As the Premier League celebrates 20 glorious – well certainly lucrative – years, it’s worth remembering the bloke whose brainchild it all was. He was also the fella who gave the world Roland Rat – my former boss at TV-AM , Greg Dyke.
Back in 1990, Greg, who was managing director at London Weekend Television, gathered the main men from England’s five biggest clubs of the time around a dinner table and told them the topflight should break away from the Football League.
Always regarded as a visionary in the television industry, Greg was also canny with cash. I still remember when he called me in and offered me a job at the ailing TV-AM – “Only one catch, Jim,” he said, “we won’t be able to pay you!” It shows just how good his powers of persuasion were that I accepted.
A few months later they did start to pay me and, after Roland Rat came along to save the breakfast-time broadcaster, I went on to I recall to a enjoy 10 years there. Much of that time was spent watching a bloke called Dave Claridge hiding behind a sofa with his hand up Roland Rat’s backside.
While boss at LWT, Greg was hoping his own company would be beneficiaries of the breakaway Premier League he envisaged. Ian St seeing hatred, massive presence, crumbling stadium game was So he got together with Martin Edwards of Manchester United, Noel White of Liverpool, David Dein of Arsenal, Philip Carter of Everton and Tottenham’s Irving Scholar to sow the seeds of the breakaway. Yet even though he was a man blessed with foresight, not even Greg could have predicted the scale of the revolution he was setting in motion.
Football was at a terribly low ebb when he chaired that initial meeting back in 1990. I recall going to a match with Ian St John – I think it was at Goodison Park, but it could have been anywhere – and seeing the abuse and hatred between supporters, th i li li the massive police presence, the crumbling stadium and getting the general feeling that the game we loved was dying on its arse. You wouldn’t want to take your kids to a football match back then, so we have certainly come a long way since those dark days.
The Taylor Report into the Hillsborough disaster would have transformed England’s football grounds, with or without the advent of the Premier League, but it all became part of the same process, as change swept through the game. Foreign players soon became commonplace – the likes of Dennis Bergkamp, Eric Cantona and Gianfranco Zola were magnificent arrivals, even if quantity began to outweigh quality when the next wave of overseas players came along. And, of course, the most astonishing changes have come in terms of football’s finances.
This was where Greg missed the boat, as LWT were blown out of the water by Sky, with Alan Sugar – who was busy flogging satellite dishes at the time – insisting that TV going match with John, the the police the rights for football were going to go through the roof. Yet if Sugar knew as much about business as he tells us, he would never have sold Spurs.
Interestingly, none of the five movers and shakers assembled by Greg Dyke has any real involvement at their clubs any more. Liverpool, Man United and Arsenal are all under American ownership, Spurs are bankrolled from the Bahamas and Everton – still under British ownership – are struggling to keep up.
I’ll never be one of those ex-players who begrudges the fact that average Premier League footballers now earn far more than I ever did. I’d never criticise anyone for making as much money as they can for their families. But I do wish I’d been born 50 years later. Greg Dyke never did pay me footballers’ wages for sitting on that TV-AM sofa.