Football is the national obsession – and with good reason. We love watching it, talking about it, betting on it and – when we can get our dodgy knee moving – playing it.
But, you know what? There’s plenty of things we miss about the way things used to be (and that’s not just having a better knee). It’s time to don the rose tinted glasses and take a trip down memory lane to celebrate the great things we miss about football in the 1990s.
When foreign imports were new and exciting
The likes of Eden Hazard and Sergio Agüero are still exciting – and there are many great things about the fact that the English Premier League attracts the best and brightest talent from across the world. However, nothing will quite top the novelty that surrounded Bergkamp, Zola, Yeboah and even Jan Age Fjortoft – the exotic and exciting foreign talent fielded by every top tier team in the brave new era of the Premier League.
Shiny new stadiums are all well and good but they lack the rough-and-ready charm of the grounds we knew and loved in the 90s. Highbury, the Old Wembley, Highfield Road, The Dell and Roker Park are all sadly missed in that regard.
This current batch of footballers are just too stylish. While the outrage surrounding Paul Pogba’s haircut from so-called ‘proper football men™’ is laughable, we can’t help but feel nostalgic for the genuinely dodgy barnet of the 90s. Give us a Barry Venison mullet, a Romania 98 bleach or, best of all, a Jason Lee pineapple any day.
Footballers who looked a bit more like us
It wasn’t just the hair we loved about 90s footballers – it was also the fact that they just looked a little bit more like us. Today’s bunch are finely tuned super-athletes capable of physical feats beyond us mere mortals. The 90s, however, gave us Jan Molby and an aged John Wark and Alan Cork. They were almost certainly much fitter than us, but at least they didn’t look it.
When money wasn’t completely everything
It felt like a big deal when Manchester United broke the transfer record to spend £7 million to sign Andy Cole from Newcastle – and an even bigger deal when Newcastle more than doubled that a year later to snap up Alan Shearer from Blackburn. Yet now those numbers seems pretty quaint – and the sort of figures that buy a back up full back for Man City. From transfer fees to ticket prices, it feels as though money has spiralled out of control since then.
There were some pretty special kits in the 90s – but the brightest, boldest and best were reserved for the goalkeepers. Whether it’s the Newcastle kit sporting the city’s skyline, the Sunderland shirt with a pair of goalkeeping gloves on the front, the Manchester United shirts from 92/93 that resembled impressionist paintings or – best of all – David Seaman’s Euro 96 ‘Refreshers’ shirt – the keeper kits of the 90s were gloriously weird and wonderful.
The super smooth James Richardson sitting outside a café leafing through the Italian papers with an alluring gelato, the goals from George Weah et al and ‘that’ music (goooolazzo), Football Italia set the bar when it came to covering foreign football. Nothing now quite captures the fun of Channel Four’s Italian adventure.
Fantasy Football League
Football Italia wasn’t the only TV show we miss from the 90s, however. David Baddiel and Frank Skinner’s Euro 96 anthem ‘Three Lions’ might have enjoyed a new lease of life this summer as Gareth Southgate’s men marched on to the World Cup semi finals – but their 90s TV show Fantasy Football League deserves similar acclaim. Across three series, the comedians – and Angus ‘Statto’ Loughran – welcomed a series of guests to their sofa in a show that blended the new found love of fantasy football games (which are now, let’s face it, a bit old hat) with a chat show format. Regular skits included Phoenix From The Flames – which saw famous moments recreated – and Jeff Astle Sings – in which the West Brom legend would perform a classic track over the closing credits.
Dele Alli might have caught the eye with that funny celebration that people are struggling to get their head around – but unusual celebrations like that are all too few and far between now. The 90s gave us Klinsmann’s slide, Ravanelli’s ‘shirt over the head’, Gazza’s dentist chair and – best of all – Aylesbury Town’s duck celebration when they made the third round of the FA Cup in 1994. Schools and parks across the country saw these classics routines replicated with joy.
Matt Le Tissier
The Premier League is blessed with an abundance of superstars – and a regular array of breathtaking goals – but that doesn’t mean that we don’t miss the one man highlights reel that was Matt Le Tissier. Sure, there are good strikes most weeks now – but ask yourself how many would make the Saints star’s top goals list and you’ll realise why we look back on ‘Le Tiss’ so fondly.
Le Tiss brought the goals – but there were a host of other players who brought the madness to the party. Eric Cantona (and his infamous kung fu kick at Crystal Palace), Julian Dicks, Vinny Jones, Roy Keane and Duncan Ferguson were the sort of stark raving bonkers characters that we just don’t see any more.
Aston Villa, Leeds, Sheffield Wednesday, Nottingham Forest – we miss you being good.
Our obsession with football shows no signs of abating – and there’s plenty to keep us entertained in the modern day – but there’s little doubt that the 90s had a lot going for it. Football in the 1990s had a glint in its eye and a sense of silliness and humour that the present day could learn a thing or two from.