March 2021

Arsenal v Bolton Wanderers, Sunday 5 May 1996

This match was the final one of the season for Arsenal with the Gunners chasing a place in Europe. It marked the end of manager Bruce Rioch’s first (and, as it turned out, last) season at the club and in the programme he looked back at what he described as an interesting and enjoyable but demanding period.

He singled out his new signing Dennis Bergkamp for particular praise saying: “He has had a wonderful season. He’s been good for us all. Every young player can learn from his ability and temperament – and his desire to train and practise. The way he carries himself, on and off the pitch, is an excellent model.”

Rioch also mentioned how unlucky David Platt had been with injuries and that he hoped he would have a great run at Euro 96, together with all the England players hoping to be selected by boss Terry Venables – Tony Adams, David Seaman and Martin Keown, except when they played his native Scotland! With Dennis Bergkamp lining up for the Netherlands, Rioch indicated he thought Keown would be ideal for a man-marking job on the Dutch master.

Opponents on the day, Bolton Wanderers, had already been condemned to relegation, finishing bottom of the division, and Rioch said of his former club: “I’ll always remember Bolton with affection. I had three fantastic years at Burnden Park, where I built up some great relationships, and I hope Wanderers will be back in the Premier League soon.

Under the headline ‘England Can Do It Says Platty’, having just re-established himself as England captain, David Platt said about the national team’s prospects at Euro 96: “We’re going into the competition with a determination to win it. It’s no use thinking in terms of having a good run because we’ve got a team capable of winning the championships and home advantage will obviously be a great help.

In his programme notes, Tony Adams also believed England had a good chance of winning Euro 96, citing Germany (accurately as it turned out) and Italy as the biggest dangers. Adams had been bothered by a troublesome cartilage injury and had missed the last three months of the season as a result, but he was aiming to prove his fitness ahead of the tournament with a run-out in Paul Merson’s testimonial a few days after this game. He congratulated Martin Keown on doing a great job as captain in his absence and said he deserved being named Player of the Year – pipping Dennis Bergkamp by one vote with Ian Wright in third place.

Merson’s Benefit Match was due to take place on Wednesday 8 May, the 25th anniversary of the day the Gunners finished off the ‘double’ at Wembley by beating Liverpool in the FA Cup Final, five days after clinching the title at Tottenham. The whole squad plus manager Bertie Mee and coach Don Howe would be introduced to the crowd at half-time. There would be some some famous guest players in the Arsenal line-up on the night, including David O’Leary, Paul Gascoigne, Glenn Hoddle and Ray Wilkins, while their opponents in an International Select team, managed by ex-Arsenal skipper Frank McLintock, featured amongst others Ruud Gullit, Slaven Bilic, Gordon Strachan, Chris Waddle, Charlie Nicholas and Matt Le Tissier.

Back to the match with Bolton, and it was the visitors took the lead on 76 minutes but two goals in two minutes from Platt and Bergkamp gave the Gunners victory and secured their UEFA Cup spot. But Rioch himself would not lead the Gunners into the European campaign as he was sacked five days before the start of the season following a dispute with the club’s directors. His assistant Stewart Houston was installed as caretaker manager with Dutch legend Johan Cruyff mooted as a possible permanent boss, together with the manager of  Nagoya Grampus Eight in Japan, Frenchman Arsene Wenger – whatever happened to him?!

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West Ham Utd v Everton, Saturday 26 November 1988

23-year-old Tony Cottee joined Everton from West Ham in August 1988 for a then record fee of £2.2 million and on the opening day of the season he scored a hat-trick in a 4-0 win at Goodison Park over Newcastle United. This game marked his first return to the club where he had made his debut as a 17-year-old, going on to score 92 goals in 212 League games for the Hammers.

Under Colin Harvey, Everton had made a disappointing start to the season and were languishing in mid-table before the match, while West Ham were in the relegation zone after having won only two of their opening 14 games. The Blues’ form hadn’t been helped by a series of injuries, with another new signing Pat Nevin (a £925,000 purchase from Chelsea in the close-season) having suffered a knee ligament injury in only his third game and Kevin Sheedy being out with a calf strain. On the plus side, Paul Bracewell was finally back in first-team contention after more than two years struggling to overcome a career-threatening ankle injury following a nasty tackle by Newcastle striker Billy Whitehurst on January 1st, 1986.

In the West Ham ranks were two players with Everton connections – captain Alvin Martin was on the club’s books as a schoolboy before being offered an apprenticeship by the Hammers and this match marked his 327th League appearance for them. Playing his 130th game for the home side was right-winger Mark Ward, rejected by the Toffees as a youngster, he had moved to Northwich Victoria then Oldham before his move south.

In the match itself, Tony Cottee couldn’t grab his 100th League goal but he played his part in the goal which settled it. Hammers defender Julian Dicks completely missed a Kevin Ratcliffe cross driven low across the edge of the box in the 53rd minute and Cottee cleverly flicked it on to Trevor Steven whose shot slithered under the body of ‘keeper Allen McKnight. More bad news for the Hammers was that Mark Ward suffered knee ligament damage which  put him out of a much-anticipated League Cup tie with Liverpool just a few days later.

Though struggling in the League, West Ham had been flying in the Littlewoods Cup, including a 5-0 demolition of the team with the best defensive record in Division One at the time, Derby County. The tie against Kenny Dalglish’s Liverpool side was a repeat of the 1981 League Cup Final and the Hammers gained revenge for that defeat with an emphatic 4-1 success, thanks to two goals from Paul Ince and one from Tony Gale, plus a Steve Staunton own goal.

In the next round, West Ham were drawn at home to Aston Villa, winning 2-1, but in the semi-final the Hammers came unstuck to the eventual winners Luton Town, losing the tie 5-0 on aggregate.


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Tottenham v Arsenal, Monday 26 December 1983

With both teams languishing in mid-table, this North London derby took place on Boxing Day 1983  and prompted one of the contributors to reminisce about the days when, during the festive period, teams would play on Christmas Day and Boxing Day.

Bobby Robson, who had then just taken over as England team boss, said: “I must say as a player I enjoyed the all-action Christmas though it used to be very hard playing four or more games in the space of eight days.I remember playing Manchester United at Fulham one Christmas Day in thick, clawing mud then jumping on the train and playing at Old Trafford the next day on a rock hard surface.”

Just how crazy the Christmas results could be was shown in 1963, when on Boxing Day Fulham battered Ipswich Town 10-1 at Craven Cottage then in the return game, two days later, the Tractor Boys came out on top 4-2. Similarly, West Ham lost 8-2 at Upton Park to Division One table-toppers Blackburn Rovers on the 26th but shrugged off that ignominy in the return game on the 28th, beating their rivals 3-1 at Ewood Park.

December had been a hectic period for Tottenham and included a UEFA Cup second leg tie against Bayern Munich. Keith Burkinshaw’s team trailed 0-1 from the first leg but a goal from Steve Archibald just after half-time levelled things up and Mark Falco struck the winner with two minutes left. Spurs would go on to lift the trophy later in the season in a dramatic Final against Belgian side, Anderlecht.

In this game, Don Howe was in charge of Arsenal having been appointed caretaker manager after the departure of Terry Neill. One of Howe’s first moves was to put Raphael Meade up front with Tony Woodcock and dropping Charlie Nicholas into midfield. Meade had scored a hat-trick against Watford in Howe’s first match  and here he grabbed another two.

Howe’s third game in charge was a 1-1 draw at home to Birmingham the next day and before it he said “If I’m given the chance, I would love to manage Arsenal”. It took until April 1984 before he was appointed permanent boss and his reign lasted until March 1986 when he resigned and George Graham took over.

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Manchester City v Leeds Utd, Sunday 11 November 1990

This was Manchester City’s first game since the shock announcement that manager Howard Kendall had left the club to re-join Everton following the dismissal of Colin Harvey. In his first programme notes as caretaker manager, Toffees legend Peter Reid said Kendall’s decision came as a complete surprise to him but he paid tribute to what he had achieved in the twelve months he had been at the club, with City fifth in the table after 11 games of the 1990/91 season.

The dramatic turn of events had started on the previous Monday evening when Everton chairman Philip Carter telephoned his City counterpart Peter Swales to ask for permission to approach Kendall but this was refused. However, it became apparent that this was academic as a clause in his contract meant that City couldn’t stand in his way as long as substantial compensation was forthcoming. Nevertheless, Swales said “He’s done a good job here. He has kept us in the First Division and taken us to fifth in the table. We’re in a far better state than when he came and I’ve got to be grateful for that.”

Perhaps unsurprisingly, City at that time had a fair sprinkling of players that Kendall managed during Everton’s glory years of the mid-1980s. As well as Reid, there were full backs Alan Harper and Neil Pointon, as well as striker Adrian ‘Inchy’ Heath – who in fact scored the winning goal for City against the Toffees earlier in the season.

This particular match had been chosen by ITV to feature live on ‘The Match’. City didn’t have a good record when their games were shown live from Maine Road. The season before Aston Villa had won 2-0 in the League and Liverpool thrashed City 4-0 in an FA Cup sixth round match in 1988, though City did win the return game against Villa in front of the cameras, with goals from Mark Ward and Peter Reid.

But City’s live TV hoodoo struck again as Leeds came out on top 3-2 thanks to goals from Lee Chapman, Carl Shutt and Gordon Strachan with a Mark Ward penalty and a strike from David White in response for the home side.

But despite the loss, Reid was appointed full-time player-manager a few days later and led City to 5th in the table that season and the following season.  But in the first season of the Premier League (1992–93), City slipped into ninth place  and Reid was sacked after a poor start though he would go on to enjoy more managerial success, particularly at Sunderland.

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Manchester Utd v Manchester City, Tuesday 4th May 1976

This match took place just three days after favourites Manchester United had lost the FA Cup Final to second division Southampton. But it had been a very successful return to the top flight for Tommy Docherty’s young and exciting team after the club’s ignominious relegation two years previously, when former player Denis Law’s back heel at Old Trafford for Manchester City condemned his old club to the drop.

The attacking brand of football throughout the season drew praise from fans and neutrals alike, with the club’s average League attendance being well over 54,000, the best since the European Cup-winning year of 1968. United finished third in the League, gaining more points than Derby County did when they won the Division One title twelve months earlier.

In his programme notes, boss Docherty congratulated his city rivals on their own successful season, which saw them lift the League Cup after knocking United out in an earlier round.

Though there was disappointment at being on the wrong end of an FA Cup shock in the Final, there was some success for the club as the Man Utd Supporters Club won the BBC’s It’s A Knockout Trophy which was televised on the morning of the match and recorded before a crowd of over 30,000 – final score was Man Utd Supporters Club 14 Southampton Supporters Club 12!

In the match itself, United ran out 2-0 winners thanks to spectacular goals from Gordon Hill and Sammy McIllroy, leaving fans to reflect on how the team could have done with one of those just a few days before at Wembley.

But the real drama of the evening was at Molineux as, with QPR sitting proudly on top of the Division One table,  Liverpool needed one point from their final game of the season at Wolves to become Champions for the first time under Bob Paisley. The Anfield outfit won with goals by Kevin Keegan, John Toshack and Ray Kennedy after Wolves had taken a halftime lead through Steve Kindon, condemning them to relegation in the process.

QPR players Gerry Francis and Stan Bowles watched a private screening of the match at the BBC Television Centre. Bowles apparently went for a walk in the fresh air after twenty minutes and did not reappear while Francis left near to tears when Liverpool equalised. Renowned gambler Bowles later revealed he had stood to win £6,000 (a huge sum in 1976) if Rangers had won the title, having backed them at 16/1 at the start of the season to do so.

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Liverpool v Middlesbrough, Tuesday 1st September 1981

The first programme we feature in this series is that from the opening home game of Liverpool’s 1981-82 season against Middlesbrough. The previous season was another successful one for the club with the Reds winning the League Cup for the first time and securing the European Cup for the third time, having beaten Real Madrid thanks to a late winner by full-back Alan Kennedy.

In his own programme notes, manager Bob Paisley indicated that, like every season, the primary objective for the club was to qualify for Europe, whether by claiming the League title, finishing in the top four or winning one of the Cups.

He said that the new signings the club had made would make the playing squad even stronger and history would prove him to be spot-on. Goalkeeper Bruce Grobbelaar joined from Vancouver Whitecaps (with club legend Ray Clemence leaving for Tottenham), as did future Match Of The Day pundit, Mark Lawrenson, despite admitting to being an Everton fan as a kid!

This was the first season of three points for a win and Liverpool had announced that their new away kit would be all-yellow with red stripes but in the opening match at Wolves, the Reds lost 1-0 and in this evening game against Boro, the home side could only draw with Phil Neal levelling up from the spot after the visitors had taken a first-half lead.

The Liverpool Echo report on the match the following day praised the performance of the two new players on their home debuts and lamented the inability of the team to take any of the numerous chances created. Graeme Souness was mentioned for another dominant game in midfield but Man Of The Match was awarded to Phil Neal, not only for his equalising penalty but for his sense of anticipation and accurate use of the ball.

But after this stuttering start which prompted the headline on the backpage of the Echo to read ‘No panic at Anfield’, Paisley’s men would ultimately reclaim the Division One crown they had lost to Aston Villa, when this victory over Tottenham in May 1982, coupled with a 3-1 home defeat for Ipswich Town, earned the Reds the title for the thirteenth time.

Liverpool would also claim the League Cup for the second successive season and would, in fact, go on to lift this trophy for four seasons on the bounce, including in 1984 against Everton, in the first-ever major Final between both Merseyside clubs.

Elsewhere in the First Division, Howard Kendall was given the manager’s job across Stanley Park at Everton, while former Liverpool legend John Toshack had gained promotion as Swansea boss and would take his exciting young side to Anfield the following month, when they drew 2-2, and Emlyn Hughes tried his hand at management for the first time when taking over at Rotherham.

On the transfer front, Joe Jordan joined Liam Brady  in Italy and there was speculation that Arsenal would lose David O’Leary and Frank Stapleton to Manchester United – in the end, O’Leary stayed and Stapleton signed for the Red Devils.

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