March 1998

Sunday 1 Forest go back to the top of the First Division after thrashing Middlesbrough 4-0. Spurs widen the gap between themselves and the trapdoor after an Allan Nielsen goal is enough to beat Bolton.

Tuesday 3 Villa escape with a 1-0 defeat away to Atletico Madrid in the UEFA Cup, the only goal a penalty from Christian Vieri. Atletico could be fined by UEFA after Mark Bosnich has objects thrown at him by home fans, mostly batteries (from radios, not cars). Stan Collymore claims to have been racially abused by Liverpool's Steve Harkness during and after the clubs' League match and may now take a complaint to the FA. Sheffield Utd chairman Mike Macdonald reacts tetchily to Nigel Spackman's decision to step down, saying "I was never 100 per cent sold on him. And it looks as though I may have been proved right." Woooh. Lou Macari is favourite to take over but then the bookies have always liked him. Doncaster draw their lowest crowd ever, 739, for the 2-0 defeat against Barnet that leaves them 11 points adrift at the bottom.

Wednesday 4 A goalless bore for Man Utd in Monaco's cauldron of apathy in the Champions League quarter-final. Eight United players need treatment for calf injuries picked up on the rock-hard pitch, parts of which had been, gasp, painted green. Elsewhere, Spurs suffer their 15th League defeat of the season, 1-0 at Leeds, while in the First Division, Middlesbrough get a seeing to again, this time 5-0 at QPR. Sunderland, 3-0 winners at Forest, are only three points behind the top two. Peter Reid will be cursing with delight.

Thursday 5 Tore Andre Flo scores twice in the first 12 minutes as Chelsea win 2-1 at Betis in their Cup Winners Cup quarter-final. "I'm just worried he may keep me out of the side," says Gianluca, who left himself on the bench. Sheffield Utd chairman Mike Macdonald quits, piqued by fans' criticism of his handling of the Nigel Spackman affair. Spackman may now be invited to become manager again.

Saturday 7 Hans Segers returns from the dead to save a last-minute penalty for Wolves who beat Leeds 1-0 to reach the Cup semis. In the other tie Coventry and Sheffield Utd draw 1-1. In the League, Man Utd's lead is cut to nine points after they lose 2-0 at Sheffield Wed while Liverpool come from behind to beat Bolton 2-1. Trevor Francis threatens to resign as Birmingham City manager having apparently been abused by some of the club's corporate guests after the match with QPR. Bloody hooligans – time those executive boxes were closed down.

Sunday 8 In the remaining Cup quarter-finals, Newcastle beat Barnsley 3-1 and West Ham get a 1-1 draw at Arsenal. In Scotland a last minute own goal gives Celtic a 3-2 win in their tie at Dundee Utd. And it's three League games without a goal for Gianluca-the-manager with Chelsea beaten 1-0 at home by Villa. Hope yet for Betis…

Wednesday 11 Arsenal close the gap at the top to nine points by winning 1-0 at Wimbledon while Man Utd eke out a draw at West Ham. Barnsley's good form continues with a slightly lucky 1-0 win at Aston Villa which leaves them only two points behind two-fifths of the Big Five, Spurs and Everton, with a game in hand. Palace, though, sink further into the mire with a 6-2 thrashing at Chelsea, who may never get a better chance to register double figures in a League game.

Thursday 12 Arsenal announce that they are thinking of buying Wembley Stadium because their plans for the redevelopment of Highbury seem likely to be blocked. The FA, who are attempting to buy Wembley outright with lottery money, are opposed to Arsenal's bid, a spokesman saying: "A redeveloped national stadium at Wembley is a vital ingredient in the World Cup bid for 2006." Meanwhile, evil pensioner JoÅ0ä0o Havelange sticks his oar into the 2006 debate by saying that he thinks England should be hosts: "Mr Blair tells me that the rebuilt Wembley will be the showpiece and this is important." Havelange's likely successor as FIFA president, Lennart Johansson, has already backed Germany's bid and South Africa also seem to be ahead of England in the betting. Paul Gascogine's mooted transfer to Palace is now off, possibly because he's had a gander at the League table. Middlesbrough are the new favourites to sign him.

Saturday 14 Arsenal win 1-0 at Old Trafford courtesy of a late goal from Marc Overmars, and are only six points behind with three games in hand. "For the first time it's in our hands," says Ars®®ne. Peter Schmeichel is injured after trundling up for a last-minute corner and may be out for a month. "The major blow today was not the psychological one but losing Schmeichel," says Alex. The pack chasing a Champions League place all slip up with Blackburn losing 1-0 at Everton, Chelsea going down to their twelfth defeat of the season, 2-1 at West Ham and Liverpool, with their knockabout defence, needing a last- minute equaliser to draw at Spurs, who are now level on points with Barnsley, 4-3 winners against Southampton. Bolton also win, 3-2 at home to Sheffield Wed, but Palace, now under the polyglot caretaker management of Attilio Lombardo and his interpreter Tomas Brolin, beat a Premiership record by losing their eighth successive match, 3-1 at Villa. Rangers' chances of a tenth successive Scottish League are knocked back further with a 2-1 defeat at Motherwell.

Sunday 15 Leeds go berserk, winning 5-0 at Derby. Jim Smith, a notorious crockery thrower, will have got through a whole dinner service in the dressing room. Celtic are two points clear of Hearts and five ahead of Rangers after a home draw with Dundee Utd. Newcastle may have sold Andy Cole to Man Utd knowing that he was due for major surgery according to the News of the World, who report a series of controversial comments made by the club's chairman Freddie Shepherd and director Douglas Hall while slacking in Marbella (they also claim that club replica shirts, sold for £50, cost only £5 to make). The FA may investigate the Cole story, Sir John Hall is said to be "fuming" and the club's share price is expected to plummet. Cheered us up, though.

Monday 16 After four years, seven managers and an untold number of toupees, Francis Lee resigns as Man City chairman saying: "There are enemies within and without. I have even been blamed for performances on the pitch, why I do not know." City dropped back into the bottom three in the First Division after defeat at Port Vale last Saturday. David Bernstein takes over as chairman.

Tuesday 17 Arsenal survive the first-half dismissal of Dennis Bergkamp, who hit Steve Lomas, to beat West Ham on penalties in their FA Cup quarter final replay. (They had taken the lead through Nicolas Anelka after going down to ten men only for prolific ginge John Hartson to equalise six minutes from time.) "He pulled my shirt and I did not realise the consequences until after it happened," says Dennis, as though explaining a playground fight. He will now miss the semi final and two League matches. The other quarter final replay also goes to penalties after Sheffield United's David Holdsworth gets an equaliser in the last minute of normal time against Coventry. United go through after keeper Alan Kelly makes three saves in the shootout. Wee Gordon, we can tell you, looked distraught. In the UEFA Cup Aston Villa come back from behind to beat Atletico Madrid 2-1 on the night but go out on away goals. Bournemouth and Grimsby are through to the Auto Windscreens Final (possibly something for Man City fans to look forward to next season).

Wednesday 18 Man Utd are out of the Champions League at the quarter final stage after a 1-1 home draw with Monaco, who take an early lead before Ole Solskjaer equalises in the second half. "I am convinced that had we all our players available we would have won," says Alex, angling for a cuddle. Ryan Giggs missed the match and Paul Scholes picked up an injury which may keep him out of the World Cup. Newcastle's problems intensify with a 2-1 home defeat by Palace which is accompanied by fan demonstrations against Freddie Shepherd and Douglas Hall, both of whom stay away from the match. "I have not been in this position before though I have been in the First Division," says Kenny, almost chattily. "Tell the mob they have got their way," says Terry Bullivant, who blames abuse from home fans for his decision to resign as Reading manager.

Thursday 19 Chelsea reach the semi-finals of the Cup-Winners Cup with a 3-1 win over Betis at Stamford Bridge. Betis's liveliest performer is coach Luis Aragones who is sent off after complaining to the referee about Chelsea's tackling, then nearly escorted from the ground by stewards after reappearing amongst Betis fans behind the dugout. "If he said we were hard and tough then we should be harder and tougher," says Gianluca, who'll be talking about trenches and the Bosch before you know it.

Saturday 21 Forest stay top of the First Division after two late goals from Pierre Van Hooijdonk bring a 2-1 win at Birmingham. Sunderland move into second after a late winner at home to Portsmouth. At the sticky end, Stoke move off the bottom after a 2-1 win over QPR who are now just three points above the relegation zone, and Man City slip back into the bottom three after a draw with Sheffield United. "They are not going to turn into a football side overnight," concedes Joe Royle (and would he be happy if they did?).

Sunday 22 The Newcastle row rumbles on with three non-executive directors, "highly respected captains of industry," according to the News of the World, poised to stand down if Douglas Hall and Freddie Shepherd don't resign. Alan Shearer, meanwhile, can't understand what the fuss is about: "It is not something that has been a topic of conversation around the the dressing room," he says, adding, "I really was not aware of any demonstrations by supporters at the Palace game." Al, you see, is just paid to play (and, theoretically, to score). Middlesbrough move back into an automatic promotion spot in the First Division after a 3-0 home win over Norwich.

Monday 23 Douglas Hall and Freddie Shepherd resign as Newcastle directors after a 12-hour meeting (how long can it take to say piss off?). Sir John Hall is to take over as chairman until the end of the season. "If Sir John comes back it will not be for the good of Newcastle United but for the good of his family fortune," says Newcastle ISA chairman Kevin Miles.

Tuesday 24 The 1998 World Cup organising committee is to face legal action from the European Commission over its refusal to make more than 50,000 of the 160,000 unallocated tickets available to non-French residents. If a fine is imposed it could be up as much as ten per cent of the total revenue from the tournament. "You have to be as sure to be as generous to your guest as you are to yourselves," says Tony Banks, who might have cause to remember that should England get the chance to host a World Cup some time (it's not going to be 2006, mind). A bad night to be under-21, or an over-age guest, as England's hopefuls lose 2-0 to their Swiss counterparts, while Scotland are beaten 2-1 at home by Denmark and the Rep of Ireland lose 3-0 in the Czech Republic.

Wednesday 25
Another sleepless night for Glenn as England are lucky to scrape a 1-1 draw in Switzerland, Paul Merson equalising Ramon Vega's opener. "Playing as poorly as we did in the first half I wondered when it was all going to end," says Glenn. Good job he had his faith to get him through. Brian Laudrup scores the goal by which Denmark defeat Scotland at Ibrox. Wales are held at home by Jamaica with Bobby Gould complaining about the relative world ranking of the two teams (Jamaica are 33rd, Wales 107th, three places ahead of the Vatican). Lawrie McMenemy gets off to a winning start as Northern Ireland manager with a 1-0 win over Slovakia while the Rep of Ireland lose 2-1 to the Czechs.

Thursday 26
"I am very excited," says Paul Gascoigne for the umpteenth time after signing for Middlesbrough for £3.4 million. "Next season he will be the difference between us staying up or not," says Paul Merson, not exactly brimming with confidence about Boro's chances in the Premiership – or did he mean the First Division? Sasa Curcic finally moves from Villa to Palace, having overcome his work permit problems by marrying a British citizen (but he is in love).Tommy Burns leaves his coaching job at Newcastle, apparently upset because Kenny only wanted someone to hand out the training bibs, to become manager of Reading, currently bottom of the First Division.

Saturday 28 A Fulham fan dies of head injuries after clashes between rival fans following a match at Gillingham. One man is arrested. Early reports criticise police for failing to keep the two sets of supporters apart as they were leaving the stadium. Man Utd and Arsenal steam on towards the Champions League with laboured home wins over Wimbledon and Sheffield Wed respectively. Liverpool stay third after last-minute winner at Barnsley who finish the match with eight players after an unorthodox refereeing performance from Gary Willard, who at one point disappears down the players' tunnel to escape from an enraged home fan. "Sometimes football takes second place to other things and this was one of those days," says Roy Evans. Crystal Palace are one step closer to going a whole season without a home win after losing 3-1 to Spurs who move above Everton, now a step nearer to providing Tranmere with a local derby after a 4-1 home defeat by Villa. Bolton keep their hopes of escape alive with a 2-0 win over Leicester. The top of the table game in Scotland finishes in a goalless draw between Celtic and Hearts; Rangers are now three points adrift after winning at Dunfermline.

Sunday 29 Chelsea win the Coke Cup beating Middlesbrough 2-0. Gianluca Vialli, who had left himself out of the team, collects the trophy at the player's behest and says: "I pay tribute to Ruud Gullit. I'm sure he will be delighted we won it." Ruud is believed to have gone shopping (jackets, shoes, a car and a small island). Paul Gascoigne is booked shortly after coming on as a sub.

Monday 30 Leeds players escape serious injury when the plane taking them back from their trip to West Ham, which had ended in a 3-0 defeat, crash lands at Stansted. "I was thinking about losing a football match and two hours later we got the result of the season," says George Graham.

Tuesday 31 Arsenal are three points behind Man Utd after winning 1-0 at Bolton, their eighth match without conceding a goal, despite having the indelicate Martin Keown sent off. "The message to Manchester United is that we go from game to game and this is just another away victory," whispers Arsene, a shy smile tugging away at the corners of his mouth (we imagine). Blackburn move up to fourth after a late Kevin Gallacher goal gives them a 2-1 win over Barnsley. The spirited small fry from Newcastle edge nearer to safety with a goalless draw at Wimbledon.

From WSC 135 May 1998. What was happening this month