May 1997

Saturday 3 Man Utd stumble, drawing 2-2 at Leicester after being two down. "It was very hot out there. I used to be a campaigner for Summer football but bugger that," says Alex, sweating off a stone on the touchline. Utd's lead over Liverpool is reduced to three points after the latter bumble past Spurs 2-1, the quality of the game gauged by Neil Ruddock winning Man of the Match. Arsenal's chances of landing the second Champions League place vanish after a 1-0 home defeat by Newcastle who could still finish second themselves (not been a vintage season, really, has it?). At the bottom Forest and their assorted managers are relegated following a 1-1 draw with Wimbledon and Coventry look doomed after a 2-1 home defeat by Derby. Middlesbrough blow a two-goal lead against Villa but still nick the points with an injury time penalty while Southampton and Sunderland edge nearer to safety after home wins over Blackburn and Everton who are themselves still in danger of the drop (Jack Walker and Peter Johnson will be after their money back soon). Brighton fans invade a pitch again, only this time in celebration of getting the draw they need to stay in the League, at the expense of Hereford, who move down into the Conference to be replaced by Macclesfield.

Sunday 4 Man Utd have to fight back from 3-1 down to draw with Middlesbrough. They still need three points to be sure of the title. Boro probably have to win both their remaining matches to stay up – and will have to do so without Ravanelli who withdraws with a hamstring injury and may miss the Cup Final. Rangers fail to get the point they need to clinch their ninth successive Scottish title, losing 2-0 at home to Motherwell. A report commissioned by the Football League from accountants Deloitte and Touche recommends a regionalisation of the Third Division, bringing in as many as sixteen clubs from the Conference. Lower division chairmen will be asked for their views – and doubtless will find forty eight different ways of saying "No!"

Monday 5 Man Utd are champions for the fourth time in five years after the only teams who could catch them drop points, Liverpool in a 2-1 defeat at Wimbledon, Newcastle, who seem to have found a defence, in a goalless draw with West Ham. "We have beaten Arsenal and Liverpool home and away, and they were the crucial results of this campaign," says Alex Ferguson. "The team that wins the League deserves it. You can have all the moans and groans you like but that is the truth," says Roy Evans, stifling a moan. Graham Turner stays on at Hereford but Shrewsbury, relegated to Division Three, release manager Fred Davies. Tony Banks, the surprise choice as new Sports Minister, begins by voicing concern for football's future: "I worry about where we are going to get the new generation of supporters from with the prices they pay now."

Wednesday 7 Alex Ferguson fires a parting shot at the football authorities over their refusal to grant an extension to the season: "There seems to be a terrible amount of jealousy directed towards our club. If a club is successful the way we have been next year they will definitely get help where we didn't. I know I am right." There's someone who needs a holiday. Rangers clinch their ninth successive Scottish title with a 1-0 at Dundee Utd. Leicester are safe from the threat of relegation after a 1-0 home win over Sheffield Wed, a defeat that virtually kills off the Owls' hopes of a UEFA Cup place.

Thursday 8 Middlesbrough finally arrive at Blackburn several months late, but their goalless draw leaves them needing to win at Leeds on the final day while other teams slip up. Juninho might have had a penalty when bundled over by Colin Hendry late on, but Bryan Robson shrugs it off: "There's no point in harping on about it. We've just got to concentrate on winning at Leeds." Newcastle's stalemate at Old Trafford leaves them with an outside chance of achieving the second Champions League spot. The Football League drops plans for the regionalization of Division Three after the proposal receives a hostile reception at a meeting of the club chairmen, who suspect a separatist plot cooked up by the bigger Division One clubs who aspire to become Premier League II. As if. Stuart Pearce resigns as Forest manager, but will stay on as a player, saying, "Those players that took us down can bring us back up again. That includes me." Billy Bonds (remember him?) is the new Millwall manager.

Saturday 10 Those play-offs again. Palace will take a 3-1 lead to Wolves, but Dougie Freedman, scorer of two, is set to miss the final after being sent off in the last League game of the season. Sheff Utd and Ipswich draw 1-1 at Bramall Lane, Brentford win 2-1 at Bristol City, Luton beat Crewe by the same score, Swansea get a goalless draw at Chester and Northampton beat Cardiff 1-0 away. At Wembley, Whitby Town win the FA Vase, beating North Ferriby 3-0

Sunday 11 Coventry keep their Premiership place after winning 2-1 at Spurs, where the match kicks off fifteen minutes late after traffic jams hold up the away fans' coaches, while Sunderland lose to a late goal at Wimbledon and Middlesbrough draw at Leeds. "They've had four games in nine days and it caught up with them today," says Bryan Robson. Middlesbrough still intend to press on with an appeal against their three point deduction. Worst case scenario is a 21-team Premier League next season- which Alex, Arsène and the rest will be thrilled by. At the other end, Newcastle, 5-0 winners against Forest, get the second Champions League spot ahead of Arsenal, who beat Derby 3-1 despite playing with ten men for almost the whole match after Tony Adams' dismissal, and Liverpool, who finish fourth after a 1-1 draw at Sheffield Wed. "We are all devastated," says Roy Evans, forgetting to except Stan Collymore. He's bound for Aston Villa, who clinch the last UEFA Cup place after beating Southampton 1-0.

Wednesday 14 "Bobby Robson's Barcelona" win the Cup Winners' Cup, a Ronaldo penalty enough to beat Paris St Germain. Bob wants to stick around, but suspects that his boss wants rid of him: "Not too many presidents get European Cup Winners' Cups, but I run the team, I don't run the club." In a poll conducted by WSC, 2% of Barcelona fans concur with Bobby's view that he runs the team. In the play-offs, Palace are through, a 2-1 defeat at Wolves giving them a 4-3 aggregate win, while another of Dave Bassett's old clubs, Sheffield Utd, edge past Ipswich on away goals after a 2-2 draw at Portman Road. The same result at Luton takes Crewe to the Second Division final, where they will play Brentford, who score more than once at home for the first time in five months to beat Bristol City 4-2 on aggregate ("They should have gone up without those poxy play-offs," chirps David Webb). Northampton and Swansea will meet in the Division Three final. It didn't take long: Tony Banks's first gaffes as sports minister are to suggest that English-based foreign players should be allowed to play for England and to call for a UK national team- "What other small country chops itself into bits then loses collectively? We used to be able to put out a fantastic English League team to beat the world." We did?

Saturday 17
Chelsea win their first trophy for 26 years, beating Middlesbrough 2-0 in the FA Cup Final. Roberto Di Matteo's opener after 43 seconds is the fastest goal scored in a Wembley final. Eddie Newton gets a second ten minutes from time. During the pre-match presentations, Boro fans barrack FA officials in protest at the points deduction. For a moment, the TV audience at WSC Towers excitedly thought they were booing the Duchess of Kent and had visions of Buckingham Palace aflame by the end of the night. "It was a disciplined performance. Everyone did exactly what they were supposed to," says Ruud. "It's bad enough to lose one cup final but to lose two within a month is a very bad thing," says Bry on a fruitless search for the right words. Juninho is expected to leave for Atletico Madrid while Fabby, who limps off midway through the first half, is being linked with Liverpool, for a laugh. No one seems to want Emerson. Hibs beat Airdrie 1-0 in the first leg of the Scottish relegation/promotion playoff.

Sunday 18 Eric Cantona announces his retirement from football, saying, "I always planned to retire when I was at the top and at Manchester United I have reached the pinnacle of my career." "At £1 million we have had unbelievable value out of him so we wish him well," says Alex Ferguson, adding: "I understand Eric has commercial opportunities outside football which he wants to explore." Conflicting rumours suggest the new career may involve painting, acting, or running a sweet shop in Didsbury. United will hold on to Cantona's registration, which may deter the expected approaches from the J League and Marseille. Woking win the FA Trophy, beating Dagenham & Redbridge (the club that eats its neighbours) 1-0.

Tuesday 20 Andy Cole and John Scales (a defender from Tottenham) join Norwich's Darren Eadie as late call ups to the England squad for the World Cup match in Poland and the mini tournament in France, but Steve McManaman and Robbie Fowler are withdrawn, Steve for a knee operation, Robbie to have a sticking plaster surgically removed from his nose. "You can bet I've had words with Roy Evans in the past 48 hours," says Glenn, all of a quiver, adding, "The main concern from the players point of view is that it could stop them from playing in the World Cup in twelve months' time" which seems a little presumptuous with games in Poland and Italy to come, but he was very upset.

Wednesday 21
Watford's David Connelly gets a hat-trick in twelve minutes as the Republic of Ireland beat Liechtenstein 5-0 in a World Cup qualifier. Northern Ireland's mysterious trip to Thailand (as preparation for a home match with Germany) ends goalless. Kenny Swain gets the heave from Grimsby- former boss Alan Buckley, not widely popular after taking half the team with him to West Brom, is nonetheless favourite to return. Chris Nicholl leaves Walsall, and Reading confirm that the famously moody Bernd Schuster, who declined to play for Germany for most of his career, has applied for the vacant manager's post. Schalke 04 win the UEFA Cup on penalties after the final with Internazionale finishes 1-1 on aggregate. A payoff for the Schalke coach, Huub Stevens, who'd assembled a computer database on all the Inter players' penalty-taking styles. You wouldn't want to be sat with him on a long train journey.

Thursday 22 Blackburn-bound Roy Hodgson decides to quit Inter early after incidents towards the end of the club's UEFA Cup Final defeat when he was pelted with coins by a section of the crowd and had a dust up with one of his own players (not Paul Ince) unhappy at being substituted just before the shootout. Hibernian keep their place in the Scottish Premier League after beating Airdrie 4-2 away in the second leg of the promotion/relegation play-off.

Friday 23 Jimmy Hill resigns as Fulham chairman in order, he says, to spend more time with his family. Nice for them. Harrods owner and sleazemeister Mohammed Al Fayed is believed to be having talks with the Fulham board about a takeover (best not to turn him down- he gets angry when he's rejected). Alan Buckley begins his second spell in charge at Grimsby. Ronnie Moore is the new manager of Rotherham

Saturday 24 England beat South Africa 2-1 at Old Trafford. Jamie Redknapp gets injured and is out for the summer. Roy Evans is later seen in the vicinity of Lancaster Gate with bomb making equipment. Paul Gascoigne is also carried off after a last minute clattering by a bruiser called Linda, whose parents clearly followed the °ÆBoy named Sue' principle made famous by Johnny Cash. "I don't think anyone in football likes to see that kind of tackle," says Glenn, forgetting about Vinnie Jones. "I'll never have to buy another drink in Kilmarnock for the rest of my life," says Paul Wright, the scorer of the goal that beats Falkirk to win the Scottish Cup. Northampton are promoted after a John Frain goal in the 90th minute beats Swansea in the Division Three play-off. Graeme Souness quits Southampton followed a few hours later by the club's director of football, Lawrie McMenemy, after a barney with the board over the money available for new players. Souness is on the shortlist for the coaching job at Torino, currently vegetating in Serie B. Lawrie isn't.

Sunday 25 Crewe get out of the lower divisions for the first time this century after a 1-0 victory over Brentford in the Division Two play-offs. "We won't change our policy of selling because we can't afford to pay good wages," says Dario Gradi triggering a flurry of Change at Crewe headlines.

Monday 26 A last minute goal from David Hopkin takes Palace back into the Premiership at the expense of Sheffield Utd. "A lot of Premiership clubs will be licking their lips and expecting to take points off us. but Leicester set a magnificent example which we will be aspiring to," says Steve Coppell.

Tuesday 27
The first Scotland-Wales match since 1985 ends in an away win, courtesy of a John Hartson goal. After the match Bobby Gould, subtle as ever, hints that he would like to move on. "If Wales don't offer me another contract then I'm available. If Everton, Southampton or Celtic want me, then I'm here." Hell, apparently, is freezing over. Germany launch their official bid to stage the 2006 World Cup and once again ask the English FA to withdraw. "If they have any character they'll pull out, all the countries in Europe think that," says Berti Vogts. Better make some fast deals, Graham. Everton claim that 84% of the 21,974 fans responding to an end of season poll about a proposed move to a new stadium voted in favour.

Wednesday 28 Borussia Dortmund win the last proper European Cup beating Juventus 3-1, the main damage done by Karl Heinz Riedle's two goals in four minutes midway through the first half. Dortmund substitute Lars Ricken gets their third with his first touch of the ball moments after coming on (an old plot from Scorcher and Score circa 1972). Ian Wright says he is having counselling sessions to help curb his temper: "Things happen and then I'm ready to go. Then everyone says typical Wright. It had to change." That makes four members of the England squad undergoing therapy- Adams and Merson for drink, Gascoigne for everything.

Thursday 29 Rangers appear to have failed in a bid to land Ronaldo for £37 million. He is expected to leave Barcelona for Inter shortly for a world record fee of around £25 million. "He would have been contracted to play in the Champions League but could have vetoed any League match he chose not to play in," says his agent. So, four matches against Celtic, a cup final, a couple of qualifying rounds in Europe and the rest of time with his feet up. Mohammed Al Fayed takes a controlling interest in Fulham, saying, "I'm a great football fan," which he contradicts slightly by adding: "I see Fulham as a sleeping giant." Emile Heskey scores for England under 21s as they draw 1-1 in Poland.

Friday 30 England are assured of a World Cup play-off spot at least after winning 2-0 in Poland with goals from Alan Shearer, who also misses a penalty, and Teddy Sheringham in injury time. "It was the old SAS again that did the damage," says Glenn, suddenly transported backto the Iranian embassy siege of 1981, hah, no, he means Shearer and Sheringham, adding: "If we put in performances like this who knows what could happen in Italy?" Such as a goalless draw- with the best placed runners up going through automatically, it could be that a tie in Rome in October would suit both Italy and England. Do such things happen in football, though?

From WSC 125 July 1997. What was happening this month