When Football Changed Forever
Earlier this month ITV screened the documentary ‘When Football Changed Forever’ and for those under 30 it must have seemed like a spoof. However, as someone who can vividly recall pre-Premiership 'League One' days it made for fantastic viewing.
The recent £89.3m Manchester United summer signing of Paul Pogba kick starts the show and is immediately juxtaposed against the 1991 transfer of Dean Saunders when he joined Liverpool for a mere £2.9m. This sets the tone as ITV piece together the final days of the English top flight before the introduction of the Premier League and its associated television deal with British Sky Broadcasting.
The show accurately recalls the state of English football back in the early 90's. The country's best players were forced to move to Serie A to get paid the wages their skills warranted and Tottenham were on the verge of bankruptcy.
It also reminds us of how 90's footballers were so much more approachable – they had team talks in pubs on Tuesdays, owned cars not castles and as Gordan Strachan stated: "were ordinary working people.”
For those too young to remember, it’s almost impossible to consider that foreign signings during this era were from the likes of Northern Ireland and keepers from overseas were deemed untrustworthy (the great Peter Schmeichel included!).
Perhaps the most striking story of the show pertains to the actual physical nature of pre-Premier League football. Leeds’ Lee Chapman recalls how he suffered an injury that later required 50 facial stitches but was temporarily patched up following week with super glue.England's top flight is now owned, played and managed by foreigners and has very little to do with England.”
While it's easy to get lost reminiscing the innocence of yesterday, ITV are quick to remind us of the era's negativity. Horrific hooliganism plagued the game, the Hillsborough disaster and shocking attendances as the mere 3,121 at Wimbledon versus Sheffield Wednesday – clearly, England was playing catch up with its rival European leagues and a change was required.
During the 1991-92 season, a ‘big five' of Arsenal, Liverpool, Everton, Manchester United and Tottenham decided to take action by kick-starting the notion of a breakaway top flight.
The then ITV Chief, Greg Dyke, met with representatives of these clubs and subsequently offered them £1m each – to put this into perspective, Arsenal’s then total turnover was £1.5m.
The big five, however, needed to get the FA onboard. Although the proposal had the backing of the vast majority the top flight players, the subsequent Taylor report required all Premier League teams to have all seating stadiums.
The transition to today’s modern game resulted in an initial fall in attendances to appease the Taylor report and squeezed the game's original working class fans away from the game due to increased ticket prices.
Perhaps the most fitting element to the last version of League One was that Leeds United were the eventual winners. A team more recently synonymous with lower leagues, Howard Wilkinson compiled an excellent side spearheaded by a young Eric Cantona. While Manchester United were eventual runners-up; they did claim the 92 FA Youth Cup with a side containing Beckham, Scholes, Butt and the Neville brothers.
The original Premier League television deal was settled at £191m with BSkyB narrowly beating ITV by one vote. It is hard to fathom that in subsequent years the equivalent deal is now worth £5.1b with Sky effectively untouchable to all rivals due to their success in 92.
The Premier League is the world's most popular but this show did a fantastic job reminding us older viewers and educating younger generations that there were also benefits to being less popular. Greg Dyke concludes the presentation by hammering home this very point stating that the game is now home to large financial division, zero grass roots funding, original fans have been and continue to be priced out and the majority of clubs are now owned by foreign businessmen. In short, England's top flight is:
“Owned, played and managed by foreigners and has very little to do with England”.