Premier League XIs: Eric leads the 95/96 history-makers

Date published: Wednesday 22nd April 2020 8:01 - Sarah Winterburn

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Remember the season before Euro ’96? Here are the headliners from the 1995/96 season…

 

Goalkeeper: Bruce Grobbelaar
Along with John Fashanu and Hans Segers, Bruce Grobbelaar was charged with match-fixing at the start of the 1995/96 season after allegations were made in the media the previous year. The charges were linked to Asian betting markets and the news cast a shadow over football ahead of a new Premier League season. Grobbelaar was permitted to carry on playing and spent the campaign as back-up to Greater London-born Dave Beasant at Southampton. The Saints stayed up on the last day of the season with a point against Beasant’s former club Wimbledon proving enough to keep them safe on goal difference.

 

Right-back: Phil Neville
Local lad Phil Neville was hauled-off at half-time on the first day of the season as Manchester United trailed Aston Villa 3-0. Despite an encouraging second-half performance, United still lost and the youthful side Alex Ferguson put out was famously criticised by pundit Alan Hansen. The former Liverpool defender remarked that the Red Devils would struggle to win trophies with kids and it seemed that the club’s failure to replace the departed trio of Paul Ince, 94/95 headline act Andrei Kanchelskis and Welsh Wonder Mark Hughes would leave United out of the running for the Premier League title. Four days later Phil’s brother Gary was on the end of Premier League Hall of Shamer Marco Boogers’ infamously reckless challenge. It was a tough start to the season for the Class of ‘92.

 

Centre-half: David Busst
By the April of 1996, Manchester United’s kids were battling with Newcastle at the top of the table, with Liverpool also in contention. Reigning champions Blackburn Rovers defeated the Magpies on the same day as United recorded a 1-0 victory against relegation-threatened Coventry City. The game was severely overshadowed by Coventry defender David Busst suffering a broken leg early on after a collision with Brian McClair and Irish legend Denis Irwin. Busst’s injury is widely regarded as the worst in Premier League history; he never played professionally again and had to go through 23 operations on his way to recovery. The Coventry side pulled together after the incident and went unbeaten for the rest of the season after losing to United, miraculously avoiding relegation on goal difference.

 

Centre-half: Kit Symons
Manchester City had to wait until November for a Premier League win in the 1995/96 season, with their bad start giving the side a mountain to climb to avoid relegation. City went into the last game of the season against Liverpool needing at least a point to stay up, whilst hoping Southampton and Coventry City lost their games. Things didn’t start well, the Citizens trailed 2-0 at half time with Liverpool legend Ian Rush scoring his last ever goal for the club. After Uwe Rosler pulled one back, Kit Symons equalised in the 78th minute to make it 2-2. City thought other results were going their way and attempted to see the game out, not realising they needed a winner. The situation was the antithesis of the Aguero title-clinching moment as City were relegated on goal difference.

 

Left-back: Graeme Le Saux
Blackburn Rovers made a terrible start to their title defence in the 1995/96 season, losing three of their first four games. However, the team rallied in mid-season as star striker Alan Shearer bagged a hat-trick against Nottingham Forest in November ’95, with Norwegian midfielder Lars Bohinen and Graeme Le Saux also finding the net in the 7-0 win. Le Saux suffered a season-ending injury in December, ruling him out of Euro 1996 and ensuring golden oldie Stuart Pearce would be England’s starting left-back at the tournament. By February, Rovers were feeling the loss of Le Saux, as they languished in mid-table, 20 points behind leaders Newcastle United. Although Shearer ended the season as top Premier League goalscorer, Blackburn’s regression led to speculation over the Geordie forward’s future. A record transfer was afoot.

 

Right wing: Keith Gillespie
Newcastle United signed Northern Irish international Gillespie from Manchester United as part of the deal that took C-Team striker Andy Cole to Old Trafford. Having not been given a run in the first team at Old Trafford, Gillespie had a point to prove at Newcastle United as they battled the Red Devils at the top of the table. In late April the Magpies needed to beat Leeds United in order to stay in the title race and stop Alex Ferguson’s side from claiming a third Premier League title. Gillespie became the man of moment for Newcastle as he netted the winner at Elland Road. However, the game was overshadowed by club manager Kevin Keegan’s infamous “I’d love it if we beat them” rant against Ferguson after the match. The phrase became one of the Premier League’s most famous quotes and for many it marked the moment Newcastle lost the title.

 

Centre midfield: Ruud Gullit
Chelsea pulled off a major transfer coup by signing former Ballon d’Or winner and AC Milan immortal Ruud Gullit. The arrival of the Dutch superstar ushered in an era of big-name foreign players coming to play in the England, making him one of the most influential players in Premier League history. Gullit showed his class in 1995-96 and was selected in the PFA Team of the Year despite Chelsea finishing in mid-table. At the end of the season club manager Glenn Hoddle left Stamford Bridge to take the England job and Gullit was installed as player-manager. The new manager’s contacts in Serie A would prove pivotal in attracting more star names to Chelsea as Champions League winner Gianluca Vialli and D-Team star Roberto Di Matteo arrived in London.

 

Centre midfield: Tomas Brolin
One of the stars of the 1994 World Cup, Tomas Brolin was part of a talented Sweden side that finished in third place at the tournament. Roland Nilsson and Anders Limpar were also part of that Swedish side and had been famous first season foreigners in the inaugural Premier League season. With his fellow countrymen having successful careers in England, Brolin’s transfer to Leeds United in the November of 1995 seemed like a great buy for the club as they attempted to improve on their fifth-place finish from the previous season. Brolin struggled to gain any kind of form or fitness throughout season, falling way below the standard expected of him. His languid demeanour on the pitch enraged manager Howard Wilkinson and it soon became clear Brolin was no longer the player he once was. The fiasco had an impact on Leeds’ season as they slipped to 13th place whilst Brolin went down as one of the Premier League’s worst ever signings.

 

Left wing: Steve McManaman
Having impressed the season before, Liverpool continued their good form in the Premier League by finishing third in the 1995/96 season. Merseyside men Steve McManaman and Robbie Fowler linked up well with new signing Stan Collymore as the side beat title holders Blackburn Rovers and champions-elect Manchester United during the campaign, but the side’s most famous victory was a 4-3 triumph against Newcastle United.  Fowler won the PFA Young Player of the Year again whilst McManaman topped the Premier League assist charts, earning him a place in England’s starting line-up for the European Championships that summer.

 

Striker: Les Ferdinand
Newcastle United splashed out £6m on QPR striker Les Ferdinand as the club attempted to climb up the Premier League table. Ferdinand was joined by David Ginola, Warren Barton and Yorkshire-born David Batty. The new signings proved to be inspired as Newcastle topped the table for the majority of the season, establishing a 12-point lead by the January of 1996. However, five defeats in eight games allowed Manchester United to catch up and two draws in their last two games condemned the Magpies to second place. Despite his team’s collapse, Ferdinand scored 25 goals for his new side and won the PFA Player of The Year. QPR were relegated at the end of the season having struggled to fill Ferdinand’s shoes.

 

Striker: Eric Cantona
Cantona returned to football in October ’95 following his ban from the previous season and scored some vital goals for Manchester United in their pursuit of the title. After trailing Newcastle by 12 points, Cantona’s side went on an incredible run that saw them only lose one game from early January to the end of the season. That solitary loss was the famous kit-changing game against Southampton. England’s undercapped Matt Le Tissier put the Saints 3-0 up just before half-time and United changed out of their grey attire during the interval, with Alex Ferguson claiming his players were struggling to see each other. Despite that defeat, a routine win against Middlesbrough on the final day of the season ensured the Red Devils won their third Premier League title. Cantona went on to net the only goal in the FA Cup final against Liverpool to secure United another league and cup double. He also won the FWA Player of the Year award and became a mentor for the youthful United players written off at the start of the season.

James Wiles – whose Instagram has a whole load more XIs

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