It’s all about those 90 minutes and timeless passion of supporters
Jim White’s ‘labour of love’ gives Premier history through his top 10 matches
Manchester City’s Sergio Aguero scores his winning goal during their Premier League match against Queens Park Rangers at the Etihad Stadium in May 2012. Photograph: Phil Noble/Reuters
Jim White is talking about the impact on people’s lives of a devotion to a football club, whether from their own neck of the woods or further afield, and laughs when he recalls an exchange with a chap in Dublin earlier that morning.
“He said: ‘I’m a Tottenham fan, for my sins’. I said: ‘You don’t have to apologise, mate!”
“But that’s how so many people present themselves to the world, it’s their point of identity,” says the Manchester-born journalist whose latest book, Premier League: A History in 10 Matches, was recently published.
A “labour of love”, he says, “great pictures, shame about the words. And it’s really heavy, so if you’re short of a stopper, it could hold back a bloody fire door.”
It could too. It’s an absorbing journey, though, through the Premier League years. No easy task, but White chose 10 games in its 21-year history to “tell its story”. Not necessarily the greatest or most memorable encounters, he says, but ones that were symbolic. Like the game that sent Manchester United on their way to their first Premier League title (that ‘Fergie time’ win over Sheffield Wednesday in 1993), the one that saw Blackburn win their only crown, and the defeat that relegated Leeds from the division amidst their financial meltdown.
And the overwhelming theme through those years is, inevitably, money, and how supporters of Premier League clubs in Britain and now, more significantly, abroad, have seen their devotion “monetized”, as White puts it. “It’s a lifetime commitment from the fans, and the clubs’ owners have realised that that commitment can have a monetary value – a very big one too.”
“But while most people, as I do too in the book, talk about the money, and money is basically the heart of the story, that passion, I believe, is still there at the core of everything.
“There’s a great picture in the book of Man City fans during that QPR game when they won the league. City, backed by the richest man in the world, bought the best players in the world, and yet look at those faces, look at the emotion, the anxiety, all those elements that have always been key. Yes, that’s why it’s such a valuable ‘product’, but you can’t buy emotions like that. You can’t.”
Still, the money madness features prominently in the book – he recalls that United v Wednesday game, for example, back then United’s turnover was double that of the Sheffield club, today it’s 36 times higher.
“And they now live in completely different worlds, Wednesday in the Championship. And more than half of the clubs in that division are now owned by foreign investors who would like to get in the Premier League, but it’s too expensive. So they’ve come in at Championship level and hope to play their way in.