Football was infinitely better in the Nineties compared to the present day and that assessment is only partly grounded in nostalgia.

There was no VAR, that values millimetres over emotion. Odd kick-off times were a novelty, not the norm. Kits were better and beautiful, with collars commonplace and designs that dared to be bold and different. 

The newly formed Champions League brought continental fare regularly into our living rooms while Channel 4 forever altered our brain-chemistry by introducing Parma and Fiorentina and Gabriel Batistuta in that iconic Nintendo kit into our lives.  

From snazzy shirts to seismic changes made to tournament structures, this was a decade when the game exploded into technicolour and looked to the future with limitless optimism. 

But of course nostalgia plays a part, there’s no denying that.

The football of our childhood will naturally take precedence over whatever came next which is why those of us who watched spellbound in our pyjamas as the Brazilian Ronaldo tore Spanish defences apart for Barcelona will always rate him higher than his subsequent namesake.

Ronaldo in 90s

Then a ridiculous phenom, prior to injuries making him mortal, R9 defined an era, one that wholly celebrated brilliance without the need to point out on social media a surprisingly poor xG in relation to an inferior peer. 

Just imagine the nonsense that would be tweeted about him today. The brain-rotting nonsense with heat maps attached. 

There is also a newness to consider when reminiscing dewy-eyed pre-millennium, as football sought to reinvent itself post-World Cup ’90. 

Hooliganism fell into thankful decline as football became glamorous and more family-friendly, a development hugely helped by the First Division modernising and transforming and if you view the Premier League as the root of all of football’s wrongs, fair enough, but that absolutely wasn’t the case in the early days.  

Back then, money flowed in, affording clubs to improve their stadia and lure exciting foreign players to our shores, yet ticket prices remained low, staying at a tenner-mark for much of the decade, rising to £16 in 1999. 

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It was a time when hard men shared pitches with artists and geniuses, and Sky Sports experimented with enterprising ideas, some of which worked such as the Americanised ‘Super Sundays’, some of which didn’t, such as parachuting in the match ball.

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And for all this excitement and silliness and technical majesty, it was possible to not only take along your kid but invite his mate along too. 

In the early years, the Premier League was what it could always have been, before an undercurrent of greed gave way to ravenous greed. 

Furthermore, while that rampant avarice eventually resulted in the richest clubs becoming dominant, turning the sports betting for potential title winners into a short-list of the same names each year, the Nineties was a veritable meritocracy, seeing the likes of Nottingham Forest, Newcastle, Aston Villa, Sheffield Wednesday, Crystal Palace, Blackburn, Leeds and Norwich all inhabit the top three for extended periods. 

It was possible to construct a decent side and see that side thrive, with not a glass ceiling to be found. 

But really, it was all about the players. Cantona, that regal rascal blessed with rare ingenuity. Del Piero and Gazza, the former impossibly cool, the latter a hero to millions across two major tournaments, making us proud, then proudly cry at Italia 90 and Euro 96. 

It was a decade that showcased Zinedine Zidane in his pomp, volleying winners in Champions League finals and sending the world’s elite to the shops with a silky drop of the shoulder. There was Boban, Baggio and Bergkamp. Hagi and Henry.

Zidane 90s France

These sublime gifts to the world elevated magnificent teams, and plucky teams that upset the football odds, and magnificent but flawed teams, all in amazing kits and all of them playing on what felt like a level field. We haven’t even mentioned Diego Armando Maradona. The god among the noble.

And perhaps too, what places Nineties football over and above every other era was what it didn’t have. 

There was no internet tribalism or trolling. No deathly boring debates about Messi and Ronaldo. No plethora of phones taking grainy footage of a goal happening right in front of actual eyes. There was no sportswashing, half and half scarves, nor a proliferation of data draining all of the enjoyment out of proceedings. 

Players even used to celebrate after scoring against former employers, much to the delight of football predictions followers around the world.

It is undoubtedly far too easy to be wistful about the past, and cherry-pick the good bits, and forget about the bad. But in a post-Turin, post-Hillsborough landscape football briefly became something special and inspiring, relatable and fun. 

We may never again find our way back there but that’s what hope is for.


Stephen Tudor is a freelance football writer and sports enthusiast who only knows slightly less about the beautiful game than you do.

A contributor to FourFourTwo and Forbes, he is a Manchester City fan who was taken to Maine Road as a child because his grandad predicted they would one day be good.