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The European Super League – a proposal that has united Britain

Written By: - Date published: 9:13 am, April 20th, 2021 - 28 comments
Categories: boris johnson, Jeremy Corbyn, news, sport, uk politics - Tags: , , , , , ,

Originally posted on Nick Kelly’s Blog
People overseas often have preconceived ideas about British society. On moving to the UK I was told that in Britain people will try and place you based on your accent, the school you went to and your job. This does happen, especially in the south, as a way of identifying someone in terms of their class or status or even just to understand where one fits. However, there is one question, one identifier, which I believe takes precedence over all others, that is of course which football team do you support.

Being obsessed with sports is hardly something unique to the Brits, in fact, most nations have a few sports they avidly follow or excel at. But the British love affair with football goes well beyond a passion for this sport. The football team one supports is core to one’s identity and it says where you are from or what your family heritage is. It is the glue that binds communities across the land and as a nation brings people together. It is a critical part of peoples lives and the communities they live in.

It should come as no surprise then, that opposition to the proposed European Super League has been met with widespread condemnation. There are few issues where UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson and former Labour Opposition Leader Jeremy Corbyn see eye to eye, yet this proposal has achieved just that. Rarer still to have the Second Heir to the Throne comment on such matters saying it would be “damaging.” Both the Lords and the Commons will likely debate the issue this week, and again opposition to this Super League will likely come from all sides.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is image.jpeg

The above Premier League sides have said they wish to join the new European Super League.

This second post in my blog series on what COVID-19 has taught us about British society was not initially going to start with a post about football. Yet this weeks news and the response to it illustrates how much football matters in this country and why to understand British culture and predisposition then football is the obvious place to start.

At the start of the COVID-19 pandemic in February 2020 former Conservative Cabinet Minister Michael Portillo was interviewed on Radio Four as part of a panel discussion, in which he argued that British society would not tolerate football matches being cancelled in response to the pandemic. On 13 March the Premier league was halted and did not resume for three months. There were fears that this would be the first British Football season not to be completed since the Second World War. In June the season did resume and Liverpool FC were able to win the league.

During the second and third lockdowns, Football continued to be played throughout Britain, though the teams played in empty stadiums where only a small few spectators were allowed in to watch the games live. Also as part of restrictions on pubs reopening, live screenings of matches were not allowed. Yet despite these restrictions and difficulties, football carried on from professional Premier League sides right through to local clubs. Continuing football has been an absolute lifeline for many during this very difficult year. My local pub has a Fantasy Football league which has run for a few years now. Being able to stay connected, analyse games, give cheeky banter to those who support Arsenal and generally share something as a community in these times has been so important.

The proposal to establish this European Super League is elitism and self-selection at its worst. Britain may not be known for being the most egalitarian of societies, but the magic of football is that even the crappiest low budget team still has a chance. When Leicester won the Premier League in 2016 their fans were absolutely elated and anyone who put money on them at the bookies suddenly was very rich. This was the true rags to riches small-town side taking on the big boys and winning story that people love. It is this that every fan of a struggling side wishes will happen to their team one day. This proposed league takes this magic away. It self selects historically strong and more importantly wealthy teams and creates their own league. Twelve European teams, including six Premier League sides, have signed up to this. Fans of these teams have spoken out against their clubs wanting to join this League, fearing that already expensive tickets to see matches will become completely unaffordable. Further that these few clubs, having made money through this league, will own all the best players and make it even harder for smaller clubs to compete.

The loss of spectators during the COVID-19 pandemic has hit many clubs hard financially. In terms of community clubs encouraging kids to get into football, a recent report claimed that 10% of grassroots clubs did not think they will survive the next 12 months due to lack of membership dues. Outside the Premier League, many local clubs have struggled to maintain their grounds or buy decent players for many years and the pandemic has only made this worse. Rich and poor clubs is nothing new and there is a reason that certain football teams have been more successful than others. In recent years this gap has widened.

Top tier football is big business and it involves big money. Manchester United Midfielder Marcus Rashford had a transfer value of £150 million in January 2021, for many clubs even if they sold their stadiums and all other assets could not afford this player. At the same time many of these big clubs show nothing but contempt for their loyal fans, charging them obscene amounts of money for tickets. Fans will get themselves thousands of pounds in debt to watch their team play both home and away games. Such is the loyalty of many football fans, they literally will spend all their savings to support their team whose players often are reluctant to sign shirts for their loyal follower after games.

Football culture in Britain is not always pretty. In 1985 English football clubs were banned from playing in Europe for five years after hooligans caused the deaths of 32 Juventus fans in Italy due to drunken and violent behaviour. More recently players have been subject to racist chants or abuse from fans from opposing teams, prompting the Show Racism the Red Card to be formed. One should not romanticise British football culture. Football holds a mirror to this society showing both the best and worst of British culture and social attitudes.

There are few things that stir the passion of Brits like football. And it seems in a country so deeply divided in recent years and having in the last 12 month gone through so much, this European Super League proposal has united people in a way that few other things can.

28 comments on “The European Super League – a proposal that has united Britain ”

  1. Enough is Enough 1

    This won't happen.

    It's a power play but can't succeed due to the massive opposition from politicians, royalty, former players, managers, UEFA, the Premier League, FIFA, all other English clubs, and most importantly the fans.

    Two of the best European teams in Bayer Munich and PSG are keeping well clear of it meaning not all of Europe's elite are being over run by greed.

  2. mickysavage 2

    Good post Nick.

    NZ Rugby selling part of the All Black franchise to US hedge fund Silver Lake also leaves a bad taste in the mouth.

    When you think about it something that was constructed and built up by communities has been privatised and is being made the bastion for the wealthy.

    This is wrong.

    • Adrian 2.1

      The Silver Lake deal is a shit deal, it grants SL 15% of AB income ad infinitum, a sum the the ABs would be able to bank on their own in 6 or 7 years. The supposed attraction is that SL would expand the income, but that must be at the cost of many more games, the even greater loss of players from provincial games and the huge cost to players health and well being. Soccer players play a lot more games but honestly it's a pretty soft-cock game with even a casual side-eye glance rendering the recipient incapable of even standing while writhing in mock pain in a performance befitting a Hollywood callup.

      • Phil 2.1.1

        The Silver Lake deal (15% equity stake for $465m NZD) means they value the brand equity of the All Blacks at approximately $2.2b USD – in the same ballpark as Arsenal FC, not far behind Man City and Chelsea… that's a hilariously overpriced value and the NZRFU should be laughing all the way to the bank at how far over the odds Silverlake is paying.

      • Gosman 2.1.2

        Or they could look to raise the value of the brand by doing things differently not necessarily more of the same.

    • Nic181 2.2

      I agree wholeheartedly Mickey. To the extent that I will not watch the All Blacks play if it goes ahead, as I did during the 1981 Springbok tour. That occurred for political gain and backfired. Privatisation of the All Blacks is purely for economic gain but it has the same bad smell!!

      • millsy 2.2.1

        One could argue the All Blacks were effectively privatised when NZRFU (as it was known then), sold their TV rights to New Corp, and 99% of rugby in this country was put behind a paywall.

        • Gosman 2.2.1.1

          You could also argue the NZRFU found a way to pay their players so they all didn't leave for other teams or sports.

      • Gosman 2.2.2

        Are you happy to see the players get paid to play for the All Blacks and do you want them to receive a competitive salary compared to if they played for club sides in the Northern hemisphere?

    • Gosman 2.3

      Why is selling part of the All Black brand to a private equity company a bad thing?

      The alternative is that better funded club sides in the Northern Hemisphere raid the top talent of NZ Rugby and the Super Rugby NZ and All Blacks atrophy due to lack of top players.

      Would you prefer to see that?

      • DS 2.3.1

        The NZRFU already gets around that via one simple policy.

        If you leave New Zealand to play overseas, you aren't eligible for All Black selection. A top rugby player is thus pissing away their All Black career if they go to England, France, or Japan, which is why it is something that people do at the end of their careers.

        Sure, it means that financially these players take a hit by staying in New Zealand, but for a top rugby player in this country, being an All Black outweighs that. Believe it or not, people are motivated by things other than money.

        • Gosman 2.3.1.1

          That has only worked because the differential between NH and All Black salaries has not been massive. You only have to look at the situation in Australia and South Africa to realise that equation can change and then many of your top talent choose to go offshore.

          • DS 2.3.1.1.1

            Wee difference… there is a cultural value attached to the All Blacks in New Zealand that does not hold with the Wallabies in Australia.

            Hell, if people were only motivated by money, why were people playing for the All Blacks at all during the amateur era, when they could easily switch to rugby league? Answer: because rugby union was this country's secular religion.

            • Phil 2.3.1.1.1.1

              … if people were only motivated by money, why were people playing for the All Blacks at all during the amateur era, when they could easily switch to rugby league?

              An absolute fuck-ton of players switched from union to league in the 90's! Ridge, Ellis and Kirwan are three I can name off the top of my head, to say nothing of the fact that the professional game was enough of an attraction that entire domestic amateur networks underneath it in NZ and the Pacific Islands have swept rugby completely off the map for many communities.

              • In Vino

                Ridge, Ellis and Kirwan all went as their All Black time was finishing, just as current All Blacks leave for France, UK, or Japan as their time is running out.

                • Gosman

                  Matthew Ridge was in his early 20's when he switched and was being groomed by the All Black management to take over as the preferred Full Back from John Gallagher. The All Blacks sufferer immensely when both he and Gallagher went to Rugby League. The fact they had to rely on Kieran Crowley in the role for the 1991 World cup was one of the reasons the Wallabies were able to defeat them.

  3. Pat 3

    Forget about politics and sport not mixing, (big) money should be kept out of sport….but its too late.

    • Gosman 3.1

      You seem to want a return to the days of amateurism where players were denied the chance of making money from being a top sports person.

      • Pat 3.1.1

        Pretty much…what good has making it a business done?

        • In Vino 3.1.1.1

          And why should a mere sports-lover have social value? Panem et circenses…

        • Gosman 3.1.1.2

          It's allowed a lot of players from disadvantaged backgrounds to make a good living from their talent.

          • Pat 3.1.1.2.1

            Has it?…some perhaps, but at what cost? (and assume you are speaking in a NZ context)….only a handful at the very top make significant sums over an extended career (most are short and not greatly rewarded) and many of those appear to have both financial and life difficulties. The sporting bodies are perpetually broke and seeking further financial support and the grass roots are shrinking at an alarming rate….as is interest.

  4. Peter 4

    The FA should simply cut the clubs free. "You want to play in other competitions for other money and masters? Go for it."

    • Sanctuary 4.1

      The trouble is that is an empty threat. FIFA is hopelessly corrupt and will be easily brought off by this new break away competition, so it’ll just be the FA as the Europeans will fall into line soon enough.

      Look at Manchester United – it has over one billion followers world wide, and generated over 1.2 billion NZ in revenue in 2019. The "club" is now simply a giant corporate business that won't care if it loses a few million English fans in return for millions of new fans in the rest of the world – it wouldn't surprise if in 20 years the entire club is moved to Shanghai or Beijing.

      http://www.china.org.cn/sports/2019-09/25/content_75242413.htm

  5. mpledger 5

    Have to edit the title…

    "The European Super League – a proposal that has united British Men"

  6. Sanctuary 6

    For anyone who follows Novara Media and British football, the wonderful Ash Sarkar will be interviewing the trenchant Lawrence McKenna at 7am tomorrow morning NZ time live on Novara's youtube channel.

    I am guessing it will be great viewing.

    • Pierre 6.1

      That discussion available to watch here for other readers, and Ash Sarkar deserves the recommendation!

      Edit: link the Downstream show, not TyskySour

  7. nzsage 7

    Capitalist greed deserves such outrage, just a shame that outrage is focused on football alone and not on all aspects of life where such behaviour massively impacts ordinary people.

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