Before Leicester City stormed the grand UEFA citadel, you have to go right back to 1995 for the last time a “small” Premier League side found their way into the Champions League.
Thankfully, reigning champions Blackburn Rovers did the nation proud by finishing slap, bang, bottom of their group and crashing out at the first hurdle.
Indeed, having amassed a grand haul of one goal and one point from their opening four games, Rovers were effectively out of the tournament as they headed into their penultimate group game – a bleak, late-November away trip to Spartak Moscow.
There was, however, an infinitesimally slim chance that Roy Hodgson’s side might squeak through in second place, so the onus was on the players to come out swinging.
Unfortunately, that’s exactly what David Batty and Graeme Le Saux wound up doing in the early stages of the match after the pair collided while chasing down a loose ball….
Thanks to the peace-keeping efforts of Tim Sherwood, the fracas was over before it had really begun – though Le Saux later admitted in his autobiography that he broke his hand throwing a “preemptive punch” at Batty who he thought was “going to rip his head off.”
Speaking directly after the match, Spartak manager Oleg Romantsev certainly appeared to appreciate the tragicomedy:
Before the match I told my players they will be playing against 11 guys ready to fight for each other for 90 minutes – not with each other!
Rovers eventually lost 3-0 in Moscow, though they did resolve to trounce Rosenborg 4-1 in their final Champions League match to date, which by that point was a complete dead rubber.