Ten years ago on this day, Saturday 11 August 2007, we began our Premier League campaign with a home game against Manchester City. Just a few weeks earlier we had completed the “Great Escape” with a final day win at Old Trafford, and now under the continued management of Alan Curbishley we were embarking upon a new season with high hopes. Although Carlos Tevez had gone to Manchester United, we had made what were considered to be impressive signings in the transfer window, with new recruits Scott Parker, Freddie Llungberg, Julien Faubert, Kieron Dyer, and Craig Bellamy, who became our record signing at the time at £7.5 million. Dean Ashton was about to return after a year out with injury, and many believed a much better season would follow.
Tevez played less than 30 games for us and scored just seven goals but to many he was almost a legend. Of course, the controversy surrounding him joining us meant that we had allegedly broken third-party rules, which led to us paying an initial fine of £5.5 million pounds. Then, eighteen months later, just days before an independent FA arbitration panel was due to meet to consider a claim by Sheffield United that Tevez was instrumental in their relegation, we agreed to settle the claim by paying £30 million in instalments to the Blades. The “Tevez affair” had a profound impact upon the club for years.
Sven-Goran Eriksson, the ex-England manager, had taken over at Manchester City. Their owner, Thaksin Shinawatra, had bankrolled a big spending spree, and they had a host of new, mainly foreign, signings who made their debut that day, along with a keeper making his first appearance, Kasper Schmeichel. Two of their new signings scored the goals which beat us that day. In the first half, Elano ran through our half barely challenged, and then slid the ball across goal for Bianchi to slide in and score from about two feet. And just a couple of minutes from the end, Onuoha ran half the length of the field, evading a couple of half-hearted challenges, and laid the ball back for substitute Geovanni to hit a low drive beyond Robert Green from the edge of the area.
It was generally a rather flat performance for the opening game of the season, and although Zamora, Llungberg, Etherington, and finally Ashton had decent efforts and might have scored, City were good value for their win. After scoring the opening goal they sat back, and were relatively comfortable.
Our team that day was: Green, Spector, A. Ferdinand, Upson, McCartney, Boa Morte, Bowyer, Noble, Llungberg, Bellamy, Zamora.
Mullins and Etherington were introduced as substitutes at half time replacing Bowyer and Boa Morte, and then with just under half an hour remaining, Dean Ashton replaced McCartney.
The poor start to the season led to some changes for the next game which was won at Birmingham with a Mark Noble penalty. We went on to pick up ten points from the four games that followed the opening day defeat, and eventually finished the season in tenth place, which was one place below Manchester City and one above Tottenham.
How the make-up of the Premier League can change in ten years! Eleven of the clubs we faced that season will not be seen at top flight grounds this season. Villa, Blackburn, Portsmouth, Wigan, Bolton, Fulham, Reading, Birmingham, Derby, Middlesbrough, and Sunderland are all now in lower leagues. The only eight clubs that we faced in 2007-08 that we will meet this season, just ten years later are the teams who finished as the top seven last season, Chelsea, Tottenham, Manchester City, Liverpool, Arsenal, Manchester United, and Everton, plus newly promoted Newcastle. It would be hard to bet against those same seven clubs occupying the top seven places again this season, albeit perhaps in a slightly different order.
Ten years on, and I believe that Mark Noble and Kasper Schmeichel are the only two players who played that day who are still plying their trade in the Premier League.