Nothing like the '90s
From John Barnes rapping to avian mascots scrapping, FourFourTwo recalls some of the players, teams, goals, matches, merchandise, moments and mayhem that made football in the '90s so great…
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.
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.
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.
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.
As Bulgaria’s players caught a flight from Dallas to Chicago after defeat to Nigeria at the 1994 World Cup, the Lions’ finals record read: P16, W0, D6, L10. Halfway through it, star striker Hristo Stoichkov stood up. “We are going to give the Greeks a real hiding,” barked the Barcelona striker.
The talisman was right, too. Five minutes into the game, The Dagger scored and Bulgaria were on their way to a first World Cup win, triumphing 4-0. More victories followed, against Argentina, Mexico and, incredibly, defending champions Germany.
Trailing to a Lothar Matthaus penalty as the clock struck 74 minutes, the unfancied Bulgarians – a team full of never-say-die journeymen plus the quality of Stoichkov and Emil Kostadinov – fought back. The former, on his daughter’s birthday, curled home a glorious free-kick, before a bullet header by follicly-challenged Hamburg midfielder Yordan Letchkov.
Throw in ‘Bulgarian Wolf’ Trifon Ivanov’s magnificent mullet and this was a team to love, as much as Stoichkov’s arrogance. “No Bulgarian player will ever match my achievements,” the ’94 Ballon d’Or winner later said. He’s probably right.
20. Deportivo La Coruna
There was always something of the underdog about Deportivo. On May 14, 1994, they were a 90th-minute penalty away from winning La Liga. Defender Miroslav Djukic would take it; regular spot-kick-taker Donato had been hauled off, and striker Bebeto had a heart the size of a pea. Barely able to stand under the pressure, Djukic’s tame effort was saved and the title was Barcelona’s.
“It was the worst moment of my life,” Djukic later admitted. “I had to stop thinking about it because I nearly drove myself mad.”
Underpinned by defensive-midfield machines Mauro Silva and Donato, plus one-club left-midfielder Fran, Depor recovered to lift the Copa del Rey in 1995. Hitherto solid, the signing of squat Brazil playmaker Djalminha added the creative spark in 1997, and he scored 26 league goals in 87 appearances in his first three La Liga seasons. Watching Spanish football on Sky Sports, Djalminha’s was an otherworldly talent.
In a bonkers 1999/2000 season – in which Real Madrid lost eight times to finish outside the top four for the first time in 22 years – Javier Irureta’s squad of castaways, young tyros and experienced heads won the title that had eluded them six years before.
21. One team in Tallinn
With Estonia sulking over floodlights, Scotland kicked off unopposed in front of their travelling support. Three seconds later, the match was abandoned. Scotland fans would probably still take that result right now, right...?
22. Rene Higuita
Five years before his scorpion kick at Wembley, Colombia’s 5ft 9in keeper conceded in a World Cup knockout tie after being tackled halfway to the centre circle by Roger Milla. El Loco indeed.
23. Lucozade water bottles
Their part in Gazza’s ‘dentist chair’ celebration at Euro 96 made up for Lucozade bottles (often blue and huge) turning fresh water into more of a plasticky sewage.
24. Genuinely exotic signings
Pre-internet, Swiss defender Marc Hottiger could join Newcastle without armchair football scouts pontificating about his YouTube highlights to befuddled fans. In many ways, it was a better time.
25. Blond dye jobs
Leicester’s Riyad Mahrez must be a bit too young to remember how bleach looked on Robbie Fowler, Paul Gascoigne and Romania’s 1998 World Cup squad, or he wouldn’t be spearheading its alarming resurgence this term.
26. Jason Lee’s pineapple
Fans singing, “He’s got a pineapple on his head” meant that the Nottingham Forest striker’s drastic tactic had worked: he’d successfully drawn attention away from his appalling goatee.
The Merlin Premier League sticker books are ’90s time capsules – and wall-to-wall curtains. Warren Barton led the charge, while Ian Walker’s forehead acted as a kind of buffer zone between two lunatic fringes.
28. Mitre footballs
Pep Guardiola may detest the Football League sphere, but it was a top-flight staple until Nike took over from Mitre in 2000.
29. Cans of Coke
It can’t have taken a lot of thought, but sponsors Coca-Cola deciding to produce club-themed cans for League Cup finals went down a treat.
30. FIFA’s indoor mode
Criminally, EA dropped the six-a-side mode from FIFA 99 onwards. Nearly 20 years later, FFT still isn’t over it. You can’t leg it from the referee to avoid picking up bookings any more, either. Boo.
31. League ladders
Magnetic or paper, printed team names or shirt outlines in club colours, DIY league ladders were fun and useful: you could even feed your team’s rivals to the dog.
32. Sensible World of Soccer
Ultimate Teams be damned – Sensi, that masterpiece of top-down pixellated beauty, is still the pinnacle of mankind’s achievements and we’ll fight anyone who dares to disagree.
33. The music in Premier Manager ’97
Featuring an original techno soundtrack – sort of Leftfield meets The Human League – meant the best part of this management sim was having a rave to the menu screens. See for yourself...
34. Zamorano’s 1+8 shirt
When Roberto ‘big-time’ Baggio joined Inter from Bologna and demanded Ronaldo’s No.10 shirt, O Fenomeno took No.9 from Ivan Zamorano. The Chilean’s response was wonderfully childish.
35. Fernando Redondo
Let’s get the elephant in the room out of the way. Yes, the thing you most associate with Fernando Redondo took place in April 2000. No, that doesn’t matter. The Real Madrid defensive midfielder’s backheel nutmeg of helpless Manchester United defender Henning Berg was the tip of an iceberg so enormous it would have scuppered the Titanic in five seconds flat, instead of leaving Leonardo DiCaprio’s curtains freezing in the water for more than half an hour.
36. Roberto Baggio
No player better defines ’90s football than Roberto Baggio. A playmaker of rare technique for Fiorentina, Juventus and both Milan clubs (among others), Baggio could also be a pure goalscorer. When Carlo Ancelotti passed up the chance to sign him for Parma in 1997 because he couldn’t play in a front two, he went on to score a career-best 22 league goals for Bologna.
“The angels sing in his legs,” former Fiorentina manager Aldo Agroppi once commented. He only secured four major honours as a player and many choose to remember the horrid penalty miss that cost Italy the 1994 World Cup, but to question the contents of Baggio’s trophy cabinet is to dismiss Vincent van Gogh as he sold only one painting in his lifetime.
“I have never told anyone this before, but I still feel bad about that penalty,” the 1993 Ballon d’Or winner told FFT earlier this year. “It was the day football broke my heart.” And millions more all around the world, Roberto.
37. A glut of player-managers
Kenny Dalglish’s success as Liverpool’s player-manager in the late-80s inspired a splurge in pitch-dwelling gaffers over the next decade. In 1990, Peter Reid was named player-boss of Manchester City. He started well, playing regularly as the Sky Blues twice finished fifth, but a sharp decline saw him sacked in 1993.
A year later, Bryan Robson took charge at Middlesbrough, where he guided the Teessiders into the Premier League and signed the likes of Juninho and Fabrizio Ravanelli. His team famously combined reaching two cup finals with relegation in 1996/97, at which point Robson opted to hang up his boots.
But the undisputed home of 1990s player-managers was Stamford Bridge. First, Glenn Hoddle arrived, pissed off Tony Cascarino by being a show-off in training, signed Ruud Gullit, then left. Gullit took up the baton, brought in Gianluca Vialli, won the 1997 FA Cup, then left. Next it was Vialli’s turn. He won the FA Cup, but was sadly unable to sign a player capable of managing.
38. Tony Yeboah
“NO NET IS SAFE FROM THE MAN WHO SHOOTS TO KILL!” bellowed the words on the back of the video released in Tony Yeboah’s honour in the mid-90s. The Ghanaian had only been at Leeds United for a year, but he had already sent a wrecking ball crashing through the Premier League.
Yeboah had impressed at Eintracht Frankfurt, twice becoming Bundesliga top scorer, but a fallout with manager Jupp Heynckes saw him join Leeds for £3.4 million in January 1995. Yeboah netted 12 Premier League goals in that campaign, and then added eight more in the opening two months of 1995/96.
Two of those goals earned the striker back-to-back goal-of-the-month awards – his ferocious volley against Liverpool, the club he’d supported as a youngster, and then a thunderbolt finish against Wimbledon. Both were walloped in off the underside of the bar: Yeboah knew how to make his goals look spectacular. George Graham’s arrival resulted in Yeboah’s exit to Hamburg in 1997, but he remains a cult hero at Elland Road.
39. The Cup Winners’ Cup
A decade of European glory for Manchester United (1991), Arsenal (1994) and Chelsea (1998) and then the untimely death of the competition in 1999. Thursday nights just haven’t been the same since.
40. Jack Charlton’s Ireland
Big Jack’s stint in charge was the golden era for the Boys in Green. They beat England 1-0 at Euro 88, reached the quarter-finals of their first World Cup in 1990 and famously beat Italy at USA 94. The highlight? Jack and John Aldridge losing their s**t with a dithering fourth official.
41. Chilavert’s free-kicks
Long, long before the days of YouTube, stories were told of a heroic (and bonkers) goalkeeper from a previously unheralded land smashing in some belting free-kicks. The mystery that surrounded the Paraguayan icon Jose Luis Chilavert was a significant part of his appeal.
There was little to rival the excitement of flicking over to Teletext and seeing the headline “Brazilian superstar linked”. A long premium-rate phone call later, and you’d know your club were actually going to appoint a chef from Rio de Janeiro to the catering staff. Great...
43. The Old Firm having big stars
With the greatest of respect to Graham Dorrans and Leigh Griffiths, they aren’t quite in the same league as Paul Gascoigne, Brian Laudrup, Henrik Larsson and Mark Viduka.
44. Georgi Kinkladze
A star at Man City when, frankly, they were crap. The Georgian schemer’s most memorable moment came when he waltzed through the Southampton defence before dinking the ball over sprawling keeper Dave Beasant.
45. Steve Bull
Earned 13 caps for England despite having never played in the top tier. Also scored over 300 goals for Wolves, to whom he showed unwavering loyalty.
46. Great World Cup theme tunes
Nessun Dorma at Italia 90 was the BBC’s high-water mark, with Auntie going very classical again eight years later with Faure’s Pavane.
47. Struggling commentators
These days, modern mic men are more or less unanimous with their pronunciations, but it wasn’t always that way. There were arguments over Gus Poyet (Poy-et or Poy-ay), Espen Baardsen (Bard-son or Bord-son), and of course, Peter Ndlovu (Und-love and Und-lo-vu).
48. Aylesbury Town duck celebration
The Buckinghamshire town is home to its own breed of duck, and the Isthmian League outfit’s waddling waterfowl-inspired goal celebrations in reaching the FA Cup third round in ’94 made headlines. They must have been quackers...
49. Cuauhtemoc Blanco’s bunny hop
Unleashed in Mexico’s 3-1 win against South Korea at France 98, the hefty forward’s two-footed bounce helped to launch a political and acting career that has included playing a randy fireman in a popular South American soap opera. Ole!
50. Frank Lampard Jnr
Lamps’ old man was still the alpha footballer in the family, hence the future Chelsea legend was suffixed ‘Junior’. Son aped father’s 17-year-old corner flag celebration at Elland Road in November 1997, but West Ham ended up losing 3-1.
51. World In Motion
Still the best football song ever made, New Order somehow turned a John Barnes rap – written by his Liverpool team-mate Craig Johnstone on a scrap of paper – into something really cool. We’re singing for England – Eng-er-land!
52. George Weah
It was from a Verona corner back in ’96 that Weah produced the moment which defined his career. Defending at the far post, George collected the stray corner eight yards from his own goal-line, and just started running. He beat two men on halfway, then a third, and kept going until he reached the penalty area and fired in one of the most incredible solo goals of the decade.
53. Players with trademark celebrations
Quiz question: how many games did Roger Milla start at the 1990 World Cup? The striker became the face of Cameroon’s run to the quarter-finals, but the answer is none. He was a super sub throughout. Thankfully, that didn't stop the 38-year-old scoring four times and dancing by the corner flag on each occasion – one of the most iconic goal celebrations ever.
54. So-so sponsors
From local car dealerships (Dagenham Motors) to household DIY (Draper Tools) and recently launched radio stations (Classic FM), the Premier League’s early kit sponsors were a superb ragtag bunch. Anyone have any idea what Dimplex actually made?
55. Man-of-the-match voting in Sky games
Forget Strictly or X-Factor, this is where the democratisation of public voting truly flowered. You haven’t lived until you've spent £3 on a premium-rate phone line to vote for Stuart Nethercott as man of the match against Bolton.
56. The chaos caused by the foreigner rule
Alex Ferguson could only pick three ‘foreigners’ from Peter Schmeichel, Denis Irwin, Andrei Kanchelskis and Roy Keane at the Camp Nou in November 1994. Gary Walsh started instead of the great Dane in goal. Man United lost 4-0.
57. “Collymore closing in…”
Liverpool 4-3 Newcastle – a seesawing game so pivotal to the 1995/96 title race, Toon boss Kevin Keegan’s soul died on an advertising hoarding. Stan Collymore’s camera-shaking late winner came to define Sky Sports’ tragi-drama output.
58. Ryan Giggs vs Arsenal
Picking up the ball inside his own half during extra time of the FA Cup semi-final replay at Villa Park, Man United’s wing wizard beat five Gunners defenders (including Lee Dixon twice) to keep their Treble hopes – and chest-rug lovers – alive.
59. Diana Ross penalty
Belting out 1980 hit I’m Coming Out, the former Supreme steadied herself to take a 10-yarder at the USA 94 opening ceremony. She’d got the world to show. She missed. And the goal frame split in two anyway. Genius.
60. Modern superclubs being crap
Many enjoyed the novelty of David Moyes transforming Manchester United into a mid-table side, but in the ’90s, today’s elite clubs regularly stunk out the place. Chelsea were outside the top 10 in six straight seasons from 1991 to 1996, while Tottenham had a particularly forgettable decade, finishing in the bottom half four times (and enduring Alan Sugar in the boardroom), while Man City were famously relegated from the Premier League in 1996 and from the second tier in 1998.
The decade also witnessed Bayern Munich’s worst season in recent memory, as FC Hollywood came a disastrous 10th in the Bundesliga in 1991/92, also crashing out of the UEFA Cup and German Cup early on. A pre-cash PSG finished eighth in 1998, and ninth the following campaign. Atletico Madrid were relegated in 1999/00, having steadily regressed since they won La Liga in 1995/96, when city neighbours Real Madrid finished a now-unthinkable sixth.
61. Alessandro Del Piero
If Del Piero had listened to his mother, the history of Juventus would be vastly different. Worried that her youngest son would get injured playing outfield, she insisted little Alex would play in goal, believing that sweating less would be good for his health.
Elder brother Stefano intervened and Del Piero went on to score 290 goals in 705 matches for the Turin giants – including a hat-trick on his full debut – in a 19-season, 17-trophy career with the Old Lady. The definition of the Italian trequartista, so successful was Del Piero at cutting inside from the left edge of the penalty area to curl perfect shots into the top corner throughout Juve’s 1995/96 Champions League-winning season, that such strikes are now regarded in Italy as a ‘Gol alla Del Piero’.
62. Becks scoring from the halfway line
Brian Kidd grabbed Alex Ferguson by the arm. “Trust him,” commented assistant to gaffer as Fergie prepared to unleash the hairdryer at David Beckham for shooting from the halfway line against Wimbledon on August 17, 1996.
“You’ve seen the goal of the season already,” claimed Ferguson at full-time. “I have never seen it done before. Pele is the only one who came close to doing the same. Nayim? That was a miskick.” Yet three words from Beckham’s captain, and idol, meant more than anything his manager said. “Good goal, David,” said Eric Cantona. He was still smiling a week later.
At the time this was a promising 21-year-old who was nowhere near England’s Euro 96 squad. A central midfielder in the Man United youth team, Ferguson had eased Beckham into the first team on the right, taking advantage of the ball striking and crossing that would become his trademark.
He wasn’t even wearing his own boots. Look closely and you will see the word ‘Charlie’ stitched into his Adidas Predators. Beckham had asked to try some, and the only size eights they currently had available were a custom-made pair for Rangers’ Charlie Miller.
“That moment was the start of it: the attention, the press coverage, the fame,” he penned in his autobiography, My Side. “When my foot struck that ball, it kicked open the door to the rest of my life.”
He wasn’t wrong. Ferguson prevented Beckham from doing Match of the Day interviews in a vain attempt to shelter the youngster, as he had with Ryan Giggs. King Canute had an easier job. Within 12 months Becks had signed lucrative contracts with United, Brylcreem and Adidas, become a Three Lions regular and met a Spice Girl. Goals change games, but this goal changed a life.
63. Brilliantly rubbish away kits
Some things are so bad, they’re good, and away kits in the ’90s were often gloriously dreadful. The most infamous was the ‘invisible’ Man United change strip of 1995/96 that Alex Ferguson insisted was to blame for a poor first-half showing at Southampton. United trailed 3-0 at the interval, changed to blue and white, then won the second half 1-0. So Fergie was right – until his side lost 6-3 at The Dell in blue and white six months later.
Other top-flight classics include Chelsea’s ‘charcoal and tangerine’ monstrosity of 1994-96, Tottenham’s ‘yellow with a hint of birds**t’ (which somehow lasted from 1991 to 1995) and the Liverpool ‘ecru’ number of 1996/97 (a colour so obscure, the Reds’ use of it actually warrants a mention on its Wikipedia page).
There were some belters further down the league ladder, too. Bristol City’s purple and lime eyesore earned such a cult following, the club brought the colour scheme back in recent seasons. Although we reckon Peterborough are unlikely to do the same with their 1993/94 strip of red and, well, every other colour.
64. ‘Sir’ Les Ferdinand
These days very few players are universally respected, but the London-born frontman was seemingly loved wherever he went. So much so that nobody has really questioned his fictional knighthood.
65. Corinthian figures
FFT can neither confirm nor deny reports that a staff member hurled a tiny plastic David Seaman out of a first-floor window in the aftermath of England’s France 98 defeat by Romania in Toulouse.
After USA 94’s half-arsed doggy mascot Striker, and Italia 90’s unnerving stick man Ciao, it was crucial France 98 had a decent figurehead. Footix did not disappoint.
67. Marco Materazzi at Everton
Look, it’s just amusing that the player who got himself sent off three times in a nightmare season at Goodison Park would later win the 2006 World Cup with Italy and the 2009/10 Treble with Inter.
68. Kevin Pressman’s powerful penalty
The decade’s most famous goal by a keeper was by Jimmy Glass in 1999, but the Sheffield Wednesday custodian’s shootout cannonball against Wolves almost blasted the goal out of the ground.
69. Bonkers keeper kits
Jorge Campos may have been the king of the retina-blitzing keeper kits, but even he would be proud to wear Newcastle’s keeper top from ’96/97. It featured a silhouette of the Toon skyline backdropped by a delightful sunset. Then there was England’s Euro 96 atrocity and Tottenham’s floral ‘Magic Eye’ shirt. Pure class.
70. Premier League Football Stickers
Nothing the 21st century has thrown up can possibly rival the pain of forking over 25 of your hardest earned pennies, only to find yourself with a packet full of Stig Inge Bjornebye. Got. Got. Got.
71. Soccer AM
It’s hard to imagine an age when watching Tim Lovejoy lark about on a weekend morning wasn’t a sign you’d lost your mind, but ‘back in the day’, Soccer AM was both amusing and original.
72. Breakfast cereal
The good people at Kellogg’s really missed a trick when they released a Premier League-branded breakfast cereal – Strike! – and it didn’t come in the form of tiny wheaty footballs. Tasty, though.
73. Tim Buzaglo’s hat-trick
Trailing West Brom 1-0 at the halfway stage of their FA Cup third-round tie in 1991, non-league Woking needed a hero. Enter estate agent Tim Buzaglo, who netted three goals to inspire a 4-2 Hawthorns win.
74. Sky's Player Cam
This short-lived feature gave the viewer a chance to focus on a single player for 15 minutes at a time – it was joyously pointless.
75. The original Super Sunday intro
“Heeeeeeere we gooooooo, heeeeeeere we goooo; here we go, here we go, here we go, here we go; THIS IS IT!” Great, great lyrics.
76. Emile Heskey’s kit modifications
Even fresh out of Leicester’s academy, Emile was a unit. So much so that in 1996/97, he had to make a little slit in his shirt collar in order to accommodate his muscle-clad neck.
77. Dream Team
Sky’s soap was originally about the youth team of fictional Harchester United, but later campaigns focused on the first team, match-fixing and a coach crash...
78. Players humiliating themselves in photo shoots
These days Premier League players hire publicity teams to manage their public image, but back in the ’90s things were a little more relaxed. So much so that when some cheeky little scamp asked Sheffield Wednesday’s Carlton Palmer to don a Sonic the Hedgehog costume, he thought nothing of it.
Years later, Wednesday’s Italian duo of Benito Carbone and Paolo Di Canio gamely tucked into an uncooked pizza, while down in London, Gianfranco Zola dressed up as Robin Hood, inexplicably.
On the tellybox, Gareth Southgate was only too happy to laugh off (and cash in on) his Euro 96 penalty miss by flogging pizzas alongside Chris Waddle and Stuart Pearce, while the self-depreciation level cranked up another notch during Peter Schmeichel’s accordion-tooting promo for bacon, not to mention Ian Wright’s Chicken Tonight ditty. But the daddy of them all? Kevin Keegan teaming up with the Honey Monster to finally put an end to Newcastle’s trophy drought.
79. Adverts that were better than movies
Football truly embraced the power of TV advertising, which actually treated fans as grown-ups. Reebok had Jarvis Cocker, Robbie Williams, Vic and Bob, Jimmy Hill and George Best dreaming they were in Ryan Giggs’s boots.
Sky Sports went upmarket and hired professional Yorkshireman Sean Bean to kick off the 1996/97 season, talking about all the “ecstasy, anguish, joy and despair”. “Football,” said Major Richard Sharpe, “we know how you feel about it. Because we feel the same.”
Nike were the market leaders, though. Whether it was David Seaman, Robbie Fowler and Ian Wright playing Sunday League on Hackney Marshes, the Brazil squad having a kickabout in an airport lounge or Eric Cantona and Luis Figo in gladiatorial combat, the ads repeatedly oozed playground cool.
80. The original and best Ronaldo
Imagine O Fenomeno’s Real Madrid and Portugal namesake crossed with Lionel Messi, and you are getting close to just how good peak Ronaldo was in scoring 47 goals in 49 games in his sole season at Barcelona in 1996/97.
“He’s the most spectacular player I’ve ever seen,” team-mate Luis Enrique later told FFT. “He was strong – a beast. We’re now used to seeing Messi dribbling past six players, but not then.” No goal proves Enrique’s point more than the third Barça got in a 5-1 victory at Compostela in October 1996. His shins whacked throughout, the Brazilian beat six defenders from inside his own half to score an impossible solo effort. Coach Bobby Robson, after more than five decades in football, put his hands to his head in disbelief, utterly unable to comprehend what he’d just seen.
"Pele returns,” read the front page in the following day’s AS. Ronaldo was now box office, and he turned down a not-insignificant sum of money to appear in a photo shoot with Cindy Crawford because “they should have asked her to pose with me”.
“It’s awe-inspiring how good he is,” Robson told FFT in 1997. “But you just don’t know what’s going to happen to people, do you?”
Robson was right. After blazing a trail in Serie A following a world-record move to Inter, France 98 was supposed to be Ronaldo’s consecration as the world’s best player. The seizure that he suffered on the morning of the World Cup final is now interwoven into ’90s football lore. He was not on the teamsheet, but then reappeared and was clearly a shadow of himself in Brazil’s 3-0 defeat.
The knee injuries he suffered robbed him of searing pace, so he remodelled his game as a pure poacher. That he returned at all, regardless of the waistline, is a measure of the man. Ronaldo, phenomenal.
81. Milan being ridiculously good
It kicked off with jockeys and swans, concluded with kings and Zorro and counted on both Il Capitano and Billy throughout. Starting with Arrigo Sacchi’s European Cup-defending vintage, no side could combine such consistent success with misty-eyed affection as the Rossoneri in the ’90s.
Dubbed Signor Nessuno (Mr Nobody) by a sceptical Italian media because of his lower-league playing career – famously responding, “I never knew that to be a jockey you had to be a horse first” – Sacchi’s system-first and high-press approach paid huge dividends, despite a squad including Ruud Gullit, Frank Rijkaard and the ‘Swan of Utrecht’ Marco van Basten.
“It wasn’t just the Dutch,” Sacchi told FFT. “The system was ultimately the leader out on the pitch – it never got injured. It wasn’t the players who won all those big games. It was the way we played.” Though the aggressive offside line expertly deployed by Capitano Paolo Maldini, Alessandro ‘Billy’ Costacurta and Franco Baresi was the background for success, Milan could attack like no other Serie A side.
“Sacchi changed Italian football,” Alex Ferguson claimed. “The Italian mentality was to attack with caution. Then all of a sudden there was no more catenaccio, but a four-man defence, with a side that attacked, rather than wait to counter-attack.”
So good was the system – “they were tactically perfect,” said striker Gianluca Vialli – that when assistant Fabio Capello replaced Sacchi in ’91, he won three Serie A titles in a row – a streak that included a 58-match unbeaten record. They even beat an overconfident Barcelona 4-0 in the ’94 Champions League Final thanks to Il Genio Dejan Savicevic’s playmaking genius, Zorro Zvonimir Boban’s industry and the dynamism of Marcel Desailly.
As the decade neared its end, there was still time for another Rossoneri vintage, King George Weah leading Alberto Zaccheroni’s side to a ’98/99 title in Milan’s centenary campaign.
82. Des Lynam reading ‘If’
The Rolls-Royce of football broadcasting silkily delivers Kipling’s If to close France 98. Never has the inevitable ignominy of an England defeat seemed so poetic.
83. Centre-forwards or centre-halves?
Dion Dublin, Paul Warhurst, Chris Sutton – the ’90s was the last bastion of this rarest of rare breeds, who could switch between elbow-wielding centre-back to elbow-wielding centre-forward with ease.
84. Le Tournoi
France 98’s warm-up event was notable for two things:
1) England winning, and 2) A Roberto Carlos free-kick that defied physics.
85. Kevin Keegan
Newcastle’s manager would love it, LOVE IT if he made it onto this list. If you pause the clip of his TV rant you can see in his eyes the exact moment the title slipped away.
86. Villa’s beverages
For reasons unknown, Aston Villa captured their players awkwardly naming their favourite beverages. Paul McGrath admits to enjoying Guinness; Dwight Yorke
and Nigel Spink disagree on Ribena.
87. The Milton Road Stand
In the ’90s, stadiums may not all have had working toilets, but boy did they have character. Best of all was the wonky stand at The Dell.
88. The Impossible Job
Imagine being so confident of World Cup qualification that you invite a film crew over to capture your moment of glory. Then imagine your central midfield consists of Geoff Thomas and Carlton Palmer. Still, Graham Taylor comes across well.
89. Fergie time
Saturday April 10, 1993. Steve Bruce crashes in a trademark header deep, deep, deep into injury time for victory at home to Sheffield Wednesday. Fergie Time was born...
90. How the 1990s saved British football
In the 1980s, football was at an all-time low – but Gazza's tears helped to usher in an era that saw the game return to its place at the heart of British popular culture. Gary Parkinson remembers the renaissance...
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