The 1993/94 season began with Manchester United winning the Charity Shield (as it was still called) on penalties after drawing 1-1 with Arsenal. While the curtain-raiser had been decided this way previously, more recent years had seen the trophy shared by both participating teams in the event of a draw.
The Shield lifted by both captains simultaneously as all 22 players climbed the Wembley steps together and posed with the trophy together – given that it’s a friendly and a charity match, it seemed to be the correct way, and in 1993, even victorious manager Alex Ferguson stated that the Shield should be shared as a “celebration of success”.
Despite these protestations, penalty shoot-outs have remained ever since. The appetite for there being a clear winner decided on the day would be a precursor for other finals, and then other cup rounds, later in the decade and beyond.
Aside from that, the formats of the other competitions, and the television coverage, all stayed the same as they had in 1992/93. There were still quite a few cosmetic changes though.
The Premier League now had a sponsor, and would henceforth be referred to as The FA Carling Premiership.
Names on shirts and squad numbers were introduced in all four divisions. The lower divisions would soon revert back to the more traditional 1-11, before re-instating names and squad numbers again before decade was out. For the Premier League, though, names and squad numbers were here to stay from 1993/94 onwards.
In this early incarnation, though, some of the shirts, in particular those that were striped or halved, one can’t help wondering if the manufacturers would have designed them differently if they’d known that players names would be included – on some kits, a border enveloped the name in order for it to be legible.
As hinted at last time, some clubs also introduced complete kits for their goalkeepers (previously it was just a different coloured jersey to their team-mates, now it was shorts and socks too).
Since 1990, the game was becoming more fashionable figuratively, so it was only a matter of time before it happened literally too. Ryan Giggs and Lee Sharpe, amongst others, had their own fan clubs and began second careers modelling, with their own fashion ranges to come years later.
While pin-ups in the game had been around since the 1960s, there was something about this new monied era and the glamour and success of their club that aligned itself to Giggs and Sharpe, and would pave the way for future players to also enjoy lucrative modelling and endorsement deals, particularly those at fashionable clubs (no pun intended).
Ironically Giggs and Sharpe actually competed for the same position on the pitch. Lee Sharpe’s misfortune with injuries, and Giggs’ continuing development into a world class winger, would see Giggs establish himself in that position, and before 1994 was over, he was also presenting a “soccer skills” program, a privilege that Michael Owen would also enjoy at the end of the decade.
On the pitch, United would challenge for an unprecedented domestic treble, a fate that would eventually be achieved by Manchester City in 2019.
In 1994, Manchester United had to settle for the double, as their treble attempt ended when Aston Villa beat them in the League Cup final.
That season, United’s focus on domestic success was in part driven by their disappointing 2nd round exit to Galatasary in Europe, meaning that no English team reached the group stage of the Champions League in the three years of this format (incidentally, the European Cup was rebranded the “Champions League” in the second year of this).
While Manchester United fell early, other English teams fared better. Having stunned many by challenging for the title the previous season, Norwich continued to surprise people by being the first English club achieve an away win against Bayern Munich, knocking the Germans out in the second round before narrowly losing both legs 0-1 to eventual winners Inter.
After the disappointment of no English team even reaching a European quarter final the previous season, Arsenal would put that right and more, going all the way in the Cup Winners Cup, beating Parma in the final in Copenhagen.
As Arsenal celebrated, two other members of the old “big five”, Everton and Tottenham, entered the final few days of the season still needing points to secure their continuing participation. Having been so instrumental in the inception of this breakaway league, it would have been ironic had they been relegated from it after just two seasons. It also demonstrates how quickly fortunes can change in football.
This was further evidenced elsewhere – that League Cup Final victory would be the one positive this season for Villa, who, having been the main challengers for the title the year before, would only finish mid-table in 93/94, as would Norwich City, also consoled elsewhere, with their adventures in Europe.
Such was the unpredictability of the league at the time, newly promoted Newcastle United would finish third, Blackburn Rovers runners up in only their second season back in the big-time – while one can argue that big spending and high profile managers played a part for both these teams, the same cannot be said for Wimbledon, who finished sixth – while not quite high enough for Europe, this was now only due to the European entrants via the domestic cups (Aston Villa and Chelsea) finishing lower down in the table. The English league’s improving coefficient, combined with Arsenal’s admission to the following season’s Cup Winner Cup as holders, meant that England would have six places in Europe again for the first time since the ban.
Both FA Cup semi-finals were again played at Wembley. Handy enough for the Luton-Chelsea clash, not so for Manchester United-Oldham. The replay of the latter was sensibly held at Maine Road, and semi-finals would revert to a neutral ground for the rest of the decade and all but one season until the new Wembley was ready to host them in 2008.
Last domestic matter of significance was Manchester United’s final match of the season against Coventry. While everyone else completed their league campaign on Saturday, 7th May, this was played in front of the live TV cameras on Sunday 8th. There was actually nothing to play for, with the title settled the previous weekend and Coventry in a mid-table position – Sky presumably wanted to capture the trophy presentation and Bryan Robson’s farewell. This would mark the last time that all games would not be scheduled to be played simultaneously for the final round of matches. Also from here on, the final round of matches would always take place on a Sunday, with the exception of 2003/04 which bizarrely reverted back to Saturday at 3pm.
Sky introduced a second sports channel in the summer of 1994, meaning that they could now show more than one live game at a time, provided it was not taking place on Saturday at 3pm. Whether this had any bearing on the decision for the final round of matches to be played simultaneously on a Sunday, I couldn’t possibly say.
Major changes were about to take place on the continent.
As hinted at earlier, the Champions League was about to undergo another change in format. 1993/94 would be the last time that the official first round would be in the knockout format. In fact, it would be 9 years before the last 16 would become a knockout round again. Also, the nature of the new league system they were introducing would mean that only the champions of the better ranked nations could compete. For many, they wouldn’t even be able to play in a qualifying round again until 1999.
This seemed to be forgotten when talk of a “super league” emerged in 2021, with one of the biggest criticisms being that such a league would be a “closed shop”.
That wouldn’t be the only change in the summer of 1994. While set match-weeks had been in place since the 1960s, 1993/94 would be the last season before set match-days would also be introduced for the different competitions, something that would have a bigger impact on the continental leagues than it would in England. More on that next time.
Also about to have an impact on most of the footballing world was the decision by FIFA to make three points for a win mandatory. While it had been in place in England since 1981, most other leagues (including the Champions League) and international competitions still adhered to two points. However, perhaps with a mind on appealing to the host audience in the USA and encouraging teams to risk going for the win more, it was increased to three points ahead of the World Cup and would be instilled throughout football after this (some national leagues would only make the change a year later).
England failed to qualify for the World Cup in the USA. The opening match of their campaign, at home to Norway, set the trend of missed opportunities and misfortune, as England bombarded their opponents’ goal, had efforts cleared off the line, still looked as though, despite so many missed chances to extend the lead, they would still win 1-0, only for Norway to equalise late on with spectacular long range effort, commentator John Motson even saying “anything can happen” as the Norwegians celebrated this effort. Graham Taylor’s own words after the game – “it’s all been one way, except for this particular shot that came out of the blue”.
The events and decisions that went against England in the two crucial matches against the Netherlands are well documented, and despite winning 7-1 in their final group game in San Mario, the were denied qualification by results elsewhere that night.
The 7-1 win was in vain in more than one sense, as all most people remember of that match was San Marino taking the lead in the opening seconds, to the point where one could be forgiven for thinking England lost that night. Even England’s own players seemed to forget – in 1997, while being interviewed during a flight from Italy, Paul Ince joked “I’ll never get over San Marino”.
The collective memory was not helped by the documentary An Impossible Job (sometimes known as “Do I not like that”). With more hype and interest now surrounding our national game, a camera crew followed England’s attempts throughout the 14 month campaign for the ambitious documentary. Sadly, it paints many of events they captured out of context – for example, for the opener, it only shows Norway’s equaliser and the looks of disappointment after the game, to imply that England had performed badly. This misrepresentation carries on until the end, when the only footage they show of the 7-1 win was San Marino’s early goal.
In my first of these pieces, I made much of how fortunate England had been to reach Italia 90, and the impact that would go on to have on the game.
Between Norway’s result against the run of play at Wembley, star striker Alan Shearer missing most of their campaign with a long term injury, both matches against the Dutch, playing two difficult away games in Poland and Norway in the space of a few days, and results going against them on the final match day, it’s fair to say that lady luck did not smile on them, and played a part in them not participating in the finals this time around. Thanks to the documentary, and some of the other negative press received during his time at the helm, Graham Taylor personally can also consider himself unfortunate to further be portrayed in such a negative light.
Did England’s failure to qualify take some of the momentum out of the changing game, and cause it to stagnate around the middle of the decade? Perhaps. However, as host nation, England wouldn’t have to worry about qualifying for their next major tournament, in 1996. Two years is a long time in football, in the 1990s it’s even longer. Given so many other circumstances occurring around football, and our culture at the time, having taken off at the start of the decade, the game was ready to leave the stratosphere by the end of it. That, though, is a story for future editions.
Thank you for reading this one.