European Super League? Authorities need to temper their greed and focus on treating match-going supporters better
- German media revealed plans between elite clubs to set up a breakaway continental competition
England’s leading football clubs noticed a shift in Uefa’s attitude towards them in the early 1990s. European football’s administrative body long treated clubs in a high-handed manner, but Uefa’s stance changed as they began to feel threatened when a group led by Silvio Berlusconi’s AC Milan considered a breakaway European Super League. Berlusconi wanted more big European games, the increased TV money which would follow and a move away from the knock-out format, cutting the chances of David versus Goliath upsets for his expensively assembled charges.
Uefa read the writing on the wall. The power balance in European football has since shifted towards the top clubs – as evidenced by the subservient tone of emails sent by Gianni Infantino to Manchester City – the latest football leaks to be exposed in German magazine Der Speigel.
Also leaked were details of talks between Europe’s giants about the idea of a Super League.
Talk of such a league isn’t new and will persist. If it’s to be at the expense of domestic leagues, Real Madrid against Liverpool or Barcelona against Paris Saint-Germain will always be more attractive in some quarters than Madrid against Eibar or PSG against Guingamp.
It is odd that Manchester United and Barcelona, two of the three biggest clubs in the world, have met each other only once outside a final tie in the last 20 years and meet more frequently in the United States to play friendly matches. But with the major European leagues receiving increasingly large television revenues, the Super League talks are actually not a priority for the top dogs. Those from smaller clubs who’ve been sidelined such as Glasgow Rangers, who were the most influential British club in the late 1980s and came close to reaching the first Champions League final in 1993, would jump at the chance.
Greed, rather than any sporting endeavours, will drive the formation of any Super League – by a self-serving elite who want to shield themselves from the variables which make sport so compelling. There will have to be big money behind it to persuade them to ditch what they already have.
While specific pairings may lack the biannual matches of a domestic league calendar, big clubs do meet regularly under the current Champions and Europa League formats. Millions watch these games on television. Uefa have made their product as slick as possible for their most important constituency, the armchair supporters, but what about the match-going fans who provide highly necessary atmosphere and backdrop for the matches, especially those travelling fans?
The reality could be much better for these fans – and it’s nothing to do with what happens on the pitch.
In Turin on Wednesday, Manchester United play Juventus, a team they have not met in competition for 15 years. That United were drawn with Juventus three times in seven years and then not once in the 15 years since is the sort of unpredictability which supporters of a Super League would highlight.
Two thousand United fans will travel, while Liverpool fans journey to Belgrade to see their team at Red Star – another former European great diminished because of their weak domestic league.
Both trips will provide experiences neither fans will forget, but they’ll need their wits about them.
Football violence is a problem in Serbia, while in Italy successive government measures to try to curb hooliganism see travelling fans treated like cattle.
The government argues that the hard-handed approached is needed, but the one-size-fits-all approach causes alarm for one-off visitors.
Last month, despite Juventus being aware of the 2,000 strong visiting support for Young Boys’, the club opened the gates to the stadium late and provided insufficient security to search fans. Many Swiss fans missed the start of the game. According to the neutral and respected Football Supporters Europe, lighters, female hygiene products, medicines and flags were confiscated.
The “terrible” food on offer ran out 40 minutes before the game. There were too few bathrooms, with no toilet paper. Police were aggressive and communication was difficult.
In Turin, Young Boys’ respected supporter liaison officers had their accreditation taken from them and were ejected from the stadium.
Fans were then held back inside the stadium for two hours after the game, with no explanation. There was no access to bathrooms or catering during this period.
In mitigation, flares and other fireworks are banned and the Young Boys fans did take a lot into the stadium.
Travelling fans feel that they often bear the brunt. Tottenham fans, who were asked to remove their shoes and belts, fared only slightly better in Turin, while United fans are expected to watch the game behind a mesh curtain.
Yes, the Euro away regulars are fortunate to be able to travel across a continent to see a game of football. It’s expensive and time-consuming, but it’s a rewarding experience. The vast majority of regular away travellers with English clubs behave well and not at all like a significant number of followers of the England national team, who persist with vile songs and aggressive drunken behaviour. They are nothing like the English hooligans of yore, but the conditions they encounter can be more 1981 than 2018.
Fans do not always help themselves. Too many English fans arrive late to the stadium and too intoxicated when watching their team play in Europe, but more sophisticated policing and better facilities in the UK have seen a fall in crowd trouble. In the Champions League, discrepancies are vast, from aggressive policing to rip-off ticket prices. Surely it is better to get the existing house in order rather than indulge in more fanciful talk of Super Leagues.