15 of the Most Iconic Moments in Premier League History
Since its inception in time for the 1992-93 season, the Premier League has consistently produced drama, excitement and unpredictable events on—and occasionally off—the pitch.
There have been dramatic title chases, frantic relegation battles and many, many remarkable goals.
Here are 15 of the most iconic moments in Premier League history.
David Beckham Scores from the Halfway Line Against Wimbledon
When the average fan is asked for the one Premier League goal he remembers above all others, this just might be it.
It is easy to forget just how remarkable David Beckham's strike was at the time—English football had simply never really seen such technique, grace and purity of strike like it before. John Motson's commentary of the moment sums up perfectly the reaction of most fans.
Just 21 years old at the time and still a relatively small presence in the United team, this goal underlined Beckham's star quality. He went on to become a truly global superstar.
Almost a year earlier, Beckham had helped United forge another iconic moment—deriding Alan Hansen's infamous "You'll win nothing with kids" comment, as he and his fellow United academy graduates won the title.
Remember the Name! 16-Year-Old Wayne Rooney Beats Arsenal
There are ways to announce your arrival on the national stage, and then there is the way Wayne Rooney chose to do so.
The trainee, on just £80, came on against the Premier League's best side at that time and ended their 30-match unbeaten run with a truly outstanding goal—taking the ball down over his shoulder, spinning on it and curling a pinpoint effort that evaded David Seaman's despairing dive as it kissed the underside of the bar on its way into the net.
From The Guardian report of that game:
If it had to end, this was as fitting and captivating a finale as any. Arsenal, untouchable for 30 league matches, are human after all, though they left Merseyside wondering whether the teenager who spoiled that record in a late blur was similarly of this world.
"He's supposed to be 16," Arsène Wenger winced in disbelief, his normally phlegmatic dead pan wrecked by Wayne Rooney.
The Frenchman's team have overcome all comers en route to establishing themselves as the best in the country but they could muster no resistance to the £80-a-week teenager's clever control and blistering 30-yard curler within 10 minutes of his entrance and 28 seconds from the end.
Rooney became the Premier League's youngest-ever scorer with the strike, beating Michael Owen by 149 days. Everyone could see he was destined to be something special, as could Arsene Wenger:
Owen's a complete striker but I didn't see him play at 16, ... At that age, Rooney is already a complete footballer. The guy can play.
He's the best English under-20 I've seen since I came here [in 1996]. He can play people in, he's clever and a natural, built like a Gascoigne with his low centre of gravity. And he can dribble—I like strikers who can dribble.
Luis Suarez Takes a Bite out of Branislav Ivanovic
It's a measure of Luis Suarez's footballing talent that, despite biting one player and racially abusing another, those two incidents are not all we will remember him for—whether or not his long-term future remains at Liverpool.
Yet, if asked for a first, instant memory of the Uruguayan, in all probability most will remember the forward biting Branislav Ivanovic in a match between Chelsea and Liverpool at Anfield earlier this year.
It was a surprising, shocking moment—Ivanovic was instantly incensed by Suarez's conduct, but almost no one in the ground or watching on television was able to pick up what exactly had happened straight away.
Only replays uncovered the true extent of the striker's crime.
Suarez is not the first Premier League player to let the red mist descend, and he won't be the last, but he will always remain one of the most memorable.
Kevin Keegan Would Love It If We Beat Them
It's become very much a moment of its time—where was Kevin Keegan taking this interview, in a teenager's bedroom?!—but it remains one of the most memorable in the history of the Premier League.
Sir Alex Ferguson, rightfully, will go down as one of the greatest managers of all time—but every icon needs his rival, and Keegan, for a short while at least, played that role.
Newcastle were 12 points clear at one stage in the 1995-96 title race but slowly crumbled and, after a vital win over Leeds United in front of the Sky cameras, Keegan infamously became the most high-profile victim of Ferguson's mind games.
Ranting against Ferguson's calculated suggestions that other teams might try harder against Manchester United than Newcastle, Keegan lost his cool in front of the world—and everyone realised he had already lost the title race, too.
Keegan gained a measure of revenge the next season, as Newcastle beat United 5-0 with defender Philippe Albert sealing the triumph with the impudent chip (a close contender for this list in its own right), but losing the title in 1996 seemed to break him, as he eventually left the club.
Jose Mourinho Is a "Special One"
"Please don't call me arrogant..." is rarely the best way to convince anyone of anything other than the fact that you are, without question, extremely arrogant.
Finishing the thought with "... but I think I am a special one" hardly helps either. Yet, far from becoming the noose by which a baying public would slowly hang him, Jose Mourinho's self-assigned moniker quickly became an affectionate nickname embraced by a wider public in thrall to his style.
The media, perhaps sensing that this was a man who would liven up both their jobs and the Premier League in general, never gave him the stick that any other foreign manager with a similarly inflated opinion of their own ability might have received for such a comment.
Then again, as Mourinho pointed out, he had just won the Champions League with Porto.
Mourinho won the title with Chelsea in his first season and went to play a key role in making the league the internationally followed competition it is today. And he set the tone from his very first press conference.
Eric Cantona Kicks out at a Fan
This is perhaps the iconic crime of the Premier League era.
Eric Cantona, a mercurial talent on the pitch, earned himself a nine-month ban after attempting to kung-fu kick a Crystal Palace fan who had abused him after he had been sent off in Manchester United's game at Selhurst Park in 1995.
Eric Cantona was banned for eight months after this infamous kick on a Crystal Palace fan. (25th January, 1995) pic.twitter.com/eALEyH0F9l— Football Memories (@Footy__Memories) October 11, 2013
Something of a pariah for his conduct, many expected Cantona to leave the club as a result of his ban. But Manchester United stuck by him, and the Frenchman rewarded them by continuing to lead them to further Premier League titles and FA Cups—becoming an icon of English football in his own right.
Agueeeeerrrooooooo! City Seal the Title in Remarkable Fashion
Of the many tense title races there had been in the Premier League era, none quite matched the drama of the 1988-89 Division One conclusion—as Arsenal got the last-minute goal they needed, at Anfield, to pip Liverpool to the title on goal difference.
That changed in 2012, however, as Manchester City and Manchester United played out the most dramatic Premier League conclusion ever. After beating Sunderland 1-0 at the Stadium of Light, United knew they would be champions as long as City continued to draw 2-2 with relegation-threatened QPR at the Etihad Stadium.
Then, deep into injury time, Sergio Aguero struck.
Manchester City had duly won their first title in 44 years, beating out their arch-rivals in the process thanks to a last-minute goal. You almost couldn't script it.
Phil Brown Gives His Team-Talk on the Pitch
If Jose Mourinho could get away with proclaiming his own brilliance, then other managers were not always so fortunate.
One of them was Phil Brown, who was widely mocked for taking his half-time team-talk out on the pitch, after his Hull City had put up a horribly abject first-half display against Manchester City at the Etihad Stadium.
Hull actually stayed up that season, and Brown celebrated by signing on the pitch at the KC Stadium. But it soon went wrong for the Tigers, and Brown was sacked during the following campaign.
When Hull visited City that next term, Jimmy Bullard—similarly memorably—cheekily mocked prior events after scoring a penalty, further etching it into Premier League lore.
Liverpool's 4-3 Thriller with Newcastle
The Premier League is ultimately about its football matches, and perhaps the best one in its history (to date) came at Anfield in April 1996.
Newcastle United and Liverpool enjoyed some enthralling battles between each other during the period, and indeed the fixture can continue to be relied upon to provide excitement. But this was perhaps the best of the lot—with Stan Collymore clinching victory in the depths of injury time to round off an enthralling contest.
Ask most fans for the greatest matches in the history of the competition—this one will never be far from the top.
Wayne Rooney Wins the Derby with the Most Memorable of Goals
If Wayne Rooney's first goal announced him on the scene in suitably emphatic fashion, then this is perhaps the one that will be given prime position in the compilations of his greatest-ever goals whenever he retires.
It's easy to forget that, at the time, Rooney's status with the Manchester United fans was slightly unstable—the forward having only recently publicly questioned the club's ambition, asking to leave amid reported interest from City.
He eventually changed his mind about the departure, but this goal did more to convince the fans than any words to the media ever could. Reacting instinctively to a deflected cross, Rooney launched into an overhead kick that sent the ball beyond Joe Hart—clinching a derby victory over the club's arch-rivals.
His celebration—arms aloft, back to the away fans—confirmed the moment's iconic status.
As Rooney described the aftermath in his autobiography, My Decade in the Premier League:
Who I am and what I’ve done comes back to me in a rush, a hit, like a boxer coming round after a sniff of smelling salts.
I’m Wayne Rooney. I’ve played Premier League football since 2002 and I’ve just scored the winning goal in a Manchester derby—probably the most important game of the season to fans from the red half of town.
A goal that puts our noisy neighbours—the other lot—in their place. A goal that reminds them United have more history and more success than they do right now. A goal that warns the rest of the country we’re on our way to winning another Premier League title.
As I stand with my arms spread wide, head back, I can feel the hate coming from the City fans behind me, it’s like static electricity. The abuse, the screaming and swearing, is bouncing off me. I don’t give a toss.
Delia Smith Wants Norwich Fans to Make Some Noise
Nothing reminds you of the Premier League quite like a (possibly slightly inebriated) celebrity TV chef going on the pitch to try to rouse the supporters of the club she co-owned.
Delia Smith will never live this moment down, as she took to the microphone at half-time during Norwich's match with Manchester City.
The speech was to no avail, alas, as the Canaries would be relegated on the last day of the season.
Any football phrase that earns its own Wikipedia page can safely say it has managed to gain its place in wider sporting culture.
"Fergie Time" was the name given to the phenomenon (or perception) of Manchester United receiving extra injury time in games at Old Trafford that they were not winning—time that the club often used to maximum effect, scoring plenty of last-gasp goals over the years.
Ferguson admitted to putting pressure on referees after announcing his retirement, joking that he would even try to pass on his famous watch to successor David Moyes.
He told the Daily Mail in May:
He [Moyes] will get one [a watch], don’t worry, we’ve got good sponsors.
The fourth official on Sunday showed me the board and it said eight minutes. I said, “think again!”.
That’s been a part of it too, the pressure you try and put on referees. But I save mind games for opponents.
Did Fergie Time really exist? A BBC investigation later found that Manchester United games they were losing had 79 seconds more injury time than those they were winning—more than any other team.
Thierry Henry Gets One over the Old Rivals
When you score a goal and your club subsequently commission a statue of the celebration, it's safe to say the moment was suitably iconic.
Thierry Henry's solo goal against Tottenham in 2002 was the epitome of everything that made the Frenchman such a great player—the touch, the acceleration, the clarity of thought and clinical finishing—while the celebration seemed to embody the other aspects of the player—his arrogance, self-confidence and swagger.
A great moment from a great player.
Keane and Vieira Go to War
For nearly a decade, Roy Keane and Patrick Vieira were the embodiment of the Premier League's most heated rivalry, as Manchester United and Arsenal duked it out season after season for title glory.
As captains of their respective sides throughout that period, Keane and Vieira felt it was their duty to set the tone in their individual battle—a responsibility they took very seriously, with disputes occasionally spilling over beyond the pitch.
The most famous example of this was in the tunnel at Highbury in 2005, when Keane took offence to some comments Vieira made at Gary Neville.
However, a recent ITV documentary on the pair revealed the duo always had a great deal of mutual respect.
Di Canio's Moments of Fair and Foul Play
Paolo di Canio may have scored one of the greatest goals in Premier League history (if not the best), during his playing days, but it is perhaps this moment of sportsmanship that lingers most in the memory.
As Everton's goalkeeper Paul Gerrard went down with an injury, di Canio grabbed the ball and stopped play rather than try to take advantage of the goalkeeper's misfortune to try to score.
At a time when football was becoming ever-more commercialised and increasingly cynical, it was a reminder that there was still a place for good ol' fashioned sportsmanship—and from one of the most unlikely sources.
Why was he an unlikely source? Well, because only a few years earlier he had been banned for 11 matches for pushing over referee Paul Alcock.