Here is the first article in a selection of in-depth pieces looking at all sorts of topics from across the sporting landscape. What a great place to start, with a study of the inaugural English Premier League football season.
The English Premier League began in 1992, transitioning from the old Division One, and is currently one of the biggest sporting leagues in the world. As football became a massive global industry, thanks to giant sponsorship and television deals, the Premier League has undergone a huge evolution. From Blackburn Rovers ‘breaking the bank’ for Alan Shearer, paying Southampton £3.6 million in what was then a British record transfer fee, to QPR being sponsored by Classic FM, things have certainly changed since the Premier League’s inaugural season in 1992/93.
The first season of the Premier League was made up of 22 teams and, at the beginning of the 2019/20 season, there are 12 sides still plying their trade in England’s top division.
Manchester United topped the pile that year, winning their first league title in 26 years under the guidance of the great Sir Alex Ferguson. This triumph triggered two decades of English football dominance, in which the Red Devils won 13 league titles. What a team they had during their 1992/93 title winning campaign! The surprise November addition of the magnificent Eric Cantona from reigning league champions Leeds United, gave an added swagger to what was already an enviable squad containing the solidity of Peter Schmeichel and Steve Bruce, the tenacity of Paul Ince, Mark Hughes’ eye for goal and the youthful flair of Ryan Giggs. The Red Devils are one of just six teams to have played in every single Premier League season but they are yet to reach the lofty heights of the Ferguson era, since his retirement. United have finished in the top 4 only twice since Ferguson hung up his hairdryer at the end of the 2012/2013 season.
Perhaps the biggest surprise, looking back at the inaugural season, are the teams who occupied second and third in the Premier League, consequently securing European football. 2019/20 Premier League new-boys Aston Villa were Premier League runners up, which would be no surprise to those familiar with Villa’s illustrious history, but more difficult to imagine now, considering the financial difficulties and lack of success the Villains recent past has seen. With a frightening forward line of Dean Saunders and Dalian Atkinson, and the excellence of Paul McGrath in defense, Villa mounted a serious title challenge. However, crucial points were dropped as the season reached its climax, and the Villains ended up 10 points behind Manchester United. Aston Villa were relegated from the Premier League for the first time in 2016 but returned this season after a three-year absence.
Norwich City took the third and final European spot. The Canaries enjoyed the season of their life as they recorded the highest league finish in the club’s history. At one point, the East Anglian outfit looked like they could secure a remarkable league title, sitting eight points clear at the league summit in December, but an end of season stutter meant they had to settle for third. This though, was still a fabulous achievement with Mark Robins, Dave Phillips and Chris Sutton being the talismanic trio during this purple patch for the Carrow Road club. Since their record breaking 1992/93 campaign, Norwich have yo-yoed between the Premier League and the Championship, even enduring a brief stint in the third tier of English football in 2009/10. Like Aston Villa, Norwich returned to the Premier League this season after three years in the Championship.
2019 European Champions Liverpool finished sixth in the Premier League’s inaugural season. This mirrored their finish the previous year in the old Division One but was a far cry from the sustained success enjoyed by the Merseyside outfit over the past two decades, where they won 11 league titles in 19 glorious years. On paper, this was a vintage Liverpool side including John Barnes, Ian Rush and Steve McManaman but with an average league finish and early exits in the cup competitions, 1992/93 did not go down as a vintage Liverpool season. The Merseyside club missed out on the Premier League title by a whisker last season and are still yet to win the league in the Premier League era.
2019 Champions League finalists Tottenham finished 8th in the first season of the Premier League. Teddy Sheringham became the club’s record signing, and he topped the Premier League scoring charts with 22 goals. Spurs consistently finished in and around mid-table in the topflight, until Harry Redknapp guided them to 4th place and a Champions League spot in 2010. They have finished no lower than 6th since then and go into the 2019/20 playing in the Champions League for the fourth consecutive season.
Moving further down the 1992/93 league table is where the starkest of contrasts between the inaugural Premier League season and today’s division can be found. Reigning champions Manchester City finished the 1992/93 season in 9th; a relatively satisfying position considering the club’s stature at the time. This is the highest City would finish in the Premier League for 10 years, as they suffered various relegations, even making a cameo appearance in the third tier in 1998/99. However, in 2008, Manchester City were bought by Sheikh Mansour, and the club was changed forever. They are currently enjoying an incredible period of Premier League dominance under the stewardship of Pep Guardiola and are chasing their third consecutive Premier League title following two record breaking seasons.
In 10th place in 1992/93 was another side who are now more accustomed to life in the upper echelons of the league. With the great George Graham in the Highbury hot seat, Arsenal experienced a relatively disappointing league campaign although they did complete a terrific League Cup and FA Cup double. Despite possessing a squad brimming with quality in the shape of David Seaman, Tony Adams, Lee Dixon and Ian Wright, Arsenal struggled somewhat in the early years of the Premier League. The appointment of Arsène Wenger in 1996 was a masterstroke, and the North London side were rejuvenated by the Frenchman’s unique brand of football. Arsenal have fallen out of the top four in recent seasons, and the challenge for current manger Unai Emery is getting Arsenal back to their glory days.
Another club who have seen an upturn in fortunes thanks to a takeover are Chelsea. The Stamford Bridge side were 2nd after the first 19 games of the 1992/93 season, but a remarkable collapse saw them go on a winless run that spanned 12 games and, after sacking manager Ian Porterfield, they ended the season down in 11th. A 4th place finish in 2003 was enough to convince Russian billionaire Roman Abramovich to buy the club, and they have flourished since winning five Premier League titles, and the Champions League in 2012. Chelsea are currently in a transition period with club legend Frank Lampard in charge. Lampard is putting his faith in the Chelsea youth system and will be hopeful of consolidating last season’s 4th place finish.
Premier League stalwarts Everton finished 13th in the 1992/93 season. The Merseyside club have played in every single Premier League season, and have done everything bar win the league. They have flirted with relegation (2003/04), fizzled out and finished in mid table (2014-2016), chased European football (2006-2009) and even finished in the top four (2004/05). Tony Cottee and Peter Beardsley lined up upfront for Everton in 1992/93, but their 13th place finish was their lowest placing in the league for a decade, having enjoyed considerable success in the 80s. Current manager Marco Silva is trying to bring sustained stability back to Merseyside, which is something that has been absent following the departure of the ever dependable David Moyes in 2013.
In 14th place in the inaugural Premier League season were Sheffield United. Manager Dave Bassett was named League Manager’s Association Manager of the Year, as United reached the FA Cup semifinals, and even beat eventual champions Manchester United on the opening day of the season. United returned to the Premier League in 2019 after a 12-year absence, with local hero Chris Wilder in the dugout.
Southampton avoided relegation by the skin of their teeth in 1992/93, maintaining their Premier League status by a single point. Southampton suffered from the sale of Alan Shearer, although they did still possess the marvelous Matt Le Tissier in their ranks, who helped them to safety with 15 goals. The 2019/20 season will be the Saint’s eighth consecutive year in the topflight, after Ralph Hasenhüttl took over and steered the side away from the relegation zone last December.
In 20th place in the 1992/93 season, and unable to survive the clutches of relegation, were Crystal Palace. The club sold key striker Mark Bright to Sheffield Wednesday at the start of the campaign and struggled in front of goal as a result. This proved crucial, as Palace were relegated on goal difference with their points haul of 49 a Premier League record for the highest points total to be relegated with. The club have yo-yoed between the top two divisions since the 70s and are currently enjoying their seventh consecutive season in the Premier League.
10 teams from the inaugural Premier League season are no longer plying their trade in the topflight, and are now scattered across various leagues in the English football pyramid.
Blackburn Rovers are the highest placed club from the 1992/93 season to no longer play in the Premier League. In the Premier League’s inaugural season, Blackburn finished 4th and missed out on a place in the UEFA Cup by a single point. The Lancashire club have suffered a significant fall from grace after the success they achieved in the early days of the Premier League under owner Jack Warner, famously winning the league in 1995. With Kenny Dalglish in the dugout and Alan Shearer up front, this was a really purple patch in the club’s history. However, they were relegated from the Premier League four years later but they did return to the topflight at the second time of asking, Rovers, however, struggled to reach the lofty heights of the mid 90s, and after a takeover and off the field issues, the club were relegated once more in 2012. A further relegation to League One followed in 2017, as Blackburn became the first Premier League winners to play in English football’s third tier. Although Blackburn bounced straight back to the Championship, it is a sad fall from grace for a club who enjoyed a few blissful seasons in the sun.
Fifth place in the 1992/93 Premier League was occupied by Queens Park Rangers. This is the highest finish the London outfit have registered in the Premier League, and their joint second highest finish ever in the topflight. Les Ferdinand hit 20 Premier League goals, and their squad contained a handful of players who would go on to manage the club, including Dougie Freedman and Ian Holloway. QPR were relegated from the Premier League in 1996 and endured three seasons in the third tier following a further relegation in 2001. The club bounced between the Premier League and Championship between 2011 and 2015 and have remained in the Championship since.
Sheffield Wednesday finished 7th in the Premier League’s inaugural season. Wednesday enjoyed two terrific cup runs, reaching the final in both the League and FA Cup. With a squad containing Chris Waddle and Mark Bright, this was a real high point in Sheffield Wednesday’s recent history. The club were relegated from the Premier League in 2000. Since then they have had two spells in the third tier, and reached the Championship playoffs twice, but are yet to return to the topflight.
One club that has had quite a journey since the first season of the Premier League is Wimbledon. Having climbed from amateur status all the way to being a fully-fledged Premier League side, the club finished 12th in 1992/93. Wimbledon were relegated from the topflight in 2000, and at the end of the 2002 season Wimbledon were given permission to relocate to Milton Keynes which, in 2004, much to the disgust of the Wimbledon fanbase, is exactly what happened. A group of Wimbledon supporters, in 2002, founded a brand-new club, AFC Wimbledon and, just as the club had done in the 60s and 70s, AFC Wimbledon climbed the English football pyramid once more. They started in the 9th tier of English football, but won 6 promotions in 13 years, and are currently playing in League One, the same division as Milton Keynes.
Coventry City finished 15th in 1992/93, securing their safety on the final game of the season. Prior to their relegation in 2001, Coventry had played in the topflight since 1967. The club are yet to return, and currently play in League One following their relegation in 2012. Coventry were briefly in the fourth tier but gained promotion at the first time of asking in 2018.
In January of the 1992/93 season, Ipswich Town were 4th but endured a poor second half of the campaign to finish 16th. The club bounced between the Premier League and the second tier, famously finishing 5th and securing European football in 2001. However, Ipswich were relegated from the topflight in 2002 and currently play in League One after relegation in 2019. This is the lowest the club has sunk on the football ladder since 1957.
Having won the old Division One the previous year, Leeds United went into the inaugural Premier League season as reigning champions. However, the club finished the season down in 16th. This was a team that contained some fabulous players - Gary Speed, Gordon Strachan, David Batty - but they failed to register a win away from Elland Road all season. The club have experienced mixed fortunes since, reaching the Champions League semi-finals in 2001, before being riddled with financial worries and being relegated to League One in 2007. The club currently play in the Championship, having narrowly missed out on promotion last season.
Perhaps the greatest surprise from the inaugural Premier League season is the team that finished in 19th place: Oldham Athletic, currently in League Two. The team dramatically stayed up on the final day of the season on goal difference, winning their final three games of the season to complete a terrific survival campaign under Joe Royle. However, Oldham were relegated the following season, and dropped to the third tier in 1997. After 21 years in the same division, and numerous financial woes, Oldham were relegated to League Two in 2018.
Middlesborough were relegated from the Premier League in 1992/93, finishing down in 21st. The club enjoyed over a decade in the topflight between 1998 and 2009, before suffering relegation under the current England boss, Gareth Southgate. The Teesiders have remained in the Championship since their relegation in 2017.
Nottingham Forest finished rock-bottom of the Premier League in 1992/93. Despite being managed by the great Brian Clough, Forest suffered after selling Teddy Sheringham and Des Walker. A young Roy Keane dazzled for Forest in midfield, being named in the team of the year for the season. The club yo-yoed between the top two tiers of English football throughout the 90s but haven’t played in the Premier League since relegation in 1999. They briefly dropped to League One in 2005 and have played in the Championship since 2008.
Leicester City are the only team to win the Premier League who did not play in the Premier League’s inaugural season. In one of modern football’s all-time great stories, they famously won the league under Claudio Ranieri in 2016 (despite being 5000/1 outsiders at the start of the season). Leicester were first promoted to the Premier League in 1994 and suffered a 10-year absence between 2004 and 2014, which featured a cameo appearance in League One. They have remained in the Premier League since promotion in 2014.
Brighton and Hove Albion spent the majority of the 90s in the third and fourth tier of English football. After a series of promotions and relegations, Brighton made it to the Premier League in 2017 for the first time in the club’s history which was the first time that they had played top flight football since 1983.
AFC Bournemouth have spent a large chunk of their past in the third and fourth tiers of the football pyramid. In 2008, they suffered terrible financial difficulties, were relegated to League Two and given a hefty points deduction. Former player Eddie Howe took the manager’s job, remarkably guided them to safety and then promotion within two years. In 2012, Howe spearheaded Bournemouth’s promotion to the Championship, and within two years they were in the Premier League. This was the first time the club had ever played in the topflight and rounded off an incredible job that Howe had done on the South coast.
West Ham United were promoted to the Premier League in 1993 and have spent just three seasons outside of it since. Some fabulous footballers have graced the Upton Park turf since, including Paulo Di Canio and Jermaine Defoe, and they also boast a wonderful youth system that has produced the likes of Michael Carrick, Joe Cole, Frank Lampard and Rio Ferdinand. West Ham now play at the 2012 Olympic Stadium, the London Stadium.
Burnley were promoted to the Premier League for the first time in 2009, having spent large amounts of the 40s, 50s, 60s and 70s in the topflight. This was their first appearance in the top tier since 1976. The 2019/20 season is their fourth consecutive Premier League campaign.
Wolverhampton Wanderers made it to the Premier League for the first time in 2003, and have moved between the Premier League, Championship and League One ever since. They enjoyed one of the most impressive seasons from a promoted team with their 7th place finish in 2019.
Newcastle United were promoted to the Premier League in 1993, enjoying substantial success in the mid-90s under Kevin Keegan and with Alan Shearer and Les Ferdinand up front. They came agonizingly close to winning the Premier League, and enjoyed some entertaining exploits in Europe, but were relegated in 2009. The club bounced straight back and then did the same thing after relegation in 2016.
Watford played in the topflight in 1982, after a remarkable rise from the fourth tier. They were first promoted to the Premier League in 1999 and have been in it ever since their 2015 promotion.
The Premier League has housed a variety of teams from up and down England and Wales since 1992. Despite its ever-changing nature, the sheer quality of football entertainment on display has remained a constant. Ensure you never miss a Premier League match with the Fixture Calendar.
Alice Rampling, November 2019
Photos by Premier League
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