March 1997

Saturday 1 Steve Coppell is back as Palace manager. "I've been around here on and off for quite some time," he says, while Ron Noades reopens an old, unresolved mystery: "I don't think his leaving Maine Road was to do with ill health. I think that's something Man City put out." "If we do not receive an apology Mr Noades will reap the consequences of what he said," replies a City spokesman.

Sunday 2 Man Utd take a four-point lead at the top after a 3-1 win over a vaudeville troop from Coventry, who chip in with two own goals in the first five minutes. A Shearer-less Newcastle are beaten at home by Matt Le Tissier's goal for Southampton, but Arsenal keep their Champs and Runners-Up League hopes alive by winning at Everton, back on the slide again. West Ham and Middlesbrough tighten their hold on the bottom two places, following defeats at Leeds and Sheffield Wednesday. Meanwhile, Irving Scholar's Nottm Forest boost their survival hopes by beating Spurs 1-0 at White Hart Lane. "We are slipping into a bad area," says Gerry Francis, as though he'd never been 13th before.

Tuesday 4 The Grobbelgaate (copyright WSC) match fixing trial finishes with the jury being discharged after failing to reach a verdict. The Crown Prosecution Service will press for a re-trial. "Maybe we should decide this on penalties," says Bruce, in a clown-prince-of-soccer sort of way. Newcastle, unrecognizable with four forwards missing and Robert Lee up front, lose 1-0 at home to Monaco in their UEFA Cup Quarter Final first leg. Still, at least they won't be facing an intimidating crowd in the return.

Wednesday 5 Man Utd, with Ryan Giggs outstanding, put in one of their best home displays in Europe beating Porto 4-0 in the first leg of their Champions League Quarter Final. "I would have been happy with 1-0 if we kept Porto at bay but 4-0 is just fantastic," says Alex Ferguson looking as close to cherubic as he'll ever get. Earlier in the day Alex confirmed that he would not be allowing Man Utd players to take part in England's Summer tournament in France which begins three days after the World Cup tie in Poland. Liverpool and Newcastle are expected to follow suit. Looks like a Spurs XI, then. Mike °ÆMr Controversy' Reed is taken off the Chelsea v Leicester League match which he was due to referee next week, "after careful consideration of the factors involved," according to a League spokesman, although neither club objected to Reed being in charge.

Thursday 6 Liverpool draw their Cup Winners' Cup Quarter Final first leg against the Norwegians Brann, their goal a brilliant solo effort from Robbie Fowler. Celtic reach the Semi-Finals of the Scottish Cup with their first win over Rangers in ten games, 2-0 at Parkhead. Portsmouth's Paul Hall reports Man City's Eddie McGoldrick to the police for alleged racist comments made during the team's League match two days ago, saying, "It has taken me 24 years to lose my temper but I've lost it now."

Friday 7
Life eh? Tsk. Man Utd break a long winning run with a shock 2-1 defeat at Sunderland, who had lost four in a row. "I knew it was going to be hard to get them going today and so it proved," says Alex, back to his gloomy best. Goals from Juninho and Ravanelli take Middlesbrough to the FA Cup Semi-Finals at Derby's expense. "It is easy to win honours with big teams like Manchester United but to do it with Middlesbrough is a far bigger challenge," says Juninho observantly, while Jim Smith dips into the Manager's Interview Handbook for a hardy perennial: "We were just pumping balls into their box and that made it easy for them". Brighton face another FA inquiry after a Leyton Orient player is attacked during a pitch invasion at the Goldstone sparked off by a goal for the visitors.

Saturday 8 Chelsea cruise into the FA Cup Semi-Finals with a 4-1 win at Portsmouth. "They tried to kick us but we played our football. Just because Mark Hughes' calves are big doesn't mean that you can kick them," says Ruud, not quite magnanimous in victory. In the last four they will face Wimbledon, who score twice in the last 15 minutes to beat Sheffield Wednesday at Hillsborough. "When I ask for one more charge they put the tin hats on and go over the top again," says Joe Kinnear, via telegram from the Somme. Chesterfield win the Division Two tie with Wrexham, 1-0 – "I feel like I'm flying," says goalscorer Chris Beaumont – and will now face fellow first-timers Middlesbrough in the other semi.

Sunday 9 It's one of those space time continuum loop things like in Dr Who: Newcastle are doomed to lose 4-3 to a last minute goal at Anfield for eternity. Robbie Fowler gets the injury time winner after Newcastle had pulled back from 3-0 down to equalize two minutes from time. "It would have been ridiculous if we hadn't come out of this game with three points," says Roy Evans. "I don't think it's over for us yet," says Kenny Dalglish, mercifully not adding the bit about the fat lady.

Monday 10
Leicester are through to the Hokey Cokey Cup Final on away goals after a 1-1 draw with Wimbledon in the Semi-Final, second leg. "I don't know how old I was at the start of that game but I'm 93 now," says Martin O'Neill, after saves from Kasey Keller and goal line clearances keep the home team out. "I feel the luckiest team went through," says Joe Kinnear, as you'd expect. The Crown Prosecution Service decides not to take action against Peter Schmeichel for alleged racist comments made during a confrontation with Ian Wright, who has declined to make an official complaint about the incident.

Tuesday 11 Middlesbrough are through to their first Wembley final on a 2-1 aggregate after losing 1-0 at home to Stockport in their Hokey Cokey Semi-Final second leg. "They say football is all about excitement and we are certainly getting plenty of it," says Bryan Robson from a prone position. West Ham are out of the bottom three after a last-minute goal from Paul Kitson brings a 3-2 win over Chelsea.

Saturday 15 A three point lead for Man Utd who beat Sheffield Wed 2-0, with Alex Ferguson saying of his team, "All they need to do to be the best ever at this club is to believe it," while Liverpool are held to a draw at Forest, whose equalizer comes courtesy of a fumble by the increasingly erratic David James. Arsenal are a point further back after a third straight win, 2-0 at Southampton. Tony Yeboah may have played his last game for Leeds after throwing his shirt at the bench on being substituted during the 1-0 defeat at Spurs – "he will be disciplined for petulance," says George Graham.

Sunday 16 Rangers virtually wrap up their ninth successive Scottish championship after a Brian Laudrup goal is enough to beat Celtic at Parkhead. Mark Hateley, just bought back by Rangers from QPR, is sent off, as is Celtic's Malky Mackay and there is a lively dust-up between both sets of players at the final whistle. Trouble, too, at the Bristol derby when fighting erupts in the home end after visitors City take the lead. City were threatened with a two point deduction after a pitch invasion during the first match last November.

Monday 17
Newcastle become the first English team to lose to a French club in Europe since they last did it nineteen years ago, going down 3-0 away to Monaco and so losing their UEFA Cup tie 4-0 on aggregate. "We didn't do ourselves any favours for the first two goals," says Kenny, just as his predecessor might. A Stan Lazaridis goal in the 90th minute gets West Ham a draw at Wimbledon and takes them a point clear of the relegation area. "When you are one down with a minute to go you are very pleased to get a point," says Harry Redknapp with rare wisdom.

Wednesday 19
Man Utd reach the Champions League Semis after their Quarter-Final second leg in Porto finishes goalless. Before the game local police baton charge around 200 United fans. Some whose tickets are for different sections have been redirected to the away end, and chaos ensues when the computerized turnstiles reject them. Later several United fans are hospitalized after police fire rubber bullets into a group of supporters attempting to leave the stadium. "This was an unprovoked assault on innocent supporters," says United's marketing director Edward Freedman. In the League, fast-improving Middlesbrough are off the bottom after a 2-1 win over Blackburn, their place taken by Southampton who lose 1-0 at Chelsea.

Thursday 20 Liverpool are through to the Cup Winners' Cup Semis after a 3-0 win over Brann in the second leg of their Quarter Final tie, including two goals from Robbie Fowler, whose shirt message reads "Support the sacked 500 dockers" – Tory election campaigner John Barnes won't have approved. The FA are investigating a claim by Torquay that they were asked to pay Stevenage Borough £30,000 so that the latter would not have to sell striker Barry Hayles before the end of last season. Hayles' goals helped Stevenage beat Woking in a match that decided the Conference title. Torquay would have dropped out of the League if Woking, whose ground meets the League's grading standards, had been Conference champions. Bournemouth will be able to play out the rest of the season after a winding up order against them was adjourned in the High Court until mid-May.

Saturday 22 With their main rivals playing tomorrow, Man Utd open up a six point lead after becoming the latest team to register a comfortable win at Goodison Park, 2-0. Middlesbrough storm further up the table after beating Chelsea 1-0 with a header from . . . Juninho. Even stranger, Ronnie Rosenthal gets on the scoresheet for Spurs, who come back from two down at Derby only to concede two in a minute to lose 4-2. Forest get a late equalizer to share a point with fellow strugglers Sunderland but Coventry slide further into trouble after being beaten 3-1 at home by the resurgent West Ham. QPR's match with Portsmouth is held up for fifteen minutes after an invasion of a home stand by away supporters causes fans to spill onto the pitch. Return to dark ages says the Daily Mail. FA inquiry coming right up.

Sunday 23
Newcastle may have lost their last chance of the championship after a 1-1 draw at Wimbledon though Kenny Dalglish is still optimistic: "We can come from behind. It happened before and we can do it again." Or do it for the first time in Newcastle's case. After David Beckham and Gary Pallister are withdrawn from England's squad for the supremely pointless friendly with Mexico, Glenn Hoddle puts on his crash helmet, grits his teeth and calls up the remaining fit English players in Utd's squad – David May and Phil Neville. Alex will have his revenge. In Holland one person dies and several are injured after a prearranged fight between Ajax and Feyenoord fans on waste ground outside Amsterdam.

Monday 24
Liverpool are three points off the top again after a 2-1 win at Arsenal. Controversy surrounds their second goal, a penalty given when Robbie Fowler tumbles after brushing past David Seaman. Fowler himself seems to appeal against the decision, then has his spotkick saved only for spoilsport Jason McAteer to score from the rebound.

Tuesday 25 Middlesbrough fail in their appeal against having three points deducted for failing to send a team to a League fixture at Blackburn in December. A Premier League spokesman says, "The Board accepts that Middlesbrough acted in good faith, but considers that the breach of the rules was serious." The club may now appeal in the High Court, though a hearing is unlikely to be arranged until after the end of the season.

Wednesday 26
Joe Royle resigns as Everton manager "by mutual consent", having seen the team win just two of their last fourteen games. "There were one or two disagreements between us," says chairman Peter Johnson, who will appoint a caretaker manager until the end of the season, then try to land the bewilderingly popular Bobby Robson, or possibly Jurgen Klinsmann, or any other name that might persuade season-ticket holders to renew. So not Alan Ball. Robbie Fowler is fined £900 by UEFA for his message of support for Liverpool dockers, a day after being praised by FIFA's Sepp Blatter for his sportsmanship over the Arsenal penalty incident.

Thursday 27 A busy week for Robbie Fowler ends with him scoring his first goal for England in a 2-0 win over Mexico, Teddy Sheringham getting the other from the penalty spot. "The priority is to go out there and get a result and that is what we have done," says Glenn, rivettingly. Elsewhere Scotland boost their World Cup chances with a 2-0 win over Estonia, but Northern Ireland's hopes sink after a goalless home draw with Portugal and Wales are out of the running after a 2-1 home defeat by Belgium.

Friday 28
Bolton are almost assured of promotion back to the Premier League after third place Wolves' draw at QPR leaves them eighteen points behind the leaders with only six games left and a hugely inferior goals for tally. Another little prob for Tel: Portsmouth director Vic Jenner resigns, saying, "After a lifetime in business I was used to certain standards of practice and felt that these were not being met." The FA say they will look into the role played at Portsmouth by Terry's business partner, and undischarged bankrupt, Eddie Ashby.

From WSC 123 May 1997. What was happening this month