I’d like to think that I’m past the point of no return with football. I’d like to think I’m too invested to ever give it up at the drop of a hat and take up an interest in fishing, or even worse, horse racing.
Last week made me rethink that assumption.
So here is the first of the new #FootballLeaks stories from @EICnetwork : a suggestion that 11 European clubs have been negotiating to form a Super League. 5 Premier League clubs included. pic.twitter.com/Hq5hQLT71s
— Dan Chapman (@DanFullContact) November 2, 2018
Although the document appears about as legitimate as half the clubs’ financial fair play records, you can’t help but feel there’s no smoke without fire.
Increased talk over a potential European Super League in the last week is yet to provoke a public denunciation from any of the 16 clubs rumoured to be involved and FIFA President Gianni Infantino’s warning to advocates of the idea suggests that this is far from a complete hoax.
Announcing that FIFA plans to ban players from appearing at tournaments such as World Cups and European Championships if they break away to a non-UEFA ran Super League, football’s favourite baldy in a suit isn’t the only one who knows that club football as we know it could be destroyed by the proposal.
The issue hasn’t proved to be a divisive one such as V.A.R., the consensus from real fans is that a Super League would be an awful idea.
For years, football fans have been marginalised. Hooked on the drug that is football, the biggest clubs (such as those in the document leaked by Der Spiegel) have taken advantage of this addiction, stripping so much of what is great about football away while charging more for the match day experience in the process.
This seems like the straw that will break the camel’s back, the end of the football era we currently live in. The end of football supporter culture as we know it, and not just among Europe’s elite.
There is something intrinsically brilliant about the national league format of football used worldwide. Going to watch your team home & away every week is a tribal experience, not in a barbaric way, but in a cultural way.
When travelling away from home, both supporters and their beloved team are entering enemy territory. In that away end, the visiting fans are often surrounded by a different culture, a different set of values, a different way of doing things and a different sense of regional pride and national patriotism.
That away end represents their own city or town’s culture and traditions as well when on the road. It quickly becomes more than wanting your team to score more goals than their team.
Liverpool away end! pic.twitter.com/uFK3BUBG65
— DaveOCKOP (@DaveOCKOP) March 17, 2016
It becomes about justice. It becomes about what you see as “right” overcoming and defeating what you see as “wrong”, as ultimately, most football fans believe their way of doing things is ‘the right way’. Otherwise, why would we do them?
The natural rivalries that build up through politics, geography, class divides or one team just being a bunch of knobheads (e.g. Chelsea). As well as six-pointers, bogey teams and aggro between managers means that every game has a storyline behind it. Every opponent has a distinct identity that you just can’t put into words, you either get it or you don’t.
Take Stoke City from 2008 to 2013 for instance. For a club that had little to no significant impact on the actual league table during those five years, Stoke had an incredibly specific identity that players, fans and managers recognised and even feared. It wasn’t just Rory Delap’s monster throw-ins. It was the strangely open stadium and its location on the side of a motorway. It was their physicality on the pitch, their attitude, their fans in the stands. Even something as seemingly inconsequential as what time you kicked off against them became a big part of the game.
The unwritten norms of football just can’t be understood on a continental scale. Arsenal under Wenger, for example. When on a good run of six wins and a draw in the last seven games and they had to travel to the Liberty Stadium next, you just knew who was going to win it. It’s something unexplainable. When United were level at home with a minute to go against a Reading or a West Brom under Ferguson, you just knew they’d knick it.
These niches and subtleties are what makes the Premier League so special. Although, Sky dresses it up to be a series of games played on a world stage. Week in, week out at the grounds, the culture around football is a reflection of the country and of society at that time. That’s what makes football brilliant. That’s what makes football so much more than 22 lads kicking a ball around.
A Super League will disenfranchise supporters further. It will not promote football among those who ‘get it’, it will only promote football among armchair fans across the globe. The type of ‘supporter’ who although claiming to follow Real Madrid, wouldn’t recognise the names of Di Stefano or Raul.
A Manchester United fan who doesn't know who George Best is?!
We all know a plastic fan like this… ? pic.twitter.com/ggEfJG4B2z
— Soccer AM (@SoccerAM) October 11, 2017
As I write this, it’s half-time in between Juventus and Manchester United in Turin. UEFA’s new seeding system for the Champions League’s group stage draw and the newly-altered qualification format has already made mega clashes like this one a frequent occurrence in the group stage in recent seasons.
Last year saw Bayern Munich and Paris Saint-Germain drawn together in the pre-Christmas section of the competition. The season before had Manchester City and Barcelona pitted against one another. The increased frequency of these games has made super ties such as Juventus vs United slightly run-of-the-mill and somewhat stale, a problem that will only get worse as the years go by.
A Super League will take away the idea of a ‘big match’, as every match will involve the elite of Europe. Those who believe that the proposal for 2021 will bring more entertainment to the game we love are the same people who believe you can solve poverty by printing money and giving it to the poor.
A Super League will make the aims of those left in domestic competitions redundant. How could Levante claim to be the best team in Italy following a Serie A win just because Barcelona are too busy giving Borussia Dortmund a pasting over in Germany?
But this storm too should pass. One would think there’s simply too much of an opposition to the idea, and that the worst case scenario would be a compromise, some sort of a halfway house where teams stay in their domestic leagues and the European competitions as we know them are reformed.
At least whoever made the document had a sense of humour. Of course, Tottenham aren’t in there.
All the best.