March 2000

Wednesday 1 Man Utd beat Bordeaux 2-0. “You’ve got to win your home games,” advises Sir Alex. Mark Bosnich, dropped after his leaden-footed display against Wimbledon the previous Saturday, is said to be “fuming”, the poppet.

Thursday 2 A UEFA Cup stroll for Arsenal, who thrash Deportivo 5-1, though their last three goals, one a spectacular solo by Kanu, come against ten men after Gilles Grimandi contrives to get an opponent sent off. Leeds get a goalless draw away to Roma. “Character is a quality we don’t lack despite our tender years,” says David O’Leary (apparently some of his players are quite young). Newcastle fans’ Save Our Seats group loses its court case against the club who want to move bond holders from their seats to accommodate more corporate clients. Spurs freeze their season ticket prices for next season: “Attendances are already falling at other clubs and we would prefer to have White Hart Lane bursting at the seams for every match,” says cheery philanthropist Alan Sugar.

Friday 3 Sky buy 9.9 per cent of Chelsea Village for £40 million, a sum hailed romantically as “a recognition of the brand strength of Chelsea” by the club’s finance director Michael Russell. An estimated 100,000 line the streets in the Potteries for the funeral of Stanley Matthews. FIFA spoil the fun in the Cayman Islands by refusing them permission to play their motley collection of Brits in the World Cup qualifier against Cuba. Relief on the horizon for Celtic – Berti Vogts has applied for the manager’s job.

Saturday 4 Man Utd draw 1-1 with Liverpool thanks to an equaliser just before half-time from Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, a few minutes after his tackle had put Sami Hyypia out of the game. “I was a bit misled in terms of how long I thought was left of the half,” admits Gérard, who fails to substitute his defender. Most worried club in the Premiership are Wimbledon, who capitulate 4-0 to a Kinkladze-inspired Derby and seem about to sell John Hartson to Tottenham. “The last time I played Wimbledon I spent a lot of time on the floor,” says the Georgian. “They were a better team then.” In the First Division, Charlton go ten points clear after their 11th league win on the trot, 2-0 at Bolton. “It seems there are about 15 managers here and now I am getting sworn at by my own crowd,” says disgruntled West Brom manager Brian Little after his team loses 3-0 at home to Birmingham and drops into the bottom three. In the Second, Ian Wright sparks Burnley to a 3-0 home defeat by Preston, who are now only a point behind Bristol Rovers at the top. Carlisle’s 5-0 defeat at Lincoln leaves them level on points with Chester at the bottom of the Third. “It’s difficult to know where we go from here,” says Carlisle boss Paul Baker. Barrow, perhaps?

Sunday 5 Stan Collymore does what he does best – appearing on the front page of the papers accused of brawling in a bar in the early hours. Later in the day he scores a hat-trick as Leicester thrash a steeply descending Sunderland 5-2. “He’s very popular in the dressing-room,” Martin O’Neill confirms. “It was a waste of time coming along,” moans Gordon Strachan after Leeds cut the gap at the top of the table to four points with a 3-0 win over Coventry. Unstoppable goalscorer Lee Dixon gets his second in consecutive games to rescue a point for Arsenal at Aston Villa, but Emmanuel Petit may be in trouble for (yawn) making an obscene gesture to the crowd. “I didn’t see anything,” says Arsène, whose attention span is giving serious cause for concern.

Monday 6 Tottenham’s overworked medical team decides John Hartson is a knee problem too far and his proposed £7 million move falls through. “They’ve gone potty,” retorts Hartson’s agent Jonathan Barnett. To no one’s surprise, Brian Little parts company with West Brom after his attack on the way the club is run. Ron Atkinson quickly rules himself out of contention for the job. Fenerbahce are said to be planning a move for Duncan Ferguson. “I want to know everything about the man,” says their director Selim Soydan. “I have even bought a book about him.” Raith Rovers midfielder Marvin Andrews scores the first goal of the 2002 World Cup in a 5-0 win for Trinidad and Tobago (now in the tender care of Ian Porterfield) over Netherlands Antilles. The Cayman Islands’ brief spell of publicity ends with a 4-0 defeat in Cuba.

Tuesday 7 Man Utd’s 2-1 victory in Bordeaux virtually guarantees them a place in the quarter-finals of the Champions League. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer gets the late winner. “It was a magnificent finish. He might even start our next match,” says Sir Alex. On a different planet Chester fans gain some respite from their suffering as a goalless draw at Plymouth takes their team off the bottom of the league.

Wednesday 8 Chelsea lead their Champions League group after a Dennis Wise goal beats Marseille. “Now he is making headlines for the right reasons,” beams his proud dad Gianluca. Stuart Pearce breaks his left leg for the second time in six months during West Ham’s 2-0 win over Southampton. “I have no doubt he’ll be back and give some poor right winger a kick in his first game,” chuckles Harry Redknapp. Man City blow a chance to return to second place in the First Division, losing 3-1 at home to QPR. “I felt like booing myself,” says Joe Royle. Rangers all but wrap up the Scottish title after a 1-0 win at Celtic takes them 12 points clear. Man Utd are halfway towards being able to buy the world as their stock market value reaches £1 billion after a flurry of trading following their victory in Bordeaux.

Thursday 9 A 1-0 win over Roma takes Leeds through to the quarter-finals of the UEFA Cup where they are joined by Arsenal, 6-3 aggregate winners over Deportivo La Coruña. For the first time since 1984 there are no Italian clubs in the last eight. “I’m distraught,” says Martin O’Neill as Emile Heskey joins Liverpool for £11 million. Gérard Houllier explains why the long anticipated move was brought forward: “We have 12 games to try and qualify for Europe. He can make the difference.” Gary Megson succeeds Brian Little again, replacing him as the new manager of West Brom less than a year since taking over at Stoke. George Best is admitted to hospital with suspected liver disease. “George finally realises he has a few problems,” says his agent.

Saturday 11 “If we put a run together, will the teams above us cope with the pressure?” asks Danny Wilson, more in hope that expectation, as Sheffield Wed’s 3-1 win over West Ham takes them to within seven points of fourth-bottom Derby, who lose by the same score at Man Utd. Wimbledon settle their nerves with a 2-1 win over Leicester but Egil Olsen again warns of tough times ahead: “We won’t sell anyone until we’re safe but after that we’ll have to.” Southampton stay four points above the relegation zone after a 7-2 thrashing at Spurs. “I couldn’t believe what I was seeing out there,” says Glenn, as shocked as any White Hart Lane regular. In the First Division, Charlton’s run of 12 consecutive wins ends with a 1-0 home defeat to bottom-placed Swindon. Their closest pursuers, Ipswich, fail to benefit, losing at Wolves. Barnsley move up to third, swapping places with Man City after beating them 2-1 at Oakwell.

Sunday 12 Leeds stay four points behind Man Utd after a 2-1 win at Bradford, who try filling up their goal with Neville Southall, now 41 and approximately 15 stone. Arsenal continue to loiter in fifth place after a 2-1 defeat at Middlesbrough for which a peeved Arsène blames the busy European calendar: “It is a disadvantage to play in the UEFA Cup. We are in an experiment and we are paying for it.” Blackburn’s play-off hopes are severely dented by a 1-0 home defeat by Crewe amid rumours that they are to take on (ulp) Graeme Souness as a “consultant”.

Monday 13 Gianluca Vialli refuses to consider spending £18 million on PSV’s Ruud van Nistelrooy: “The asking price is out of our league. I don’t want to bankrupt Chelsea.” Oh go on. Bruce Rioch resigns as Norwich manager saying, “The club don’t have the resources to match my ambitions.”

Tuesday 14 Last eight of the Champions League for Chelsea, 3-1 winners away to Feyenoord. “We are capable of beating everybody but we will have to be perfect to progress,” says Gianluca. Jonathan Woodgate and Lee Bowyer are charged with GBH over an alleged attack on a student in January. “They will continue to be involved until someone finds them guilty,” says David O’Leary. “Graeme Souness is precisely the man we need” – not a phrase you expect to hear often, but that’s the view of Jack Walker on appointing the new manager of Blackburn.

Wednesday 15 Man Utd also reach the knockout stages of the Champions League, coming from behind to beat Fiorentina 3-1. “We’ve always prepared this side to come good in the spring and that is what is happening,” says Sir Alex. National treasure Michael Owen misses a penalty in Liverpool’s goalless home draw with Aston Villa. The ever-opinionated John Gregory finds himself unimpressed with one aspect of Emile Heskey’s game: “For a big man he goes down too easily. He could have been sent off for diving.” Everton’s 36-year-old debutant Mark Hughes is overshadowed by 35-year-old Gary McAllister, who scores the goal that probably ensures Coventry stay up in a 1-0 win at Highfield Road.

Thursday 16 Arsenal and Leeds look set to progress in the UEFA Cup after quarter-final first leg wins over Werder Bremen and Slavia Prague. Arsène is so pleased with his side’s 2-0 win at Highbury that he momentarily reverses one of his firmly-held opinions: “English clubs are doing well this season because there are an awful lot of games. The other countries are not used to playing twice a week.” Leeds’ 3-0 defeat of Slavia Prague is overshadowed slightly by chairman Peter Ridsdale’s comment on the Bowyer-Woodgate case: “If they are found guilty I can’t imagine a circumstance in which they will play for this club again.”

Saturday 18 Man Utd stroll on, the main talking point of their 2-0 win at Leicester being David Beckham’s exciting new razorcrop. (“It is not outrageous in any way,” says Dwight Yorke, calming our fears.) Liverpool stay on target for the Champions League by beating Derby 2-0. The latter keep their heads above water, though, as their relegation rivals crash 4-0 at Coventry –“I do not want to be known as a nice chap who took Bradford down,”glowers Paul Jewell, possibly working on a mad plan. If Sheffield Wed had managed to beat Watford they’d have been four points away from safety but instead they lose to a late Allan Smart goal, described as “a killer blow” by Danny Wilson. Graham Taylor, however, has got some colour back in his cheeks: “The problem has been 12 defeats by the odd goal. Our run-in could still be exciting.” Doom watchers looking for the first team to be relegated will have noted the latest setbacks for Swindon, 13 points adrift in the First Division after losing at home to Wolves, and Chesterfield, eight points off fifth-bottom place in the Second after defeat at Bristol Rovers. Chester City, meanwhile, appear Conference-bound again, now two points behind Carlisle but having played three games more.

Sunday 19 Leeds stay four points behind Man Utd after beating Wimbledon 4-1. Sir Alex must be a tad anxious because he tries on the psychological stuff before the match, suggesting David O’Leary should succeed him at Old Trafford. The response: “I can’t believe he would have said that. I only hope my chairman is happy to keep putting up with me.” First round to the Irish boy. Arsenal’s 2-1 win over Spurs takes them back up to fourth, two points behind Liverpool. With Man City drawing at home to First Division leaders Charlton, Ipswich blow another chance to take over the second automatic promotion place, saving what manager George Burley describes as “our worst performance of the season” for the home derby with Norwich, which ends in a 2-0 defeat. Celtic win the Scottish League Cup with a 2-0 win over Aberdeen. Celebrations, you feel, will be muted.

Tuesday 21 A goalless draw in Valencia means Man Utd win their Champions League group. “We just had to avoid doing anything silly,” says Sir Alex, jiggling his glasses à la Eric Morecambe. Danny Wilson is sacked. “He has worked tirelessly and is hugely respected by everyone at the club,” says Sheffield Wed chairman Howard Culley. Peter Shreeves, the caretaker’s caretaker, will be in charge for the rest of the season. Barnsley move up to second in the First Division, beating Fulham while Man City draw at Stockport.

Wednesday 22 Chelsea’s first ever home defeat in Europe, 2-1 v Lazio, means they finish as runners-up in their Champions League group and will face Man Utd, Barcelona or Bayern in the knockout stage. “It will be like choosing between Mike Tyson, Cassius Clay and George Foreman,” says Gianluca, catching Ray Wilkins off guard with a right arm jab. Ipswich take their turn to go second in the First Division, winning 2-0 at Tranmere. Bolton discover that their new Australian signing Con Boutsianis may face trial back home for alleged involvement in a bank robbery. “Obviously we were obliged to inform Bolton if they asked but there was never a request,” says a straight-faced spokesman for his former club Perth Glory.

Thursday 23 Arsenal’s 4-2 win in Bremen takes them into the UEFA Cup semis though Arsène is distracted by another dismissal, this time of Thierry Henry. “I am very angry about it and we shall appeal.” David O’Leary is cross too after Leeds’ 2-1 defeat in Prague. “We’re through but it’s disgraceful how we lost that game.”

Saturday 25 Bradford suffer their second successive 4-0 defeat, this time at home to Man Utd, who go seven points clear. “I’m just glad it’s over,” gasps Paul Jewell. Derby lose too, though, 2-0 at Villa. Benito Carbone, scorer of the first goal, ups the stakes in his contract negotiations: “I would break my legs for this club but the chairman doesn’t want me to stay.” Peter Shreeves praises an “excellent performance” but Wednesday look sunk after losing 1-0 at Middlesbrough. For the first time this season Watford go two games without defeat by drawing with Spurs but Graham Taylor is disgruntled: “With the teams above us losing, full points would have got the people in Watford excited.” Liverpool boost their Champions League hopes with the returning Jamie Redknapp getting a late winner against Newcastle. The top three in the First Division all win, though Man City and Ipswich both leave it until the final minute. Fulham’s 1-0 defeat at Portman Road virtually ends their play-off hopes –and probably means Paul Bracewell will be looking for a new job in the summer. The promotion race in the Second is hotting up: Preston are four points clear after nearest rivals Bristol Rovers crash 3-0 at Millwall, who are now only three points off second spot, a point behind third-placed Wigan. Down in the basement Chester go beserk and thrash Mansfield 5-0. With second-bottom Carlisle still having several games in hand, Shrewsbury, only three points ahead, could yet be dark horses for the drop.

Sunday 26 Possibly the day that clinches the title for Man Utd as Leeds lose 2-1 at Leicester. “No one thought we would go this far,” sighs David O’Leary. Arsenal are fourth after a 3-0 win over Coventry, whose goalkeeper Steve Ogrizovic is still looking pretty sprightly for a 42-year-old. Rangers take a 15-point lead in Scotland after beating Celtic 4-0, their biggest Old Firm win for 12 years. “That was unacceptable,” says Kenny Dalglish, brisk as ever.

Wednesday 29 England qualify for the European Under-21 championship after a 3-0 win over Yugoslavia in neutral Barcelona, where Emile Heskey gets both kicked and racially abused by opposing players. “It was like going back in time,” says Howard Wilkinson. A crowd of 66,000 at the Millennium Stadium sees Ryan Giggs score on his friendly debut but Wales still lose 2-1 to Finland. Northern Ireland win 3-0 in Malta, Scotland are beaten
2-0 at home by France. Leeds and Spurs are fined a record £150,000 each by the FA for their brawl last month. Paul Bracewell is sacked by Fulham. Karlheinz Riedle is surprise choice as caretaker but former Monaco coach Jean Tigana appears to be favourite to take on the herculean task set out by Mohammed Al-Fayed: “I need someone who can match or exceed my ambitions.” 

From WSC 159 May 2000. What was happening this month