Born in the early 1980s, I am most definitely a 90s kid. Taking me from the age of 6-16, this decade saw me move from a small boy into adolescence. All the stressful experiences a teenager has to go through happened to me at this time – girls, exams, social acceptance, etc. Whenever I hear any aspect of the nineties, it takes me back to a care-free time before mortgages and bills, when my biggest financial worry was how I would save up for the latest Mega Drive game. But the main thing for me during that period was football. I was lucky that my parents had Sky Sports early on, so when ITV lost the rights of the new Premier League to rivals BSkyB, I barely missed a thing during the transition. This led to an obsession of PL strikers at the time. Every Super Sunday, I would see goals fly in and immediately keep an up-to-date top scorers chart on my bedroom wall. Looking back, it was always full of English players.
The amount of striking talent the national side had at it’s disposal in the 1990s was incredible. However, trying not to be biased to the ten year period that I love, I decided to look into a couple of things to compare it to other decades gone by. Was this the greatest group of English forwards we have had since 1966? Well, the stats don’t lie…
GOLDEN BOOT WINNERS
First I looked at the holy grail for any English striker; the top scorer in the top division. The Golden Boot winners between 1990-99 were:
1990: Gary Lineker (Tottenham Hotspur) – 24 goals
1991: Alan Smith (Arsenal) – 22
1992: Ian Wright (Crystal Palace/Arsenal) – 29
1993: Teddy Sheringham (Nottingham Forest/Tottenham Hotspur) – 22
1994: Andy Cole (Newcastle United) – 34
1995: Alan Shearer (Blackburn Rovers) – 34
1996: Alan Shearer (Blackburn Rovers) – 31
1997: Alan Shearer (Newcastle United) – 25
1998: Dion Dublin (Coventry City), Michael Owen (Liverpool), Chris Sutton (Blackburn Rovers) – all 18
1999: Michael Owen (Liverpool), Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink (Leeds United), Dwight Yorke (Manchester United) – all 18
As you can see, in every season during the nineties, the First Division/Premier League top scorer was English; I’m aware Michael Owen was a joint-winner in 1999 with a Dutchman and a Trinidadian, but he still took home a Golden Boot. This makes the 90s the only post-war decade where at least one Englishman topped the league scoring charts each year. An incredible statistic.
The most recent decade – 2010s – had only two occasions when Premier League Golden Boot winner was English, Harry Kane in both 2016 and 2017. The noughties had only one English winner, Kevin Phillips in 2000. However, during each of the four decades that preceded the nineties, 8 out of the 10 Golden Boot winners were from England. Only Ian Rush (Wales) and John Aldridge (Ireland) stopped an English clean sweep in the 1980s, Andy Gray and Ted MacDougall (both Scotland) in the 70s, George Best (Northern Ireland) and Ron Davies (Wales) in the sixties, and George Robledo (Chile) and the great John Charles (Wales) in the 1950s.
THE 20-GOAL A SEASON MEN
Following the homegrown dominance in winning the Golden Boot, I needed to delve a bit deeper to see whether the strength in depth of English forwards in the 90s was how I remembered it. At the beginning of every season, 20 league goals is a tally that every striker aims for. So how many times was this achieved in the nineties by an English forward?
1989/90: Gary Lineker – 24 goals, John Barnes – 22 goals, Kerry Dixon – 20, Matt Le Tissier – 20. (4 times)
1990/91: Alan Smith – 22, Lee Chapman – 21, John Fashanu – 20. (3)
1991/92: Ian Wright – 29, Gary Lineker – 28. (2)
1992/93: Teddy Sheringham – 22, Les Ferdinand – 23. (2)
1993/94: Andy Cole – 34, Alan Shearer – 31, Matt Le Tissier – 25, Chris Sutton – 25, Ian Wright – 23, Peter Beardsley – 21. (6)*
1994/95: Alan Shearer – 34, Robbie Fowler – 25, Les Ferdinand – 24, Stan Collymore – 22, Andy Cole – 21. (5)
1995/96: Alan Shearer – 31, Robbie Fowler – 28, Les Ferdinand – 25. (3)
1996/97: Alan Shearer – 25, Ian Wright – 23. (2)
Total times an Englishman scored twenty or more league goals in a single season during the 90s = 27
Between 1990-92, the old guard from the previous decade proved they still had it, especially Gary Lineker, who continued to fire goals in for Spurs until his retirement. Winger, John Barnes, enjoyed his best return in front of goal for Liverpool and Chelsea great, Kerry Dixon, gave his fans one final 20-goal campaign. Alan Smith’s goals fired Arsenal to a second League Championship in three years. Target-men Lee Chapman (Leeds United) and John Fashanu (Wimbledon) continued to prove they were difficult to handle by having the most prolific year of their careers in 1991. Plus Ian Wright burst on to the top scorers scene following a move to Arsenal and won the final First Division Golden Boot.
As a new Premier League era entered English football for the 1992/93 season, so did a new exciting bunch of striking talent. Over the next 5 years, the real core of great English strikers emerged, helped by big money moves to title challenging sides. Alan Shearer scored more than 20 league goals on four occasions for Blackburn and his hometown club, Newcastle United. Les Ferdinand achieved this twice for QPR and then once for Kevin Keegan’s Newcastle. Andy Cole (Newcastle/Man Utd) and Robbie Fowler (Liverpool) had two 20+ campaigns, along with Ian Wright, who now had three in total. Midfield playmaker, Matt Le Tissier, scored an impressive 20 goals for the second time in the nineties for Southampton and Newcastle’s Peter Beardsley rolled back the years. Finally, youngsters Chris Sutton and Stan Collymore, managed great tallies for Norwich and Forest, respectively.
Despite there not being an English player able to break the 20 goal barrier in the 1997/98 and 1998/99 campaigns, it speaks volumes that the leading scorers in those two years – Michael Owen x2, Dion Dublin & Chris Sutton – were still English.
So when you compare again to other decades from the last 50 years, it follows a similar pattern to the Golden Boot winners. The 2010s had eleven occasions when English players scored 20 or more goals in a single season; Harry Kane 3 times for Spurs, Rooney (Manchester United) & Vardy (Leicester City) twice each, and Darren Bent, Frank Lampard and Daniel Sturridge all with one apiece for Sunderland, Chelsea and Liverpool.
The noughties make for grim reading, with an Englishman making the total just six times throughout the entire decade. An ageing Alan Shearer claimed half that tally with Newcastle Utd and Kevin Phillips (Sunderland), James Beattie (Southampton) and Andy Johnson (Crystal Palace) making up the rest. Thank goodness for Super Al!
The eighties and seventies look much better. On 20 different occasions an English player managed to get to 20 or more league goals in the 80s. Two players did this twice; Gary Lineker for Leicester and Everton before his big move to Barcelona in 1986 and Tony Cottee for West Ham in 1986 and 1987. The 70s was much of the same, with 20 league goals being reached 22 separate times by English players. Five strikers were successful in more than one campaign; Martin Chivers for Tottenham, Bryan Robson (not that one) for Newcastle and West Ham, Newcastle’s Malcolm MacDonald, Trevor Francis of Birmingham City and Frank Worthington at Leicester City and Bolton Wanderers.
The sixties however, had a whole new level of English striking talent. I could not believe my eyes when I saw the stats. Throughout this period, an Englishman scored 20+ league goals in a single season an incredible 74 times!! Wow! It’s not really a surprise then that England won the World Cup in 1966 with all the options Sir Alf Ramsey had to pick from. The decade was mainly dominated by Jimmy Greaves, who achieved this milestone on eight separate occasions – five of those times he won the Golden Boot. Roger Hunt did it in 5 seasons for Liverpool and West Ham’s Geoff Hurst managed it in 3 campaigns. Ramsey must have been rubbing his hands with glee.
So, if the quality of forwards in the 90s was the best that England had had since Bobby Moore lifted the Jules Rimet trophy, were they utilised enough in major tournaments? The answer is not always.
ENGLAND’S MISSED OPPORTUNITIES
It’s no coincidence that during England’s most prolific era for forwards, they actually made it to two major tournament semi-finals; World Cup 1990 and Euro ’96. In fact up until last year’s remarkable run in Moscow, the nineties was the only decade since the 1966 triumph that England have managed to get to the last four of a competition.
There’s no doubt that getting to the semi-finals (twice) is a great achievement, but with so much firepower underused, the 1990s could have been even better for the Three Lions. The Italia ’90 squad for instance only had 3 strikers included in it – Gary Lineker, Peter Beardsley and Steve Bull from second tier Wolverhampton Wanderers. Sir Bobby Robson said at the time that they were all he needed, with attacking midfielders Chris Waddle and John Barnes also in their ranks. However, when you’re leaving the 1989 and 1991 Golden Boot winner Alan Smith at home, it does make you wonder whether taking the Arsenal striker could have helped the heavily relied on Lineker.
For Euro ’92, Graham Taylor unbelievably never selected that season’s Golden Boot winner, Ian Wright, choosing to cut him just before the tournament. Instead Taylor picked Nigel Clough of Nottingham Forest as his number 9. That is just baffling.
Just as some of the best nineties forwards were emerging, Taylor’s mismanagement and constant chopping and changing during the qualifying campaign cos England a place at World Cup 1994 and names like Shearer, Wright, Ferdinand and Sheringham stayed home.
The failure to qualify for USA ’94 worked in new manager Terry Venables’ favour, as he had two years of friendlies to find his best strike partnership. But by the time Euro ’96 came around, Venables still went with form and picked the three Englishmen who had scored more than 20 league goals that season in his squad – Shearer, Ferdinand and Robbie Fowler – plus the intelligent 16-goal Teddy Sheringham. This was probably the strongest set of in-form forwards an England manager took to a major competition in the 90s.
Another new manager in Glenn Hoddle, took over for the next World Cup campaign and for the finals itself, he actually only chose one of the three joint-winners of the 1998 Golden Boot in his squad, Michael Owen. The Liverpool youngster was a no-brainer with his lightning pace (as it was proved), but Dion Dublin was cut just before the tournament in the same group as Paul Gascoigne at the La Manga training camp and Chris Sutton fell out with Hoddle a few months earlier and never played for his country again. Captain Alan Shearer and the safe picks of Sheringham and Ferdinand – who this time had only scored 14 league goals between them all season – were taken to the World Cup instead.
Now I’m not saying any of these decisions would have given England that major tournament win that we have been longing for as a nation, but I do wonder whether in hindsight any of the managers would have made a different selection.
Due to the amount of foreign imports now in the Premier League, the percentage of English talent to choose from is now at just 30% in the whole division. In the 90s it was more than double that. This amount of homegrown striking talent will never been seen again in English football, which makes England missing out on a trophy in that era even harder to swallow.
*The 1993/94 season was the first time since 1968 that 6 English players had scored 20 or more top flight goals in a season.
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