Football has changed for the better since the creation of the Premier League, across all aspects the sport has grown and adapted with the media, politics and technology, and not least on a fundamental sporting level. With fans getting a more hands-on fan experience than ever before, the common depiction of a ‘football fan’ has changed over the years. Footballers have a voice with more influence and outreach than ever before, there is new-found opportunities for minority groups to play football, the game now has a large, and rather important place, in English society. I will explore Italia 90’s involvement in the transformation of society’s consensus of English football, as well as how the creation of the Premier League has impacted consumerism.
The creation of the Premier League on a sporting level has been an undoubted success, with more foreign players and managers coming over to England and succeeding than ever before, the brand of the Premier League is staggering on an international level. Since 1992 we have seen some of the best manager’s we have ever seen mark their imprint on the game, in term switching the societal message of football.
Prior to the creation of the Premier League, Italy hosted the 1990 World Cup, ‘Italia 90’, a pivotal time period in how society views football today. Prior to Italia 90, and perhaps for a short while after, there was a common depiction of football and it’s consumers. “One of the tabloid men called them ‘professional hooligans’, a nice way to talk about your readers” (Davies 1990). Contextually speaking, print papers and news articles in the 1990’s were about as much as it got for the general public when it came to reading about the on goings of the world, in a time pre-dating social media and technological advancements, it was a lot easier to run a narrative through the media, which was done so, by the English media, during Italia ’90. “Under the gaze of the media they create their own spectacle (which – we may as well admit it – is somewhat more fascinating than the official one)” (Baudrillard 2017). The phrase commonly used at the time, ‘professional hooligans’ typifies the classism displayed during this period, a clear disconnect between the media and football fans. Despite this, the media were not writing fiction, in Pete Davies’ book, All Played Out: The Full Story of Italia ’90, he goes into detail and recalls the events from a fans’ perspective of the World Cup, “The bar itself was theoretically shut, though a few of us did limbo under the door”. These recollections show how engrained hooliganism was within football at the time, deciphering where the media drew links between football and hooliganism from.
“The 1980s was a really low point, people forget how much of a cultural outpost football had become. In newspapers, it was very much restricted to the back pages and it represented much of what was bad about 1980s society.” (Taylor 2018). The 1980’s can be viewed as a decade which encapsulated aggression and violence within the country, Britain came out victorious in the Falkland War against Argentina, an example of a country which may have just been one of extreme anger at the time. “One might speculate that working-class spectators who have lived through the deeply disempowering realities of the post-war British class system would consider themselves to have a real membership status or to operate within a participatory democracy that is really owned and controlled by a handful of local businessmen.” (Giulliantotti 2002). Davies, throughout his book, articulated what he saw out in Italy vividly, consistently connecting English fans with violence and aggression. “There were also a daft number of policeman, keeping a benign eye on the England lads” (Davies 1990). Oppression and rebellion were themes continually stressed throughout the book, whether it was coincidental or not, it just so happened that football was an outlet for said aggression. “I was ashamed to speak English. There were people running past people sitting having a coffee in cafes, and they were slapping them in the face as they want, men, women, children, they didn’t care.” (Davies 1990). Despite all of this crime and hooliganism, there was still a sense of unjustness about the treatment of England fans due to how much publicity they were getting and the aforementioned idea that football was “restricted to the back pages and it represented much of what was bad about 1980s society”, however it comes across in the book as the stories published by the media being endless. “LSD DEVILS – ACID CRAZY SOCCER THUGS ‘TALK TO SATAN” the headline of a tabloid after England fans took LSD while out in Italy “what is true is that a tripping 14 year-old from Plymouth went overboard and drowned” (Davies 1990). The headline in itself feeds the propaganda displayed at the time, what’s completely unjustifiable about it is the correlation to the football, or lack thereof, the media’s obsession to dampen any sort of unity within the fan base was not only obvious, but slightly baffling. “One journalist stood up on this plane, drunk on the free booze, and told his press colleagues, ‘we’re here to bury Robson.’ They had already buried his squad: one tabloid waved England off to Italy with the headline ‘World Cup Wallies’. And as for the fans… ‘Mrs Thatcher even had one or two senior journalists in Fleet Street telling her what a bad game it was, and how awful everyone involved was,’ Harris recalls” (Tempany 2016). Despite the English media’s extensive efforts, the support and acknowledgement of England’s fans and football teams seemed to come from their very own counterparts, Davies alludes to this, “English football is held in higher esteem abroad than it is at home” (Davies 1990). This, defence of sorts, from other countries, of the England fans stemmed right the way through and into the media, “The Sun newspaper – ‘more than a thousand England soccer fans terrorised the centre of Stockholm last night’. Letter to the daily telegraph from Sven-Ake Hjalmroth, commissioner of police, Stockholm: in the light of the trouble after last week’s England – Sweden soccer match in Stockholm, I would like to say that the coverage in the English media has been rather exaggerated. The game itself was played practically without any disturbances at all.” In hindsight, there’s a chance the letter from Sven Ake Hjalmroth had an impact on the way the media push stories about England fans, it’s refusal to accept a story which isn’t even concerning their own countrymen may speak volumes into the extent of the exaggeration regarding the scenario involved. Despite the media still coming into scrutiny regarding some of it’s publications, the general consensus around England fans, in particularly those supporting the national team abroad, has changed since the creation of the Premier League. Italia ’90 is a big contributor in this.
The tournament, and of course that coveted England side, captured the hearts of the nation. As Bobby Robson’s side gained in confidence progressing through the knockouts, round of 16, and quarter finals, the narrative in the media shifted. The coverage wasn’t confined to back pages, now English football was making the news for the right reasons. Gary Lineker’s recollection on the period exemplifies the cultural shift, “It was a seminal moment, almost, in terms of football in this country. Lots of different people got interested in football, all different classes of people, I think it had a significant effect on the growth of football.”
Two years later, the Premier League was formed, a new brand for the English game, enhancing the rate at which consumers could watch their beloved sport. Whether it was pre-mediated that the Premier League would become one of the biggest spectacles in world sport and a live event which can be viewed as a luxury experience in some parts of the country, remains unknown.
What followed the creation of the Premier League is a surge in the broadcasting of the game, with companies paying billions of pounds to satisfy their viewers with the content that many have grown accustomed to over the past two decades. Sky Sports and BT agreed to pay £4.464bn to show 160 Premier League games a season from 2019/20 until 2021/22. Consumers in the modern day are able to watch on most weekends, at least five Premier League matches live, sometimes maybe more, provided they have the correct subscriptions. The luxury of, arguably, the best league in the world in front of you every week, extensive analysis of each of those games, Sky have introduced a designated channel to the Premier League, which churns out content twenty-four seven covering exclusively the Premier League. With Sky Go you can literally watch Premier League content anywhere with a connection to the internet. It’s seemingly perfect no?
This modern, content-dominant, era of being a fan did not sit kindly with some. “Satellite TV required a new form of viewer – a subscriber. And football viewers were perfect, because they had a loyalty hitherto untapped by television. From 1992, satellite TV struck a new formula: turn football supporters into subscribers, then sell their loyalty back to them.” (Tempany 2016). Tempany’s frustrations stem from him being a game-goer himself, devoting his life to following Liverpool up and down the country, arguing that TV companies are taking advantage of the most passionately followed sport in the country. “The game grows according to the profile television bestows.” (Tempany 2016) A subscription for Sky Sports which includes all channels, is £29.95 a month, with BT costing £29.99, that’s £719.28 a year to be able to watch 160 Premier League matches. Compare that to the cost of a season ticket at a Premier League club, which ranges from anywhere between £320 to £1995, that only getting you a seat at the home matches, you can begin to understand Tempany’s frustrations. “Authentic fandom was never merely a case of swivel-eyed devotion: it was vested in the ability to talk about football with authority. This was hard won: before 1992, it required supporters to travel long distances, often midweek, in terrible conditions. They came back with anecdotes, wisdom and the occasional scar – the traditional colours of the respected elder. Now, with 24 hour sports channels, radio phone ins and online forums, there is no room for these fans to talk about the game with authority anymore: the media do that instead.” (Tempany 2016). Clarity here I believe is lost, advancing technology means that this is football in the modern era, there are platforms such as Twitter where millions can voice their opinion. The game, with time, has just become more inclusive. The money that the Premier League makes enables TV broadcasters to release masses of content throughout the day, technology has enabled every match-goer in the country to record their experience, record their opinion of the experience and release it with a potential outreach of millions. Fans are still allowed and if not more able than ever to ‘talk about the game with authority’, what’s simply happened is that the game has adapted to how people communicate and share their views in modern society. “The fan who was once able to say ‘I was there’ is now mute. We are all there now, and if we can’t make it for kick off, then we’ll be there on sky plus”. (Tempany 2016). Whilst understanding what viewpoint Tempany is trying to convey here, I can’t help but feel begrudged by “we are all there now”, one thing that makes football special to millions across the world is those ninety minutes where you’re in the stadium surrounded by fellow fans, all craving the same thing, seeing your team win. “Where would you rather be on a day like this” is a direct quote from this same book, whilst reciting an experience of a game he went to himself, Tempany encapsulates everything that it means to be a fan. For the lovers of the game, going to the stadium and watching your team will always remain an unmatched experience, no matter how technologically advanced a fan experience may be or may get from the sofa.
The match-goers experience in itself has changed since the creation of the Premier League, unquestionably for the better. Alongside the rising prices of a pint and a hot-dog at the bar, fans are now able to have a more relatable, raw experience with the players they support than ever before. Manchester City have recently introduced ‘The Tunnel Club’ into their variety of ways you can experience the game. “With unrivalled views into the players’ tunnel, you are rewarded with an intimate insight into the players’ preparations. Seating located directly behind the dug-out lets you see the game the way the managers see it. After the whistle blows, watch and listen first-hand as the managers and players go about the post-match interviews.” City’s modern option of going about watching your team is a signpost of the new era when it comes to going to the stadium to watch your team play.
The game has changed, untold amounts, we’ve gone from the media degrading the game at every opportunity “The Sunday Times railed that the national game as a ‘slum sport played in slum stadiums, and increasingly watched by slum people” (And The Sun Shines Now – Adrian Tempany). To a game available for the elderly, with walking football continuing to grow in popularity within the country. Women’s football also seems to be marking a bigger imprint on the game as each year passes, with a staggering 1.12 billion viewers tuning into the 2019 World Cup final between USA and Netherlands. The game has adapted alongside modern innovations of technology, with the relationship between the club, players and fans being hit home with endless content being made available to fans, such as clips from training sessions being uploaded onto YouTube. The Premier League has overseen and been a main contributor in a cultural shift towards the attitude of football, we’ve moved away from the hooliganism, lower class image often associated with football pre-1990. The game is now suitable and most importantly, appreciated, by more people of a different class, gender, sexuality and disability.
All Played Out: The Full Story of Italia ’90 – Pete Davies 1990
And The Sun Shines Now – Adrian Tempany 2016
Supporters, Followers, Fans and Followers – Richard Giulliantotti 2002