Super Leagues and Super Hypocrisy
The world of football was rocked on Sunday by the announcement of the new European Super League. Twelve of Europe’s biggest clubs have formed a new competition outside of the auspices of UEFA, underwritten and funded by the banking giant JP Morgan. The plan is for the elite clubs to play in a midweek competition running alongside the existing national leagues and UEFA competitions such as the Champions League and Europa League. This closed shop of invited guests has caused an uproar in football. People are, quite rightly, appalled by what they see as the ‘people’s game’ being hijacked for profit.
The biggest reaction has come from the existing competitions who feel threatened by this move. Six of the elite clubs involved; Arsenal, Chelsea, Liverpool, Manchester City, Manchester United and Tottenham; are part of the English Premiership. They are also, along with the Spanish and Italian clubs who have joined the super league, the big stars of UEFA’s flagship competition, The Champions League. What they object to, it seems, is the lack of merit involved, and the biggest clubs keeping the revenue generated to be shared among themselves. Most of the objections, to me, are quite clearly hypocritical. The hypocrisy and lack of self-awareness of the English Premier League and UEFA is staggering. What the elite cubs are doing is part of a trajectory started 30 years ago by the very organisations that are now bemoaning their plan. The reason that they are so angry about the idea is that, until now, the English Premiership and the Champions League were, effectively, the super leagues. Elite closed shops for the rich that shut out the smaller big clubs from outside the super-rich money-driven clubs.
We hear many in the English game say that this move will take football away from its grass roots, from the communities that support the clubs. But the grass roots and communities were left behind long ago. Match tickets for the biggest English teams are hard to come by, the clubs charge up to £100 for a ticket for a single match for ordinary tickets allocated to fans. The easiest way to acquire a ticket is through a sports package sold by events companies charging around £250 per person for the luxury of watching one of these teams.
The whole separation of the elite who keep the money for themselves started with the formation of the premier league breaking away from their own English Football League in 1992. Murdoch and SKY TV funded their super league to the detriment of smaller clubs. Since then the English game has become synonymous with the elite of football, astronomical salaries funded by the sponsorship of huge corporations and TV subscriptions.
Leeds United players protested against the ‘super league’ before their match last night by wearing t-shirts saying “Champions League – Earn It”. This is from a league whose 4th placed team “earn” an automatic Champions League slot as a “champion” while the champions of Scotland have to play 4 qualifying rounds to get there. There wasn’t a hint of irony in the action by Leeds’ millionaire footballers. The Champions League also began in the same year as the breakaway English Premier League. Initially the teams competing were actual Champions of European leagues, the member associations of UEFA. In the first year Rangers effectively reached the semi-finals, being second in one of the 2 groups where the winners went straight to the final.
But it It evolved as a closed shop for elite clubs. With each new development making it easier for the big clubs to enter, virtually guaranteeing them a place and the 20-30 million prize money for taking part and harder for smaller clubs and countries to break into their elite space. Now, by the time it gets to the last 16 it’s usually only clubs from the biggest 5 or 6 countries still involved. When the tournament starts next season 26 of the 32 places in the group stages are already decided with the 4 biggest leagues having at least 4 places each and the champions of 45 of Europe’s 55 national leagues having to scrap for the remaining places.
Of course Scotland is not innocent in all of this, our own top clubs split from the Scottish Football League in 1998 to form their own SPL, the bigger clubs taking a bigger share of the cake and making it harder for smaller clubs to reach the top flight.
This is all about money and greed. We all know this and probably all agree that the new European Super League is a bad development that will increase the divisions between the richest and poorest clubs in the game and have a detrimental effect on football in Europe if not worldwide. But those who are most upset are really only upset because their own greed has been trumped by those who are even greedier!