It is the world’s most watched league and the most lucrative – attracting the top players from all over the globe. Hard to believe then that the first ball kicked in the Premier League was as relatively recently as 15th August 1992.
The 1980s saw a nadir in English football. Stadiums were crumbling and hooliganism was rife. English teams were banned from Europe following the death of 39 fans at Heysel Stadium in Belgium ahead of Liverpool’s European Cup Final against Juventus in 1985. Few of the world’s top players would even contemplate plying their trade in England.
Then in 1989 came Hillsborough and the Taylor report. 96 fans died and over 150 were injured – crushed during the FA Cup semi-final between Liverpool and Nottingham Forest. Lord Justice Taylor recommended a complete overhaul in the way football grounds were run and structured – leading to the introduction of all-seater stadia.
Faced with the huge cost of implementing the recommendations and growing concern over the inability to attract quality players, there was mounting discontent among the top clubs. As early as 1988 ten clubs had threatened to break away in order to take advantage of higher television revenue.
A radical restructuring was needed if English clubs and the game in general were to develop and flourish.
The Founder Members Agreement was signed on 17th July 1991 establishing the basic principles for the setting up of the Premier League. The League would have commercial independence from the Football League and FA, leaving it free to organise its own broadcast and sponsorship agreement.
On the 20th February 1992 the first division clubs resigned from the Football League en masse and three months later the Premier League was established as a limited company.
The League decided to take the radical step of assigning television rights to Sky TV. At the time charging fans to watch televised sport was a relatively new concept, but a combination of the quality of football on offer and Sky’s marketing strategy saw the value of the Premier League soar. The initial deal was worth £191million over five years. To televise the matches from 2007-2010, Sky and Setanta have paid a staggering £1.7billion.
Sponsorship has also played an enormous role. In 1993 Carling paid £12million for four years and the competition became known as the FA Carling Premiership. They renewed for another four years paying a 300% increase. In 2001 Barclaycard became the new sponsors for £48million over three years. Barclays took over in 2004 with their renewal price for 2007 coming in at £65.8million for three seasons.
Increased revenue has ensured that English clubs can compete on a global scale in terms of transfer fees and wages – an important factor which has seen some of the best overseas players grace the Barclays Premier League.
In 1992 there were just 11 non-British or Irish footballers in the Premier League, by 2007 this had increased to over 250. Over the years overseas players have helped shape and develop the British game. Overseas managers, too, have been eager to work in England, and techniques used by the likes of Arsene Wenger, Gerrard Houllier and Ruud Gullit have had an enormous impact.
The Premier League was initially composed of 22 clubs but it was always the intention to reduce that number to 20 to promote development and excellence at club and international level. This was achieved at the end of the 1994/95 season when four clubs were relegated and just two promoted.
Reading’s promotion in 2006 made them the 40th club to ply their trade in the Premier League. The most successful team in Premier League history is undoubtedly Manchester United. Alex Ferguson’s side have won a remarkable ten titles and have never finished below third since the Premier League was launched in 1992.