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Opinion

The day I thought would never dawn: agreeing with Big Fat Sham

6 months ago
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By the end of this week, the whole world and his granny will have delivered their verdict on the short-lived European Super League.

The views I expressed on Tuesday, when pointing out that the league system in this country has always been run by the rich for the benefit of themselves and their clubs, were not universally popular. Football supporters dislike being told they are unimportant.

A show of strength outside Stamford Bridge seemed to trigger the biggest U-turn since Boris Johnson went from Europhile to Brexit crusader.

Within hours, two of the Dirty Half Dozen had withdrawn from the Pan-European project, claiming they were responding to their fans’ wishes. By Wednesday, the other four of the laughably-called Big Six in England had also turned turtle. Their public relations executives must have been working furiously overnight to explain away the owners’ massive miscalculations, which we now learn have been three years (yes, three years) in the making.

Fans across England celebrated a victory for “people power”. Politicians who had lined up to oppose the ESL happily hailed its reported demise. Rentaquotes such as Gary Neville and Jamie Carragher said it was a great day for the fans.

So what’s not to like? Surprisingly, amazingly, astoundingly, I found myself agreeing not with those gobsh.tes but with Big Fat Sham aka the West Brom manager, Sam Allardyce, who said the idea of an ESL had merely been put on hold and without “better protection” we would see similar proposals “again and again”.

BFS can be accused of many things but only a Martian would suggest he doesn’t know the value of money. He understands the reason the Dirty Half Dozen abandoned ship was not because of the fans. It was to avoid punitive sanctions, such as multimillion-pound fines, bans imposed by UEFA and points deductions. Somehow, a collective greed blinded Liverpool, Man Utd, Man City, Arsenal, Spurs and Chelsea to the rules under which they are members of the English Premier League.

Is it a coincidence, by the way, that five of the six have non-English owners and that the sixth owner is an investment company registered in the Bahamas, that high-tax paragon of the welfare state? Each club allegedly paid £8m to become a member of their cosy little cartel; they are all now being threatened with legal action for breach of contract. Not by the supine powers that supposedly run football in this country, but by a principal and unprincipled driving force of the ESL, my friend and yours, Senor Florentino Perez.

On Tuesday morning, the project was still alive and kicking. Perhaps sensing he might have overplayed his hand, Perez said it was needed to save football. That would, presumably, be the same football that has been endangered by massive inflation in transfer fees, players’ wages, TV broadcasting contracts, owners’ dividend payments awarded to themselves, etc.

On Thursday, beaten but unbowed, Perez waded in again. The president of Real Madrid, one of only two clubs still refusing to abandon the ESL, said: “We’re going to continue working. The project is on stand-by.” With only Barcelona for company now, Perez accused Uefa and some countries’ footballing authorities of aggression and threats towards the ESL. That aggression and those threats were presumably unrelated in any way to another of his irony-free announcements. Referring to the volte face by the Dirty Half Dozen, he said: “You cannot get out of the contract like this — they are binding contracts.”

On that point at least, I sincerely hope the ESL sues the pants off those clubs. Perez restated his view that the Champions League had too many boring matches and that an ESL was the way forward. He’s right with the former; profoundly wrong with the latter.

Without wishing to insult your typical septuagenarian, I would like to point out Perez is 74. Which might explain his bizarre logic, especially when he said: “I’ve been in football for 20 years.” Twenty years? Er, is that all? So he’s just another johnny-come-lately jumping on the bandwagon, another pig with his snout in the trough. Why are we not surprised?

To him and his like, the world’s greatest game is no more or less than a money-making tool, as he freely conceded with this gem: “We thought we could have a format where the most important teams in Europe play against each other from the very beginning of the season. We worked out the numbers and felt we could make much more money; more money for all the other teams too.”

Pardon me for looking a gift horse in the mouth but my reaction is to tell Perez, JP Morgan (a US investment bank that allegedly committed a loan of £3.25bn to the project) and all other interested parties to stuff the ESL where the sun doesn’t shine.

Being utterly opposed to this disgusting idea is one thing; stopping it from ever relaunching is quite another. Which is where the words of Sam Allardyce make sense. Safeguards, barriers, controls; watertight, copper-bottomed, irreversible measures are needed to defeat the cabals and cartels that control football at the elite level.

A notable absentee from the Dirty Dozen, which comprised six from England, three from Spain and three from Italy, was any form of German representation. Fans in that country have the right to ownership enshrined in law. It’s called the 50+1 rule, ensuring that supporters own 50% plus one of the shares in nearly all the biggest clubs.

Boris the Bonker has promised (I know, but please don’t scoff) to do everything possible to stop the ESL and similar ideas from getting off the ground. Well, he needs simply to study (I know, but please don’t scoff) the Teutonic model and then enforce it in this country. If that’s not a guaranteed vote-winner in the remaining Red Wall constituencies, I’m a doberman pinscher!

(Author’s note: “This article should not be construed as an endorsement of the Conservative and Unionist Party.”)

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