After 44 years of unbroken top-flight existence, Everton’s status was in severe jeopardy going into the final day of the 1997-1998 Premier League season. For the second time in five years, they went into a final round of fixtures in the bottom three and needing a better result than their relegation rivals to avoid the drop to the First Division. They had achieved it in 1994 against Wimbledon with Sheffield United the unfortunate side to experience the heartache of relegation.
In 1998, they were in a head-to-head battle with Bolton Wanderers. Everton were a point behind and had a more favourable fixture at home to Coventry City, whilst Bolton were travelling to Stamford Bridge to take on Chelsea. Things went Everton’s way in their match when Gareth Farrelly’s terrific early strike put them 1-0 ahead. Bolton fell behind to a goal from Gianluca Vialli in west London but there were to be exciting final twists.
Everton’s Nick Barmby saw a penalty saved by Magnus Hedman and when Dion Dublin equalised for Coventry with an arching header three minutes from time, Bolton knew the situation. A leveller at Chelsea would keep them up and even the Chelsea supporters were urging the Trotters to equalise. This was after Everton had suggested earlier in the week that Chelsea wouldn’t be motivated to win as they had a Cup Winners’ Cup final on the horizon days later against VfB Stuttgart.
In stoppage-time, the home supporters began booing their own players but in a counter-attack, Jody Morris finished off the contest and Bolton’s chances. Fans cheered Morris’ goal but less enthusiastically as any other Chelsea goal scored at Stamford Bridge all season. Chelsea’s 2-0 win meant a point would be enough for Everton and they held on for their draw by the skin of their teeth to achieve another manic final day escape from relegation, this time courtesy of only goal difference.
On 20th June 1995, Arsenal completed one of their most important signings in their history as they managed to tempt Dennis Bergkamp to the English game for £7.5 million. The Gunners had experienced a tough 1994-1995 season which had seen them finish only 12th in the Premier League and lose the Cup Winners’ Cup final to Real Zaragoza. New manager Bruce Rioch had only just been appointed and this was his first statement of intent in the Highbury hotseat.
Bergkamp had himself experienced a couple of tricky years at Inter Milan in Serie A. He’d scored only 11 goals in 52 league matches and was desperate to leave Milan for a new challenge elsewhere. This looked like a perfect match in heaven, despite Bergkamp being a Tottenham fan growing up and idolising Glenn Hoddle in his early days.
At his unveiling, he said: “It’s very attractive to me because English teams like to attack, and whenever I’ve played against sides here there have always been possibilities to score. I’m also looking forward to playing alongside Ian Wright, a great player.”
Bergkamp did take time to settle and didn’t score in his first seven appearances but once he broke his duck against Southampton in September 1995, his place with Arsenal immortality was sealed. Bergkamp won the PFA Players’ Player of the Year award in 1998, claimed three Premier League titles and four FA Cups before retiring in 2006.
He is now at his first club, Ajax on the coaching staff but Arsenal will always remain in the heart of Dennis Bergkamp. His plethora of great goals and outrageous skills means he has to be considered among one of the greatest foreign players to ever play in the Premier League.
In every Premier League season, some clubs will have a day to truly forget where everything you try virtually goes wrong. For Tottenham Hotspur, they haven’t had many more chaotic days than the damaging defeat they suffered away at newly-promoted Stoke City in October 2008.
Tottenham were in major trouble ahead of their trip to The Britannia Stadium. They were without a win in seven matches and rooted to the foot of the Premier League table. Manager Juande Ramos was under huge pressure and he needed a win to revive his fortunes.
The first incident occurred on 17 minutes. Gareth Bale dallied in possession and then fouled Tom Soares with the midfielder in a goalscoring position. The Welshman was given a straight red card by referee Lee Mason and Danny Higginbotham tucked away the spot-kick.
Darren Bent did equalise seven minutes later to ensure the teams went into the dressing rooms level at the break but things didn’t improve for Spurs and their embattled manager in the second half. First, Rory Delap was picked out by Mamady Sidibe and finished coolly at the far post to give Stoke back their lead. Then, Vedran Corluka was taken to hospital after being knocked unconscious in a nasty collision with his own goalkeeper, Heurelho Gomes.
11 minutes of stoppage-time were added with Corluka stretchered off requiring oxygen and Tottenham’s nightmare continued when Jonathan Woodgate bundled over Soares and Mason gave a second penalty. This time, Ricardo Fuller couldn’t convert the chance with his spot-kick hitting the post. To compound matters, Michael Dawson was sent off for a horror challenge on Sidibe.
Stoke won 2-1 and Tottenham had just two points from eight games. Not many teams can beat this kind of day, conceding two penalties, having two players sent off, losing a player to an injury in a collision with his own goalkeeper and losing the match!
Ramos was sacked a few days later and replaced in the dugout by the outgoing Portsmouth boss, Harry Redknapp.
Robbie Fowler was already making a name for himself before Arsenal travelled to Anfield in August 1994. It was the first league match to be played at the famous ground since the famous standing terrace; The Spion Kop had been torn down due to the safety regulations demanded by The Taylor Report. The new all-seater Kop stand was still taking shape but the first seats were ready for this showpiece encounter. However, it was the other end of the ground where all the action took place.
In the 26th minute, Fowler powered the home side into the lead after the ball bounced off his strike partner Ian Rush invitingly into his path. Less than three minutes later, he’d doubled his tally for the afternoon. Steve McManaman made a 60-yard run and found Fowler who had made a run to the right-hand side, before drilling a shot beyond an unsighted David Seaman and into the back of the net.
Just part the half-hour, John Barnes clipped a ball over the top of the famous Arsenal back four and Fowler was away, leaving Tony Adams behind. Seaman blocked his first effort but Fowler was instinctive to this and got to the loose ball before the England goalkeeper and Martin Keown to complete his hat-trick from the most improbable of angles. He had just destroyed the Arsenal back four in four minutes and 33 seconds.
It was a Premier League record for the fastest hat-trick that stood for over 20 years and still remains one of the most remarkable moments in the league’s history. This was the day when 19-year-old Robbie Fowler became one of the hottest properties, not just in English but in world football.
On the final Saturday of the 2014-2015 season, Sadio Mane achieved a little piece of Premier League history. The Senegalese midfielder broke Robbie Fowler’s long-standing record by scoring the fastest hat-trick in the competition’s history, timed at two minutes and 56 seconds against Aston Villa.
Mane was playing for Southampton at the time and he opened the scoring for the Saints after 12 minutes, pouncing first from a rebound after his initial effort was saved by Villa goalkeeper, Shay Given. Moments later, a terrible backpass attempt from Alan Hutton allowed Shane Long in on-goal. Given successfully challenged him but Mane was quickest to the loose ball and scored his second goal. Then after 15 minutes, he completed his hat-trick with a beautiful curling effort after being picked out by Long.
Southampton won the match 6-1 and Fowler’s 21-year record had been shattered by Mane, who would join Liverpool FC from the south coast side in the summer of 2016.
Throughout the history of the Premier League, there have been some amazing players who have graced these shores from the likes of Henry, Cantona and Zola to Aguero, Salah and Bergkamp. However, the English top-flight has also seen its fair share of flops and players who simply haven’t delivered on their potential. Others just aren’t good enough to reach the top level and quite possibly the worst is Ali Dia.
This weird but true story began in November 1996. Manager of Southampton at the time, Graeme Souness received a phone call from someone claiming to be the current World Player of the Year at the time, George Weah. The claim was that Dia was Weah’s cousin, had played 13 times for his country Senegal and also been a Paris Saint-Germain player. The call was actually made by one of Dia’s friends from University. If proper research had been carried out at the time, they would have seen that as recently as September 1996, the same player had made just one substitute appearance for non-league side Blyth Spartans!
Souness fell for it and Dia was signed on a one-month contract. A few days later, he was named as a substitute against Leeds United and got an unexpected opportunity when a calf injury forced Matt Le Tissier to be replaced by Dia after 32 minutes. His 53-minute cameo was nothing short of laughable and embarrassing. Withdrawn for Ken Monkou with five minutes left, Dia was never seen again in the Premier League. Le Tissier later said: “His performance was almost comical. He kind of took my place, but he didn’t really have a position. He was just wondering everywhere. I don’t think he realised what position he was supposed to be in.”
Dia gave up the game in 1997 after a couple more unsuccessful spells in the non-league with Gateshead and Spennymoor United. He went on to receive a Master of Business Administration from San Francisco State University in 2003.
Ali Dia – quite possibly the worst player to ever feature in the history of the Premier League.
With Chelsea struggling to retain their Premier League title in 2010-2011 and looking at risk to even qualify for the UEFA Champions League via their league position, Russian billionaire Roman Abramovich sanctioned the transfer of Fernando Torres. Torres had been Liverpool FC’s star striker for the past three-and-a-half years but his form had dipped in the six months before his transfer to Stamford Bridge.
On transfer deadline day in January 2011, Chelsea paid Liverpool £50 million for Torres and broke the British transfer record in the process. His debut came six days later against the club he’d just left and he didn’t play well and had been subbed before Raul Meireles scored the only goal of the game for the Reds.
Torres looked a pale shadow of the player who had tormented English and European defenders during his time on Merseyside. By the time Chelsea hosted West Ham United in late April 2011, Torres was still looking for his first Blues goal. Defender David Luiz, who had also been a January arrival had already found the net twice as a Chelsea player.
Against the Hammers, the moment finally came for Torres. The Spaniard came off the bench to score the second goal of Chelsea’s three on the evening on his 14th outing for his new employers. It ended a drought of 903 minutes without finding the target for both club and country since his last Liverpool goal in a 3-0 away victory at Wolverhampton Wanderers in January.
He said afterwards: “It was not the beginning I was expecting when I signed, but it’s never easy when you arrive in January at a massive team like this. There’s less pressure for me now, now I can enjoy it.”
He would win trophies at Chelsea including the UEFA Champions League in 2012 and UEFA Europa League in 2013. However, 45 goals in 172 appearances in all competitions was a disappointing return for ‘El Nino,’ who is now closing his career playing in Japan. His best Premier League days were most definitely as a Liverpool FC player.
Middlesbrough pulled off one of the biggest transfer surprises of the summer of 1996, as they managed to entice Fabrizio Ravanelli to The Riverside Stadium. Ravanelli had won the UEFA Champions League months earlier with Juventus, scoring in the final against Ajax. However, he was deemed surplus to requirements in Turin. Nevertheless, with some other European clubs sniffing around his services, it was a real coup for Bryan Robson to attract him to Teeside.
On the opening day of the 1996-1997 season, Middlesbrough hosted Liverpool FC and Ravanelli produced one of the most stunning debuts seen in the history of the Premier League. He scored a sensational hat-trick as Boro came from behind on three separate occasions to draw 3-3.
He quickly became a fans’ favourite and nicknamed ‘The White Feather,’ he scored 16 Premier League goals. However, despite the club reaching two domestic cup finals, they were relegated following a three-point deduction for failing to fulfil a scheduled fixture away at Blackburn Rovers in December 1996.
He joined Marseille following Boro’s relegation but left their supporters with some great memories, none more so than that first day treble.
Having delayed his decision to retire by a season, Alan Shearer was ready to bow out of professional football at the end of the 2005-2006 campaign. In February 2006, he broke Jackie Millburn’s record to become Newcastle’s highest-ever goalscorer. Two months later, he scored his 206th and last goal for his beloved boyhood club.
It came in a Tyne & Wear Derby against Sunderland to drive Newcastle into a 2-1 lead from the penalty spot. It was nice satisfaction for Shearer who had missed his last spot-kick against the Black Cats in November 2000.
Towards the end of the game, Shearer tore knee ligaments in a tackle which forced him to retire three matches earlier than planned. In total, he scored 206 goals in 404 appearances for Newcastle United and is the only player to have scored over 250 goals in Premier League history, finishing with 260 in 441 appearances in the top-flight for Blackburn Rovers and Newcastle United.
2005-2006 was to be Alan Shearer’s final season as a professional footballer, having previously postponed his decision to retire a year before. Part of the reason for extending his career by a further season was to try and become Newcastle United’s record all-time top goalscorer. He was closing in on surpassing Jackie Milburn’s record of 200 goals for the Magpies.
The moment finally arrived in February 2006 against Portsmouth. Graeme Souness had been dismissed as manager a few days earlier and Shearer was now helping out on a part-time coaching basis alongside Glenn Roeder. However, he still had plenty to offer on-the-pitch and he made his historical mark in the second half.
Shola Ameobi played a significant role, taking on two defenders before producing a clever backheel into the path of his strike partner. Holding off his former Newcastle teammate Andy O’Brien, Shearer never looked like missing, smashing his strike past Dean Kiely to achieve the landmark of Newcastle’s all-time record goalscorer. It was his 201st goal for the club and infront of The Gallowgate End – the most famous stand at St James’ Park.
Shearer retired two months later, finishing with 206 goals for the Magpies. He admitted afterwards: “I know what Jackie means and meant to the people. I can now sleep easy that the pressure has gone.”
Within two weeks in the 2016-2017 Premier League season, fans were treated to a new form of goalscoring method by the form of the ‘Scorpion Kick.’
On Boxing Day 2016, Henrikh Mkhitaryan was the first to try this and the Armenian’s effort in Manchester United’s 3-1 victory over struggling Sunderland was a piece of beauty, as he flicked the ball in from Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s cross. Surely, it was something we wouldn’t see again for a long time to come.
Olivier Giroud had other ideas with a technically even better effort for Arsenal against Crystal Palace on New Years’ Day 2017. From a clinical Arsenal counter-attack, Giroud showed spectacular athleticism and from a higher ball played in than Mkhitaryan’s effort, he managed to somehow get enough on his effort to go into the back of the Palace net off the underside of the crossbar.
The Premier League never disappoints and although we haven’t seen any further acrobatic efforts like this since, these goals from Mkhitaryan and Giroud show it can be done with some luck and also, sheer quality.
The longest unbeaten home record in Premier League history belongs to Chelsea. They went on an incredible four years and eight months run without losing a league game at Stamford Bridge. That spanned a sensational 86 matches.
The run began after the Arsenal ‘Invincibles’ side recorded a 2-1 victory in west London in February 2004. Chelsea didn’t lose a home league match for four full Premier League seasons afterwards which included the whole of Jose Mourinho’s first spell as Blues boss and two title-winning campaigns.
The run was ended by Liverpool FC. Xabi Alonso’s deflected shot was enough for the Reds to record a 1-0 win in October 2008 during Luiz Felipe Scolari’s short reign as Chelsea manager.
Nevertheless, it is a feat that is very unlikely to be ever matched in Premier League history.