'Last-gasp' rescue of the Football League
As the new Premier League season kicks off, we mark the 30th anniversary of a record-breaking deal that paved the way for football’s "rebirth" as "great family entertainment".
The English Premier League is considered the world’s most popular and lucrative football league – with a global TV audience in the billions, and clubs forecast to have generated revenues of £4.5 billion last season.
You don’t have to go too far back, however, to find a time when the game was in less rude health.
In the late eighties, hooliganism was rife and English teams were made to serve a three-year ban from European competition following the Heysel Stadium tragedy.
Then, less than two weeks before the start of the 1987/88 season and with the Football League planning on celebrating its centenary, the Today newspaper cancelled its sponsorship of the competition after just one season.
In a move that the Financial Times would later describe as a “last-gasp rescue”, Barclays announced a deal on 13 August 1987 – just two days before the new season kicked off – to sponsor England’s top tiers.
John Quinton, then Chairman of Barclays Bank Plc, said at the time: “Football is rather special in this country. We are pleased that our sponsorship can help to ensure the continued health of the game and encourage its rebirth as great family entertainment.”
The record-breaking £4.5 million, three-year sponsorship agreement resulted in the competition being renamed the ‘Barclays League’.
The significance of such a deal was certainly not lost on the sport’s administrators.
Phillip Carter, the Football League President, issued a plea to fans to ensure it was not overshadowed by continuing match-day violence: “This is a make or break year for our game. If we had a serious problem with hooligans it would not just be a problem for the future of the sponsorship but for everything.
“I appeal to the public at large to make sure the fringe minority do not spoil it for the country.”
Kenny Dalglish’s Liverpool won the 1987/8 trophy. The Merseyside club held off a challenge from Manchester United, managed – in his first full season in charge – by Alex Ferguson.
The season also saw the debut – for Southampton – of a 17-year-old Alan Shearer.
Barclays’ sponsorship started a strong relationship between the bank and the beautiful game that has continued over the succeeding three decades.
In October 1989 Barclays renewed their sponsorship deal until the 1992-1993 season.
The bank also launched the Barclays Young Eagle Award Scheme. The initiative, chaired by then England manager Bobby Robson, was set up to sponsor football skills development and talent spotting.
In April 2001 Barclaycard signed a deal worth £48 million to sponsor the top tier Premier League, relabelled the ‘FA Barclaycard Premiership’. In 2004, the Barclays Group took over as sponsors, in an agreement lasting until 2016.
It was an era that saw English football boom, and Barclays become synonymous with the most popular league in the world. Incredible achievements on the pitch, such as Arsenal’s unbeaten ‘Invincibles’ season, were matched by great success off it – Barclays’ initiatives ‘Spaces for Sports’ and ‘Barclaycard Free Kicks’ invested more than £30 million in grassroots sports.
In a time where Premier League footballers are regularly transferred for tens of millions of pounds, and international billionaires bid to control top flight clubs, it seems remarkable to think that a £4.5 million investment from Barclays once rescued the league from the brink of financial ruin.
In the words of one contemporary report: “If the game needed saving, Barclays have done it.”
Match of the day: Barclays' relationship with sport
1930s: Barclays sponsors motor racing’s Barclays Bank Cup
1975: Barclays Bank International sponsors the British Everest South-West Face Expedition led by mountaineer Chris Bonington
1982: Barclays supports the British Junior Ski Championships
1987: Barclays agrees to sponsor the Football League Championship for three seasons, renamed the Barclays League
1988: Barclaycard marks Visa’s sponsorship of Olympic Games in Seoul by featuring Olympic rings on new and replacement cards that year
1989: Barclays renews its sponsorship of the Football League
2001: Barclays signs a deal for £48 million to sponsor the 'Barclays Premier League'
2009: Barclays signs five-year deal to sponsor the ATP World Tour Finals
2016: Barclays becomes Official Banking Partner of the Premier League