One of the more tiresome aspects of the new season is the Silver Anniversary of the Premier League, which has produced all kinds of articles, quizzes and clickbait over the last month or so.
Most of that indulges in the myth created by Sky Sports and perpetuated by almost all of the major football magazines and websites that English football only invented tools and began walking upright in August 1992. Being the writer of this blog as well as being a fan of a Championship club that hasn’t had the opportunity to be relegated from the Premier League after one season, the only times I ever mention the Promised Land are at either end of the season and if anything remarkable happens during either of the domestic cup competitions.
That being said, ‘The Premier League’ by Lloyd Pettiford (Urbane Publishing, £12.99) is a very enjoyable account of the history of the Premier League. There’s a good reason for this: the strapline ‘Written by the fans for the fans’ is exactly what this collection is. Pettiford (a Southampton supporter) contacted fans of all the clubs that have participated in the Premier League – including those that realistically don’t have much of a chance of returning there – for their thoughts on the competition. It may be something of a surprise that Liverpool and Spurs fans seemed most the most reluctant to get involved but then again, Leicester City have won the Premier League more times.
The format is a hybrid of a football blog, fanzine articles and a reference book (1) that by and large works well: because each season has an individual chapter, it doesn’t need to be read chronologically so if you’re a Swindon Town fan you can dive straight into the glory days of 1993/94. The only aspect that doesn’t really work is the overuse of YouTube links in footnotes, but I have a lot of sympathy with Pettiford here as it’s hard to think of another way that these could have been referred to in print. Imagine if you can a print version of the posts on here over the last seven years and you aren’t far off.
One of the real strengths of the book is that it reminds you of what you’ve forgotten along the way. Everton are almost relegated, Middlesbrough are relegated after having points deducted and losing both the major domestic cup finals and Leeds‘ disastrous ‘win or bust’ strategy regarding the Champions League almost seems like a harbinger of financial crisis of a decade ago. On the other hand, readers in their teens will probably find it hard to believe that Oldham were a Premier League team for two seasons and less than two decades ago Manchester City were playing in what we know as League One. If you ignore that fact that only six teams have won the Premier League in 25 years (two fewer than won the old Football League title in the quarter of a century before that), arguably the real story of the Premier League is about the clubs that haven’t been as successful as the Big Five and the experiences of their fans. ‘The Premier League’ is all about that point of view.
I thoroughly enjoyed this book and recommend it wholeheartedly, even though I have to admit I don’t have anything like the enthusiasm I had for the Premier League even a decade ago. That’s probably why my favourite quote is from the focus on Stoke City in the chapter about the 2014/15 season:
‘But generally speaking, the slow and somewhat painful journey through the second and third tiers was the interesting bit, not the Premier League…’
(1) Breedon Books having long since gone into administration, any book that features Premier League tables should be treasured.