Tuesday, 20 April 2021

Europe's football Superleague

 The London Evening Standard has a summary of the situation. The journal also carries a powerful statement by Everton football club. It does not mention their local rivals by name, but historians of Merseyside football will no doubt recall that Liverpool FC arose from Everton's expulsion from Anfield after a dispute over money.

Everton stateement

Everton have this morning released a very strong statement on the Super League plans...

Everton is saddened and disappointed to see proposals of a breakaway league pushed forward by six clubs.

Six clubs acting entirely in their own interests.

Six clubs tarnishing the reputation of our league and the game.

Six clubs choosing to disrespect every other club with whom they sit around the Premier League table.

Six clubs taking for granted and even betraying the majority of football supporters across our country and beyond.

At this time of national and international crisis - and a defining period for our game - clubs should be working together collaboratively with the ideals of our game and its supporters uppermost.

Instead, these clubs have been secretly conspiring to break away from a football pyramid that has served them so well.

And in that Pyramid Everton salutes EVERY club, be it Leicester City, Accrington Stanley, Gillingham, Lincoln City, Morecambe, Southend United, Notts County and the rest who have, with their very being, enriched the lives of their supporters throughout the game's history. And vice versa.

The self-proclaimed Super Six appear intent on disenfranchising supporters across the game - including their own - by putting the very structure that underpins the game we love under threat.

The backlash is understandable and deserved – and has to be listened to.

This preposterous arrogance is not wanted anywhere in football outside of the clubs that have drafted this plan.

On behalf of everyone associated with Everton, we respectfully ask that the proposals are immediately withdrawn and that the private meetings and subversive practises that have brought our beautiful game to possibly its lowest ever position in terms of trust end now.

Finally we would ask the owners, chairmen, and Board members of the six clubs to remember the privileged position they hold – not only as custodians of their clubs but also custodians of the game. The responsibility they carry should be taken seriously.

We urge them all to consider what they wish their legacy to be.

These are sentiments with which most genuine football fans across Europe, never mind the UK, will agree. Sadly, the motivating factor behind the Superleague is not the improvement of the game in Europe, but brand marketing internationally, especially in south Asia. The South Korean habitués of the Juventus Bar or the Liverpool Bar could not give two won for promotion and relegation in the English leagues and are probably familiar and comfortable with the American sports franchising system. It is rumoured that the backing for the Superleague comes from a large US investment bank and a streaming service. Many of the teams in the twelve breaking away are American-owned. 

UK politicians now have a decision to make. After years of benefiting from the reflected glory of the successes of English and Scottish league teams on European fields, not to mention the exploits of the Welsh and English national teams, they should feel that they have to give something back to the game. There have been fighting words from prime minister Johnson, but so far his only action has been to set up a committee, a typical civil service cop-out. The fact that it is to be chaired by a former Conservative MP further casts doubt on its value. 

One measure which could be brought forward relatively quickly and would surely gain majority parliamentary support is to give fans, by law, controlling interest in league clubs, as the Guardian reports is the case in Germany. The "fit and proper person" league rule as to club ownership could be given legal teeth. 

The alternative is to stand aside from Superleague developments, accept that the big football teams are no longer sporting clubs but businesses, and treat them as such. There should be no more hidden subsidies. The Revenue should no longer give them an easier ride than other commercial entities. The concession to alien sportsmen (and women) that they alone can by-pass immigration regulations should end.

One fears that what will happen is neither one thing nor the other. The government will huff and puff but do nothing of consequence. The result will be that a few rich football teams will prosper, but lose touch with their tradtional followers. The grass roots, the weekend amateur clubs on the King George Memorial playing-fields and the like will no doubt survive, but British football will be hollowed out as the professional league clubs in the Championship and below go to the wall.

If Johnson and his advisors take the trouble to look ahead, something they have conspicuously failed to do on weightier matters, they will see that a government which came to power on a populist agenda will be seen to have destroyed the people's game in this country. Moreover, because Murdoch does not have an interest in the Superleague, which may even pose a threat to Sky, he will find the Sun, the Times and other Murdoch media against him. Electoral catastrophe looms, not because the Tories failed to keep Covid-19 out, nor because they lied about Brexit, but because of ordinary people being denied the spectacle of their local favourites kicking a ball about on a Saturday afternoon.

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