Its thirty years this month since the Premier League began and at the same time Newcastle United kicked off in their attempt to join it.
Where did the time go?
Nearly half of these past three decades was taken by the wilful neglect of the last regime. A truly scary realisation. Right up there with it being three decades since life peaked with Achy Break Heart and Gladiators.
The culmination of years of legal wrangling, the satiety of the ravenous greed of the usual clubs and a summer of Sky’s incessant self-promotion for their new league. As the kick-off drew closer the controversy faded into the customary anticipation of the return of football.
The move of live top flight football to Sky’s subscription service was discomforting in itself but the months without football had been reminiscent of previous rights holders ITVs coverage. Around ten live games had been shown the previous season and two of those the title deciders back to back.
As it happened. the football fan would be an initially beneficiary. A real net gain. There had never been anywhere near as much football on TV.
Sky would show a Premier League game every Sunday and controversially on Monday. ITV showed live second tier matches pretty much every Sunday, sometimes different ones in different regions, plus more of the newly dubbed ‘Champions League’. Channel 4 took over the rights to Serie A from Sky and raised the quality of coverage. Match of the Day returned to its weekly Saturday night slot, covering Premier League games.
There’d been talk of the league being invitation only (including a Newcastle United back then languishing in second tier mid-table) and no relegation, with the new league under the jurisdiction of the FA not the football league. Yet the biggest change, the whole new ball game, would have happened anyway, with the invent of the back pass rule.
Though synthetic and ungainly it nevertheless created a nervousness and excitement in its early days. Not expecting, often rightly, but usually disappointingly. goalkeepers to be adept with their kicking, especially under pressure. Any back pass initially felt like a chance.
With the literal countdown complete and Palace’s John Salako’s reminding viewers there was just one earth day to go before Sky’s coverage of the Premier League began, and this infernal hype ceased, the 92/93 season was here.
The dark, drizzly and gloomy day at St James’ Park was not becoming of a first day. Even less so for those at the pre-season tournament the previous weekend in identical weather.
There was still a feeling rules could change and a measured determination seemed the vibe, reflected by our transfer business.
Out visitors Southend were no mugs. The previous season they’d been second as late as February. With Cambridge second as late as April, some enjoyed the thought of the new Mega League including such clubs.
The pitch and the big crowd illuminated the day. The grass and slick surface revelled in by our sharp football.
New signings Beresford, Venison and Bracewell all debuted. The latter two former mackem captains. It can take a while to adjust to the sight of new signings in your shirt anyway, more when they’re strongly associated with another club. This would take longer still you felt. Like acclimatising your eyes to day or natural light after being captive in darkness. Which this pretty much was for Bracewell.
A long time turned out to be 10 minutes. A Peacock volley was thwarted by a combination of keeper and post, the subsequent corner cleared only as far as Bracewell who smashed, first time, a left footed screamer into the top corner from 22 yards out. Washing away any mackemness before your brain had a chance to think ‘this is weird’. Including from Venison, celebrating vehemently. Bracewell had scored more in his first ten minutes for us than he had in over two years for them.
Brock, O’Brien and Scott were suspended due to the Battle of the Baseball Ground in April. Steve Howey had only featured in a needs must couple of games since Keegan’s arrival but was thrust into the centre of defence here. After not looking great even by our low status as a centre-forward. It proved inspired.
Pressure told for the second. Clark’s pass or shot was turned in for an own-goal. It should have been more by half-time.
Either side of Clark scoring a third, Southend out of nothing found a couple of goals, leaving the final stages more nervous than they should have been.
Our football was fast and crisp. We played well but as goals and games flowed, there were concerns over the goals against. A sense of defensive liability didn’t seem suggestive of promotion. But that was long-term, in the immediate, scoring more goals was all that was needed.
Perhaps it was a sign when nipping for a Brucie at Viscochi’s in High Fell on the way home, Newcastle and St James down the bank in the rear window amidst the dark, that ‘Ain’t No Doubt’ by our very own Jimmy Nail played.
Speaking of Spenders. We’d been linked with Peter Beardsley, Chris Waddle and Alan Shearer in the summer. Perhaps a year too soon for all.
Little had been seen of this young Shearer (ITV). Though making the England European Championships squad as a Southampton player and his suitors, opting for moneybags Blackburn ahead of Manchester United, in a record £3.5million transfer, all told a story. Two brilliant goals for Blackburn on the opening day of the Premier League put to bed any questions about the fee or his calibre. Twenty more followed by Christmas before a serious injury curtailed his season, probably preventing him breaking 40 goals.
Warren Barton scored somewhat of a fluke goal as Wimbledon threatened to take points away from champions Leeds and across bright Yorkshire, Brian Deane had scored the historic first ever Premier League goal as Sheffield United beat Manchester United and once more Alex Ferguson’s job hung by a thread.
In the trickily referred to now Division One, formerly Division Two, Derby had pleasingly lost at newly promoted Peterborough. Seen as likely big rivals for promotion they had spent a fortune over the year and in the summer – five times what we had and more than we had in five years.
A touch embarrassingly for the heralded kick-off of the new Premier League, the biggest attendance belonged to the old world of the Football League courtesy of the 28,545 near capacity St James’ Park gate. It wouldn’t be the last time either of those was the case. Gary Lineker, then esteemed, mentioned as much. And he knew about selling out having moved to the Japanese J-League.
We’d win our next ten league games, plus two league cup ties, nine months later we were in the Premier League. Nine years later it was the richest league in the world.
Big things have small beginnings.
Premier League results on the first ever weekend in August 1992:
Arsenal 2-4 Norwich, Chelsea 1-1 Oldham, Coventry 2-1 Middlesbrough, Crystal Palace 3-3 Blackburn, Everton 1-1 Sheffield Wednesday, Ipswich 1-1 Aston Villa, Leeds 2-1 Wimbledon, Sheffield United 2-1 Manchester United, Southampton 0-0 Spurs,
Division One results on that same weekend:
Newcastle 3-2 Southend, Peterborough 1-0 Derby, Swindon 1-0 Sunderland