February 8, 2011
"History – that excited and deceitful old woman!" Guy de Maupassant once wrote. It’s unlikely that the 19th century French writer was looking ahead to the joys of the Premier League, but I wouldn’t be surprised if the words were engraved on the desk of every latter day television commentator. For although it’s not a new complaint, the continued selling of the idea that any English football prior to 1992 has no valid place in the record books remains a severe irritant that refuses to become any more tolerable with time.
With so many goals and exciting games at the weekend, the commentators were in full flow. According to Sky’s Gary Weaver at St James’s Park: "Newcastle United have pulled off one of the greatest Premier League comebacks of all time." Of all time – as though the Premier League and the Big Bang were simultaneous events. The next day at Stamford Bridge, Jon Champion warmed us up by mentioning "quite a weekend already in the Barclays Premier League – a record-busting 42 goals!" No need to ask which time span his records cover. Meanwhile, Fulham had travelled to Villa Park, where they’ve never won "in the Premier League". Before that, who gives a shit? Every weekend brings dozens of similar examples. Goal, appearance and unbeaten run stats only go back two decades. Prior to that, the archives are apparently locked.â€¨â€¨
Maybe the media, which seems to have collectively bought into this insidious deception, thinks that the longer the Premier League exists, the more we will become used to this idea. The up and coming generations will presume that the old Football League Division One was an obsolete curiosity, like shirts without sponsors’ names, and managers sitting still in the dugout. For many fans, though, it’s like hearing a lie perpetuated for the 1,000th time. You simply can not become immune to hearing something that you know is not true. For us, the commentators do not provide interesting background facts, they serve up relentless, hysterical Barclays Premier League propaganda.
â€¨â€¨Occasionally, however, there’s a slip. In the 18th minute of Chelsea v Liverpool on Sunday, Champion mentioned that "the last hat-trick in this fixture" was scored by George Mills for Chelsea in… wait for it, 1937. Never mind that this line was delivered with a near chortle, to imply that the very idea of football prior to the Second World War was somehow comical, like a music hall cabaret act. And the modern game is of course so advanced that defensive techniques simply wouldn’t allow one striker to score three times in a game between two such gifted Premier League high-fliers. But I’d like to hear a little more. Who was George Mills? What was the score that day? Where were the teams in the league and how did they finish? And while we’re at it, what is the greatest comeback of all time, and when did Fulham last win at Villa Park?â€¨â€¨
Champion went quiet for a few seconds, probably struggling for breath as the producer grabbed him around the neck and tried to strangle the life out of him, while researchers thrust sheets of fascinating modern stats under his nose about the number of times Fabio Aurelio has come off the bench this season when Liverpool have played away from home. Co-commentator Efan Ekoku was maybe silently shaking his head, as though Champion had turned up at a family reunion and asked about the uncle who was jailed for hanging around outside too many junior schools. The mere mention of the unspeakable is enough to threaten the Premier League family.â€¨â€¨
This politic refusal to acknowledge the century of history that laid the foundations for the current era of avarice is an ongoing disgrace. We are accustomed to the fact that the Premier League was founded to buy up top-flight football and then sell it back to us again several times over, and all of us who watch it and pay for it are complicit in this unhappy pact. But that shouldn’t mean that we accept the dishonest treatment of the game’s past as though it’s a filthy secret, kept in a shameful closet of flickering films and yellowing paper documents. Just because Sky didn’t pay for it doesn’t mean that it didn’t happen, despite what their excited and deceitful front men would have us believe.