"You will probably have noticed it's our 20th birthday today," said Martin Tyler during Wednesday's north London derby (Premier League Football, Sky Sports 1). The players of Tottenham and Arsenal duly obliged by playing at such a frenetic tempo that they must have been out of their minds on fizzy pop and E-numbers. It was a glorious gift to subscribers, but as Sky's head honchos blow out the candles and make their wishes, you just know they want to have their cake and eat it – every last crumb.
While onlookers fret about the dangers of a Sky monopoly, there's no doubt the sports department has a license to print Monopoly money in the mad, mad, mad world of modern football. But it's easy to overlook how they have revolutionised coverage across a range of sports.
Live footage of the England cricket team overseas has been one of their labours of love and they were richly rewarded – eventually – with an Ashes victory Down Under last winter. In their self-congratulatory advert this week, Jonny Wilkinson cited "watching the guys win the Ashes" as his highlight of the last two decades. Though it took a while, some of us thought it might not happen in our lifetime so we should be grateful, not least because Sky's massive injection of cash into the sport – some £50 million a year – has helped to shape England into a more professional outfit.
However, that money is nothing compared to the outrageous sums involved in securing the rights to show the Premier League, with packages fetching in excess of a billion pounds every few years. And yet it is debatable whether football's filthy lucre has benefited the game or had a more pernicious influence. England have not won the World Cup in the last 20 years, have not even come close since that heady night in Turin in 1990. Wages escalated to insane levels and the excessive transfer fees charged for unproven English talent has led to an invasion of cheaper, mediocre foreign imports at the expense of those home-grown youngsters' development.
Teddy Sheringham scored the first Premier League goal on Sky Sports, for Nottingham Forest against Liverpool in August 1992, and he was in the studio for the derby, looking as though he could still go out there and "do a job". In fact not much has altered: one team has dominated the top flight in the same way that Liverpool did before the formation of the Premier League; and that hugely over-used assertion that it is the best league in the world falls flat on its arse when it comes to technique.
But the Premier League is undeniably exciting, and nowhere is the transformation that has been wrought down the years more obvious than with Arsenal. In 1991 George Graham was relishing the tag of "boring, boring Arsenal" but now, as Teddy observed, the Gunners seem to think "Let's put on a spectacle for the fans tonight" to the point that you need to put on your spectacles to believe your eyes.
If Arsenal's detractors have had to stop calling them boring, then their own fans have had to change their tune too. No more "1-0 to the Arsenal"; Gooners are running out of fingers to do the maths. That's not a problem Sky have. As the song might go: "Who has a finger in all the pies?"Reuse content