Five Dramatic Title Finishes


As Manchester City and Liverpool head into the final day of the Premier League season, both are still hopeful of winning the Premier League. Across Europe’s leagues there have been some incredible title climaxes, here’s a reminder that the extraordinary can happen on the final day with a look back at five nail biting finales.

1989 English First Division: Fever Pitch

Positions at the start of play:

1. Liverpool: 76 Points Goal Diff +39, Goals For 65

2. Arsenal: 73 Points, Goal Diff +35, Goals For 71

The conclusion of the 1989 First Division provided a drama never seen before and unlikely to be equalled, but it was a drama born out of tragedy. At the FA Cup semifinal 96 Liverpool fans died in the Hillsborough tragedy. Liverpool, both as a club and city fell into mourning. Fixtures were postponed including the home league game against title rivals Arsenal. Arsenal and West Ham’s trips to Anfield were postponed until after the rest of the League calendar had been played, to the week after the FA Cup Final.

Liverpool won an emotional Cup Final against Everton and three days later thrashed West Ham 5-1 to move ahead of Arsenal in the League. As Arsenal pitched up at Anfield the maths were simple: Arsenal would have to beat Liverpool by two clear goals to be crowned champions by virtue of more goals scored, anything less and Liverpool would win The Double.

Arsenal walked onto the pitch bearing bouquets of flowers for the Hillsborough victims, but once the game started they were all business. Liverpool seemed unsure if to stick or twist but it was still going according to plan as they went in 0-0 at halftime. Early in the second half Alan Smith gave Arsenal hope by nodding home and on 74 minutes Michael Thomas found himself open but shot tamely at Bruce Grobbelaar.

It seemed Liverpool would see it out as the game entered two minutes of injury time. Liverpool’s John Barnes had the ball on the left wing, but rather than head to the corner flag to see out the final seconds Barnes tried to glide into the box only to lose the ball to Kevin Richardson. Richardson passed back to John Lukic, who threw the ball to Lee Dixon. Dixon’s long ball found Smith, flicked to Thomas who got past Steve Nichol and coolly slid the ball under Grobbelaar to hand Arsenal the title. Arsenal had done it with almost the last kick of the season, winning their first title since 1971 and inspiring Nick Hornby’s bestseller.

Final Positions:

1. Arsenal: 76 Points, Goal Diff +37, Goals For 73

2. Liverpool: 76 Points Goal Diff +37, Goals For 65

Image Credit:

1992 German Bundesliga: Brave New World

Positions at the start of play:

1. Eintracht Frankfurt: 50 points, Goal Diff +36

2. VfB Stuttgart: 50 Points, Goal Diff +29

3. Borussia Dortmund: 50 Points, Goal Diff +18

The 1991-92 Bundesliga season was historic before a ball had been kicked, as it marked the first season of the reunified Bundesliga within the reunified Germany.  Bayern Munich didn’t read the script and slumped to a tenth place finish, their worst season in three decades. In Bayern’s absence 3 contenders emerged for the title; Borussia Dortmund, Eintracht Frankfurt and VfB Stuttgart, all of whom were tied on 50 points with 1 game to play.

Frankfurt had missed the chance to press home their advantage by drawing their penultimate game, but held the edge on goal difference and appeared to have the easiest fixture at lowly Rostock. Dortmund would face relegation threatened Duisburg and Stuttgart had the toughest fixture against Bayer Leverkusen.

Dortmund took an early lead via Stefan Chapuisat and never looked like relinquishing it, meanwhile Stuttgart conceded an early goal in Leverkusen before drawing level before halftime. In the second half Frankfurt fell behind but quickly equalized and one more goal would hand them the title.

However with 15 minutes to play Dortmund were still the only contender winning and Ottmar Hitzfeld’s side looked set for glory. Then, with time running out in Rostock, referee Alfons Berg took centre-stage. Frankfurt’s Ralf Weber was hacked down in the box by Stefan Boger for a stonewall penalty but incredibly Berg waved play on. With Frankfurt frantically pressing for the winner Rostock broke forward in the 89th minute, Boger grabbed the winner and Frankfurt were out of the running.

Just as Dortmund’s fans thought they’d snatched the title, there was one last act in the drama. Stuttgart had been reduced to 10 men after star man Matthias Sammer had been red carded, but were still level in Leverkusen. In the 86th minute defender Guido Buchwald headed home to hand Stuttgart the title. To this day Berg and Boger are remembered with infamy in Frankfurt.

Final Positions

1. VfB Stuttgart: 52 Points, Goal Diff +30

2. Borussia Dortmund: 52 Points, Goal Diff +19

3. Eintracht Frankfurt: 50 points, Goal Diff +35

Image Credit: Daily Record

2005 Scottish Premier League: Helicopter Sunday

Positions at the start of play:

1. Celtic: 92 Points Goal Diff +51

2. Rangers: 90 Points, Goal Diff +54

After Rangers had dominated Scottish football in the 1990s, Celtic had fought back in the new millennium under the stewardship of Martin O’Neill , winning three of the preceding four titles heading into the 2004-05 season.

As expected the ‘Old Firm’ rivals separated themselves from the rest of the pack early, pulling out a 30 point advantage over third placed Hibernian. The four ‘Old Firm’ League clashes produced a pair of wins a piece, but in a closely fought campaign it was Celtic who edged ahead with one game to play. Both faced away trips on the final Sunday of the season with Celtic at Motherwell and Rangers away to Hibs. A win would be enough for Celtic, but anything less and Rangers could take the title.

With the destination of the title uncertain and the possible champions playing in Motherwell and Edinburgh, the SPL had a helicopter waiting to deliver the trophy. In the first half at Fir Park, Celtic took the lead through Chris Sutton and looked comfortable, meanwhile at Easter Road, Rangers were being held 0-0. Rangers manager Alex McLeish later admitted there were slumped shoulders in the Rangers dressing room at half time.

Celtic pushed for a second goal with John Hartson’s volley brilliantly saved by Gordon Marshall. With the title seemingly only going one way the helicopter was heading to Motherwell to crown Celtic champions. Rangers kept their hopes alive when they took the lead through Nacho Novo. Celtic just couldn’t finish Motherwell off and in the 88th minute Motherwell turned the championship on its head when Scott McDonald equalised and suddenly Rangers were on top.

Celtic franticly chased the winner but McDonald, himself a boyhood Celtic fan sealed Motherwell’s win in injury time and Rangers were champions. The helicopter made u-turn and headed to Edinburgh to crown Rangers.

Final Positions

1. Rangers: 93 Points, Goal Diff +55

2. Celtic: 92 Points Goal Diff +50

Image Credit: ED.Nl

2007 Dutch Eredivisie: PSV’s Fall & Rise

Positions at the start of play:

1. AZ Alkmaar: 72 Points, Goal Diff +51, Goals Scored 81

2. Ajax: 72 Points, Goal Diff +47, Goals Scored 82

3. PSV Eindhoven: 72 points, Goal Diff +46, Goals Scored 70

PSV Eindhoven enterend the 2006-07 season as back to back champions and red hot favourites to add a third straight title. After 20 games, PSV were cruising with an 11 point lead over Louis Van Gaal’s AZ Aklmaar and a 12 point cushion over traditional foes Ajax. Over the next 13 games, the lead was whittled away and heading into the final round of matches PSV found themselves level on points but only third on goal difference in the table.

Alkmaar now looked favourites, sitting top of the league and facing relegated Excelsior Rotterdam whilst Ajax were away to Willem II. PSV faced mid table Vitesse Arnhem at home and needed either a huge goal difference swing or the other results to go their way. Things quickly went sour for AZ, after being reduced to 10 men after just 15 minutes. Meanwhile, in Eindhoven PSV made a dream start with goals from Alex and Jefferson Farfan giving them a 2-0 lead after just 10 minutes. That joy would not last long, as Theo Janssen’s free kick pegged them back to 2-1.

Meanwhile Ajax countered, taking an 18th minute lead against Willem through Urby Emanuelson. In Rotterdam, Excelsior pushed their man advantage home through Luigi Bruin’s 21st minute strike but AZ countered just 3 minutes later through Simon Cziommer. At half time Ajax narrowly lead the table by 1 goal from PSV with AZ 2 points adrift.

PSV brought themselves level in the chase by taking a 3-1 lead via Ibrahim Afellay,  Ajax leading only on goals scored. AZ then received a killer blow when Excelsior scored a second through Henrico Drost’s strike to go 2-1 behind. They struck back through Danny Koevermans to level and the 10 men of AZ had 19 minuted left to win the title, but as they pushed for a late winner Johan Voskamp broke away and Excelsior won 3-2. Klaas Jan Huntelaar put Ajax 2 up as the title changed leaders minute by minute. Nonetheless, it was PSV who had the last laugh, a second strike from Farfan and a 77th minute goal from Philip Cocu gave them a 5-1 lead and put them 1 goal ahead of Ajax. Ajax couldn’t find a response and PSV collected a title many thought they’d blown.

Final Positions:

1. PSV Eindhoven: 75 points, Goal Diff +50, Goals Scored 75

2. Ajax: 75 Points, Goal Diff +49, Goals Scored 84

3. AZ Alkmaar: 72 Points, Goal Diff +52, Goals Scored 83

Image Credit: Daily Mail

2012 English Premier Division: Curing Cityitus

Positions at the start of play:

1.Manchester City, 86 Points, Goal Diff +63

2.Manchester United, 86 Points, Goal Diff +55

Three years on from the Abu-Dhabi takeover, the team Sir Alex Ferguson dubbed the ‘noisy neighbours’ were finally ready to launch a title challenge. Roberto Mancini’s Manchester City had set the early pace in 2011-12 and a sensational 6-1 thrashing of Sir Alex’s side at Old Trafford underlined their status of favourites.

However, City hadn’t won a title for 44 years and their more recent history of snatching defeat from the jaws of victory, a habit dubbed ‘Cityitus’ by former manager Joe Royle started to rear its head in March. A pair of damaging draws and defeat at Arsenal handed the initiative back to United, but United fell to a shock defeat at Wigan and let a 2 goal lead slip against Everton. City did the double on United with a 1-0 win with two games left, regaining pole position. All they had to do on the final Sunday of the season was beat relegation threatened QPR at home and they were Champions, whilst United in turn needed to win and hope the noisy neighbours would slip up.

United controlled their game against Sunderland as Wayne Rooney struck after 20 minutes to give them a lead they never looked like losing. Meanwhile at the Etihad, City were struggling but Pablo Zabaleta’s goal put them 1-0 ahead just before halftime. QPR responded just after the break when Djibril Cisse equalised, jangling the nerves of the City crowd. As temperatures rose on the pitch QPR’s former City man Joey Barton was sent off, but just as City looked to be turning the screw Jamie Mackie’s header stunned the Etihad in the 67th minute and City were 2-1 down. ‘Cityitus’ was threatening to reach epidemic proportions as Mancini’s side desperately pushed forward in search of 2 goals.

The minutes ticked down and the referee signalled 5 minutes of injury time at the Etihad. Mario Balotelli had a powerful header saved from David Silva’s corner and it seemed City had blown it yet again. However, 2 minutes into injury time another Silva corner was headed home by Edin Dzeko to give City hope. Full-time was blown at Sunderland confirming United’s victory and City’s need to score again, City had 3 minutes to find another chance. City pushed and in the 94th minute Balotelli flicked on for Sergio Aguero to skip a tackle and power home a dramatic winner. City had their first Premier League title and Cityitus was cured.

Final Positions: 

1.Manchester City, 89 Points, Goal Diff +64

2.Manchester United, 89 Points, Goal Diff +56

Featured Image:

Jonathan Fearby

Jonathan Fearby is a United Kingdom native. Prior to joining The Athletes Hub as a staff writer, he founded and operated Football England.

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One Comment

  1. Bayern Munich and Schalke 2001, Bayern Munich and Leverkusen 2000. Those where super close. Bayern won the 2001 league title with the last shot of the season, an indirect free kick inside the Hamburg box. Patrick Andersson shot it underneath the defenders, who jumped when he kicked the ball, which Andersson anticipated and so he scored. The last shot of the season. Schalke, who already cheered, where in tears.
    I understand that it probably doesn’t fit the premise of this years Liverpool and City. And it was super close.

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