeme Souness, the mad fools.

From WSC 130 December 1997. What was happening this month

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