From Anfield ‘89 to Agüero in 2012: five other final-day title finishes

As Manchester City and Liverpool gear up for the Premier League finale, five previous last-day title winners relive the tension and the euphoria of their big triumphs

1971-72

State of play going into the final day Derby were top but played their last league game a week before Leeds and Liverpool, their closest challengers, finished their fixtures. Leeds needed a draw at Wolves to be champions, and Liverpool needed to beat Arsenal at Highbury.

What happened? Derby won their first top-flight title after Leeds lost 2-1 and Liverpool were held to a 0-0 draw.

John O’Hare 248 league appearances for Derby 1967-1974

“The players were in Mallorca when those final games were played. We used to go there at the end of every season, just to relax and have a few beers, so this wasn’t a trip to escape the pressure or anything like that. We couldn’t do any more than we had. The massive game for us was to beat Liverpool at home in our last game of the season, when John McGovern scored, to give us a slight chance to win it. But you’d still have thought that at least one of the results that we needed would have gone against us, especially as Leeds were the best side of that era.

“Peter Taylor, the assistant manager, was in charge of us in Mallorca because Brian Clough had gone to the Isles of Scilly. The players stayed at the Castell de Mar in Cala Millor, but the management would always stay at another hotel, about 100 yards away, and it was there we found out we were champions. Making a call from Spain wasn’t that simple in those days, but Peter managed to get the news over the phone from people back home who were getting updates via the radio.

“I remember that we threw Peter in the swimming pool – we’d never seen him swim, so I think it was in the shallow end – and then stayed up until about two in the morning celebrating. The next day the press came to see us by the pool, which is when those pictures of us sitting on a diving board and wearing sombreros were taken.”

1988-89

State of play Liverpool were three points ahead of Arsenal, with a superior (+4) goal difference. Arsenal needed to beat Liverpool at Anfield by two clear goals.

What happened? Arsenal won 2-0, with Michael Thomas scoring the second goal in injury time.

Nigel Winterburn 584 Arsenal appearances 1987-2000

“For me, it was the greatest ever finish to a season because it’s the top two teams going head to head in the final game. We should have won the league two or three matches before, but we drew with Wimbledon and lost to Derby. So people had written us off and thought that winning at Anfield by two clear goals would be too much.

“But George [Graham, Arsenal’s manager] was super-confident as always. Whereas most people were saying we would have to come out all guns blazing, George’s philosophy was that the game was dead if we let in a goal. At half-time he said that if we scored he thought Liverpool would panic. When I look back, that’s exactly what they did.

“We’d always work on free-kicks from opposite sides, so usually from the right I would whip them in with my left foot, aiming to hit the back post. Alan [Smith] got a touch and that was a huge turning point, because if we hadn’t scored then it would probably have drifted towards a 0-0.

“We still needed a second and, with the game in injury time, I think a lot of keepers would have knocked it long straight away. But John Lukic bowled it out to Lee [Dixon], he knocked it forward, there was a flick on by Alan and then Mickey Thomas was onto it. I was about five yards outside of Mickey, on his left, and as he’s going through it was like watching something unfolding in individual picture frames on a wall. Time stood still. We had one chance, in the final minute of the last game of the season, to change the destiny of where the trophy was going and, fortunately for us, Mickey, who is super-cool, took that opportunity.

Liverpool v Arsenal 1989
It’s up for grabs now: Nigel Winterburn turns away in celebration at Michael Thomas’s late title-winner in 1989. Photograph: Mark Leech/Offside/Getty Images

1994-95

State of play Blackburn were two points ahead of United, with an inferior goal difference. United had to win at West Ham and hope that Blackburn dropped points against Liverpool.

What happened? Blackburn lost 2-1 but United were held to a 1-1 draw.

Graeme Le Saux 129 Premier League appearances for Blackburn 1993-97

“Every player has moments like this in the buildup – and they’re a liar if they say otherwise – when you can’t wait and you see everything in a positive way, or days when you think: ‘I don’t know about this. I might not play well today.’ It’s like the angel and devil. But I went into that Liverpool game so positive.

“One of the hardest parts was the atmosphere. Anfield is normally quite hostile, but it felt relaxed that afternoon. I had Liverpool fans saying to me in the warm-up: ‘You’ve got to win the league.’ We didn’t play well but we scored first and I remember coming in at half-time and Stuart Ripley, our right-winger, saying in front of everyone: ‘I can’t feel my bloody legs’ because he felt so nervous.

“The only time I was aware what was going on in the United game was when Jamie Redknapp scored Liverpool’s second from a free-kick in injury-time. We were devastated but then you started to hear this noise in the corner, from the Blackburn fans, and that travelled up the side of the pitch towards the dugout, because the Liverpool supporters wanted to tell Kenny [Dalglish, the Blackburn manager] that United had drawn and we’d won the title. And then all of a sudden our dugout started going mad.

“Because Kenny’s superstitious we had nothing planned for afterwards and we ended up in a restaurant in Preston. We gave Tony Gale, who used to play for West Ham, some money to get Ludek Miklosko a bottle of champagne. I’ve never seen that United game but I heard that it was like Roy-of-the-Rovers stuff from Miklosko.”

Blackburn 1995
Graeme Le Saux and Ian Pearce (Blackburn) celebrate with the Premiership trophy. Photograph: Colorsport/Rex/Shutterstock

1995-96

State of play Manchester United were two points ahead of Newcastle, who had to win against Tottenham and hope United lost at Middlesbrough.

What happened? United won 3-0 at Middlesbrough, while Newcastle were held to a 1-1 draw.

Gary Pallister 437 United appearances 1989-1997

“We felt confident but you never know, especially playing away from home. West Ham had nothing to play for the year before, when they drew 1-1 with us at Upton Park and celebrated as if they’d won the league.

Middllesbrough v Manchester
Gary Pallister (third from left), joins the congratulations of goalscorer Andy Cole (hidden) as Manchester United seal the title at Middlesbrough. Photograph: Getty Images

“I think we struggled in the first 10 minutes or so at Boro and then David May scored and we played with a bit of a freedom. It was great for me to win the title at Boro. I used to get a bit of stick whenever I went back because I’d asked to leave. I remember we were walking around the pitch afterwards and there were quite a few Middlesbrough supporters still there, and Fergie came up to me and said I should take the trophy over to them. I said: ‘You’re joking, aren’t you?’ He said: ‘Nah, they’ll give you a good reception.’ I said: ‘No, no.’ He said: ‘I’m telling you.’ So I did it and got applauded by them. That was a really nice feeling because I’d spent so many years on the terraces at Middlesbrough and played for them for five years.”

2011-12

State of play Manchester City were level on points with Manchester United but had a superior goal difference. United needed to better City’s result.

What happened? United won 1-0 but City beat QPR 3-2, after scoring twice in injury time.

Joleon Lescott 109 Premier League appearances for City 2009-2014

“I don’t like to watch the QPR game back – I still worry a little bit that we might not get it done. No one expected it, or wanted it, to go the way that it did that afternoon. We were in control of our own destiny beforehand and when Zaba [Pablo Zabaleta] went through and scored our first, we didn’t think it was over but we knew we were strong at home.

Man City v QPR
‘Carnage. Absolute carnage.’ Sergio Agüero snatches the title for Manchester City in injury time in 2012. Photograph: Peter Powell/EPA

“The error from myself then led to their equaliser. I never got too fazed by mistakes. We were drawing, you look at the big boys – Sergio [Agüero], Carlos [Tevez], Yaya [Touré] and David [Silva], and think they’ll score. But when QPR got their second, that was like: ‘Oh my God. Now it’s drifting away from us.’ Speaking to other players they were thinking the same as me, things like: ‘I can’t even go to pick up my kids from school. I don’t want to go on holiday this year if we don’t win this title.’

“We were going all out to get a goal – myself and Vinny [Kompany] were taking it in turns to go up for attacks – and then Edin [Dzeko] scored in the 92nd minute. I was stood right behind him at the time. The rest is history. It’s probably the only time that Sergio ever came short to get the ball. He created a little bit of space and then Mario [Balotelli], with his only Premier League assist, set him up. It was never in doubt. You can see Sergio compose himself. His standing foot is so precise and pivotal, and that’s what allows him to hit the ball so cleanly. When the ball goes in, it’s carnage. Absolute carnage.”