He will forever be remembered for scoring the Premier League’s first goal, but Brian Deane fears those who kick-started the revolution have been all too quickly forgotten about in retirement.
English football underwent a major transformation 25 years ago this month with the advent of its breakaway top flight – one that would morph into a multi-billion pound industry with a global reach.
Deane, then about to enter his third campaign in the division with Sheffield United, told Press Association Sport: “We all knew it was going to be something different.
“We thought you might get five minutes on Match of the Day and a bit more exposure if you do well.”
In an era before innovative social media signing announcements, clubs were still attaining coverage in unique ways, and prior to that inaugural Premier League season the Blades were thrown a Christmas party by boss Dave “Harry” Bassett.
Bassett, who appeared on the season’s first programme cover dressed as Santa Claus, was mindful his team had won just six league games combined over the past two seasons before the holiday.
“That was Harry,” Deane noted. “It was good publicity for the club and it was a way of saying, ‘Maybe if they think its Christmas, they’ll wake up in August’.”
No-one in the division woke up quicker than Deane on August 15, 1992. Five minutes into the curtain-raiser against Manchester United, Deane made history when he headed beyond Peter Schmeichel after gambling to reach a flicked-on Carl Bradshaw long throw at Bramall Lane.
“I always used to make a point of trying to score in the first game. You wanted to break the duck really early,” the 49-year-old explained.
“For as long as the league has the format, I’ll always be the first person. Some people can get sick of it, but most players would like to have been the first to score.”
Deane would net the other in a 2-1 victory for Sheffield United and managed 15 in total, but the club wanted to cash in despite his desire to stay and he joined Leeds in 1993.
The striker spent four years at Elland Road yet only noticed the Premier League boom after returning with Middlesbrough in 1998 following a spell with Benfica.
“It was after France had won the World Cup and the league was attracting all kinds of players,” Deane noted.
“I came back to Boro for £3million but other players were going for £15-20million and you think, ‘Wow, it’s different’.”
Deane was different himself in that he was an Englishman that went abroad during his prime, which was a familiar trend prior to the Premier League’s inception that stopped once players reaped the top-flight riches.
“One day people will wake up and recognise the reason we haven’t done well as a nation at the highest level is because we don’t have players going abroad,” Deane claimed.
“Until we’ve got players that go out and play at top clubs in Spain, Italy, France, then I feel we are always going to be behind. We’re kidding ourselves it’s going to be different.
“We (England) have just won the Under-20 World Cup, but we’ve got kids who are not going to be able to get into teams because we are spending £80-90million on players.”
Deane is well placed to comment on the Premier League’s effect after 300 appearances and 71 goals for four clubs across 10 seasons.
He accentuates the positives – the improved pitches and health and safety at grounds – but also feels players are let down by the authorities once calling it a day.
Deane went into coaching, managing in the Norwegian top flight, working with youngsters at Leeds University and Sheffield United, while also holding various advisory positions.
However, he believes more should be done to assist players who helped establish the Premier League.
“You’re left to yourself, if truth be known,” Deane said. “We can talk about courses but a lot of the time that’s if you understand what you want to do. There should be a support network for people who have genuine issues. There’s a lot being let down.
“There’s so much money in the game and I don’t know where it’s going. All of these guys who have contributed to where the Premier League is now, who’s looking after their welfare or thinking, ‘You’re part of this, what can we do?’.
“Maybe that’s something that the Premier League or PFA should address. It shouldn’t be every man for himself because some people get a better hand.
“Footballers by nature are people who want to please – that will never change – it’s whether they get the opportunity to contribute.”