How 1992 changed football forever

BY Rob Fletcher

21st Apr 2023 Sport

How 1992 changed football forever

1992 saw the birth of the Premier League and Champions League, new rule changes and the success of Denmark at the Euros, making it the year that modern football was born

In his new book, 1992: The Birth of Modern Football, Rob Fletcher explains exactly why this was the year that changed everything for the beautiful game.

In these extracts from the book, Rob talks us through some of the factors that made it such a pivotal year in football history.

A whole new ball game

1992 changed football. It was a year like no other. The structure of the game, the laws of the game and the attitude of clubs all transformed. It was a year of revolution. Across the major leagues, there was a shift in focus and ambition to change. After the dark days and tragedies of the 1980s, a new form of football was born.

FIFA had decided that despite the success of Italia ‘90, the football was drab and overly technical. A product too slow for the audience to take in and enjoy. The eyes on the game were what mattered most. Sales of television rights came to dominate the football landscape and boost the coffers of the biggest clubs to the point of total domination. The Football Association was the first to move.

"Negotiating aggressively with ITV and BSkyB, a deal of £304m was reached with BSkyB. The Premier League was born"

Having undertaken an exhaustive review of the sport, the FA came up with the idea of a new super league for English football. The men at the top believed that the English national side would benefit with a reduction in the amount of top-level games and a more unified calendar. Waiting in the wings were the clubs. They had other ideas.

Well, it was the so-called 'Big Five' that had other ideas. Unhappy with the lack of revenue their clubs received, they decided that a super league with a new bumper television deal was the only way forward. Negotiating aggressively with Greg Dyke of ITV and Rupert Murdoch of BSkyB, a deal of £304m was agreed, far dwarfing any previous contract. The Premier League was born.

Can he kick it?

Laws often change in football, but like the changes to the offside rule in the pre-war era, the new back pass rule was a marked shift for the game. After seeing players pass back to their keeper from the halfway line, the law makers had an idea: a new rule. Now, keepers would have to use their feet as well as their hands. The results were mixed!

Fans and commentators were far from convinced. Who wanted to see goalkeepers using their feet? Most thought that the ball would end up in the stands more than the pitch. They were partly right. But, in hindsight, it certainly changed the position. Keepers had to evolve to survive.

Europe in flux

Denmark's national football team win Euro 1992Denmark's national team celebrating their surprise Euro 1992 win. Credit: Optus Sport

Denmark’s journey to the European Championship came at the expense of one of Europe’s most talented nations. Due to civil war and unrest at home, the superb Yugoslavia team was removed from the tournament in Sweden.

The Danes featured a group of players that played in some of Europe’s top leagues, but arrived at the tournament with minimal preparation. What they did have was unity. Richard Moller Nielsen’s team were certainly not the favourites. Germany, Holland and France were the much-fancied contenders. That didn’t matter to the Danes. Led by the likes of Peter Schmeichel and Brian Laudrup they found themselves victorious with some inspired performances.

The birth of the starball

In Europe, a new Champions League launched at the start of the 1992/93 season. This was a rebranding of the European Cup and one that continued the group stage format from the previous season. Obviously, the eye was not only on competitive balance, but the promise of more television money to swell the coffers of Europe’s elite.

"A new Champions League launched, rebranding the European Cup and continuing the group stage format from the previous season"

In order to avoid high profile exits of the biggest clubs, the league format in the latter stages would guarantee games for clubs. Progression into the latter rounds would be irrelevant to their earnings. It was music to the ears of the owners who constantly threatened to leave for a European Super League.

Money, money, money

Footballer Paul Gascoigne playing for Lazio in 1992Paul Gascoigne (known as Gazza) signed for Italian club Lazio in 1992. Credit: Nostalgia Ultras Podcast

Competition to lift trophies was becoming fiercer than ever. Clubs needed to spend a lot more money to compete in multiple competitions. One country that spent more money than anyone else was Italy. Rich owners wanted the best of everything. So they bankrolled spending on an unprecedented level. The transfer record was broken three times in the summer of 1992 alone. Two Italian clubs were at the forefront; Juventus and AC Milan.

"The transfer record was broken three times in the summer of 1992 alone. Two Italian clubs were at the forefront; Juventus and AC Milan"

Another club signed the most wanted star of English football; Gazza. He had signed for Lazio for £5.5m after a whole year out injured. Television producer Neil Duncanson was in the midst of making a documentary about the affable Geordie’s move when he realised that English fans could not see Gazza in action for his new club. After some negotiation, Channel 4 ended up with a package of Serie A games to be shown weekly on terrestrial TV. Football Italia became essential viewing and influenced a whole generation of fans.

That group of fans would go on to experience further change over the next decade. The game grew globally and access to players increased exponentially. 1992 was a year like no other in football history. That year brought about events that changed the game and brought football into the modern age. It was the birth of modern football.

Banner photo: The original Sky Sports advert for the Premier League, showing players from all the teams together. Credit: Sky Sports

1992: The Birth of Modern Football book cover

1992: The Birth of Modern Football by Rob Fletcher is out now on Pitch Publishing

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