December 1997

Tuesday 2 West Brom drop down to fourth in Division One after losing 1-0 at home to (gasp) Man City while Sheffield Utd move above them following a 3-2 over Stoke. In Division Three a League record is equalled at Wigan where Bristol Rovers have four players sent off, together with one from the home side. Three go after a mass brawl triggered by the first dismissal, of Rovers defender David Pritchard. "It was atrocious, abysmal and an absolute disgrace," says Rovers manager Ian Holloway, talking of the refereeing rather than the fighting. Doncaster get their first win of the season, 2-1 v Chester, to take them to within six points of Brighton.

Wednesday 3 West Ham beat Crystal Palace 4-1 in a restaging of the match abandoned due to floodlight failure last month. The game is watched by officials from Juventus said to be considering investing in Palace for reasons that remain obscure, possibly some form of collective madness.

Thursday 4 So-so World Cup draw for England who'll be playing Tunisia, Romania and Colombia, harder for Scotland, up against Brazil in the opening match of the tournament (traditionally a low-scoring game, though) then Norway and Morocco. Ray Harford resigns as manager of West Brom as a prelude to taking up the QPR job, saying "At times there were problems with the travelling. A chance came that was going to be better geographically." Did he fly home from Blackburn every day then?.

Saturday 6 Easy peasy for Man Utd, 3-1 winners at Anfield with another two goals from Andy Cole. "It hurts to lose to them. In fact it is murder," says Roy Evans. Blackburn stay second after a 3-1 win over Bolton. Christian Gross's home debut as Spurs boss ends in the club's worst home defeat since 1935 as Chelsea score five in the second half to win 6-1. "The situation is critical," says Christian. "Suggestions of a dressing room split are nonsense," says Alan Sugar, mysteriously. Ian Wright's first goal in seven games brings Arsenal a 1-0 win at Newcastle while Stan Collymore gets only his second goal for Villa, in a 3-0 win over Coventry . Everton get their first point in six matches but still miss a penalty in a goalless draw at Leeds. Surprise result of the FA Cup Second Round is Walsall's 7-0 win at Macclesfield, who are unbeaten at home in the League. Five non-League teams get away draws against League opposition, with Lincoln needing a last minute equaliser to force a replay with Emley of the UniBond League. The Scunthorpe v Ilkeston tie is notable for the first use of CS gas by police at a football match after trouble flares in the away section.

Sunday 7 Terry Venables announces that the £300,000 payment he recently received from Portsmouth was for "professional services" and has nothing to do with the £3.5 million transfer of Lee Bradbury to Man City, just, you know, in case anyone was wondering. A Marco Negri goal from a second rebound after his initial penalty had been saved gives Rangers a 1-0 win at home to Hibs, keeping them one point behind leaders Hearts. Former Leeds and Scotland captain Billy Bremner dies aged 54.

Monday 8
An 88th-minute goal from Paolo Di Canio brings Sheffield Wed a 2-1 home win over Barnsley, and Ron Atkinson's third successive win since his return. Another busy day in the jet set life of Britain's most dynamic businessman, Mr Terry Venables, who flies out to Saudi Arabia to take Australia through the silly FIFA Federation Cup (for which they qualify as champions of . . . Oceania) having had preliminary talks with the Nigerian FA about managing their national team for the duration of the World Cup (John Fashanu has recommended him) and somehow finding the time to sort out paying Portsmouth's players and staff wages for last month. Phew. Jamie Stuart becomes the fourth Charlton player to test positive for drugs…traces of cocaine…FA take a dim view….reefer madness…heroin sprinkled on half-time oranges before you know it.

Tuesday 9
Aston Villa are through to the UEFA Cup Quarter Finals, beating Steaua Bucharest with second half goals from Savo Milosevic and Ian Taylor. "The tournament is not going to get any easier from now on!", chuckles Brian Little, still boring for Britain.

Thursday 11 Another year, another blueprint. This one's from the Football League and offers five °Æradical' options for change. Each is named after a planet, but Uranus is not amongst them. "We need to increase the size of the financial cake for everybody," says League chairman David Sheepshanks, muffled slightly inside his astronaut's helmet.

Saturday 13 Blackburn stay second after a 3-1 win at Arsenal, who have now lost four of their last six. Afterwards Ian Wright is spoken to by police after a frank exchange of views with Arsenal supporters gathered outside the dressing room. "Some of my team showed a bit of indiscipline," says George Graham, understating nicely after Leeds have two players dismissed during a wild first half at Chelsea but still hang on for a goalless draw. "It is very easy to demolish a car but it takes a lot longer to build one," says Ruud, philosophising through clenched teeth. Barnsley get a late equaliser at home to Newcastle but stay bottom, level on points with Everton whose goalless draw at home to Wimbledon is their fourth successive game without scoring. Maybe they'll find it easier in Division One. Spurs are scarcely better off after another hammering, this time 4-0 at Coventry. "I don't accept that we collapsed but they did score three in second half," concedes Christian. The Scottish League (not officially °ÆSuper' yet – that's next season) looks to be building into a three-horse race as leaders Hearts lose 1-0 at Celtic while Rangers draw at Dunfermline.

Monday 15
Ryan Giggs gets the only goal as Man Utd resume their four point lead at the top by beating Villa at Old Trafford. Non-League Stevenage, still smarting at being barred from promotion to the League last season, exact further revenge, beating Cambridge Utd 2-1 in the Second Round replay.

Tuesday 16
The police announce that Ian Wright will not after all be facing charges after his bust up with Arsenal fans. Dennis Bergkamp, however, is in trouble – with Arsenal who are to fine him for having picked up a booking for dissent, his sixth yellow card of the season, in last Saturday's match. The fine, you suspect, won't trouble him unduly. In fact it might be handy come the end of the tax year. Hereford win their FA Cup Second Round replay with Colchester 5-4 on penalties but fellow non-Leaguers Basingstoke lose after a shootout with Northampton.

Wednesday 17 Tiny teeny Michael Owen (he's only 18, you know) gets a debut goal but England under 21s fail to qualify for the European Under 21 Championship finals on away goals after beating Greece 4-2 in the second leg of their playoff. In the FA Cup, Emley beat Lincoln on penalties after a 3-3 draw and will now play West Ham in the Third Round. Ilkeston, however, lose 2-1 at home to Scunthorpe. In the Premiership, Newcastle are booed off after drawing 0-0 at home with Derby.

Saturday 20 "I didn't know what to do," says Stuart Ripley after scoring for the first time in over three years as Blackburn stay second after a 3-0 win over West Ham who have Steve Lomas dismissed for protesting after the referee fails to award a penalty for a foul on Paul Kitson. "I can't afford the fine to say what I think. It's Christmas," observes Harry Redknapp. Sheffield Wed are back in trouble again, beaten 4-1 at home by Chelsea who remain third. Ron Atkinson's post match press comments appear to have been made by a Big Ron impersonator: "I'll tell you what I did in the dressing room. I ripped off a few heads. Hey, and it didn't take me long either". Tottenham move nearer to safety after a comfortable 3-0 win over Barnsley. Everton have now gone more than nine hours without scoring from open play, but still get their first away win in a year, 1-0 at Leicester thanks to a Gary Speed penalty in the 89th minute. Rangers displace Hearts at the top of the Scottish Premier after beating them 5-2 at Tynecastle. Clive Barker resigns as South African national team manager. Guess who is said to be on the shortlist to succeed him? That's right.

Sunday 21 Man Utd regain a four point lead at the top after a 1-0 win at Newcastle, Andy Cole heading the winner in the second half. Peter Schmeichel, though, is man of the match with two brilliant saves. "We played better last year when we lost 5-0," says Alex. Kenny vents his frustration on referee Peter Jones who books seven: "It's a difficult enough job for the referee without us being over-critical but I think he was the worst person on the pitch".

Monday 22 Jurgen Klinsmann returns to Spurs on a five month contract worth £35,000 a week. "I had a fantastic time the year I was here before. That is something you don't forget," he says. Klinsmann's contract contains a clause stipulating that he can't be dropped from the team unless he's injured (even if his vision is impaired by the pound signs in his eyes). David Pleat is also to return to Spurs in the New Year as director of football. For the third time this season, a Premiership match is abandoned due to floodlight failure. The lights go out shortly after the start of the second half at Selhurst Park where Wimbledon and Arsenal were drawing 0-0. "Everything is going Manchester United's way and this leaves us with the Himalayas to climb," says Arsène, looking around for a morose Scotsman carrying a pair of wire cutters. West Ham sign French international goalkeeper Bernard Lama who has not played for Paris St Germain since being suspended for drug use earlier in the year.

Tuesday 23 Those pesky Far Eastern betting syndicates may be behind the recent spate of floodlight failures, according to the Mirror, who quote a spread betting specialist as saying of the Wimbledon v Arsenal match, "I was told before the game that it wouldn't finish if there was any chance of Arsenal winning". Abandoned games no longer count on UK pools coupons but according to a William Hill spokesman, "There were rumours of ruthless gamblers sabotaging floodlights in the lower divisions in the 80s." Ooer. Meanwhile, under cover of darkness, Dennis Smith leaves financially-strapped Oxford to become the new manager of West Brom.

Friday 26 A six point lead at the top for Man Utd who beat Everton 2-0 while nearest rivals Blackburn and Chelsea draw with Sheffield Wed and Wimbledon respectively ("I'd never said we'd be contenders," says Ruud, again). Arsenal are helped on their way to a 2-1 win over Leicester by a masterful own goal from Steve Walsh whose mishit clearance brushes a floodlight before looping down over Kasey Keller. A missed penalty by Itzak Zohar costs Crystal Place a first home win of the season, against Southampton. "How does he feel? How do you think? And the lad doesn't even celebrate Christmas", says Steve Coppell. Stan Collymore, arrested on Christmas Eve, finally scores, twice , in Aston Villa's 4-1 win over Spurs. "I don't think it was a collapse," says Christian, upbeat as ever though still not smiling.

Sunday 28 Darren Huckerby scores a brilliant solo winner for Coventry who get two in the last four minutes to beat Man Utd 3-2. "It was a silly performance and a silly result", says Alex, who will have been less than thrilled by the display of reserve keeper Kevin Pilkington, in for the injured Peter Schmeichel. Blackburn fail to capitalise on Utd's slip, being held at home by away specialists Palace whose second goal, due to a bad bounce on the pitch leads Roy Hodgson to dark mutterings about the Ewood Park groundsman. Liverpool get their fourth win a row, 2-1 at Newcastle, who are now in the bottom half. "I had a bit of a problem getting into the game," says Jurgen, already fitting in with the rest of the Spurs team, after a modest return in a 1-1 home draw with Arsenal. Spurs are now a point ahead of Barnsley who beat Derby 1-0. Duncan Ferguson, back from his latest suspension, gets a hat trick for Everton in a 3-2 win over Bolton, but they remain in the bottom three. Doncaster's headlong flight out of the League continues with an 8-0 thrashing at Leyton Orient.

Monday 29 "I don't usually get angry but I am tonight," says Ruud as Chelsea slip up again, losing to a Kevin Davies goal at Southampton. Christian Gross denies threatening to resign over the Department of Employment's refusal to grant a work permit to fitness instructor Fritz Schmidt on the grounds that Britain is already teeming with people who know how to make footballers sick.

From WSC 132 February 1998. What was happening this month