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History of the English Premier League

William McGregor statue © Action Images

What is now known as the English Premier League has its roots in an earlier league, called the Football League, which was originally founded in 1888.

The Football League, also known as the npower Football League for sponsorship reasons, is a league competition featuring professional association football clubs from England and Wales.

Founded in 1888, it is the oldest such competition in world football. It was the top level football league in England from its foundation until 1992.

Since 1995 it has had 72 clubs evenly divided into three divisions, which are currently known as The Championship, League One and League Two. Promotion and relegation between these divisions is a central feature of the League and is further extended to allow the top Championship clubs to exchange places with the lowest placed clubs in the Premier League.

A director of Aston Villa, William McGregor, was the first to set out to bring some order to a chaotic world where clubs arranged their own fixtures. On March 2, 1888, he wrote to the committee of his own club, Aston Villa, as well as to those of Blackburn Rovers, Bolton Wanderers, Preston North End and West Bromwich Albion, suggesting the creation of a league competition that would provide a number of guaranteed fixtures for its member clubs each season.

The first meeting was held at Anderson's Hotel in London on March 23, 1888, on the eve of the FA Cup Final. The Football League was formally created and named in Manchester at a further meeting on April 17 at the Royal Hotel.

In 1992, the First Division clubs resigned from the Football League to take advantage of a lucrative television rights deal and on May 27, 1992, the Premier League as we know it today was formed.

This meant a break-up of the 104-year-old Football League that had operated until then with four divisions; the Premier League would operate with a single division and the Football League with three.

There was no change in competition format; the same number of teams competed in the top flight, and promotion and relegation between the Premier League and the new First Division remained on the same terms as between the old First and Second Divisions.

The 22 inaugural members of the new Premier League were Arsenal, Aston Villa, Blackburn Rovers, Chelsea, Coventry City, Crystal Palace, Everton, Ipswich Town, Leeds United, Liverpool, Manchester City, Manchester United, Middlesbrough, Norwich City, Nottingham Forest, Oldham Athletic, Queens Park Rangers, Sheffield United, Sheffield Wednesday, Southampton, Tottenham Hotspur, and Wimbledon.

A total of 43 clubs have played in the Premier League from its inception in 1992 until the end of the 2009/10 season. Two other clubs (Luton Town and Notts County) were signatories to the original agreement that created the Premier League, but were relegated prior to the inaugural Premier League season and have not subsequently returned to the top flight.

Seven clubs have been members of the Premier League for every season since its inception. This group is composed of Arsenal, Aston Villa, Chelsea, Everton, Liverpool, Manchester United, and Tottenham Hotspur.

Due to insistence by Fifa that domestic leagues reduce the number of games clubs played, the number of clubs was reduced to 20 in 1995 when four teams were relegated from the league and only two teams promoted.

On June 8, 2006, Fifa requested that all major European leagues, including Italy's Serie A and Spain's La Liga be reduced to 18 teams by the start of the 2007/08 season. The Premier League responded by announcing their intention to resist such a reduction. Ultimately, the 2007/08 season kicked off again with 20 teams.

The league changed its name from the FA Premier League to simply the Premier League in 2007.


At the inception of the Premier League in 1992/93, just 11 players named in the starting line-ups for the first round of matches were 'foreign' (players hailing from outside of the United Kingdom or Republic of Ireland).

By 2000/01, the number of foreign players participating in the Premier League was 36 per cent. In the 2004/05 season the figure had increased to 45 per cent. On December 26, 1999, Chelsea became the first Premier League side to field an entirely foreign starting line-up, and on February 14, 2005, Arsenal were the first to name a completely foreign 16-man squad for a match.

No English manager has won the Premier League; the five managers to have won the title comprise two Scots (Alex Ferguson (Manchester United, 11 wins) and Kenny Dalglish (Blackburn Rovers, one win), a Frenchman (Arsène Wenger, Arsenal, three wins), an Italian (Carlo Ancelotti, Chelsea, one win), and a Portuguese (José Mourinho, Chelsea, two wins).


The record transfer fee for a Premier League has been broken several times over the lifetime of the competition.

Prior to the start of the first Premier League season, Alan Shearer became the first British player to command a transfer fee of more than £3 million. The record rose steadily in the Premier League's first few seasons, until Alan Shearer made a world record breaking £15 million move to Newcastle United in 1996.

This stood as a British record for four years until it was eclipsed by the £18 million Leeds paid West Ham for Rio Ferdinand. Manchester United subsequently broke the record three times by signing Ruud van Nistelrooy, Juan Sebastián Verón and Rio Ferdinand.

Chelsea broke the record in May 2006, when they signed Andriy Shevchenko, from AC Milan. The exact figure of the transfer fee was not disclosed, but was reported as being around £30 million. This was eclipsed by Manchester City's transfer of Robinho from Real Madrid on September 1, 2008 for £32.5 million. The Robinho transfer remains the largest ever paid by a Premier League club.

The record transfer in the sport's history had a Premier League club on the selling end, with Manchester United accepting an £80 million bid from Real Madrid for Cristiano Ronaldo in 2009.


David James holds the record for the most Premier League appearances, overtaking the previous record held by Gary Speed of 535 appearances in February 2009.

The first ever Premier League goal was scored by Brian Deane of Sheffield United in a 2–1 win against Manchester United.


The Premier League has been sponsored since 1993. The sponsor has been able to determine the league's sponsorship name. The table below details who the sponsors have been and what they called the competition:

1993–2001 Carling FA Carling Premiership
2001–2004 Barclaycard Barclaycard Premiership
2004–2007 Barclays Barclays Premiership
2007–present Barclays Barclays Premier League


Television has played a major role in the history of the Premier League. The money from television rights has been vital in helping to create excellence both on and off the field. The League's decision to assign broadcasting rights to BSkyB in 1992 was at the time a radical decision, but one that has paid off.

At the time pay television was an almost untested proposition in the UK market, as was charging fans to watch live televised football. However, a combination of Sky's strategy, the quality of Premier League football and the public's appetite for the game has seen the value of the Premier League's TV rights soar.

The Premier League sells its television rights on a collective basis. This is in contrast to some European Leagues, including Serie A and La Liga, in which each club sells its rights individually, leading to a much higher share of the total income going to the top few clubs.

The money is divided into three parts: half is divided equally between the clubs; one quarter is awarded on a merit basis based on final league position, the top club getting twenty times as much as the bottom club, and equal steps all the way down the table; the final quarter is paid out as facilities fees for games that are shown on television, with the top clubs generally receiving the largest shares of this. The income from overseas rights is divided equally between the twenty clubs.

Sky's monopoly was broken from August 2006 when Setanta Sports was awarded rights to show two out of the six packages of matches available. This occurred following an insistence by the European Commission that exclusive rights should not be sold to one television company.

Sky and Setanta paid a total of £1.7 billion, a two-thirds increase which took many commentators by surprise as it had been widely assumed that the value of the rights had levelled off following many years of rapid growth.

On 22 June 2009, due to the troubles encountered by Setanta Sports after it failed to meet a final deadline over a £30 million payment to the Premier League, ESPN was awarded the two packages of UK rights containing a total of 46 matches that were available for the 2009/10 season as well as a package of 23 matches per season from 2010/11 to 2012/13.


For the inaugural season of the Premier League, clubs were obliged to supply their own match balls, which were usually provided by the clubs' kit manufacturers. In 1993, the Premier League came to an agreement with Mitre for them to supply the league's teams with their match balls. Mitre supplied balls to the Premier League for seven years, starting with the Mitre Pro Max (1993–1995) and then the Mitre Ultimax (1995–2000).

The 2000/01 season saw Nike take over as match ball supplier, introducing the Nike Geo Merlin ball, which had been used in the UEFA Champions League. The Geo Merlin was used for four seasons before being replaced by the Nike Total 90 Aerow, which ran for another two seasons.

The 2004/05 season also saw the introduction of a yellow "Hi-Vis" ball for use in the winter months. Next came the Nike Total 90 Aerow II, which featured an asymmetrical design to help players judge the flight and spin of the ball.

For the 2008/09 season, the official ball of the Premier League was the Nike Total 90 Omni, which featured yet another pattern in dark red and yellow and a modified panel design, and was replaced by the Nike T90 Ascente for the 2009/10 season, with blue, yellow and orange trim, and for 2010/11 by the T90 TRACER, and will be electric blue, black and white trim.


Alan Shearer 263
Andrew Cole 187
Thierry Henry 174
Robbie Fowler 163
Les Ferdinand 149
Michael Owen 147
Teddy Sheringham 147
Frank Lampard 129
Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink 127
Dwight Yorke 123



Manchester United became the first team to have scored 1 000 goals in the league after Cristiano Ronaldo scored in a 4–1 defeat of Middlesbrough in the 2005/06 season. Arsenal, Chelsea and Liverpool are the only other teams to have reached the 1 000-goal mark.

The highest-scoring match to date in the Premier League occurred on September 29, 2007, when Portsmouth beat Reading 7–4. Five goals is the record individual scoring total for a player in a single Premier League game, and as of November 2009, only three players had achieved this feat, Andy Cole first, followed by Alan Shearer and then Jermain Defoe. Only Ryan Giggs of Manchester United has scored in all 18 Premier League seasons.

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