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On This Day (20 June 1991): Sunderland chairman has concerns over plans for new “Super League”

As plans gathered pace for a new “Super League” in English football, Sunderland chairman Bob Murray voiced his concerns over the initial proposals.

Photo by Allsport/Getty Images

It had already been discussed for many years, but on this day back in 1991, the Football Association unveiled a new blueprint for the future of English football.

The biggest headline to come out of the proposals was the belief that they could quadruple the income into football through sponsorship and marketing. But the question on everyone’s lips was, how?

The FA refused to break down the newly created income other than £20 million that would be raised from a new TV alone, but opponents questioned their predictions of a £112 million windfall that would be generated.

The Football League’s chief executive Arthur Sandford was one of the voices who publicly questioned how the FA came up with the figure:

I call on Graham Kelly to publish openly the exact breakdown of these figures for all to see. Our view has always been for consensus, not confrontation. This report is divisive.

The FA should realise that their attempt to hijack professional football does not have the support of the Football League or the PFA.

Rick Parry Chief Executive FA Premier League 1992
Rick Parry, Chief Executive of the FA Premier League at a press conference ahead of the 1992/93 seaso
Photo by Howard Boylan/Allsport/Getty Images

The FA executive Graham Kelly, who had been one of the main drivers behind the new plans, reacted to the questioning of the figures proposed in the blueprints that were released to the press:

It is certainly not a figure that has just been plucked out of thin air. In fact, when we met First Division clubs last week we quoted much more conservative figures to them. They were happy with those and so I am sure they will be happy with these.

Previous methods of raising money for football have been somewhat ad hoc. What this plan seeks to achieve is unity under one banner.

But the Football League stated their fear that as many as 38 clubs could go under as a result of the new proposals which resulted in Sports Minister Robert Atkins offering to act as an “honest broker” to solve the dispute.

As First Division clubs had already been presented the details of the new proposals, on this day in 1991, Bob Murray and his Newcastle counterpart George Forbes, travelled to Villa Park to attend a meeting of Second Division clubs, with early indications that a proposal for all clubs to resign from the league were to be discussed.

Soccer - FA Barclays Premiership - Sunderland v Blackburn Rovers - The Stadium of Light
Bob Murray
Photo by Mike Egerton - PA Images via Getty Images

The First Division clubs had already backed the plan for the new Premier League, which would reduce the number of sided in the top flight to 18 by 1996, but Bob Murray had concerns on a number of fronts:

We are hopeful that there will be at least one North-East club in whatever Super League does transpire. I don’t believe that there are 18 genuine Super League clubs in the country, but I believe that Sunderland will meet the required criteria.

Our average crowd last season was 24,000, we have stable management, a relatively healthy position at the bank, a good squad of players, plans for an all-seater stadium and a willingness to compete at the highest level.

However, we are also concerned about clubs in the lower divisions. We don’t want to see the Darlingtons and Hartlepools cast aside and left to go to the wall. That wouldn’t be good for the long-term future of football.

If the Football Association wants to run football, why don’t they take all 92 clubs under their umbrella? It is a bit like allowing the milkman to take the cream off every pint. I would be interested to hear the FA’s answer to that question.

The proposals put forward by the Professional Footballers’ Association seem to be far closer to what most supporters want. The pace of debate is certainly quickening, but I don’t expect to be asked to make a decision at Villa Park about the Premier League.

Twelve months later, the Premier League kicked off, and despite Bob Murray believing we would meet any required criteria, we struggled in the lower reaches of the Second Division and got nowhere close to getting promoted for the Premier League’s inaugural season.


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