By Carol Trehearn

In the late 1870s, all footballers in the country, even at the top clubs, were amateurs, taking time off from their day jobs in order to play matches. Scandal erupted in 1879 when it emerged that Lancashire club Darwen had been paying two of their players.

The Football Association officially banned payments in 1882 but the move split the country. Up north, football was most popular among the working class who simply couldn’t afford to take time off work to play. Down south, players were mostly middle class and didn’t have the same issues. In order to keep the clubs together, the FA legalised professionalism in 1885. Payments quickly began to rise as teams poached the best players from one another. In 1901, a pay cap of £4 per week was introduced. It didn’t last.

By 1957, top England players were earning around £1,677 each year, made up of wages, bonus payments and fees for taking part in international games. At the time, this sum, the equivalent of around £75,000 in today’s money, put them on a par with doctors and senior managers but within a few short years, players would be earning this sort of sum on a weekly basis.

The transformation was the result of the rebranding of clubs in the first division to the FA Premier League, a move which enabled them to strike a series of highly commercial deals transforming the game into a multi-million-pound business.

The growth of merchandising

As football clubs have turned from local institutions to global brands, the opportunities for merchandising have grown, generating millions of pounds worth of income. From replica shirts and tea towels to key rings and bobble-head dolls of your favourite players, the merchandisers seem to have thought of everything. At one time you could even buy Arsenal slippers that emitted the sound of a cheering crowd each time you put them on.

Buying merchandise is a great way of showing your support for you club but if you want an alternative, you could start a fanzine – easier than ever thanks to digital publishing – or create your own wallpaper so that you get to show off your love for your club every time you turn on your computer. Rather than being stuck with commercially available designs, your own wallpaper backdrop will be unique and the envy of all your friends.

A digital future

A significant proportion of the record profits being made by clubs go towards acquiring and retaining the best players they can afford in order to secure their position in the league tables, but the fans benefit in other ways too. Stadiums have been transformed by millions of pounds of investment and are now safer and more comfortable than ever before.

The future continues to look bright with a new battleground opening up in the lucrative world of broadcasting rights as companies such as Facebook and Amazon announce plans to bid for the right to stream live Premier League matches during the next auction, which will cover the years 2019-22. Thanks to their deep pockets, these tech giants will easily be able to outbid traditional broadcasters and such a move could see the income of many top clubs reach new heights.

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