Thirty years ago this summer, a collection of 22 footballers gathered in a west London warehouse to pose for a photoshoot and film a television advert that would promote the newly formed Premier League.
Though the players did not realise it at the time, what they treated as a bit of fun created imagery that would come to represent a momentous shift in English football.
With a representative of each club invited to pump weights to a Simple Minds soundtrack, show off his torso in the shower and pose for an iconic team photograph, it might look cheesy now but it pointed to a glamorous new dawn for the game.
Stars of the 1992 Premier League launch advert posed in a remake of the picture thirty years on
The 22 chosen Premier League players included Vinnie Jones, Tim Sherwood and Lee Sharpe
To mark the anniversary, the Mail on Sunday has reunited those players to recreate the photograph, reveal what really happened on that seminal afternoon and give their verdict on the Premier League’s progress since.
What happened to the original line-up of Premier League stars who featured in the league’s promotion advertisement in 1992
You might call them the real Class of ’92.
‘For us, it was a case of turn up, have a laugh, get paid,’ says David Hillier, who was asked to attend by Arsenal manager George Graham.
‘I was probably only chosen because the shoot was on a Wednesday and the other lads would have been hammered from our Tuesday night club. We certainly didn’t appreciate what it all meant until a lot later.’
Some of the players who participated were and remain household names like Vinnie Jones, Lee Sharpe and Tim Sherwood.
Others returned to civilian life after their football careers. Hillier was a fireman 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 fee for spending the day in London was very welcome — it was equivalent to a weekly wage for some of them. Yet within four years, Middlesbrough were able to give Fabrizio Ravanelli a contract worth £40,000- a-week.
Whereas Sky paid £304million for that initial deal, the Premier League now charges broadcasters £5.1billion.
The all-powerful managers decided who should represent their clubs. Graeme Souness asked his Liverpool captain Mark Wright, Peter Beardsley felt honoured to be put forward by Howard Kendall at Everton.
Others had their own reasons. ‘Joe Royle pulled me into his office at Oldham and said I had to go because I was the most sensible one!’ smiles Andy Ritchie.
At Manchester United, it was considered even more of a poisoned chalice. ‘I got sent down there by Fergie as a punishment, to be fair, but had a great day,’ recalls Sharpe, who won the inaugural Premier League and now lives in Spain.
Ex-Blackburn captain Tim Sherwood held brief management spells at Spurs and Aston Villa
In keeping with that era, the hotel bar took a battering the night before filming despite the players being in pre-season training.
‘We were initially apprehensive but Vinnie Jones held court and brought people together,’ recalls Ian Brightwell. ‘He formed a double act with Bradders [Carl Bradshaw] because they’d been team-mates at Sheffield United. They took the piss out of everything, Vinnie told stories, did impressions. He wasn’t the greatest player there but he was the most confident.’
Though Jones would later become a film star, only John Wark had any acting experience then, albeit the two lines he was given in Escape to Victory alongside Sylvester Stallone and Pele were later dubbed.
With modern eyes, the Sky advert looks a bit cheesy but at the time players pumping iron and showing off 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,’ said Wark.
Former Wimbledon and Chelsea star Vinnie Jones became an actor after his 15-year career
Water for the showers was supplied by a fire engine outside and was bitterly cold. Even so, when the advert hit screens, it became a sensation. People speculated which player was the silhouetted figure high on the trampoline heading the ball against the horizon. It was actually a little-known actor called Theo Kypri, who went on to become one of Hollywood’s top stuntmen.
‘When we were on TV, it became big news,’ says Ian Butterworth, who was Norwich’s captain. ‘The lads at the club would take the mickey about being in it but when my four-year-old daughter started singing Alive and Kicking from the back of the car when we drove anywhere, I knew that it was having an impact.’
For Andy Sinton, the implications of the new Premier League hit home when he played for QPR — and scored the opening goal — in the first Monday night game against Manchester City. ‘Playing on a Monday was a new concept anyway. We came out to cheerleaders and firecrackers. It was a razzmatazz we’d not known.
‘You realised immediately: this is going to be different. It was something else. The atmosphere was amazing and my goal was pretty good — 20 yards past Tony Coton!
Gordon Strachan has managed Coventry, Southampton, Celtic, Middlesbrough and Scotland
‘The funny thing was the manager Gerry Francis fuming about our first game being changed to Monday. It meant playing Monday-Wednesday-Saturday. It was the first complaint about fixture congestion but funnily enough we had a good start and were top after four games.’
Three decades on, we can see how the pioneers triggered massive change, with the likes of Mo Salah and Kevin De Bruyne earning £400,000-a-week. The average attendance has climbed steadily from 21,000 to 39,000.
There is little bitterness in the group over how much today’s top stars earn but a bit of disquiet that average players have become massively wealthy 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 a lot too soon and it affects their desire. The boys we met that day, Strachan, Wright, Ritchie, they were all fierce. You don’t have finger-pointing or fisticuffs in a dressing-room now, but you don’t have the camaraderie either.
Hillier concurs: ‘We played football for love. There wasn’t any point mapping out a lifestyle as the money wasn’t there. It’s more calculated now.’ Wright quips that he used to tell his mum she had him too early to earn the big bucks. Ritchie doesn’t think the advert could be done today.
Tim Flowers became a Premier League winner with Blackburn just three years after the advert
‘The players now would be too precious. Can you imagine them standing in freezing shower water. I was handed this giant mobile phone at one point of the filming — it made me look like Del Boy!’
It didn’t take long for extra money to filter into different areas. Salako recalls: ‘At Palace, we’d start bringing in dieticians, nutrionists, psychologists. Gareth Southgate and a couple of others would ask questions, the rest would fob it off.’
Financially too, it made a difference. ‘The chairmen were rubbing their hands and of course players thought, “Hang on, we will get bigger contracts”,’ said Butterworth.
Ex-Man United star Lee Sharpe announced he was taking up professional golf in 2020
‘And of course that’s what happened, we had more bargaining power. I just wish I’d still got the original picture of me with all the lads. There is one hanging up in a pub in Liverpool — but the landlord wanted £300 for it!’
There have been improvements in pitches, facilities and sports science but Ritchie doesn’t believe the football itself is better.
‘I don’t see many matches that blow me away,’ he admits. ‘Players may be fitter but would Bryan Robson have been any better if he’d not had a drink and been monitored by sports scientists. I don’t think so. He had a drive not many players could match.’
Wark won big trophies and would fetch £70million in today’s transfer market but has no regrets playing in his era. ‘I wouldn’t change anything,’ he says firmly. ‘We were part of proper teams. We played together and were all out together. I did it at Ipswich and then went to Liverpool where it was even more so!’
The first Sky Premier League campaign in 1992 was promoted under the slogan, ‘A Whole New Ball Game’.
As Salako points out so succinctly: ‘I remember the whole day as fun. We turned up, had a great day and thought no more about it. Then the advert came out and everything changed.’