By Kevin Henning
1992 – Manchester City 1 QPR 1 – First Monday Night Football.
Following on from SKY’s first ever Super Sunday, us football supporters were ‘treated’ 24 hours later to the first ever installment of Monday Night Football. It was just what fans of the national game had always wanted. No longer would a round of fixtures be completed on a weekend in time to be discussed in work on a Monday morning, travelling to your team’s every away fixture was made that little bit harder and we were expected to miss the week’s first episode of Coronation Street! SKY really had the working man in mind when they came up with this Americanised idea.
The first match played at this horrendous kick off time was the Maine Road match between Manchester City and QPR. Due to this season opener being during the school holidays, I persuaded a United supporting mate of mine to come along and take in a game. We stood on the Kippax Street Stand and waited for the match to start but were bombarded with all sorts of entertainment before the teams emerged.
The first faux pas of the evening came in the form of parachuters dropping from the Mancunian sky. I think we were supposed to cheer and applaud them but trying to encourage the Kippax to welcome anything referred to as “The Red Devils” onto the Maine Road pitch was never going to be easy. Then came the “SKY Strikers”. A tribe of dancing cheerleaders with pom-poms and short skirts. Admittedly, this seemed to please the crowd more than the lunatics that had leapt from an aircraft minutes before but again, they hardly had the crowd in raptures. At this point, my friend enquired whether City always put on this much entertainment prior to a match.
Finally, the game got underway. City and Rangers feeling their way into the new season, hoping not to add to the spectacle by dropping any clangers. City opened the scoring shortly before half-time when David White pounced on a parry from the QPR keeper. It was the only goal of the first half.
During the interval, the circus provided by SKY reached it’s nadir. A ‘band’ called Undercover made their way onto the pitch and blatantly mimed a version of Baker Street. Again, the crowd reacted with hostility. The band were drowned out by a chorus of boos and an impromtu rendition of “We love you City, we do”. The second half couldn’t come quick enough. The teams returned and shortly after the re-start, Andy Sinton fired in from the edge of the area to level the scores. After the Lord Mayor’s parade, the two teams clearly weren’t able to match SKY’s efforts and the match petered out. SKY continued with the poxy Monday entertainment for the rest of the season before realising what a bad idea it all was. Unfortunately, they stopped short of scrapping Monday Night Football altogether.
1996 – Middlesbrough 3 Liverpool 3 – Ravenelli shows he has the stomach for the Premier League.
The most unlikely club to bring glamour by the bucketload to the Premier League during the ’90’s was Middlesbrough. The Teeside outfit brought in some of the games top names such as Juninho, Emerson, Nick Barmby, Branco and erm, Mikkel Beck and produced one of the most unpredictable teams of recent times. It was the signing of Fabrizio Ravanelli though that really set pulses racing on the streets of Redcar. The Italian was a European Cup winner with Juventus and an Azzurri regular. It looked like regulars at the Riverside were in for quite a ride and so it would prove.
The opening day of the 1996/97 season brought Liverpool to the North East. There was a carnival atmosphere in and around the ground as Smoggies danced the Samba in a capacity crowd. The day was to be a 90 minute glimpse at Boro’s whole season. Goals galore both for and against, plenty of highs and heart stopping moments.
The first half saw Stig Inge Bjornebye put Liverpool 1-0 up. Some clever interchanging down the left between Curtis Fleming and Juninho resulted in a rash challenge on the pocket sized Brazilian and a penalty. This was the moment they’d come for. Ravanelli drilled the ball left footed, high into the net and the stadium erupted. A second goal for the Scousers arrived shortly after. John Barnes with a cool touch and finish to make it 1-2. Middlesbrough were determined not to let the day end in defeat though and a quickly taken free-kick led to Ravanelli equalising again.
The second period continued in much the same vein as both teams went for the 3 points. Robbie Fowler gave Liverpool the lead for a third time but the day belonged to that man Ravanelli. He calmly finished after a scrappy build up to bring Boro level for a third time. His hat-trick complete, the White Feather treated his new supporters to a celebration that became iconic. He lifted his Boro shirt over his head, showing of the finely toned stomach as every female in the stands swooned.
Middlesbrough’s collection of international footballers would give the supporters of the club one of the most memorable, if tragic seasons in the club’s history. Boro reached both domestic cup finals but lost them both and were relegated to kick sand in the faces of the fans. On that sunny August afternoon though, the thought of the season ending in disappointment felt like a million miles away as a suave Italian gent strutted around down the Riverside.
1996 – Wimbledon 0 Manchester United 3 – Beckham’s wonder goal.
The 1996/97 goal of the season award lasted for just an hour and a half. On August 16th, the powers that be would have saved a lot of time had they just had the award engraved with David Beckham’s name and had it delivered to Old Trafford.
United were at Selhurst Park to begin the defence of the title they’d won in three of the four years since the Premier League began. Coasting at 2-0 through goals from Eric Cantona and Denis Irwin but the talking point of the day was to come as the game drifted towards injury time.
Spotting Wimbledon keeper Neil Sullivan way out of his goal, Beckham swung a boot embroidered with the name “Charlie” (an adidas despatchment error meant that Rangers’ Charlie Miller’s boots were sent to the new United number 10) at the ball from fully 60 yards. The crowd held it’s collective breath as the ball sailed through the South London sky before dropping perfectly under the crossbar and hitting the back of a bemused Sullivan’s net.
Hysteria followed. Young David was thrust into the public spotlight. He would go on to become Mr Posh Spice, Goldenballs, an Armani model, England fans’ most hated player, England fans’ most loved player, a pain in the arse for Alex Ferguson, a Real Madrid outcast, a Real Madrid La Liga winner, a player accused of chasing an easy buck in the US, the most capped outfield player in England’s history, an AC Milan loanee, an Olympic commitee member, chooser of ludicrous names for children and general media whore. Had that howitzer flown over the bar back at Selhurst Park, we may never have witnessed the shenanigans of Tom Cruise’s best mate and Karel Poborsky could have become a United legend. We’ll never know.