September 29, 2022

Thirty years ago this summer, a collection of 22 footballers gathered in a West London warehouse to pose for a photo shoot and to film a television commercial that would promote the newly formed Premier League.

Though the players didn’t realize it at the time, what they considered a bit of fun created images that would come to represent a momentous shift in English football.

With a rep from each club invited to pump weights to a Simple Minds soundtrack, show off his torso in the shower and pose for an iconic team photo, it may look cheesy now, but it hinted at a glamorous new dawn for the game.

Stars of the 1992 Premier League launch ad posed in a remake of the photo thirty years later

The 22 Premier League players chosen were Vinnie Jones, Tim Sherwood and Lee Sharpe

On the occasion of the anniversary, the Post on Sunday has reunited those players to retake the picture, reveal what really happened on that groundbreaking afternoon and give their verdict on the Premier League’s progress since then.

What happened to the original line-up of Premier League stars featured in the league’s promotional ad in 1992?

You could call them the real Class of ’92.

“For us it was a matter of showing up, laughing and getting paid,” said David Hillier, who was asked by Arsenal manager George Graham.

“I was probably only chosen because the shoot was on a Wednesday and the other guys would have been knocked out of our Tuesday nightclub. We didn’t understand what it all meant until much later.’

Some of the players who took part were and remain household names such as Vinnie Jones, Lee Sharpe and Tim Sherwood.

Others returned to civilian life after their football careers. Hillier was a firefighter for 15 years and now installs kitchens and bathrooms. Coventry’s Lee Hurst is a painter and decorator, Tony Daley of Aston Villa a fitness instructor.

At the time, their £1,000 allowance for spending a day in London was very welcome – equivalent to a week’s wages for some. But within four years, Middlesbrough was able to give Fabrizio Ravanelli a contract worth £40,000 a week.

While Sky paid £304m for that first deal, the Premier League is now charging broadcasters £5.1bn.

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The all-powerful managers decided who should represent their clubs. Graeme Souness asked his Liverpool captain Mark Wright, Peter Beardsley was honored to be added to Everton by Howard Kendall.

Others had their own reasons. “Joe Royle pulled me to his office in Oldham and told me to go because I was the smartest!” smiles Andy Ritchie.

At Manchester United it was considered even more like a poisoned chalice. “To be honest, I was sent down there by Fergie as a punishment, but I had a great day,” recalled Sharpe, who won the first Premier League and now lives in Spain.

Ex-Blackburn captain Tim Sherwood had short management spells at Spurs and Aston Villa

In keeping with that time, the hotel bar got a beating the night before filming, despite the players preparing for the season.

“We were apprehensive at first, but Vinnie Jones held court and brought people together,” recalled Ian Brightwell. ‘He formed a double act with Bradders’ [Carl Bradshaw] because they had been teammates at Sheffield United. They pissed everywhere, told Vinnie stories, made impressions. He wasn’t the best player there, but he had the most confidence.’

Although Jones would later become a movie star, only John Wark had any acting experience at the time, though the two lines he got in Escape to Victory alongside Sylvester Stallone and Pele were later dubbed.

To modern eyes, the Sky ad looks a little cheesy, but the moment players pump iron and flaunt their torsos in the showers was the first glimpse of an exciting future. The creation process itself was less glamorous.

“There were no weights on the machines, so we had to pretend they were heavy. They splashed water on our heads to make us look sweaty,” Wark said.

Former Wimbledon and Chelsea star Vinnie Jones became an actor after his 15-year career

Water for the showers was supplied outside by a fire engine and was bitterly cold. Still, it became a sensation when the ad hit the screens. People speculated which player was the silhouetted figure high on the trampoline who headed the ball against the horizon. It was actually a little-known actor named Theo Kypri who went on to become one of Hollywood’s top stuntmen.

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“When we were on TV it became big news,” said Norwich captain Ian Butterworth. “The guys at the club would bet they were in it, but when my four-year-old daughter started singing Alive and Kicking from the back of the car as we were driving somewhere, I knew it had an impact.”

For Andy Sinton, the implications of the new Premier League came to the fore when he played for QPR – and scored the opening goal – in Monday night’s first game against Manchester City. ‘Playing on a Monday was a new concept anyway. We came to cheerleaders and fireworks. It was a razzmatazz we didn’t know.

‘You immediately realized: this is going to be different. It was something else. The atmosphere was great and my target was pretty good – 20 yards past Tony Coton!

Gordon Strachan has led Coventry, Southampton, Celtic, Middlesbrough and Scotland

“The funny thing was that manager Gerry Francis was furious that our first game was moved to Monday. It meant playing Monday-Wednesday-Saturday. It was the first complaint about congestion in the race schedules, but funnily enough we got off to a good start and were on top after four games.’

Three decades later, we can see how the pioneers brought about massive changes, with the likes of Mo Salah and Kevin De Bruyne earning £400,000 a week. Average attendance has steadily increased from 21,000 to 39,000.

There’s little bitterness in the group about how much today’s top stars are earning, but a little apprehension that average players have become immensely rich without showing as much dedication as they once did.

“Today’s players are more selfish,” said John Salako. “The money has turned them into individuals because they earn way too fast and it affects their desire. The guys we met that day, Strachan, Wright, Ritchie, they were all furious. You don’t have fingers or fists in a locker room now, but you don’t have the camaraderie either.

Hillier agrees: ‘We played football out of love. There was no point in charting a lifestyle because the money wasn’t there. It’s more calculated now.’ Wright jokes that he always told his mom she got him too early to make the big bucks. Ritchie doesn’t think the ad could be done today.

“The players would be too precious now. Can you imagine them standing in ice cold shower water. I got this giant cell phone at one point during filming – I looked like Del Boy!’

It didn’t take long for extra money to filter into different areas. Salako recalls: ‘At Palace we were going to get dieticians, nutritionists, psychologists. Gareth Southgate and a few others would ask questions, the rest would shake it off.’

It also made a financial difference. “The presidents rubbed their hands and of course the players thought, ‘Wait a minute, we’re getting bigger contracts,’ Butterworth said.

Ex-Man United star Lee Sharpe announced he will be playing professional golf in 2020

‘And of course that happened, we had more negotiating power. I wish I still had the original photo of me with all the guys. There’s one in a pub in Liverpool – but the landlord wanted £300 for it!’

Improvements have been made in fields, facilities and sports science, but Ritchie doesn’t believe football itself is better.

“I don’t see many matches that blow me away,” he admits. “Players may be fitter, but Bryan Robson would have been better if he hadn’t been drinking and monitored by sports scientists. I do not think so. He had a drive that not many players could match.’

Wark has won major trophies and is said to make £70 million in the current transfer market, but has no regrets about playing in his day. “I wouldn’t change anything,” he says resolutely. “We were part of good teams. We played together and were all out together. I did it in Ipswich and then went to Liverpool where it was even more!’

The first Sky Premier League campaign in 1992 was promoted under the slogan ‘A Whole New Ball Game’.

As Salako so succinctly points out, “I remember all day as fun. We arrived, had a great day and thought no more about it. Then the ad came and everything changed.’