Gazette opinion: The European Super League is nothing more than a greedy sham, but there's a chance it could turn out to be a good thing

Don’t you just love the smell of revolution in the air?

Tuesday, 20th April 2021, 9:51 am

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For too long now, football fans have been too passive, too submissive, too compliant. Supporters have been resigned to their fate and have been beaten down and exploited for far too long. Politics and football don’t mix after all, so we’re told...

The beautiful game has been cynically snatched away from us, at the top level, at least, by rich businessmen who clearly don’t have the best interests of the sport at heart.

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We’ve known that for a while - see extortionate ticket prices, replica kits for toddlers priced at £60 and fixtures at the other end of the country being moved at the last minute to 8pm on a Monday - it’s been clear for some time that fans are treated like an after-thought. So this latest fury shouldn’t come as a major surprise, despite the hubris of those involved.

But if there’s one positive that might emerge from the grubby charade that is the so-called ‘European Super League’, it’s that this might finally change.

Fans are beginning to wake up and smell the coffee, this is the final straw. It’s long-overdue, but it’s finally time to front up and confront what will be an uncomfortable conversation.

Let me clear, the ESL plans are a disgrace, a sham, a cynical power grab based on nothing more than greed, pure and simple. Self-interest has never been so blatant. The clubs involved aren’t even hiding away from that.

Leeds players wore 'football is for the fans' t-shirts before their game against Liverpool on Monday night

But could it turn out to be a good thing?

The ESL is clearly undesirable, the outraged reaction that has greeted the news has proven that.

But in a bizarre, almost perverse way, I’ve actually enjoyed the outrage from fans, pundits, even players and managers alike. It’s good to see those involved in football finally unite behind a common goal. It’s time to take back what is ours.

If this gets us talking about how our football system works in this country, whether improved governance is required (it clearly is, Blackpool fans could have told you that six years ago) and whether there ought to be an independent regular or not, you know what? Let them go.

If this brings about more supporter involvement, that’s got to be a good thing. If this proves beyond all doubt that football without fans is a completely pointless endeavour, as if playing games behind closed doors for an entire season wasn’t enough proof of that, then that’s a good thing. If this brings about more equality, spreads more power across the board and gives a voice to supporters, then my message to the seedy six is: so long, farewell. Slam the door shut on the way out.

I take no joy in seeing players and managers taking the flack, as we saw before the Leeds v Liverpool game on Monday night. This is not their doing, after all.

But because of the cowardice of the owners behind these plans in refusing to front up and face the media, the likelihood is we’ll see more of this in the coming days and weeks. It’s the only way to get across the strength of feeling.

I expected this behaviour from Manchester United. They’ve been a mercenary capitalist entity for years now. Shirt sales, merchandise, sponsors, milking the fans dry, that’s what the Red Devils - a club born out of the working class roots of Newton Heath - now stand for.

But Liverpool? I expected better. The club likes to tell us ‘this means more’. You’ll Never Walk Alone is more than just a club anthem, they say. Everything they do is with the local community and fans in mind.

But, thanks to the shameful actions of their American owners, they’re now no better than the rest. They’re the ultimate hypocrites.

As for Arsenal and Tottenham? They really have got some nerve. Try actually winning something before you claim to be among the continent’s elite.

Owners are supposed to be temporary custodians of their clubs, they shouldn’t be driving policy change by themselves without the involvement of the people that live and breathe the team on a day-to-day basis.

Germany have it right with their 50+1 rule, which stipulates clubs can’t participate in the Bundesliga if commercial investors hold more than a 49 per cent stake. But then again, it’s really not rocket science, is it? Or it shouldn’t be, at least.

The only thing I’m surprised about is how long it has taken for these proposals to be officially announced, given how long they’ve been on the cards for. It was only a matter of time.

This move would be the ultimate ‘Americanisation’ of our system (or should that be Americanization?).

The concept has been driven by a number of clubs owned by Americans. It involved American bank JP Morgan ploughing in billions of dollars. And it consists of the ultimate American concept of sport, i.e. glitzy games played around the globe between ‘franchises’, rather than clubs or community assets, with no relegation or promotion. The only people that benefit are those who are having their pockets lined.

It might work for the NFL, but it doesn’t work in Europe and never will due to the rich history, tapestry, history and tradition of our clubs, many of which date back to the 1800s.

The whole point of sport involves the concept of hope and jeopardy, doesn’t it? In believing in the unthinkable? The acknowledgement that success means more because there’s always the chance it could go wrong. Operating a closed shop is the ultimate slap in the face.

I’ll be honest, I’ve never felt so happy to be a supporter of a lower league side. In fact, I’m feeling a little smug right now.

The EFL isn’t perfect, far from it. There are plenty of issues that need to be confronted, especially in the Covid times we live in.

But the true soul of football remains in the lower leagues and non-leagues and, if we’re being honest, it has done for a good decade or two.

Higher up the pyramid, the ‘elite’ clubs need this reckoning. If a shady concept such as the ESL brings about that debate, then so be it.

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