If you’re currently in your mid to late thirties like myself, then you would have grown up watching football during the 1990s. A decade that changed ‘the beautiful game’ forever. Here’s a look some of the reasons why I think it was the greatest period to be a fan.
The FA Premier League:
The 1980s was a grim era for the English game. Recession, hooliganism, dwindling attendances and a European club ban meant that the old First Division was in a downward spiral. Clubs were close to going out of business all over the country and things had to change. In 1987, ‘The Big Five’ clubs at the time (Liverpool, Everton, Arsenal, Manchester United & Tottenham Hotspur), proposed a breakaway league to the rest of the top division chairman. Following the Hillsborough tragedy and the subsequent Taylor report ruling for all-seater stadiums, the new Premier League idea was now gaining momentum. In the summer of 1991, a high court decided in favour of the top teams breaking away and in February of 1992, the First Division’s clubs resigned from the Football League, making Leeds United’s title win in the 1991/92 season the last in league history. The Premier League was born. Now just the TV rights had to be sorted out. Step forward…
Football on Sky is regarded as the norm these days, but when the rights for the new Premier League were decided, ITV were the front runners. The terrestrial network had been showing the old First Division matches for many years previous. However, when the top flight chairmen voted on who should have the rights, ITV lost by one vote to newcomers Sky Sports. The deciding vote coming from a certain Alan Sugar (Spurs chairman at the time), who certainly wasn’t the most impartial voter, as his company Amstrad made the satellite dishes for Sky. A situation which I’m sure wouldn’t be allowed to happen these days. Sky Sports changed up the TV football experience, with an hour build up of coverage before kick off and half an hour afterwards – ITV used to go on air 5 mins before KO and finish bang on full time, right on schedule for the news. The satellite channel went from strength to strength during the 90s, using state-of-the-art touch screens to provide analysis of the matches. During this period viewers could vote for their Man Of The Match and Sky even introduced Player-Cam, which followed a different player every 15 mins; quite boring but incredibly innovating at the same time. Football on TV had changed forever.
Following on from the TV coverage, this really was the golden era for football commentators. Sky Sports main man was Martin Tyler, but Rob Hawthorne and the very underrated Ian Darke, were more than capable understudies for their Premier League coverage. On terrestrial television, old stalwart Brian Moore was still at the helm for ITV, commentating on big European games, League Cup finals and major international championships as he had done for the previous 30 years. Clive Tyldesley was waiting patiently as his number two, before replacing Moore when he retired in 1999. Channel 4 had Peter Brackley on our screens every Sunday afternoon, describing Serie A games for Football Italia. It was the BBC however, who had the strongest line-up. With Match Of The Day reappearing on our screens in 1992, seasoned campaigners Gerald Sinstadt and Tony Gubba had weekly slots watching the Premier League. Statistical genius John Motson was given most of major finals during this period, but it was the criminally underused Barry Davies who outshone the rest. To Davies, less was more, as he allowed the game to be played without many interruptions. He is also responsible for some of the classic commentary moments from the decade; Paul Gascoigne’s 1991 FA Cup semi-final free kick for Spurs and Dennis Bergkamp’s last minute 1998 World Cup quarter-final winner against Argentina immediately spring to mind. But it was his description of Gareth Southgate’s penalty miss in the Euro ’96 semi-final which sums him up, simply saying ”Oh no!”, which is exactly what we were all thinking. Never has a commentator been so emotionally involved in a football match.
Exciting Foreign Imports:
Before clubs started to scout for youngsters abroad, there was a period in the mid-90s when it seemed like only the best foreign players were coming to the Premier League. In 1992, John Jensen signed for Arsenal after winning Euro ’92 with Denmark, joining his national teammate Peter Schmeichel and Frenchman Eric Cantona as the biggest names in the Prem. In 1994 German World Cup winner Jurgen Klinsmann, joined Spurs for a season. The next summer Holland’s Dennis Bergkamp signed for Arsenal, Brazilian wonder-kid Juninho joined Middlesbrough, French winger David Ginola signed for Newcastle and Dutch legend Ruud Gullit went to Chelsea. Italians Gianfranco Zola and Gianluca Vialli joined Gullit at Stamford Bridge in 1996, and probably the biggest surprise was new Champions League winner Fabrizio Ravenelli transferring to Middlesbrough! That is the equivalent today of Real Madrid’s Karim Benzema joining Watford! It was an exciting period for Premier League fans, as unlike these days all the top flight teams still had a big English/British contingent in their squads. Most foreign signings in the 90s were quality additions, helping the young homegrown players develop. It’s a shame that now foreign recruitment has overtaken looking after our own youngsters, and less than a third of all Premier League players are currently British born.
Acceptable England Success:
During this year’s World Cup in Russia, the national side changed the mood of the country. Finally after 22 years, England had a team to be proud of. Reaching the semi-finals of a major tournament was a great achievement. Well this happened twice in the 1990s. In the lead up to both Italia ’90 and Euro ’96, the national press were on the team’s back. Bobby Robson was labelled a ‘Judas’ for accepting a job offer from PSV Eindhoven after the World Cup. This galvanised the squad, and after a slow start in the groups England excelled in the latter stages, eventually going out in the semis to West Germany on penalties. After a reign of mediocrity under Graham Taylor, the summer of 1996 was the probably the most enjoyable time to watch England that I can ever remember. Just before the start of the tournament however, a drunken night out in Hong Kong after a friendly match was snapped by photographers and the players were splashed all over the front pages in disgrace. Calls were made for certain players to be dropped from the squad altogether. Manager Terry Venables used this to his advantage and the team became closer as a result. Victories over Scotland and Netherlands in the group stage and Spain in the quarter-finals meant England faced Germany yet again in the semi-finals. In one of the most memorable matches of the last 30 years, the Three Lions lost to Germany on penalties once again. Those two tournaments are etched in the memory of every football fan over the age of 35.
Football Shows On TV:
With Sky Sports taking a hold of Premier League coverage, it launched several programmes throughout the week to accompany the live matches. The Footballer’s Football Show and Andy Gray’s Boot Room were weekly shows that took a look back at the weekend’s action. Soccer Saturday began in 1994, with reporters at every football league ground and four ex-professionals in the studio watching the day’s biggest games. The show’s colourful and smooth vidiprinter made Grandstand’s look extremely outdated. It’s hard to believe Jeff Stelling has been there from the start. For those wanted their football fix whilst having their Saturday morning breakfast, Soccer AM started in 1995 with Tim Lovejoy and Helen Chamberlain. The show is still running now, but fails to live up to the funny skits and in depth features it gave us in the 90s. At one stage it was Sky Sports’ biggest audience outside the live matches. The BBC also got in on the act, with smooth anchor Des Lynam and Match Of The Day returning following the Beeb securing highlights of the Premier League. Fantasy Football League with David Baddiel and Frank Skinner was enormously popular on BBC2 every Friday night, taking the mickey out off everybody and everything possible while still playing the famous game with celebrity guests. Channel 4 had Gazzetta Football Italia every Saturday morning with the incredibly witty James Richardson as host. These days football programmes are everywhere, but back in the ’90s those shows were a fantastic novelty to fans.
Football Computer Games:
The 1990’s were the birthplace of football video games. The Sega Mega Drive especially, had a lot of excellent titles that allowed you to experience gameplay on a football pitch for the first time; World Cup Italia ’90, European Club Soccer, Striker and Fever Pitch initially come to mind. However, Sensible Soccer for me was the best the Mega Drive had to offer. It’s arcade style meant that even with its outdated graphics, the game is still as enjoyable today. Sensible Soccer also had the option of editing the teams (which I spent hours enjoying), and the music for the menus and before kick off particularly stick in my head. The 90s was also the decade when the FIFA and Pro Evolution Soccer series’ started. FIFA launched in 1993 on Mega Drive and SNES consoles, before being taken on by Playstation. Pro-Evo began in 1997 under the name ‘ISS PRO’ on the PS1. They set the standard for smooth game-playing and football games on consoles have never been the same since. As much I loved playing those titles, the ultimate game for me was Championship Manager on PC. The detail was incredible even back then, listing all attributes for every player was unheard of. But this was a much simpler time in the series, a time when you just picked your team and played, finishing a season in just a few hours, even while you were doing your homework and having your tea. Football Manager is too much of an investment these days for the average married man, plus it feels like you need a degree in sports science to be any good at it. Championship Manager 97/98 will forever be my favourite football game of all time.
Fantastic Football Adverts:
From Eric Cantona, Ian Wright, David Seaman and Robbie Fowler playing Sunday league football on Hackney Marshes (above) – to the good vs evil feature length match including Paolo Maldini, Patrick Kluivert and other world stars – to the Brazilian team playing football in an airport before the 1998 World Cup, Nike were the leaders for football adverts in the 1990s. Reebok were not far behind though, in one ad they took a look at what some footballers would be doing if they hadn’t have made it as a professional, with Dennis Bergkamp as cheese maker and Peter Schmeichel as a pig farmer. Another with a star studded cast including the likes of Robbie Williams and Tom Jones, dreaming about Ryan Giggs was also very big at the time. Others included Alan Shearer going to McDonald’s, John Barnes drinking Lucozade, Gareth Southgate at Pizza Hut and Jason McAteer using Wash n’Go. This was an era where footballers weren’t afraid to poke fun at themselves, before political correctness went mad.
In case you haven’t guessed, I love the nineties. It was a decade that I grew from a small child into a 16 year old boy. A time when I had no responsibilities apart from tidying my room and acting sober in front of my parents, after drinking 20/20 down the local park. I still play those video games and watch the old adverts and tv shows on YouTube. I read autobiographies from footballers who played in that period. My Spotify is full of 90s dance and britpop. It all reminds me of such wonderful times growing up.
The 1990s – What a decade!
If you have any further reasons why you think 90s football was great then please leave them in the comments below. I would love to hear them. ⚽️