THE HALF DECENT FOOTBALL MAGAZINE

8 February ~ "History – that excited and deceitful old woman!" Guy de Maupassant once wrote. It's unlikely that the 19th century French writer was looking ahead to the joys of the Premier League, but I wouldn't be surprised if the words were engraved on the desk of every latter day television commentator. For although it's not a new complaint, the continued selling of the idea that any English football prior to 1992 has no valid place in the record books remains a severe irritant that refuses to become any more tolerable with time.

With so many goals and exciting games at the weekend, the commentators were in full flow. According to Sky's Gary Weaver at St James's Park: "Newcastle United have pulled off one of the greatest Premier League comebacks of all time." Of all time – as though the Premier League and the Big Bang were simultaneous events. The next day at Stamford Bridge, Jon Champion warmed us up by mentioning "quite a weekend already in the Barclays Premier League – a record-busting 42 goals!" No need to ask which time span his records cover. Meanwhile, Fulham had travelled to Villa Park, where they've never won "in the Premier League". Before that, who gives a shit? Every weekend brings dozens of similar examples. Goal, appearance and unbeaten run stats only go back two decades. Prior to that, the archives are apparently locked.

Maybe the media, which seems to have collectively bought into this insidious deception, thinks that the longer the Premier League exists, the more we will become used to this idea. The up and coming generations will presume that the old Football League Division One was an obsolete curiosity, like shirts without sponsors' names, and managers sitting still in the dugout. For many fans, though, it's like hearing a lie perpetuated for the 1,000th time. You simply can not become immune to hearing something that you know is not true. For us, the commentators do not provide interesting background facts, they serve up relentless, hysterical Barclays Premier League propaganda.

Occasionally, however, there's a slip. In the 18th minute of Chelsea v Liverpool on Sunday, Champion mentioned that "the last hat-trick in this fixture" was scored by George Mills for Chelsea in… wait for it, 1937. Never mind that this line was delivered with a near chortle, to imply that the very idea of football prior to the Second World War was somehow comical, like a music hall cabaret act. And the modern game is of course so advanced that defensive techniques simply wouldn't allow one striker to score three times in a game between two such gifted Premier League high-fliers. But I'd like to hear a little more. Who was George Mills? What was the score that day? Where were the teams in the league and how did they finish? And while we're at it, what is the greatest comeback of all time, and when did Fulham last win at Villa Park?

Champion went quiet for a few seconds, probably struggling for breath as the producer grabbed him around the neck and tried to strangle the life out of him, while researchers thrust sheets of fascinating modern stats under his nose about the number of times Fabio Aurelio has come off the bench this season when Liverpool have played away from home. Co-commentator Efan Ekoku was maybe silently shaking his head, as though Champion had turned up at a family reunion and asked about the uncle who was jailed for hanging around outside too many junior schools. The mere mention of the unspeakable is enough to threaten the Premier League family.

This politic refusal to acknowledge the century of history that laid the foundations for the current era of avarice is an ongoing disgrace. We are accustomed to the fact that the Premier League was founded to buy up top-flight football and then sell it back to us again several times over, and all of us who watch it and pay for it are complicit in this unhappy pact. But that shouldn't mean that we accept the dishonest treatment of the game's past as though it's a filthy secret, kept in a shameful closet of flickering films and yellowing paper documents. Just because Sky didn't pay for it doesn't mean that it didn't happen, despite what their excited and deceitful front men would have us believe. Ian Plenderleith

Comments (22)
Comment by Rogin the Armchair Fan 2011-02-08 12:10:13

Absolutely agree with everything in this article. It wouldn't even be so bad if the foundation of the Premier League had been some fundamental shift in the structure of the game, like "Super League" was to Rugby League, or the various top-level reorganisations have had in Rugby Union. All that actually happened in 1992 was that the 22 clubs who would have been in the old Division One anyway carried on as usual, just with more money and sacrificing their home fans' Saturday afternoon plans to the whims of Sky TV's fixture schedulers.

Comment by Miller11 2011-02-08 12:16:45

I'm a Blackburn fan, and at Ewood Park last week, some of our supporters were attempting to taunt Spurs travelling supporters with "Stand up if you've won the league". I've also witnessed this against Villa and Sunderland.
It's pretty embarrassing, and while a lot of the perpetrators certainly didn't look old enough to have more than 2 or 3 years old when we last won the title, they were joined by men in their 40's!

Comment by mistrollingin 2011-02-08 12:22:28

An excellent article. I especially like your suggestions for interesting items of commentary that would add to the experience of watching football on television. The Premier League has brought us gloss and packaging but where is the substance?
http://mistrollingin.wordpress.com/

Comment by Bluemoonraker 2011-02-08 12:54:33

Also agree entirely - this is just one facet of commentators and pundits general ignorance that puts me off watching on TV - and don't forget the occasional ITV/Sky rewrite of European Cup history.

Comment by tratorello 2011-02-08 13:16:07

It's funny though, how Football league history can be included if it suits the modern narrative, for instance, if Manchester United win the Premier League this season then they will overtake Liverpool's record of 18 title wins, even though, of course, Liverpool have yet to win the Premier League.

Comment by sw2boro 2011-02-08 15:40:48

Ha, I knew exactly who was writing this article from the first sentence on, but I loved it all the same. You’re quite right, it’s an annoying pain with cynical motives.

Comment by Adam Wilson 2011-02-08 17:27:43

Yes, but... Isn't there something in comparative records keeping? After all, it is of interest if it's the first time something's happened since 1902, but of more relevance to know that it's the first win for a team since 1997. It IS of more immediate interest and relevance that Blackburn have won the league within more people's living memory than Spurs. Tottenham's history pre-1992 is more glorious, but then so is Huddersfield's (take's deep breath hoping this is true and awaits immediate correction if not). What utterly gets my goat is the league name-changing thingy - and that is of immediate historical relevance, especially in club histories (Forest will tell you that we won 'Division One' twice - in 1978 and 1998).

Comment by MoeTheBarman 2011-02-08 18:15:34

Ludicrous article. The Premier League is a completely different competition - seperate rules, seperate administrators, seperate league, hence why Premier League stats are about the Premier League. It simply isn't the old Division One anymore. As for not mentioning what happened before, Sky do plenty of that if you actually watch it, not least with their series of 'Time of Our Lives', solely based pre-Premier League.

This is nothing more than yet another WSC article making a big deal over nothing and is simply an excuse to bash Sky/The Premier League. It's getting tedious guys, so much so I may even consider cancelling my subscription.

Comment by Jobi1 2011-02-08 23:17:53

Which seperate rules are these? Is this why according to certain sections of the Premier League-approved media women shouldn't officiate games in the competition, in case it gets too confusing for them?

Comment by madmickyf 2011-02-09 01:11:45

Maybe Mr Scudamore has been reading Orwell's 1984 and has seen the benefit of re-writing history to suit his agenda?

Comment by Harbinger of Hope 2011-02-09 01:14:31

While I agree partly that it is only fair to compare eggs with eggs. The point Ian made about the first Premier League having 22 teams is very important. In fact for the first 3 seasons of the Premier League, there was 22 teams, and therefore to compare scoring records against a 20 team league, with 4 fewer matches can be seen as unfair.

If the media moguls are happy to compare 22 and 20 team leagues, the comparing the premier league to the old First Division is also fair. It's the inconsistancies that annoy people. Rebranding the league and selling the rights to Sky changed very little apart from the money being paid to clubs.

Comment by karris 2011-02-09 01:31:59

Big deal over nothing? It is exactly the same league, as Rogin pointed out, the 22 teams from the previous 'Division One' restarted the season the same as they had for the previous 105 years, just under a different name. During the 80's the 'Super League' debate was all about creating a smaller league with teams such as Rangers and Celtic joining. This never happened, if it had then it would have been a 'new' league with new history. The Premier league is division one with a different name and erasing its history prior to 1992 is insulting to football fans. Does anyone actually buy into this 'In Premier League History' rubbish spewed out by commentators (most of whom covered the old division one anyway.)The only thing that changed in 1992 was kick-off times were arranged to suit Sky TV. History of the top tier of English football doesn't just disappear because a TV channel says so.

Comment by mozzaleon 2011-02-09 04:02:04

@MoeTheBarman, Do it please...

Comment by Lord Pesk 2011-02-09 12:41:25

Were the Barclays Premier League to re-brand itself the HSBC Premier League, for instance, would records re-start then?

Do commentators on Championship games talk about "In Championship history"?

Will they do so in the future?

Is this not utterly ridiculous?

Comment by Lincoln 2011-02-09 16:27:00

Moe the Barman has a point. At the start of the Chelsea Liverpool game was a graphic showing the
number of times Dalglish had won and lost to Chelsea. He has only lost once (from memory, might
be wrong but it was certainly a low number), but exactly how relevant is his late 80s record to the game? There
is a case for being more relevant. As for the goals record, sure that is a fine comparisson but what
about points where there are now more points per win than earlier years?

Comment by AngleofPostandBar 2011-02-09 16:52:58

What about "post-war", then?

Comment by MoeTheBarman 2011-02-09 21:05:51

"the 22 teams from the previous 'Division One' restarted the season the same as they had for the previous 105 years, just under a different name"

They didn't though, it wasn't just a different name it was a different competition entirely, a 'breakaway league', hence why it is no longer run by the Football League. The only reason level 2 feeds into it and it was allowed to stay at the top is because if they weren't allowed to break away they would have done so without the approval of the FA and it would have stood alone, not as the top level of English football.

When people refer to 'The Premier League era' they are referring to something that has only existed since 1992.

Comment by Velvet Android 2011-02-10 12:33:33

Point taken Moe, undeniably the Premier League as an organisation has only existed since 1992. Despite the fact I agree with the spirit of this article, one can also say it's not so illogical to refer to 'Premier League records' since the post-'92 period alone now basically spans a generation; so I think that's a reasonable mass for statistical purposes, not to mention how it covers a whole
lifetime of football-watching for younger fans.

But calling it a "different competition entirely" is stretching things. You can't deny, surely, that whatever changes had taken place in the league's name/administration/governance structure and battles taken place with the Football League authorities, it was still kicking off as the top flight of the English pyramid, with 19 of the same clubs plus three promoted as normal, playing the same pairs of fixtures under the same laws with the same number of points on offer for a win or draw, with the same promotion/relegation/qualification-for-Europe system awaiting, etc.
It isn't like the transition from the European Cup into the Champions' League – for all that I'd like to think of that as having one continuous history, there's definitely been a huge change in the basic structure and size of the competition there, so one needs to apply quite a lot of caveats when comparing records. From the point of view of everyone watching top-flight football in 1992, though, the teams did restart the season in the same manner as normal since they were playing under precisely the same pitch-level conditions as before, therefore it's not unreasonable to consider the records and statistics from the preceding period as continuing to be relevant in the new era. To most fans who are still watching to this day, that's why bringing down an iron curtain between the 1991/2 and 1992/3 seasons just doesn't work. To many, of course, what is more galling still is when this appears to be done in the name of an ethos (especially at Sky) that's forever going "Look!! In the Premier League everything's newer and bigger and richer and better and brighter and glitzier and greater and more footballier ALL THE TIME!" at the (perceived/real) expense of any other competition.

Comment by Velvet Android 2011-02-10 12:36:30

Going on from what I just said, context is everything of course. That's the point: it's fair to consider stats as being continuous when the conditions are essentially the same; so it's less fair to compare records if they came, say, from before and after the introduction of 3 points for a win – even though that's inarguably the same league, yet an asterisk needs to be metaphorically added to the 'before' records. The same goes for Most Goals in a Season: it's surely fairer to measure a 22-team Premier season against a previous 22-team Division 1 season than it is to compare it with another Premier League year featuring just 20 teams. Likewise, qualifying for Europe is a much easier feat now than when the PL first started, with only the top two places in the League definitely leading to Europe then instead of six or seven, and before that were the Heysel-ban days when no teams could get there at all – so comparing clubs' records of European qualification is similarly unequal both within and beyond this era.
Sometimes the changes are more social/philosophical: one could argue that the Second World War interval created a much more seismic change in football history, as far as separating distinct eras goes, even though on paper it was the same competition afterwards – to go back to Huddersfield as mentioned above for example, their status as multi-time League champions will forever contain the caveat that this was "pre-War", even if that isn't strictly fair.
It's probably equally notable that Spurs have won the title in the pre-Premier League (but post-war) era as that Blackburn have won it within it: the achievement should rank the same regardless of the league's name/ownership. On the other hand, it's hard not to feel that maybe bringing up (then-Blackburn manager, heh) Kenny Dalglish's past Liverpool managerial record against Chelsea was slightly spurious prior to last weekend's game, seeing how it was 20 years earlier. But this is much less to do with that being pre-Premier League than with it being an unfair comparison because Chelsea have become an undisputed powerhouse since, which they really weren't then: for instance, in 1988/9 when I started following football, they were in the second tier – curiously enough, considering, they finished as Division 2 champions and were accompanied upwards by... Manchester City.

I should add that, as a Norwich City fan, the new era briefly served us very well as the Canaries had a great year that 1992/3 season and led the league by eight points at one stage, finished third and got into Europe for the only time (thanks only to Arsenal winning both Cups: they freed up their UEFA Cup place from the League Cup by taking up a Cup-Winners' Cup place for their FA Cup win, thanks to a last-minute replay goal from ex-Norwich star Andy Linighan!), hence beating Bayern Munich and so on... As I recall, we topped the table for 17 weeks , which naturally stood as an all-time Premier League record for quite a while afterwards :)

Comment by MoeTheBarman 2011-02-11 17:34:23

To all intents and purposes, it outwardly appears to be the first division renamed. The fact though is that when the top clubs broke away - they were invited to leave the football league and did - the division below was called League 1; the top of the football league pyramid.

The continued talk of pulling the drawbridge up and scrapping relgation is the clincher as the Premier League can at any time decide football league clubs are no longer welcome. When a club gets promoted from the Championship, it doesn't merely move up a league, it moves to a new competition, administered by a new ruling body with new rules and criteria.

My club Wimbledon never played at Plough Lane in the Premier League, we moved to Selhurst the year before, as it didn't meet the PL criteria.

The Champions League is not the same I don't think, purely because it is still administered by UEFA and is a restructure of an existing competition.

The fault for all this of course lies with the FA being utterly spineless and refusing to work with the Football League (how many other countries have leagues not run by their FA? Extraordinary, it really is).

As for Norwich, I remember your incredible season because it was us who knocked the wheels off it with a 3-0 win at Selhurst in front of the 5000 Norwich fans your club provided free coach travel for. Sorry about that ;) Holdsworth (2) and Fashanu got the goals I think. It all seemed to go downhill for you after that though I stand to be corrected. Looking good this year though, good luck and keep Delia away from the sherry.

Comment by MoeTheBarman 2011-02-11 18:01:20

"therefore it's not unreasonable to consider the records and statistics from the preceding period as continuing to be relevant in the new era"

Oh, and I certainly agree with that I just think the article complaining about how people refer to stats in one particular era of the game (the guy who made the comment about 'post-war' was bang on the money, we've been doing it before the PL even existed) is a waste of pixels and sums up the way WSC seems to be heading, a collection of negative essays that seem to take no pleasure out of the game any more.

The author overlooks so many instances where Sky highlight pre Premier League football, such as the series of programmes that exclusively featured great teams from distant eras; it's such a hollow complaint that the commentators only talk of post 1992 stats. Sky couldn't make enough of the deal that Mourinho was leading Chelsea to their first 'title' for 50 years.

It really is ironic that the article is as misleading as the people it complains about!

Comment by imp 2011-02-12 22:05:53

Moe - The 'Time Of Our Lives' series proves my point - history is sectioned off into a separate package, presumably with far lower viewing figures than Chelsea v Liverpool. Without backing that up in their daily coverage, it's tokenism. 'This is history, and this is the modern game, and the two are entirely unrelated.' Yeah, misleading. I only know what I hear week after week, relentlessly, year after year.

Apart from that, your main point seems to be that the Premier League is a different competition, with a different name. Not a matter that's ever been up for dispute. Ian.

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