The Cantona that never was.

by Kevin Henning

15th August

1992 – Sheffield United 2 Manchester United 1 – The first ever Premier League goal.
It’s difficult to recall now, but Brian Deane, scorer of the Premier League’s first ever goal, was once one of the most feared centre forwards in the English game. Indeed, had the Blades board caved in and sold the striker to Manchester United, history may have been re-written as the Red Devils probably wouldn’t have signed Eric Cantona, their catalyst in the quest for titles.
Deane was at his very best during the Premier League’s first day. As mentioned, he scored the league’s first goal but was probably denied the league’s first ever hat-trick. He was harshly ruled offside when slotting past Peter Schmeichel and then added a penalty during the second half as Sheffield United went 2-0 up. A goal from Mark Hughes was mere consolation for Alex Ferguson’s side as the eventual champions started slowly, with defeat at home to Everton 0-3 and a draw 1-1 with Ipswich at Old Trafford days later. It took a last minute goal at the Dell from Dion Dublin to record United’s first win of the season. Unfortunately, Dublin broke his leg soon after and the quest for a new striker began.
The Blades’ season never hit the same heights in the Premier League that season and they eventually stumbled to 14th place. The thrill of turning over the would-be champions on the opening day with a piece of history thrown in was a nice start though.

1992 – Crystal Palace 3 Blackburn Rovers 3 – Alan Shearer’s fantasy debut.
Almost 200 miles away from Bramall Lane at exactly the same time, more history was being made. The transfer saga of the summer had seen Alan Shearer linked with Arsenal, Barcelona, Liverpool, Manchester United and Rangers. The Geordie hitman chose to join Kenny Dalglish’s revolution at Ewood Park and left Southampton for a then British transfer record of £3.6 million.The stage was set for Shearer and he didn’t disappoint.
Palace opened the scoring through Mark Bright only for Stuart Ripley to head Rovers level. Gareth Southgate restored the Eagles’ lead only for the man they’d all come to see to take over the show. Controlling a Mike Newell nod down, Shearer sent a dipping half volley over Nigel Martyn from outside the area. Fifteen minutes later, Shearer was at it again. Picking the ball up close to the left touchline, Blackburn’s new number 9 cut in before unleashing a bending shot past Martyn to give Blackburn the lead for the first time that day. It was Roy of the Rovers stuff for the new idol. The travelling fans boomed out his name and English football realised that a new star had been born.
Simon Osbourne equalised for Palace to make it 3-3 but there was no escaping from the real winner on the day. Alan Shearer would go on to become the Premier League’s all time leading goalscorer during a career served at Blackburn and hometown club Newcastle United. Shearer’s career will always be the subject of “What ifs?” though. Had he signed for Manchester United rather than turning them down both in ’92 and ’96, both the striker and United would have probably enjoyed more success. Who knows, Shearer may have even achieved as much as Mario Balotelli!

2004 – Chelsea 1 Manchester United 0 – Mourinho makes intentions clear.
The Abramovich revolution had began a year earlier at Stamford Bridge but it was the arrival of the special one that really set the wheels in motion. Jose Mourinho had guided FC Porto to the Champions League in May 2004 and the Portuguese coach was the most sought after man in European football.
Claudio Ranieri had been harshly treated according to most Chelsea fans and players but they were about to be introduced to their new King. The fixture list could hardly have thrown up more of a baptism of fire for Mourinho. If he was the new kid on the block then the neighbourhood’s old bully was about to pay him a visit.
The game was billed as one of the defining matches of the season before a ball had been kicked. The winners of the three points would strike an early blow in the race for the title. In the event, the cocky young coach in the Matalan coat won the day. Chelsea won 1-0 through an Eidur Gudjohnsen goal, Chelsea gathered a record Premier League points tally and took the crown from Fergie’s men. It was the beginning of a love affair in West London that Chelsea fans are still trying to get over to this day.