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Brian Deane urges football to look after players who helped build Premier League

West Bromwich Albion v Southampton – Premier League – The Hawthorns
(Image credit: Nick Potts)

The man whose goal kickstarted the Premier League revolution 30 years ago wants the incredible wealth the competition has generated to better support those who helped bring it to life.

Brian Deane scored the very first Premier League goal, when his header put Sheffield United in front in the fifth minute of their match against Manchester United at Bramall Lane on August 15, 1992.

Even at the time, Deane recalls, the new league felt different. It gave players “nowhere to hide”, with coverage of the game stepped up dramatically thanks to a television deal worth a reported £304million.

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It is testament to the league’s commercial success that in its current cycle through to 2025, it is expected to generate over £10billion in domestic and overseas broadcast revenue combined, and feels like an industry which is near enough recession-proof.

Deane says the league is a “fantastic business model”, and has no issue with the amount of money the league distributes to the wider game.

It is how that money is used which Deane feels must change.

“There are a lot of issues in football which football can tidy up for itself,” Deane told the PA news agency.

“Everything’s focused and driven on making money and winning. We forget who we are as people, what (football) actually means to the community.

Brian Deane tussles with Chelsea's David Lee in a match at Stamford Bridge

Brian Deane tussles with Chelsea’s David Lee in a match at Stamford Bridge (Rebecca Naden/PA)

“Those are the things that I really feel we lost within the kind of ‘holy grail’ situation that we’ve created.

“I’m talking about player welfare. The reason why it’s a football problem is that football has all the answers.

“If you’ve got ex-players who are suffering from dementia, they’re suffering from other ailments, football has the power and the resources to be able to keep all of those things in-house without having to go cap in hand.

“There is an opportunity there for football to make sure it says to players, ‘we’re going to look after you because the game now stands on your shoulders’.”

Deane, now 54, signed for the Blades from Doncaster in July 1988, and played a key part in back-to-back promotions that took United to the old First Division in 1990.

Footballers are often famed for playing down the influence events off the pitch have on events on it, but Deane said it was impossible for players to escape, even in that summer of 1992, how big an impact the Premier League was having.

“There was a lot more media attention, all of a sudden now the players know that instead of just a highlight reel on Match of the Day, there are going to be more live games,” he said.

“As an individual you’re thinking about how you can make sure you’re prepared. There was nowhere to hide. There was a little bit of razzmatazz. There was the iconic ‘Alive and Kicking’ soundtrack, all the teams were in new shirts.

“You couldn’t get away from the fact that it was a new beginning.”

Manchester United arrived at Bramall Lane for that first game of the season with their manager, Alex Ferguson, still without a league title to his name and under significant pressure. A knighthood felt a long way off.

Deane said his team-mates were keen to seize on any first-day uncertainty.

“We knew that rather than them getting a head of steam up, this was an opportunity to get at them when they’re not necessarily up to speed, when players are still gelling. We went out there without any fear, really,” he said.

Deane’s presence forced Gary Pallister to concede an early throw-in on the right. Carl Bradshaw’s long throw was flicked on, and Deane was first to the ball, giving Peter Schmeichel no chance with his header.

Manchester United's Eric Cantona lifts the Premier League trophy at the end of the 1992-93 season

Manchester United’s Eric Cantona lifts the Premier League trophy at the end of the 1992-93 season (John Giles/PA)

The BBC’s match commentator, Barry Davies, gave the exact time of the goal as four minutes and 36 seconds.

Deane added: “It was only at half-time that somebody had said that it was the first goal, but even at that point, it didn’t really mean anything – it didn’t really mean that much for a long time.

“But here we are, 30 years later and it’s still captured the intrigue of everybody.”

Deane added a second from the penalty spot five minutes into the second half, and Dave Bassett’s side claimed the three points.

By the end of the following season though, the Blades had been relegated and Manchester United had become back-to-back Premier League champions, adding the 1994 FA Cup for good measure.

Elsewhere on that opening day, Arsenal, who had been imperious in winning the 1991 First Division title, were beaten 4-2 at home by Norwich as Mark Robins scored the first-ever Premier League hat-trick for the Canaries.

Blackburn, boosted by the wealth of their owner Jack Walker, unleashed British record signing Alan Shearer and despite his second-half brace putting them on course for victory, they were pegged back in the final seconds at Selhurst Park by Crystal Palace in a breathless 3-3 draw.

Those games were an early, prime example of one of the league’s great selling points – its unpredictability.

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