Southampton 0 - 1 Manchester Utd 25 August, 1992
There is something wonderful about wearing the great Manchester United number 7 shirt.
As you pull on the fabric you can hear the ghost of Georgie Best whisper in your ear, “go out and entertain, son”. Or maybe the voice of Bryan Robson, Captain Marvel himself, telling you to “make yourself a hero”.
And United needed a hero more than ever.
Three games into the new season, two defeats and just one point on the board. Desperate times call for desperate measures. Nothing screamed of desperation more than handing the fabled number 7 to Dion Dublin.
The big lad was the recent £1m arrival from Cambridge United where his impressive goal tally in the lower tiers had attracted the likes of struggling Chelsea. Quite what he was doing at Old Trafford though, no one knew.
It later transpired United had only signed him because they couldn’t get anyone else. Dublin was the 90s football version of a scented candle. United didn’t really want – or need – him. But they had to buy something and he was all they could find.
Alex Ferguson had spent the summer wooing the prolific David Hirst from Sheffield Wednesday. The latter had agreed terms. But Wednesday boss Trevor Francis refused to sell and Ferguson had to shift his attention elsewhere.
Next up was the curly-haired youngster on the south coast everyone was talking about. Southampton’s Alan Shearer had scored on his England debut versus France in February and his value had doubled overnight. United enquired if Shearer was interested in a move back north and he was – he’d signed for moneybags Blackburn for a British record £3.4m fee.
That left United scooting round the transfer market like a panicked husband on Christmas Eve. So they ended up in Cambridge, picking up a bruiser of a target man for a throwaway £1m fee. And here he was, being asked to save United’s season.
For 88 minutes at The Dell, Dublin looked like he’d won a raffle to get a place in the starting line-up. United couldn’t break down a geriatric Southampton side that featured David Speedie, Terry Hurlock and Glen Cockerill in midfield. Their final pass was dreadful and as the clock ticked down they were shooting desperately from long range.
Cometh the hour, cometh the man. With a minute to go Darren Ferguson swung in a free-kick, Brian McClair miscued his header and it fell for the new boy to tap in from six yards.
Hirst or Shearer couldn’t have done it better.
Liverpool 0 – 2 Arsenal 23 August, 1992
Old foes met at Anfield on the second Super Sunday of the season.
Richard Keys, wearing a suit so lurid it might have given Stevie Wonder second thoughts, could barely contain himself. Liverpool and Arsenal, two titans of English football, were LIVE on SKY and there was no way he was going to under-sell it. Cue three hours of painstaking build-up whereby you could throw out any combination of words like “boot room”, “Kop” and “legacy” and it apparently made sense.
What didn’t make sense was anyone describing either of these teams as title contenders. The Graeme Souness Revolution – replacing old, great players with newer, crappier versions – was already in full swing. Gone were the likes of Ray Houghton and Peter Beardsley. In came Mark Walters and Dean Saunders.
Keeper David James had arrived from Watford with a big reputation. And a back four of Rob Jones, Nick Tanner, Mark Wright and David Burrows looked so hazardous, it was a wonder the referee didn’t ask them to wear hi-vis jackets.
Meanwhile, George Graham’s Arsenal were also a team in transition. They’d been murdered by Norwich on the opening day and Graham, always erring on the side of caution, packed his side with cloggers like Colin Pates, David Hillier and John Jensen to keep it tight at Anfield.
He needn’t have worried. Liverpool were so fucking awful they made Arsenal look like Real Madrid. The visitors bossed it from the outset, driven forward by a youngster who had everyone reaching for their Rothmans Football Yearbooks.
Ray Parlour, whose hair made him a plausible stunt double for Bette Midler, hadn’t even made the Panini sticker book last season. Now here he was, running Liverpool ragged on live television. His cross supplied Anders Limpar for a much-deserved opener. And it was his cute through ball that set up Ian Wright for a late second.
Arsenal were back in business, Richard Keys was breathless and the legend of the ‘Romford Pele’ was born.
Leeds, so appalling last week at Middlesbrough, continued their Jekyll and Hyde start to the season at home to Tottenham.
Spurs chairman Alan Sugar had been the driving force behind the new Sky TV deal and the breakaway from the Football League. Unfortunately his team seemed intent on going back there.
They were rancid from start to finish at Elland Road. Goalkeeper Erik Thorstvedt, about as comfortable with a ball at his feet as the victim of a botched vasectomy, fluffed a clearance to give Rod Wallace the first. Then Justin Edinburgh kindly cushioned a header directly into Eric Cantona’s path for the second.
The Frenchman made history by scoring the first hat-trick in Premier League history as the champions ran out 5-0 winners.
Meanwhile, Spurs fans were left to wonder if this new-fangled league was all it seemed. Sky had promised a whole new ball game. Well whatever version of association football Cundy, Dozzell, Sedgeley and co. were playing, it looked suspiciously like the same old shit they’d seen last season.
Meanwhile Everton maintained their unbeaten start with a 1-0 win over Aston Villa at Goodison. Mo Johnston scored a late winner to keep the Toffees amongst the front runners.
Johnston, who had an underwhelming first season on Merseyside, now had two goals in four games. Howard Kendall, the last man to bring the title back to the blue half of Merseyside, had the Toffees dreaming of glory again.
Next up was a home game with struggling Wimbledon, exactly the sort of game that would determine whether they were genuine contenders.