When you’re getting ready for another weekend of English football starting at White Hart Lane today, cast your minds back 20 years, when Newcastle United (in January) were the best team in the country, Manchester City were heading down and Wimbledon were making up the numbers. How times have changed.
This was the season of Kevin Keegan’s infamous “I would love it if we beat them, love it” rant live on Sky Sports.
Here’s how the twenty Premier League teams were sitting on January 14th, their positions on the left, and a summary of how they ended 1995-96 and where they are today.
1: Newcastle United
1995-96: Keegan’s Newcastle were 9 points clear at the top of the Premier League, with four wins from their previous five games and a match in hand over Manchester United (incidentally, the only loss in that sequence was against United). Amongst their considerable list of achievements at that point in the season, they boasted a perfect 11-from-11 record at home; they had the best goal difference (+25); and they had scored the most goals.
Only Aston Villa, in 7th, had conceded fewer, and a remarkable 7 times they scored 3 goals per game, substantially higher than all their rivals. Central to their extraordinary surge to the summit of the table were the season-totalling 25 goals scored by Les Ferdinand. Despite being rightly praised for some scintillating football, no other Newcastle player finished the season in double figures.
Shaka Hislop and the recently departed Pavel Srnicek shared goalkeeping duties behind a defence that included the Belgian Philippe Albert and Darren Peacock. Newcastle’s form would soon deteriorate alarmingly. On March 6th, their lead had been whittled down to a solitary point and by early April, they were losing every second game, including the heartbreaking 4-3 loss at Anfield.
Even though they ended the season unbeaten in 5 games, draws away to Nottingham Forest and home to Tottenham Hotspur saw Keegan’s men finish second, four points behind United. Newcastle’s implosion and Keegan’s rant will forever be remembered in English football.
2015-16: Newcastle are 19th, one point from safety. In a remarkable turnaround from Keegan’s January, Steven McClaren’s side has the second worst goal difference in the league (-16) and have been beaten 4 times at home already.
2: Manchester United
1995-96: United trailed Newcastle in second and were staring down the barrel of successive seasons without the league trophy. But as we saw above, they steamrolled their way to title success, beginning with a league best 6 game winning run from January 22nd to the 1-0 win at Newcastle in March.
They finished the season with 82 points and 25 wins from their 38 games.
2015-16: Louis Van Gaal’s team are in 6th spot, with just one league win since November. On Sunday, they will travel to Liverpool. When they met at Anfield in the ’95-’96 season, United were beaten 2-0.
3: Tottenham Hotspur
1995-96: Under Gerry Francis, Spurs were having a great season, sitting a point behind United, who they thrashed 4-1 on New Year’s Day, and two points ahead of Liverpool. But after the next round of fixtures, they had dropped to 4th after losing at Villa Park and would eventually win just 5 of their remaining 16 games.
Tottenham finished in 8th position, level on points with Everton and Blackburn ahead of them. A run of four draws in their final 5 games ended their hopes of playing European football the next season.
2015-16: Spurs lost to Leicester in midweek, but this has been a real season of progress under Mauricio Pochettino. Tottenham are clinging on to the last Champions League spot.
1995-96: Roy Evans was the manager, Ian Rush the captain, Adidas made their jerseys and Carlsberg were the principal sponsors. Liverpool were brilliant to watch at this point of the season, sitting in fourth and soon heading to second. Their +20 goal difference was second only to Newcastle, and the 27 goals on the road was a league best. Evans would win back-to-back manager of month awards, with Robbie Fowler and Stan Collymore sharing the player of the month award.
Liverpool ended the season eleven points behind Manchester United in third spot.
2015-16: Languishing in mid-table but under Jurgen Klopp, there are signs that life at Anfield might start getting better.
1995-96: Bruce Rioch’s Arsenal eventually finished the season in 6th, level on points with Aston Villa.
2015-16: Arsene Wenger’s team are top of the table ahead of Sunday’s trip to Stoke.
6: Nottingham Forest
1995-96: Frank Clark was now in charge after Brian Clough’s long reign came to an end. Forest finished in 9th but it was after their home game with Newcastle that Keegan lost control on TV.
2015-16: 14th in the Championship, perfectly positioned half way between the play-offs and relegation.
7: Aston Villa
1995-96: 7th on January 14th, in part due to an incredibly stingy defence. Villa had conceded just 15 goals in 21 games, and were in single figures both home and away. They won their next league game at home to Spurs and settled for 5th by the end of the season.
2015-16: Surely heading out of the Premier League for the first time.
8: Blackburn Rovers
1995-96: Rovers’ title defence was a poor one, finishing the season 21 points off Manchester United. They scored 61 goals that season, with almost half of them belonging to Alan Shearer.
2015-16: The last few years have been bleak at Ewood Park, and this season is no different. Rovers 18th in the Championship but while relegation is unlikely, they are just eight points from the drop.
9: Leeds United
1995-96: Leeds were having an OK season up to this point, sitting in 9th place. Only six points separated Liverpool in 4th from Chelsea in 12th, so European football was a possibility at Elland Road. However, Leeds lost 6 in a row at the end of the season, to finish in a disappointing 13th. They won 10 of their first 22 games, and 2 of their next 16.
2015-16: Like Nottingham Forest and Blackburn, Leeds are barely floating along with their head above the water in the Championship. They have an almost identical record to Forest just above them.
1995-96: Like those positioned before them, Everton were part of that real scrap for European football. They missed out on that achievement by just 2 points, despite ending the season with a couple of victories.
2015-16: One place worse off than at the same date 20 years ago.
1995-96: The league title was won at the Riverside, but ‘Boro were not the team lifting the trophy. Their form was awful in January 1996, and it saw them slip from genuine European contenders to mid-table mediocrity. Ended May like they had started January; with a load of defeats. 12th.
2015-16: Top of the Championship and a great bet to return to the top flight. They have a game in hand and a 5 point advantage over Derby.
1995-96: 12th in January on 33 points, and 11th in May on 50. Their longest run of wins that season was 2; their longest run without a win was 6 games.
2015-16: The champions are producing a worse defence of their title than Blackburn 20 years ago.
13: Sheffield Wednesday
1995-96: Sheffield Wednesday were 7 points away from the relegation in January, with a bizarre won 4, drew 4, lost 4 home record. Their form after the New Year was unimpressive and the Hillsborough club avoided relegation by just 2 points.
2015-16: The alarming dip in form of Chris Hughton’s Brighton means Wednesday are the best placed team to take advantage of another slip up. They’re one place and two points from the final play-off spot.
14: West Ham United
1995-96: Their form was horrendous when the league table was finalised after that weekend of action in mid January. West Ham had relegation written all over them after they recorded 5 losses in 6 games over the Christmas period. But they somehow cobbled together 8 wins in the final 17 games to finish safely in 10th position. They went a league best 14 games without registering a draw between November and February.
2015-16: West Ham have Champions League football in their sights.
1995-96: Finished the season in 14th with 10 wins, managed by Joe Kinnear.
2015-16: Dissolved in 2004, became the MK Dons and moved to Milton Keynes.
1995-96: Avoided relegation due to a superior goal difference.
2015-16: Probably won’t go down this season but their form in the last 3 months has not been good.
1995-96: A miracle escape. Coventry were level on points with Manchester City on January 14th, but a season worst 14 games without a win at the start of the campaign. They avoided relegation, like Southampton, on goal difference.
2015-16: They’ve had big problems recently but this season looks a lot more promising. Coventry are well placed in the play-off spots of League 1 and are just a win away from automatic promotion. Playing in a league featuring Fleetwood Town, Chesterfield and Scunthorpe United.
18: Manchester City
1995-96: 18th in January and 18th in May, City were relegated after some disturbing stats. As part of their 8 games lost in a row at the start of the season, they also went 11 games without a win. Man. City, Southampton and Coventry were all at home on the final day of the season, and they all drew, sending City down.
2015-16: One of the richest clubs in the world.
1995-96: QPR, Man. City and Bolton all finished the season in the same position they were situated on January 14th. QPR’s best run of wins all season was 2, and they eventually went down with games to spare.
2015-16: See Nottingham Forest, Blackburn and Leeds.
20: Bolton Wanderers
1995-96: 29 points was all Bolton had to show for their efforts this season. They lost their last three games as if to say they had had enough. They dropped into the bottom 3 on September 16th and never made it out again.
2015-16: Still bottom, but of another division. Bolton are in dire financial trouble and are heading for League 1.
When the season ended in early May 1996, 17 of the 20 Premier League clubs were managed by Englishmen. The exceptions were Scots Bruce Rioch and Sir Alex Ferguson at Arsenal and Manchester United respectively, plus Joe Kinnear at Wimbledon. 16 of the club captains were English.
Currently, only 4 of the 20 top flight managers are English. There are 12 different nationalities managing in the league today. 9 of the clubs have English captains.
How times have changed.