Sheffield Wednesday 3 Tottenham 4 – 1994
Jurgen Klinsmann has not always been a self-styled former favourite for the England manager’s job. In his playing days, the German was a semi-lethal marksman, scoring goals across Europe for Stuttgart, Inter Milan and Monaco, and winning a World Cup and a European Championship each for Germany. And although he spent just two seasons in the country as a player, he remains fondly remembered in England. No more so than at White Hart Lane.
But Klinsmann did not arrive in north London in 1994 to open arms, banners and celebration. No, instead the 30-year-old was vilified, the villain of the piece after playing a part in West Germany’s victory over England in the 1990 World Cup. One Guardian writer, Andrew Anthony, even wrote an article titled ‘Why I Hate Jurgen Klinsmann’. It was his reputation as a diver which proved most problematic.
“I never was a diver and I never dived,” Klinsmann told FourFourTwo in 2004, likely sporting a sly grin. “But when I first came to Spurs and I heard about this story it was a big lesson for me about how to handle the English media. Fortunately I had the help of Teddy Sheringham and my team-mates. They taught me that in England, as a person in the public eye, you often get provoked by the media because they want to see you react, and it is the English humour that you should never feel offended, that you should always “top” any kind of provocative situation. So Teddy advised me to do a dive after scoring my first goal.”
As it happened, Klinsmann would not have to wait too long to win over the public. His debut came on the opening day of the 1994/95 season, as the focal point of Ossie Ardiles’ attacking masterpiece. Tottenham took the lead at half-time against Sheffield Wednesday at Hillsborough through Sheringham and Darren Anderton, before Dan Petrescu and a Colin Calderwood own goal drew matters level. Nick Barmby restored Tottenham’s lead, before Klinsmann made it 4-2 with a powerful header. The swan dive followed, Andrew Anthony penned a piece titled ‘Why I Love Jurgen Klinsmann’ in the following weeks, and the German had silenced his critics.
Aston Villa 3 Manchester United 1 – 1996
“I’ve kept really quiet but I’ll tell you something, he went down in my estimations when he said that. We have not resorted to that. You can tell him now, we’re still fighting for this title and he’s got to go to Middlesbrough and get something. And I’ll tell you, honestly, I will love it if we beat them. Love it.”
“Please don’t call me arrogant because what I am saying is true. I am European champion so I am not one of the bottle. I think I am a (not the) special one.”
“When the seagulls follow the trawler, it is because they think sardines will be thrown into the sea. Thank you very much.”
Of all the legendary quotes in the history of the Premier League, few are more iconic, more memorable and more easy to recall than the words uttered by Alan Hansen in the fall of 1995. Having witnessed Alex Ferguson’s Manchester United fall to a 3-1 defeat to Aston Villa on the opening day of the campaign, the former Liverpool defender took to Match of the Day to air his views. United’s starting line-up featured six players aged 20 or under, and Ian Taylor, Mark Draper and Dwight Yorke handed Villa a commanding lead. David Beckham would score a consolation, but United, who had been pipped to the title by Blackburn just a few months prior, had been outclassed.
“You can’t win anything with kids,” said Hansen later that evening. What about an under-11s match, pal?
Middlesbrough 3 Liverpool 3 – 1996
As someone too young to remember much, if any, of 1996 – Peter Andre releasing two number one singles, Ian Beale surviving an assassination attempt, and Gareth Southgate missing that bloody penalty – I feel as though I missed out on quite a lot. Included in that eclectic selection of beautiful moments is the arrival of Fabrizio Ravanelli to the Premier League at a time when foreign was exotic, not expected.
Just imagine the furore that would have surrounded Ravanelli’s £7m move from Juventus to Middlesbrough 20 years ago. The Italian was made the highest-paid player in the Premier League at the time, on a reported £42,000 a week. Was he worth the money? Would he start supposedly paying back the expenditure already in shirt sales? Why did Ice Cube not accidentally reveal his signing?
The Champions League winner proved value for money both on and off the pitch. His numerous complaints about the standard of Boro’s facilities were offset by his performances. He remains the only man to score a hat-trick on his Premier League debut with his treble against Liverpool. Robbie Fowler, John Barnes and Stig Inge Bjornebye had to combine to counter his efforts. The crazy b*stard ended the season with 16 goals from 33 games, but Bryan Robson could not steer the Boro ship to safety. Relegation was their destination, proving once more that strikers are not the answer for newly-promoted clubs.
Leicester 0 Bolton 5 – 2001
In one corner was the ghost of English football’s past. Peter Taylor had been tasked with building on a finish of 13th the prior season at Leicester, who remained in dire need of reinforcements. They would prop up the table come May, suffering relegation to Division One.
In the other corner was the ghost of English football’s then future, and now present. Sam Allardyce sported a belly less round, hair more dark, a persecution complex about British managers not being given enough chances less severe, and a moustache most wonderful. The future saviour of the national game would guide Bolton to safety that season in what would soon become his modus operandi.
The scorers on August 18, 2001 will bring a wry smile to anyone’s face. Per Frandsen scored twice, and Michael Ricketts began his ascent to international stardom with one goal, but there could only be one man to round off the scoring. One Kevin Nolan – or Lee Nolan, according to a Guardian report from the match – started what would grow to be one of the most beautiful top-flight relationships between player and manager we could ever wish to see.
Arsenal would have expected to top the table after any other opening day, given their 4-0 dismantling of Middlesbrough but, not for the last time, Allardyce would prove to be a thorn in Arsene Wenger’s side.
Everton 1 Arsenal 6 – 2009
Arsenal have enjoyed and endured mixed fortunes where their first Premier League fixture of the season is concerned. Arsene Wenger has led his side to just one victory in his last six attempts, but before that came eight victories from nine. The typical Arsenal season may follow a particular formula, but the opening-day result often varies.
Before the losses to West Ham and Aston Villa, and the draws with Sunderland, Newcastle and Liverpool, with a solitary victory over Crystal Palace in between, Arsenal boasted an imperious record in their first game. Few wins were secured with such quintessential Gunners verve and vigour as their 6-1 dismantling of Everton seven years ago. Such was their dominance that they were able to deploy Nicklas Bendtner in midfield, while Denilson, Thomas Vermaelen and Eduardo were among the goalscorers. A brief blip in late January and early February, because Arsenal, pushed a title challenge off course however, before a 1-1 draw with Birmingham in March derailed it completely. But that performance at Goodison Park provided an example of their excellence.
Wigan 0 Blackpool 4 – 2010
It is one of the most humorous quirks of Premier League history that Tottenham (33) have spent five days fewer than Bolton (38) at the top of the division. Sheffield Wednesday (25) are only a further eight days behind in that respect. Charlton (17), Portsmouth (nine) and Wimbledon (seven) are just a small selection of clubs whose stay at the top was shortlived, but they cannot match Ipswich, Nottingham Forest, West Ham or Wigan for brevity. Each of the aforementioned quartet have spent just one day each atop the Premier League.
Were it not for Chelsea, Blackpool would have earned the unlikeliest of places on said list themselves. Ian Holloway had guided the unfancied Seasiders to the top flight through the play-offs, and his squad, while not Hull 2016, was short on quality. But when facing a Roberto Martinez defence, anything is possible. Marlon Harewood scored twice, Gary Taylor-Fletcher and Alex Baptiste netted one each, and Blackpool’s Premier League debut ended in a 4-0 victory. Chelsea’s 6-0 win over West Brom robbed them of top spot, but second place was a passable consolation.
West Brom 3 Liverpool 0 – 2012
Hindsight is a wonderful thing. With hindsight, Sir Alex Ferguson would have handed Paul Pogba a few games in 2012 instead of converting Rafael into a temporary central midfielder. With hindsight, Arsene Wenger would have signed another central defender earlier this summer, or at least when the extent of Per Mertesacker’s injury was revealed, to avoid an August rush. And with hindsight, we ought to have known how Brendan Rodgers’ love story with Liverpool would end.
Back in summer 2012, the winds of change had blown through Anfield. The second coming of Kenny Dalglish had reached a conclusion, and the club were searching for their fourth manager in two years. A talented Northern Irishman, one of the game’s Bright Young Things, a former student of Jose Mourinho, was the answer. Brendan Rodgers had impressed in bringing Swansea to the Premier League and keeping them there in style in his first season. This was hit shot in the big leagues.
Things started as badly as they would eventually end three years later. Zoltan Gera, Peter Odemwingie and Romelu Lukaku scored as West Brom eased past Liverpool on the opening day of the 2012/13 season. Daniel Agger was sent off, beginning that relationship on a foot so wrong it forced his eventual exit. Martin Skrtel gave away a penalty with some wonderful idiocy, Joe Cole was injured within ten minutes of coming on as a substitute, Martin Kelly started, as did Fabio Borini, and Andy Carroll played just 11 minutes. Liverpool around the turn of the decade was such fun.
Manchester United 4 Swansea 1 – 2013
“Your job now is to stand by the new manager.”
Sir Alex Ferguson’s final message as Manchester United boss to his adoring fans was simple. Just as they had supported him through times both good and bad, they ought to do the same with his replacement. David Moyes had been handpicked – The Chosen One – to ascend from Everton to Fergie’s United throne, and no-one thought it would be so easy.
Then the Scot’s first game as manager came, and nerves were settled. It was as if Ferguson had never left, with two goals apiece from Robin van Persie and Danny Welbeck helping United ease past Swansea and canter to the top of the Premier League. Wilfried Bony scored a late consolation, but the dominance of the champions was evident. Within eight months he had gone, but it started ever so well, didn’t it?