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Premier League

Related subjects Sports

Premier League
Premier League
Country England
Confederation UEFA
Founded 20 February 1992
Divisions 1
Number of teams 20
Relegation to The Championship
Level on pyramid Level 1
Domestic cup(s) FA Cup
League Cup
UEFA cup(s) Champions League
Intertoto Cup
Current champions Manchester United ( 2006–07)
Website http://www.premierleague.com
2007–08 season

The Premier League (officially known as the Barclays Premier League for sponsorship reasons, colloquially known as The Premiership), is an English professional league for football clubs. At the top of the English football league system, it is the country's primary football competition. The Premier League is currently contested by 20 clubs, operating a system of promotion and relegation with The Football League. Seasons run from August to May, with teams playing 38 games each.

The competition formed as the FA Premier League on 20 February 1992 and the first games were played on 15 August that year, following the decision of clubs in the Football League First Division to break away from The Football League to take advantage of a lucrative television rights deal; The Football League had served as England and Wales's primary football competition since 1888. Since then, the Premier League has become the world's most watched sporting league and the most lucrative football league, with combined club revenues of around £1.4 billion in 2005–06, which is expected to rise to around £1.8 billion for 2007–08, primarily due to rising media revenues. The league is a corporation with the 20 clubs acting as shareholders.

A total of 40 clubs have competed in the Premier League, but only four have won the title Manchester United, Blackburn Rovers, Arsenal, and Chelsea. The current Premier League champions are Manchester United, who won their ninth title in the 2006–07 season, the most of any Premier League team.



The 1980s had marked a low point for English football. Stadiums were crumbling, supporters endured poor facilities, hooliganism was rife, and English clubs were banned from European competition following the events at Heysel in 1985. The Football League First Division, which had been the top level of English football since 1888, was well behind leagues such as Italy's Serie A and Spain's La Liga in attendances and revenues, and several top English players had moved abroad. However, by the turn of the 1990s the downward trend was starting to reverse; England had been successful in the 1990 FIFA World Cup, reaching the semi-finals. UEFA, European football's governing body, lifted the five-year ban on English clubs playing in European competitions in 1990 and the Taylor Report on stadium safety standards, which proposed expensive upgrades to create all-seater stadiums, was published in January of that year.

Television money had also become much more important; the Football League received £6.3million for a two-year agreement in 1986, but when that deal was renewed in 1988, the price rose to £44m over four years. The 1988 negotiations were the first signs of a breakaway league; ten clubs threatened to leave and form a "super league", but were eventually persuaded to stay. As stadiums improved and match attendance and revenues rose, the country's top teams again considered leaving the Football League in order to capitalise on the growing influx of money being pumped into the sport.


In the 1991 close season, a proposal for the establishment of a new league was tabled that would bring more money into the game overall. The Founder Members Agreement, signed on 17 July 1991 by the game's top-flight clubs, established the basic principles for setting up the FA Premier League. The newly formed top division would have commercial independence from the Football Association and the Football League, giving the FA Premier League license to negotiate its own broadcast and sponsorship agreements. This was considered necessary so that English clubs could once again compete with and beat the best of Europe, while attracting the best talent in the world, something which in 1991 seemed practically unthinkable.

In 1992 the First Division clubs resigned from the Football League en masse and on 27 May 1992 the FA Premier League was formed as a limited company working out of an office at the then Football Association's headquarters in Lancaster Gate. This meant a break-up of the 104-year-old Football League that had operated until then with four divisions; the Premier League would operate with a single division and the Football League with three. There was no change in competition format; the same number of teams competed in the top flight, and promotion and relegation between the Premier League and the new First Division remained on the same terms as between the old First and Second Divisions.

The 22 inaugural members of the new Premiership were Arsenal, Aston Villa, Blackburn Rovers, Chelsea, Coventry City, Crystal Palace, Everton, Ipswich Town, Leeds United, Liverpool, Manchester City, Manchester United, Middlesbrough, Norwich City, Nottingham Forest, Oldham Athletic, Queens Park Rangers, Sheffield United, Sheffield Wednesday, Southampton, Tottenham Hotspur, and Wimbledon.


As of 2007 there had been 15 completed seasons of the Premier League. The league held its first season in 1992–93 and was originally composed of 22 clubs. The first ever Premiership goal was scored by Brian Deane of Sheffield United in a 2–1 win against Manchester United. Due to insistence by FIFA, the international governing body of football, that domestic leagues reduce the number of games clubs played, the number of clubs was reduced to 20 in 1995 when four teams were relegated from the league and only two teams promoted. On 8 June 2006, FIFA requested that all major European leagues, including Italy's Serie A and Spain's La Liga be reduced to 18 teams by the start of the 2007–08 season. The Premier League responded by announcing their intention to resist such a reduction. Ultimately the 2007–08 season kicked off again with 20 teams. The league changed its name from the FA Premier League to simply the Premier League in 2007. That same season saw the discussion over Game 39, a showpiece match played overseas.

Corporate structure

The Premier League is operated as a corporation and is owned by the 20 member clubs. Each club is a shareholder, with one vote each on issues such as rule changes and contracts. The clubs elect a chairman, chief executive, and board of directors to oversee the daily operations of the league. The Football Association is not directly involved in the day-to-day operations of the Premier League, but has veto power as a special shareholder during the election of the chairman and chief executive and when new rules are adopted by the league.

The Premier League sends representatives to UEFA's European Club Forum, the number of clubs and the clubs themselves chosen according to UEFA coefficients. The European Club Forum is responsible for electing three members to UEFA's Club Competitions Committee, which is involved in the operations of UEFA competitions such as the Champions League and UEFA Cup.

Competition format and sponsorship


There are 20 clubs in the Premier League. During the course of a season, which lasts from August to May, each club plays the others twice, once at their home stadium and once at that of their opponents, for a total of 38 games. Teams receive three points for a win and one point for a draw. No points are awarded for a loss. Teams are ranked by total points, then goal difference, and then goals scored. At the end of each season, the club with the most points is crowned champion. If points are equal, the goal difference and then goals scored determine the winner. If still equal, teams are deemed to occupy the same position. If there is a tie for the championship, for relegation, or for qualification to other competitions, a play-off match at a neutral venue decides rank. The three lowest placed teams are relegated into the Football League Championship and the top two teams from the Championship, together with the winner of play-offs involving the third to sixth placed Championship clubs, are promoted in their place.

Qualification for European competitions

The top four teams in the Premiership qualify for the UEFA Champions League, with the top two teams directly entering the group phase. The third and fourth placed teams enter the competition at the third qualifying round and must win a two-legged knockout tie in order to enter the group phase. The fifth placed team automatically qualifies for the UEFA Cup, and the sixth and seventh placed teams can also qualify, depending on what happens in the two domestic cup competitions. If the FA Cup winners and runners-up both finish in the top five of the Premier League, the FA Cup's UEFA Cup spot goes to the sixth placed team in the League. If the League Cup is won by a team that has already qualified for Europe, the League Cup's UEFA Cup spot also goes to the next highest placed team in the League (unlike the FA Cup spot, it is never transferred to the losing finalist). The highest placed team that has not qualified for the UEFA Cup is allowed the opportunity to compete in the UEFA Intertoto Cup, provided they have applied to enter the Intertoto Cup in the next season. This provides another means of getting into the UEFA Cup, as winners of all eleven third-round Intertoto Cup ties qualify for that tournament.

Bolton Wanderers and Fulham compete in the FA Cup.
Bolton Wanderers and Fulham compete in the FA Cup.

An exception to the usual European qualification system happened in 2005, when Liverpool won the UEFA Champions League, but did not finish in a Champions League qualification position in that season's Premier League. UEFA gave special dispensation for Liverpool to enter the Champions League, giving England five qualifiers. UEFA subsequently ruled that the defending champions of the trophy qualify for the competition the following year regardless of their domestic league placing.

The Premiership was recently promoted to second in the UEFA rankings of European leagues based on their performances in European competitions over a five year period, behind Spain's La Liga and now above Italy's Serie A. The top three leagues in Europe are currently allowed to enter four teams into the Champions League. The UEFA president Michel Platini, had proposed taking one place from the Premier League's quota, and allocating this place to the FA Cup winners. This proposal though, was rejected in a vote at a UEFA Strategy Council meeting.

In the same meeting that Platini's suggestion that FA Cup winners should qualify for the Champion's League rather than the UEFA Cup was rejected, it was however agreed upon that the third-placed team in the Premier League would receive automatic qualification for the group stages, rather than entry into the Third Qualifying Round as at present.


Since 1993, the Premier League has been sponsored. The sponsor has been able to determine the league's sponsorship name. The list below details who the sponsors have been and what they called the competition:

  • 1993–2001: Carling (FA Carling Premiership)
  • 2001–2004: Barclaycard (Barclaycard Premiership)
  • 2004–2010 Barclays (Barclays Premiership (2004–2007) then Barclays Premier League (2007–2010))


The Premier League is the most lucrative football league in the world, with total club revenues of over £1.4 billion in 2005–06 season according to Deloitte, 40% above its nearest competitor: Italy's Serie A. Revenues will increase to approximately £1.8 billion in the 2007–08 season, when new media rights deals start. Based on November 2007 exchange rates, £1.8 billion converts to a gross annual league revenue of about US$3.7 billion. For the past few seasons, the Premier League's gross revenue (£1.4bn) has been the fourth highest for any sports league worldwide, behind the annual revenues of the three most popular North American major sports leagues (the National Football League, Major League Baseball and the National Basketball Association), but ahead of the National Hockey League.

In terms of world football, the Premier League clubs are some of the richest in the world. Deloitte, who annually release figures on club revenues through its " Football Money League", listed eight Premier League clubs in the top 20 for the 2005–06 season. No other league has more than four clubs in this table, and while La Liga rivals Real Madrid and F.C. Barcelona take up two of the top 3 places, no other Spanish clubs are listed in the top 20. Premier League teams have dominated the list for many years, and even topped the list for almost a decade until the 2004–05 season. After the Premier League's new TV deal comes into effect, the league-wide increase in revenues is expected to increase the Premier League clubs' standing in the list, and there is a possibility that a Premier League club will be top of the list.

Another significant source of regular income for Premier League clubs remains their revenue from stadium attendances, which, with the 2005–06 average attendance of 34,364 for league matches, is the fourth highest of any domestic professional sports league in the world, ahead of Serie A and La Liga, but behind the German Bundesliga. This represents an increase of over 60% from the average attendance of 21,126 recorded in the league's first season (1992–93). However, during the 1992–93 season the capacities of most stadiums were reduced as clubs replaced terraces with seats in order to meet the Taylor Report's 1994–95 deadline for all-seater stadiums. The 2005–06 figure, however, is lower than the Premier League's record average attendance of 35,464, set during the 2002–03 season.


Widening gap between lower leagues

One of the main criticisms leveled at the Premier League is the increasing gulf between the Premiership and the Football League. Since its split with the Football League, many established clubs in the Premier League have managed to distance themselves from their counterparts in lower leagues. Owing in large part to the disparity in revenue from television rights between the leagues, many newly promoted teams have found it difficult to avoid relegation in their first season in the Premier League. In every season except 2001–02 ( Blackburn Rovers, Bolton Wanderers and Fulham) at least one Premier League newcomer has been relegated back to the Football League. In 1997–98 all three promoted clubs were relegated at the end of the season.

The Premier League distributes a small portion of its television revenue to clubs that are relegated from the league in the form of "parachute payments". Starting with the 2006–07 season, these payments are in the amount of £6.5 million over the club's first two seasons in lower leagues, although this is set to rise to £11.2 million per year for clubs relegated in 2007–2008. Designed to help teams adjust to the loss of television revenues (the average Premier League team receives £45 million while the average Football League Championship club receives £1 million), critics maintain that the payments actually widen the gap between teams that have reached the Premiership and those that have not, leading to the common occurrence of teams " bouncing back" soon after their relegation.

"Big Four" dominance

Another major criticism is the development of the so-called "Big Four" clubs. In the past 12 seasons only three different clubs have won the Premier League title—Manchester United (seven times), Arsenal (three times) and Chelsea (twice). Blackburn Rovers are the only other team to have won the title in the Premier League's history. In addition, Manchester United have not finished outside the top three since the formation of the Premier League, with Arsenal finishing inside the top five in all but two seasons, while Liverpool without an English league title since the pre-Premier League era, have not finished lower than fifth since 1999. In recent years, the success of these clubs has led to these four teams being increasingly referred to as the "Big Four". The Big Four clubs have all qualified for the last four seasons of the Champions League and receive the benefits of such qualification. The benefits include increased revenue and this is believed to have widened the gap between the Big Four clubs and the rest of the Premiership.

Premier League clubs

A total of 40 clubs have played in the Premier League between 1992 and 2006. Two other clubs ( Luton Town and Notts County) were signatories to the original agreement that created the Premier League, but were relegated prior to the inaugural Premiership season and have not subsequently returned to the top flight. For a list of all clubs past and present see List of FA Premier League clubs and an amalgamated table can be found at All-time FA Premier League table. For a list of winners and runners-up of the Premier League since its inception, and top scorers for each season, see English football champions.

Seven clubs have been members of the Premiership for every season since its inception. This group is composed of Arsenal, Aston Villa, Chelsea, Everton, Liverpool, Manchester United, and Tottenham Hotspur.

Premier League members for 2007–08

The following 20 clubs are competing in the Premier League during the 2007–08 season.

in 2006–07
First season in
top division
First season of
current spell in
top division
Last title
Arsenala,b 4th 1904–05 1919–20 2003–04
Aston Villaa,b 11th 1888–89 1988–89 1980–81
Birmingham City 2nd, Championship 1893–94 2007–08 n/a
Blackburn Roversa 10th 1888–89 2001–02 1994–95
Bolton Wanderers 7th 1888–89 2001–02 n/a
Chelseaa,b 2nd 1907–08 1989–90 2005–06
Derby County 3rd, Championship 1888–89 2007–08 1974–75
Evertona,b 6th 1888–89 1954–55 1986–87
Fulham 16th 1949–50 2001–02 n/a
Liverpoola,b 3rd 1894–95 1962–63 1989–90
Manchester Citya 14th 1899–1900 2002–03 1967–68
Manchester Uniteda,b 1st 1892–93 1975–76 2006–07
Middlesbrougha 12th 1902–03 1998–99 n/a
Newcastle United 13th 1898–99 1993–94 1926–27
Portsmouth 9th 1927–28 2003–04 1949–50
Reading 8th 2006–07 2006–07 n/a
Sunderland 1st, Championship 1890–91 2007–08 1935–36
Tottenham Hotspura,b 5th 1909–10 1978–79 1960–61
West Ham United 15th 1923–24 2005–06 n/a
Wigan Athletic 17th 2005–06 2005–06 n/a
a = Founding member of the Premier League
b = Played in every Premier League season


Premier League clubs have almost complete freedom to sign whatever number and category of players they wish. There is no team or individual salary cap, no squad size limit, no age restrictions other than those applied by general employment law, no restrictions on the overall number of foreign players, and few restrictions on individual foreign players — all players with EU nationality, including those able to claim an EU passport through a parent or grandparent, are eligible to play, and top players from outside the EU are able to obtain UK work permits. The only area where the Premiership's player registration rules are more restrictive than those of some other football leagues, such as those of those of Belgium and Portugal, is that academy level non-EU players have little access to English football.

At the inception of the Premier League in 1992–93, just eleven players named in the starting line-ups for the first round of matches were 'foreign' (players hailing from outside of the United Kingdom or Republic of Ireland). By 2000–01, the number of foreign players participating in the Premiership was 36%. In the 2004–05 season the figure had increased to 45%. On 26 December 1999, Chelsea became the first Premier League side to field an entirely foreign starting line-up, and on 14 February 2005 Arsenal were the first to name a completely foreign 16-man squad for a match. No English manager has won the Premier League; the four managers to have won the title comprise two Scots (Sir Alex Ferguson (Manchester United, nine wins) and Kenny Dalglish (Blackburn Rovers, one win)), a Frenchman ( Arsène Wenger, Arsenal, three wins) and a Portuguese ( José Mourinho, Chelsea, two wins).

In response to concerns that clubs were increasingly passing over young British players in favour of signing less-expensive foreign players, in 1999, the Home Office tightened its rules for granting work permits to players from countries outside of the European Union. Currently a non-EU player applying for the permit must have played for his country in at least 75% of its competitive 'A' team matches for which he was available for selection during the previous two years, and his country must have averaged at least 70th place in the official FIFA world rankings over the previous two years. If a player does not meet those criteria, the club wishing to sign him may appeal if they believe that he is a special talent and "able to contribute significantly to the development of the game at the top level in the UK."

Over 260 foreign players compete in the league, and 101 players from England's domestic leagues competed in the 2002 FIFA World Cup in Korea and Japan. At the 2006 FIFA World Cup in Germany, the Premier League was the most represented league with more than eighty players in the competition, including 21 of the 23 players in England's squad.

As a result of the increasingly lucrative television deals, player wages rose sharply following the formation of the Premier League. In the first Premier League season the average player wage was £75,000 per year, but subsequently rose by an average 20% per year for a decade, peaking in the 2003–04 season, when the annual salary of the average Premier League player was £676,000.

The record transfer fee for a Premier League has been broken several times over the lifetime of the competition. Prior to the start of the first Premier League season Alan Shearer became the first British player to command a £3 million-plus transfer fee. The record rose steadily in the Premier League's first few seasons, until Alan Shearer made a world record breaking £15 million move to Newcastle United in 1996. This stood as a British record for four years until it was eclipsed by the £18 million Leeds paid West Ham for Rio Ferdinand. Manchester United subsequently broke the record three times by signing Ruud van Nistelrooy, Juan Sebastián Verón and Rio Ferdinand. As of 2007, the current record holder is Andriy Shevchenko, who joined Chelsea from AC Milan in May 2006. The exact figure of the transfer fee was not disclosed, but was reported as being around £30 million.

Top scorers

All-time top scorers in the Premier League
(Premier League goals only)
Rank Player Goals
1 Flag of England Alan Shearer 260
2 Flag of England Andy Cole 187
3 Flag of France Thierry Henry 174
4 Flag of England Robbie Fowler 163
5 Flag of England Les Ferdinand 149
6 Flag of England Teddy Sheringham 146
7 Flag of England Michael Owen 131
8 Flag of the Netherlands Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink 127
9 Flag of Trinidad and Tobago Dwight Yorke 123
10 Flag of England Ian Wright 113
As of 17 March 2008 (Bold denotes players still in Premier League).

Players in the Premier League can compete for the informal competitions of Goal of the Month and Goal of the Season. Other titles players compete for include the top-scorer for a season. Former Blackburn Rovers and Newcastle United striker Alan Shearer holds the record for most Premiership goals with 260. Shearer finished among the top ten goal scorers in 10 out of his 14 seasons in the Premier League and won the top scorer title three times. During the 1995–96 season he became the first player to score 100 Premier League goals.

Since the first Premier League season in 1992–93, 11 different players have won or shared the top scorers title. Thierry Henry won his third consecutive and fourth overall scoring title by scoring 27 goals in the 2005–06 season. This surpassed Shearer's mark of three titles which he won consecutively from 1994–95 through 1996–97. Other multiple winners include Michael Owen and Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink who have won two titles each. Andrew Cole and Alan Shearer hold the record for most goals in a season (34) — for Newcastle United and Blackburn Rovers respectively. Cole's record came in the 1993–94 season, while Shearer's came in 1994–95, both of which were 42-game seasons. Shearer's mark of 31 goals in 1995–96 remains the highest total in a 38-game season.

Manchester United became the first team to have scored 1,000 goals in this league after Cristiano Ronaldo scored, in a 4–1 defeat by Middlesbrough, in the 2005–06 season, having been the first team to have conceded a Premiership goal following the League's inception. Arsenal are the only other team to have reached the 1,000 goal mark. The highest-scoring match to date in the Premiership occurred on 29 September 2007 when Portsmouth defeated Reading 7–4.

Only two players have scored in each of the 16 Premiership seasons, Sheffield United player Gary Speed and Manchester United veteran Ryan Giggs, both former captains of the Wales national football team.

Women's Premier League

The National Division of the FA Women's Premier League is the Premiership's female counterpart. Most of its clubs are affiliated with Premiership and Football League sides; however, teams are semi-professional; no professional teams have existed since Fulham returned to semi-pro status in 2003. The league comprises 12 clubs, operating a system of promotion and relegation with the Northern Division and Southern Division. The champions of each are promoted to the National Division, and the bottom two National Division clubs are relegated.

Since forming in 1993 the Women's Premier League has been dominated by Arsenal, who have won nine of the fifteen league titles. The women's game has a much lower profile than that of the Premier League, with Women's Premier League teams typically playing matches at grounds owned by non-league men's clubs.

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