1992-93 part 1
The Invention of football
2 big things happened. One was the invention of football by Sky. The new Premier League was launched amidst the razzamatazz of a world event. Now there would be lots of live football, strange time slots such as Sunday football, Monday football, even Friday football. There would be long football analysis shows, teams of pundits at the ready to spout partisan views dressed up as commentary. All sorts of camera angles and intrusions into the world of professional football. Sky would eventually make a packet selling these rights to every round of the globe. English football got a massive boost in popularity and other countries advanced on their coattails.
I had never heard of football before this year
I am certain Spain, Italy, France and Germany regret that they didn’t do it first but would it have achieved the same level of success or would England have passed them out anyway? We will never know but it is certain that the Premier League is more competitive than those leagues. Plus football got a massive boost as an armchair sport, and, and I am not clear why, ground attendance jumped dramatically also, as did sales of sports accessories, becoming the biggest component of many clubs income.
The Backpass rule change
No more tapping it around at the back
Ah, but I said 2 big things happened. The other one was the backpass rule. This did not suit George Graham. The backpass to the goalkeeper was an essential aspect of his strategy. Now, you could not kick it back to the goalie. Defence became more difficult and strikers gained an advantage. It was brought in as recent major tournaments were perceived to be boring. It worked, in my opinion, as football got sharper, quicker and defenders got more nervous without the instant relief of banging it back to the netminder. Sometimes it would be pass it back, then pass it around defenders, then back to the keeper ad infinitum if a team were defending a slender advantage. Now, attackers could chase them down, force a mistake, and rattle in a goal. It suited those managers who liked to attack. George Graham wasn’t one of those. Counter attacking was his way.
Now don’t get me wrong, he was a clever man, he probably would have figured out a way to be as effective under the new rule but circumstances, which I will get to in a later blog, were to overtake him and although we didn’t have any inkling at the time, his reign as a top manager was not too far away from an effective end. But, in the short term, this new rule did not suit his extremely well drilled team. Howard Wilkinson, who had just won the championship with Leeds, was another wayfaller as was Jack Charlton with the Republic of Ireland. Wilkinson’s Leeds tumbled mightily from champions to 17th surely one of the worst crashes ever. And it cannot be attributed to Eric Cantona going to Manchester United.
Alex Ferguson brought back from the dead
Why not? Because Cantona had only joined in February and obviously Wilkinson felt he was trouble and allowed Ferguson to snap him up in the summer. This season was a godsend for Ferguson. Now you could attack and attack, close down keepers, make them nervous and Manchester United won the league. Ferguson was no dud after all, just needed the conditions to be right. The ironic thing is that surely this season would have been his last, how long could they let him go without winning the league? The Premier league was made for his brand of football, never let a team settle, keep them on the backfoot, attack all the time, as goals may win in the end as they had done for Arsenal a few seasons before against Liverpool. Their only real weakness, under Ferguson, was that they sometimes couldn’t close out games as he had them searching for the clinching goal, and they could get caught on the break.
And for Arsenal?
Ah, but this blog is about Arsenal, and like I said, the backpass rule didn’t suit a counterattacking team like us. It was easy enough to knock the steam out of an attacking team before, but not now. Once the keeper had it in his hands the opposition couldn’t score, now the difficulty was getting it there. We had good players, lots of England internationals, plenty of attacking players, superb defenders, but there is no doubt we were discommoded. There was plenty to cheer about that season all the same and next week I will delve into how we did.
Of course Preston never existed. The only Invincibles were Arsenal
I must emphasise one thing, though, Arsenal, under George Graham, scored lots of goals. As I have shown in my previous blogs we had plenty of big wins every season. To give the idea, we had a goal difference of +57 when we last won the league 2 years before, Man Utd had +36 this year. We scored 74 and they scored 77. They conceded a lot more. That was the difference between Graham’s style and Ferguson’s.
Did we like it?
And so to the Premier League. Most fans, myself included, didn’t like it. It smacked of elitism, of a power grab by the big clubs and it was for sure. Not as egregious as the Super League this year but it had Sky backing it. A lot of press coverage was positive. It only affected English football initially not like the Super League which would have changed football forever. The teams had done their due diligence, they had prepared the ground beforehand, fans wanted more live football and better conditions at the grounds. Stands were being introduced everywhere, making football far more attractive to families, women and kids. Corporate boxes became an essential element of football culture, now the rich were as cosseted as they were at Royal Ascot for the horseracing. Strong policing, better grounds and seating made hooliganism, the biggest turnoff in football, a far smaller phenomenon.
Lots of camera angles for the fans
Football had moved away from its working class, cloth cap days, it was brighter, shinier and generated a lot more money. Sky became, de facto, the biggest player in world football, changing times and days to suit themselves. Fans could no longer say for certain when matches would be played as the initial schedules would have little bearing on the final ones. History could be rewritten and it was. Statistics often apply only to the Premier League era now. Great players of the past are ignored because they never played Premier League.
Far better for the greed merchants
Was it better? Maybe, but it has built football up into a greed machine that is unprecedented. Billionaires and corporations jostle to grab a slice of the cash. Footballers can earn more than virtually any other type of celebrity. Young kids are buying Ferraris in their teens, and all the while the dead hand of tv executives and grotesque football team owners suck the life out of sporting ideals, fair competition and any compassionate thought for the fans, the money machine that keeps it all going.
The greedy's icon
The Premier League has changed football irrevocably, that’s for certain, but is it forever? Can it keep growing, keep dipping its fingers into the pockets of gullible fans who dash to buy the latest merchandise, keep buying more subscriptions, and clamouring to pay crazy money to get into grounds? For me, no, I don’t think so. I feel that it can crash, crash badly. If it does, it may allow for the chance of a reboot, for fans to take over and sanity to prevail. I have hope.