The Premier League Is Like The PS1

After his performance on Sunday, there has been some talk of Erling Haaland breaking Alan Shearer’s Premier League goal scoring record. Given that Haaland has played a single game and is some 258 goals off Shearer, this might be a little premature. Haaland would need to score 30 goals a year for the next nine seasons to best Shearer, which puts his exploits into perspective. But what a lot of people don’t realise is that Shearer actually scored 283 top flight goals, but ‘only’ 260 of them were in the Premier League. He’s also second overall to Jimmy Greaves’ 357, whose career took place decades prior to the Premier League. This is why it feels like the PS1 is just like the Premier League.

Everything in football changed when the Premier League arrived 30 years ago. For better or worse, the game has never been the same again. A huge injection of cash, rapid globalisation, the creation of household superstars, and a massive increase in sporting quality followed. These days, by most metrics the Premier League is the greatest league in the world. La Liga sometimes bloodies the PL’s nose, and the Bundesliga has Bayern, but the Premier League is in charge. It hasn’t always been this way – traditionally Serie A was the best of the best, but an agonisingly slow modernisation, hamstrung by corruption, has seen it slip into a battle for fourth with Ligue 1.

Likewise, gaming existed before the PS1, but things feel very much like a before and after. With the arrival of the PS1 came a huge injection of cash, rapid globalisation, the creation of household superstars, and a massive increase in graphical quality followed. Sony was a bit-part player in gaming, and even tried to go in with Nintendo on a console, unsure if it could go it alone. If Nintendo had accepted the offer, the modern gaming landscape might look very different. Nintendo itself might be Serie A in this metaphor, though maybe the Serie A of the early ‘00s, when it was still producing world beating stars despite being slightly off the pace, rather than the sleeping giant at the start of a revival arc Serie A is today.

I’m not sure who Xbox is. Chelsea, maybe? Newer football fans often think Chelsea have always been kings of the game, but like Xbox, they’re relatively new to the top table. They’re also somehow both loaded and haemorrhaging money, while many of their most expensive attempts to conquer PlayStation have been misfires. Timo Werner is Halo Infinite, I guess. Lukaku is Gears 5. Maybe we’re getting too much in the weeds with this now.

I follow a bunch of weird and wonderful football social media pages, and it’s startling how obsessed they all are with the Premier League era. There’s a page called ‘Footballers You’ve Forgotten’, but instead of Jairzinho or Johan Neeskens, it posts Nacer Chadli. Much like in gaming, football fans have bought into this arbitrary starting point. Football didn’t exist before the Premier League. Gaming didn’t exist before the PS1.

Whenever discussions of gaming remakes come up, it’s always extremely recent titles in line for it. Do we really need The Last of Us to be remade, at just nine years old, rather than attempts to bring the likes of Excitebike or Gauntlet back into the spotlight? The people who need a Last of Us refresher are the same ones who have forgotten Nacer Chadli.

When fans are polled on the greatest games of all time, we see the same titles appear. The Last of Us. God of War. Breath of the Wild. Mass Effect 2. Resident Evil 4. Final Fantasy 7. GTA 5. BioShock. Similarly, for many football fans the greatest player ever is either Cristiano Ronaldo or Leo Messi. A handful from other eras have survived into folklore (Super Mario Bros., Tetris, or Pele, Maradona, Cruyff), but even then they are offered begrudging respect. Pre-PS1/PL, people were easier to please. There was less competition. The standards were lower. Sure, they were great for their era, but could they do it on a rainy Tuesday on the PS3?

In some ways, this argument is correct. Video games are harder to make these days, players expect longer, more detailed, more narratively complex experiences. Likewise, a mid-table Premier League footballer who sits on the bench for Everton likely has more athleticism than the 1966 World Cup winning squad of chain smoking pint guzzlers. But games these days come with far bigger budgets, and much more the engine groundwork already built. In the same vein, a trainee in Everton’s academy has more tactical coaching, more nutritional information, and more protection than Alan Ball ever got. I don’t know what Alan Ball is in this metaphor. Out Run, maybe.

Does any of this really matter? Well, I guess it matters as much as you think it does. As a Newcastle fan, maybe I’m a little bit rattled over the fact Haaland can score two on his debut and suddenly be nailed on to beat Alan Shearer’s record, but mostly it’s a question of history. Video games and football are my two main interests, and in both cases we seem far too keen to forget about any trailblazers of the past in favour of the glossy, often soulless bankrolled technical excellence of today. The main way the Premier League is like the PS1 is this – I resent them as much as I love them.

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