As the English Premier League prepares to celebrate its 25th anniversary, we look at some of the most dazzling moments in a competition which entertains millions around the world.
From spectacular goals to incredible games, and touchline moments that will live long in the memory — scroll down to see if you agree with our picks.
May 13, 2012 — That Aguero goal
Manchester City and Manchester United started the final day of the season level on points. With minutes of their respective games remaining, United were set to become champions once more. But then came the twist: Edin Dzeko scored for City in stoppage time to level at home against QPR, giving Roberto Mancini’s men hope — but they needed to win.
With the last kick of the match, along came Sergio Aguero, dancing into the box… Mario Balotelli found the Argentine, who struck low into the bottom-left corner. Ecstasy for the men in blue. City won the title for the first time in 44 years.
October 19, 2002 — Rooney makes his mark
Fifteen years ago Wayne Rooney was an unknown teenager playing for his boyhood club earning £80 a week. Reigning champions Arsenal, seven points ahead at the top of the table, unbeaten in 30 league games, were the visitors at Goodison Park.
But in four glorious touches Rooney would ruin Arsenal’s unbeaten streak. With his first touch, 40 yards from goal, he picked the ball out of the sky and then spun 360 degrees, evading the backtracking Lauren. His second touch was a kick ahead to himself. And after his third touch, Rooney glanced up, raised his left arm, took aim and the ball gloriously hit the underside of the crossbar before dropping into the net. A star was born.
April 3, 1996 — The greatest game in history?
This was a brilliantly entertaining match on a floodlit night at Anfield. Both teams were challenging for the title, neither could really defend. Newcastle desperately needed to win after seeing a 12-point lead over Manchester United at the top of the table swing into a three-point deficit.
From 1-0 to the hosts to 1-1; 1-2, 2-2, 2-3, 3-3 and then, in stoppage time, Reds striker Stan Collymore beat Newcastle goalkeeper Pavel Srnicek. Liverpool manager Roy Evans would later describe the game as “kamikaze football.” The teams would play out another 4-3 thriller the following season, but the first time is always the best.
May 12, 2013 — Fergie bows out in style
In his final season in charge of the one of the world’s most famous clubs, Sir Alex Ferguson — the most successful football manager in British history — bowed out with a Premier League title. Ferguson ended his reign with 49 trophies: 13 Premier League titles, five FA Cups, four League Cups and two Champions League titles, to name but a few.
His last league title — United’s 20th — was perhaps his easiest, the title secured with a month of the season still to go — only once (2001) had a Ferguson side won the league any earlier. The Premier League trophy was carried out by two of his former captains, Steve Bruce and Bryan Robson, and it was the manager who received the honor of lifting the Premier League trophy into the Manchester night sky.
April 27, 2014 — Gerrard’s slip
Liverpool were in swashbuckling form and seemed on course to secure a first league title for 24 years. They had won 11 consecutive matches and were unbeaten in 16 when Jose Mourinho’s Chelsea came to Anfield. But a Steven Gerrard error would cost them dearly that season.
Inside his own half, the captain slipped, lost possession and Chelsea’s Demba Ba capitalized, putting the Londoners on their way to a 2-0 victory. Liverpool’s title charge came to a halt after that loss. A disastrous draw at Crystal Palace followed and Manchester City clinched the title. “There’s not a day that doesn’t go by that I don’t think about what if that didn’t happen,” Gerrard has said.
May 2, 2016 — One of the greatest stories of all time
This was a season which captured the imagination of the world. Leicester City had started the campaign as 5,000-1 outsiders for the title after almost being relegated the season before and Claudio Ranieri was seen as an uninspired choice to replace Nigel Pearson, who was sacked prior to the start of the campaign.
But Ranieri and his team of bargain buys and journeymen started the season brilliantly and, incredibly, sustained their challenge. At the end of March they became odds-on favorites for the first time and, in May, won the first top-flight title in the club’s history. The next season, Ranieri was sacked as Leicester struggled, but for one one glorious period the Foxes had made people think anything was possible.
October 17, 2009 — Beach ball madness
When is a goal not a goal? A Liverpool-branded beach ball, thrown from the visiting section of the Stadium of Light, glided onto the pitch during the opening few minutes of Sunderland’s encounter with Liverpool. So far, so uninspiring. But when Darren Bent’s strike beat Liverpool’s Jose Reina with the help of a sizable deflection off said beach ball debate raged, especially as it had secured the Black Cats a 1-0 victory.
Liverpool’s players protested, other referees criticized the decision. For those in any doubt, FIFA’s laws of the game state “the referee should stop, suspend or abandon the match because of outside interference of any kind”, which meant the goal should have been ruled out and the match restarted with a drop ball.
April 21, 2001 — The worst tackle of all time?
Roy Keane’s challenge on Manchester City’s Alf Inge Haaland has been described by the City player himself as the “worst tackle ever.” The feud between the pair began in September 1997 at Elland Road. Keane, then United’s midfielder, had swung at Haaland, then playing for Leeds, and subsequently injured his own knee ligaments. The Norwegian stood over Keane, apparently telling him to stop feigning injury.
In his first autobiography, Keane wrote: “I’d waited almost 180 minutes for Alfie, three years if you look at it another way. Now he had the ball on the far touchline. I’d waited long enough. I hit him hard. The ball was there (I think).”
The midfielder was given a five-game ban and a record £150,000 fine from the Football Association. Three operations and two unsuccessful years of rehabilitation later, Haaland’s contract with City was terminated. In his most recent autobiography, Keane said he had no regrets over the tackle and denied he deliberately tried to injure Haaland.
January 16, 1999 — The wrong dugout
“I’m waving, I haven’t got a clue where I am,” is how Ron Atkinson described the moment he realized he was in the opposition team’s dugout. Former Manchester United manager Atkinson was in Barbados when he received a phone call asking if he could manage struggling Nottingham Forest.
After an overnight flight, the Englishman was faced with leading his new club out against Arsenal. The cameras and photographers were waiting to capture Forest’s new manager, little did they know they would capture one of the funniest moments in the league’s history.
May 14, 1995 — Blackburn win the title at Anfield
The season that will be remembered for when Alan Shearer and Chris Sutton’s goals took Blackburn Rovers to a first league title for 81 years. Between them, Shearer and Sutton (nicknamed “The SAS”) scored 49 of Rovers’ 80 league goals. The club’s rise through the divisions had been remarkable.
Former Liverpool great Kenny Dalglish became the club’s manager when they were in the bottom half of the second tier of English football. Aided by the millions of benefactor Jack Walker, and Dalglish’s canny signings, they won promotion to the new Premier League at the first attempt.
In their first season in the top flight they finished fourth, then were runners-up to Manchester United before being crowned champions in 1995, pipping United on the last day of the season by a point despite defeat by Liverpool.
May 15, 2004 — Arsenal’s ‘Invincibles’
Arsene Wenger’s team of the 2003-04 vintage is the first to win the Premier League title having not lost a game. They played 38 league games, won 26 and drew 12, scored 73 goals and conceded just 26, for a total of 90 points.
Captained by Frenchman Patrick Vieira, the team consisted of some of the greats of the Premier League era: Thierry Henry, Dennis Bergkamp, Ashley Cole and Sol Campbell.
Winning the title by 11 points, they were the first team since Preston North End in 1889 to achieve the feat in the top flight, having played 16 matches more.
October 24, 2004 — Battle of the Buffet
The Battle of the Buffet or Pizzagate, however you want to refer to this match at Old Trafford, it was one to remember — for what happened after the match as well as during. Tempers flared as Manchester United ended Arsenal’s 49-match unbeaten run with a 2-0 win, with a controversial penalty earned by Wayne Rooney adding to Arsenal’s ire.
As the teams made their way back down the tunnel to their dressing rooms, red mist descended and a mass row erupted. Sir Alex Ferguson and Arsene Wenger were said to be arguing when food from a dressing room buffet was thrown, including sandwiches, and, so the story goes, a slice of pizza slapped Ferguson on the face and Pizzagate was born.
April 2, 2005 — Bust-up between teammates
Three goals down and down to 10 men with eight minutes to go, things got worse for Newcastle United at St James’ Park against Aston Villa.
Teammates Kieron Dyer and Lee Bowyer took their frustrations out on each other, the pair locked horns and had to be dragged apart by teammates and Villa’s Gareth Barry. Referee Barry Knight sent off both players, leaving the Magpies with just eight players on the pitch. Both players had to later make a public apology in a press conference and were suspended.
August 17, 1996 — Beckham from the halfway line
The goal that launched a career. On the opening day of the season, Manchester United were playing Wimbledon at Selhurst Park and Beckham, wearing the No.10 shirt previously worn by the departed Mark Hughes, had just turned 21.
United were leading 2-0 when, in the final minute, Beckham collected the ball inside his own half, looked up and went for goal from 60 yards out. The ball floated over the head of goalkeeper Neil Sullivan and into the net. “I was more happy about the fact that Eric Cantona came up to me afterward and said ‘good goal.’ That was better than scoring the goal for me,'” Beckham has said.
June 2, 2004 — The ‘Special One’ arrives
Jose Mourinho was the man to herald a new era at Stamford Bridge. Russian oligarch Roman Abramovich had purchased Chelsea in 2003 and spent £100m on players but ended the first season without a trophy under then-manager Claudio Ranieri. Enter Mourinho, a Portuguese who had won the Champions League with Porto.
Mourinho’s press conference is the most mesmeric managerial unveiling of the Premier League era. “We have top players and, sorry if I’m arrogant, we have a top manager,” said the young Mourinho. “Please don’t call me arrogant, but I’m European champion and I think I’m a special one.”
April 20, 2013 — Suarez’s bite
Liverpool striker Luis Suarez made his mark on the Premier League in myriad ways. The striker will be remembered as one of the greatest goalscorers to have played in the league, but also as one of its most controversial.
The Uruguayan bit Chelsea defender Branislav Ivanovic during a match at Anfield, which led to a 10-match ban for the Liverpool player. Even Britain’s Prime Minister David Cameron had an opinion on the matter, calling on the Football Association to make an example of the player, which it did.
September 12, 2009 — Adebayor rubs it in
A few weeks after leaving Arsenal for Manchester City, Emmanuel Adebayor went up against his former club and scored City’s third goal in a 4-2 home victory. But it wasn’t for the goal itself that this match will be remembered, but the striker’s celebration — running the length of the field towards the Arsenal fans and sliding across the turf in front of them. The away fans were furious. Adebayor issued a public apology and, in defending their player to the Football Association, Manchester City said Adebayor was provoked.
May 15, 2005 — Robson’s West Brom stay up
Norwich, Crystal Palace, West Brom and Southampton all went into the final day of the 2004-05 season still battling against relegation, but only one of the four could survive.
West Brom, managed by former England and Manchester United captain Bryan Robson, had been bottom of the table at Christmas but fought in the final half of the season to be in with a chance in the last game. And on a dramatic day, Geoff Horsfield and Kieron Richardson scored to secure a 2-0 win over Portsmouth, maintaining their Premier League status by a point. Palace were eight minutes from safety until an equalizer from Charlton sent them down, while Norwich and Southampton joined them.
December 26, 2008 — The pitch becomes the dressing room
One of the strangest sights seen in the Premier League was when the then Hull City manager Phil Brown gave a halftime team talk on the pitch, wagging his finger in front of fans.
Brown was furious with his team’s first-half performance against Manchester City — they were 4-0 down — but his ploy had little impact as Hull went on to lose 5-1. “Our 4,000 traveling fans deserved some kind of explanation for the first-half performance and it was difficult for me to do that from the confines of a changing room,” said Brown at the time.
February 28, 2016 — Van Gaal takes a fall
Ah, Louis van Gaal. The then Manchester United boss, disagreeing with a refereeing decision late in the second half against Arsenal, decided to reenact what he thought was a dive by Alexis Sanchez.
He threw himself on the floor, much to the amusement of the thousands inside Old Trafford. The United manager later said he apologized to referee Craig Pawson for his theatrical behavior. “I was emotional,” he explained.
February 12, 2011 — Rooney’s bicycle kick
Wayne Rooney features twice on this list, but both goals will live forever in the memory. The England striker scored a stunning overhead kick to earn Manchester United a late winner against Manchester City, a victory which put United’s title challenge back on track. His celebration too — arms aloft, back to the away fans — is also one of English football’s most iconic moments.
August 3, 1999 — Arsenal sign Thierry Henry
There have been many incredible Premier League signings and Thierry Henry was undoubtedly one of them. The Frenchman had it all — pace, balance, touch, strength and swagger — and, for a period, not only was he the best player in the league, but arguably the best in the world too.
He spent eight years at Arsenal, scoring incredible goals and winning two Premier League titles, three FA Cups and becoming the club’s all-time leading goalscorer in the process.
January 30, 2008 — Ronaldo redefines the free-kick
Cristiano Ronaldo was in his Manchester United pomp. The Portugal star’s famous 30-yard free-kick found the top-right of the net to leave Portsmouth goalkeeper David James with little hope. “It was without doubt the best free-kick I’ve seen in the Premier League,” Sir Alex Ferguson said after the 2-0 victory.
January 25, 1995 — Cantona’s ‘king fu’ kick
A truly extraordinary moment. This is perhaps the most iconic image of the last 25 years. Manchester United’s Eric Cantona had just been sent off against Crystal Palace and as he made his way back to the dressing room, the Frenchman launched himself at Palace fan Matthew Simmons. The “kung-fu kick” earned him a nine-month ban. “People have said this is the most famous common assault case in the history of the English legal system,” said former United director and solicitor Maurice Watkins.
March 2, 2002 — Magical Bergkamp
A moment of genius from Dennis Bergkamp. The Dutchman not only scored a great goal, but an important one — decisive in Arsenal’s double-winning season. With his back to goal, the forward steered the ball around Newcastle defender Nikos Dabizas with his left foot, and swiveled the other side, meeting the ball again before slotting it past Shay Given. Two touches. One wonderful goal.
The 90s and 00s — Fergie time
Not one particular moment, but a lasting memory of the era — Fergie Time. It is a football phrase which has its own Wikiepdia page, explaining the perception that Manchester United received extra added time when they were losing, with the familiar sight of Ferguson pointing at the watch adding to the idea.