The football season has rumbled to a conclusion and so has Nessun Dorma, your monthly, long-form hit of 1980s and 1990s football nostalgia. This season we have been looking back at Kevin Keegan’s time as England manager, Aston Villa’s glory years, one of the greatest games in Premier League history, the final day of the 1993-94 season in the Premier League and, in a new feature, enjoying some great football writing.
After paying homage to Gianfranco Zola as player of the pod, regulars Lee Calvert, Gary Naylor and Rob Smyth run the magnifying glass over the short but eventful tenure of Kevin Keegan as England manager. It’s a two-part epic, with the first episode taking in Keegan’s appointment in the aftermath of Glen Hoddle’s departure. His flush of optimism at the outset quickly jarred with reality; Paul Scholes dropped grenades against Poland and Scotland either side of dropping England down to 10 against Sweden, as England stumbled through to Euro 2000 via the playoffs.
Part two covers Euro 2000 itself, where a cathartic victory over Germany was sandwiched by chasings from Portugal and then Romania as England were dumped out in the first round. It concludes with revenge for the Germans when they win the final match at the old Wembley, a defeat too far for Keegan who immediately quit in the stadium toilets. “I’m not up to it,” he forlornly decided; the panel reassess his reign 20 years on, his relationship with the key players in the team and his legacy as an England manager.
They believed in miracles too you know. In another two-part special, we recall the forgotten story of Aston Villa’s brilliant team of the early 1980s. On a budget that made a shoestring seem like a rope twined in strands of 24-carat gold, taciturn manager Ron Saunders pieced together a team that seemingly came from nowhere to land the league title in 1980-81. For Villa’s next trick the following season, and despite Saunders leaving for Birmingham City (!) and being replaced by assistant Tony Barton, they stunned the world by beating Bayern Munich to win the European Cup.
In part one Lee, Gary and Mike Gibbons look at Villa’s history before this run and then run the rule over a squad that won the league title using just 14 (f-o-u-r-t-e-e-n) players. Among others, we celebrate the overlooked Dennis Mortimer and lament the lost genius of Gary Shaw. Our concluding episode then recalls that league campaign in full, followed by their stunning victory in the European Cup. Player of the pod this month is Andrei Kanchelskis, the jet-heeled wonder of the Premier League’s formative years.
Lee, Mike and Scott Murray return for a special episode, as we celebrate the 25th anniversary of the Premier League’s Hagler v Hearns. The Liverpool team that we would come to know as the Spice Boys took on the Entertainers of Newcastle United, in a staggering match that is scorched into the memory of all who saw it. Robbie Fowler’s nose plaster, Faustino Asprilla nutmegging Neil Ruddock, Stan Collymore’s winner and Keegan crestfallen over the advertising hoarding, it’s all here.
Our panel part their curtained hair to peer back at the mid-1990s, and the players, styles, kits and culture that characterised the Premier League just as it was on the brink of becoming a global phenomenon. A moment-by-moment, goal-by-goal account of that extraordinary night follows, and we debate where this game stands in the pantheon of great Premier League matches. Before that, our episode kicks off with our player of the pod, and a look back at the career of one of the coolest players ever to saunter onto the pitch; it’s a chin-stroking, Louis Balfour-style nod from us to the legendary Sócrates.
The final day of the 1993-94 season produced a real nerve-shredder of an afternoon, with Southampton, Ipswich, Sheffield United, Everton and Oldham all desperately trying to elbow each other out of the way and stay in the top division.
Gary, Scott and Mike are your guides as we pick over the bones of that afternoon, with the league table changing with dizzying frequency and doors sliding all over the place. We look at the fall of Oldham, the greatest spell of Matt le Tissier’s career, a stunning escape at Goodison Park and a devastating late goal by Mark Stein that changed everything. Ipswich get a coating for their style (or lack thereof) in staying up but are rewarded earlier in the pod, as special guest Paul Howarth recalls the career of Eric Gates for our player of the pod feature.
We have a new feature this season. Nessun Dorma Extra-Time takes a broader look at world of football, and particularly football writing. Our first two specials are interviews with authors of recently published books that are right in our wheelhouse. Fierce Genius by Andy Bollen is a superb reconstruction of Johan Cruyff’s farewell season with Feyenoord in 1983-84, while Silver Linings by David Hartrick brilliantly tracks the full eight years of Bobby Robson’s time in charge of England. We’ll have plenty more coming too.