The 1980s and 1990s saw seismic changes in the competitive structure of many of our major sports and in the way sport is ‘consumed’ by millions of fans.
A major driving force for change was the substantial investment poured into sport in order to attract subscribers to the new media of satellite television. No sport was more affected than football where the top clubs broke away in 1992, with the blessing of the Football Association, to form the Premier League and enjoy the spoils of sponsorship and sums offered by television companies as they competed for ‘live’ sport. Major beneficiaries of these financial rewards have been the leading players in the major spectator sports.
The last vestiges of amateurism in elite sport fell away. The Olympic Games became potentially ‘open’ to all in 1988 and even rugby union embraced professionalism in 1995. Governing bodies recognised the reality; sport at the highest level is a full-time occupation.
Sport became ever more international. Overseas players began to play an increasing role in football, cricket and rugby in Britain. International competitions also acquired an ever higher profile – not only the well-established Olympic Games and football’s World Cup and European Championships but also golf’s Ryder Cup and newly established world cups in cricket and rugby union. The Paralympic Games became firmly established.
The Bradford and Hillsborough stadium disasters in the 1980s brought personal tragedy and fundamental, if overdue, changes in safety regulations. Major sports stadia could never be the same again.
As for statues and memorials, this is an unfinished period. Memorials for deceased heroes inevitably follow several years after the individual’s sporting contribution. Many leading participants from this period are, fortunately, still with us although some towns and clubs have not been shy to celebrate their achievements. Other personalities have sadly died, some too young. Already, we can experience many statues and memorials that vividly recall highs and lows of British sport in the last two decades of the 20th century.