The 12 most memorable football quotes of the 1990s
1. German maths
"Football is a simple game: 22 men chase a ball for 90 minutes and, at the end, the Germans win” – Gary Lineker
Gary Lineker is as adept at turning a phrase as he was at turning the ball in from six yards, and this adage now gets wheeled out every time England face Germany in any sport. The most traumatic memory for Lineker was Bobby Robson’s Three Lions being eliminated by the Germans on penalties in Turin at the 1990 World Cup.
The despair in Lineker’s oft-quoted words hint at how inevitable it all felt, even in 1990, before the painful exits that would follow over the following 20 years. It was an emotional game for Paul Gascoigne, and for the country – yet one that has been credited with sparking the sweeping changes to come.
2. Sky is the limit
“It’s a whole new ball game” – Sky Sports slogan at launch, 1992
They might be on the verge of losing some more Premier League rights to Amazon, but Sky’s tenure as the home of English football has been transformative. It all started in 1992 with the launch of the Premier League, and a slogan that spoke of an ambitious plan to reshape and modernise football. In the beginning, there were cheerleaders and fireworks, but those were quickly dispensed with.
Those who could pay were treated to more live football than ever, and it’s the money, rather than the glitz and glamour that had the biggest effect on what was happening on the pitch. As cash poured in, football became a high stakes game – nutrition improved and some of the best players in the world started arriving.
The game got faster, more technical and arguably more exciting. But it came at a cost – rising prices, the alienation of the sport’s traditional supporter base and the loss of the community element that had seen football through darker times.
3. Mission: Impossible
“Do I not like that” – Graham Taylor, 1993
The astonishing fly-on-the-wall documentary An Impossible Job follows Graham Taylor’s England squad and their doomed attempt to qualify for the 1994 World Cup, with a level of access that would be unthinkable in 2018.
It’s very much the Fire and Fury of the 1990s; only Brendan Rodgers and Liverpool would possibly consider it would be a good idea to give this much access to a camera crew nowadays.
Taylor, who passed away in 2017, was a much loved and respected figure in football, but was eviscerated by the newspapers for England’s performances during his tenure. The Sun – never ones to shy away from roasting a public figure – were particularly brutal, mocking Taylor up as a root vegetable, which must have required a lot more effort in the days before Photoshop CS6.
The documentary is bursting with notable moments, which could have filled this list on their own. There’s the sight of Taylor calmly thanking the linesman for getting him the sack as the Three Lions’ campaign finally comes unstuck, and the infamous: “Can we not knock it?”. But it’s “Do I not like that” – uttered as England gave the ball away seconds before falling behind away in Poland – which has passed into football folklore.
4. Eric goes fishing
“When seagulls follow the trawler, it’s because they think sardines will be thrown into the sea” – Eric Cantona, 1995
This is one of the most analysed quotes in football history, and has gone some way to cementing Eric Cantona’s status as an enigmatic, misunderstood genius rather than a combustible hot-head. However if you watch it now, you’ll see Eric Cantona trying not to laugh. The Frenchman was playing a role and loving it – he even pauses halfway through his statement in an attempt to compose himself.
The meaning of the words – a thinly veiled comment on how reporters will swarm over the smallest scraps – was kind of lost in the aftermath. Without a hint of irony, they were discussed in books, opinion pieces and enough newspaper copy to fill the English Channel. They were spoken at an impromptu press conference the day of Cantona’s sentencing for his flying kick on a Crystal Palace fan in an infamous incident at Selhurst Park.
As Jim White reveals in A Matter of Life and Death, Cantona penned the words in the minutes before facing the press, with the help of lawyer Maurice Watkins. “I played that moment,” Cantona told White. “It was a drama and I was an actor.”
5. Child's Play
“You can’t win anything with kids” – Alan Hansen, 1995
Manchester United missed Cantona badly during his nine-month ban, losing out in both the league and the FA Cup. Alex Ferguson’s response was to tear up the squad that had broken the club’s long title drought. Andrei Kanchelskis, Paul Ince and Mark Hughes were out, and on the opening day of the 1995-96 season, a cast of youngsters lost 3-1 to Aston Villa.
Match of the Day pundit Alan Hansen was quick to stick the knife in – but he was far from alone. The general consensus was that Ferguson would need to drastically strengthen his squad if he wanted to mount a title challenge. A team with six players under the age of 20 was not going to cut it.
Of course, everyone was wrong. David Beckham, Gary Neville, Paul Scholes, Nicky Butt, Phil Neville – plus the already blooded Ryan Giggs – would go on to form one of the dominant sides of the decade. Hansen was made to look rather foolish in hindsight.
6. Zidane vs Sherwood
“Why do you want Zidane when we have Tim Sherwood?” – Jack Walker, 1995
A fair question – if you’re putting together a “Legends” five-a-side tournament in Marbella or a gilet modelling contest. Unfortunately, Blackburn chairman Jack Walker was trying to build a team that could defend the club's first and only Premier League title.
Zinedine Zidane was still at Bordeaux at this point, and actually visited Blackburn’s training ground alongside Christophe Dugarry, with former manager and now director of football Kenny Dalglish the interested party.
Walker’s reported response to Dalglish his gone down in infamy, while Zidane went on to Juventus, then Real Madrid, bagging a hatful of medals. Sherwood got a great anecdote out of it, though – and you can bet it’s one he loves telling.