English Premier League: 1992/93
A New Competition
More on Premier League History
The hot summer of 1992 played host to probably the biggest and most monumental change to befall English football since the late 19th Century. The previous ten years had seen huge amounts of money pour into the game, thanks largely to the advent of televised league football. Football clubs had traditionally relied on the supporters to fund their existence. But now, the TV companies eager and hungry to broadcast the biggest and best teams in England simply threw money at some of the game’s leading lights.
By the late 1980’s speculation grew regarding the old First Division clubs breaking away to form their own ‘super-league’. The problem was, at least for the biggest clubs was that they were all members of the Football league- a multi division league system of 92 teams; with teams either moving up or moving down the divisions at season’s end, based on performance across the year. The Football League’s rules were considerably egalitarian, with clubs sharing income (including TV income) equally across the divisions. But the time had come for change; the first couple of years of the 1990s had seen a huge resurgence in football’s popularity, helped largely by England’s heroic performance in Italy during the previous World Cup. Moreover, the Hillsborough Stadium Disaster in 1989, and the report that was filed in its aftermath finally forced the football authorities to acknowledge that the game needed modernising.
The quest for a ‘super-league’ saw a bitter war erupt between the FA and those leading clubs. During the previous season (1991/92) the First Division clubs had threatened to break away. The FA, unbowed countered the threat by stating that any such breakaway will result in suspensions for all those concerned. The Players' union threw its hat into the ring by threatening to strike if their opinion on how a breakaway league would operate wasn’t sought. They were also understandably anxious to have their voice heard when it came to deciding on how the money was to be shared out among all the parties concerned.
The creation of the Premier League was purely based on money, and money alone; contrary to what you hear in any official capacity. The days of football clubs financing themselves through their loyal fanbase ended on the 18th May 1992, when the FA announced a deal between themselves and fledgling satellite company, Sky Sports. Today, the 304 million pound deal looks pitiful, but in 1992 it was huge, and it marked the start of football’s boom and bust era; an era where the rich grow ever wealthier, while the rest are left to look on uneasily and simply and try to survive. The top 22 clubs in the country resigned from the Football League en masse, and joined the new English Premier League, conscious that they were no longer restricted by the bonds of socialism. They were all fully aware that the financial gap between the clubs would continue to grow and grow, soon reaching unprecedented levels.
Launching the Premier League
The First Ever Premier League Goal
Two of the Best
The English Premier League finally got off and underway on the 15th August 1992, and despite of all the hysteria, largely manufactured by Sky, there seemed to be very little difference from the old First Division. You still had the same 22 teams and of course the same players. It’s important to note that at this time, there were still restrictions on the amount of foreign players that could play for a team. So by and large, all of the teams were made up largely of home-grown talent. The only differences that may have raised an eyelid were the fact the referees now wore green, instead of their traditional black, an extra substitute now took his place on the bench, bringing the number up to three, and finally the implementation of the back-pass rule now prohibited goalkeepers from picking the ball up when it was passed back to them by foot.
The opening day provided bitter disappointment for two of the title favourites, as Manchester United succumbed to a Brian Deane goal at Bramall Lane for Sheffield United. Deane’s goal was actually the first ever Premier League goal. Elsewhere, the bookies favourites Arsenal seemed to justify the betting forecasts by racing into a 2-0 lead, but then threw it all away losing 4-2 at home to Norwich City.
Leeds United, the reigning champions struggled early on. Truth be told, their remarkable triumph the previous season had come somewhat prematurely. Just three years earlier, they had been an average Second Division side, now the Yorkshire side had to play with the added mantle of being England’s representative in the UEFA Champions League as well as being the champions.
After a couple of months, the race for the title had already come down to three clubs, firstly Manchester United, determined to end a championship barren streak going back 26 years. The previous season, had seen them come very close, but Howard Wilkinson’s Leeds team had pipped them at the post. Hot on United's trail were Aston Villa and Norwich City, who both harboured dreams of championship glory. Already, all three had headed the table at some point, but it was Mike Walker’s impressive Norwich side who managed to open up the first clear lead, a feat made all the more remarkable considering that they had conceded more goals than scored.
As November dawned, Leeds’ chances of retaining their title were already all but over, as they faltered both domestically and in Europe. Boss, Howard Wilkinson needed to invoke some changes to try and revitalise the ailing champions. But what followed still leaves fans and pundits scratching their heads today. He made the controversial decision to sanction the sale of star French striker, Eric Cantona to none other than bitter rivals Manchester United. A nice big fee may have helped to soften the blow, but Leeds only received 1.5 million pounds for their star man. For Alex Ferguson, this was a huge boost to his ambitions to emulate fellow legendary Scottish manager, Sir Matt Busby- who had led United to their last triumph in 1967. During the previous summer, United had put in substantial bids for Alan Shearer (who ended at Blackburn Rovers) and David Hirst (his club, Sheffield Wednesday decided to reject the offer). So the capture of the mercurial Frenchman was a huge moment for a club that had struggled to find the back of the net during the season so far.
The departure of Cantona saw Leeds’ season disintegrate, with the team eventually limping into a sixth placed finish. Meanwhile, across the Pennines, United began to close the gap on Norwich, thanks largely to Cantona’s goals.
The Man who Inspired United
Gary Pallister Scores his First Goal of the Season in United's Final Match.
The Final Stages
The previous season, Manchester United had seemed poised to end their title drought, but an attack of nerves had seen them blow their chances. Once again, they were right in the hunt, but now long time rivals Norwich had faded away, so it was left to Aston Villa to try and provide a meaningful challenge. But on the 2nd May, Villa lost at home to lowly Oldham Athletic, thus handing United their first championship in 26 years.
The day after Villa’s defeat, the new champions entertained Blackburn Rovers at Old Trafford in front of 40,000 delirious fans. It was a night of celebration for the Manchester club, who beat Rovers 3-1 and received the trophy in the presence of Sir Matt Busby, a more minor point of celebration was Gary Pallister recording his first goal of the season, thus ensuring that every outfield player recorded a goal in United’s triumphant season. For Alex Ferguson, this was the culmination of six years hard work and the win cemented his place in history, as he became the first manager to win both the Scottish and English championship. Eric Cantona, the man who was seen as the man who effectively won the championship for the team became the first player to win championship medals with different clubs in successive seasons.
Meanwhile, at the foot of the Premier League, Nottingham Forest was relegated, having spent the entire season in and around the relegation zone. Despite this, most commentators still considered them to be ‘too good to go down.’ However, the health of charismatic manager Brian Clough had been under close scrutiny all season, it came as little surprise when he announced that he would retire at the end of the season, regardless of Forest’s fate. As his final game approached, the tabloids were full of claims of binge drinking that had consequently impaired his judgement profoundly. The game itself was a rather non affair, the great man could only watch on helplessly as his once great side lost 2-0 to Sheffield United, thus confirming their relegation. For Clough, it was a sad way to end an illustrious career; he had walked into the club eighteen years earlier when they were a struggling Second Division club. Within six years, he had lifted them to the League championship, and then onto back to back to European cups. Ironically, he was leaving the club in the very same place he’d found them nearly two decades before.
A link showing the final table for the 1992/93 Premier League season.
"English Premier League 1992/93 Season Review", a video playlist from Youtube.
End of an Era
End of the Season
So, the first ever Premier League was over, United were champions, with Villa runners up. As well as Forest; Crystal Palace and Middlesbrough were relegated to the new Football League First Division (the new second tier of English football). With relegation though, comes promotion, and it would be accurate to say that Newcastle United’s promotion, under the tutelage of former player Kevin Keegan was seen as a triumph, the culmination of a fantastic renaissance of a once former great club. Following the Magpies were West Ham United and Swindon Town who won a dramatic playoff final against Leicester City, thanks largely to their player manager, and former England superstar, Glenn Hoddle. Swindon’s promotion was particularly sweet, as they had been promoted four years previously, but had been denied their place among the elite for financial irregularities.
The end of the season saw English Football absorb the shocking news that Terry Venables, Tottenham’s chief executive had been sacked. Stunned and angry fans besieged the clubs stadium White Hart Lane, demanding answers, as Venables went to court against his former chairman, Alan Sugar to fight his dismissal. The courts ruled against Sugar, and Venables was reinstated as chief exec the next day. However, the relationship was beyond repair, the two men fell out over alleged financial interference on Venables’ part. Eventually, after a series of claims and counter claims, Venables chose to walk away. For the fans this was the bitterest of bitter blows, the highly regarded Venables had slowly assembled a team capable of mixing with the best. Understandably angry, they turned on their chairman who was left with the difficult task of trying to appease thousands of people all baying for his blood. He opted to appoint former fans favourite Ossie Ardiles, who had guided Swindon to their original ‘promotion’ four years before. However, his time with previous club Newcastle had been far from successful, he resigned with the club hovering just above the relegation zone in the Second Division; it was only the managerial talents of his replacement Kevin Keegan that saved the Magpies from an embarrassing relegation to the Third Division for the first time in history.
The 1992/93 season was in many ways all about looking ahead to a bright future in English Football. But on the 24th February, the footballing world paused for a moment to mourn the sad loss of England’s greatest football captain, Bobby Moore, who sadly lost his fight with cancer aged just 51. He is the only England football captain to have received a major trophy at this point, and by the looks of things, that won’t change anytime soon. Moore was a talented player, the epitome of the footballing hero, blessed with a wonderful temperament and an unquenchable will to win, but not of it meant abandoning his principles of fair play. Bobby Moore quite simply represented the ideals of a bygone age, when sportsmanship and fair play still had a place in the game.