February 2000

Wednesday 2 “There was nothing kick and rush about that,” says Martin O’Neill as a Matt Elliott goal takes Leicester to the Worthington final at the expense of Villa. “We had our chance and we choked,” says John Gregory, who also claims that Leicester are about to take Stan Collymore off his hands, though the clubs are yet to agree on a fee. Swindon, eight points adrift at the bottom of the First, call in the administrators. They are currently losing £25,000 a week. “I believe we’ll be the first of many,” says chairman Cliff Puffett. The football authorities lobby the government to bring in restrictions on the number of non-EU players used by English clubs to two per team. “A Premiership team without one player from the UK sends out the wrong signals,” says the PFA’s Gordon Taylor. Ears burning, Gianluca Vialli says: “A quota might protect young English players but clubs won’t be able to compete in Europe if we stop some non-EU players joining us.”

Thursday 3 Eight Leicester players and staff are charged with misconduct as part of the FA’s investigation into the sale of black market tickets for last year’s Worthington Cup final. One of those involved, Neil Lennon, says: “I gave, not sold, tickets to friends who are Spurs fans. If supplying tickets to friends is mis­conduct then I’m guilty of it every week.” Denis Smith becomes Oxford manager for the second time. Cardiff, also dicing with the drop zone in the Second, sack Frank Burrows.

Saturday 5 With Leeds losing 3-1 at Liverpool – “We’re still some way off being a title-winning side,” says David O’Leary – Man Utd’s 3-2 win over Coventry takes them six points clear. Arsène Wenger gives up on the Premiership after Arsenal lose 2-1 at Bradford: “We’re nine points behind so we can forget it. The championship is played in England not dreamland.” Bradford are now level on points with Derby who score twice in injury time for a 3-3 draw with Sheffield Wed – “For 98 per cent of the game we were fantastic,” groans Danny Wilson. Watford are ten points from safety after a 4-0 thrashing at Villa. “We have lost 18 games already and no one, myself included, expected that,” wails Graham Taylor. Southampton benefit from a late own goal to beat West Ham 2-1 but their new manager would like the credit: “I gave them a new shape and they’ve taken it on board.” Whatever. In the First, Charlton’s seventh successive win keeps them four points clear of Man City, whose 3-1 victory at Fores`t puts the latter among a pack of four clubs just one point above the relegation zone. Strange shenanigans at Preston where Reading players have to be ordered away by police after starting their pre-match warm up in front of the home fans. Presumably fired up by the row Reading get an unexpected draw that keeps them just above the bottom four in the Second. The Scottish championship looks to be all but over as Hearts come back from two down for the second time in a week to beat Celtic 3-2 at Parkhead.

sunday 6 “I am optimistic that we can survive but the owners won’t let me buy any new players,” says Egil Olsen, stamping those green wellies as Wimbledon crash 3-0 at home to Everton. Rangers extend their Scottish lead to ten points with a draw at Hibernian.

Monday 7 Referee Mike Reed is asked for a written explanation of why he punched the air in celebration after Patrik Berger put Liverpool 2-1 up against Leeds on Saturday. He claims it was self-congratulation. “The referee loves to see the ball in the net when he’s played an advantage. It proves he was right.” Supporters groups at the two Sheffield clubs join forces to condemn the merger again proposed by former United chairman Mike McDonald. “His only interest is in getting back the investment he made in United,” says fans’ spokesman Steve Walmsley.

Tuesday 8 In one of the biggest upsets in Scottish Cup history, Celtic lose 3-1 at home to the club that sounds like a multinational company, Inverness Caledonian Thistle. “I will definitely not be resigning but it’s a desperate result,” says John Barnes. Paolo di Canio is the subject of this week’s summons from the FA disciplinary committee who want to know why he made the middle finger gesture to Villa fans during their Premiership match. Former Scotland striker Steve Archibald is in line to become the new owner of Airdrie who are in voluntary liquidation with debts of £3 million.

Wednesday 9 Cheers ring out across the West Midlands as Stan Collymore signs for Leicester, saying: “People know the circumstances of my leaving Villa and it is sad in that respect.” “In terms of football ability he is no risk at all,” says Martin O’Neill. An awful week for Kilmarnock, who dropped to the bottom of the Scottish Premier on Saturday, is complete with a 1-0 Cup defeat at Second Division Alloa. York City, fourth bottom of the Third, part company with manager Neil Thompson.

Thursday 10 John Barnes is sacked by Celtic. Kenny Dalglish jets back from the golf course to take charge of the team until the end of the season and blames the players for his mate’s departure: “Players should realise that Celtic demand passion and commitment. If they don’t want to wear the jersey they should not come to work.” The Football League agree to allow Barnet to remain at Underhill while they work on the details of a proposed groundshare with non-League Hendon.

Saturday 12 Boxing day in the Premiership. Chelsea and Wimbledon players scrap in the tunnel after the former’s 3-1 victory at Stamford Bridge, a bad tackle by lovely Lee Bowyer sparks a mass brawl during Leeds’ 1-0 home win over Spurs and Roy Keane is sent off in Man Utd’s 3-0 defeat at Newcastle, after which Alan Shearer, scorer of two, explains: “We harassed them and they couldn’t handle it. You’re not supposed to kick them because they’re Man Utd.” Oh, and Paolo di Canio nearly thumps Frank Lampard (junior) in a dispute over who should take a penalty – “I had to let him or we’d still be arguing now,” says Frank – as West Ham come back from 4-2 down to beat Bradford 5-4.

Sunday 13 Liverpool go third after winning 1-0 at Arsenal. “We had the ball and they had the chances,” sighs Arsène. “I have a big concern about our qualifying for the Champions League now.” Ian Wright leaves Parkhead for Turf Moor, saying, “I’d decided to just do my TV work and ride my Harley when this chance came. The Burnley fans’ passion is just what I need.” Cameroon win the African Nations Cup, beating Nigeria 4-3 on penalties.

Monday 14 Middlesbrough’s poor run reaches crisis point with a 4-0 home thrashing by Villa. “Everyone is hurt,” says Bryan Robson. None more so than Paul Gascoigne, hospitalised after breaking his arm while elbowing George Boateng – “My only sympathy was with George’s face,” says John Gregory. Dennis Wise and Kenny Cunningham receive FA misconduct charges following their fight at Stamford Bridge, as does Wimbledon coach Sugar Mick Harford who allegedly butted Gianluca Vialli in the players’ tunnel. Chelsea consigliere Ray Wilkins wants action: “We have to get out footballers into line. I want the PFA to come out and stop what is going on.” (They’ll need headguards.) Leeds’ Ian Harte is also charged after TV pictures showed him stamping on Spurs’ Chris Perry. Despairing of a call from Little Kev, Leicester’s Muzzy Izzet opts to play for Turkey.

Tuesday 15 Insult is added to injury as Paul Gascoigne lands an FA charge for his assault on George Boateng. “Everyone within the game will wish him a speedy recovery but we are committed to investigating incident of violent play,” says an FA spokesman. A Gascoigne “advisor”, Len Lazarus, retaliates: “It was a foul but where was the intent? What are the FA trying to do to him?” Charlton’s 1-0 win over Fulham takes them seven points clear at the top of the First Division.

Wednesday 16 Leicester City’s squad are ordered to leave the La Manga country club in Spain after a series of incidents in a bar culminated in a fire extinguisher being let off, apparently by Stan Collymore. “Maybe high jinks are understandable but if property has been damaged people will pay for it,” says Martin O’Neill. “They were being obnoxious, asking ladies to dance who didn’t want to,” says the complex’s director. UEFA seem set on a barney with FIFA over the “world club championship”. “It is absolutely not acceptable to have a competition played at such an unsuitable period in the European calendar,” says UEFA general secretary Gerhard Aigner at a meeting of 40 top European clubs (Middlesbrough not invited). Celtic reach the Scottish League Cup final with a 1-0 win over Kilmarnock – “We’ve restored a bit of pride,” squeaks Kenny, peeking above the parapet.

Thursday 17 Part-time fireman Stan Collymore is fined £30,000 for his part in the “high jinks” in Spain. He senses a conspiracy: “There are certain high-profile players who can’t have a laugh these days.” The England squad to face Argentina includes Paul Ince and the impish funster Dennis Wise, of whom Little Kev says: “We don’t yet know if he is guilty of anything.” Chelsea announce that Celestine Babayaro has gone missing having not been in touch with the club since leaving to play for Nigeria in the African Nations Cup three weeks ago.

Saturday 19 Coventry suffer the ignominy of being the first team this century to lose a match to Middlesbrough, 2-0 at the Riverside. “I haven’t had a happy Saturday for a while so I’ll have a few tonight,” says Bryan Robson. Ha, we all get tipsy now and again. In the First there’s high dudgeon at Oakwell with Barnsley’s injury-time equaliser in the draw with QPR allegedly stemming from some sharp practice on the touchline. “The ball-boy stole 20 yards at their throw in,” fumes Gerry Francis. Jermaine Wright’s last-minute winner against his old club Crewe takes Ipswich back into second place. A crowd of over 20,000 sees the banter-packed debut of Jermaine’s cousin, Ian, in Burnley’s goalless home draw with Wigan, who stay third. Bristol Rovers join Preston as joint leaders after a 4-1 at Luton.

Sunday 20 Newcastle are one game away from their third successive FA Cup final after winning 3-2 at Tranmere. Benito Carbone gets the decisive goal in Villa’s 2-1 win at Everton and is later sent off by Dermot Gallagher. “The referee forgot to engage his brain,” snaps John Gregory, cruising for a bruising from the FA once again. Gillingham crash 5-0 at Stamford Bridge. Man Utd extend their Premiership lead to six points by winning 1-0 at Leeds. “They have always been overwhelming favourites for me,” sighs David O’Leary. David Beckham is relegated to the stands after a pre-match row with his manager, who says: “Whatever we do is inside the club. I picked a team for today.” Inverness’s Scottish Cup progress is halted, for the time being at least, by a late Aberdeen equaliser in their tie at Pittodrie.

Monday 21 Sheffield Wednesday chairman Dave Richards resigns – in order to take over as independent chairman of the Premier League. Joe Ashton MP has a view: “He has moved aside to dodge the flak. They are just shifting chairs on the Titanic.” Sunderland fans vote for The Black Cats as the club’s new official nickname (the Rokermen becoming redundant after they moved grounds). Ryan Giggs maintains his remarkable record of never having played in a friendly for Wales by pulling out of their squad for the match in Qatar. Dicky hamstring, see.

Wednesday 23 England avoid a battering by Argentina, their Wembley “friendly” finishing goalless. “The players were annoyed by the pre-match talk and wanted to silence the critics,” says Little Kev. Before kick-off there had been a (badly observed) minute’s silence for Sir Stanley Matthews who died earlier in the day. Sammy McIlroy’s first match in charge of N Ireland produces a 3-1 victory over Luxembourg, Wales ought to move up from 98th in the world rankings after winning 1-0 in Qatar and the Rep of Ireland beat the Czechs 3-2. Lothar Matthäus, believed to be the grumpiest man in international football, also becomes the most capped player ever, making his 144th appearance for Germany against Holland.

Saturday 26 No change at the top – with Leeds and Man Utd, featuring a restored David Beckham, drawing at Middlesbrough and Wimbledon respectively – or the bottom, as Bradford get a point at home to Villa and Derby follow suit at Sunderland where Alex Rae’s elbow on Darryl Powell, not seen by the referee, leads to a showdown in the players’ tunnel and a rematch at Lancaster Gate in a few weeks’ time. Mayhem at Molineux where Forest and Wolves have three players dismissed between them before half-time. It could have been worse given that Wolves’ third in their 3-0 win came about after Forest keeper Dave Beasant tries to put the ball out of play to allow an opponent to receive treatment. Goalscorer Michael Branch, pleading innocence, is diplomatically substituted. There’s fighting off the pitch at Wigan where a pitch invasion by Stoke fans halts play for ten minutes. Chester fans have more reason to anticipate derbies with Northwich Victoria after a 7-1 home defeat by Brighton. There’s another surprise in the Scottish Cup with First Division Ayr Utd through to the last eight after winning 4-3 at Motherwell. Alan Shearer announces that he is to retire from international football after Euro 2000: “If I want to give full value for money to Newcastle I need to pace myself more.”

Sunday 27 Leicester lift the Worthingtons again with a 2-1 win over Tranmere, who equalise after being reduced to ten men before Matt Elliott’s second and decisive goal. “Not being modest about it I’m reasonably pleased for myself,” chirps Matin O’Neill. “It was a lot closer than people thought and I loved that,” says John Aldridge preparing to fight another day.

Tuesday 29 Wake up, it’s Champions League time. The Chelsea pensioners lose 1-0 in Marseille: “It was a very, very poor display,” says Graham Rix. Police use tear gas to break up fighting inside the stadium. Effect on England’s World Cup bid: unknown. In the same group Feyenoord surprise us all by winning 2-1 at Nazio. John Aldridge faces an FA disciplinary hearing for allegedly slapping Leicester’s Theo Zagorakis during a row after the dismissal of Tranmere’s Clint Hill during the Worthington final.

From WSC 158 April 2000. What was happening this month