Results: Arsenal 2-0 West Ham United, Blackburn Rovers 0-2 Tottenham Hotspur, Coventry City 0-3 Nottingham Forest, Derby County 3-3 Leeds United, Everton 2-0 Newcastle United, Middlesbrough 3-3 Liverpool FC, Sheffield Wednesday 2-1 Aston Villa, Sunderland 0-0 Leicester City, Wimbledon 0-3 Manchester United, Southampton 0-0 Chelsea
Fans on the opening weekend of the 1996-1997 Premier League season were treated to some spectacular action and a goal that even 23 years on, is still constantly replayed again and again.
That moment came at Selhurst Park where the reigning FA Cup and Premier League holders, Manchester United were taking on Wimbledon. It was a routine afternoon for the Red Devils who were leading 2-0 going into stoppage-time with goals from Eric Cantona and Denis Irwin. Then, David Beckham did something truly special. From the halfway line, the youngster spotted Wimbledon goalkeeper Neil Sullivan off his goal-line and decided to shoot for goal. He judged it to perfection. Sullivan dashed back but didn’t get there in-time and the ball ended up in the back of the net. It took the goalscorer towards global stardom.
At The Riverside Stadium, a new star of its own was being created in the form of Middlesbrough’s new striker. Fabrizio Ravanelli, a UEFA Champions League winner with Juventus just a few months earlier, made a sensational start against Liverpool FC. The Italian scored an opening day hat-trick to ensure Boro earned an entertaining 3-3 draw with the men from Merseyside, despite trailing three times in the match.
It was Nottingham Forest who would top the table at the end of the opening weekend. Like Ravanelli, Kevin Campbell hit a treble as Frank Clark’s side brushed aside Coventry City 3-0 at Highfield Road in commanding fashion. However, they wouldn’t win another match before December in the Premier League and by then, Clark was out of a job. This was as good as it got for Forest supporters during the 1996-1997 season.
Manchester United’s closest challengers in the previous campaign had been Newcastle United but after being thumped by the champions in the curtain-raising FA Charity Shield a week earlier, the Magpies lost 2-0 on the opening day to Everton at Goodison Park. First half goals from David Unsworth via the penalty spot and Gary Speed on his home debut saw the Toffees to an impressive win.
Speed had decided to join the club he’d supported as a boy. The club he’d left behind, Leeds United were involved in their own six-goal thriller at The Baseball Ground. They drew 3-3 with Derby County. Leeds would score only 25 further goals in their remaining 37 league matches during the campaign.
It had been a tumultuous build-up to the season for Arsenal. With star striker Ian Wright pondering over handing in a transfer request and Bruce Rioch sacked less than a week before the season began, the Gunners did beat West Ham United 2-0 under the guidance of caretaker manager Stewart Houston. Wright didn’t start the match and it was his replacement in the team, John Hartson who opened the scoring. By the end of the season though, Wright was still scoring goals for fun at Arsenal and Hartson had been transferred to West Ham.
Sky Sports’ first live TV selection wasn’t a classic as Southampton and Chelsea played out a largely uneventful 0-0 draw on Super Sunday at The Dell. The game was played in sizzling temperatures and it did see Ruud Gullit make his debut as a manager after succeeding England-bound Glenn Hoddle in the summer. A clean sheet was a good platform to build on for Gullit in a season that would end with silverware.
What else happened in August 1996?
- The 1996 Summer Olympics conclude in Atlanta. It is a nightmare games for Great Britain, who win just one gold medal.
- Boris Yeltsin is sworn in at the Kremlin for a second term as President of Russia.
- At the Republican National Convention, Bob Dole is selected as their candidate for the presidency.
- The Prince and Princess of Wales are formally divorced at the High Court of Justice in London.
- Unemployment has fallen to 2.1 million – its lowest level since the summer of 1991.
- Zoë Ball presents her final edition of The Big Breakfast, having decided to join BBC One’s Live & Kicking.
- Influential punk rock group The Ramones play their final show at The Palace in Hollywood.