History of football in England
The History of English football is a long and detailed one, as it is not only the national sport but England was where the game was developed and codified. The modern global game of Football was first codified in 1863 in London. The impetus for this was to unify English public school and university football games. There is evidence for refereed, team football games being played in English schools since at least 1581. An account of an exclusively kicking football game from Nottinghamshire in the 15th century bears similarity to football. England can boast the earliest ever documented use of the English word "football" (1409) and the earliest reference to the sport in French (1314). England is home to the oldest football clubs in the world (dating from at least 1857), the world's oldest competition (the FA Cup founded in 1871) and the first ever football league (1888). For these reasons England is considered the home of the game of football.
- 1 1200–1800: Pre-codification
- 2 1800–1870: Early rules
- 3 1870–1888: The FA Cup and professionalism
- 4 1888–1915: Creation of the Football League
- 5 1919–1939: Inter-war years
- 6 1945–1961: The end of English dominance
- 7 1963–1971: The golden age
- 8 1972–1985: The rise of Liverpool
- 9 1986–1991: The end of an era
- 10 1992–2001: The Premier League and Sky Television
- 11 2003–present: Financial polarisation
- 12 See also
- 13 References
Football's roots in England has been found in Medieval football, which was played annually on Shrovetide. It is suggested that this game was derived from those played in Brittany and Normandy, and could have been brought to England in the Norman Conquest. These games were violent and largely ruleless. As a result, they were often banned.
England is the origin of nearly all first accounts of features of football:
In 1280 comes the first account of a kicking ball game. This happened at Ulgham, near Ashington in Northumberland, in which a player was killed as a result of running against an opposing player's dagger. This confirms that by the 13th century kicking ball games were being played in England.
In 1314, comes the earliest reference to a game called football when Nicholas de Farndone, Lord Mayor of the City of London issued a decree on behalf of King Edward II banning football. It was written in the French used by the English upper classes at the time. A translation reads: "[f]orasmuch as there is great noise in the city caused by hustling over large foot balls [rageries de grosses pelotes de pee] in the fields of the public from which many evils might arise which God forbid: we command and forbid on behalf of the king, on pain of imprisonment, such game to be used in the city in the future."
At the end of the 15th century comes the earliest description of a football game. This account in Latin of a football game contains a number of features of modern football and comes from Cawston, Nottinghamshire, England. It is included in a manuscript collection of the miracles of King Henry VI of England. Although the precise date is uncertain it certainly comes from between 1481 and 1500. This is the first account of an exclusively "kicking game" and the first description of dribbling: "[t]he game at which they had met for common recreation is called by some the foot-ball game. It is one in which young men, in country sport, propel a huge ball not by throwing it into the air but by striking it and rolling it along the ground, and that not with their hands but with their feet ... kicking in opposite directions" The chronicler gives the earliest reference to a football field, stating that: "[t]he boundaries have been marked and the game had started.
In 1581 comes the earliest account of football as an organised team sport. Richard Mulcaster, a student at Eton College in the early 16th century and later headmaster at other English schools provides the earliest references to teams ("sides" and "parties"), positions ("standings"), a referee ("judge over the parties") and a coach "(trayning maister)". Mulcaster's "footeball" had evolved from the disordered and violent forms of traditional football:
- [s]ome smaller number with such overlooking, sorted into sides and standings, not meeting with their bodies so boisterously to trie their strength: nor shouldring or shuffing one an other so barbarously ... may use footeball for as much good to the body, by the chiefe use of the legges.
Mulcaster also confirms that in the 16th century England football was very popular and widespread: it had attained "greatnes. .. [and was] much used ... in all places"
Despite this violence continued to be a problem. For example, the parish archives of North Moreton, Oxfordshire for May 1595 state: "Gunter's son and ye Gregorys fell together by ye years at football. Old Gunter drew his dagger and both broke their heads, and they died both within a fortnight after."
In 1602 the earliest reference to a game involving passing the ball comes from cornish hurling. In particular Carew tells us that: "Then must he cast the ball (named Dealing) to some one of his fellowes". In this case, however, the pass is by hand, as in rugby football. Although there are other allusions to ball passing in the 17th century literature, this is the only one which categorically states that the ball was passed to another member of the same team. There are no other explicit references to passing the ball between members of the same team until the 1860s, however, in 1650 English puritan Richard Baxter alludes to player to player passing of the ball during a football game in his book Everlasting Rest: "like a Football in the midst of a crowd of Boys, tost about in contention from one to another".
The first references to goals come from England in the late 16th and early 17th centuries. In 1584 and 1602 respectively, John Norden and Richard Carew referred to "goals" in Cornish hurling. Carew described how goals were made: "they pitch two bushes in the ground, some eight or ten foote asunder; and directly against them, ten or twelue [twelve] score off, other twayne in like distance, which they terme their Goales". He is also the first to refer to goalkeeping.
The first direct references to scoring a goal come from England in the 17th century. For example, in John Day's play The Blind Beggar of Bethnal Green (performed circa 1600; published 1659): "I'll play a gole at camp-ball" (an extremely violent variety of football, which was popular in East Anglia). Similarly in a poem in 1613, Michael Drayton refers to "when the Ball to throw, And drive it to the Gole, in squadrons forth they goe". The concept of football teams is mentioned by English Poet Edmund Waller in c1624: He mentions a "a sort [i.e. company]of lusty shepherds try their force at football, care of victory ... They ply their feet, and still the restless ball, Toss'd to and fro, is urged by them all ". The last line suggests that playing as a team emerged much earlier in English football than previously thought.
Football continued to be outlawed in English cities, for example the Manchester Lete Roll contains a resolution, dated 12 October 1608: "That whereas there hath been heretofore great disorder in our towne of Manchester, and the inhabitants thereof greatly wronged and charged with makinge and amendinge of their glasse windows broken yearlye and spoyled by a companye of lewd and disordered psons vsing that unlawfull exercise of playinge with the ffote-ball in ye streets of ye sd toune breakinge many men's windowes and glasse at their plesures and other great enormyties. Therefore, wee of this jurye doe order that no manner of psons hereafter shall play or use the footeball in any street within the said toune of Manchester, subpœnd to evye one that shall so use the same for evye time xiid".
Although football was frequently outlawed in England, it remained popular even with the ruling classes. For example, during the reign of King James I of England James Howellmentions how Lord Willoughby and Lord Sunderland enjoyed playing football, for example:"Lord Willoughby, and he, with so many of their servants ... play'd a match at foot-ball against such a number of countrymen, where my Lord of Sunderland being busy about the ball, got a bruise in the breast
Football continued to be popular throughout 17th century England. For example in 1634 Davenant is quoted (in Hones Table-Book) as remarking, "I would now make a safe retreat, but methinks Jam stopped by one of your heroic gamea called football; which I conceive (under your favor) not very conveniently civil in the streets, especially in such irregular and narrow roads as Crooked Lane. Yet it argues your courage, much like your military pastime of throwing at cocks, since you have long allowed these two valiant exercises in the streets". Similarly in 1638 Thomas Randolph suggests this in the following lines from one of his plays: "Madam, you may in time bring down his legs To the just size, now overgrown with playing Too much at foot-ball".
In 1660 comes the first objective study of football, given in Francis Willughby's Book of Sports, written in about 1660. This account is particularly noteworthy as he refers to football by its correct name and is the first to describe the following: goals and a pitch ("a close that has a gate at either end. The gates are called Goals"), tactics ("leaving some of their best players to guard the goal"), scoring ("they that can strike the ball through their opponents' goal first win") and the way teams were selected ("the players being equally divided according to their strength and nimbleness"). He is the first to describe a law of football: "They often break one another's shins when two meet and strike both together against the ball, and therefore there is a law that they must not strike higher than the ball". His book includes the first (basic) diagram illustrating a modern football pitch.
Football continued to be played in the later 17th century, even in cities such as London. The great diarist Samuel Pepys, for example, states in 1665 that in a London street "the streete being full of footballs".
1800–1870: Early rules
Football continued to be played in England throughout the 19th century. For example, in 1838 a thirteen-year-old boy James Mills of Hamer Bottom near Rochdale "had his leg broken in three places while playing at football" His leg had to be amputated. In 1844 football was evidently still popular in London. An advertisement in the Guardian newspaper for 14 December states: "Wanted immediately a field for football in the neighbourhood of London Road or Oxford Street". In 1845 an interesting reference from Darwen, Lancashire shows how football was popular among English factory workers: "A stranger passing through it at noon time may see a number of young men and boys dressed in Fustian engaged in the favourite sport of football".
England was the first country in the world to develop codified football, coming about from a desire of its various public schools to compete against each other. Previously, each school had its own rules, which may have dated back to the 15th or 16th centuries. The first attempts to come up with single codes probably began in the 1840s, with various meetings between school representatives attempting to come up with a set of rules with which all would be happy. The first attempt was The Cambridge Rules, created in 1848; others developed their own sets, most notably Sheffield F.C. (1855) and J.C. Thring (1862). These were moulded into one set in 1863 when the Football Association was formed; though some clubs continued to play under the Sheffield Rules until 1878, and others dissented to form Rugby Union instead.
The 1863 rules of the Football Association provides the first reference in the English Language to the verb to "pass" a ball.
C. W. Alcock became the first footballer ever to be ruled off side on 31 March 1866, confirming that players were probing ways of exploiting the new off side rule right from the start. The offside rule was introduced in 1866 into the Football Association rules. It was almost identical to the one that had been part of the Cambridge Rules.
The early Sheffield Rules were particularly important as their offside system allowed poaching or sneaking and thus demonstrated the use of the forward pass: Players known as "kick throughs" were positioned permanently near the opponents goal to receive these balls. According to C.W. Alcock the Sheffield style gave birth to the modern passing game. The Sheffield Rules of 1862 later included both crossbars and half time and free kicks were introduced to their code in 1866.
The oldest existing football trophy in the world the Youdan Cup (1867).
The English introduced football into France in 1863, founding their first club, as the following newspaper cutting shows: "A number of English gentlemen living in Paris have lately organised a football club ... The football contests take place in the Bois de Boulogne, by permission of the authorities and surprise the French amazingly
1870–1888: The FA Cup and professionalism
An offside rule had not been included in the 1863 FA rules. In 1867 a "loose" offside rule based on the Cambridge rules was introduced, permitting forward passing Consequently, in the late 1860s "scientific" team play and ball passing strategies started to evolve, which created the modern game as we know it. Teamwork and passing were the innovation of the Royal Engineers AFC By 1869 they were "work[ing] well together", "backing up" and benefiting from "cooperation". By 1870 the Engineers were the first team to use ball passing strategies: "Lieut. Creswell, who having brought the ball up the side then kicked it into the middle to another of his side, who kicked it through the posts the minute before time was called" Passing was a regular feature of their style and their skills included "turn[ing] the ball" to colleagues and "irreproachable organisation" of forwards and defenders By early 1872 the Engineers were the first football team renowned for "play[ing] beautifully together"
The FA Cup was the first nationally organised competition. A knockout cup, it began 1871, with the first winners being the Wanderers. In those days professionalism was banned, and the cup was dominated by service teams or old schoolboys' teams (such as Old Etonians). The Scottish Football Association split from the FA in 1873.
In the early 1870s the modern team passing game was invented by the Sheffield FC, Royal Engineers A.F.C. and Scottish players of the era from Queens Park FC. This was the predecessor to the current passing, defensive game was known as the Combination Game and was spread around the world by British expatriates.
England was home to the first ever international football match on 5 March 1870. The first match ended in a draw and was one of a series of four matches between representatives of England and Scotland at The Oval, London. These matches were arranged by the Football Association, at the time the only national football body in the world.
The origin of these games came in 1870 when CW Alcock's challenged homegrown contenders in Scotland against an English eleven. These challenges were issued in Scottish newspapers, including the Glasgow Herald. He received no response to these adverts. One response to Alcock's challenges illustrates that soccer was eclipsed in Scotland by other codes:
"Mr Alcock's challenge to meet a Scotch eleven on the borders sounds very well and is doubtless well meant. But it may not be generally well known that Mr Alcock is a very leading supporter of what is called the "association game"... devotees of the "association" rules will find no foemen worthy of their steel in Scotland".
As a result he was forced to draw upon London-based players with Scottish origins. One notable Scottish player of the 1870 and 1871 games was Smith, a player of Queens Park FC. This suggests that southern teams were not so isolated from Glasgow players and style of play as originally thought. Alcock was categorical that although most players were London based, this was due to lack of response from north of the border:
"I must join issue with your correspondent in some instances. First, I assert that of whatever the Scotch eleven may have been composed the right to play was open to every Scotchman [Alcock's italics] whether his lines were cast North or South of the Tweed and that if in the face of the invitations publicly given through the columns of leading journals of Scotland the representative eleven consisted chiefly of Anglo-Scotians ... the fault lies on the heads of the players of the north, not on the management who sought the services of all alike impartially. To call the team London Scotchmen contributes nothing. The match was, as announced, to all intents and purposes between England and Scotland".
The 1870 and 1871 matches are not currently recognised by FIFA as official, however the Scotsman newspaper certainly identified them as "international [The Scotsman's italics]" Alcock continued to pursue players from "north of the Tweed", inviting them in papers such as the Scotsman to contact(for example) A F Kinnaird". At this time, however, it was unusual for national sides to travel far for matches and even in the 1873 England v Scotland game, the first FIFA recognised match in England, only 3 Scottish players were not from English sides Alcock decided "in order to further the interests of the Association in Scotland, it was decided that during the current season, a team should be sent to Glasgow to play a match v Scotland
The first official (i.e. currently recognised by FIFA) international match would take place between Scotland and England on 30 November 1872. This match was played under the Football Association rules.
Englishman C. W. Alcock was responsible for instigating the world's first official football international in Glasgow on 30 November 1872. This match was played under the Football Association rules and was drawn, however, the following year England became the first team in the world to win an international football match when they beat Scotland in London.
This period in English football was dominated by conflict between those who supported professionalism, and those who wanted the game to remain amateur. Clubs in Scotland and Northern England generally supported a professional game, as the working class of these regions could not afford to miss work in order to play football. In Southern England, the game was more popular with the middle class, who supported "Corinthian" values of amateurism. A number of clubs, such as Blackburn Rovers and Darwen were accused of employing professionals, and the FA eventually legalised the practice in 1885, in order to avoid a split.
1888–1915: Creation of the Football League
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The new professionals needed more regular competitive football in which they could compete, which led to the creation of the Football League in 1888 by Aston Villa director William McGregor. This was dominated by those clubs who had supported professionalism, and the twelve founding members consisted of six from Lancashire (Blackburn Rovers, Burnley, Bolton Wanderers, Accrington, Everton and Preston North End) and six from the Midlands (Aston Villa, Derby County, Notts County, Stoke, West Bromwich Albion and Wolverhampton Wanderers). No sides from the South or London initially participated.
Preston North End won the first ever Football League championship without losing any of their 22 fixtures, and won the FA Cup to complete the double. They retained their league title the following year but by the turn of the 20th century they had been eclipsed by Aston Villa, who had emulated Preston's double success in 1897. Other Midlands sides, such as Wolves (1893 FA Cup winners) and West Bromwich Albion (1888 & 1892 FA Cup winners) were also successful during this era, as were Blackburn Rovers, who won five FA Cups in the 1880s and 1890s.
In 1891 Liverpool engineer John Alexander Brodie invented the football net.
In 1892, a new Division Two was added, taking in more clubs from around the country; Woolwich Arsenal became the first League club from the capital in 1893; they were also joined by Liverpool the same year. By 1898, both divisions had been expanded to eighteen clubs. Other rival leagues on a local basis were being eclipsed by the Football League, though both the Northern League and the Southern League - who provided the only ever non-league FA Cup winners Tottenham Hotspur in 1901 - remained competitors in the pre-World War I era.
At the turn of the 20th century, clubs from Sheffield were particularly successful, with Sheffield United winning a title and two FA Cups, as well as losing to Tottenham in the 1901 final; meanwhile The Wednesday (later Sheffield Wednesday) won two titles and two FA Cups, despite being relegated in 1899 they were promoted the following year. Clubs in Tyne and Wear were also at the forefront; Sunderland had won four titles between 1892 and 1902, and in the following decade Newcastle United won the title three titles, in 1905, 1907 and 1909, and reached five FA Cup finals in seven years between 1905 and 1911, winning just the one, however. In addition Bury managed a 6–0 win over Derby County in the 1903 FA Cup Final, a record scoreline that stands to this day.
During the first decade of the 20th century, Manchester City looked to be emerging as England's top side after winning the FA Cup for the first time in 1904, but it was soon revealed that the club had been involved in financial irregularities, which included paying £6 or £7 a week in wages to players when the national wage limit was £4 per week. The authorities were furious and rebuked the club, dismissing five of its directors and banning four of its players from ever turning out for the club again.
Instead, it was City's neighbours United who were the more successful during the early 20th century. They reached the First Division in 1906 and were crowned league champions two years later. The following year, 1909, they won the FA Cup and they added another league championship in 1911. A decline set in, however, and there would be no major trophies for the red half of Manchester for the next 37 years. Further domination of the game by clubs from the north-west came in the shape of Liverpool, who won two league titles in 1901 and 1906, and Everton, who won the FA Cup in 1906. And in the run-up to World War I, Blackburn Rovers recorded two league titles 1912 and 1914, before hostilities meant professional football was suspended.
Clubs from the South fared poorly in comparison, though in 1904 Woolwich Arsenal became the first club from London to be promoted to the First Division, while a slew of clubs from the capital joined the League (including Clapton Orient, Chelsea, Fulham and Tottenham Hotspur), making it a properly nationwide competition; both Chelsea and Spurs quickly gained promotion to the top flight as well.
Woolwich Arsenal had struggled to attract high attendances even after promotion to the First Division, and so the club's owners decided to relocate from Plumstead, South London, to a new stadium in the Highbury area of North London in 1913. They were to play at this site for 93 years until relocating to the Emirates Stadium nearby in 2006.
On the international scene, the Home Nations continued to play each other, with Scotland the slightly more successful of the four. When the countries combined to play as Great Britain in the Olympic Games they were unbeatable, winning all three pre-World War I football gold medals. England played their first games against teams outside of the British Isles in 1908.
1919–1939: Inter-war years
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From 1920 to 1923 the Football League expanded further, gaining a new Third Division (expanding quickly to Division Three South and Division Three North), with all leagues now containing 22 clubs, making 88 in total. In addition, in 1923 Wembley Stadium opened, and hosted its first Cup final, between Bolton Wanderers and West Ham United, known today as the "White Horse Final"; Bolton won 2–0.
During the interwar years, Arsenal and Everton were the two most dominant sides in English football, although Huddersfield Town did make history in 1926 by becoming the first team to complete a hat-trick of successive league titles. Arsenal would do the same in 1935. Manager Herbert Chapman was involved with both of these teams. He guided Huddersfield to the first two of their league titles before taking over at Arsenal, where he presided over the first two league titles, but he died just before the third consecutive title was clinched.
Everton had hit the headlines in 1928 by winning the league championship thanks largely to the record breaking 60 league goals of 21-year-old centre-forward Dixie Dean. He was helped by the new rules of the 1920s, including the allowing of goals from a corner kick, and the relaxing of the offside rule. Everton also won the league twice more, in 1932 and 1939, and the FA Cup in 1933. Their neighbours Liverpool had earlier won back-to-back titles in 1922 and 1923, but were unable to sustain this success. Arsenal remained successful in the 1930s, winning several more trophies.
Sheffield Wednesday were also successful during the 1930s, winning the 1929–30 title, the FA Cup in 1935 and finishing in the top three in all but one season in the period 1930–36. In addition, it was during this time that a Welsh side won the FA Cup for the only time; Cardiff City beating Arsenal 1–0 in the 1927 Final.
1945–1961: The end of English dominance
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English football reconvened in the years following the end of World War II, when most clubs had closed down for a period, with the 1945–46 FA Cup, which saw the competition played over two legs to make up for a lack of league competition that season. The first post-war trophy went to Derby County, who beat Charlton Athletic 4–1 in the final. The league restarted in the 1946–47 season, with the first title going to Liverpool.
In the immediate post-war years, Arsenal won another two titles and an FA Cup but after the second title win in 1953, began to fade considerably and would not win another trophy for nearly 20 years, although they did remain in the First Division throughout this time. Liverpool won the first postwar league title, but suffered an even more miserable fate and were relegated to the Second Division in 1954, where they spent the next eight seasons. Portsmouth were also successful; having won the FA Cup in the last season before the war, they won two titles in a row in 1948–49 and 1949–50, but like Liverpool they were relegated by the time the decade was out.
Manchester United re-emerged as a footballing force under new manager Matt Busby. They won the FA Cup in 1948 and the league title in 1952, the club's first trophies since before the Great War. Key players in this team included Johnny Carey, Jack Rowley and Stan Pearson. Busby's next successful team was the "Busby Babes", so called as the players were all young, rising through the club's youth system, developed as one of England's finest teams ever, with the likes of Bobby Charlton, Dennis Viollet, Tomm y Taylor and Duncan Edwards winning two further titles in 1956 and 1957. Manchester United also became the first English team to compete in the new European Cup, contested by champions of European domestic leagues, reaching the semi-finals in 1957 and 1958.
But the Munich air disaster on 6 February 1958 resulted in the deaths of eight players (including Edwards) and ended the careers of two others, while Busby survived with serious injuries. He built a new United side with a mix of young players, Munich survivors and new signings, and five years later his rebuilding programme paid off with FA Cup glory.
The other dominant team of the era was Wolverhampton Wanderers. Wolves, who had previously spent most of the interwar period in the lower divisions, won three league titles and two FA Cups under manager Stan Cullis and captain Billy Wright. Other Midlands sides also enjoyed success after a barren period, including West Bromwich Albion's FA Cup win in 1954 (their first trophy in 23 years) and Aston Villa matching them with a Cup win in 1957 (their first in 37 years). In addition, in 1951 Tottenham Hotspur became the first team in English football to win the league title immediately after being promoted, and Chelsea won their first and only league title of the 20th century in 1955.
One of the most memorable matches of the era was when Blackpool beat Bolton Wanderers 4–3 in the 1953 FA Cup Final, in a match that came to be known as the "Matthews Final", for Blackpool's mercurial winger Stanley Matthews, even though it was Stan Mortensen who scored a hat-trick that day; it remains Blackpool's only major honour.
English football as a whole, however, began to suffer at this time, with tactical naivety setting in. The national team were humiliated at their first World Cup in 1950, famously losing to the USA 1–0. This was followed by two defeats in 1953 to Hungary, who destroyed England 6-3 at home, the first time England had lost at home to a non-British Isles team, and 7–1 in Budapest, England's biggest ever defeat. The early European club competitions also went without much English success, with the FA initially unwilling to allow clubs to compete. No English team reached a European Cup final until 1968, which was the same year that England got their first Fairs Cup success; although English teams Birmingham City (twice) and a London XI had reached the first three finals of the competition in its formative days.
Great players who rose to prominence during the 1950s include Duncan Edwards, Tommy Taylor, Bobby Charlton, Denis Law, Bobby Robson, Norman Deeley, Peter Sillett, Danny Blanchflower, Denis Compton and Joe Mercer.
While Edwards and Taylor both lost their lives due to the Munich tragedy, many older players naturally reached the end of their illustrious careers at around the same time. These include Nat Lofthouse, Tom Finney, Billy Wright, Stan Mortensen, Bert Williams and Johnny Carey.
1963–1971: The golden age
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The end of the 1950s had seen the beginning of the modernisation of English football, with the Divisions Three North and South becoming the national Division Three and Division Four in 1958. 1960 saw the introduction of the League Cup (with the first winners being Aston Villa), whilst Matt Busby built a new team for the 1960s starring Munich survivor Bobby Charlton, youth team product George Best and British record signing Denis Law. Meanwhile, successful sides of the 1950s like Wolves started to decline, with relegation eventually coming in 1965. The decade was also less successful for the likes of Blackpool and Bolton Wanderers, who had been among the top sides of the early postwar years.
It was Tottenham Hotspur who became the dominant force in English football in the early 1960s, winning the elusive double of the League and FA Cup in 1961, retaining the cup in 1962 and becoming the first British team to win a European trophy, after their 5–1 victory over Atlético Madrid in the 1963 UEFA Cup Winners' Cup final. The captain of this side was Danny Blanchflower, who retired in 1964, after which manager Bill Nicholson built a new side containing the likes of Jimmy Greaves and Terry Venables, which won the FA Cup in 1967.
Fellow London side West Ham United were also successful, with the England trio of Bobby Moore, Geoff Hurst and Martin Peters helping them win the 1964 FA Cup and the 1965 Cup Winners' Cup. All three would go on to play a key role in an even bigger success for their country.
The English national side showed signs of improving with Alf Ramsey taking over as head coach following a respectable quarter final appearance at the 1962 FIFA World Cup. Ramsey confidently predicted that at the next tournament, England would win the trophy, and they did just that.
The 1966 World Cup saw England win the World Cup in a controversial 4–2 victory over West Germany. The three goals scored by Geoff Hurst within 120 minutes, of which some are controversial, are the only hat trick to be achieved in a World Cup final to date. Bobby Moore was the captain on that day, whilst Munich air crash survivor Bobby Charlton also played. Moore's West Ham colleagues Geoff Hurst and Martin Peters scored that day. The World Cup as a whole was highly successful, with the successes of the North Korea team, the fouls of the Uruguay team, the skill of Eusébio and the famous quote They think it's all over ... it is now entering England's collective memory.
The period also saw the first English successes in European club football, begun with Manchester United's 4–1 European Cup victory over S.L. Benfica, and Leeds United's Inter-Cities Fairs Cup victory, both in 1968. Indeed, Leeds' win set off a series of 6 consecutive wins in the competition (which was renamed the UEFA Cup in 1971) for English clubs, with the 1972 final being held between two of them, Tottenham Hotspur and Wolverhampton Wanderers.
During this time, a number of different teams competed for league and cup success. Manchester City enjoyed success at the same time as their rivals United, winning the First Division title for only the second time in 1968, and the FA Cup the year after that, and a double of the Cup Winners' Cup and League Cup in 1970. Leeds' Fairs Cup success was no isolated effort; Don Revie's side also won a League Cup in 1968 and the league title the season after. Liverpool under Bill Shankly had won promotion in 1962 and soon after won the league title in 1964, and again in 1966, with an FA Cup in between; their neighbours Everton meanwhile had similar success but on a smaller scale, taking two league titles in 1963 and 1970, and the FA Cup in 1966.
The decade also saw the illustrious careers of many famous older players drawing to a close. These include Danny Blanchflower, Harry Gregg, Dennis Viollet, Norman Deeley, Peter McParland, Noel Cantwell, Bert Trautmann, Jimmy Adamson, Syd Owen, and the 50-year-old Stanley Matthews.
The 1970s began with Everton as league champions, while Chelsea won their first ever FA Cup. A year later, Arsenal became the second club of the century to win the double. 1972 saw Derby County win the league title for the first time under the management of Brian Clough, while Leeds United continued to enjoy success as FA Cup winners and Stoke City lifted the League Cup to claim the first major trophy of their history.
1972–1985: The rise of Liverpool
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The 1970s was an odd decade in English football, with the national team disappointing but English clubs enjoying great success in European competitions. They failed to qualify for the 1974 and 1978 World Cups and only made the second round in 1982. English club sides, however, dominated on the continent. Altogether, in the 1970s, English clubs won eight European titles and lost out in four finals; whilst from 1977 to 1984 English clubs won seven out of eight European Cups.
London clubs had enjoyed a strong start to the decade, with Arsenal and Chelsea winning silverware, while West Ham United won their second FA Cup in 1975. Arsenal reached the FA Cup final three years in a row from 1978, but only had one win.
However, the dominant team in England in this period was Liverpool, winning league titles in 1973, 1976, 1977, 1979, 1980, 1982, 1983 and 1984. They also collected three European Cups, three FA Cups and four League Cups, under Shankly and his successor Bob Paisley, who retired as manager in 1983 to be succeeded by veteran coach Joe Fagan. Players such as Emlyn Hughes and Alan Hansen helped Liverpool have a solid and reliable side, whose skill and talent was supported by a strong work ethic and the famous "boot room" identity. Kevin Keegan was Liverpool's leading striker for much of the 1970s before being sold to HSV Hamburg in 1977 and being replaced by Kenny Dalglish. The midfield was boosted towards the end of the decade by the arrival of Graeme Souness, and the early 1980s spawned further new stars including high-scoring striker Ian Rush, talented midfielder Craig Johnston and skilful defender Steve Nicol.
The other notably successful teams of the era were Derby County, Nottingham Forest, Everton and Aston Villa. Derby, led by Brian Clough and then Dave Mackay, were the only team other than Liverpool to win the league more than once in the 1970s and also reached the semi-final of the European Cup in the 1972–73 season, though they faded rapidly towards the end of the decade, going down in 1980. Forest, led by Brian Clough (who had an infamous 44-day stint at Leeds United after resigning at Derby), took over at the City Ground in January 1975 when Forest were a struggling Second Division side; in 1977 he took them into the First Division and they won the league title a year later, followed by two successive European Cup triumphs and also adding two League Cups. Everton began the 1970s on a high note as league champions in 1970, but rarely featured in the race for the major trophies until they won the FA Cup under Howard Kendall in 1984. They added the league title and European Cup Winners' Cup a year later. Aston Villa had bounced back from relegation to the Third Division in 1970, winning promotion to the top flight in 1975 and a League Cup the same year, and again in 1977. They went on to win the 1981 league title and the year after won the European Cup, becoming the fourth English club to do so, beating Bayern Munich 1–0 in Rotterdam.
Between 1965 and 1974 Leeds had been the most consistent club side in English football, winning two league titles, as well as five runners-up places, had never finished outside the top four and had reached nine major finals, and 4 other semi-finals, as well as winning the FA cup in 1972, however this success would end with the departure of Don Revie for the England national team 1974, and apart from a final flurry in the 1975 European cup final, they won no more trophies and were relegated in 1982.
Other clubs did not fare as well in the 1970s; Manchester United began to decline after Matt Busby's retirement in 1969 and were relegated in 1974. However, they were promoted back the following season, and reached three cup finals in four years (1976, 1977 and 1979), though they only won the 1977 final. United went on to finish second twice during the 1980s and won another FA Cup in 1983, but the league title continued to elude them - they had not won it since 1967.
On the other hand, their neighbours City struggled in the early 1980s after doing relatively well in the 1970s. They were FA Cup runners-up in 1981, but heavy spending on players who rarely lived up to their price tags did the club no favours and they were relegated in 1983 and again in 1987, reclaiming their First Division status after two seasons on both occasions, although it would be more than 20 years before they began to seriously compete among the leading English clubs again.
Meanwhile, Chelsea were also going through a turbulent time after winning the FA Cup in 1970 and the European Cup Winners' Cup in 1971. Financial problems and the loss of key players meant they spent most of 1970s and 1980s bouncing between the First and Second Divisions. In 1983, they only narrowly avoided relegation to the Third Division, but were promoted the following year.
Wolves, who had arguably been the best team of the 1950s and were still a reasonable force in 1980 (when they finished sixth and won the League Cup), suffered a spectacular decline which began in 1984 and ended in 1986 with three successive relegations that saw them in the Fourth Division for the first time. They were not alone in suffering a relegation hat-trick; Bristol City had completed the first such humiliation in 1982, though they were admittedly a far smaller club whose relegation in 1980 came after just four years in the top flight after an absence of 65 years.
Wolves were one of several once-great sides to endure a decline during the 1970s and early 1980s. Huddersfield Town (who complete the first league title hat-trick during the 1920s) were relegated from the First Division in 1971 and fell into the Fourth Division in 1975, not winning promotion until 1980. Portsmouth (league champions in 1949 and 1950) fell into the Fourth Division in 1978 as an almost bankrupt side, but climbed out of it in 1980 and within five years were in the hunt for a First Division comeback. Derby County were league champions in 1972 and 1975, but a rapid decline saw them fall into the Second Division in 1980 and the Third Division in 1984. Burnley, league champions as recently as 1960, fell into the Fourth Division in 1985, and with the introduction of automatic relegation from the Football League, narrowly avoided relegation to the Football Conference (the highest division of non league football since its formation in 1979) in 1987.
The period was also marked by some surprise FA Cup wins by lower-division teams over top-flight sides; these included Sunderland (beating Leeds United in 1973), Southampton (beating Manchester United in 1976) and West Ham United (beating Arsenal in 1980). Bobby Robson's Ipswich Town were another successful smaller club, winning the FA Cup in 1978 and the UEFA Cup in 1981. They also came second in the league in 1981 and 1982.
During this period transfer fees began to rise rapidly as more money entered the game; Trevor Francis became Britain's first million-pound rated footballer in 1979. 1979 also saw the formation of the Football Conference. This was the first national league to develop below the Football League, and was the beginning of a formalisation of the English football pyramid. The first seven Conference champions failed to gain election to the Football League, but in 1986 it was decided that the following year's champions would be automatically promoted to the league to replace the Fourth Division's bottom side ...
The re-election system saw Cambridge United elected to the league in 1970, Hereford United in 1972, Wimbledon in 1977 and Wigan Athletic in 1978. Cambridge reached the Second Division in 1978 and were a competent side at this level for five seasons before a terrible decline saw them fall back into the Fourth Division in 1985, although they did enjoy a swift but brief revival in the early 1990s which took them to the brink of top division football.
Hereford reached the Second Division after just four years of league membership, only to endure back-to-back relegations which pushed them back into the Fourth Division in 1978. Wimbledon's first two promotions from the Fourth Division ended in relegation after just one season, but by 1984 they had reached the Second Division and their biggest successes were yet to come.
Players who dominated the English scene during the 1970s and early 1980s include Kevin Keegan, Kenny Dalglish, Graeme Souness, Peter Shilton, Bryan Robson, John Wark, Liam Brady, Steve Perryman, Glenn Hoddle and Alan Hansen.
Older players whose careers finished during this time include Bobby Moore, Bobby Charlton, George Best, Denis Law, Jimmy Greaves, Billy Bremner, Jack Charlton, Emlyn Hughes, Gordon Banks and Alex Stepney.
1986–1991: The end of an era
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During the 1970s and 1980s, the spectre of hooliganism had begun to haunt English football. The Heysel Stadium disaster was the epitome of this, with English hooligans mixing with poor policing and an old stadium to cause the deaths of 39 Juventus fans during the 1985 European Cup final. This led to English teams being banned from European football for five years, and Liverpool - the club involved - being banned for six. Attendances also suffered throughout the league, with hooliganism and the recession being seen as the key factors. Teams in the north of England, the region with some of the worst unemployment rates nationally, suffered a particularly sharp decline in attendances, which did their financial position no favours.
Even when English teams were re-admitted, it was not until 1995 that they regained all of their lost places. And it took a while for English teams to re-establish themselves in Europe. Although Manchester United won the European Cup Winners' Cup in the first season after the ban was lifted, the European Cup was not won by an English club until 1999 – 15 years after the last triumph.
The Hillsborough disaster, which also involved Liverpool, though not related to hooliganism but caused by bad policing, an outdated stadium and anti-hooligan fences led to 96 deaths and more than 300 injuries at the FA Cup semi-final in April 1989. These two tragedies led to a modernisation of English football and English grounds by the mid 1990s. Efforts were made to remove hooligans from English football, whilst the Taylor Report led to the grounds of all top level clubs becoming all-seater.
Match attendances, which had been in decline since the 1970s, were beginning to recover by the turn of the 1990s thanks to the improving image of football as well as the strengthened national economy and falling unemployment after the crises of the 1970s and the first half of the 1980s.
On the field, Liverpool's domination was coming to an end; it also saw the culmination of the phenomenal rise of Wimbledon, who rose from the Fourth Division to the First in just four seasons, before finishing sixth in their inaugural season in the top flight and beating Liverpool 1–0 in the 1988 FA Cup final, one of the competition's biggest shocks. Another team to make an improbably quick rise from Fourth to First Divisions was Swansea City, who had climbed three divisions between 1977 and 1981. They finished sixth in their first top division campaign, but were relegated the following year and in 1986 fell back into the Fourth Division. Watford had reached the First Division for the first time in 1982 and finished league runners-up in their first season at this level and were FA Cup runners-up a year later, but were relegated in 1988.
A number of other small clubs achieved success at this time. Charlton Athletic, who were forced to leave The Valley and ground-share with West Ham for safety reasons in 1985, won promotion to the First Division in 1986 after an exile of nearly 30 years. They defied the odds by remaining at this level until their luck finally ran out and they were relegated in 1990. Norwich City went down to the Second Division in 1985 but that blow was cushioned by a League Cup triumph. They returned to the top flight a year later and finished fifth on their comeback, also coming fourth and reaching the FA Cup semi-finals in 1989. They reached another FA Cup semi-final in 1992. Oxford United, who had only joined the Football League in 1962, reached the First Division in 1985 and lifted the League Cup the following season. They went back down again in 1988, the same year that Middlesbrough reached the First Division a mere two seasons after almost going out of business as a Third Division side. Luton Town, who began the latest of several spells as a First Division side in 1982, won the Football League Cup - their first major trophy - in 1988 at the expense of a much more fancied Arsenal side.
Many fallen giants fell on hard times during the later part of the 1980s. Burnley and Preston North End (both Football League founders with five league titles between them), were relegated to the Fourth Division in 1985. Preston were promoted back to the Third Division in 1987, but that year saw Burnley narrowly avoid becoming the first team to suffer automatic relegation to the Conference (that humiliation was endured by Lincoln City instead) and it was not until 1992 that Burnley won promotion from the basement division.
One fallen giant to enjoy something of a resurgence in this era was Derby County. They had been relegated to the Third Division in 1984, just nine years after being league champions, but back-to-back promotions saw them back in the First Division in 1987. They emerged as surprise title contenders in 1988–89 and finished fifth, only missing out on a UEFA Cup place due to the ban on English clubs in European competition. But Derby were unable to sustain their run of success, and went down to the Second Division in 1991.
In 1986, Wolverhampton Wanderers fell into the Fourth Division for the first time in their history, and became only the second English team to endure three successive relegations. By 1989, they had won promotion to the Second Division almost single-handedly thanks to the goalscoring exploits of striker Steve Bull, who became the first English footballer to score 50 or more competitive goals in successive seasons. Local businessman Jack Hayward took the club over in 1990, and declared his ambition to restore Wolves as a major footballing force.
Bolton Wanderers, four times FA Cup winners, were relegated to the Fourth Division in 1987, the same year that Sunderland fell into the Third Division for the first time in their history. Both teams, however, won promotion at the first attempt. Burnley's recovery was more steady; they did not climb out of the league's basement division until 1992 and did not reclaim their top flight status until 2009, only surviving for one season at this level.
With Liverpool's fortunes waning, George Graham's Arsenal started to win trophies again, with a League Cup in 1987 and two league titles, in 1989 and 1991, the former being won in the final minute of the final game of the season against title rivals Liverpool, with young midfielder Michael Thomas scoring the crucial goal. Arsenal would go on to be the first side to pick up the Cup Double in 1993, and followed it with a Cup Winners' Cup the year after.
Arsenal's neighbours Tottenham were also successful, winning the FA Cup in 1990–91, with midfielder Paul Gascoigne proving the hero in the semi-finals against Arsenal before injuring himself in the final against Nottingham Forest. Tottenham bought Barcelona's high-scoring England striker Gary Lineker in 1989, and he continued his excellent form over three years at the club before leaving to finish his career in Japan.
Leeds had finally won promotion back to the top flight in 1990 and under Howard Wilkinson they won the 1991–92 league title. Wilkinson is still the most recent English manager to win the league championship. However, the departure of Eric Cantona to Manchester United, amongst other factors, meant they were unable to make a regular challenge for the title following the creation of the Premier League, although they did survive at this level for 12 seasons and achieved regular top five finishes.
Manchester United's six-year trophyless run had ended in 1983 when manager Ron Atkinson (appointed in 1981) guided them to FA Cup glory. They achieved another triumph two years later, but had still gone without a league title since 1967. 10 successive league wins at the start of the 1985–86 season suggested that the title was on its way back to Old Trafford, but United's form fell away as they finished fourth and Liverpool sealed the title. A terrible start to the 1986–87 season cost Atkinson his job in early November, when Alex Ferguson was recruited from Aberdeen. Ferguson strengthened the squad in the 1987 close season and the first stages of the new season and things were looking good as Ferguson's first full season as manager saw United finished second behind runaway champions Liverpool. Further signings after this improvement suggested that the title was even closer for United, but a series of injuries blighted the side and they finished 11th in 1989. United's wait for silverware ended in 1990 when they won their 7th FA Cup, and a year later they won the European Cup Winners' Cup, but it had now been well over 20 years since the league title had been United's.
Despite failure to qualify for Euro 1984 (the first major tournament since the appointment of Bobby Robson as manager), England continued to improve as the 1980s wore on, losing controversially to Argentina in the 1986 World Cup and unluckily on penalties to Germany in the semi-finals of the 1990 World Cup, eventually finishing fourth. This success for the national team, and the gradually improving grounds, helped to reinvigorate football's popularity. Attendances rose from the late 1980s and continued to do so as football moved into the business era.
The late 1980s and early 1990s saw the emergence of numerous young players who went on to reach great heights in the game. These include Paul Gascoigne, David Platt, Matt Le Tissier, Lee Sharpe, Ryan Giggs and Paul Merson.
This era also saw many famous names hanging up their boots after long and illustrious careers. These include Ray Clemence, Gary Bailey, Alan Hansen, Craig Johnston, Norman Whiteside, Andy Gray and Billy Bonds.
1992–2001: The Premier League and Sky Television
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The FA Premier League was formed in 1992 when the top twenty two clubs in English football broke away from the football league, in order to increase their incomes and make themselves more competitive on a European stage. By selling TV rights separately to the Football League, the clubs increased their income and exposure. The Premier League became the top level of English football, and Division One (later renamed the Football League Championship) fell to the second level.
Manchester United were the first Premiership winners, their first title in 26 years, and under Alex Ferguson, they dominated English football during the 1990s, winning five league titles (including two doubles), one League Cup, one Cup Winners' Cup and, in 1999, a unique treble: the FA Cup, League and Champions League all in one season. Their success was made even more remarkable by the high number of players who came up simultaneously through their youth system, including brothers Gary and Philip Neville, Paul Scholes and David Beckham. This success continued in the new millennium.
United's main challengers for the title in the Premier League's first few years were Blackburn Rovers, led by star striker Alan Shearer, also won their first league title since World War I in 1994–95, and Newcastle United, who famously conceded a 10-point lead at Christmas to lose the title to United in 1995–96. Newcastle had reached the Premiership in 1993 as Division One champions, and in their first Premiership campaign finished third to qualify for the UEFA Cup. They finished second in 1996 and again in 1997, but by the end of the decade had wallowed away to mid table.
Blackburn failed to sustain their success after the 1995 title triumph, and in 1999 they were relegated to Division One, although they won promotion two years later and won the League Cup a year after that.
A number of other teams challenged for the title in the early Premiership years. Aston Villa finished second in 1993, but declined over the next two seasons (despite a League Cup victory in 1994). They enjoyed a revival in 1996, winning the League Cup and finishing fourth in the Premiership, and by 1999 had qualified for the UEFA Cup five times in seven seasons, though their continental form had been unconvincing. Norwich City were surprise title contenders in 1992–93 under new manager Mike Walker, leading the table at several stages before finishing third - and doing so entered the UEFA Cup for the first time in their history. They achieved a shock win over Bayern Munich before being eliminated by Inter Milan, but were unable to keep up their good progress and in 1995 fell into Division One. By the end of the decade, they had yet to make a Premiership comeback.
Many teams that had succeed in the 1970s and 1980s did not fare as well in the Premiership. Liverpool were unable to dominate the decade as they had done in the 1970s and 1980s; after their 1990 title win, their only other trophies of the decade were the FA Cup in 1992 and the League Cup in 1995; they finished as low as eighth in 1994 and although they did finish sixth in the first season of the Premier League, they had spent much of that season in the bottom half of the table. Everton fared no better, although they won the FA Cup in 1995, beating Manchester United, they were involved in no less than three relegation battles during the decade (once staying up only on goal difference) and never finished higher than sixth in the league. After a promising start to the decade which included two fifth place finish, Manchester City also fought relegation, but lost, slipping into the Division One in 1996 and Division Two in 1998. But two successive promotions saw them back in the Premiership for the 2000–01 season. Nottingham Forest were relegated from the Premier League three times, in 1993 (when Brian Clough retired as manager), 1997 and 1999, and unlike City have yet to return. Both City and Forest endured brief spells in the league's third tier.
Arsenal began the Premier League with moderate league form (a shortage of goals restricting them to 10th place) but excellent form in the cups, as they became the first English team to win both domestic cups in the same season - beating Sheffield Wednesday 2–1 in both finals. They won the Cup Winners' Cup a year later, but manager George Graham was sacked the following February after admitting to receiving a "bung" when signing Danish midfielder John Jensen in 1992. They reached the Cup Winners' Cup final for the second year running under temporary manager Stewart Houston, but finished 12th in the Premiership. They reached fifth the following season under new manager Bruce Rioch, who was sacked for a dispute with the directors soon afterwards and replaced by Frenchman Arsène Wenger. Under Wenger, they won the double in 1998 to become only the second team in English football to repeat this triumph - though, unlike Manchester United two years earlier, with an entirely different set of players.
English football grew wealthier and more popular than ever before, with clubs spending tens of millions of pounds on players and on their wages, which rose to over £100,000 a week for the top stars. This also made it harder for promoted clubs to establish themselves at the top flight. In 1993, newly promoted Middlesbrough lost their top flight status after just one season, while Blackburn finished fourth and Ipswich finished 16th (having occupied fourth place in February). In 1994, newly promoted Swindon went down after winning just five games all season and conceding 100 goals. Newcastle, meanwhile, qualified for the UEFA Cup in third place and West Ham achieved a respectable 13th place finish. In 1995, newly promoted Nottingham Forest matched Newcastle's success by coming third and qualifying for the UEFA Cup, while Crystal Palace and Leicester City went straight back down. In 1996, newly promoted Bolton Wanderers went straight back down, while Middlesbrough attained a secure 12th place (they would have finished even higher had it not been for a dismal mid-season run of form which saw them endure 10 defeats from 11 games). In 1997, newly promoted Leicester City finished ninth and won the League Cup, while Derby County finished 12th, but Sunderland went straight back down. In 1998, all three newly promoted teams - Bolton Wanderers, Barnsley and Crystal Palace - were relegated straight back to Division One. In 1999, Middlesbrough attained an impressive ninth place finish, but Charlton Athletic and Nottingham Forest were relegated.
The Premier League was decreased from 22 to 20 clubs in 1995.
The national team over this period varied in their success, failing to qualify for the 1994 World Cup but reaching the semi-finals in Euro 96, losing on penalties to Germany at the semi-final stage. They also achieved automatic qualification for the 1998 World Cup, losing to Argentina on penalties in the Second Round. Manager Graham Taylor had quit in November 1993 after failing to attain a World Cup place, and his successor Terry Venables left after the encouraging Euro 96 campaign due to off-the-field disputes. His successor Glenn Hoddle took England to the World Cup, but was fired the following February after a controversial newspaper interview in which he suggested that disabled people were being punished for sins in a previous life. His successor Kevin Keegan achieved the task of attaining qualification for Euro 2000.
The trend for clubs to relocate to new stadiums accelerated throughout the 1990s. By the end of the decade, Walsall, Chester City, Milwall, Huddersfield Town, Northampton Town, Middlesbrough, Derby County, Sunderland, Bolton Wanderers, Stoke City, Reading and Wigan Athletic had all moved to new stadiums, and several other clubs were planning to relocate. This was due to the requirement that all Premier League and Division One stadiums had to have all-seater stadiums by the start of the 1994–95 season, although standing accommodation was still permitted at Division Two and Three stadiums, as well as non-league venues.
Into the 21st century, some clubs who initially redeveloped their old stadiums later decided to relocate, often after their success on the field had driven ticket demand to a level which the new capacities were unable to accommodate. These include Southampton, Leicester City and Arsenal.
As well as British and Irish talent, there were numerous foreign imports to the English game during the decade who went on to achieve stardom with English clubs. These include Eric Cantona, Jürgen Klinsmann, Dennis Bergkamp, Gianfranco Zola, Patrick Vieira and Peter Schmeichel.
Many experienced players whose careers began during the 1980s were still playing at the highest level as the 1990s drew to a close. These include David Seaman, Tony Adams, Gary Pallister, Colin Hendry, Paul Ince, Alan Shearer and Mark Hughes.
The decade also saw the illustrious careers of numerous legendary players draw to a close. These include Bryan Robson, Gordon Strachan, Ian Rush, Peter Beardsley, Steve Bruce, John Barnes and Peter Shilton.
2003–present: Financial polarisation
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In England, as in Europe in general, the early first decade of the 21st century saw the financial bubble burst, with the collapse of ITV Digital in May 2002 leaving a hole in the pockets of the Football League clubs who had relied on their television money to maintain high wages. Although no Football League teams collapsed (no team has done so since Maidstone United in 1992), many entered administration, including Leicester City and Bradford City. From the 2004–05, administration for any Premier League or Football League club would mean a 10-point deduction. Most of the non-league divisions adopted a similar penalty.
Another club that faced financial ruin was Leeds United; having reached the Champions League semi-finals in 2000–01 they looked set for dominance on the domestic and European scene, but after failing to qualify for the competition the following season, they were unable to cover the loans they had taken out to fund their spending. They were forced to sell their ground (and lease it back) and many of their best players. They were relegated at the end of the 2003–04 season and three years later slipped into the league's third tier for the first time in their history, although their debts have since been substantially reduced.
At the same time, the country's richest clubs continued to grow, with the wages of top players increasing further.
Manchester United's outstanding success has continued, though to a slightly lesser degree than the success they had previously enjoyed. Arsenal won a third Double in 2002 and clinched the title in 2004 without losing a single league game all season. In 2003 and 2005, when they missed out on the title, they had the FA Cup as compensation. United still managed to win another FA Cup in 2004 and the League Cup in 2006, as well as league titles in 2000, 2001, 2003 and 2007. Chelsea's success continued to grow, with Roman Abramovich - a Russian oligarch - purchasing Chelsea in a £150m takeover in 2003. Abramovich, whose move to England made him the country's richest man (he has since been overtaken), made substantial transfer funds available to manager Claudio Ranieri. After finishing second in 2004, Chelsea won the League Cup and league title under Ranieri's replacement José Mourinho in 2005, and another title in 2006.
While unable to challenge for the league title, Liverpool achieved success in other competitions, including a treble of League Cup, FA Cup and UEFA Cup in 2001. Another League Cup followed in 2003, but the biggest triumph of the decade so far was a Champions League win in 2005, with a memorable comeback from 3–0 down against AC Milan in the final; Liverpool became the second club since the Heysel ban to take the trophy. The season after Liverpool won the FA Cup, winning on penalties after drawing 3–3 with newly promoted West Ham United. Tottenham Hotspur have also resurged under new manager Martin Jol, narrowly missing out on a Champions League place in 2006 after finishing fifth.
The England national team during this time became managed by a non-English national for the first time in their history when Sven-Göran Eriksson took charge. He achieved respectable results in international tournaments, going out to eventual winners Brazil in the 2002 World Cup, hosts Portugal in Euro 2004, and Portugal once again on penalties in the 2006 World Cup having reached the quarter-finals. Arguably due to pressure over the lack of actual victories in major tournaments, Eriksson announced his resignation prior to the 2006 World Cup. Steve McClaren was selected by the FA as his replacement, and took over as manager on 1 August 2006, on a 4-year contract. England's failure to qualify for the 2008 European Championships led to McClaren being sacked on 22 November 2007, after only 16 months in charge. He was replaced by Italian Fabio Capello.
The 2006–07 season saw Manchester United win the Premier League title for the first time in four years, with Chelsea finishing second (their failure to win a third successive title compensated for in the shape of success in both domestic cups), Liverpool finishing third and Arsenal fourth, while Tottenham Hotspur, Everton and Bolton Wanderers achieved UEFA Cup qualification. The gulf between the Premier League and Football League Championship was highlighted once again as two of the newly promoted teams (Watford and Sheffield United) were relegated, although Reading - the other newly promoted team, and playing their first top flight campaign ever - finished 8th and narrowly missed out on European qualification. The race for promotion to the Premier League had a predictable finish as the two automatic promotion places were both taken by teams relegated a year earlier - Sunderland and Birmingham City. Derby County took the third and final promotion places with a playoff victory at the expense of newly relegated West Bromwich Albion, while Wolverhampton Wanderers and Southampton (who had both been in the Premier League a couple of years earlier) were the losing semi finalists. Narrowly missing out on a playoff place were Colchester United, who finished 10th in their very first season at this level and had been among the pre-season relegation favourites.
Going down to League One were Southend United and Luton Town, along with a Leeds United who just five years earlier had been one of the Premier League's top clubs, only for a string of financial crises to drag them down the league. Scunthorpe United were among the clubs to reach the Championship in 2007, sealing the League One title after more than 40 years in the league's lower reaches, while Blackpool returned to the second tier for the first time since the 1970s with a playoff victory.
2007–08 brought a familiar pattern in the Premier League as Manchester United retained the Premier League title and Chelsea finished second, with Arsenal third and Liverpool fourth. Everton and Aston Villa completed the top six to seal UEFA Cup qualification, while Tottenham Hotspur lifted the Football League Cup to end their nine-year trophy drought. The most remarkable success story of the season, however, belonged to Harry Redknapp, who brought Portsmouth their first major honour for nearly 60 years in the shape of the FA Cup. When Redknapp had first taken over as manager of Portsmouth in March 2002, the South Coast club hadn't played in the top flight for more than 40 years with the exception of one unsuccessful campaign in the late 1980s. A year later they sealed promotion to the Premier League and slowly established themselves back among the elite. Redknapp had been reviled by Portsmouth fans when defecting to their local rivals Southampton in November 2004, only to return a year later after failing to save Southampton from relegation. After saving Portsmouth from relegation on his return, he spent heavily and attracted top class players including David James, Sol Campbell and Kanu to the club and his heavy spending paid off as Portsmouth managed a top half finish for the first time since the 1950s, and at Wembley Stadium on 17 May 2008 the long wait for glory ended as a Kanu goal gave Portsmouth victory over Cardiff City in the FA Cup final. "Second season syndrome" kicked in at Reading, whose two-year spell in the top flight ended with relegation on the final day of the season one year after almost qualifying for Europe.
West Bromwich Albion returned to the Premier League as Championship champions at the end of the 2007–08 season, but the big news in this division came with Stoke City's return to the top flight after 23 years away, and Hull City's promotion to the top flight for the very first time as they defeated a Bristol City side (without top division football since 1980) in the playoff final, just five years after they had been in the league's basement division and barely a decade since they had been bankrupt and on the verge of losing their Football League status. A fallen giant at this level was Leicester City, who fell into the third tier of English football for the very first time having started the decade as League Cup winners and UEFA Cup competitors.
In the first all-English European Cup final, Manchester United defeated Chelsea on penalties in Moscow after a 1–1 draw in open play.
Promisement in the lower reaches of the league during 2007–08 came from Milton Keynes Dons, who under the management of former England captain Paul Ince sealed their first honours in the shape of the Football League Trophy and League Two title - four years after their name had appeared on fixture lists following the controversial relocation of the old Wimbledon club from South London to the new town of Milton Keynes some 70 miles away. Meanwhile, fans of the old Wimbledon club had formed a new team - AFC Wimbledon - which joined the Combined Counties League in 2002 and reached the Football League nine years later.
Darren Ferguson, son of Sir Alex Ferguson, was also heralded as a "manager of the future" after guiding Peterborough United to promotion, while Aldershot Town returned to the Football League under the management of Gary Waddock, 16 years after the old Aldershot club had been declared bankrupt and forced out of the league.
The 2008–09 season began with the two biggest transfer fees in English football - Manchester City's £32.4million move for the Brazilian winger Robinho and Manchester United's £30.75million capture of Bulgarian striker Dimitar Berbatov from Tottenham Hotspur. The season had a familiar ending, as Manchester United sealed their third successive Premier League title by a four-point margin over a Liverpool side who came their closest yet to achieving the league title which has eluded them since 1990; ironically United's latest title win saw them match Liverpool's record of 18 English top division titles. Chelsea finished outside the top two for the first time since 2003 as they finished third but still managed to win the FA Cup. Arsenal sealed the last Champions League place with a fourth place finish. Everton's progress under David Moyes continued as they finished fifth in the league and reached their first cup final for 14 years, taking an early lead in the FA Cup final before losing 2–1 to Chelsea. In the Football League Cup, Manchester United sealed the trophy for the third time, but endured disappointment on the continental stage when losing the European Cup final to FC Barcelona. Aston Villa, enjoying something of a revival under manager Martin O'Neill after a decade of underachievement, qualified for the newly named UEFA Europa League along with Everton and a rejuvenated Fulham side who had narrowly avoided relegation the previous season.
Midland rivals Wolverhampton Wanderers and Birmingham City returned to the Premier League and five years and one year away respectively. Burnley's playoff win saw them return to the top flight as well, after 33 years away, to join rejuventated Lancashire "old powers" Blackburn Rovers and Bolton Wanderers among the elite. Preston North End, another of the great old Lancashire clubs, were left looking at the Premier League door after their fourth playoff failure in nine seasons. Hopes of a Welsh presence in the Premier League were put on hold for at least another season at Cardiff City and Swansea City narrowly missed out on the playoffs.
In League One, Leicester City made a quick return to the second tier as champions, accompanied by Darren Ferguson's thriving Peterborough United and a Scunthorpe United side whose manager Nigel Adkins had rewarded the club's faith in him by regaining the second tier place that had been lost two years earlier.
Luton Town, a top flight club as recently as 1992, suffered a third successive relegation and fell out of the Football League due to a 30-point deduction for financial irregularities which rooted them to the bottom of League Two; without it they would have finished mid table and comfortably avoided a rare third successive relegation.
Manchester United became the receipts of the world's biggest transfer fee during the 2009 close season when they sold Cristiano Ronaldo, widely regarded as one of the best football players in the world, to Real Madrid of Spain for £80million.
Star players rising to prominence this era have included Wayne Rooney (Everton, Manchester United and England), Thierry Henry (Arsenal and France), Frank Lampard (Chelsea and England), Steven Gerrard (Liverpool and England) and Joe Cole (West Ham United, Chelsea and England).
Michael Owen, Rio Ferdinand, Ryan Giggs, David Beckham and Sol Campbell were some of the prominent players still active in the game during the first decade of the 21st century after rising to fame during the 1990s, though Beckham has not played in England since 2003.
Since 2010, Manchester City have re-emerged as a top club side, assisted by the wealth of their Arab owners who took the club over in 2008. City's first major trophy for 35 years came in 2011 when they won the FA Cup, and a year later they won the Premier League title in dramatic fashion, coming from behind to beat QPR on the last day of the season and finish above neighbours United on goal difference. These successes took place under the management of Robert Mancini, their Italian manager, who was dismissed a year later after failing to win any trophies in the 2012-13 season.
After a decade away from management, Kenny Dalglish began his second spell as Liverpool manager in January 2011 after the dismissal of Roy Hodgson. Dalglish guided Liverpool to League Cup glory a year later and they were also runners-up in the FA Cup, but finished eighth in the league and Dalglish was then sacked in favour of Swansea City manager Brendan Rodgers, who had taken the South Wales club to a mid table finish in the Premier League in their first top division season since the early 1980s.
After the appointment of David Moyes as manager in March 2002, Everton fought back from a decade where they had mostly finished mid table or just above the relegation zone and became a regular fixture in the Premier League's top seven places, qualifying for Europe on several occasions, although they failed to win a major trophy.
At the end of 2012-13, Sir Alex Ferguson announced his retirement as manager of Manchester United after 27 years and 25 major trophies. His successor was Everton manager David Moyes.
Despite the dominance of the established big clubs in the contest for honours, a number of smaller clubs have enjoyed considerable success. After returning to the top flight and staying there after three decades away, Swansea won their first major English trophy (to go with a host of Welsh Cup wins) when they beat Bradford City (a fourth tier side) to win the League Cup in 2013. The same year saw Wigan Athletic, who only reached the Premier League in 2005 having joined the Football League in 1978, win the FA Cup at the expense of Manchester City, only to be relegated days later. Cardiff City also returned to the top flight that year after 51 years away, while Hull City went up with them to reclaim the top flight place they had only held for a two-season spell until 2010.
- Timeline of English football
- History of the English football league system
- History of the England national football team
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