Michael Owen had a knack throughout his schoolboy days of scoring goals for a living. As he climbed rapidly through the youth ranks at Liverpool FC, it looked like the Merseysiders had another young superstar about to make a sudden emergence on the first-team.
Owen was looking to follow in the footsteps of Robbie Fowler back in 1993 when he emerged from nowhere to become a prolific goalscorer for LFC as soon as he reached the senior side. Rated as the best attacker of his age in the country, Owen was put on the bench for Liverpool’s penultimate match of the 1996-1997 Premier League campaign which was a tricky trip to Selhurst Park to play Wimbledon.
Liverpool still had an outside shot of winning the title but those faint chances evaporated when they went 2-0 down thanks to goals from Jason Euell and Dean Holdsworth. Boss Roy Evans decided to throw Owen on in the vain hope of finding three goals to take the title fight to the last day.
16 minutes from time, Stig Inge Bjornebye steered a pass through and Owen raced onto the ball and showed great maturity in dispatching the ball into the Wimbledon net. It wasn’t enough on the night as Liverpool lost 2-1 but Owen’s cameo was a sign of things to come. The Liverpool Echo said a day later: “Only teenage substitute Michael Owen could emerge with any credit from a performance that mocked Anfield’s rich traditions before time started running out.”
In all competitions, Owen scored 158 goals for Liverpool FC before leaving for Real Madrid in the summer of 2004. The Premier League title eluded him in his Anfield days but he did win five trophies in 2001, and was crowned the European Football of the Year – the last Englishman to do so.
And it all started on a lifeless night for Liverpool in general where a striking star was born at Selhurst.
Manchester United’s iconic Frenchman Eric Cantona was one of the Premier League’s best players in its early inception. However, his short temper could lead him into massive trouble too – none more so than on a cold Wednesday evening at Selhurst Park in January 1995.
Frustrated by their opponents Crystal Palace and upset by a number of sly fouls, Cantona took exception to this and six minutes into the second half, kicked out at defender Richard Shaw. Linesman Eddie Lewis spotted the transgression and Alan Wilkie had no option but to send Cantona off. Whilst his teammates, particularly Denis Irwin and Andy Cole argued with the decision, Cantona seemed to accept his fate.
He walked past his manager Sir Alex Ferguson and was on his way to the tunnel when he took some vile abuse from Crystal Palace supporter Matthew Simmons. Simmons was taunting Cantona and whatever was said provoked the fuse lit inside the French national captain. Cantona launched a spectacular kung-fu kick over the advertising hoardings and in the direction of Simmons, before launching several punches in his direction. Kit man Norman Davies and goalkeeper Peter Schmeichel were the men who had to drag Cantona away from the scene. Another Palace supporter found it so funny, he decided to chuck the contents of his tea in Cantona’s direction but he missed and soaked a bemused Schmeichel.
United would have to play on without him and they went on to take the lead through David May’s header. Gareth Southgate equalised in the closing stages to ensure the match finished 1-1 but that wasn’t the main story.
Manchester United understood the gravity of the situation. A day later, they had little option but to suspend Cantona from first-team duty for the rest of the season and fine him by the maximum term underneath his contract. He was later jailed before the sentence was reduced to 120 hours of community service. This prompted the famous line afterwards; “When the seagulls follow the trawler, it is because they think sardines will be thrown into the sea.”
Cantona was like a conductor on-the-pitch but the fifth and ultimately final red card of his professional career would end up having a major say in the destiny of where the title headed in 1995.