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Opinion

‘European Super League – “Created by the poor. Stolen by the rich.” Really?’

1 week ago
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Among the countless placards, banners and bedsheets brandished since Sunday. to protest against the so-called European Super League.

Which is in truth a logical extension of the so-called European Champions League…one Robin Hood-style cry caught my eye:

“Created by the poor. Stolen by the rich.” Really?

A rudimentary knowledge of football’s history in England certainly disproves the first clause. Football, in this instance the Football League, now known as the English Premier League, was formed in 1888 by club owners worried that their income streams were not being “monetised to the optimum level.” Though they would hardly have mauled the language to that extent in the days of Hardy, Browning or Stevenson.

What concerned these clubs was their financial shortfall in any season they had the misfortune to lose in the early rounds of the FA Cup, which was first played in 1871-72. Southern clubs such as Wanderers and Old Etonians dominated the opening decade of the Cup. They were nominally amateur outfits, which just goes to show the value of an independent private income.

The owners of professional clubs in Lancashire and the Midlands wanted to guarantee the turnstiles would continue to click with reassuring regularity, regardless of the Cup, so 12 from Lancashire and the Midlands formed the world’s first national football league, with 22 home-and-away fixtures for each in that inaugural season. The matches were scheduled for Saturday afternoons, to entice the working man whose week had just been reduced to five-and-a-half days. And the league was limited to what some Victorians doubtless dubbed “The Dirty Dozen” (goodness, nothing changes, does it?) to allow those clubs the time to continue with their traditional commitments at county and district level, as well as the FA Cup. That was more than 130 years ago.

Let’s be clear: the primary motivation behind the world’s most popular game was and is money. It was NOT created by the poor. While the word “sport” has many definitions, at elite level it is business, big business. It’s dog eat dog. There is little room for sentiment, except among those people who this week learnt they would be known henceforth as “legacy fans.”

You might tick some of the boxes: lifetime supporter, attend matches home and away (Covid permitting), rarely expect your club to win, cherish the few highlights purely because they are few and far between.

Guess what? We’re a dying breed, unwanted by those who believe they control the future of football. They are chasing a new audience, whom I would describe as people with more money than sense.

Here are the thoughts of Florentino Perez, president of Real Madrid.

“We are doing this to save football at this critical moment.” Translation: my club has overstretched itself so much that it cannot survive the drop in income caused by a year of Covid.

“If we continue with the Champions League there is less and less interest and then it’s over.” Translation: a competition that has been utterly devalued since its glory days as the European Champions Cup (when entry was achieved only by winning your domestic league and the draw was not rigged) is boringly predictable.

“The new format [yet another expansion of the Champions League] which starts in 2024 is absurd. In 2024, we are all dead.” Translation: we want to protect our assets at all costs, we know what’s best and we’re going to force this through.

He also had the temerity to suggest young people were no longer interested in football because there were “a lot of poor quality games.” Perhaps they don’t “do irony” in Spain but I would have hoped they were familiar with the tale of the goose that laid the golden egg. Clubs including Real Madrid, who were of course the favourites of Generalissimo Francisco Franco, have killed the traditional strengths of the beautiful game. They have distorted the pitch to such an extent with their policies, summed up by the phrase “we know the price of everything and the value of nothing”, that millions of parents are no longer prepared to introduce their children to the ups and downs of life as a football supporter.

One more pearl of wisdom from Senor Perez: “We could get back some of the money we lost because of the pandemic. We have to raise more money organising more competitive games.” Translation: I’ve helped to turn La Liga into a cartel and now I want a pan-European model. England, France, Italy, Germany all have similar set-ups, so why the fuss?

Clearly, he is one Spaniard who doesn’t do irony. Or humility. Or any of the other endearing human qualities. A surfeit of money has all-but destroyed the fundamental nature of football, when on any given day a team of grafters greater than the sum of their parts can defeat a star-studded collection of pretty boys.

Relegation, promotion, victory against the odds, cup upsets, logic-defying survival on the final day of the season; that is the lifeblood of football. If Perez and his ilk succeed, the last vestiges of respectability will be stripped from the domestic leagues.

As for “stolen by the rich”; it was theirs all along. But at least in the good old days, such people were sometimes prepared to accept defeat with a modicum of grace.

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