In the age of social media and 24/7 sports coverage, it is easy to forget that there was ever a world before Premier League football. The ‘most watched league in the world’ has become a billion-pound industry and with such riches comes notoriety and prestige within the world’s sporting landscape. As a result, the associated world of sponsorship and agents within Premier League football is rife with big-money dealings and lavish lifestyles.
Changing of the Guard
Prior to the emergence of the Premier League back in 1992, English football had a relatively insecure place within British society. Originally forged as a working class game at the turn of the 20th century, it took a while for teams outside of the North of England to subscribe to the growing popularity of the game – particularly in London, where no side won the English First Division title until Arsenal in 1930.
Sports such as rugby and cricket were predominantly played in the South of England and football was very much seen as the working man’s vocation. This muddied identity maintained through World War Two in the UK but by the 1950’s and 1960’s it was a game that had come to the forefront of British sport’s fans imagination. Packed crowds were par for the course across all UK stadia and heroes such as Stanley Matthews and John Charles became household names.
Football’s Coming Home
On the global stage, England were often derided for their poor performances in World Cup football, from the 1930’s to 1950’s – as despite creating the game, they couldn’t win the biggest competition on the planet. This all changed in 1966 as England, in front of their home fans at Wembley and millions watching at home (that were all getting to grips with the advent of television) clinched their first (and to this day) only FIFA World Cup title.
The World Cup winning squad became national icons, football became front page and back page news, and England had a team to be proud of once more.
The Dark Days
Fresh off the back England’s historic win in the midst of the swinging 60’s the 70’s came and went with English teams performing well in European football competitions and the notoriety of the game going global.
There were dark days ahead though. Hooliganism became rife in the English game, both domestically and internationally in the 1980’s as going to watch a football game became as much about the fighting as it did about the 22 men on the field of play. This is a reputation England struggled to shake off and the Heysel disaster in 1985 – where nearly 40 fans were crushed to their death, put pay to English football teams being able to compete in Europe for the next half decade.
In addition, this brought about a conflict of interest with TV companies and by the mid-to-late 1980’s, live First Division football wasn’t even being shown on television – except for highlight reels on Match of the Day.
At the turn of the 1990’s, football was remerging within British society. England’s run to the World Cup semi finals had captivated the nation and there was a real thirst for regular, high quality football on TV and on the live streaming sites.
Rupert Murdoch’s fledgling satellite TV company Sky were quick to the draw and they were able to secure the broadcasting rights of the English First Division, which soon became the Premier League. Whilst primitive in its original composition, this influx of new ideas helped the Premier League become the enthralling league it has become today, with digestible content and highlights and access to every player, from every top-flight club.
28 years on, the Premier League has progressed markedly – to become the biggest football league in the world but its roots within the English game will always be ingrained.