2007 - 2021

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!

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  1. Bill says:

    Of greater interest is the role of the Tory government and Boris Johnston. At the onset of Covid he missed a number of COBRA meetings and there was the consequent delay in action that could have saved lives. Two days in from the announcement of the new football league, he is chairing a meeting to do all that he can to prevent it.

    Will this cause people to forget – and thus enhance his reputation?

    Bill

  2. Alice says:

    First thing I thought too Bill…you could not make it up ….Boris must go to bed laughing at everyone and get up doing the same. Wonder when he will meet his downfall and what it could possibly be.

  3. Kevin Hattie says:

    Three of this year’s Champions League semi finalists are Chelsea, Manchester City, and PSG. It’s a meritocracy, of course.

  4. Maclean says:

    Hold on there. Now have the Tory posh rich boys telling the super rich you can’t do this , because they don’t like it . In fact they’re using it as a smoke screen to hide the Cameron corrupt case . Breaking the rules and bending people to do what you want Is what the unionist and Tory party has been doing to everyone for the last 300 hundred years . There was a soldier on DADS ARMY who said “ they don’t like it up’em” well the boots on the other foot, which happens to be mega rich . I say “Go for it as football has been a closed shop for far to long “ we need to change things as the ones that are shouting are the ones who got the money,so don’t believe a word or promise they make . All this shouting and mega media attention is to fool you ,how big a fool do you want them to make you . The Tories are rotten and will always be rotten to the core.

  5. Dougie Blackwood says:

    As is highlighted in the article, in Scotland the ship has sailed. Our football is nowhere to be seen on terrestrial TV. If England play San Marino it is guaranteed to be available on either BBC or STV. When Scotland play a vital, win or bust, qualifier we must go to a subscription organisation to watch it. BBC or STV might show minor clubs in Scotland playing meaningless matches but if there is a ny wider interest its on subscription to somebody. BT, Sky and Premiere will show the matches but it is not cheap. These companies hand out peanuts to our clubs while they spend £billions financing English football. Now the bigger fish in that bloated pool want to cream off most of the revenue for themselves.

    Our UK prime minister is first in line in an attempt to frustrate what is seen as a NATIONAL catastrophe where a few teams try to claim the ball. Welcome to the world of Scottish football, we’ve been there for many years.

  6. florian albert says:

    ‘This is all about money and greed.’

    There is certainly a lot of money and greed involved but the reaction against this proposed ‘league’ was – at least in part – an exercise in English nationalism. It was the opposition in England which sank the proposal. There was no comparable outrage in Spain or Italy. English football supporters are angry because club football is dominated by foreign billionaires, who have zero commitment to their clubs, except as a means of enrichment and of vicarious fame.
    What has happened in the past few days fits in with other manifestations of opposition to globalization.

    1. Pub Bore says:

      Yep, the furore down south exposes the bad faith of ‘fandom’: a sustained form of deception which consists of entertaining or pretending to entertain one set of feelings while acting under the influence of another.

      Fans of the big brands continue to be haunted by a past in which the object of their devotion is imagined as a club rooted in a local community, whereas outside of that imagination those ‘clubs’ are actually businesses rooted in global corporations that use the ghost of this imagined past as a marketing tool. It’s a fine example of the ‘hauntology’ to which Mike occasionally refers. The emotional outpouring with which the announcement of the plan for a European superleague was met sprang from the same well as that which accompanied the death of Prince Philip.

      Let’s just say that the devotion of Albion Rovers fans is far more authentic than that of a Manchester City or an Arsenal. Albion Rovers fans are under no illusions.

  7. SleepingDog says:

    Yes, it seems to be a straightforward extropolation of existing profitarian trends (the foul ‘game management’ comes from the same stable of risk management).

    I recently tried to persuade a USAmerican that Shakespeare was far less elitist (in ticket prices, anyway) than football (soccer) in the UK, but they were disbelieving. You can get into the Globe for a fiver, can’t you?

    What might football eventually morph into along elitist-populist lines? A bloodsport? A gameshow? A ballet? The Olympics is becoming a competition between pharmaceutical brands. I suppose the only reason that chopping the elite game into intervals between ad-breaks was rejected by the corporates might be that the introduction of near-real-time betting was more lucrative.

    I watched another of Al Jazeera’s Football Rebels documentaries, although this one (Cristiano Lucarelli: Champion of equality for the working class) teetered on the verge of hagiography. I understand that giving up a highly-lucrative contract to go play for your home town club may be a big decision, but if you stayed away for nine years amassing a personal fortune first, and you have just helped the team to promotion to Serie A during a loan spell, is it really much of a personal sacrifice given that you’ll be earning much more than a living wage anyway? Something interesting about the distortion that big money brings to perspectives in modern football, though.
    https://www.aljazeera.com/program/football-rebels/2021/4/14/cristiano-lucarelli-champion-of-equality-for-the-working-class

  8. maxwell macleod says:

    We have just witnessed a death that has rocked the nation and indeed countless millions across Europe have joined us in our abject despair.
    Such an outpouring of grief about something that was really just a system of keeping the masses subjugated and not engaged in addressing their real problems of social injustice, the polarisation of wealth and the imminent threat of climate change. Lazy people. some of them proven racists who live in massive castles being given huge amounts of money for not doing very much and being turned into demi gods whilst others struggled against terrible odds. Fantasies and pageantry being created in which people become obsessed by the wealthy showing off their largely undeserved power.
    Privileged people who live diabolically self indulgent lives being sold as exemplars we should worship, and being supported by the Establishment including the Prime Minister and Prince William who have dropped everything to attend to something that has caused other television news to be side-lined in a disgraceful manner. Crowds in the street weeping, mass hysteria. Dreadful.
    Yep lets hope the death of the super league has exposed some of the dangers to society of people worshiping football too much.

  9. Albert says:

    Thank you for writing this article! I’m glad I’m not the only one to find all the moral grandstanding repugnant.

    I found it telling how Jurgen Klopp was lavishly praised by the pundits for saying in a interview he didn’t personally approve of the plans, but in the same interview he also made it clear he would be staying as Liverpool manager regardless as he preferred to ‘help sort it’. Surely the best way for players and managers of these clubs to ‘help sort it’ is not by giving sententious interviews and sending out lame ‘protest tweets’ but by exercising the real power they have and withdrawing their labour? How much do their gestures really mean when they continue to draw multi-million pound salaries from the very system they are denouncing for its ‘greed’?

    Sadly, there is hypocrisy on the part of fans too. To all the fans who are now threatening to abandon their clubs – why has it taken you until now? Why didn’t you have a problem with supporting this rampantly corrupt commercial behemoth before? Without fan support, ultimately it dies. Be the change you want to see…

    Of course, fans are exploited in various ways, notably those with a historical attachment to these clubs which makes it harder to let go even after the club badge has long since become the logo of a faceless, rootless multinational corporate enterprise. I have come to suspect there is an untold and very dark story with regard to the exploitation of players also. Above, the poster ‘SleepingDog’ alludes to a pharmaceutical dimension of the modern sporting industry. That is part of the story. Young boys from poor backgrounds, recruited into the ranks of world-famous clubs, coming to glimpse the tantalising possibility of making millions, buying their mums mansions… hinging on a terrible choice. To those who have paid attention to the stories that have come out of professional cycling, understand that a Premier League footballer makes in a week what the average pro cyclist makes in a year. Then factor in the almost complete absence of effective testing in football – as many as 50% of players are not tested once in a full season. There are all sorts of slithering things below the surface…

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