The Premier League is the biggest league in world football, the most watched, richest and most lucrative, attracting many of the world’s top players. Hard to believe then that the League was conceived at a time when English Football was just emerging just from its lowest ebb.
The 1980’s had seen England’s First Division fall well below the top leagues in Spain and Italy – games were played in dated, crumbling stadiums, supporter numbers were dropping, football hooliganism was rife, and English clubs had been banned from Europe in the aftermath of Heysel.
By the early 1990s, things had begun to improve – England had had a relatively successful World Cup, reaching the semi-finals, UEFA had lifted the European ban on English clubs, and in 1990 the Taylor Report had proposed far reaching improvements to stadium safety standards, including the move to all-seater stadiums.
There had also been a phenomenal rise in TV money coming into the game and with it came the first rumblings of a breakaway “super league”.
Ten clubs threatened such a breakway in 1988, but were persuaded to stay.
However, as match attendances and and revenues continued to rise, the country’s top teams again considered leaving the Football League in order to capitalise on the growing influx of money coming into the game.
On 14 June 1991, the rumblings of discontent, which had started years earlier, saw 16 First Division clubs sign a document stating their intention to join a break-away League.
After months of financial wrangling the Premier League became a reality on 23 September 1991, with the FA agreeing to keep the three-up-three-down promotion / relegation format in place.
The first Premier League season kicked off in 1992, with 22 teams. (At the insistence of FIFA the league was reduced to 20 teams in 1995).
Manchester United were the first champions and continued to dominate throughout the 1990’s, with only Blackburn (1995) and Arsenal (1998) able to break their hold on the trophy.
In 1999, United completed a unique treble, winning the Premier League, UEFA Champions League and FA Cup.
United’s dominance continued into the new millennium with Arsenal emerging as their main rival. The two shared five titles between 2000 and 2005.
Arsenal, under Arsene Wenger, won the 2003/04 title without losing a single game, earning them the nickname “The Invincibles”.
The dominance of the “big two” was finally broken in 2004-2005 season, as Chelsea, financed by the Russian billionaire Roman Abramovich, and managed by the charismatic and outspoken Jose Mourinho stormed to the title. In the process they established new records for most clean sheets, fewest goals conceded, most victories, and most points earned.
Chelsea repeated this feat in 2006, equalling their own Premiership record of 29 wins set the previous season.
They relinquished their title to Manchester United in 2007, and United retained the title in 2008 by a margin of two points, with Chelsea again runner-up.