April 1996

Tuesday 2 Sunderland go five points clear in Division One by drawing at Watford, while Derby lose at Ipswich and Palace are held by Port Vale, now within striking distance of the play-offs themselves. More trouble for Tomas Brolin who gave an April's Fool interview to Swedish TV claiming he was about to return home on loan, which in turn led to the Leeds' switchboard being jammed with press inquiries. "The chairman and managing director are finding it difficult to see the funny side of this," says Howard. Ulp.

Wednesday 3
Man Utd are the main beneficiaries of the Premiership's match of the season so far, Liverpool beating Newcastle 4-3. It goes: 1-0 (Fowler, 2nd minute); 1-2 by half-time (Ferdinand, Ginola); 2-2 (Fowler); 2-3 two minutes later (Asprilla), 3-3 (Collymore), 4-3 (Collymore, 92nd minute). "Nobody will win the championship defending like these teams did tonight," says Roy Evans. "We carry on playing like this or I go," says an unrepentant Kev. Sink The Tynetanic says the Mirror.

Friday 5 Man Utd win a momentous derby match 3-2 at City and maintain a three point lead over Newcastle who need late goals to defeat QPR 2-1. Liverpool look to be out of it after losing 1-0 at their bogey ground, Highfield Road. In Division One, Derby improve their chances of going straight up by winning at Oldham while third place Palace lose and Charlton, fourth with games in hand, draw. A 90th minute goal gives Hearts a 2-1 win over Aberdeen in the Scottish Cup Semi Final.

Saturday 6 Rangers' third victory over Celtic this season, this time by 2-1, takes them into the Scottish Cup Final and a possible double.

Sunday 7 Man Utd beat Coventry 1-0 (Eric yet again). A few hours later Newcastle take the lead at Blackburn then throw it away, conceding two in the last four minutes. They're now six points behind. Pulses quicken at the bottom, where Bolton come from behind to beat Chelsea 2-1 and QPR defeat Everton 3-1, while Southampton crash 3-0 at Villa and Man City lose by the same score at Wimbledon. The bottom five are now covered by just two points. There could be a photo finish. Lingering doubts about who'll win the Conference may have been dispelled by Stevenage's 4-0 win over nearest rivals, Woking. They'll be dancing in the streets of Torquay.

Wednesday 10 In a warm up for next month's Scottish Cup Final, Hearts get their second league victory of the season against Rangers, this time by 2-0 at Tynecastle. Celtic fail to capitalize, needing an 89th minute goal from Pierre Van Hooijdonk to force a draw at home to Kilmarnock. Millwall's relegation worries are eased considerably by a 2-0 win over Birmingham City. After the match a group of Millwall fans are charged by mounted police. There had been ill feeling between the two clubs since crowd trouble at the League match at Birmingham last November. Barry Fry faces disciplinary action by the FA for his earlier prediction that the match "could be a time bomb".

Friday 12 Republic of Ireland manager Mick McCarthy is banned from receiving Cup Final tickets for ten years after two tickets issued to him were sold on the black market for £350 each. He claims to have been let down by a pal. "I gave these tickets to a well-respected friend of mine at face value. If this whole business stamps out ticket touting I will be very happy." He'd be happy, we'd be astonished. John Aldridge becomes player-manager of Tranmere, the previous incumbent, Johnny King, being offered the dreaded consultancy role. Huddersfield have sacked Craig Whittington, recently suspended from playing until November after two separate drug tests found traces of cannabis.

Saturday 13 Man Utd slip up badly at Southampton, conceding three in the first half, Ryan Giggs getting a consolation towards the end. Alex Ferguson blames it on the team's grey shirts, which they change at half-time, saying that the players found it difficult to pick one another out against the background of the crowd. The two teams directly below Southampton, Man City and Coventry, both win 1-0, against Sheffield Wed and QPR respectively. City's goal is scored by Uwe Rösler, restored to the attack Р"Sometimes you have to get them mad to get a response," says Alan Ball. "It was as if he was saying 'I'll show that little ginger sod that he was wrong to leave me out'." Ray Wilkins thinks QPR can survive: "You can't fault our boys for guts and effort. We just have to keep them going for the last two games." Bolton, beaten 1-0 at West Ham, are now five points adrift of safety. In Division One, Luton's hopes of avoiding the drop are severely reduced by a 4-0 thrashing at Birmingham. Oldham, third from bottom, draw at home and are now only two points behind Portsmouth, beaten at Stoke, with two games in hand. Got that?

Sunday 14 A Les Ferdinand goal gives Newcastle victory over Villa, closing the gap to three points. During the first half Newcastle's John Beresford is substituted after a touchline row with his manager. "I won't allow a player to talk to me like that," says Kev. On the title race, he says: "It may be exciting for the neutrals but for those involved the scars will remain for some time." In Division One, Derby's draw with Charlton keeps them three points head of third-placed Palace, while Ipswich keep up their play-off hopes, winning the East Anglia derby courtesy of a superb cock-up by Norwich keeper Bryan Gunn, who fails to control a thirty yard backpass four minutes from time. Norwich players claim to have been struck by celebrating home fans who ran on the pitch at the final whistle. Rotherham win the Auto Windscreens Shield, beating Shrewsbury 2-1 with a double from on-loan Nigel Jemson, scorer of Forest's winner in the 1990 League Cup Final, fact fans.

Tuesday 16 Arsenal stay on course for the third and final UEFA Cup spot after a 0-0 draw at home with Spurs, a game marking the return of Darren Anderton, brought on as a late sub. Violence between rival fans at the end of the match gives the Daily Mirror an opportunity to fall back on 1980s hoolie hyperbole: "English soccer hung its head in shame again last night"; "The shameful scenes will have sent shock waves throughout the world;" etc. Man Utd announce that the supposedly jinxed grey change kit will be replaced by an all-white strip for next season, which will be discounted by £10 "as a gesture to our supporters".

Wednesday 17 A Robbie Fowler goal three minutes from time gives Liverpool a share of the points in the Merseyside derby, at a rainsoaked Goodison Park, Andrei Kanchelskis having put Everton ahead in the first half. In Division One, Sunderland are all but up after beating Birmingham 3-0 (Barry Fry: "They completely destroyed us. We are a million miles behind them.") and Watford boost their hopes of avoiding the drop with a 4-2 win over fellow strugglers Reading (if that Wembley penalty had gone in…). Bayern Munich's 2-1 win in Barcelona takes them through to the UEFA Cup Final where they will meet Inter Toto qualifiers Bordeaux.

Saturday 20 Nervy 1-0 home wins for Man Utd and Newcastle, against Leeds and Southampton respectively. Leeds goalkeeper Mark Beeney is sent off early on for handling outside the area but it takes until the 72nd minute for Roy Keane to get the winner. Afterwards Alex Ferguson mutters darkly about Leeds players letting Howard down: "I'm absolutely in support of their manager. He doesn't deserve his players. They raised their game because they were playing Manchester United." Leeds' next match is against Newcastle. A Robert Lee goal is enough at St James' Park, with Peter Beardsley having a penalty saved by Dave Beasant. "We're grinding out results," says Kev. Charlton's slender hops of getting automatic promotion disappear with defeat at Stoke, now firm contenders for the play-offs, as are Leicester, 2-0 winners over struggling Oldham. In Europe, Ajax's 3-0 win away to Panathinaikos takes them into the Champions League Final, where they will play Juventus. Duncan Ferguson's persistent groin injury will keep him out of the Scotland squad for Euro '96: doctors advises complete rest for the summer. Sure he'll manage that. Sunderland are promoted without playing, as second-placed Derby draw at home with Birmingham. Derby play nearest challengers Palace next week and only one of the two can overtake Sunderland. "The supporters have had Newcastle and then Middlesbrough shoved down their throats. Now it's their turn to be happy," says Peter Reid. Luton look doomed after their 0-0 draw with Watford and Millwall are in deep trouble, too, after losing 1-0 at home to Oldham. Jimmy Nicholl has an hour-long lock-in afterwards: no drinks involved. In Division Two, Swindon are up after drawing at Blackpool and 600 Brighton fans invade the pitch after the home game with Carlisle, unhappy at the sale of the Goldstone and the proposed move to Portsmouth. Eric Cantona wins the Footballer of the Year award, with Ruud Gullit second, and Robbie Fowler third. "The award is a triumph for British justice," says Alex Ferguson. Terry Venables confirms that he will be leaving his job (he's the England coach) in the summer: "My position has never wavered."

From WSC 112 June 1996. What was happening this month