News came out in the last two weeks that a ‘European Super League’ had been set up by a cartel of 12 “Founding Clubs”, of which England’s ‘Big Six’ were a part. The new competition format meant that the clubs taking part in The Super League would leave the UEFA Champions League and be exempt from relegation from the competition. The Founding Clubs would also receive a money package in excess of 3 billion euros by the investment bank J.P. Morgan for creating the competition. The owners of the football clubs who took this decision received widespread backlash from broadcasters, football pundits, Boris Johnson, Prince William and football fans across the world. As a result, England’s ‘Big Six’, of which 3 are owned by Americans — the Glazer family at Manchester United, FSG at Liverpool and KSE at Arsenal —decided to withdraw from the project, having already put their plans for ‘Project Big Picture’ to bed earlier in the year. Most of the 6 clubs have already expressed their regret for joining the competition, whereas J.P. Morgan have also released a statement saying they “misjudged how this deal would be viewed by the wider football community”. Barcelona, Juventus and Real Madrid are still members of the project. Florentino Perez, the current president of Real Madrid, has promised that the project is only on standby, and that it will eventually happen. Cherwell asked a number of students from Oxford University to offer their reactions to what the last two weeks have meant for football.
Mauricio Alencar, Chelsea fan and Cherwell Sport Editor
I am a Chelsea fan, a member of the Chelsea Supporters Trust and a Chelsea Pitch Owner, and was a protestor at Stamford Bridge ahead of the home game against Brighton. Despite his mistakes, Abramovich has given us everything: multiple trophies, a fantastic women’s team, a world class academy (though not used enough), efforts to fight against antisemitism and other forms of discrimination which were rife within the Chelsea fanbase, and investment in grassroots football and in the community (like opening the Milennium hotel for NHS staff over the pandemic). However, those on our board have unforgivably let down their guard; the last 18 years have been put to waste.
Over the course of Roman’s tenure, we’ve set a dangerous precedent where rich owners buy clubs, but then have the ability to leech on to other clubs, however small (Bury, Bolton, Wigan come to mind), and suck out the living soul from them. We can yapper around in the same spot and blame Sky, the creation of the Premier League in 1992, and other historic moments, like the introduction of the Bosman rule in 1995, for wobbling the financial or political structures in the game. Many of the off-field shifts in the game across the last 30 years are irreversible. The decisions the football community takes on from now must be for the fans and they must be just as irreversible as those of the last 30 years. Now As football-messiah Gary Neville, also part of the campaign group ‘Saving the Beautiful Game’, points out, we have to now team together to stop the revenue-driven businessmen from future coups regardless of what has happened.
Everyone is on the same page now. Jeopardy, competitiveness and equal opportunity for all teams is what we care about as football fans- not endless, inevitable success. The football pyramid needs a desperate recalibration: put fans on the board, re-distribute income so that teams and communities of lower divisions get their fair share, stop with the Uefa coefficient nonsense, stop owners from reaping profits from winless teams. We’ve seen what fans can do. We’ve seen what power governance can have if it also puts its foot down on the pedal. Let’s all not take our foot off the accelerator now. The European Super League must be the trigger for all football fans to draw arms and take on the cowardly oligarchs.
Luke Bennell, football fan
In 2020, the Court of Arbitration for Sport overturned a two-year ban imposed by UEFA on Manchester City competing in European competitions. City’s financial heft proved decisive, backed by the sovereign wealth of the UAE; UEFA simply couldn’t compete with the legal team the club could afford.
This helps us understand why the cabal of ultra-rich owners behind this coup thought they could get away with their proposed Super League, despite near-universal resistance. Several bodies, including the Premier League, UEFA, FIFA, and the British Government stated their opposition, and potential punishments included point deductions or expulsions for the clubs involved, and a ban on their players competing internationally.
However, it is one thing to propose punishments, but the ability to impose them is another issue. As James Montague – author of The Billionaires Club – stated recently on the Tifo podcast, the above-mentioned case highlighted that these institutions lack the power to enforce punishments. While one of these clubs has the financial backing of a sovereign state, others are owned by those used to getting what they want from conflicts with national governments.
Overall, this entire project comes down to hubris. The executives who planned this were convinced they would get their way yet again and that there was nobody capable of holding them accountable, least of all the fans, players and managers who were not consulted on the decision. They did not expect fans to support their proposals, and they did not care. They likely expected fans to simply fall in line eventually, out of a nihilistic resignation. This would explain the complete lack of an effective PR campaign.
However, fans did not role over and accept these changes as the inevitable. They voiced their opposition, both online and outside stadiums. Managers and players also began to express their disapproval, just one in a growing list of cases where players are increasingly willing to engage with political issue. In the face of this PR disaster the resolve of the clubs involved began to unravel and the plan itself collapsed.
There are significant positives to be taken from this episode. While the billionaires behind it might wield a disproportionate amount of power in our society, the protests have highlighted that direct action by the public can hold them accountable. There is also a possibility of further change now. the idea of a Super League has been used for thirty years as a bargaining chip by these clubs to extract further benefits from bodies like UEFA; their negotiating position has never been weaker. Fans have sought to maintain momentum and continue to put pressure on their absent owners, as was demonstrated by the protests by Arsenal fans outside the team’s stadium on Friday.
However, it should be noted that this is not over. Those who planned this might be wounded now, but they will be back again in their attempts to consolidate their sporting oligopoly. Only time will tell if they have learnt from their mistakes.
Ciara Garcha, Manchester United fan
Should we really have been surprised by the clearly elitist, greed-driven plans for the Super League, which flew in the face of the spirit of football? There seems to be a strong argument that the spirit of football has been under attack for a while. The ESL was merely the latest in a long line of attempts to commercialise and gentrify the game, dragging it even further away from its working-class community-based roots.
With million-pound contracts, sponsorship deals and broadcasting rights, football is no longer a working-class game. Though fans were victorious in defeating the ESL proposals, the English game has not belonged to the fans for some time. Unlike German football, where clubs are effectively under public ownership, English football is run on greed and capitalist principles – and has been for some time.
Defeating the ESL was only the first step. Fans should continue to fight to get our game back and restore football to its roots.
Read Ciara’s full verdict on the ESL here.
Matthew Cogan, Derby County fan and Cherwell Deputy Sport Editor
The rollercoaster of the European Super League saga in the last week is a warning to all football fans. It is an incredibly worrying development in the long running saga of Europe’s largest clubs focussing only on themselves and their pockets. As a fan of Derby County, a team that relies on the money brought in by the Premier League, this is a proposal that worries me. It is a signal of intent that I believe could be the beginning of the end of football as we know it today. The sport is one that so many people across the world love, and the fans like me that do not support one if these ‘big’ teams are the ones that will be hit the hardest. So many clubs ranging from semi-professional right up to teams steeped in history such as my beloved Derby County, rely so heavily on the money that the Premier League brings in that such a proposal as the ESL, or anything similar, threatens the whole footballing society. Therefore, I am glad to see the huge response from the fans so that, for the time being at least, such plans have been shelved.
Caitlin Murray, Arsenal fan
I’m not shocked by Stan Kroenke’s behaviour. He eroded the clubs core values the day he made over fifty-five loyal Arsenal staff members redundant in the middle of a pandemic. All the while, simultaneously engaging in discussions about the development of a European Super League and the share of $3.5BN he would be pocketing. My pride in being an Arsenal supporter has now been replaced with embarrassment and disgust. Perhaps, as Arsenal fans, we must finally accept that ‘Victoria Concordia Crescit’ is no more than a trademark to the owners. I envisage the #KroenkeOut protests are just the beginning.
Millie Wood, Manchester United fan
Had those English clubs just accepted the expansion of the Champions League from 32 teams to 36, including two spots reserved for ‘historically significant’ teams which would have all but guaranteed them a permanent place in it, the backlash would’ve been minimal. But in seeking an even larger slice of the pie, the so-called ‘big six’ monumentally overplayed their hand.
There is a wider lesson in that than football.
If we do not react to the little injustices, they quickly morph into larger ones. If fans had accepted the Super League, the next step would have been games abroad. In ten year’s time we would not have cringed at ‘Inter Miami vs Liverpool’ on the fixture list.
The fable of a frog boiling to death in water heated up slowly is often recounted. Then inevitably someone notes that in the famous experiment which gave rise to the tale, the frog was lobotomised before being put into the pot, because the frog with an intact brain jumped out.
I would not be surprised if in five years time, once the anger of today has been forgotten, the clubs try this again, rebranded and with rules toned down just enough to sneak their proposals through. Let us not be the lobotomised frog.
Image: Mauricio Alencar