Premier League Heroes: Survival Sunday 1993

Four goalscorers, four heroes… but where are they now?

Oldham’s survival-securing 4-3 win over Southampton in May 1993, at the end of the inaugural Premier League season, was a monumental day in the history of the club – even if the good times were not to last.

 

Oldham Athletic 1993

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Norway’s Gunnar Halle (#2) was one of the Premier League’s first foreign imports. He made the final contribution to Oldham’s survival battle in 1993. Seven years later, he would again attain final day survival with Bradford City.

Twenty-five years ago, the Premier League was conceived and duly gestated amid a backdrop of hype and hope for an English game in decay.

Today, the global influence of the Premier League is self-evident, with international fan bases built on the foundation of postmodern dynasties.

While the legacy of championship-winning sides, such as “Fergie’s Fledglings” in the mid-1990s, has arguably been the genesis of the Premier League’s commercial success, the gradual growth of “Survival Sunday” into a distinct entity has also been a major boost where unrivalled drama and statistical scrutiny are concerned.

 

Blackburn Rovers v Liverpool 1993

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In May 2017, the Premier League will celebrate the end of its twenty-fifth season. For bookmakers such as Betfaircasino.com the final weekend of the Premier League season has always been one of the most eagerly anticipated events of the year.

With monetary stakes heightening by the year, the last quarter-century has seen an array of climactic survival battles, all varying in magnitude.

However, the Latics’ class of 1993 remains the only team in the new era to have successfully survived after requiring nothing less than three wins from the final three games.

As May 1993 dawned, Oldham Athletic faced an impossible task.

Firstly, the Latics would travel to title-chasing Aston Villa, followed by a midweek visit from Liverpool before the decisive home match with Southampton.

Many expected the first hurdle to be the one which finally felled Oldham, but Nick Henry’s 29th-minute goal proved decisive, as Oldham stunned Villa with a 1-0 win that also knocked the midland side out of the running for Premier League glory.

Three days later, fears of a mid-table Liverpool side suddenly rediscovering its former powers were quickly nullified. Comical goalkeeping from a young David James gifted Oldham two set-piece goals, for a final score of 3-2 in Oldham’s favour, setting up what would go down in history as a finale fit for champions.

On 8 May 1993, Oldham’s crew of scrappers took to the field at Boundary Park against Southampton, lining up as follows:

 

Oldham Athletic Team 1993

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Southampton had little to play for other than pride, but in midfielder Matthew Le Tissier, the Saints boasted by far the most dangerous player on the pitch.

The man from Jersey tormented the Oldham defence all afternoon, even with the Latics apparently cruising to victory at one point, bagging a hat trick as the home crowd’s nerves reached breaking point.

Oldham would not be daunted however, and four goals from as many different players saw Joe Royle’s men survive at the expense of present-day Premier League side Crystal Palace.

 

NEIL POINTON – 29 MINUTES

Britain was awash with a glorious spring day, but that could not stop a cruel Pennine wind ravaging Boundary Park. However, the elements enabled Oldham to draw first blood, as Neil Pointon’s inswinging corner found the net.

Pointon’s delivery from set pieces was an asset to Oldham, even when the club plunged into the old First Division a year later.

He is also notable for being the man who briefly put Oldham 1-0 up in the 1994 F.A Cup semi finals.

Though his professional playing career survived into the new century, Pointon’s managerial record is far less distinguished.

He managed just nine games in charge of non-league Hednesford during 2000/01, before receiving his marching orders as the club went down.

Today, Pointon coaches the Bolton Wanderers academy, with the ever-present hope that his experience in dealing with strife and decline can ultimately aid the resurgence of the Lancashire club.

 

IAN OLNEY – 44 MINUTES

Just five minutes after Pointon’s freakish opener, Le Tissier had equalised with ease. Oldham remained the better team, but lacked the composure to truly dominate.

Oldham took the lead for a second time at a crucial period, rocking Southampton just before the interval as Paul Gerrard’s long punt upfield was met by Olney.

After initially losing the ball, Olney was gifted a second chance by Halle, and he dispatched the ball without hesitation past future Premier League winner and England international Tim Flowers.

Psychologically, this was the most crucial goal of all, giving the Latics a vital confidence boost. Just sixteen goals from 88 appearances at Aston Villa had prompted Olney’s move to Boundary Park.

A much better scoring rate helped Oldham survive in 1992/93, but like Pointon, Olney too was part of the squad that eventually succumbed to the relegation reaper.

After leaving Oldham in 1996, Olney spent brief spells at Kidderminster and Forest Green, before leaving football for good to train as an independent financial advisor.

He continues to practice, keeping a low profile in his native Birmingham.

 

ANDY RITCHIE – 54 MINUTES

Royle’s Oldham emerged from the dressing room with the right attitude, and proved unplayable over the following twenty minutes.

Halle was once again influential on the right side, playing in a superb cross which Ritchie could not fail to convert past Flowers.

As a Manchester local, Ritchie’s margin-doubling strike was sublime. After joining Oldham in 1987, his attacking abilities from midfield correlated directly with the Latics’ surge up the old First Division and subsequent promotion to the top flight.

Along with Pointon, Ritchie departed Oldham in 1995, having amassed a record of 104 goals in 250 appearances. He spent two years at Scarborough, before making a return to Boundary Park.

Sadly for Ritchie, his second playing spell at Oldham proved dismal, but he was to be rewarded for his loyalty, and found himself in the managerial hotseat as the new century dawned.

After being sacked from Oldham in 2001, Ritchie’s next managerial post would come at Oakwell in 2005, and he helped a Barnsley side in disarray gain promotion back to the second tier.

However, after Barnsley made a poor start to 2006/07, Ritchie once more felt the wrath of the chairman’s proverbial axe.

A brief spell at Huddersfield in 2007/08 remains Ritchie’s last managerial post. He currently works as a pundit with BBC Radio Leeds.

 

GUNNAR HALLE – 63 MINUTES

Having made some vital moves to put Oldham 3-1 up in the first place, Halle scored Oldham’s fourth goal – which would prove vital in the latter stages.

A reversal of roles for the third goal saw Ritchie play through to Halle, whose low effort trickled past Flowers for 4-1.

That should have ended matters in an instant, but all connected to Oldham would endure an agonising climax, with Le Tissier scoring again just three minutes later, and completing his hat trick six minutes from time.

Thankfully for Oldham, it was Halle’s contribution that saved the day and gave the Latics what would ultimately be a mere stay of execution.

By 1996, a further relegation was looming, and the Norwegian duly left Boundary Park to join a Leeds side that itself looked ripe for the dreaded drop after a poor 1995/96.

Leeds improved significantly over the course of Halle’s 83 appearances, but the emergence of young upstarts such as Jonathan Woodgate, Alan Smith and Harry Kewell under David O’Leary made him surplus to requirements.

Halle’s next destination was to be Valley Parade, the newest host of Premier League football after the Bantams had gained promotion in 1999.

He joined a squad strewn with veterans, and some miraculous late season form saw Bradford scrape survival after a largely painful season.

In an echo back to his Oldham days, Halle could not escape Premier League relegation for a second year in succession.

There was little he could do individually to prevent Bradford’s overdue relegation, but the club’s pitiful return of 26 points in 2000/01 remains a black mark for all involved.

Seven nondescript appearances for Wolverhampton in 2002 prompted Halle to return to Norway.

He made 32 appearances for Lillestrom in the Tippeligaen before his retirement from playing in 2003.

After managerial stints at a number of clubs across Norway, Halle currently plies his trade as an assistant manager in the second tier of Norwegian football with Strømmen IF.

 

JOE ROYLE – MANAGER

Oldham’s former manager Joe Royle is perhaps most famous for guiding Everton to survival and an F.A Cup in 1995.

His famous midfield trio of Joe Parkinson, John Ebbrell and Barry Horne became known as the “Dogs of War”.

After a hugely impressive 1995/96 season with Everton, which saw the Toffees narrowly miss out on UEFA Cup qualification, his fortunes – and those of Everton – quickly declined.

A strong first half of 1996/97 gave way to an injury crisis and post-Christmas freefall, culminating in his departure in March 1997.

In 1998, he took over a Manchester City side that occupied the third tier of English football and failed to gain automatic promotion.

The blue half of Manchester went up via the playoff finals of May 1999, but not before overturning a 2-0 deficit to Gillingham with mere minutes to spare at Wembley.

A second successive promotion was followed by an insipid 2000/01 season which saw City relegated from the Premier League with barely a whimper, and Royle subsequently sacked.

His managerial swansong would come at Ipswich, where his calming influence helped a club in administration reach the playoffs on two occasions, before a decline that prompted his departure by mutual consent.

After taking charge of Oldham temporarily in 2009, he spent a brief spell at Norwich as a football consultant, before finally returning home to Goodison Park as a developer of youth talent.

 

Joe Royle

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Joe Royle has a proud track record of stabilising clubs in trouble, but he was unable to repeat Oldham’s escape act of 1993 the following season. He has since returned to Goodison Park.

Though it will be a lifetime until the Latics can again truly aspire to return to the bright lights of the Premier League, Oldham’s story of improbable survival in 1992/93 will always remain a model example of what can be achieved through team spirit and determination against all odds.

Written by Tamhas Woods

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