From 1985 to 2006, Brian Deane was a journeyman English striker who netted 195 goals for nine professional soccer teams in three countries. He played for storied clubs like Leeds United, West Ham and Benfica, and he even appeared for his country three times.
But without a doubt, his most famous day on a soccer field occurred on August 15, 1992. The top division in English soccer had broken away from its previous governing body and rebranded itself the FA Premier League in an attempt to make more money off TV rights, and nine games began that day at the same time to kick off the league. Deane, playing for Sheffield United, headed home a goal in the fifth minute against Manchester United, making him the first player to score in the Premier League—what is now the most-watched soccer league in the world, broadcast in 212 territories to a potential TV audience of 4.7 billion people.
“If you’re going to score the first goal in the Premier League, I suppose you better have scored it against Man United.”
Going into the first day of games of the FA Premier League, was everyone aware that the player who scored the first goal would be a big deal?
Ha ha, I think at the time, we knew that there was a structural change to the league. And obviously, you always want to get off on the right foot. And not only myself but people like Ian Wright, Alan Shearer, Les Ferdinand and Teddy Sheringham would have been thinking about being the first person to do that. I had a pretty decent record on the opening day of the season, so I was quite confident going in that I would score. I didn’t know for sure that I would get the first goal, but it was a nice surprise when I found that out.
Can you describe the goal?
We were playing Manchester United at home. Whenever we played Manchester, we always decided to attack them rather than sit back, and that game was no different. We ended up with a throw-in on the right-hand side as we were attacking the Kop Stand. Carl Bradshaw lined up to take a long throw-in. Alan Cork flicked it on and I managed to get in between Gary Pallister and Peter Schmeichel. And the rest is history, I suppose, as they say.
Those are two pretty good guys to get in between.
Two big guys, a couple of legends. I ended up playing with Gary at Middlesbrough. And obviously at the time, Schmeichel was perhaps one of the best goalkeepers in the world. So from that point of view, it was very satisfying.
You also scored the second goal of the game, which turned out to be the game-winner. On a penalty kick.
Yeah, I think that was the first penalty scored in the Premier League as well, somebody told me the other day.
What do you remember about that one?
I was feeling pretty confident at the time, having already scored. I was playing quite well. I remember putting the ball down, and I lined up with the Manchester United supporters behind the goal. And I just sent Peter Schmeichel the wrong way, which was, again, pretty satisfying, ha ha.
Did you have a chance at a hat trick?
Actually, I had a goal disallowed in the first half as well, so yeah, I could have had a hat trick.
To top it off, you beat Manchester United, the eventual champs and winner of seven of the first 10 Premier League titles. Did that make it extra sweet?
Well, if you’re going to score the first goal in the Premier League, I suppose you better have scored it against Man United than somebody who hasn’t had as good a record. So yeah, that probably makes it sweeter.
Like all the great ones, Deane eventually lost his… sweet hightop fade.
Since then, do you get asked about it all the time, like we’re doing?
Yeah, I do. I got asked more about it after I retired and before I started coaching. It’s not really the focus when people see me anymore. It’s more about what I’m doing now. But yeah, it’s something that nobody ever can take away from me, ever. It’s there in record, and it’s something I’m very proud of.
Would you consider it the greatest moment of your football career?
Good question. Probably. Because the Premier League is known all around the world. To be the first person to score in the league, that’s probably going to be known for a long time now. This is a bit morbid, but I remember seeing the first person to score in the Bundesliga [Germany’s top league] died a while ago, and I kind of thought, well, you know, perhaps when that day comes for me, I suppose that will be part of my legacy. So without feeling morbid about the whole thing, it’s nice that I’ll be remembered for something, anyway.
These days, you’re the coach of Sarpsborg 08 in Norway and, just like America’s MLS, your season runs from spring to fall. How’s it going so far?
We could always do with a few more points. But we’re doing okay. It’s a decent league. We’re trying to build on what we did last summer. We have got one of the smallest budgets in the league, but we’re playing some good stuff and it’s a work in progress. So I’m enjoying it, anyway.
A midfielder on the U.S. World Cup team, Mix Diskerud, plays for one of the top teams in the Norwegian league, Rosenborg BK. Got any thoughts on Mix?
I haven’t seen him much. I mean, we played against Rosenborg three times since I’ve been here. I can’t even remember if he played. I think he played in one of the games. He’s a very good player, actually. Everyone speaks highly of him. But he did make a disparaging comment when he was leaving to go to the States. Somebody asked him whether or not his club would miss him, and he made a comment saying, “Ah, well, you know, we gotta play Stabaek and Sarpsborg, so we should be all right.” And they got beaten by Stabaek at home and they were lucky to get a draw against us.
Oh wow. Talk about bulletin-board material. Have you thought about acquiring any U.S. players?
Hard to say. If the right player was to come up, then of course. I know with American players, you do get honesty, you get hard work, and they’re catching up in terms of ability compared to a lot of the Europeans. There are some very good, intelligent American players as well. So certainly if we could afford to have the right one, of course. We’d love to have a look. But the best players from America are probably too good to play for us right now.
Who do you think will win the World Cup?
Finally, you scored 195 goals in your professional career. Any advice for young strikers out there?
One of the main things is, when you’re going through a dry spell, don’t get too down because it happens to all of us. And it’s better to just try and move on as quickly as you can in your mind. And you’ll get other chances. You don’t become a bad player overnight. I’ve had to tell myself that a lot, ha ha.