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Apr 6, 2014

Premier League: A History In 10 Matches

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The formation of the Premier League in 1992 was arguably the greatest revolution in the history of sport. Burdened with the tragic Hillsborough disaster and the subsequent Taylor Report, as well as dwindling attendances and a lack of aesthetic playing quality, English football had seemingly hit an all-time low by the late 1980s. The Daily Telegraph famously called it "a slum sport, played in slum stadiums, watched by slum people."

Fast forward to the present day and the English top flight is unrecognisable from that product. Newspapers, television and social media have transformed the Premier League into a 24/7 cultural phenomenon which whets the appetite of billions worldwide. The rickety terraces are no more and instead, we have state-of-the-art amphitheatres where a glittering international cast of footballing gladiators showcase their talents to no fewer than 213 nations.

Only 13 non-British or Irish players performed in the opening round of fixtures in the inaugural 1992-93 season; this figure had risen to over 150 at the start of the 2012-13 campaign, with 74 different nationalities on show. No other English institution has seen its stock rise at such a prodigious rate.

As Jim White flawlessly demonstrates in his 10 selected matches, the Premier League is a never-ending catalyst of drama, euphoria, controversy and heartbreak. Yet this is not simply a compendium of the league's best matches -- rather it is a selection that emphatically evokes some of the most defining moments and rivalries since the Premier League's inception. From Eric Cantona's infamous kung-fu kick in 1995 to Sergio Aguero's last-gasp title-clinching goal in 2012, White recalls the action in pulsating, blockbuster fashion.

And the major protagonists of the Premier League soap opera are all there. White provides a fitting eulogy to British football's most distinguished figure, Sir Alex Ferguson, documenting how his on- and off-field successes transformed Manchester United into the country's most dominant force. The Premier League's first football professor, Arsene Wenger, is similarly credited for his reformation of the English game while the swaggering, media-friendly Jose Mourinho and wheeler-dealing, seen-it-all stalwart Harry Redknapp also warrant special mention.

{C}White charts the fiscal rise and decline of several of the Premier League's major contenders, demonstrating how dreams can be both fulfilled and shattered by glory-hunting owners. Jack Walker's fairytale success in 1995, which effectively put Blackburn Rovers on the English map served as a radical precedent for investment and the likes of Chelsea and Manchester City have since enjoyed the fruits of such labour under the financial prowess of foreign oligarchs Roman Abramovich and Sheikh Mansour respectively.

But with the highs come the lows, and sympathisers of Leeds United and Portsmouth are given a nostalgic flashback to times of financial responsibility and realistic ambition. The failed business models of both clubs are both painfully relived to show how the Premier League can be a dangerous and obsessive temptress.

"Premier League: A History In 10 Matches" is a must-read for all footballing aficionados. White's combination of action-filled prose, witty humour and attention to detail takes the reader through all the emotions associated with the beautiful game and the book ultimately serves as a truly memorable and captivating tribute to the Premier League.