European Super League: football’s American dream comes at a cost of competition and community
- Proposals were revealed for a breakaway ‘European Super League’
- Uefa will oppose any moves by clubs to found a new competition
It was Celtic manager Jock Stein who said: “Without fans who pay at the turnstile, football is nothing. Sometimes we are inclined to forget that.”
The fans have not forgotten – his message taken up by supporters at clubs across Europe as they protest the various trespasses committed against them by the clubs and FAs, often pointedly replacing the Es with pound sterling and euro symbols.
They will need to get the bedsheets and paint out again.
German newspaper Der Spiegel reported leaked emails suggesting that Europe’s biggest football clubs are once again looking at a breakaway “Super League” that could start as early as 2021.
Stein’s message was among the words that Footballer Supporters’ Federation chairman Malcolm Clarke reached for when responding to the BBC. The UK fan group head did much the same in 2011, when clubs threatened to break free from Uefa by 2014.
We have been here before. Talk of a European Super League was what led to the expansion of the old European Cup to the Champions League.
A quarter of a century on, that Champions League is boring and bloated, with too many clubs at the start and then the same teams meeting in the knockout stages every year.
This dystopian vision of the future would be worse.
The 11 “founding” clubs would be guaranteed not to be relegated for 20 years. The closed competition would also have five “invited” teams to take it up to 16 teams.
The UK government have been urged to fight it, as have Uefa. But who can stand in the way of the wheels of progress? They have done little to stop the global game becoming the globalised game of noodle partners, social media followers and streaming rights auctions.
The NFL, NBA and MLB all play regular-season games overseas.
That is their right but also less of an issue based on their franchise system and long history of moving cities. Who questions that the Lakers are in LA rather than the more watery Milwaukee or why the Mormon state of Utah has the Jazz rather than their original home of New Orleans?
It’s the same with the Raiders trading Oakland for Las Vegas – it’s good for business and sport in the US has long been better at business than its European counterparts. US sports teams are valued higher, their players are paid more. Football, while more popular, is playing catch-up. Is it a coincidence that there are more US owners among the European clubs?
An end to Financial Fair Play is a fillip to the football club’s involved, meaning that it would be possible to create even better paid squads with better players even if that comes at the cost that we might never know if the very best players can do it on a wet Wednesday night in Stoke.
The proposed format smacks of the erosion of community and competition, two things that have been vital to football, but are seen as essential no longer.
Many who are already resigned to that, see the gulf between these top clubs and the rest as a fait accompli, a depressing fact that sees single club domination in France, Germany and between the top two in Spain.
The Premier League has no such dominance yet – although Manchester City might have different ideas – but it is the Premier League’s success as a worldwide television product that has created the desire among the other European superpowers to break free.
Half of the 20 Premier League clubs can make money without selling a match ticket. That they charge what they do shows the greed rife in the game.
Fans are not considered. Often scheduled to accommodate TV, many fans (both home and away) find that the final whistle is set for after the last train. That’s if the game is not moved, ensuring great personal expense to rearrange hotels and transport.
Reaction to that, in part, explains English fans flocking to breakaway clubs such as FC United and City of Liverpool FC, or non-league teams like Dulwich Hamlet. They are attracted by cheap tickets, the possibility of paying on the gate and a palpable sense of community.
— Aidan Kelly (@aidokel) November 3, 2018
Never mind that you can watch the game with a beer in your hand as you stand on the terraces, two privileges that are not available in the Premier League’s sanitised, all-seater stadia. Not even in the Heineken-backed Champions League are English fans trusted to have a pint in view of the pitch.
A glimpse of a match played behind closed doors or a meaningless pre-season game lacks the atmosphere that makes football compelling television.
Fans worldwide are attracted in part to the club’s history, the players of the past as much as the star names on today’s team sheets.
This is another untethering of clubs from their past and an opportunity to remove them from their communities and open up the possibility off them playing “home” games anywhere.
But it might be inevitable. La Liga is looking at playing a regular season game in the US and already changes kick-off times for the Asian market. The Club World Cup is set for an expanded format, too, with China reported to hold it in the coming years. The International Champions Cup already offers a global format every summer.
Maybe these clubs didn’t like Leicester City winning the title or Porto winning the Champions League or any of the other football fairy tales that are curtailed with such a move.
Maybe it is nostalgia talking, a romantic view of the game, but if the big clubs get their way we might as well give up and watch e-sports.
The sad thing is we’ll lap it up. We always do.