490,000 CDs or tapes were purchased in the days leading up to the big Sunday evening reveal on Radio 1. 55% of those were for Blur. Cynics point to the huge reduction in the price of CDs as the real driver behind this cultural phenomenon. They may even point to the growth of the economy since 1992 giving people more change in their pockets. But cynics kind of miss the point don’t they?
As months rolled on into 1996 the Spice Girls exploded onto the pop scene. They broke Britain, they broke Europe and they broke America. Their ‘Girl Power’ mantra was applied to Thatcher whom they called ‘the first Spice Girl’ and even Nelson Mandela confessed that they were his heroes. Any cursory internet search of the Spice Girls will show Geri Halliwell wearing that dress.
The union flag (Excluding in Northern Ireland whose own experience of the nineties surely merits it’s own discussion) went under a transformation during the decade. When Blur posed with it in 1993 NME magazine commented upon their flirtation with fascist imagery. Noel Gallagher played at Maine Road (Manchester City’s former football stadium before, well, never mind) with a union flag guitar while his brother lamented the flag’s journey, “down the sh*tter,” and that he would, “do something about it.” Corporations and politicians weren’t far off in cashing in on Britain's new found feel-good factor. Indeed the phrase ‘Cool Britannia’ was created by Ben and Jerry’s. It was a tub of strawberries, vanilla and shortbread all perched in front of a, yes you’ve guessed it. A union flag.
Euro 96 certainly captured the imagination of English football fans. ‘Three Lions’ by the Lightning Seeds featuring David Baddiel and Frank Skinner became the anthem of the tournament. Wembley Stadium belted out the chorus as the song perched at the top of the charts. Indeed, it is the only song to have done so a further three times. The tournament, which was won by Germany who defeated the Czech Republic in the final, captured the mood of a nation. To some extent it still does, only three years ago England’s matches were all shown on TV during the first lockdown. Yet while Euro 96 captivated crowds, a more impactful football revolution had been underway for years.
The Premier League was launched in 1992 as a way for the top English teams to rule themselves. They could set their own rules (And set their own prices) away from the old institutions of the Football Association and Football League. Inspired by the total entertainment stylings of the NFL and by potentially huge TV deals, the Premier League became an entertainment package. David Dein, one of the creators of the league, was obsessed by toilets. He could not believe how clean and accessible the American ones were. And in contrast how disgusting the English ones were. Long queues, horrifying smells and… should I go on? He felt that toilets symbolised where English football was - and where it could go. From number two to number one.
The import of foreign players, then foreign managers and eventually foreign owners changed the face of the top tier of English football. It transcended what was happening on the pitch. Baddiel and Skinner enjoyed three seasons of ‘Fantasy Football League’ on ITV from 1994 onwards, Posh and Becks became the ultimate celebrity couple and football bit by bit became a pursuit of all classes in Britain. The reliability and relative affordability of satellite television helped grease the wheels of progress.
And in this decade of hope and of new beginnings, the social views of Britons began to liberalise. The government in the late eighties had sought to prevent the ‘promotion of homosexuality as a pretended family relationship’. In 1990 69% of the British saw homosexual relations as wrong. By the end of the decade this had fallen to 10%. Throughout the decade legislation had lowered the age of male consent to 16, discrimination on the basis of sexual identity was banned in the civil service and armed forces.
Even The Sun newspaper graciously committed itself not to, “not out homosexuals unless there is a major public interest reason to do so”. Yet unlike the liberalising laws passed by Harold Wilson’s Labour government in the sixties, these laws of the nineties were responding to changes within society. The successful Channel 4 show ‘Queer as Folk’ in which all the central characters were gay was released in 1999. Although condescending tabloid pieces were penned, the show reflected national views changing quite rapidly. It seems like the touch paper of social liberalism was lit during the nineties. Since then the views of your average Briton have become more and more liberal, indeed, they continue to do so.