European Super League: how we let the game go

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The plans for a European Super League (ESL), announced by 12 of the proposed founder clubs in a quite literal midnight coup on 19th April, present very legitimate grounds to proclaim ‘the game’s gone’. Despite its rapid, inevitable collapse, the leading lights within these twelve clubs are all united by one thing; not only does this outrage not bother them, it doesn’t even affect them.

Fans across the UK are hailing their newfound power. Above everything, they want to believe it was down to them. Despite the clubs’ blatant disdain and disregard for their local fanbases, fans are still desperately clinging on to the very slippery notion that the boards of the dirty dozen care about them. Much like a young child declaring they want to be ‘King of the World’ when they grow up, this is a sweet idea supported by a lot of hope and very little reality.

The ESL collapsed because it was a poorly thought-through pipe-dream cooked up by a group of billionaires with little to no football knowledge. Only recently, Joel Glazer, co-owner of Manchester United, revealed he still doesn’t understand the offside rule. Florentino Pérez, President of Real Madrid, suggested that shorter matches might make kids more interested in games. These were the great footballing minds ‘revolutionising’ the game.

As soon as Bayern Munich, Borussia Dortmund and PSG publicly rejected the idea, it could never have a future. This had to be the world’s premier footballing competition. Without three of its top teams and both of its biggest future stars, it couldn’t even pretend to be truly elite.

With that façade shattered, it was exposed as a simple money-grab. Once the managers and players from the 12 started publicly condemning it, they’d already left it too late to disband. The fan outrage was once again an afterthought at best.

As the self-appointed chairman of the ESL Pérez told us, football is the only global sport with more than four billion fans. By anyone’s figures, that’s over half the world’s population. Sources have suggested that the 12 clubs feel they’ve got the most they can out of ‘legacy fans’, and now it’s time to rinse the ‘fans of the future’.

That’s right, legacy fans. Season ticket holders, local lads, the heart of football. Those who have grown up on the terraces and believe these clubs are deeply, inextricably woven within their souls have been resigned to insignificance because they don’t quite make the billionaire owners enough money.

Of course, we can’t just blame the ESL plans on the 12 respective boards. The creation of the Premier League and Champions League were born out of similar power grabs. Football has been set on this path for decades, but because our clubs were doing well out of it, we all turned a blind eye. Football clubs used to be communities, support networks, a home away from home. Now they’re businesses.

Football fans have now seen how little their clubs want and need them.

I came across an interview recently with former Tottenham and Northern Ireland midfielder Danny Blanchflower. Talking to Michael Parkinson in 1976, Blanchflower launched into a tirade about the direction football was headed. He talked around the premise that ‘football very much reflects the state of the country it’s in’. At a time when football was predominantly domestic and the eyes of most nations pointed inwards rather than outwards, this made sense. However, adjusted for our globalised society, football reflects the state of the world it’s in.

When you look at it like that, it’s no surprise that football has ended up in this mess. The saving grace of capitalism for most people is when you’re doing well from it, your life seems to just go from strength to strength. The same goes for the big football clubs. As a Chelsea fan, I’ve watched money pumped into the club by a man who misplaced his moral compass 30 years ago. His only aim has been to make money out of the club. Our success has always just been a by-product of his profit-making.

As with any capitalist system, for the vast majority of people, all they are left with is hope. If you lose this hope, you lose faith in capitalism. The proposed ESL would take the hope out of football. It would take the genuine chance of upward mobility out of football. Giant killings are out of the picture because the giant has decided it now only wants to kill other giants. The foundation of the whole system becomes a sham and the money-dependent underbelly is exposed. An ‘Us and Them’ mentality isn’t just created: it’s ingrained.  

So here we are. Football was supposed to be our escape from the horrors of the real world. For generations, it was. At times, it still is. However, on the whole, it’s just reflecting and adding to them. Despite the ESL’s collapse the rabbit is now out of the hat. Football fans have now seen how little their clubs want and need them. Every other football club in Europe understands that the 12 have no care for their futures and no respect for their achievements.

Football without money is just as much fun as jumpers for goalposts to those who love the sport. For those who love the intrigue, the star players and the big branding, I’m sure the option will be brought up again every few years. According to Einstein’s theory of madness, Florentino Perez has still got a few more attempts before he’s committed.

For real football fans, this is a chance to migrate from teams where we’re irrelevant to teams we can save. We can follow teams with genuine heart, which don’t cost a fortune to attend. Teams that provide a sense of community and fun sorely missing from the top levels of the sport. Abandoned by the 12, it can be up to us, the fans, to save the English footballing pyramid.

Amidst the chaos, one thing is certain. The game, as we know it, has gone.

Image: Khánh Hmoong via Flickr

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