March 2002

Friday 1 Portsmouth chairman Milan Mandaric threatens to withhold the wages of his players and coaching staff: “They expect to go through the motions and then to receive a huge wage packet. It’s extortion.” The PFA’s Gordon Taylor is unimpressed: “It’s quite naive really, it’s going back to the Dark Ages.”

Saturday 2 “You are blessed to to witness something like that,” says Arsène as Dennis Bergkamp scores another spectacular goal in a 2-0 win at Newcastle that keeps his team second. Frank Sinclair nearly matches that with a 30-yard lob at Middlesbrough, but it’s past his own keeper for the only goal of the game. Liverpool go third after winning 2-0 at Fulham. Andy Cole’s dismissal for a foul on Mike Whitlow during Blackburn’s 1-1 draw at Bolton prompts a right old rumpus, with a scuffle between players and a home steward, and both managers exchanging unpleasantries. Stan Ternent rounds on Burnley fans who boo their team after a home draw with Norwich keeps them fifth in the First: “They have champagne tastes on beer money.” Halifax are ten points adrift at the bottom of the Third after losing 3-1 at Leyton Orient.

Sunday 3 High excitement at Pride Park, where a dubiously disallowed goal at the death prevents Derby from beating Man Utd; it’s 2-2 instead. John Gregory has a view: “United’s reputation affects officials.” Sir Alex agrees, sort of: “The goal should have stood,” he says, “but we should have had two penalties in the first half.” Angry crowd scenes at Goodison Park during Everton’s 0-0 draw with Leeds, but from the travelling fans who barrack coach Brian Kidd, held responsible for the team’s ten-match run without a win.

Monday 4 Rio Ferdinand is among several Leeds players publicly defending Brian Kidd: “The fans want to blame somebody but Kiddo coming from Man Utd makes him an easy scapegoat.” “We have had to endure this speculation for two years now,” says Peter Reid, denying that Kevin Phillips might be on his way to Newcastle. Dagenham take a big step towards the League with a 1-0 win over their main rivals Boston that extends their lead in the Conference to six points. Preston striker Jon Macken joins Man City for £5 million.

Tuesday 5 Arsenal’s 1-0 win over Derby takes them back to the top, with Arsène shrugging off Sir Alex’s suggestion that the club have tried to delay disciplinary hearings for Patrick Vieira and Thierry Henry: “One thing I will say is that he doesn’t disturb my nights at all.” “Relegation has never entered my head,” says Graeme Souness as Blackburn move to within a point of safety with a 3-0 win over Villa, while Bolton lose 1-0 at Sunderland. “This is probably the best Man City team I’ve ever seen,” says Steve Bruce – and what an accolade that is – as Birmingham’s opponents record their 100th goal in all competitions this season with a 2-1 win at St Andrews. At the other end of the First, red-faced Bradford have the double done over them by Stockport, whose 1-0 win is their first in 19 games. Carlton Palmer remains outwardly calm: “The platform for this started a few months ago.” In the Second, bankruptcy-threatened Bury attract nearly 8,000 for a 1-1 draw with Oldham.

Wednesday 6 The title race looks to be down to three contenders as Newcastle crash 3-0 at Liverpool. Man Utd return to the top with a 4-0 win over Spurs, helped by what Glenn saw as a “diabolical” penalty decision that also led to the dismissal of Mauricio Taricco. Everton, who have troubled the net just three times in 12 league games, edge closer to the trapdoor with a 1-0 defeat at West Ham. Thierry Henry gets a three-match ban for his outburst at Graham Poll in December. Arsène points the finger: “It is not the FA which charges players, it is TV.” West Brom fail in a bid to sign Sergei Rebrov on loan. “We always knew it was going to be a problem recruiting players of Jason Roberts’s calibre,” says Gary Megson of his injured striker. Peterborough’s Andy Clarke is suspended for three weeks after failing a drugs test.

Thursday 7 Beleaguered Sepp Blatter permits an internal audit of FIFA’s finances, to be conducted by a committee including Ricardo Teixeira, who is being investigated in Brazil for alleged embezzlement. Colin Addison resigns as Swansea manager after being told that his contract would not be renewed at the end of the season.

Saturday 9 Newcastle and Arsenal draw 1-1 in their FA Cup quarter-final, the latter having left Bergkamp and Pires out of their starting line -up. Arsène denies that his mind was on other things: “I want to win every game.” In the First, Wolves’ draw at Birmingham, after being two up, is enough to regain the lead from Man City, who won last night. At the other end, Walsall also stage a two-goal fightback to draw with Grimsby, but Stockport can’t build on last week’s win, with Carlton Palmer himself at fault for Burnley’s first goal in a 2-0 win. Stoke’s promotion hopes are knocked back with a 1-0 defeat at Wycombe, whose Northern Irish-Ecuadorian manager Lawrie Sanchez takes a dim view of his opponent’s cosmopolitan squad: “What are they doing here taking the jobs of British players?”

Sunday 10 In the remaining FA Cup ties, Fulham squeeze past West Brom 1-0 and will now face Chelsea, who reassert their dominance over Spurs with a 4-0 win at White Hart Lane, where that nice Graeme Le Saux is sent off for a lunge at newly arrived sub Mauricio Taricco. Ever­ton become only the second Premiership team this season to concede three goals to Middlesbrough, without reply, in a ten-minute period before half-time. Steve McClaren is sur­prised but happy: “It was mad.” Celtic need three more wins to wrap up the Scottish title after a 1-1 draw at Rangers.

Tuesday 12 Arsenal lose at home in Europe for the first time in 19 matches, 2-0 to Deportivo, Thierry Henry missing a second-half penalty. Arsène is defiant: “I believe if we played them again we could beat them.” Man City are back on top of the First with a 3-1 win at Crewe. John Toshack is sacked from his third spell in charge at Real Sociedad, who are in the relegation zone. PFA chief executive Gordon Taylor says the union has broken its previous record for one season in spending over £1 million on players’ wages at 12 lower division clubs: “This is one of the issues that shows the importance of what we were saying during the TV dispute.”

Wednesday 13 Man Utd and Bayern get a mutually acceptable draw at Old Trafford, allowing both to qualify for the Champions League quarter-finals. Liverpool will need to beat Roma at Anfield after a goalless draw in Barcelona. “I’m very disappointed with the ways things have turned out,” says Walter Smith on being sacked by Everton, who want to replace him with Preston’s David Moyes. Blackburn move out of the bottom three with a 2-1 win over Ipswich. Chelsea beat Spurs 4-0 again, with that man Mauricio Taricco this time being sent off for a lunge at his mate Graeme Le Saux. Glenn: “It was a reckless challenge, but it wasn’t malicious.”

Thursday 14 David Moyes takes over at Everton, saying: “I’m under no illusions about the size of the job,” – which is just as well. Preston settle for £1 million compensation but they’re not happy: “It doesn’t add up that we sell Jon Macken for five times what we get for our manager,” says chief executive Tony Scholes. Middlesbrough are to take Liverpool to the High Court over the latter’s poaching of Christian Ziege in August 2000, for which they were fined £20,000 by the Premier League earlier in the week. Mark Viduka, Alan Smith and Patrick Vieira are all cleared of misconduct charges at an FA hearing.

Saturday 16 Eight goals at Upton Park, five of them for Man Utd who had trailed twice in the first half. Sir Alex is humbled – “It was a privilege to be involved in a game like that” – Glenn Roeder less so: “We contributed to all the goals.” Liverpool stay in contention with a 2-1 win at Middlesbrough. Derby prevail in this week’s six- pointer at the foot of the Premier, 3-1 at Bolton. Chelsea fans protest during the 4-0 win over Sunderland about being allocated only 19,000 FA Cup semi-final tickets. Ken Bates is in sympathy: “Fulham get one per fan, and we get one every two fans.” A winning start for David Moyes – Fulham’s 2-1 defeat at Goodison is their fifth in a row. Bedlam at Bramall Lane, where Sheffield Utd are reduced to six players, three sent off and two injured after all the subs had been used, causing their match with West Brom to be abandoned with the visitors 3-0 up. Gary Megson is fit to burst: “I’ve never ever witnessed anything as disgraceful as that.” Stockport are the first club to be relegated this season after defeat at Wimbledon. Andy Goram has a memorable comeback in goal for Oldham, who lose 7-1 at home to Cardiff. Halifax may yet cause a few nervous moments for the clubs immediately above them after a shock 4-1 win over promotion-chasing Cheltenham.

Sunday 17 Arsenal return to second place after a 2-1 win at Villa, for whom Gareth Barry misses a penalty. “We started at quarter past two, while Leeds started at two o’clock,” fumes Graeme Souness after Blackburn let in two early goals in a 3-1 defeat. Burnley’s new signing Paul Gascoigne watches their 2-1 win over Preston that takes them to fourth. Rangers’ 20-month trophy drought ends with a 4-0 win over Ayr in the CIS Insurance Cup final.

Monday 18 “I wish we could play Spurs every week,” says Charlton’s Chris Powell after scoring the only goal at the Lane. Glenn concurs: “We won’t get into Europe playing like that.” The row over the Sheffield Utd abandonment rumbles on, but Neil Warnock keeps matters in perspective: “The way it has all come out so far, you would think I was guilty of committing more crimes than Bin Laden.”

Tuesday 19 Gérard is back on the bench as Liverpool reach the last eight of the Champions League with a 2-0 win over Roma described by Phil Thompson as “one of the greatest nights in the history of this club”. Man Utd, already through, win 3-0 at Boavista. Sheffield Utd gather themselves sufficiently to dent Millwall’s play-off hopes with two late goals in a 3-2 win. Demob-happy Stockport also score twice in the last five minutes to beat Man City 2-1. Carlisle manager Roddy Collins threatens to quit if the takeover of the club by Irish businessman John Courtenay fails to happen within the next fortnight.

Wednesday 20 Thierry Henry misses another penalty as Arsenal bow out of the Champs League with a 1-0 defeat in front of 6,500 in Turin. Arsène offers a verbal hug: “We’ve had a tremendous attitude up until now and as long as we keep that, we will still win something.” Leeds have accepted an offer of £16 million from Lazio for Olivier Dacourt but he doesn’t want to leave, according to his magnificently named agent, Bruno Satin. Boston regain the lead in the Conference with a 4-1 win over Nuneaton.

Thursday 21 West Brom are awarded a 3-0 win from their abandoned match. A League enquiry will decide whether Sheffield Utd should face further punishment. Neil Warnock is happy, sort of: “I said from the start I didn’t want anything apart from West Brom getting the points.” The Football League board rejects ITV Digital’s request to renegotiate their TV contract, which would involve paying £130 million less than had been agreed over the final two years of the deal. “We have a contract and we are entitled to have it honoured,” says the League’s chief executive David Burns.

Friday 22 Liverpool and Man Utd will meet in the Champions League semis if they win quarter-final ties against Leverkusen and La Coruña respectively. A senior executive at ITV Digital claims the channel will go under at the end of the season if they can’t reach agreement with the Football League: “We feel we have made a fair and realistic offer which would be in the interests of all parties to accept.”

Saturday 23 Arsenal steam past Newcastle 3-0 in their Cup quarter-final replay. Dennis Bergkamp scores one and makes the other two: “Maybe if I’d played more often we’d be 12 points clear now.” Middlesbrough cause one of the shocks of the season with a 1-0 win at Old Trafford. Sir Alex does his thing: “I’d say Arsenal are strong favourites. It’s out of our hands now.” Ipswich drop into the relegation zone after a goalless draw at home to Villa, replacing Bolton, for whom Youri Djorkaeff gets both goals in a 2-1 win at Charlton. “It’s going to be difficult for me to accept what happened,” says an aghast John Gregory as Derby’s revival stalls with a 4-3 home defeat by Everton. In the First, wobbling Wolves’ 0-0 draw with Norwich is their fourth match without a win – third-placed West Brom are six points behind with a game in hand. “This could be the shortest ever career in management,” says Wimbledon coach Stuart Murdoch, who had replaced the indisposed Terry Burton for the 6-2 defeat at Grimsby. Halifax seem to be non-League bound again after a 5-0 thrashing at Luton leaves them nine points adrift. Celtic reach the Scottish Cup final with a 3-0 win over Ayr Utd. Jonathan Woodgate is left out of the England squad for the friendly with Italy and will not be selected again until after the World Cup. Sven denies that he was influenced by FA pressure: “I think it was the right thing to do.”

Sunday 24 Liverpool go a point clear after a Vladimir Smicer goal in injury time sees off Chelsea. Phil Thompson wasn’t worried: “We told them, don’t do anything daft and you’ll score.” Fulham sink to their sixth successive defeat, 2-0 at home to Spurs. Millwall stay sixth in the First Division after a 1-0 defeat at Gillingham, while Birmingham, just outside the play-off places, draw 1-1 at Coventry. Blackpool claim the LDV Vans Trophy with a 4-1 win over Cambridge Utd who did, of course, have the unlucky end. Rangers beat Partick 3-0 in their Scottish Cup semi-final. The Football League may launch their own channel next season if ITV Digital goes under, though chief executive David Burns is proceeding cautiously: “The question is how many people will buy it and at what price.”

Monday 25 “I have been here two-and-three-quarter years and Harry Redknapp is the manager I have been looking for all this time,” says Portsmouth owner Milan Mandaric on appointing the club’s former director of football as his successor to the sacked Graham Rix (and the sacked Tony Pulis, Alan Ball and Steve Claridge). Aston Villa take “beanpole striker” Peter Crouch from Fratton Park for £4.5 million. Leeds chairman Peter Ridsdale says he “totally supports” the furious comments of Leicester’s John Elsom about racist chants from Leeds fans after their game at Filbert Street on Saturday.

Tuesday 26 Plymouth are the first League club to be promoted, thanks to a 3-1 win at Rochdale. West Brom strengthen their First Division chances with a 4-1 win over Crewe, whose manager Dario Gradi says of the slapstick fourth: “If it hadn’t been my own team, I would have laughed.” ITV Digital go into administration. “Our legal advice is that we have shareholder guarantees with Carlton and Granada so we would pursue them for the money,” says a League spokesman. Commentator Kenneth Wolstenholme dies aged 81.

Wednesday 27 England go down 2-1 to Italy in a lacklustre friendly at Elland Road. “Letting in a last-minute goal wasn’t brilliant,” admits goalscorer and stand-in captain Robbie Fowler. Wales get a 0-0 draw against the Czechs, but there is despair for Scotland, beaten 5-0 by France – “Maybe we were watching the next World Cup winners,” says a chastened Berti Vogts, not believed to be referring to Scotland . “Liechtenstein have improved over the last couple of years,” claims Sammy McIlroy after Northern Ireland are held 0-0 in Vaduz, although the record books say Liechtenstein have actually lost their last 12 games, scoring two and conceding 37. The Republic see off Denmark 3-0 thanks to an inspired performance from Damien Duff.

Friday 29 Newcastle take a big step forward on the Champions League trail with a 6-2 thrashing of Everton. Bobby Robson has an explanation for his side’s four-goal burst in the second half: “We regrouped at half-time and said some poignant things.” Jan Molby is expected to take over at Hull after resigning as Kidderminster manager.

Saturday 30 As you were at the top after all three title challengers win, though Man Utd cut it fine with a 4-3 victory at Leeds. “I think we will win it,” says Arsène. “If we win our last five games we will win the title,” says Phil. They can’t both be right. Bolton are the big winners at the bottom after beating Villa 3-2 while Ipswich, Derby and Blackburn all lose, the latter ignominiously at Leicester, 2-1. “The players are fully aware of the seriousness of the situation,” says a stony-faced Graeme Souness. “We were totally off the pace in the first half,” says Burnley’s manager Stan Ternent, after taking off Paul Gascoigne at half-time against Wolves with the score 3-0. It ends 3-2. Luton are definitely promoted from the Third, while Cambridge go down from the Second after conceding a last-minute equaliser at Oldham.

From WSC 183 May 2002. What was happening this month