This month saw the 30th anniversary of when the top clubs broke free of their peers. Since then, much has changed in the world of football, but could the transition ultimately be considered positive?
After last year's talk of the super-league and a quick turnaround from fans and clubs that sent the idea into oblivion, it’s highly surprising the Premier League was ever considered as a project. In 1990, it was the big five at the time – Manchester United, Liverpool, Arsenal, Spurs and Everton – who spoke with such eagerness about the removal of the old first division’s 22 clubs from the rest of the football league. It would mean a new football league structure that would see the top clubs gaining a bigger share of the money within English football and it was a plan that almost nobody could stop.
In 2012 – 20 years on – an anti-Premier League supporter set up a petition that he hoped would go through parliament. Unfortunately, it only received 29 signatures out of the 10,000 it needed to pass. The opening paragraph went like this: “The greed and self-serving nature of the Premier League has proved time and time again they cannot be trusted to look after our national game. The government must step in and end the 'GREED League' in the national interest.”
This wasn’t the first person who had come to the conclusion that the Premier League was a dangerous idea. Before 1992 when the League was introduced, the majority of clubs, fans and even players were against the idea. It seemed like it was deemed impossible, though, the UK had been through a tough period in football, with rising hooliganism and violence and a series of tragic events such as Hillsborough and the Bradford fire, attendances were declining and football was becoming unpopular amongst the masses.
Impoverished ideas were lacking quality and English football needed a shake-up.
It was the all-conquering Sky who most would argue gave birth to the modern era of football. With a TV revolution that people were initially sceptical about, Sky took a risk and offered an astronomical amount of money that would exceed nine times what ITV had paid the year before for the exclusive rights to show 60 games in the Premier League over the season.
Sky took its role very seriously and with research figures showing Monday nights were a popular day for viewership, football was now slotted into Monday night TV. Many fans and players didn’t appreciate the change to their schedule, but Sky offered coverage that had never been seen before. More in-depth coverage featured pre and post-match discussion, interviews, analysis and highlights from the other games. It became an important part of football for both fans and players.
Although many football fans are in disagreement about money within football – especially in today’s game – the introduction of money to top-tier football in the UK offered new perspectives and chances for the game to grow. In the 1990s, England was struggling to produce good players and managers and the perpetual growth of the new league attracted foreign players and managers for the first time in English football’s lengthy history. The likes of Wenger and Cantona were centre of the world stage and the skills and effervescence they brought to the game attracted crowds like never before. This eventually flooded media outlets across the world and soon a whole host of players, managers and owners wanted a piece of English football.
Since that day, The Premier League has become the most popular (and profitable) football league globally thanks to the world-class players and managers who have delivered captivating football. The League is broadcast to 800 million homes in 188 countries and has been the home of players from 120 different nationalities.
It has been called the most exciting, the most unpredictable, and simply the best league in the world and we can only have the Premier League to thank for that. But has it been a blessing or a curse for football?
Unfortunately, the introduction of big money into English football has caused difficulties for many people who are passionate about the game. The rising price and players and wages has meant ticket prices have soared in recent years and TV rights mean it’s often too expensive to watch from your own home. On the other hand, the growing popularity has enabled the League to provide a significant level of financial support throughout the game and to communities across England and Wales, which is unparalleled in professional sport. Over the next three years, the League will continue its world-leading levels of support by contributing £1.6billion to communities and the wider game. But is this enough? Should the Premier League be doing more to keep football from becoming a spectator sport for the rich?
Cover Image: Ronnie Macdonald