That a week is a long time in football is an adage that is trotted out on an almost weekly basis (funnily enough). At the start of this week, a day seemed like more than long enough. Long enough to change the game forever.
Last week, many of us were still attempting to get our heads around explanations of the proposed Champions League reforms which seemed to fly in the face of another beloved old chestnut of fans and pundits alike – if it ain’t broke don’t fix it.
That UEFA’s reforms were surely motivated by nothing more than money, and were a needless change to a fantastic competition, went completely out of the window in a few hours on 18th and 19th April. The days that football died? For some, almost certainly. And if that is so for some, then it is a football tragedy for all.
But who are those people? Well, it’s quite simple. They are the Liverpool fan who was in Istanbul, the Manchester City fan who was at Maine Road in the Third Division, the Manchester United fan who saw the Busby Babes. Their sons, their daughters, their grandchildren.
It is not uncommon for supporters of those clubs to be spited by the rest. After all, their clubs give you two beatings a season, sign all your best players and steal all your most promising youngsters.
But their supporters are no different to those of any other club in the land. All part of the great mass of football people, who would travel over land and sea to see their team get hammered, who book weddings, holidays, and everything else life has to offer with one eye on the fixture list, who understand that there must be bad days so you can relish the oh-so-perfect ones.
Who blindly not just support, but love, faceless businesses who would rip all that away from us without a second thought if there was a few more quid in it for them.
For 12 European clubs, that nightmare became reality for a fleeting 48 hours. So, to the Super League our attention must turn; a tournament with one winner, and 19 losers – very rich losers at that. No prize for a top-four finish, no notion of survival.
The moment it becomes clear that you won’t be winning the trophy, well, I guess that’s that. In some cases, you would still have had five, six, seven more games, but they wouldn’t have meant anything. You would just have to play the games and wait to have another, probably futile, crack at the whole thing next year. This is uncompetitive football.
That football fans have no time for un-competition is a true, but irrelevant, statement.
‘True’ because people willingly turn up to games that deep down they know are only ending badly simply in the hope of being there when something fantastic happens, and knowing how much it will mean if it does. That only comes with competition.
‘Irrelevant’ because the label of ‘legacy fans’ reduces those people to just a meagre historical footnote. They provide a story, a narrative to be sold to the fans of the future. The very intentional disregard shown to football fans makes the position clear. We are not wanted and we are not needed.
But in that, there might just lie a flaw. That flaw is that a format which excludes the majority of its sides from competition for much of a campaign, combined with knowing the only people taking any joy from what you do are the ‘fans of the future’ – a distant, abstract number of TV passes bought for that game – is not what so many of the very best players got into football for.
Competitive sport gives you a feeling, whether that’s for your local football club, your university or your country. Using their talent to achieve the success that brings those feelings – that’s what it’s about. And, granted, making a boatload of cash.
But to get that cash these people, because that’s what they are – and right now they are being used as chips in boardroom poker matches – make huge sacrifices and do an awful lot of work.
Another lovely old quip often heard in football – and in sport and in life, generally – is that hard work beats talent when talent doesn’t work hard. To want to do that hard work, human beings need a reason more than just money. People need something to work for, something to fight for and therefore, something to play for.
And when one of the things people feel they can do that for more than anything else – their national team, their chance to represent their country – is removed too…well, I know I wouldn’t want to play in that league.
The success of the Super League depends on the players. If Porto – pretending for a moment they want to be in it – could qualify as one of the five extra sides and manage to knock Juventus out of the Super League just as they did the Champions League, then the ‘Founding Clubs’ look, to be blunt, a bit daft.
Especially if it’s because Porto turn up with better, hungrier players. It may be a sporting cliché that the best are only the best because they are willing to work for it, but as with most clichés, it is grounded in truth. No matter how talented you are, if you can’t motivate yourself to perform, then someone who can always come along and show you up.
Of course, I am nobody to tell you that I have uncovered the Achilles’ heel of this crusade of greed. But from the outside looking in, the people who matter most – the players, or the manufacturer of the product to be sold, if you like – seem to have had very little say.
That was the suggestion of Jürgen Klopp and James Milner on Monday night, of Bruno Fernandes on Instagram and many others who eventually followed. Taking them for granted might not work out all that well, as, without the best players, the league won’t be looking so super.
But to finish, let’s return to what’s important. Right now, Liverpool fans feared they would never have another moment like the ‘corner taken quickly’. City fans have probably always known they will never see anything like the Aguero goal again (Martin Tyler did tell us that on the day, after all) but briefly it was confirmed. Barca fans thought the Camp Nou will never see another night like La Remontada.
I could go on. Football would have continued, on a week-to-week basis, largely unchanged for many of us. Our chances of ever being in Europe, or winning the Premier League, probably slightly higher. But even one single football fan feeling that they will never again know the agony and ecstasy of proper competition would be a price not worth paying. The price we may have paid is far, far greater.
Image: Dannymol via Creative Commons