Nessun Dorma podcast: France 98 and Arsenal’s glorious Double winners

Stuck indoors, wary of other people and the outside in general, with hours and hours of time to fill for an indefinite period? Yeah, us too. It’s still a worrying time for everyone, and let’s hope that eases in 2021. Until it does, here at Nessun Dorma we’ve been creating content (apparently) in the hope that this will help pass some of this uncertain stretch while the world is righted.

We’re back for season four and so is our Patreon subscription service which helps cover our time, equipment and the occasional, late-night purchase of old football tat from the internet. If you feel like chipping in, you can get early access to ad-free podcasts, an exclusive bonus episode, a shoutout by one of our genial hosts and a say in what we talk about each month.

So, here’s a quick recap of what we’ve been up to lately. The post-Brexit era may be underway, but it won’t stop the card-carrying Francophiles at Nessun Dorma from celebrating the final World Cup of the 20th century, which took place just across the Channel, or the sensational first full season of Arsène Wenger’s tenure at the Arsenal. Two topics spread over five episodes and 10 hours: there’s bang for your Euro.

Shouldn’t you be at work? If you actually are, then whack this in your ears to soundtrack the day. Gary, Mike and Rob bring you part one of a long-form epic on the fin de siècle of international football, the 1998 World Cup in France. Here we look at the group stages including a unique piece of skill from Cuauhtémoc Blanco, the Brazil team becoming the Rutger Hauer to the Nike corporations’ Guinness, redemption for Roberto Baggio, a lost classic between Spain and Nigeria, the biggest game in Scotland’s history, Glenn Hoddle’s leftfield approach to man-management and much more besides. There’s a bonus feature too. Sky Sports might be done with Charlie Nicholas’s services but there’s uplifting news for him here: the Cannonball Kid becomes the latest entrant into our Underrated Hall of Fame.

We open our second tranche of France 98 by noting the passing of Liverpool, Spurs and England legend Ray Clemence, and then look back at the career of Michel Platini. Thereafter, it’s a deep dive of the round of 16 at the World Cup, and what a set of matches it was. We take in the World Cup’s first ever golden goal as the whole of France spends an afternoon living on its nerves, a performance for the ages from Ronaldo and yet another act of escapology by Germany as they recover to knock out Mexico. To round it off, we go in-depth on one of the most memorable matches in the history of the England side, as they go nose-to-nose with Argentina on that extraordinary night in St Etienne.

Michael Owen scores his penalty in the shootout against Argentina at the World Cup in 1998. Photograph: Colorsport/Rex/Shutterstock

It’s the end of our look at France 98, and what a way to go out. We cover two of the greatest World Cup matches of all-time, Germany being knocked off their perch, one of the most revered goals in the history of football never mind the tournament and the breaking news story that shook the world ahead of the final. And then, to end it all, Emmanuel Petit sprints the length of the Stade de France to score one of the most life-affirming goals we’ve ever seen. We also pick the bones out of Fifa’s official squad and player of the tournament, choose our own highlights and favourite goals and weigh up the legacy of France 98 and where it ranks in the pantheon of great World Cups.

When Nick Hornby wrote the final lines of Fever Pitch in 1992, the Arsenal team he supported had broadly adhered to the same values, style and approach for decades. In September 1996, along came a one-man revolution; Arsène Wenger took charge at Highbury, and English football was never the same again. Gary, Rob and Mike are back to discuss his transformative effect on one of England’s most prestigious clubs, one that would see Arsenal win the Double in his first full season.

Part one concludes with the early stages of that 1997-98 campaign, in which Denis Bergkamp takes sole propriety of the Goal of the Month award and Ian Wright breaks Cliff Bastin’s 50-year-old club goalscoring record. There’s even a treat for Spurs fans in here too, as we open the episode by inducting Steve Archibald into our Underrated Hall of Fame.

Ian Wright breaks Arsenal’s goalscoring record in September 1997.
Ian Wright breaks Arsenal’s goalscoring record in September 1997. Photograph: Shaun Botterill/Getty Images

Part two of our look at Arsenal’s first Double under Wenger sees them square up to Alex Ferguson and Manchester United and win two of the great Premier League tussles of the nineties. The second of those at Old Trafford was part of a monstrous unbeaten run over 5 months and 18 matches in the Premier League, which culminated in ten straight victories to rip the title away from United. When they added the FA Cup a few weeks later, they cemented their place in Arsenal folklore.

Wenger had built a brilliant hybrid team of George Graham’s defence, the axis of Petit and Patrick Viera and a devastatingly quick attack that flattened their opposition and changed the culture of Arsenal forever. Gary, Rob and Mike close the episode by assessing the place of the 1997-98 team in the pantheon of great Arsenal sides.

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