To as far back as the 50’s and earlier there have been foreign footballers playing out their careers in the top leagues. Although the crutch of the talent in the higher leagues was dominated by Irish, Scottish, Welsh and English players through into the 70’s there was beginning to be a noticeable amount of foreign talent, with possibly one or two gracing each team.
Into the 80’s this trend would continue but by this point homegrown black players were also making their mark on the English game with the likes of John Barnes and Viv Anderson being elevated to both stars for club and country. This amidst still a fair degree of racism around the country.
Into the early 90’s black players were becoming commonplace, with the likes of Ian Wright forming important parts of the contemporary lineups. Off the back of the Hillsborough disaster clubs were moving into safer allseater stadiums, incentives and punishments were being implemented to rid the game of its racism and violence. With this burgeoning family orientated and more civilized aura surrounding the game it was becoming fashionable to the middle classes to as well as the lower classes. Riding this popularity and with the advent of Sky Sports satellite TV coverage and all the money this would bring, the game was entering new heady heights. Off the back of this clubs were experiencing wealth previously unheard of.
In a matter of a few years the transfer record would go from £1 million to £5.5 million in 1994 with transfers of £7 million and in excess commonplace within a very short amount of time. With this rise in transfer fees clubs too could offer very attractive contracts to prospective players and as a result of this we were beginning to see the first ever mass influx of foreign players into the English game. Players such as Dennis Bergkamp who previously would have never considered playing in England as apposed to the more glamorous foreign leagues in Spain and Italy were arriving on our shores in their droves.
Soon foreign players were making up the crutch of most teams. And although the standard of the game had noticeably improved many were denouncing the influx as detrimental to homegrown talent. This attitude has continued right up to this day, but with our national team as successful as ever it is in my opinion a stance devoid of substance. Although the rapid financial growth of the 90’s has now found its level somewhat, I can still see foreign players making up an important part of our game for the foreseeable future at least. Giving rise, in its wake to the making of our league as possibly the best or second best in the world.
Jack Summers is currently the proprietor of http://www.footytalk.net where you can read about and exchange your views and experiences of the game with like-minded followers of football from around the globe.