A whole new ball game

The Premier League is 25 years old on 15 August 2017.

To mark the anniversary, BBC Sport has produced five pieces, each covering a five-year period in the competition's history.

This is the first piece, focusing on the span from the first season in 1992-93 to the end of the 1996-97 campaign.

Scroll down for written insight, a visual timeline, Mark Lawrenson's team of the era, a tailored tactics board and tables, before testing yourself with our Merlin sticker quiz.

When Sky's adverts to herald the new Premier League famously promised "a whole new ball game" it was as much about hype and hope as the reality.

A little was new but a lot was still old. The ad featured Gordon Strachan with a 1980s mullet and John Wark with a 1970s moustache, even if David Hirst was wearing an earring and Tony Daley working out with his top off. It was soundtracked by a Simple Minds song, Alive and Kicking, that was seven years old and had more to do with the Brat Pack than the Brit set, let alone the country's nascent rave culture.

All 22 clubs (there were that many) had British managers. Shirt sponsors were the traditional - JVC for Arsenal, Sharp for Manchester United - and aimed at the VHS market rather than the satellite. Others were targeted squarely at the local market rather than overseas eyes: Shipstones and Nottingham Forest, Fisons and Ipswich.

Glamour was hard-working Scandinavians such as Gunnar Halle and John Jensen.

Manchester United's big summer signing was Dion Dublin, for £1m, from Cambridge United. Dublin's new team, 25 years without a league title, would begin the brave new world by losing at Sheffield United.

Only one manager in the division was sacked in that first season. Two years further on, 15 of the 22 Premier League clubs changed their manager during the season or in the close seasons that bookended it.

Ian Porterfield was the only Premier League boss to lose his job in the 1992-93 season, sacked by Chelsea in February and replaced by David Webb

Ian Porterfield was the only Premier League boss to lose his job in the 1992-93 season, sacked by Chelsea in February and replaced by David Webb

If that was an indication of how quickly the influx of television money and its attendant pressures were altering the landscape, so too were the signings teams were making. By the league's fourth birthday Middlesbrough, who had been relegated in 1993 with a team led by Bernie Slaven playing in a 90-year-old stadium, could celebrate the opening of their new 30,000 all-seater ground with the arrival of Champions League winner Fabrizio Ravanelli from Juventus and a line-up that featured three Brazilians.

Inflation took hold even as the nation's economy flatlined. By the summer of 1995, Warren Barton was worth £4m to Newcastle, which at least made Liverpool feel better about the £3.5m they had spent on his Wimbledon team-mate John Scales the year before. Neither man played a competitive fixture for England.

With each passing season the quality of the football on offer seemed to improve a little more. Strikes that were comfortable winners of Goal of the Month a few years before became humdrum; seemingly impossible efforts from Matt le Tissier and Tony Yeboah reflected the sense of never having had it so good. With it came wonder games too, Liverpool's 4-3 win over Newcastle in April 1996 maybe the best of the lot.

The breakaway had been triggered in part by the Football Association's desire to improve the England team. After an awful European Championship in 1992 was followed by a failure to qualify for the following World Cup, Premier League talent took an invigorated Terry Venables team to the semi-finals of Euro '96.

Of course, they lost on penalties to Germany, just as they had in 1990, just as they routinely would to other nations into the future. But the hosting of that tournament and the national celebration that came with it, Three Lions and all, fed back into the Premier League. Football had come home, and now everyone was into it, even if not everyone could now afford to watch.

There were crises along the way - Arsenal manager George Graham sacked for taking bungs, former Liverpool goalkeeper Bruce Grobbelaar being accused of match-fixing, Arsenal midfielder Paul Merson admitting to addictions to cocaine, alcohol and gambling. Ever more money in the game, ever more temptation.

Arsenal's Paul Merson broke down in tears at a press conference in 1995 following his treatment for various addictions

Arsenal's Paul Merson broke down in tears at a press conference in 1995 following his treatment for various addictions

Nothing was as shocking as when Manchester United striker Eric Cantona launched himself into the Selhurst Park crowd. But then nothing had been as critical to the direction of the league as United's decision to sign the Frenchman close to the start of it all.

When Alex Ferguson brought him in on 26 November 1992, following a phone call from Leeds enquiring about Denis Irwin, United had just gone seven league games without a win and were eighth in the table. Over the next five years they would win the title in all but one, establishing a hegemony that would only occasionally be broken over the next 15 years.

The seeds of the next era were being sown too. On 17 August 1996, David Beckham scored from the halfway line in a 3-0 win over Wimbledon, beginning a transformation that would take football players into the celebrity mainstream and in many cases beyond.

Just over a month later, Arsenal appointed 46-year-old Frenchman Arsene Wenger as their new manager. Few had heard of him. Even fewer guessed the changes he would bring to the Premier League.

Farewell beer, hello broccoli; in with foreign talent, out with the old certainties. Now it was a new ball game, and there was a great deal more to come.

Premier moments: The events that define the era...

15 August 1992: The Premier League begins. The first goal is scored by Sheffield United’s Brian Deane in the fifth minute of a 2-1 home win over Manchester United.

26 November 1992: Manchester United, who have just gone seven league games without a win and are eighth in the table, sign striker Eric Cantona in a £1.2m deal from Leeds, the team who beat the Red Devils to the title the previous season.

26 April 1993: Brian Clough announces that he will retire as Nottingham Forest manager at the end of the season after 18 years in charge. Clough won two European Cups, the league title and four League Cups with Forest, who are relegated from the top flight a week later.

2 May 1993: Manchester United are confirmed as Premier League champions, finishing 10 points ahead of second-placed Aston Villa. They will repeat the feat the following season, improving their overall points tally from 84 to 92.

29 July 1994: Jurgen Klinsmann - a villainous figure in English football for his role for Germany in England’s semi-final defeat at Italia ‘90 and his reputation as a diver - joins Tottenham from Monaco for £2m. The striker makes a huge impression in one season, scoring 20 league goals, celebrating the first, in a 4-3 win at Sheffield Wednesday on the opening day, with a dive celebration.

10 January 1995: Manchester United break the British transfer record to sign Andy Cole from Newcastle for £7m. Newcastle boss Kevin Keegan takes to the steps of St James’ Park to address fans who are angry at the sale. Cole has an inconsistent first season but does score five goals in one match as United beat Ipswich 9-0.

25 January 1995: As he walks from the field after being sent off at Crystal Palace, Manchester United’s Eric Cantona leaps into the crowd and kicks spectator Matthew Simmons. The Frenchman is banned until 30 September by the FA and threatens to quit English football, but stays and returns to action later in the year.

21 February 1995: It is a difficult season for Arsenal as midfielder Paul Merson goes into rehab for drink and drug addiction before manager George Graham is sacked after admitting receiving illegal payments from transfers.

14 May 1995: Blackburn break Manchester United’s monopoly on the Premier League by claiming the top-flight title for the first time in 81 years. On a dramatic final day, Rovers lose at Liverpool but triumph by a point after United can only draw at West Ham.

19 August 1995: After Manchester United sell Mark Hughes, Paul Ince and Andrei Kanchelskis, Match of the Day pundit Alan Hansen declares that “you can't win anything with kids” as they suffer an opening-day 3-1 defeat at Aston Villa. A United side containing the Neville brothers, David Beckham, Nicky Butt and Paul Scholes bounce back quickly and go on to win the double.

3 April 1996: The best game in the Premier League era? Striker Stan Collymore scores a late winner in a pulsating 4-3 win for Liverpool that crushes title-chasing Newcastle. Kevin Keegan’s side had been 12 points clear at the top at the end of January, but this defeat leaves them three points behind leaders Manchester United with a game in hand.

30 April 1996: After Manchester United boss Alex Ferguson suggests that teams like Nottingham Forest might not try as hard against Newcastle as they do against his side, Magpies boss Kevin Keegan erupts in a live interview on Sky, which includes the now infamous lines: “You can tell him now, we're still fighting for this title and he's got to go to Middlesbrough and get something. And I'll tell you, honestly, I will love it if we beat them. Love it”. They don't.

30 July 1996: Striker Alan Shearer, whose £3.6m move to Blackburn in 1992 broke the British transfer record, leaves Rovers to join his hometown club Newcastle United for a world record fee of £15m.

17 August 1996: Manchester United's David Beckham scores a late goal from the halfway line in a 3-0 win over Wimbledon on the opening day of the season. It is an iconic goal from the man who would go on to captain England on 59 occasions.

28 September 1996: Arsenal appoint largely unknown 46-year-old Frenchman Arsene Wenger as manager. The former Monaco coach arrives from Japanese side Nagoya Grampus Eight and is met initially by suspicion and surprise. Wenger would win the Double twice with the Gunners by 2002.

5 January 1997: Newcastle are rocked by the resignation of manager Kevin Keegan, who claims he has “taken the club as far as I can”. Only eight days earlier they had beaten Tottenham 7-1 at home and were fourth in the league. He is replaced by Kenny Dalglish.

14 May 1995: Blackburn break Manchester United’s monopoly on the Premier League by claiming the top-flight title for the first time in 81 years. On a dramatic final day, Rovers lose at Liverpool but triumph by a point after United can only draw at West Ham.

11 May 1997: Despite having spent big on Brazilian midfielders Juninho and Emerson and Italian striker Fabrizio Ravanelli, Middlesbrough are relegated to the second tier. They would have survived but for the docking of three points for failing to fulfil a fixture with Blackburn in December. Their squad was struck by injury and illness at the time but the punishment stuck.

Team of the era: Manchester United 1995-96

We asked former Liverpool defender and BBC pundit Mark Lawrenson to pick his team of the era...

"This United side will always be remembered for the group of young players who broke into the team together after the sale of Paul Ince, Mark Hughes and Andrei Kanchelskis.

"They not only won the Double that season, they were the bedrock for many future United triumphs too.

"It was an amazing achievement, even more so now because it does not look like the same thing will happen again at any of the leading Premier League clubs."

These are the key players from Manchester United's 1995-96 campaign...
Peter Schmeichel

Arguably the best goalkeeper the Premier League has ever seen, the Dane played in all but two of United's league games in the 1995-96 season, in which they conceded 35 goals. He would also famously score from a corner in a Uefa Cup game with Rotor Volgograd.

This was the third of five titles he would win with United before leaving them to join Sporting Lisbon in 1999. He would return to England for spells with Aston Villa and Manchester City.
Gary (centre) and Phil Neville (left) and Denis Irwin (right)

In the sixth of 12 seasons at United, Irwin remained the most reliable of figures at left-back. He played 31 times in the league. His understudy was the younger of the Neville brothers, Phil, who was versatile enough to bag himself 24 appearances.

The elder Neville, Gary, had the right-back spot locked down, as would be the case for most of the next 15 years. A one-club man, he retired in 2011 and is now a highly regarded television pundit. He also had a spell as Valencia boss in 2015-16.
Steve Bruce (centre), Gary Pallister (left) and David May (right)

Ahead of Schmeichel, Bruce and Pallister provided experience and expertise. Now in their seventh season together, they played 30 and 21 times respectively. When one needed resting or wasn't fit, May, a title-winner with Blackburn, stepped in. We won't discuss William Prunier.

This was Bruce's final season at United, ending a nine-year stint at the club. Pallister left for Middlesbrough in 1998 while May joined Burnley in 2004.
Roy Keane (left) and Nicky Butt (right)

With Ince gone, Keane took on the senior enforcer role in midfield. Far more than just a destroyer, he scored six goals in 29 league games to win the second of his seven titles with United. He left for a season at Celtic in 2005 before retiring and moving into management and punditry.

The chief beneficiary of Ince's departure, Butt made 32 appearances in midfield. He played eight more seasons at the club before joining Newcastle in 2004.
David Beckham (left), Ryan Giggs (right) and Lee Sharpe (not pictured)

Future England captain Beckham scored seven times in 33 league games following the sale of Kanchelskis. He won six titles before becoming a Galactico at Real Madrid in 2003. A move to America in 2007 helped him become a global superstar.

Left-winger Giggs was already a world star. Eleven goals in 33 league games underlined this. A one-club man, Giggs won 13 league titles before he quit playing in 2014. Sharpe would make 31 appearances but he was now second choice and left for Leeds the following summer.
Eric Cantona (right) and Paul Scholes (left)

United's creative genius, Cantona was missing until October because of his kung-fu antics at Crystal Palace the previous season. He still managed 14 goals following his return to claim the fourth title of his iconic five-year spell at United.

The greatest midfielder of his generation according to Zinedine Zidane, Scholes began as a withdrawn striker in Cantona's absence. Netting 10 times in 16 starts he demonstrated the skills that would bring him 107 career league goals. He would retire in 2013 as a club legend.
Andy Cole (left) and Brian McClair (right)

Not the most prolific of his seasons as United, Cole scored 11 league goals in 32 starts in 1995-96. After scoring 94 league goals in total and winning five titles he left for Blackburn in 2002. He would play for seven more clubs before retiring in 2009.

McClair had been a first-choice striker since joining United in 1987 but now nearing the end of his career, he made 12 starts, largely in midfield. After a year at Motherwell he retired in 1998 and later became United's Academy chief.

Tactics of the time

Michael Cox, author of The Mixer: The Story of Premier League Tactics, from Route One to False Nines:

"In the beginning it was a very basic, classic, English 4-4-2 system being deployed by teams. The archetypal team of that era was the Blackburn Rovers team of 1994-95 which won the Premier League title.

"They had two players who kept it simple in central midfield, wingers who got to the byeline and put balls into the box for two strikers - Alan Shearer and Chris Sutton - who were both good in the air.

"There was an interesting quote from Sir Alex Ferguson talking about the difference between Premier League and Champions League games at that point. He was amazed that teams like Barcelona and AC Milan were keeping the ball in midfield. He spoke about it as some kind of revelation because in England we just shunted the ball out wide quite quickly."

Do you know your Dowie from your Dichio?

Test your knowledge of Premier League players from 1992 to 1997 with our sticker quiz, in conjunction with Merlin stickers.

Use the clues to identify specific players from the era. Scroll down to reveal the answer, in sticker form...