The Magic of Premier League Years
With the world moving on from the festive period and into more COVID-related uncertainty, Brandon Bethune explains the beauty of Sky Sports’ annual event, Premier League Years, and why it provided a source of nostalgia and encouragement during the pandemic
As we slowly move past the festive period, the nostalgic feelings that come with the holiday season are too beginning to fade away.
The decorations are coming down, Netflix will stop relentlessly recommending bad rom-coms (or Christmas related ones at least), and in extreme cases, Christmas trees will be engulfed in flames.
The latter could be said about the rest of the world too, as frightening new strains of COVID-19 have caused the world to brace itself for another worst case scenario.
For the Premier League, this kind of scenario has already began to rear it’s ugly head, due to cancellation after cancellation of league fixtures over Christmas and into the new year.
In a season where the league has finally shifted back to a sense of normality, with nostalgic moments like the return of Cristiano Ronaldo and, most importantly, the full scale return of fans making us feel like the worst is behind us, the constant cancellations have incited a fearful sense of déjà-vu that we all wish we could escape, not return to.
So it’s times like these that we need a reminder of the beauty of the Premier League, pandemic or no pandemic.For me, that reminder has always come in the form of a special little programme called Premier League Years.
If you’ve ever had any access to Sky Sports, you’ll have seen Premier League Years lined up at least three times a day, every day, for over a decade. Either firmly in the morning/early afternoon slot pulling you deep in a cozy lunchtime on the couch, or in the dead of night for those times you need to see classic Fernando Torres highlights at 3am.
The show has the same addictive charm of social media scrolling, in that once you’ve started, you can never quite kick it. Which is ironic considering football is, y’know, all about kicking things. Sounded better in my head but you get the gist of it.
Each episode is a two-hour nostalgia fest covering an entire season of the Premier League, through each and every generation. From Manchester United and Arsenal’s dominance in the 90’s to the rise of Chelsea, Manchester City, and even Leicester’s underdog story in 2016, each episode will take you on a trip that allows you to relive moments from your favourite team’s best season.
For a young Brandon Bethune searching for knowledge beyond the current generation of the beautiful game, Premier League Years proved the perfect companion to FIFA and card collecting in finding the legendary moments and players of yesteryear.
I realised Michael Owen was actually decent in his Liverpool days before becoming a slug at Man United and a lacklustre but equally hilarious pundit. I discovered Eric Cantona, Patrick Viera, Gianfranco Zola, and also that dope-ass belly flop Jürgen Klinsmann used to pull off that was replayed endlessly for years.
Even beyond forming my initial love of football, Premier League Years was always there for me to watch when I fell off the football wagon for a bit.
When I gradually stopped watching the English top flight following Sir Alex Ferguson’s Man Utd departure in 2013, I always tuned in to Premier League Years at the end of each season, keeping my love of football alive.
From Man City and Liverpool’s dramatic races in 2013/2014 and 2018/2019, to Leicester’s shocking win in 2015/2016, the epic stories this league gives us can keep even the most jaded football fans watching, by packaging the stories of the season in a neat, wonderful few hours.
While most of the programme has largely been condensed down to social media clips anytime an anniversary of a major football event comes around, what could have easily become a clips reel itself found further relevance in linking footballing events to real time.
Month by month, as was the show’s structure, there would be a small breakdown of the major events in the world going on that month, and how it related to football, good or bad.
Recent editions of the programme have began to shy away from using this idea, but watching older episodes during the pandemic gave a keen reminder of football’s extremely communal foundation, and how one event could have a mammoth ripple effect on the entire sport.
From the passing of football legends to the Hillsborough disaster and more modern examples of the Super League debacle, the pandemic itself and the Black Lives Matter movement, we’ve seen that even during the worst of times, football fans can persevere and use football as the community it is as, sometimes, a force for good. Rallying together to either protest mass injustice or collectively mourn a loss.
It was the football equivalent of FaceTiming your family or getting drunk during online quizzes. A taste of what was, and what would be again.
I mean, I know I wouldn’t watch Premier League Years thinking we’d get a decent version of Eden Hazard again, but we got Ronaldo back in the Prem, so who knows after that – stranger things have happened.
It was those moments of magic, hurt, jubilation, and sometimes confusion at figuring out who that odd old lady bellowing “WHO ARE YOU? LET’S BE HAVING YOU” was, yet it was these moments that made us fall in love with the Premier League all over again during each and every episode.
I, for one, look forward to the 2021/2022 edition of the series, which will inevitably catch me in the middle of a mental crisis and nestle me safely into the couch, never to return to society.