x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

A momentous day in store for the English Premier League

Manchester City can emulate Blackburn's title triumph in 1995 to break the hegemony in the England's top flight.

Blackburn Chairman Jack Walker (R) and Alan Shearer celebrate their team title of the England Championship, the first since 1914, after their lost match over Liverpool (1-2). AFP PHOTO
Blackburn Chairman Jack Walker (R) and Alan Shearer celebrate their team title of the England Championship, the first since 1914, after their lost match over Liverpool (1-2). AFP PHOTO

Manchester City fans may refer this morning to the 44 years. Football fans in general may refer this morning to the 17 years.

For 44 years since that 4-3 win at Newcastle United on May 13, 1968, Manchester City have not won the English top flight. But for 17 years since a certain 2-1 loss at Liverpool on May 14, 1995, the peasantry (or former peasantry) have not won the English top flight.

Since that confusing Sunday at Anfield, the Premier League title has remained in three sets of hands, those of Manchester United (10 times), Arsenal (thrice) and Chelsea (thrice).

That makes today momentous if not historic, and maybe not "historic" only because if we brand too many things "historic," then so many things will become "historic" that our schoolchildren will become overloaded with history.

For 38-match slog after 38-match slog across 17 years, the Premier League has breathed under a hegemony either profound or dreary or both.

I tend to choose both.

For while any American sensibility is constructed to detest the same few winning year upon year upon decade, a dreary hegemony does lend meaning.

It becomes the very force that makes today so significant.

By the time Manchester City finishes playing road-flimsy Queens Park Rangers this English afternoon, the Table Fillers finally will have taken a turn after long subservience.

Now, the Table Fillers may have won largely through the same large means as the hegemony, but until proven otherwise, that path remains the lone demonstrated.

Macclesfield might rise through the leagues to the summit a few years hence without lavish spending, but that is not the way to predict upon Planet Earth.

Help and ambition swooping in - even from 5,600 kilometres away in Abu Dhabi - remains the proven tack.

Even within the realm of fabulous wealth, we still can say for Manchester City that if they clinch the title today, they will have dug from an April chasm and upended the established form that has lent Manchester United untold winning experience. That forever will be tricky in any league.

A Manchester City title will be a resonance born of mind-boggling bank transfers, but a resonance anyway, if only because of the faded state of the memories of Sunday, May 14, 1995. It has been a good, long while.

Remember? Blackburn Rovers, on 89 points, travelled to Liverpool. Manchester United, on 87 points, travelled to East London and West Ham United.

Blackburn almost had clinched the title on the previous Monday but for Denis Irwin's penalty for United against Southampton. United had excavated themselves most of the way from an eight-point deficit that still held as April closed. (In an impressive twist, Nottingham Forest had gone from promotion all the way to third, on 77 points.)

Liverpool fans, of course, warmly greeted the Blackburn manager Kenny Dalglish. Blackburn alpha-male Alan Shearer scored first. West Ham's Michael Hughes supplied a home lead down in London.

A certain Mark Hughes who will manage QPR at the Etihad Stadium today replaced Nicky Butt to start the second half for United, and six minutes thence and equaliser came from Brian McClair.

On 63 minutes at Anfield, a Liverpool equaliser came from John Barnes.

In stoppage time at Anfield, after all that exertion across nine months, there came a few seconds of such unimaginable, unbearable tension that one chronicler called it "one of the most dramatic afternoons ever" indicating not just in football but ever.

Jamie Redknapp scored with a free kick to give Liverpool a 2-1 win, but barely had his celebration blossomed when Blackburn commenced celebrating.

Word had come that West Ham, 14th that year on goal difference over 15th-place Everton (the FA Cup winners), had held United.

Said Sir Jack Walker to reporters, "When Liverpool scored, my heart stopped."

Walker funded Blackburn, of course. He fuelled the setting of transfer records with shocking totals such as £3.3 million (Dh19.4m) and £5m. (The splurge of it!)

He had grown up in Blackburn, had built a family business into a behemoth, had earned his money through steel, so very 20th-century that by now it sounds just about quaint.

He might even qualify historically as a beacon of the residue of an era. By this century, the human need of highest football pertinence would be oil - in more than one case - and the person hiring the star footballers can come from most anywhere as long as (for now) it is upon this planet.

Still, in the oft-thrilling drone of the years between that Sunday in 1995 and this Sunday in 2012, the few clamped down and a fortress of the few went up. The toppling of a fortress is always curious.

cculpepper@thenational.ae

twitter Follow us @SprtNationalUAE