LEE WYNNE remembers the formative stages of Alan Shearer’s love-affair with hitting the back of Premier League nets.
The excitement in the pit of a fan’s stomach is a familiar one felt at the beginning of each new season. The previous campaign a distant memory, they dare to dream once more.
The start of the 1992/93 English football season saw the dawn of a new era. On 27 May 1992, the FA Premier League was formed and would change the landscape of English football forever. BSkyB bought the rights to broadcast live games, which in turn significantly increased the revenue for clubs in the top division.
Fresh from a play-off Final win over Leicester City, Blackburn Rovers approached their first season at the top table of English Football for 26 years. With Kenny Dalglish at the helm, and backed by owner and steel magnate Jack Walker’s millions, Rovers had aspirations to make an indelible mark on the Premier League for seasons to come.
The first sign that Rovers meant business was the headline-grabbing capture of Alan Shearer from Southampton for a British-record transfer fee of £3.6million. Manchester United, runners-up to Leeds United the previous season, competed with Rovers for Shearer’s signature that summer but the Geordie opted for Ewood Park after meeting with both clubs. Much to Alex Ferguson’s dismay, the lure of working with Dalglish and his assistant, the late Ray Harford, proved decisive.
At the age of 21, Shearer was the hottest property in the land. His goal scoring record on the south coast culminated in an England call-up and debut goal against France at Wembley. These performances also earned the centre-forward a place on the plane to Sweden for England’s disastrous Euro 1992 performance under the stewardship of Graham Taylor.
Back to domestic duties, all eyes were on a sweltering Selhurst Park as the Lancastrians travelled south to play Steve Coppell’s Crystal Palace on the first weekend of the new season. If there were any doubts whether Shearer could handle the pressure and expectation, by the time Roger Milford had blown for full time the Geordie had allayed any such fears.
Dalglish’s starting line-up paired play-off hero Mike Newell with Shearer, the duo forming a combative forward line that would test the Eagles defence to its limits. Rovers also gave debuts to midfielder Tim Sherwood and winger Stuart Ripley.
The opening half was full of endeavour but both teams failed to get a foothold in a game played in stifling heat. The only two pieces of quality in the first 45 minutes came from the home sides’ Mark Bright and the aforementioned Ripley. Bright gave Crystal Palace the lead only to see the former Middlesbrough man drift into the box to equalise with an unmarked header.
Rovers fell behind again to a Gareth Southgate volley and so the scene was set for Shearer to catapult himself onto the back pages of the Sunday newspapers. A long ball to Newell was nodded down to the England centre-forward who cushioned the ball on his chest before unleashing a dipping half-volley that sailed over Nigel Martyn and into the roof of the net.
The game ebbed and flowed as both teams chased a winning start to their season. With 81 minutes on the clock, the new Blackburn number nine got onto the end of a defensive clearance in the left channel of the Eagles half. He cut inside before bending an unstoppable shot around Eric Young and into the bottom corner of the net from 25 yards.
Crystal Palace hit back managed to salvage a draw with the last attack of the game, the head of Simon Osborn denying Dalglish’s men an opening day victory. Despite the late equaliser the day belonged to Shearer who capped his Premier League debut with two goals.
Guided by Dalglish, and the continued investment of Jack Walker, Blackburn went on to win the Premier League two seasons later. This would prove to be the only domestic silverware that Shearer would win in a career of individual accolades.
Shearer left Rovers in 1996 and signed for his beloved hometown club of Newcastle United for a world-record fee of £15million. He retired from football in 2006 as the Premier League all-time record scorer with 260 goals.