'When Football Changed Forever' gave fans a chance to remember what English football was like before the Premier League era 

  • 'When Football Changed Forever' was shown on ITV4 on Thursday night
  • Documentary looked back at what life was like before the Premier League
  • Programme brought viewers back to a time when Eric Cantona was the star of the show 

Anyone born after the early Eighties is unlikely to get all dewy-eyed about what the top flight of football used to be like in England before the 1992-93 season. 

That kind of emotional response might be as equally perplexing to them as the sight of adults forming a dancefloor rowing boat as soon as they hear the first few notes of ‘Oops Upside Your Head.’

That period of the game was recalled on Thursday night on ITV4 in a documentary called ‘When Football Changed Forever’. But it wasn’t simply a nostalgic away day to football’s memory lane. 

'When Football Changed Forever' was shown on ITV 4 on Thursday night

'When Football Changed Forever' was shown on ITV 4 on Thursday night

It brought us back to a time when Eric Cantona was the star attraction of English football

It brought us back to a time when Eric Cantona was the star attraction of English football

Cantona is pictured in action against Wimbledon during his time with Leeds United

Cantona is pictured in action against Wimbledon during his time with Leeds United

Oh sure, plenty of fond and, indeed, fretful memories were jogged for the longer-serving fan. But what the programme also did was provide an intricate historical record of the state of the game just before it took its giant leap into the interstellar world of the Premier League.

Sure, if you tuned into the programme to simply wonder at the size of the voluminous shirts and laugh at the funny haircuts, there was plenty of that to be seen. 

As indeed there was of a series of ex players and managers waxing lyrical about a time when football could leave its door unlocked. It was time when Saint & Greavsie were the hottest double act on TV. And as broadcaster and writer Martin Kelner pointed out, if there was actually a live game on TV, you would ‘cancel all arrangements.’

But it was, as the documentary, showed us in step by step, intricate detail, also a time when there was as much serious action taking place in the boardrooms of football clubs, and at the FA, as there was on the field of play. 

Arsenal’s then vice-chairman David Dein was one of what the programme referred to as the ‘young buck’ club bosses who took the battle to HQ. Where as he pointed out in the show, they ‘kicked the door further open’ as the talk of a breakaway began to develop. Then proceeded to ‘break a lot of eggs'. Some of which clearly got left on some contrary faces!

However not all of that season’s action came wrapped up in red tape. It was the campaign when one Eric Cantona first graced the big stage at Leeds United. And helped them win a title that went down to the wire. Commemorated at the time, we were reminded, by the sight of the enigmatic Frenchman, Lee Chapman, David Batty and Gary McAllister crammed onto a three seater settee in front of an ITV camera. As they watched Manchester United lose the race at Liverpool.

The programme also recalled that a players strike was avoided at the 11th hour. That the BBC introduced a brand new phone in show called 606, in which its mercurial host Danny Baker gave the fan a genuine platform. And that a League Cup draw took place at the top of Trump Tower. Where the owner of the building looked slightly bewildered by the whole proceeding. Yes, well...

But the punchline to the documentary was the moment when the momentous shift from Division 1 to Premier League actually happened. And central to that, as indeed he was in the programme itself at that point, was Sir Alan Sugar. 

Cantona and his Leeds team-mates celebrate at Elland Road following their First Division win 

Cantona and his Leeds team-mates celebrate at Elland Road following their First Division win 

Former Arsenal chief David Dein offered his opinion on the introduction of the Premier League

Former Arsenal chief David Dein offered his opinion on the introduction of the Premier League

It was he, we heard from his own lips, who told Rupert Murdoch to ‘blow them out the water’ when ITV made a last-minute bid to gazump the Australian’s fledgling channel’s epic, pioneering deal. 

This they duly did, of course, for which Sir Alan could plainly not have been happier. ‘Not blowing my own trumpet, really’ he said, smiling like the cat who had cornered the entire cream market. ‘The whole revolution started with me and BSkyB.’

Earlier in the evening on the channel, during coverage of Italy versus Spain, Andy Townsend reminisced on commentary about that time. ‘What’s this Premier League about?’, he recalled thinking. ‘That’s going to last five minutes’, was his conclusion.

Well, it has certainly managed to hang on in there a little longer than that! And quite frankly, what a job it has done in showcasing a football competition that is arguably second to none in the world. But what ‘When Football Changed Forever’ managed to do, with a fist clasped firmly throughout on the unfolding narrative, was not only tell us simply how that happened. It also reminded us of what we’d had, and what very nearly might have been.

Lord Sugar told Sky supremo Rupert Murdoch to 'blow ITV out of the water' over TV rights

Lord Sugar told Sky supremo Rupert Murdoch to 'blow ITV out of the water' over TV rights

 

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