January 2000

Monday 3 “Man Utd will be laughing in Brazil,” says David O’Leary as Gareth Southgate scores the Villa goals that beat Leeds 2-1 at Elland Road, while Arsenal are held to a draw at Sheffield Wed and Sunderland lose 1-0 at Wimbledon, where the officials fail to spot Nicky Summerbee being elbowed in the face by Ben Thatcher in the build-up to the game’s only goal. Branko Strupar, the Belgian Croat, scores the first Premiership goal of the 21st century and adds a second as Derby sink Watford deeper into trouble. Southampton move three points clear of third-bottom Bradford after beating them 1-0. The Nigerian FA will demand that Arsenal be dismissed from this season’s FA Cup if they refuse to let Kanu join his country’s African Nations Cup squad until after next weekend’s tie with Leicester.

Tuesday 4 Sammy McIlroy leaves Macclesfield to become the new manager of Northern Ireland, Martin O’Neill having turned down the chance to do the job on a part-time basis. Ben Thatcher is to be charged by the FA’s disciplinary committee for his assault on Nicky Summerbee, whose father, Mike, says: “One day there will be someone waiting to sort him out.” Chelsea’s prolonged dalliance in mid-table continues with a 2-2 draw at Coventry. The perpetually ruffled Francis Jeffers admits to having celebrated the millennium in a cell after a fracas at a concert, saying: “I accepted a caution so as not to cause my club any embarrassment.” Mission accomplished.

Thursday 6 Two thousand watch Man Utd’s Maracana debut in the “world club championship”. David Beckham is sent off in the first half –“He went for a 50-50 ball and their players’ reaction got him sent off,” says Sir Alex, who is himself ordered from the dugout for jumping up and down with intent – but Dwight Yorke grabs a late equaliser, both sides having missed a penalty. Steve McMahon and Ian Atkins are the new managers of Blackpool and Chester respectively.

Friday 7 FIFA get involved in the Kanu row with a spokesman claiming Arsenal will forfeit their FA Cup match with Leicester if they insist on retaining the player. Wigan lose the League’s last unbeaten run with a 1-0 home defeat by Oldham.

Saturday 8 FA Cup pandemonium at Prenton Park. Tranmere lead Sunderland 1-0 in injury time when a mix-up with the substitution boards leads to defender Clint Hill being replaced after he had been sent off. “The fact is they had an extra man out there,” says Peter Reid. “If the officials can’t do it right it’s nothing to do with our lads,” says John Aldridge. Odd officiating at Hillsborough, too, with Wolves awarded an equaliser in their 1-1 draw when the ball clearly did not cross the line. “The linesman gave the goal from 40 yards across a crowded pitch,” yells Danny Wilson. Trevor Francis is equally cross with David Elleray for awarding the first of the two penalties by which Everton beat Birmingham. “Nick Barmby dived, which is something that has been creeping in from the continent. Gordon Taylor should get involved, he’s the player’s spokesman.” No controversy at Craven Cottage, where Fulham thump Wimbledon 3-0. “The Cup is not devalued,” says Paul Bracewell. “Just ask the Man Utd players which competition they’d sooner be playing in.” Over in Rio, United are beaten 3-1 by Vasco with Gary Neville laying on the first two goals for Romário. Sir Alex remains upbeat: “I think we’re the best team here. We were unlucky to lose the toss in our first two games and play in the sun for the first 25 minutes.” The real match of the day, however, takes place at Layer Road, where Lomano Lua-Lua proves again that he’s more than just a magnificent name by scoring the last-minute winner in Colchester’s 5-4 victory over Bristol Rovers.

Sunday 9 Given last-minute permission to play by the Nigerian FA, Kanu comes on as a sub in Arsenal’s fourth round Cup tie against Leicester, then nearly has his leg broken by the rascally Robbie Savage. “It was the kind of challenge which ends careers,” fumes Arsène. Darren Eadie, however, is the only Leicester player sent off, for a dubious second yellow card. Leeds emphasise the gulf between divisional leaders by thrashing Man City 5-2 at Maine Road. “If anyone tells you they can’t win the title don’t believe them,” gulps Joe Royle. Diego Maradona leaves the hospital in Uruguay where he was admitted last week following an alleged cocaine overdose.

Monday 10 The FA announce that the Tranmere v Sunderland match will not be replayed. “The rules of the competition were not broken,” says a spokesman. John Aldridge is still unhappy that Sunderland appealed – “They should have been big enough to take it on the chin” – while Peter Reid wants a pow-wow. “Everyone in football has got to sit down and chat about this. If I’m accountable for my team, surely the people in the middle should be accountable for their decisions.” “We had high expectations for the Cup,” sighs Gérard Houllier, after Liverpool are beaten 1-0 at home by Blackburn. “Not many teams come here and win,” says Tony Parkes, reading from a very old script. Peterhead and Elgin City of the Highland League are elected to the Scottish League for next season.

Tuesday 11 Aston Villa win the Manny Omoyimni memorial match 3-1 at Upton Park. “This night will haunt me for the rest of my life,” whispers a distraught Harry. “We had already won the game once.” “We have to be extremely selfish. Whether we deserve to be in the semis is neither here nor there,” beams John Gregory. Gillingham reach the FA Cup fifth round by beating Bradford City 3-1. “We all stood around pretending to be Premier League players,” fumes Paul Jewell. Man Utd reserves dazzle the Maracanã with a 2-0 win over South Melbourne and England’s 2006 World Cup campaign manager Alec McGivan seems gushingly pleased with their efforts: “I think Sepp Blatter is thrilled by United being here and the way in which they have accepted defeat yet still been keen participants.” George Weah joins Chelsea on loan until the end of the season, saying: “The way this team play I could score a hat-trick in every match.”

Wednesday 12 Worthington Cup drama at Filbert Street, where Leicester force extra time after being two down to Mohammed al-Fulham with five minutes left, go behind again, equalise, then win 3-0 on penalties. Martin O’Neill dips into his gagbook to praise injury-prone Ian Marshall, who scores two: “If he was fit he’d be a great acquisition for us. He only performs after Christmas to try and get another contract.” George Weah scores the only goal as Chelsea beat Spurs in the league. Chris Sutton is unavailable for comment.

Thursday 13 The referee and fourth official involved in the Tranmere v Sunderland Cup cock-up are to face an FA commission for having committed “technical irregularities” connected with the substitution that never was. Punishments at the FA’s disposal include public flogging and deportation to the colonies.

Friday 14 Corinthians win the inaugural “world club championship” on penalties after a goalless draw with Vasco da Gama. Sepp Blatter insists that Man Utd’s participation in the tournament will have no bearing on the allocation of the 2006 World Cup. “No competitions now or in the future will have any influence on the decision.” Sir Bobby Charlton, meanwhile, lays into one of England’s rivals: “It’s been our policy not to criticise others but I don’t have to mention the situation in South Africa to FIFA because their own newspapers tabulate all the problems going on there.” Four Sheffield MPs call for Danny Wilson to be sacked. “Addressing the longer term issues won’t change things this season but changing the manager might do that,” says Clive Betts. Wilson responds: “Coming out with something like this on the eve of an important match strikes me as absolutely pathetic.” Tony Pulis leaves Bristol City to become the new manager of Portsmouth.

Saturday 15 Arsenal go third after a 4-1 win over Sunderland but Thierry Henry will be the only forward available for their next match, at Old Trafford. “I’d like to buy another striker but I can’t see anyone,” says Arsène, vexed at failing to land his protege George Weah. Liverpool’s 3-2 win over a team described as “Watford reserves” by Graham Taylor takes them up to fourth. “We have 17 cup finals to come,” says Danny Wilson as Wednesday beat Bradford 2-0. Derby move further clear of danger with a 4-1 thrashing of Middlesbrough at the Riverside. Bryan Robson gets rhetorical in response to calls for his head during the match: “I expect a bit of criticism but what I will say is: where were Middlesbrough when I joined them?” Charlton’s win over Crewe takes them four points clear in the First, where Blundell Park stages the liveliest encounter of the day, Forest having two players dismissed and assistant manager Dennis Booth escorted from the ground during their 4-3 defeat at Grimsby. In the Second, Wrexham finally get a league win at the 17th attempt, 2-0 at Bury, while managerless Reading’s goalless draw with bottom-placed Cambridge extends their winless run to 12 in the league and brings their fans onto the pitch to request a confab with chairman John Madejski. Five years ago Jesper Hjorth was playing for Odense when they knocked Real Madrid out of the UEFA Cup at the Bernabeu. Today he gives Darlington the lead at Macc­lesfield but they go on to lose 2-1. So you never can tell.

Sunday 16 “Just don’t ask me about sexy football,” says Bobby Robson as Newcastle score four in the first half on the way to a 5-0 win over Southampton. David Jones is understandably frosty: “My only satisfaction came from several strong comments in the dressing room.” Man City’s 4-0 win over Fulham returns them to second place in the First Division.

Tuesday 18 Lee Bowyer and Jonathon Woodgate are arrested in connection with an assault outside a nightclub which left a teenager in hospital. Leeds chairman Peter Ridsdale says they will face “serious disciplinary action” if they have broken the club’s code of conduct. Sheffield Wednesday knock Wolves out of the FA Cup on penalties after a goalless draw. “We have seen the spirit the side possesses in the last few weeks,” says Danny Wilson. Meanwhile, the Westminster assault on Wednesday continues with Joe Ashton MP attacking club chairman David Richards for his handling of the club finances and spending too much time on his administrative role with the Premier League: “The old political advice says you can’t ride two horses with one arse in a three-ring circus.” He’s gruff.

Wednesday 19 The Wednesday row rolls on with the Gang of Four ringleader Joe Ashton suggesting that the main shareholders would use relegation as an excuse to asset strip the club in order to sell it off. “It beggars belief that anyone could suggest we would be happy to be rel­egated,” says Wednesday director Howard Culley. Leic­ester win another penalty shoot-out, 6-5 after a goalless draw with Arsenal in their FA Cup fourth round replay, Pegguy Arphexad making the crucial save from Gilles Grimandi. They will now play Chelsea, who beat Forest 2-0. Motherwell announce a bid to buy out neighbours Air­drie. “It’s well known that we would like a broader Lan- arkshire appeal for the club,” says chairman John Boyle.

Saturday 22 Stirrings in the undergrowth as Sheffield Wednesday move off the bottom for the first time in four months after a 1-0 win at Spurs. “That win was for my chairman. Some managers don’t get the backing I’ve had,” says Danny Wilson. Watford replace them following a 3-2 defeat at Bradford. “I find myself asking the players, ‘Are you actually listening to what I am saying?’,” wails Graham Taylor. Another ex-England boss is equally forlorn, Bobby Robson describing Wimbledon as “sad and miserable but very effective” after their 2-0 win over Newcastle. Understating expertly, Gérard Houllier suggests that Michael Owen is “feeling a bit down” after his hamstring pings again during Liverpool’s goalless home draw with Middlesbrough. Charlton take a four-point lead in the First by winning at Norwich. Barnsley moving up to joint second after thrashing Blackburn 5-1 while Man City lose at Sheffield Utd. In the Third the League’s most irritating mascot has a field day as Swansea set a club record with a tenth successive win.

Sunday 23 “I don’t need so-called experts telling me how to pick my team,” says David O’Leary as a Leeds side containing Lee Bowyer and Jon Woodgate win 2-1 at Sunderland with old boy Michael Bridges getting the winner. Ian Wright faces a disciplinary inquiry after being red-carded in the players’ tunnel for fighting with an opponent after Celtic’s 1-1 draw at Kilmarnock. “It’s a joke,” he confides.

Monday 24 Back from the beach, Man Utd draw 1-1 at home with Arsenal, who hold the lead for an hour before Teddy Sheringham’s equaliser. “If United win all their games in hand no one will be able to stop them,” says Arsène logically. Bradford decide against signing Stan Collymore after Villa insist they want £3 million for him.

Tuesday 25 “Boring boring Leicester,” rings around Villa Park as the home team are held to a goalless draw in the first leg of their Worthington semi-final. “It was their job to beat us. When we have a full team we are more than a match for them,” says Martin O’Neill. There’s better news for Villa in the announcement that media group NTL are to pay £26 million for a 9.9 per cent stake in the club. Bill Kenwright completes his takeover of Everton and says: “I have a plan. It’s spelt M-O-N-E-Y.”

Wednesday 26 Tranmere reach Wembley after beating Bolton 3-0 in the return leg of their Worthington semi. John Aldridge takes a day off from being the angriest man in Britain to crack a smile: “For Tranmere to get to the final of a major competition makes me a proud man.” “They were magnificent on the night and we couldn’t cope,” sighs Sam Allardyce.

Friday 28 Glenn Hoddle takes over as Southampton manager, replacing David Jones, who is taking a year off to contest his court case. It’s supposed to be a temporary move, but Southampton chairman Rupert Lowe’s comment that his former manager is “bitterly disappointed” suggests otherwise. Glenn, meanwhile, is up for it: “This is a terrific challenge.”

Saturday 29 Gillingham and Tranmere both reach the last eight of the FA Cup for the first time. Sheffield Wed take a early lead at Priestfield but concede three in the last 20 minutes. “I instructed the carpenters to start building a trophy cabinet on Friday,” says Gills chairman Paul Scally. John Aldridge is equally bullish after Tranmere’s 2-1 win at Fulham: “My dressing room is alive with spirit and that comes from me.” Everton score twice against the run of play to beat Preston, Bolton win at Cambridge. Charlton come back from two down to win 3-2 at Coventry and Hearts do the same in the Scottish Cup at home to Stenhousemuir. In the Premiership, Middlesbrough have one of those days at Old Trafford, with Christian Ziege sent off and Juninho missing a penalty before David Beckham’s shot trickles through Mark Schwarzer’s hands for a last-minute United winner. Man City have a very good day without playing, Ipswich being held to a home draw by Sheffield Utd and Barnsley missing a chance to go second by crashing 3-0 at Portsmouth, some of whose players are in trouble for betting on themselves to win. Bristol Rovers top the Second after beating Wrexham.

Sunday 30 Chelsea’s FA Cup encounter with Leicester is as lively as expected. Steve Walsh and Dennis Wise are sent off and Martin O’Neill fumes over a foul on a Leicester defender in the build-up to Chelsea’s second goal in their 2-1 win: “Chelsea were given every advantage.” On a roll, Martin also calls Ken Bates “a cretin” for criticising Leicester’s playing style in his programme notes. “Takes one to know one,” smirks Ken. In the other tie, a Benito Carbone hat-trick takes Villa past Leeds, who had led twice in the first half, his second a shot from 40 yards out. “Any other day it would have gone in the Holte End,” says John Gregory, stern as you like.

Monday 31 Alan Shearer scores both goals as Newcastle knock his old club Blackburn out of the FA Cup. He also unveils a couple of new goal celebrations seemingly aimed at the home supporters. “I’ve been back here before and been harshly treated. Every dog has his day,” he says with that patented frown/smirk. Fulham deny rumours that they have approached Eric Cantona about becoming their manager. “I had this when we were doing well but then it was only Terry Venables and Glenn Hoddle supposedly after my job,” says Paul Bracewell. He’s laughing now, but…

From WSC 157 March 2000. What was happening this month