Opening Day: Memorable Matches

We all love opening day weekend, here KARL HOFER looks at some past classics from the first weekend of top flight action.

The kick-off to the new season in the Premier League is almost upon us. Up and down the country fans will, for the most part, be entering this weekend with undue optimism and a bunch of utterly unrealistic dreams and aspirations.

But the opening day does tend to throw up the odd classic encounter and its share of strange results.

We had a rummage through the archives and picked out four of the best. So now we present to you Bobby’s Opening Day Belters!

19/08/1995  Aston Villa 3-1 Manchester United

We all know this one, don’t we…? it’s the one when Villa ravaged United’s youngBeckhamvVilla starlets after Alex Ferguson had sold Paul Ince, Mark Hughes and Andrei Kanchelskis in the summer, leading Alan Hansen to famously quip “you can’t win anything with kids” that night on Match of the Day.

Aside from the awful performance from United, the game was also notable for their piss-poor grey away kit, one that they would change at halftime later that season in a humping from Southampton at The Dell, and a tidy finish from the young Beckham as he rattled in a late consolation.

But let’s just address a couple of myths surrounding this match. There were a number of reasons United were slapped besides the oft-mentioned fact that they had seven players aged 21 or under in their squad that day. Missing through injury or suspension were a number of key players, including Cantona, Bruce, Cole, May and Giggs. And Villa were a decent side who went on to finish fourth. But what is rarely pointed out is the fact that Ferguson had one of his final flirtations with a 5-3-2 system, one that never worked for him.

The truth is the team that played this game would have won nothing for United that season. As the season developed they would usually play only three of their youngsters in a game; Butt, Beckham and a Neville. That they won the Double that year was largely down to Peter Schmeichel and Eric Cantona’s incredible efforts at the business-end of the season.

So Hansen was right. There, I said it.

29/08/1981  Swansea City 5-1 Leeds United

This season we will have not one but two Welsh teams in the top division. One of the greatest opening-day performances in English football history came from a Welsh team, when Swansea, taking their place in the top flight for the first time in their history, hosted the mighty Leeds.

Bob Latchford’s nine-minute debut hat-trick is an obvious highlight, but the finesse of Swansea’s fifth goal from Alan Curtis lives long in the memory.

This game was a pointer of what was to come later as Leeds would be relegated that season, but nobody had this down for a 5-1 home win beforehand. This was from the top drawer of opening-day shocks, no question. Highlights below.

15/08/1992  Arsenal 2-4 Norwich City

I’ll set the scene; Arsenal, many bookies’ favourites for the inaugural Premier League, entertained the Canaries who were being managed for the first time by Mike Walker.

The previous season the Gunners had finished top scorers in the league; in 1992-93, rather weirdly, they would be the lowest scorers. There was nothing to indicate that after an hour however, Arsenal led comfortably through goals from Steve Bould and Kevin Campbell.

Sutton beats Bould to the ball
Sutton beats Bould to the ball

Then Walker brought on his new signing, Mark Robins, and everything became a little surreal. Goals from Robins, David Phillips and Ruel Fox gave Norwich an improbable lead. Then Robins sealed the deal with a superb chip after a mistake from Tony Adams, who at the time was being barracked with donkey chants from opposing fans every weekend.

The North Bank looked on motionless and in silence. OK, it was a mural which had been brought in to improve the Highbury atmosphere, but you get my point.

Norwich, despite having to suffer that awful speckled shirt each week, went on to their highest-ever finish of third position. Dwell on that for a second if you will…

Arsenal clearly learned a lot from this opening day disaster; the following year they kicked off their campaign with a 0-3 reverse at the hands of Coventry City and a hat-trick from Micky Quinn having the game of his life.

19/08/1989  Manchester United 4-1 Arsenal

At the risk of draining all remaining hopes and dreams out of Arsenal fans ahead of their season opener, we’re going to give this one a mention as well…

It was essentially the perfect opening day for the title-starved Reds fans. It all began with businessman Michael Knighton, who had just agreed to buy Manchester United for – wait for it – £10m, showing he was a genuine fan by kitting up, ball-juggling and then smashing one home in front of the Stretford End.

Then United trounced the champions Arsenal 4-1.

During the game new signing Neil Webb topped off a splendid debut with a neil-webbpstunning, swirling volley. The long wait for the title was seemingly soon to end, it was all so intoxicating. It wasn’t the start of a new season; it was the start of a new era.

Or not. The cash-strapped Knighton was soon exposed as a chancer. Webb’s career was ruined when he ruptured his Achilles on England duty only 18 days later. And United were embroiled in a relegation battle for most of the season.

So our advice is to not get too carried away with opening day results as they are often not much of a guide for what is to come. Or sometimes they are. It depends really. I don’t know, you decide….


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