After months of grinding their way through a season it can sometimes come
down to one last minute in one last match. Here are 10 great conclusions to
what Sir Alex Ferguson calls squeaky bum time.
No.1 1989 "It's Up for Grabs Now!"
This was the greatest conclusion to a championship ever. A thrilling title race was coming to
a conclusion. George Graham's youthful, obdurate Arsenal team had been the dominant force
for most of the season, but the seasoned title gatherers from Anfield were closing in. Then
came the Hillsborough disaster and a three week hiatus while football, and Liverpool in
particular, tried to come to terms with that terrible day. When the football resumed Arsenal
were wobbling badly picking up just one point from home games with Derby and Wimbledon.
It came down to one night on Merseyside weeks after the close of the season. Later than the
FA Cup final. The details don't need to be rehashed but Michael Thomas scored possibly the
most famous ever goal, and certainly the latest, in the old competition to take the title
to Highbury for the 1st time since 1971. It was an astonishing conclusion to a tumultuous
No.2 1950 Play up Pompey!
In 1950 there was an astonishing conclusion to the league season which ended in Portsmouth
winning the league on goal average, a fiendishly difficult system to understand, which even
Motson would struggle with. It was a season where the top 7 clubs were only separated by
4 points - astonishing by today's standards. Pompey beat Aston Villa 5-1 on the last day
of the season to fend off the rival challengers.
No.3 1986 and 1999 Avoiding the Trap Door
Everyone remembers the famous 15 seconds of fame for on loan keeper Jimmy Glass as he scored
the goal to keep Carlisle in the Football League in 1999. The temporary keeper had kept the
Cumbrians in the league and doomed Scarborough to the fiery ovens.
Ironically it was Scarborough who were the first side to benefit from automatic promotion in
1986, under the guidance of a shy, retiring chiropodist called Neil Warnock. The team they
replaced was Lincoln City, relegated on a day of drama in May 1986. It had looked like
Burnley or Torquay would drop but the Clarets survived on a day of high emotion by beating
Orient. Torquay's survival was also remembered for the role of a police dog which bit one
of the players, enabling sufficient injury time for them to muster an equaliser. Of course,
this doesn't quite fit, no 'new' time was created, but a legend in that part of Devon was
No.4 1986 Hearts Failure
The 1980s was an exciting time for Scottish football. The 'New Firm' of Aberdeen and Dundee
United were consistently challenging the established West of Scotland, and Hearts were also
desperate to give the capital some success. They went on an extraordinary run of 31 league
matches before a trip to Dundee on the last day of the season. Despite this phenomenal record
they still hadn't managed to shake off the remorseless pursuit of Celtic, who were due to
visit St Mirren. The 3rd of May 1986 is a day of infamy for the Jam Tarts. Celtic were 3pts
behind and needed at least a four goal cushion if Hearts lost. Celtic were 4-0 ahead by
half time but Hearts appeared comfortable at Dens Park. Then late goals by a little known
substitute called Albert Kidd sent Dundee 2-0 up and Hearts were broken. Celtic celebrated
an unexpected triumph (and half of Edinburgh was happy as well). Hearts dragged themselves
to the Scottish Cup final to be battered by Aberdeen and the dream double season had become
possibly the most infamous collapse in Scottish football history.
No.5 2001 The Eternal City has its Day
It looked like the eternal city was about to establish a southern rival to the vice like grip
of the Milan-Juve axis at the turn of the century as Roma followed Eriksson's Lazio the year
before by taking the title to the capital. It was a chaotic weekend with three teams
(Lazio and Juventus being the others) in with a shout of winning the Scudetto. It was Roma
though who triumphed amid farcical scenes at the Stadio Olimpico as frenzied supporters,
desperate for a first title since 1983 invaded the pitch. Many players were left wearing
nothing but pants amid the confusion. Still, order was restored and Capello's team lifted
the title. Not that we saw any of it. Channel 4 shamefully stuck to its schedule and left
the coverage with the title still in the balance. Of course, the shift of power to the
South never materialised and both Rome clubs have suffered increasing financial indignities
in recent years.
No.6 1996 "I'd Love It!"
The most dramatic end to a season since 1992, or Year Zero as far as Sky are concerned. The
events of that spring still hang heavily on the collective Geordie conscience. The twists
were numerous - Cantona's winner at St James Park, the glorious 4-3 defeat at Anfield, but
perhaps the most defining moment in the history of the Premiership came after a 1-0 win at
Leeds which gave the Mags some hope. Richard Keys was accidentally transformed into Jeremy
Paxman by Keegan's increasingly manic responses to some gentle probing about Alex Ferguson's
legendary mind games. Keegan dissolved, almost tearful, live on television. The pressure
had got to him and he was crumbling. Man Utd cruised to victory at the Riverside to lift the
trophy and the Geordie dream was over. Still, they played some magnificent stuff that season
and rubbished the old cliché that nobody remembers who came second.
No.7 1994 Bebeto bottles it
Picture the scene on the final day of the 1993-94 La Liga season... It's Deportivo v Valencia
at the Riazor on the final day of the season. Deportivo, sitting on top of the league, need to
just hold their nerve and win to claim their 1st ever la Liga title. As the game heads into
injury time it's still 0-0. Title rivals Barcelona are beating Sevilla so Deportivo need to win.
As Deportivo throw everything forward, Nando is fouled in the box - penalty to Deportivo!
Regular taker Bebeto bottles it, Donato has been substituted, so up steps Yugoslavian defender
Miroslav Djukic. This to win the title. He shoots... And he... misses. His lame attempt -
straight at goalie Gonzalez, hands Barca the title on goal difference.
No.8 1985 Coventry stay up - again!
This was a real curiosity. Today all matches have to be completed by the end of the season
but in the 1980s this wasn't the case. Indeed Coventry's fixture backlog was so bad that they
had to play three games after the final Saturday. They trailed Norwich by 8 points and had
to win all three games. Norwich felt there was little chance of their Milk Cup triumph being
seriously diluted by relegation. In the first game they narrowly beat already relegated
Stoke 1-0 (Stuart Pearce scored a penalty) and followed that with another victory over
Luton by the same scoreline. But if Norwich were pinning there hopes on Champions Everton,
in the final fixture, they were misguided. Everton had long since had the ribbons on the
trophy and were in party mood. So were Coventry, who romped to a 4-1 victory to send Norwich
down. This was the middle of a run of 3 successive seasons where the Sky Blues achieved
safety on the last day.
No.9 1971 Arsenal do it at the Lane
This was an amazing end to a championship race. Arsenal completed the first leg of a memorable
double by beating local rivals Tottenham at White Hart Lane in a match that was played after
the regular season had been completed. Leeds had been favourites to take the title, but not for
the first, or last, time fell short at the finish. Ray Kennedy scored the only goal of the game
and a reported 20,000 were locked out as the Gunners triumphed. 5 days later the double was
completed at Wembley when they beat Liverpool 2-1 in the Cup Final.
No.10 2000 and 2002 Bayer Blow It (x2)
To lose one Bundesliga that was in the bag might be considered unfortunate. To lose two
smacked of carelessness. In 2000 Bayer Leverkusen only needed a draw against strugglers
Unterhaching but, thanks largely to an own goal by Michael Ballack, contrived to lose 2-0.
Bayern Munich don't blow opportunities like this (Barcelona 1999 apart!), and beat
Werder Bremen 3-1. In 2002 it was even worse. They led by 5 points with 2 games to play and
lost both. Meanwhile Dortmund won their last two fixtures to grab an unlikely title.
Leverkusen went on to lose in the finals of both the European and German Cups and have never
been the same force since.