In anticipation of a dramatic conclusion to a season that was recently voted the best in the history of the Premier League, we look back at 10 of the most dramatic final-day stories over the past quarter of a century.
We start, of course, with the most dramatic of all...
1988/89 - That Michael Thomas goal
"It's up for grabs now," hollered a disbelieving ITV commentator Brian Moore as Michael Thomas careered through the Liverpool defence in injury time of the final game of the season. Within seconds, the midfielder had bundled the ball over a bamboozled Bruce Grobbelaar and Arsenal had wrenched the title from the home side's grasp.
Liverpool required only a draw against Arsenal in a game that captured the imagination of a nation. Before the advent of satellite television, we had moments like this to cherish. On a Friday night when live football remained a rare spectacle on UK television, millions watched as Liverpool were deposed as the English game's ruling party.
Arsenal required a two-goal win. They got it in the most dramatic of circumstances. Alan Smith supplied the first after half time before Thomas applied the drama with his goal and roly-poly celebration deep into injury time. "Miracle Men" blurted out a wardrobe-sized headline in the Mirror. Arsenal's 18-year wait to win the league had ended.
1994/95 - Jack Walker's dream realised
Before Venky's came to drag Rovers down to the Championship, there was a local millionaire in Blackburn chasing childhood dreams. He may sound like a pauper in comparison to today's foreign owners in the Premier League, with a personal fortune estimated to be around the £600 million mark, but the late industrialist Jack Walker, Blackburn born and bred, was once the Premier League's biggest spender.
He assumed control of Rovers in the last month of 1991 before embarking on a recruitment policy worth £25 million that would purchase Rovers a Premier League crown. Walker twice broke the British transfer record to sign Alan Shearer for £3.3m in 1992 and Chris Sutton for £5m two years later. They became known as SAS, a formidable pairing.
With Walker's money and Kenny Dalglish's managerial nous, the Rovers dream crystallised in Liverpool. They lost the final game of the season 2-1, but Manchester United's 1-1 draw at West Ham United enabled Rovers captain Tim Sherwood to clutch the Premier League trophy. United would only have to wait another 12 months for the decision to fall their way on the final day. It would never get any better for a teary Walker.
1995/96 - Kevin Keegan cracks under the pressure
There was some serious nonsense spouted at the end of this season. Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson's suggested Nottingham Forest would capitulate in the penultimate game of the season because Stuart Pearce's benefit match had been arranged a week or so later.
"He went down in my estimation when he said that," raged an animated Keegan while wired up to a live television microphone.
Newcastle were a club on the up under Keegan, but could never quite stay at the summit. With Peter Beardsley, Les Ferdinand and David Ginola in delicious form, they built up a head of steam and a lead of 12 points. The turning point came when Eric Cantona placed doubt in Geordie minds by scoring the game's solitary goal as United overcame Newcastle 1-0 in early March.
Critics say Keegan lost the mental battle with Ferguson, but Newcastle failed to win the league because they had too many deficiencies. While they were delectable going forward, they had a wretched penchant for haemorrhaging goals.
"He's got to go to Middlesbrough and get something…and I'll tell you…honestly, I will love it if we beat them," continued Keegan. He was lost in a mist of machismo, and the title was lost. United thumped Middlesbrough 3-0, and Newcastle faded out with 1-1 draws against Forest and then Tottenham Hotspur on the final day to miss out on the title by four points.
1995/96 - Ball gets his maths wrong
While United were winning the title, rivals Manchester City were in danger of relegation along with Wimbledon, Sheffield Wednesday, Coventry and Southampton. Their plight worsened when they went 2-0 down to Liverpool before half-time at Maine Road, yet a stirring fight-back - with goals from Uwe Rosler and Kit Symons - seemed to promise at unlikely salvation on the final day.
Manager Alan Ball told his players that the point was enough as Southampton were losing, so City players began taking the ball to the corners to run the clock down. However, there had been a catastrophic failure somewhere in the chain of command and in fact Southampton were drawing, meaning City had to win to avoid the drop.
Realisation came too late and City drew 2-2, their relegation confirmed by goal difference.
"I'll never live that one down, will I?" said Ball. "We were two-down against Liverpool, Man City, and we got it to 2-2 and then someone said to me, 'Southampton are getting beat 1-0 — a draw's enough!'"
1998/99 - United complete historic treble
This was the season in which United won the Premier League, FA Cup and Champions League, but only after narrowly beating Arsenal to the league title. Arsenal entered the final day a point behind United and required local rivals Tottenham to give them a helping hand. Les Ferdinand gave Spurs the lead against United and Fergie's side missed chance after chance until David Beckham restored parity with a flashing effort high into the net at Old Trafford.
Andy Cole sealed it for United with a lovely lob, but we had the bizarre sight of Arsenal fans longing for a Tottenham equaliser at Highbury. It never came. Arsenal's defeat at Leeds in the penultimate game of the season had proved fatal. A 1-0 win for Arsene Wenger's side over Aston Villa ultimately proved meaningless.
2002/03 - The billion pound game
There is a pretty strong argument that the fixture between Liverpool and Chelsea on the final day of the 2002-03 season is one of the most influential in the history of the modern game, even if, ostensibly at least, only the fourth and final Champions League spot was up for grabs on that fateful day.
Behind the scenes at Chelsea, it was made perfectly clear how high the stakes were. The club was heading for severe financial difficulty and chief executive Trevor Birch told the players that if they lost to Liverpool and ceded the final Champions League place then jobs would be lost and extensive cut-backs made. Little did they know at the time, but a billionaire Russian was also monitoring events.
The club's fate hung on the final 90 minutes of the season and while Liverpool took the lead through Sami Hyypia, Chelsea hit back with goals from Marcel Desailly and Jesper Gronkjaer to ensure fourth place was theirs.
With Champions League football secured, a certain Roman Abramovich decided to plunge his money into Chelsea rather than Tottenham, and the face of English football was transformed forever.
"We all knew what we'd been playing for that afternoon," Gronkjaer said. "I don't know whether Abramovich would have bought Chelsea without my goal but the Champions League certainly made the club far more attractive. That is sure. Even so, no one would have believed he would come along with the amount of money he did, though."
2004/05 - The Great Escape
Only once in the history of the Premier League has the team that found itself bottom at Christmas avoided relegation, and they did so in hugely unlikely circumstances.
Going into the final day, Bryan Robson's West Brom were rock bottom of the table and knew that only a win, combined with favourable results elsewhere, would be enough to elevate them out of the bottom three. Few thought such a scenario possible.
With Crystal Palace winning 2-1 at Charlton, West Brom's hopes looked forlorn, even despite the Baggies taking a 2-0 lead against Portsmouth through Geoff Horsfield and Kieran Richardson. However, Jonathan Fortune struck an equaliser for Charlton in the 82nd minute and, miraculously, West Brom were safe as they leapt over three teams to take 17th. Fans flooded onto the pitch at the Hawthorns and Richardson (above) was lifted aloft as one of the most remarkable survival campaigns reached a dramatic crescendo.
"I told the players to forget the other matches and just do your own job of winning the game," said Robson. "You have to have belief in what you are doing, belief in the players and the confidence to take matters into your own hands — and we did. We were the first team to survive after being bottom of the Premier League at Christmas, which shows what a difficult task it was. The celebrations at the end demonstrated just what it meant to everyone involved."
2005/06 - Lasagne-gate
Tottenham were narrowly leading Arsenal in fourth place and, with a trip to West Ham on the final day, looked all but certain to take the final Champions League place and finish above their great rivals in the league for the first time since 1995. However, what followed was a twist so extreme it could have been ripped from a script for Sky One's hilariously overblown drama, Dream Team.
At 1am on Sunday at the Marriot Hotel at Canary Wharf, 10 Tottenham players became violently ill with food poisoning having ingested a dodgy lasagne, including star names Robbie Keane and Michael Carrick. As news began to filter out to general astonishment, just hours before kick-off, there was some doubt as to whether Tottenham would be able to fulfil the fixture given how sickness had ravaged their squad. In conjunction with the Premier League, the club explored possible ways to postpone the game, but to no avail.
With players like Carrick vastly under par, and Arsenal winning at home to Wigan, Spurs slumped to a 2-1 defeat at Upton Park that condemned them to the UEFA Cup and years of derision from the red half of North London. Indeed, Arsenal fans still sing with some relish, "lasagne, whoah, lasagne, whoah, we laughed ourselves to bits, when Tottenham got the s****." Rumours that the Marriot chef was an Arsenal fan went unconfirmed.
2006/07 - Tevez-gate
Few relegations have been as acrimonious as Sheffield United's in 2007, their demotion to the Championship resulting in a lengthy legal battle with West Ham that finally culminated in a £15m out-of-court settlement two years later.
West Ham had been handed a record £5.5m fine in April 2007 for irregularities over their purchase of Javier Mascherano and Carlos Tevez in August, yet no points were deducted and, having loaned Mascherano to Liverpool in January, the club were controversially permitted to continue playing Tevez up until the final day. Predictably, the striker had a big say in the fate of the Hammers.
Tevez's goal at Old Trafford on the final day gave West Ham a deeply unlikely 1-0 win against Manchester United, while Sheffield United succumbed 2-1 at home to Wigan to suffer relegation, the result simultaneously ensuring Wigan's top-flight status for another season. Even more painfully for United, the winner came via a penalty from David Unsworth, a player the Blades had allowed to move to the Latics in January, when they were 10 points clear of relegation.
"I was so gutted for them," said Unsworth, 12 months later. "I tried to go to all of them at the end. I didn't want to celebrate; I just went straight into the changing-room without the lads."
2007/08 - Evergreen Giggs delivers for Ferguson
United made the short journey to Wigan on the final day of the season knowing victory would assure them of the trophy ahead of Chelsea, who were level on points but had a far inferior goal difference.
Ryan Giggs made his 758th appearance for United to equal Sir Bobby Charlton's club record and it was to be a telling afternoon for the Welsh player. Cristiano Ronaldo slotted a penalty in the first half for United and while Wigan played some admirable stuff, Giggs's timely contribution settled matters.
United's title was not ring fenced until the 80th minute when Giggs waltzed clear to tuck away a second goal. A 2-0 win for United was good enough to secure the title and Chelsea mustered a 1-1 home draw to finish in second place, two points behind.
It was a position they revisited some 10 days later in losing the Champions League final to United in Moscow on penalties. United had won a 10th championship under Ferguson. Giggs had been a part of every one.
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