With the Premier League being the corporate behemoth it is today, it’s understandable that many older fans look back on the days before its inception with such fondness. They will say that football was purer back then, before the cash cow that are Sky and other such companies came and made football more accessible, more sustainable and higher in quality. Curse them.
The ITV documentary ‘When Football Changed Forever’ looked at the 1991-92 English First Division season, the last of its kind before the inception of the Premier League, and particularly the title battle between Leeds Utd and Manchester Utd. The programme featured interviews with several key figures in that titanic struggle for success, including Gordon Strachan, Lee Chapman and Gary Pallister.
The programme did a remarkable job of whisking the viewer back to the time in question – an era where crumbling grounds, baggy jerseys and ‘Saint and Greavsie’ were part of the essence of English football. Indeed, the documentary highlighted how much top-flight football really has changed in the last 25 years, both commercially and culturally. This was a time when the sight of a foreign player was an anomaly, and players would celebrate victory, or indeed lament defeats, by drinking copious amounts of lager.
Perhaps most interestingly, the documentary sheds a light on how the Premier League came to be, and how BSkyB birthed a commercial TV monster that, to this day, has not been tamed. Alan Sugar, who was a key figure in BSkyB’s struggle with ITV for the Premier, modestly acknowledged his contribution to the deal: “Not blowing my own trumpet, really, but the whole revolution started with me and BSkyB.” The amount paid then was £304 million, a figure that has now risen to over £5 billion.
Recalling Man Utd’s capitulation at the end of the season, and Leeds’ league triumph, is interesting to note contrasting fortunes the two clubs have experienced since. A lot can change in a quarter of a century, as Leeds fans will testify. Without any doubt, football did indeed ‘change forever’ after that season. It just depends on the person you ask whether it was for better or for worse.