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How the Premier League has changed

Ollie Williams | 09:00 UK time, Thursday, 13 August 2009

Twenty years ago, things were very different.

This time in 1989, The Simpsons had yet to broadcast a single full episode (it'll reach 450 by this Christmas). The Soviet Union was still in one piece, just about. As the football season began, Jive Bunny was number one in the charts.

We've come on leaps and bounds as a civilization since then. Now Tinchy Stryder is number one.

In 1989, you had an outside chance of travelling to a football match alongside some of your team's players on the bus.

Nowadays, unless you live near Robinho, you'd be staggered to discover a Premier League centre forward catching the matchday special from the middle of town.

West Ham defensive walls - 2008/09 (left) and 1989/90

Above: West Ham defensive walls, then and now. December 2008 on the left, February 1990 on the right.

Back in '89 (and it's not so long ago), the players in English football's top flight were a very different breed, with barely any foreign-born stars in the league - as Tim Vickery discussed on Monday with reference to Ecuador.

Our interactive map of player birthplaces illustrates how each of the current Premier League squads has changed in the last 20 years.

Beneath the map we've attempted to provide a brief breakdown of each team's squads from 1989 and 2009, highlighting the most interesting points of the map, and listing the players from both seasons.

It hasn't always been easy deciding who to include on the map.

Firstly, the map shows only the current Premier League teams, even for 1989/90, because it would have become complicated and messy jumping between the current top-flight teams, and a different set of top-flight teams 20 years ago.

Secondly, we've limited the map to players with a reasonable chance of first-team football - either those this year who can expect to feature in the coming season, or those in 1989 who went on to make league appearances that season.

However, with hundreds of players it's easy to overlook one or two, or include some who maybe don't fit the description above.

Plus it's sometimes tricky to gauge new signings - will Jay O'Shea, signed by Birmingham from Galway, take much part this year? Hard to tell but I decided, on balance, probably not.

It's quite subjective and I may well have got some decisions wrong, but wanted to avoid having thousands of points on the map by virtue of including every player on a team's books.

Screengrab of Premier League birthplaces map

With these decisions in mind, I want to turn the data over to you. Download the full spreadsheet and take a look at the information powering the map.

If you spot anything that you think is an error or an omission, let me know. The data has been gathered from a variety of sources - mostly from the clubs themselves for 2009/10, but tracing the birthplaces of a few 1989/90 players has been trickier.

Latitude and longitude details are included for each player. These are obviously not accurate down to their precise place of birth (I'll be impressed, and slightly worried, if anyone has that information for the whole Premier League), but those coordinates should locate the town in question.

If you can come up with anything clever using the data that we haven't spotted or thought to try, I'd be keen to hear from you. Sites like Many Eyes and Maker can be good for playing about with data, but there are many more out there.

I'd also like to know if any of the names we picked out brought back any memories.

From what I can gather, Thomas Hauser did not exactly win the hearts of the Roker Park faithful during his time at Sunderland. I'd be interested to know how some of the other early foreign-born players mentioned got on.

We'll update the map again when the transfer window shuts at the end of August. In the meantime, I'm off to admire George Berry's hairdo.


  • Comment number 1.

    Perhaps not an entirely fair comparison given the English clubs were still banned from Europe and therefore foreign players had no great incentive for moving to Division 1 (as was).

  • Comment number 2.

    GPOR44 has a very good point which is unfortunate.Can we have a comparison with for example Germany, Italy, Spain or even Brazil? I.e our competitors for major world/European championships.

    I suspect that the answer will be that Italy and Germany have more like 70% nationals meaning that the national teams have a much bigger pool of players to draw on. Brazil almost certainly similar. Spain may be closer to the UK's diluted situation but still will almost certainly be a higher percentage of nationals.

    Interesting would also be a comparison against the same countries with English players abroad. I suspect again that the percentage of English players abroad will be very limited in comparison to other countries. certainly hasn't been a great number of the top players in recent years and where applicable has only been for short periods - Ince, Gascoigne, Lineker, Jordan etc

    The lack of interest in playing abroad combined with limited opportunities in the Premiership sound like bad news for grassroots football in England, what we may see is more kids drifting away from sports. The prospects therefore for the English national team (or any British nation for that matter)of winning any silverware in the forseeable future look increasingly bleak.

    You can argue that the local lads gain from playing alongside the foreign contingent in the premiership, but if this trend continues just how many local lads will there be to pick from for the national team?

  • Comment number 3.

    I do hope someone manyeyes this - thanks for putting this together! It would have been nice if a csv (comma separated values plain text file) version was available for those of us who avoid (or can't afford) commercial products like Excel and want to use one of the many shareware spreadsheet packages out there.

    Btw, on that wonderful little interactive map that one of your people put up, it would have been nice if one could hover over a dot and it told you who the player was.

  • Comment number 4.

    The Liverpool Cup winning team in 1986 had : 23 years ago ......

    1 player from Zimbabwe - Grobbelar
    3 players from Eire - Lawrenson, Beglin, Whelan (Lawrenson was born in Preston but choose Eire)
    4 players from Scotland - Nicol, Hansen, Dalglish, McDonald (not Ronald)
    1 player from Denmark - Molby
    1 player from Wales - Rush
    1 player from Australia - Johnston

    No players from England although McMahon was substitute

    How times have changed ? At least now they have Gerrard and Carragher

  • Comment number 5.

    This is nonsense!

    As well as comments already made, you yourself drew attention to the fact that you weren't using the Div 1 (not Prem) teams from 1989/90.

    In fact less than half of the current Prem teams were in Div 1 20 years ago. Complicated and messy, No - lazy - Yes.

    If you wanted to make a perfectly valid point have a look at the make up of the second tier teams over the same period - but of course that isn't Prem and therefore not worthy of commenting!

  • Comment number 6.

    #3 buymespresso - Agreed about hovering over the dots but in the time we had, there was a bit of a struggle getting Flash to do exactly what we needed it to (with potentially dozens of overlapping points), hence no hover action, but instead a section on each club in the text below outlining the most interesting points.

    If you don't like using Excel then there are some open-source pieces of kit which will still open .xls files, Open Office - - being one of them.

    #4 Dave_H_22 - Very interesting example. That must have been a rarity, whereas teams minus any homegrown players at all now raise fewer eyebrows every season.

    In any case, if you discount Lawrenson because he was born in England but chose Ireland, then you have to include Johnston, who was born in South Africa (to Australian parents) but chose England U21s. So either way you cut it, there's still an "English" player in there.

  • Comment number 7.

    It's nice to see someone at the BBC at least making the effort to present real data (rather than recycled gossip), and in a different format, whatever conclusions can be legitimately drawn.

    Incidentally, do you think that the photo shown indicates that foreign footballers are less concerned with protecting their genitalia than home-grown players?

    Or is it just a West Ham thing?

  • Comment number 8.

    its because english players don have skills. the foreigners started for the last 7 to 8 years so did we won any credible competition before that? the anwer is no. so let us learn some skills from this oreign players. english premeiership became strong and famous because of this foreign players!

  • Comment number 9.

    Dave_H_22 point well made...Ollie your response is just splitting hairs. The simple fact is this, what we consider to be 'foreign' has changed in the last twenty years, an all 'foreign' team in 86 was as shocking as an all 'foreign' team now. It's just that now 'foreign' isn't used to include Irish, Scottish, Welsh etc. Liverpool of 86 would now be help up as a shining example of 'home' grown talent!

    Interestingly no mention of the cause of this change, BskyB's money would be a big part of that...

  • Comment number 10.

    Re. West Ham 89-90. Steve Potts, the legendary 5' 7" centre back who once marked Shearer out of a game, was born in Hartford, Connecticut, USA. Sloppy research

  • Comment number 11.

    It would have been nice to include teams now in the lower leagues. I'm a Forest fan and not only are a large proportion of you players from the UK, a very large number are from the city of Nottingham or the directly surrounding area. I wonder if any other teams have a similar number of players not just from the UK, but from the actual host city/town.

  • Comment number 12.

    #9 bunnybinks - Sky's cash is a big part, if not the sole reason, I'd have thought. I'd say other aspects of commercialisation which followed, like increased sponsorship, bigger merchandise revenues and more corporate hospitality, all stem from that cash injection, so you're absolutely right. And I didn't mean to detract from Dave_H_22's point either, which was an excellent one.

    #10 blondini1961 - Shameful. My only excuse is by the time I got down to West Ham's 89/90 team, the entry for Steve Potts from which I was researching just said "born Hartford", and I failed to realise it meant the US rather than the UK (I was thinking of Hertford). I'll get the text changed, and the map, which is a bit trickier, will update when the transfer window closes. Thanks for pointing it out.

    #11 ukctstrider - I'd like to do one for every team in the Football League but it's a lot of research time. I might make a start in any spare moments I get, or see if there's a way of getting people to help out by contributing their own team's stats, which might be quicker and probably more accurate (no Steve Potts debacle).

  • Comment number 13.

    I hate to be picky when you've spent ages doing this, but if the Kearton you refer to in the Everton team of 89-90 is Jason Kearton, then he was born in Ipswich, Australia, not Ipswich, UK.

    Thanks for the read otherwise. I was only 7 in 1989 and it's made me realise how much the game has changed in the time I've been interested in it.

  • Comment number 14.

    A good start Ollie.

    If this debate is going to happen, and given Blatini want to make changes it is important is does, there needs to be proper, in depth analysis of how and why things have changed, and the perception of the changes.

    It is pretty obvious there are more overseas players in the English game than ever before. But then there are probably more overseas people working in most multi million pound businesses throughout the country. Indeed, one might suggest football clubs are just another transnational corporation exploit the resources from various countries. As a business, football clubs are operating in a market and money is the name of the game (unfortunately imo). Therefore, FCs are driven to lower their costs and will look globally to do so. More money in the game allows them to this, as does advances in technology and transport which has metaphorically shrunk the world. So, FCs have greater reach and the means to enact that reach all over the world (or least to places with good footballers). Often it is cheaper to buy a foreign player than it is to buy a domestic player.

    On the flip side, the greater exposure of the EPL (and its purported place at the top of the hierarchy of leagues) means more people know about England's top clubs. This has two effect: i) players in more countries want to play here ii) people in other countries become new customers who can be hooked with the presence of a player from their country.

  • Comment number 15.

    Everton have a player from every continent except Asia. Their shirt sponsors? An Asian beer.

  • Comment number 16.

    How about an additional feature when you update the map showing where the managers come from then and now...?

    Plus, thanks for reminding me of the geniusly-named Pat Van Den Hauwe. Great player.

  • Comment number 17.

    So it wasn't due to climate change?


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