The Premier League History Myth: Why Most Football Records Are Wrong

In the wake of last night's Merseyside derby, multiple sources are telling us that Gareth Barry is now second on the list of all-time Premier League appearance makers, with 610. He's just passed Frank Lampard (609), and has Ryan Giggs (632) ahead of him. The only problem with this factoid? It's not true.

More to the point, the Premier League is the same competition as the First Division which preceded it. It was first contested in the 1888/89 season, and to wipe it out of the record books is to ignore over a century of history. All four Scottish senior divisions ceased to exist in 2013, being replaced by the new Scottish Professional Football League (SPFL), but Scottish media don't bang on about how many SPFL records must have been set in that first season.

The actual holder of the English record for most top-flight appearances is Peter Shilton, who clocked up 849 appearances at five clubs, perhaps most notably at Nottingham Forest as Brian Clough's side claimed the title in the late 1970s. Giggs' tally also requires adjustment; he made an additional 40 appearances, contributing five goals, for Manchester United in the two seasons prior to the rebranding of the First Division.

These statistics have been peddled by journalists at the behest of Rupert Murdoch and friends since shortly after the rebrand. There are reasons for doing so, and not all of them have to do with corporate interests. Sometimes, it's purely for convenience, as data from before the Premier League era may be incomplete or not readily available. Regardless, this does not nullify records such as Shilton's 849 appearances, Jimmy Greaves' 357 top-flight goals, or even the fact that Sunderland are the only team to ever record a 100% home record in the top division (1891/92).

Gareth Barry rightly ought to be proud of a long and respectable career, but to pretend that he's anywhere near setting a record is not only lazy, but disrespectful to the rightful holder of that record. It's disrespectful to over a hundred years of top-flight history. It risks writing out of footballing history those who have earned a place in it by right. It creates a narrative where magical moments - like the FA Cup win in 1973, or the 1990 playoff win at St. James', or even Sunderland's six league titles (that's more than Chelsea, Manchester City, or Tottenham) are written off as being from a less important, less significant, less cultured time.

The same goes for low points in a club's history. The past few seasons have been below expectations for Manchester United supporters (not that I wouldn't swap places with them!), but to count a seventh place finish as the absolute nadir for a club which has enjoyed success since records began(!) is to ignore Denis Law sending them down to the old Second Division, or even when club officials were rattling collection tins at people in the early 1900s to scrape together enough to last a season. This isn't even to have a go at United, but to acknowledge that the current footballing landscape exists because of historical conditions, rather than simply being ordained.

Like any other club in the league, with the possible exception of MK Dons, Sunderland have a rich and storied history; one that fans should be proud to sing about, rather than having it trapped behind a glass barrier. Whatever your opinions on Sky, the Premier League and post-1992 football, achievements before this era have not been rendered irrelevant by the massive influx of money into the game. Anyone who talks about Premier League records should be recognised as a peddler of nonsense and misattribution, warping our understanding of our history. It's time to see past it.
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