Look Away Now: Match Of The Day, 27th January 1996

With Manchester United beating Arsenal at the Emirates Stadium last night, the FA Cup Fourth Round weekend has begun, and this morning we’re going all the way back to the 27th January 1996, for the corresponding round of the competition from that year. This edition of Match of the Day was headlined by an Everton which had slid from a lofty perch since last winning the First Division title in 1987. The club’s slide following that had been starting to look irreversible. From first place in 1987 to eighth in 1990, and then to seventeenth in 1994, when they had to come from two goals behind on the last day of the season to beat Wimbledon in order to hold on to a top flight place that they’ve had since 1953, the second longest, after Arsenal.

Their 1994/95 league season saw a disastrous start to the season, with the team drawing four and losing eight of their first twelve league matches of the season, before finally beating West Ham United on the first of November. This wasn’t enough to save manager Mike Walker, who was sacked and replaced by Joe Royle after a goalless draw at Norwich City, a few days later. His replacement Joe Royle arrived with a bang with a Merseyside derby win against Liverpool in his first match, and Everton finally hauled themselves clear of the relegation places. They ended in fifteenth place, on fifty points. Five points clear of the the relegation places.

They’d been in the top six in the form table for the second half of the season, though. Set against that, Manchester United had been pipped to the post by Blackburn Rovers in the Premier League, and their flatness following this was probably understandable. As such, the result perhaps wasn’t quite the massive shock that a quick glance at the league table would suggest. Everton won the 1995 FA Cup Final with a Paul Rideout goal, a scuffed shot to win a scuffed match.

Their match against Port Vale is the lead match, which is a clear signifier that something must have happened at Goodison Park that afternoon, because such a match wouldn’t normally be shown as the headline match otherwise. The same goes for the next match, Tottenham Hotspur against Wolverhampton Wanderers. Another home match for a Premier League team against opposition from a lower division. Third and finally, it’s Reading against Manchester United, the match that the BBC clearly wanted to be the big surprise of the weekend. John Motson had been sent, after all.

At this point, Match of the Day is very much in its imperial stage. The show had grown wings after winning the rights to show Saturday night highlights of Premier League matches in 1992, and for this Sunday night episode the host is Des Lynam (now moving towards  the twilight of the six year period that would come to define him as a sports broadcaster), with Trevor Brooking and Alan Hansen providing analysis. The banter is kept low-key, the atmosphere is light-hearted but ultimately serious, and the whole feel edition feels polished, but much more like “old football” than it does like today’s. The creeping hand of Soccer AM culture hadn’t quite infected it yet.