Archive for the 'Sport' Category

Blackburn Rovers

When you think of Blackburn Rovers now, you immediately think of physicality, long balls and football as ugly as their boss Sam Allardyce. But the fact remains that Rovers are only one of four sides to win the Premier League since it began in 1992.

Thanks to Jack Walker’s millions the Lancashire side were the Manchester City of the 90s, splashing the cash to bring in the likes of Alan Shearer, David Batty and Tim Flowers to a newly refurbished Ewood Park, and they would go on to win probably the tightest title race of the modern era.

The key signing came when they broke the British transfer record once again to sign Chris Sutton for £5 million from Norwich just before the 1994/95 season began. He and Shearer immediately struck up a fantastic partnership and began scoring goals for fun, netting 49 in total as Blackburn soon topped the table with champions Manchester United trailing.

It looked to finally be the season that Kenny Dalglish’s men were going to win their first league championship since 1914, especially when United’s star player Eric Cantona went all kung-fu on a Crystal Palace fan and would miss the remainder of the season, but Alex Ferguson signed Andy Cole for £7 million from Newcastle and wouldn’t give up.

Whilst United went goal-crazy, including beating Ipswich 9-0, Blackburn began to crumble. Their large lead at the top was cut dramatically and the title went down to the final day of the season where Rovers had to travel to Anfield to take on Liverpool, and United had a seemingly easier task just to beat West Ham. If United won and Rovers dropped points, the trophy would be in Ferguson’s hands for a third season in a row.

In one of the most remarkable days in Premier League history, Shearer netted his 34th goal of the season to give Blackburn the lead, and West Ham opened the scoring at Upton Park. United levelled through Brian McClair and Liverpool came back to win the game in the final minute. United though couldn’t score the crucial goal and Rovers were champions.

It would be as good as it got for Blackburn as Dalglish moved into a director of football role and they struggled the following season before Shearer left and the side started to break up. They would be relegated four seasons after their league triumph and haven’t come close to repeating it since.

But how refreshing would be it to see someone else from outside the “Big Four” actually take the championship once again? Here’s to hoping that 2010/11 is the season where a new name is carved onto the trophy.


Rugby World Cup 1999

Whilst the 1995 tournament is probably the most well-known edition of rugby’s biggest competition, four years later it was held in one of the world’s most passionate rugby countries, the land of my fathers – Wales.

OK and England. And Scotland. And Ireland. And even France got in on the act. The Five Nations would all give us a hand due to the small size of our country, but just having the big games in our homeland was something of immense national pride with endless build-up before it all kicked off in October 1999.

I’d gotten into rugby a couple of years before and had got whipped up into a frenzy by the public believing that red ribbons could be on the trophy. We had players like Neil Jenkins, Scott Gibbs and Scott Quinnell and even managed to sneak some Aussies into the side without anyone finding out, well for a couple of years anyway.

And so came the first game of the tournament and unbelievably we were allowed to watch it in school. The whole of the upper two years crammed into a small area outside our classrooms and watched the opening ceremony, followed by Wales beating Argentina in the newly built Millennium Stadium.

With only me and a couple of others knowing what was going on, the school tried to educate us with lessons in PE. Rather than copying the free flowing rugby played by the All Blacks, we all ended up brawling like Colin Charvis and trying to do the Haka which probably looked more like the Macarena.

The opening stages were full of crushing wins and many games became the rugby equivalent of a broken needle – pointless. Teams were racking up over 50 points and England and New Zealand doubled that against Tonga. Whilst the rugby purist wasn’t too impressed, I lapped it up as the likes of Lomu, van der Westhuizen and Larkham shined on our shores.

Wales would end up disappointing once again, topping the group but getting knocked out in the quarters by Australia. England and Scotland also made it to that stage but couldn’t go any further as the Tri Nations and France powered through.

Then came one of the greatest games of rugby ever when France upset the favourites New Zealand in a 43-31 thriller, and Australia also made the final after extra time was needed against South Africa as the tournament kept on providing great entertainment.

The final though failed to live up to the hype as the team in gold took away the silverware but all in all it was a fantastic month of rugby action. Just a shame that the Welsh side didn’t pack the same punch as many of my classmates had during those four weeks. Maybe 2003 would be our year…

World Cup 98

After the success of Euro 96 the World Cup two years later had a lot to live up to, and it delivered in a big way. For me, the 1998 edition of the greatest show on turf is the best competition I’ve seen from start to finish.

It had everything. Great goals, dramatic moments and all the greatest players in the world in one place (and Darren Anderton). Whilst two years earlier football hadn’t come home for England, it did for the French side who blazed their way to the trophy after an incredible month of football.

After months of collecting the stickers, reading the books and playing the Playstation game I was ridiculously excited when the opening game finally came around – mainly because Brazil were in it. Ronaldo, Rivaldo and Roberto Carlos would be showcasing their silky skills against the mighty… Scotland.

There were superstars wherever you looked and Batistuta, Salas and Suker were banging in the goals. England also got off to a good start with a win against Tunisia, but then lost to Romania and only scraped through to the knockout stage with victory against Colombia.

Then came the game of the tournament against Argentina. Michael Owen scored the goal that announced his arrival on the world stage, David Beckham got sent off and became public enemy number one, and David Batty missed the crucial kick as England went out again on penalties.

As a Newcastle fan I was gutted for Batty who played for us at the time, but I couldn’t believe it as he stepped up to take the kick and promptly missed. I’d rather have Heather Mills have a go from 12 yards, but then again she’d probably hit the woodwork…

Despite the Three Lions’ exit France 98 continued to flourish. There were goals galore and for once all the big teams stayed in to ensure some classic encounters. Who could forget Bergkamp’s last-gasp wondergoal against Argentina, or Croatia dismantling Germany on the way to their third-place finish?

But the real story was the French side who were playing brilliantly with Zinedine Zidane running the show on their own patch. We got the dream final of the best team Brazil against the hosts. The drama began before the game with the Ronaldo saga, and Zidane netted two headers as France won their first world title.

World Cup 98 was also my first foray into sports journalism as my teacher got me to write daily reports for her as she didn’t have a TV. It would be something I’d take more seriously later in life but I can only hope that one day I’ll be reporting on a competition that is as magical as the one held across the Channel during the summer of 1998.

Premier League stickers

The highlight of my day for many years was 3.30pm. As soon as the school bell chimed we were free, and would rush out of the doors and head home. But I wouldn’t be excited that CITV was starting, nope 3.30pm was football sticker time.

My mum would buy me a packet of stickers every day without fail. Whilst my sisters got a chocolate bar I was much happier ripping open the packet and seeing what superstars I’d be sticking into my book that day. “Got, need, got, need, need”.

Premier League stickers were massive in my school. Our local newsagents would sell out as soon as they’d bought another box such was the demand. Mum used to buy in bulk so I wouldn’t be disappointed, ensuring I got my sticker fix each day. They were my drug of choice.

I dabbled with Premier League 96 and I got hooked right away. Swapping was the most fun, with the main rules being a biggie only being swapped for a similar sized sticker, and shineys being worth two or three regular stickers. The playground was full of dealers. And then there was sticker number one with the Premier League logo on it. There was a myth that they made less of these which made it more valuable, and those would had a swap of it would be offered big amounts.

But playground crime began to rise. Opportunistic kids would steal them from other kids’ bags, or mug classmates of their favourite players. I would always try and smuggle mine in and deal behind the back of the old bike shed, but once caught my pile would be confiscated and I’d be in detention.

This was just a hurdle to my addiction, and I didn’t stop until I had them all. Flicking through a complete book was the ultimate high for me. But once 96 was done I had to fill the void with something.

Fortunately Euro 96 stickers followed and then Premier League 97. Then 98. Me and my mates found a way around the school’s banning order by creating our own swap shop on a Wednesday breaktime and we were finishing albums in March as we were the only official traders of stickers for the rest of the school. When I’d finally realised my problem and cut myself off, I’d completed every collection from 1995 to 2004.

My passion for stickers still continues, but I sold my complete stash on Ebay for £200 to help fund a school exchange to America in Sixth Form. But from time to time I still spot the occasional pack sometimes and have to put everything I have into not buying them. The temptation is always there. Cold turkey is indeed hard going…

Euro 96

Football came home in the summer of 1996 when England finally got the chance to host its first football tournament since winning the World Cup in 1966 and they didn’t disappoint.

For me this was the first international tournament that I ever watched, having gotten into football at the turn of the year. Watching great players such as Davor Suker and Jurgen Klinsmann and emerging talents like Zinedine Zidane and Luis Figo playing every day during the balmy evenings of that summer ensured that football would not be just another fad for me; I was forever hooked.

And then there was England. Written off before the competition, Terry Venables’ side started sluggishly with a 1-1 draw against Switzerland before beating Scotland thanks to a wonder goal from Paul Gascoigne – topped off with THAT celebration:

Not understanding that the players were imitating pouring alcohol into his mouth, me and my mates used to copy them in the playground. God knows what the teachers must have thought!

Then there was the Shearer and Sheringham inspired rout of the Dutch and David Seaman’s heroics in the shootout against Spain before the hosts met eventual winners Germany in the semi final.

Being allowed to stay up well past my bedtime to watch the entire game including extra time was a big deal to me back then, but the shootout was too much for me. I hid under the covers and couldn’t bear to watch, and when I heard Gareth Southgate’s penalty being saved the dream was over. But the memories still live on, especially every time I hear “Three Lions”.

With England lobbying to host the World Cup in 2018 I for one are hoping that we get the chance to experience the world’s greatest sporting event on our doorstep, especially if I manage to secure myself a spot in the press box for the opening game!

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About me

Hi I'm Jonny, creator of this blog. Like most people in my generation, I feel that the 90s were indeed an epic decade and this is my tribute to all the things that made it great!