Football didn’t start with Premier League in 1992, you know; it’s more than an old man’s refrain

Premier League poster from 1992 Credit: Alamy
Premier League poster from 1992 Credit: Alamy

The start of another Premier League season is here and Harry Kane’s ‘will-he-won’t-he?’ transfer saga with Bayern Munich has once again led to the standard ‘football didn’t start in 1992, you know’ ripostes.

Outside of the bizarre shade thrown at Bayern, six-time European Cup winners and perennial contenders, the primary reason given for Kane either staying at Tottenham or holding out for a free transfer to Manchester United or elsewhere was the much-fabled Premier League goals record.

While Twitter/X is a cesspit that cannot be taken seriously, the bluster mostly came from Sky pundits, the company whose fingerprints are all over the creation of the newly branded top flight 31 years ago. It was expected from Micah Richards and Jamie Redknapp but it was somewhat surprising to see Jamie Carragher wade in given he is a noted historian of the game.

Many others disputed the notion of this false record that Alan Shearer currently holds with 260 goals since 1992/93. It is a fictionalised version of football history, and just a concept created by the executives of the Premier League, Sky, BT and the many other media and PR companies that work in conjunction with them. And yes, that includes us.

In reality, Kane sits 19th in the all-time English top-flight goals record behind footballers like Tony Cottee, Ian Rush, Dixie Dean and of course Jimmy Greaves, who sits atop the list with a whopping 357 goals.

Many of these goals came with Spurs, and Kane overtook him as the club’s greatest ever scorer in February of this year. There was no distinction made between their league goals then, so why is there elsewhere?

Like anything in life, football is riddled with contradictions (now more than ever with the nonsensical ‘football is for the fans’ mantra) and its accounting of history is no different.

There are reasons, of course.

The history of actual football clubs stretches back to the 1840s, and the sport itself centuries before that. There is so much to work through and a lot of it is not readily available with the lack of widespread televised footage until the birth of Match of the Day and other highlights packages, and then the advent of live matches.

Do viewers not want to hear about players from generations ago? Do they know who they are? Do younger writers and broadcasters even know who they are? Dixie Dean’s all-time top-flight season goals record of 60 in 1927/28 was brought up when Erling Haaland broke the ‘Premier League record’ last season to bemusement from younger people who had never heard of the Everton legend. We are undoubtedly a creation of our environment.

 Credit: Alamy
Credit: Alamy

With the launch of the Premier League, the Sky marketing slogan was ‘a whole new ball game’. But for some, that became more than a slogan and perhaps that was influenced not just by the new name, trophy and cheerleaders, but the changes to the sport itself.

After a drab Euro 92, the pass-back rule was eliminated, which had become a drain on matches and famously saw Graeme Souness pluck one back to his keeper from the half-way line to pick up.

Later in the 1990s, the Bosman rule was passed, changing the transfer market forever. Coupled with the fall of the Iron Curtain, football became globalised, giving it a very different feel.

The vibrancy of the new league, Britpop and New Labour was also a world away from the dark ages of the 1980s in Britain, where Thatcherism waged a war on the working class and football. Did people want to move away from a decade dominated by hooliganism, stadium disasters, death and more. If so, could you blame them?

It wasn’t just the English First Division that was renamed; 1992 also saw the European Cup rebranded as the Champions League, even if nothing else changed about it straight away (there’s now set to be five English teams in next year’s Swiss Model-styled tournament, making a further mockery of its name). At least the famous Big Ears trophy is still intact.

But nothing has been truly separated like top-flight records. No one has ever claimed Liverpool, for example, are anything but 19-time English champions and six-time champions of Europe. They are not called 18+1 and 4+2, are they? A 30-year wait to be champions ended in 2020, not a 28-year wait to break a duck.

Manchester United fall into a similar bracket. While they have won a ‘record’ 13 league titles since 1992, their fans chant ’20 times, 20 times Man United’ not 13+7.

The two great clubs’ battle for all-time supremacy in English football has been built over their claims to these records. When United won the title in 1992/93 to end their own 26-year wait, the following season, Liverpool fans famously unveiled a banner saying ‘come back when you’ve won 18’. It was billed as 18-8, not 1-0. It is 6-3 to Liverpool in Europe, not 2-2 in the Champions League era.

Fergie wanted to ‘knock Liverpool off their f*****g perch’ and did that in the all-time books, where it actually matters.

In terms of the World Cup and European Championship, the numbers of teams and formats have regularly changed and no distinction has been made. The former even changed trophies in 1974 after 44 years. Is ‘Jules Rimet still gleaming’ for the ’66 boys or should it be counted as a different title to the one Lionel Messi and Argentina just won?

It’s not as if football has operated in an amateur and professional era like rugby union, or ancient and modern further back like the Olympics.

Back to where we started with the Premier League goal record, it might not be mentioned enough that Shearer actually played and starred in the First Division, making his debut for Southampton in March 1988 and scoring a hat-trick on his full debut weeks later. Twenty-three goals later, he would be signed by free-spending Blackburn Rovers ahead of the ‘new’ league in the summer of 1992.

If you believe Sky (and sometimes Shearer himself), he just appeared on the first day of the Premier League at 22 years of age and nothing happened before then, but in reality he had already played for England and was the British record transfer. It defies logic.

Sometimes it feels like further disrespect to players from previous eras, as if they couldn’t hack it in today’s game. It is something that Johnny Giles amongst others have referred to. Pitches were then cabbage patches and defenders forced George Best and co. to hurdle leg-breaking challenges. Could the players of today handle that? It’s all relative and direct comparisons don’t make sense.

Without the past there would be no present, and without the genius players of the First Division there would be no Premier League, and everything we love/loathe in 2023. That should probably be remembered – by us and others – rather more often.

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