A line has been crossed. With the announcement of plans for a self-styled cabal of “leading clubs” to create a European Greed League, things have changed forever. Because the unelected, unaccountable billionaires that run these clubs have proved they are unfit to be in charge of the great sporting institutions they purport to lead.
The thing that makes sport so attractive is the idea of jeopardy – the fact that you don’t know who is going to win until the game is played. Combine that with the unique way clubs in this set of islands are deeply rooted in community and history, and with the strong feelings of identity all this creates, and you have a remarkable business. The trouble is that the dullards currently running the bigger clubs don’t understand the value of what they have. And they are doing their best to kill the goose that laid the golden egg.
They have put forward plans for a competition in which the chances of losing are so minimised as to render the spectacle pointless. All the better to predict and protect their investment. An endless round of games where the same clubs play each other for no other reason than to produce content that can be monetised. Apparently only what are insultingly called “legacy fans” are bothered about such nonsense as sporting merit and genuine achievement. The “fan of the future” just wants Barcelona v Manchester City in a different city every week.
Don’t be so sure. Football would never have developed such appeal if it had been set up on the principles these gangsters want. Gary Neville rightly called them “imposters”. They’ve skulked about in the shadows of a global pandemic, with the fans unable to gather and show what they think; they’ve tried to take government money while plotting their heist; they’ve dissembled and been disingenuous when asked direct questions. They are cowards who know their plans are opposed by the vast majority of supporters, by governing bodies, by pretty much everyone except billionaire owners, JP Morgan and a coterie of investors who will trade in whatever they think earns them a buck.
The crime has been to allow it to get to this position. But let’s eschew the smartarse whataboutery and hindsight that so often threatens to derail attempts to stop a bad situation getting worse. Let’s instead look at it from this perspective. Those opposing the European Greed League are not professional oppositionists or knee-jerk reactionaries. They are people who understand football is a business, who have engaged with it and argued for improvements and for the idea of sustainability. Now they are being slapped in the face by the people they tried to work with. While those people risk the great institutions they control being kicked out of competitions, their players banned from international games. And apparently they are fans too!
Fans value achievement. Being able to brag that we played better, got further, really achieved something – that’s the magic. Not being able to say you are in a better position than the other lot just because you sat in a room and helped count some money. The European Greed League proposals strike at the heart of the game and all we value in it. Your club could get relegated from the Premier League but still play Real Madrid three or four times a year while a team that finishes seventh in the Premier League is consigned to a second-string European competition. It’s an embarrassment, a league created to protect owners so incompetent they can’t even make the most of the inbuilt advantages they’ve created for themselves.
The time has come for government regulation, for mandatory fan involvement at board level and the kind of inbuilt fan veto that has ensured no German club backs this abomination. The time has come for a football wealth tax that really does ensure the wealth is spread more evenly and that competitive integrity is strengthened, not weakened. The time has come to cast out the imposters and to run this great game of ours in a way that sustains, that nurtures, and that preserves the precious qualities that make it such a good business.
Can it be done? Of course. The level of unity and the depth of opposition to these plans is unlike anything I’ve seen in over 40 years of being a fan. Making your voice heard can make a difference. So if you value this thing ours, this great game we made – make your voice heard as loudly and as often as you can.