90 things we miss about football in the 1990s

Gianfranco Zola Robin Hood

From John Barnes rapping to avian mascots scrapping, FFT recalls some of the players, teams, goals, matches, merchandise, moments and mayhem that made football in the '90s so great…

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Words: Huw Davies, Chris Flanagan, James Maw, Andrew Murray, Gary Parkinson

1. Robbie Fowler’s easy-breathe plaster

In supposedly opening up his airwaves for easier inhalation, Fowler’s nose plaster became an unwitting prop for his ‘cocaine snorting’ goal celebration in the Merseyside derby of April 1999.

2. Tiny players wearing massive shirts

The 1970s had V-necks; the ’80s had short shorts; the ’90s had elfin players drowning in tents. Juninho never left Middlesbrough between his three spells; he went missing in his shirt every so often.

3. Renford Rejects

The objectively brilliant kids’ television show had loveable underdogs, a Manic Street Preachers theme tune and big cameos from the likes of Gianfranco Zola and Ian Rush. It was an underrated classic.

4. Alan Cork’s beard

Alan, father of tragically unbearded Burnley pass master Jack, brought The Simpsons’ Jasper to ‘life’ with a majestic beard during Sheffield United’s 1992/93 campaign. What a time to be alive...

5. The Life of Riley on Match of the Day

When BBC producers chose to accompany Goal of the Month with the Lightning Seeds’ 1992 mini-hit (it reached No.28 in the charts), they soundtracked a decade of football highlights. Utterly joyful.

6. Barry Davies

Davies stood out during the ’90s for knowing when not to speak. “Oh no!” was all that he could muster as Gareth Southgate’s penalty miss at Euro 96 killed English dreams. Nothing more was needed.

7. Kits with buttoned or lace-up collars

While buttoned collars were popular, lace-ups had retro chic. One quick tug on the drawstring of Aston Villa’s 1992/93 shirt and Dean Saunders’ head would have popped clean off.

8. Shevchenko and Rebrov at Dynamo

Dynamo Kiev began the ’90s by edging out CSKA Moscow to become league champions of the USSR, but it's the Andriy Shevchenko-inspired side of ’99 who are remembered most fondly.

They successfully adapted to life in the newly-formed Ukrainian Premier League after the break-up of the Soviet Union, winning nine successive league titles. Valeri Lobanovsky’s return as boss, coinciding with the emergence of Shevchenko and strike partner Sergei Rebrov, helped them flourish in Europe.

In 1998/99, Rebrov’s goal thwarted Arsenal at Wembley, before the north Londoners were soundly beaten in Ukraine. Dynamo went on to reach the Champions League semi-finals.  

9. Football Italia

While television production company Chrysalis were filming Paul Gascoigne’s recuperation from a knee injury, the Geordie scamp noted it was a shame that nobody in Britain would see him play for Lazio. A lightbulb popped, Chrysalis bought the rights to Serie A, then sold them to Channel 4. The original plan was for the coverage to be hosted by Gazza, but that was quietly shelved when they realised quite what a loose cannon he was.

Chrysalis instead promoted researcher James Richardson, and he was soon to be seen sipping cappuccinos outside an Italian cafe, gesticulating at a mysterious pink newspaper. Regular Sunday afternoon servings of Baggio, Batistuta & Co. meant Football Italia quickly had more than three million viewers – many of whom were yet to bite the bullet and sign up to Sky Sports.

10. Croatia

Is it a bird? Is it a plane? No, it’s Davor Suker wearing a natty tablecloth. Whether lobbing Peter Schmeichel at Euro 96 or scoring six goals at France 98, the striker’s goals put Croatia firmly on the map.

Built on playmaker Robert Prosinecki’s laconic promptings, captain Zvonimir Boban’s bustling invention and the resilience of centre-backs Igor Stimac and Slaven Bilic, Croatia loved playing football together. Independent after the break-up of Yugoslavia, the nation got their own team in 1993 with a collective spirit seldom witnessed before or since. They could play, too: Prosinecki’s free-kick against Jamaica at France 98 was ingenious. In beating Germany 3-0 in the quarter-finals, they secured “the most perfect moment in Croatian football history,” said Suker.

11. Parma

Any parent will tell you it's tricky to choose between their children. So how do Parma fans manage to decide which ’90s vintage they prefer? Do you go for the early-90s UEFA and Cup Winners’ Cup-winning team of Asprilla, Zola and Brolin, or the late-90s Serie A runners-up and UEFA Cup winners, which featured Buffon, Cannavaro and Crespo?

The former eschewed Serie A’s stereotypical catenaccio pragmatism for thrilling attacking verve and brio under manager Nevio Scala. Tino Asprilla and Gianfranco Zola provided the stardust, Tomas Brolin the creativity and Lorenzo Minotti the defensive ballast.

When Scala unfathomably left for second-tier Perugia in 1996, Carlo Ancelotti set about remodelling the team. Allowing Zola to depart for Chelsea, Ancelotti bought 21-year-old Hernan Crespo from River Plate and Sampdoria hitman Enrico Chiesa to guarantee goals. At the back, teenage keeper Gianluigi Buffon, Fabio Cannavaro and Lilian Thuram led Parma to a second-place finish in Serie A.

Alberto Malesani, who replaced Ancelotti the following summer, changed little and won another UEFA Cup. In fact, no club secured more European trophies in the ’90s than Parma. Nuff said.

12 Temuri Ketsbaia’s angry ‘celebration’

“I’m upset that people only remember me for this,” the Georgian has moaned. Unfortunately, seeing a wild-eyed skeleton kicking advert hoardings to celebrate a last-minute winner does stick in the mind a bit.

13. Shampoo ads with Ginola and… McAteer?

“I’m worth it,” purred Ginola as the first male face of L’Oreal. McAteer, though, fronted Wash & Go, FIFA 96 and Carlsberg, and played in two World Cups. Have that, Dav-eed.

14. Madcap play-off finals

The past five Championship finals brought seven goals. In 1993, Swindon and Leicester did that in 45 minutes. Then came Bolton 4-3 Reading and Charlton 4-4 Sunderland.

15. The Anglo-Italian Cup

Serie B vs English randoms sounds awful, but Gheorghe Hagi vs Notts County and Gabriel Batistuta vs Southend works for us.

16. Wembley FA Cup semis being a novelty

Old Wembley rarely hosting semis helped Sheffield and London derby showdowns. Construction debt means new Wembley hosts them all.

17. Fred Davies

Who? Shrewsbury’s aquatic ball boy. Gay Meadow’s spot on the River Severn caused so many lost balls, the club hired Davies and his coracle to fish them back out.

18. Chesterfield and Stockport’s cup runs

Stockport beat third-tier rivals Chesterfield en route to the League Cup semis in ’97, before the Spireites got to the FA Cup semis. Both lost to Middlesbrough, who lost both finals.