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The 1996-97 FA Premier League season was the fifth season of the competition, since its formation in 1992. The majority of the season was contested by the reigning champions, Manchester United, along with Newcastle United, Arsenal and Liverpool. The title was eventually won by Manchester United, after Liverpool and Newcastle's failure to win in their penultimate games of the season.

Promoted teams

Promoted to the Premiership for the 1996-97 season were Sunderland and Derby County as Division One winners and runners up respectively. Leicester City were promoted as playoff winners.

Relegated teams

Middlesbrough, despite spending millions of pounds on high profile foreign players like Emerson Moisés Costa, Fabrizio Ravanelli (who scored 31 goals in all competitions), Branco and Gianluca Festa, were relegated on the final day of the season and were on the losing side in both the FA Cup and League Cup finals. Middlebrough finished in 19th place, however they would have been placed outside the relegation zone without a 3-point deduction imposed for cancelling a December 1996 fixture against Blackburn Roversmarker, with the Middlesbrough board blaming the decision on the absence of 23 players ill or injured. This sanction meant Coventry City, who had been in the top division since 1967, finished in 17th place and avoided relegation. The decision was very much frowned upon and has recently resurfaced as a major linchpin in the current West Ham saga. Ironically, West Ham were one of the very few clubs who insisted that Bryan Robson's men should be deducted points. The whole situation was turned into a farce by the FA after sanctioning the game to be canceled by Assistant Chief Exectutive and then for them to go back on their decision after this had been confirmed. If Middlesbrough had played the game against Blackburn with a team made up of youth and reserve players and lost, they still would have survived relegation quite comfortably which raised questions why they should be docked points for canceling the game to gain no advantage.

The other relegation places went to Nottingham Forest, who sacked manager Frank Clark in December. Stuart Pearce took over as temporary player-manager, spending three months in charge and winning the January 1996 Manager of the Month award. In March, Pearce quit as manager to be replaced by David Bassett, formerly of Crystal Palace. Also relegated, due to a 1-0 defeat to Wimbledon in their last game of the season, were Sunderland, who were leaving Roker Parkmarker after 99 years and relocating to the 42,000-seat Stadium of Lightmarker on the banks of the River Wearmarker for the start of the 1997 - 1998 season in Division one.

Managerial changes

Player and managerial awards

Final league table

Pos Team Pld W D L GF GA GD Pts Notes
1 Manchester United 38 21 12 5 76 44 +32 75 UEFA Champions League 1997–98

Group stage
2 Newcastle United 38 19 11 8 73 40 +33 68 UEFA Champions League 1997–98

Second qualifying round
3 Arsenal 38 19 11 8 62 32 +30 68 UEFA Cup 1997–98

First round
4 Liverpool 38 19 11 8 62 37 +25 68
5 Aston Villa 38 17 10 11 47 34 +13 61
6 Chelsea 38 16 11 11 58 55 +3 59 UEFA Cup Winners' Cup 1997–98

First round
7 Sheffield Wednesday 38 14 15 9 50 51 -1 57
8 Wimbledon 38 15 11 12 49 46 +3 56
9 Leicester City 38 12 11 15 46 54 -8 47 UEFA Cup 1997–98

First round
10 Tottenham Hotspur 38 13 7 18 44 51 -7 46
11 Leeds United 38 11 13 14 28 38 -10 46
12 Derby County 38 11 13 14 45 58 -13 46
13 Blackburn Roversmarker 38 9 15 14 42 43 -1 42
14 West Ham United 38 10 12 16 39 48 -9 42
15 Everton 38 10 12 16 44 57 -13 42
16 Southampton 38 10 11 17 50 56 -6 41
17 Coventry City 38 9 14 15 38 54 -16 41
18 Sunderland 38 10 10 18 35 53 -18 40 Relegated to Football League

Division One 1997–98
19 Middlesbrough 38 10 12 16 51 60 -9 392
20 Nottingham Forest 38 6 16 16 31 59 -28 34
Pld = Matches played; W = Matches won; D = Matches drawn; L = Matches lost; GF = Goals for; GA = Goals against; GD = Goal difference; Pts = Points

1 Chelsea qualified for the Cup Winners' Cup as FA Cup winners

2 Middlesbrough were deducted three points for failing to fulfill a fixture

Season statistics

Total goals: 970
Average goals per game: 2.55

Club-by-club review


After little more than a year as manager, Bruce Rioch was sacked before the season started, and his assistant Stewart Houston took charge of the first team for the opening weeks of the season until Frenchmanmarker Arsene Wenger took over. During the early weeks of Wenger's reign, Arsenal briefly topped the table but in the end were forced into third place, level on 68 points with runners-up Newcastle United and fourth-placed Liverpool. Consequently, Arsenal had to settle for a UEFA Cup place, while the newly-introduced second place in the European Cup went to Newcastle United.

The most notable addition to Arsenal's side was 20-year-old Frenchmarker midfielder Patrick Vieira, who proved to be a far more effective player than John Jensen, the man whose place in the side he was taking.

Aston Villa

There was no silverware this season for last season's Coca-Cola Cup winners, but Brian Little's competent Villa side achieved UEFA Cup qualification for the second season running by finishing fifth in the league.

The autumn of the season saw the departure of veteran defender Paul McGrath to Derby County, while the injured Gary Charles was replaced at right-back by the Portuguesemarker Fernando Nelson. The end of the season saw the arrival of Liverpool striker Stan Collymore for a club record fee of £7million.

Blackburn Rovers

An early exit from the Coca-Cola Cup at the hands of Division Two side Stockport County was the final straw for manager Ray Harford, who stepped down on 25 October with Rovers also bottom of the Premiership with no wins from their opening 10 games. 18 months earlier, they had been league champions. Long-serving coach Tony Parkes was appointed caretaker, remaining in the post until the end of the season, when he handed over the reins to Roy Hodgson after Sven Goran Eriksson changed his mind about accepting the manager's job. Parkes steered Blackburn to safety as they finished 13th.

The world record £15million sale of striker Alan Shearer to Newcastle United in the 1996 close season was seen as the biggest factor in Blackburn's lowest top flight finish since they returned to the elite in 1992. But his strike-partner Chris Sutton helped keep the club alive after recovering from a drastic loss of form triggered by a spate of injuries the previous season, and the acquisition of Swedishmarker striker Martin Dahlin at the end of the season enhanced Blackburn's attack and gave fans hope for a higher finish next time round.


With Glenn Hoddle leaving to become England manager, Chelsea gave the managerial role to midfielder Ruud Gullit, who used his continental connections to bring in world class international players such as France center-back Frank Leboeuf, and Italian superstars such as midfielder Roberto Di Matteo, stikers Gianfranco Zola and the Champions League winning Gianluca Vialli, Ruud Gullit had a dream start to his managerial career as Chelsea won the FA Cup with a 2-0 win over Middlesbrough, ending Chelsea 26-year trophy drought and making him the first foreign manager to win a major trophy with an English club. Italianmarker striker Gianfranco Zola was voted PFA Player of the Year after a brilliant first season at Stamford Bridgemarker in which he scored 8 often spectacular league goals and contributing to many assists, while fellow countryman and record £4.5 million signing Roberto Di Matteo scored one of Chelsea's goals in the triumphant Wembley final.

The club suffered a tragedy in late October when director Matthew Harding was killed in a helicopter crash in Cheshiremarker, when returning home from the club's Coca-Cola Cup exit at Bolton.

Coventry City

Manager Ron Atkinson stepped up to the role of Director of Football at struggling Coventry City in early November, with assistant Gordon Strachan stepping up to the manager's seat. A good run of form saw Coventry climb to 11th place in January, but then a decline set in and defeat in the penultimate game of the season made Coventry's 30-year stay in the top flight appear to be over. But thanks to beating Tottenham on the final day of the season, and Sunderland and Middlesbrough both losing, the Sky Blues pulled off a miraculous survival act to book themselves a 31st successive top flight campaign.

The key player in the great escape act was striker Dion Dublin, who scored 18 Premier League goals to attract attention from several larger clubs, and encourage calls for an international call-up from many observers.

However, Coventry only ultimately avoided relegation due to the three-point deduction imposed upon Middlesbrough, who had been penalised in mid-season for cancelling a fixture at short notice.

Derby County

Back in the top flight after a five-year exile, Jim Smith's Derby County side never looked in any real danger of an immediate return to Division One, and their 12th place finish in the final table was their highest final position in eight years. Young striker Dean Sturridge received many plaudits for his goalscoring exploits, which sparked talk of a £7million transfer to Middlesbrough, but the move never happened.


After finishing sixth the previous season, Everton started the new season with much hope and ambitions of qualifying for Europe or winning a major trophy. But the mid-season sale of top scoring winger Andrei Kanchelskis to Fiorentina sabotaged Everton's chances of more success, and manager Joe Royle resigned in March, less than two years after guiding the club to FA Cup glory. Caretaker Dave Watson confirmed Everton's survival with a 15th place finish, before Howard Kendall returned to Goodison Parkmarker for his third spell as manager.

Leeds United

A 4-0 home defeat to Manchester United in September prompted Howard Wilkinson's dismissal after eight years as manager. His successor was George Graham, back in football after a one-year ban arising from the "bung" scandal that had cost him his job as Arsenal manager back in February 1995. Graham was unable to improve the club's dismal goalscoring record (they finished with the division's lowest total of just 28 goals) but he managed to steer them well clear of relegation in a respectable 11th place.

Record signing Lee Sharpe failed to live up to expectations and by the end of the season it was rumoured that he would be on his way out of the club, while Tony Yeboah made just six appearances after recovering from a long-term injury and he too appeared to be heading for the Elland Roadmarker exit door. Full-back Tony Dorigo's future at the club was also thrown into doubt by the emergence of Ian Harte, while centre-back Carlton Palmer's days at the club were also looking numbered.

Leicester City

Most observers had tipped Leicester for an immediate return to Division One, so Martin O'Neill's ultimate task for this season was to achieve survival for Leicester City. Top flight survival was achieved - for the first time in 11 years - but ninth place in the final table was an excellent finish for a relatively young side who had been tipped for relegation by so many outsiders. The season was capped by a victory over Middlesbrough in the Coca-Cola Cup - Leicester's first major trophy for 33 years - which was their passport to the following season's UEFA Cup.


Until late February, Liverpool had led the Premiership for most of the season, even opening up a five point lead at the top on New Year's Day. However, the team were overtaken by Manchester United, who remained top of the league for the rest of the season, despite Liverpool having two or three more chances to reclaim the position before falling away badly, to even finish in 4th place- the shock of the season as the club had never been in that position from the opening day until the final day of the campaign. Steve McManaman and Robbie Fowler continued to excel for the club, but Fowler's suspension for the final four games of the season effectively ended any lingering hopes of title glory, and the side were marred by defensive aberrations which became infamous for dropping points at their previously impregnable Anfieldmarker home. Fourth place in the final table left Roy Evans and his team with a UEFA Cup place as scant consolation for what might have been.

Manchester United

A 5-0 defeat at Newcastle, a 6-3 defeat at Southampton, the loss of their 40-year unbeaten home record in European competition to Turkish side Fenerbahçemarker, and the end of a two-year unbeaten home record in the league (all in the space of two weeks) saw many observers write off Manchester United's hopes of retaining the Premiership title. However, manager Alex Ferguson refused to despair, and insisted that the league could still be won. United did not top the Premiership until late January, and from then on they remained top and were crowned champions at the beginning of May without kicking a ball - their title status was confirmed by Liverpool's failure to beat Wimbledon in the penultimate game of the season.

After the season was over, iconic striker Eric Cantona stunned the club with his decision to retire from football.

Midfielder David Beckham, who began the season with a wonder goal at Wimbledon, was voted PFA Young Player of the Year, while new Norweiganmarker striker Ole Gunnar Solskjaer topped the club's goalscoring charts with 19 goals in all competitions.

United reached the European Cup semi-finals for the first time since 1969, and their hopes of glory were ended as they lost both legs 1-0 to a Borussia Dortmund side who went on to win the trophy.


The multi-million pound signings of Brazilianmarker midfielder Emerson and Italianmarker striker Fabrizio Ravanelli suggested that Middlesbrough could compete with the very best after finishing 12th the previous season, but ahead lay quite a unique season which ultimately ended in disappointment.

By Christmas, Middlesbrough were deep in relegation trouble, despite Fabrizio Ravanelli proving himself as one of the league's top goalscorers. Added to this, Middlesbrough were faced with the wrath of the Football Association for postponing a fixture against Blackburn Rovers at short notice. The club's officials insisted that manager Bryan Robson had been unable to field a team due to a severe injury and illness crisis among his players, but this didn't prevent the Football Association from docking the club 3 points.

Middlesbrough managed to put together a good run of results and look like decent bets for survival, but the Football Association's refusal to restore Middlesbrough's 3 points counted against them and a 1-1 draw at Leeds on the final day of the season, when they needed a win, resulted in relegation that would have been avoided (at the expense of Coventry City) if the points had not been deducted.

Middlesbrough also hit the headlines with two brilliant cup runs. As a club who had never won a major trophy or even reached a domestic cup final before, history was made in February when Middlesbrough reached the League Cup final. They drew 1-1 with Leicester City at Wembleymarker in the first match, but lost the replay 1-0 at Hillsboroughmarker. Two months later, they took on Chelsea in the FA Cup final, but lost 2-0. Therefore, they became the first team to finish in the last two of all three major tournaments - eliminating Crystal Palace's distinction (attained in 1995) of finishing in the last four of all three major tournaments.

Newcastle United

A 5-0 win over deadly rivals Manchester United on 20 October - arguably Newcastle's greatest performance of all time - brought renewed hope that the club could end its 70-year wait for the title by lifting the Premiership crown. Things turned sour when Alan Shearer, the club's £15 million world record signing, missed seven games due to a hernia operation, and Newcastle's title bid was threatened by Manchester United's recovery from a bad spell. Arsenal and Liverpool, meanwhile, were also mounting a serious push for the title.

On 7 January, Kevin Keegan dropped a bombshell on Newcastle by announcing his resignation as manager, stating that he felt he had taken the club as far as he could. Kenny Dalglish, the man who had replaced Keegan as Liverpool striker 20 years earlier, now replaced him as manager, but the best he could manage was a runners-up finish in the final table.

Nottingham Forest

A dismal start to the season saw Nottingham Forest bottom of the Premiership by Christmas, and their manager Frank Clark gone, with Stuart Pearce taking over as player-manager on a temporary basis. A good run of form in January saw Pearce receive the Manager of the Month award, but by the time he stepped down to make way for Dave Bassett in March, Forest had endured another setback and were left needing a miracle to beat the drop. The acquisition of Dutchmarker striker Pierre Van Hooijdonk did little to change the club's fortunes, and they were relegated in bottom place.

Sheffield Wednesday

A four-match winning start to the season saw Sheffield Wednesday top the Premiership and manager David Pleat receive Manager of the Month award for August, but they soon fell out of the title frame and in the end they finished seventh in the final table - not even enough for UEFA Cup qualification. In the close season, Pleat paid a club record £5.7million for Celtic's Italianmarker forward Paolo Di Canio, giving his squad a much-needed boost to their hopes of challenging for honours.


For the fourth time in five seasons, Southampton managed to avoid relegation. Manager Dave Merrington had been dismissed at the end of the previous season to be succeeded by Graeme Souness, who brought in quality new players including Claus Lundekvam and Egil Ostenstad. A 6-3 win over Manchester United in late October, which saw Ostenstad scoring a hat-trick, was the highlight of the season, and Southampton entered the final game of the season only needing a draw to confirm their survival. Survival was achieved, but it didn't prevent Souness from quitting the club after just one season, and handing over the reins to Stockport's Dave Jones.


Just one year after they had almost slipped into Division Two, Sunderland had returned to the top flight under new manager Peter Reid. With a new 42,000-seat stadiummarker due to be ready in the summer of 1997, Reid and his players were determined to secure survival in the final season at historic Roker Parkmarker and give the new stadium at Monkwearmouthmarker a debut season in the Premiership.

The first half of the season went well for club, finding themselves in a comfortable 11th position by the end of January, boasting a strong home form going into the February. However a run of 4 consecutive defeats against Aston Villa, Leeds, Blackburn and Tottenham saw them slip down the table into 16th by March.

Sunderland Lost 1-0 to Wimbledon on the final day of the season along with Coventry's win at Tottenham meant that the Wearsiders were cruely relegated with 40 points.

On a high note, Sunderland did manage to beat Chelsea (3 - 0), Arsenal (1 - 0) and Manchester United (2 - 1) all at home during the season.

Tottenham Hotspur

For two seasons running, Tottenham had narrowly missed out on a UEFA Cup place. 1996-97 could have been the season when Gerry Francis finally got it right and secured either a top-five finish or victory in one of the cups, but early exits from the FA Cup and Coca-Cola Cup ended their chances of a Wembley final, and a 10th place finish in the final table was the club's lowest since Francis took over in November 1994. This disappointment saw the manager's future thrown into serious doubt, with fans calling for him to be dismissed.

West Ham United

The season began with much excitement at Upton Parkmarker, as a whole host of foreign signings arrived. However, most of the acquisitions were short-lived and unsuccessful. Romanianmarker striker Florin Radiciou walked out in mid-season after scoring just two goals and Portuguesemarker winger Paulo Futre played just nine games for the club before giving in to a knee injury and announcing his retirement in November.

It was a season of struggle for Harry Redknapp and his East Londonersmarker, but in the end a new wave of players helped save the day and keep West Ham in the Premiership. Exciting young defender Rio Ferdinand broke into the side and so impressed that an international call-up appeared imminent, while newly-signed strikers Paul Kitson and John Hartson gave the attack the much-needed boost that Radiciou and Futre had failed to deliver.

With survival confirmed by the final day of the season, there was now talk of pushing for a UEFA Cup place in the following campaign.


The opening day of the season saw Wimbledon lose 3-0 at home to Manchester United in a game mostly remembered because of David Beckham's late goal from inside his own half, but Wimbledon got their own back of United later on in the season by eliminating them from the FA Cup.

Wimbledon reached the semi-finals of both domestic cups, but lost both and were left with nothing but the memories after an eighth place finish in the final table saw them blow their final chance of European qualification. The sale of Oyvind Leonhardsen to Liverpool at the end of the season left manager Joe Kinnear with a big hole to fill in a squad which had so far achieved so much on a shoestring budget.

Top goal scorers

Scorer Goals Team
Alan Shearer 25 Newcastle United F.C.
Ian Wright 23 Arsenal F.C.
Robbie Fowler 18 Liverpool F.C.
Ole Gunnar Solskjær 18 Manchester United F.C.
Dwight Yorke 17 Aston Villa F.C.
Fabrizio Ravanelli 17 Middlesbrough F.C.

See also

References and notes

  1. English league tables for 1995-96 season. Retrieved 21 September 2006
  2. "Football's biggest punishments". Retrieved 20 September 2006.
  3. "Funny Old Game|Happened on this day - 20 December". Retrieved 20 September 2006.
  4. "England Player Honours - Professional Footballers' Association Players' Players of the Year". Retrieved 20 September 2006.
  5. "England Player Honours - Professional Footballers' Association Young Players of the Year". Retrieved 20 September 2006.
  6. "England Player Honours - Football Writers' Association Footballers of the Year". Retrieved 20 September 2006.
  7. "Seasonal Awards 1996/97". Retrieved 20 September 2006.

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