The 2002–03 FA Premier League (referred to as the 2002–03 Barclaycard Premiership, due to sponsorship rights) was the eleventh season of the Premier League, the top division in English football. The first matches were played on 17 August 2002 and the last were played on 11 May 2003. Manchester United ended the campaign as champions for the eighth time in eleven years – an achievement made all the more remarkable by virtue of defending champions Arsenal having led by eight points on 2 March. Although this was a season of breaking new English domestic records for the Gunners, and leading at all fronts come the halfway stage, they threw away a priceless lead against Bolton Wanderers and finally surrendered the title with a 3–2 home defeat to Leeds United, in the 3rd-last game of the season. This result all but saved Leeds from relegation.
Newcastle United and Chelsea were the remaining two teams, who qualified for the UEFA Champions League at the expense of Liverpool who had to settle for the UEFA Cup; they would be joined in Europe by Blackburn Rovers for their second successive season. Newly promoted sides Manchester City and Birmingham City finished in ninth and thirteenth, respectively. Sunderland broke the record for the fewest points and goals scored in a Premier League season, while West Bromwich Albion and West Ham United went with them to the First Division.
Michael Ricketts had the honour of scoring the first goal of the new season for Bolton against Fulham, inside five minutes. The first hat-trick of the season was scored by Michael Owen in the match between Liverpool and Manchester City, at Maine Road in late September. Wayne Rooney, at the young age of 16, made his breakthrough at Everton, scoring an impressive goal against Arsenal, helping the Toffees to a 2–1 win. However, Rooney also got his first Premiership straight red card two months later on Boxing Day, for a reckless foul on Birmingham City's Steve Vickers at St. Andrew's.
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Famous quotes containing the word league:
“Half a league, half a league,
Half a league onward,
All in the valley of Death
Rode the six hundred.
Forward the Light Brigade!”
—Alfred Tennyson (18091892)