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25 years of the Premier League


The Premier League started on 15 August 1992.   In its first season it was really the old First Division rebadged, still with 22 teams taking part.  Only 3,039 watched Wimbledon play Everton at Selhurst Park on a cold Tuesday night in January.  

Only 13  foreign players (less than six per cent) took part in the first games.   Since then, 1,840 foreign players from 105 countries outside the British Isles have taken part.

Oldham Athletic were there among the elite (49 clubs have taken part in the last 25 years),.  There were still ploughed up, stodgy pitches and scruffy, dilapidated stadiums, although work started on half of them during the season with more money available.

As far as players were concerned, the old 'win, lose, on the booze' culture still survived.   It took a few years for the sports scientists and fitness coaches to arrive and diets to be closely monitored and improved. Players are simply fitter today.  

Gordon Strachan recalls, 'It was a horrible period.  Dour football.  Physical. Intimidating.  You used to flick the ball on before you were clattered.  Every defender had one free tackle  With Arsenal, that meant four of them had a go.'   With more cameras, it is harder to engage in off-the-ball violence.

Sky as a satellite broadcaster came along at the right time for football.  The BBC and ITV had been in their comfort zone.   With Greg Dyke, then the managing director of ITV, central to the Premier League's existence, ITV were the early front runners for an exclusive television deal, offering £84m across four years.

Alan Sugar, then Spurs chairman, was also making and selling the satellite dishes that enabled people to receive Sky through his company Amstrad.  As the key meeting to vote on the offers convened, he instructed Sky's chief executive Sam Chisholm from the hotel lobby to blow ITV out of the water.  Sky bid £304m over five years for 60 live games per season.  Sugar was allowed to vote by his fellow chairmen and Sky won by one vote.

Matt Dickinson, chief sports writer of The Times, has commented, 'People say there is too much television coverage, wall-to-wall football.  Give me that over barely any.  We were lucky to have one game in a fortnight.'  One might add that Sky introduced a much more sophisticated and informative coverage of games.

Dickinson added, 'As for the gentrification of football, if that means less overt racism, less fighting, minorities, women and families feeling welcome and a less potent smell of urine at your local stadium then that does not sound like something to moan about.'

As for the future, Premier League chief executive Richard Scudamore has admitted that we are unlikely to see the compound rate of growth that saw Premier League income increase from £40m in the first season to £3 billion today.  However, with income from overseas rights continuing to grow, there is no sign of the bubble bursting either.