by Kevin Henning

Something happens to players, fans, board members, managers and pundits alike on the opening day of the season. I don’t mean that they wake up with the excitement of a new fixture list to go at, that they forget to set the planner to record Match of the Day or that they realise that the summer is almost at an end.

I’m talking about the madness that descends annually on the first day of the football calendar. It might be the desire to make people notice them, it might be a little bit of hyperactivity or it could be that the August sunshine sizzles the brain. It’s probably a mixture of all these things but the decisions that football folk make on this day in particular certainly happens more frequently than on any other day during the season.

Let’s start with the players. During the opening game of the season at Goodison Park, Everton trailed to newly promoted Leeds United 3-0 at half-time. Upon entering the changing room, the Welsh keeper found his team mates arguing about who was or wasn’t doing their jobs properly. Big Nev had heard enough. Deciding that he needed some quiet time, he turned on his heels and headed back to the pitch. He wandered to the goalmouth he was set to defend and plonked himself onto the turf, sat leaning against the post. The former binman was enjoying a little time without the stress of bickering centre halves and full backs to the amazement of all in attendance but even his quality fifteen minutes wasn’t to pass without interruption. An Toffees fan, concerned with Southall’s state of mind ran onto the pitch to have a word with his hero. Southall wasn’t concerned that the invader was any kind of threat, he’d employed the man to tile his kitchen months before. Neville’s team mates must have sorted out their differences to some degree but despite a spirited second half comeback, ended the game beaten by 3 goals to 2.

During the Tottenham debut of German striker Jurgen Klinsmann, Spurs players made the decision to ram the taunts of the English public back down their collective throats should they be given a chance to. They didn’t have to wait long at Hillsborough against Sheffield Wednesday. In the 81st minute of the 1994/95 season, Klinsmann, constantly accused by the British press of being a serial diver, headed in Tottenham’s fourth goal of the afternoon to restore a two goal lead. Cue the celebrations. Prior to the game, Teddy Sheringham (he always seemed to be involved in first day dramas) had convinced the German to celebrate any debut goal with a mock ‘dive’. Heading towards the South Stand, Sheringham, Klinsmann and Colin Calderwood leaped full length to the turf. It was a moment of calculated madness and became one of the most iconic celebrations in Premier League history.

Every now and then, an opening day result can be so catastrophic that the board of a football club decide that they’ve seen enough after just an hour an a half of a bright new campaign.

On the opening day of the 2009/10 season, Norwich City entertained local rivals Colchester United. The visitors were 5-0 up by the break and Canaries boss Bryan Gunn stood dismayed on the touchline looking like his doppleganger Ade Edmondson having just been twatted with a frying pan by Rick Mayall in slapstick comedy Bottom. Norwich were certainly bottom that night and the Norfolk clubs hierachy decided swift action had to be taken. Gunn was dismissed and the search for a new boss began. Where, they wondered, could they find a young and upcoming manager, who’d be happy to live in the area and would be prepared to leave a smaller club for them? They didn’t look far and the manager responsible for one of the club’s darkest days was lured from Colchester to take up the vacant Carrow Road hotseat.

Suits intervening on opening day doesn’t always pay off as spectacularly as it did for Norwich City though. In 1989, Michael Knighton somehow convinced the board of Manchester United to sell the club to him for £20 million. The only part of the plan that caused a problem was the fact that Knighton didn’t actually have £20 million (I often wonder whether the attempt by this loon to buy United with money he didn’t possess was the inspiration for one Malcolm Glazer). However, for a time, it looked as thought the sale was going to happen. Somewhere between the bid being accepted and the truth being revealed, came the small matter of the opening day of the 1989/90 season. United were to play Arsenal at Old Trafford where Neil Webb would be making his debut for the Red Devils. On a wave of optimism, United went for Arsenal’s jugular and won the match 4-1. The moment of madness had been played out before a ball had been kicked though.

Knighton, keen to introduce himself to a set of fans who have always been dead set against a money man taking over at a club with promises of spending sprees and upgraded facilities, ran onto the Old Trafford pitch in full United kit. The crowd roared with delight. Their new saviour juggled the ball towards the Stretford End, applauded each time he kept the ball off the grass. He sensed his moment had arrived and unleashed a ferocious volley into the back of the net. The massive crowd erupted. It was a strike more cherished than any of the four their team would put past John Lukic later that day. Michael Knighton went on to spot a UFO and buy Carlisle United amongst other things and United’s support decided to forget that they’d ever welcomed a potential sugar daddy with open arms.

If United’s fans made themselves look a little foolish in ’89, spare a thought for the Wolves fan who along with his friends, decided to clamber up onto the roof of a stand at his team’s opening day match of the 1987/88 Division 4 league season at Scarborough Town’s McCain Stadium. Jumping up and down like a lunatic on corrugated iron wafting a flag around your head may seem like a good idea when you’ve had a few sherbets on the train to the seaside, but when the roof caves in and you plummet 20 foot onto concrete terracing, you quickly sober up.

Finally, we can’t let the know alls that fill our screens with their “insight” get away with it. On the opening day of the 1995/96 season Manchester United were well beaten by Aston Villa 3-1. During the summer, Alex Ferguson had decided to sell a trio of stars in Paul Ince, Andrei Kanchelskis and Mark Hughes safe in the knowledge that useless, young reserve players Nicky Butt, Paul Scholes and David Beckham could take their places. On that evening’s Match of the Day programme, Des Lynam made the mistake of asking Alan Hansen for an opinion. The ex-Liverpool player couldn’t wait to stick the knife into his old team’s rivals and proudly announced that Fergie “Can’t win anything with kids.” The youngsters licked the wounds picked up at Villa Park, brushed themselves down and promptly went on to win the double. I have absolutely no doubt that Hansen wil be back on our screens tonight with another wild statement.

So whoever you are going to pin your hopes and dreams on this season, whichever ground you are about to depart for, please keep you eyes peeled. Somebody, somewhere will be about to make a decision so ridiculous that we’ll be talking about it in another twenty years. Enjoy the game and good luck for the season.