Poorly conceived, badly executed and ideologically rotten, the European Super League was an expensive and hilarious fiasco.
The owners of those 12 “founding” clubs have rightly taken the bulk of the blame for the whole mess. Varying degrees of stupid, greedy and desperate, it’s been wonderful to see the whole thing implode instantly underneath them.
Previously unloved football authorities, broadcasters and even governments have managed to recast themselves as heroes, with their own past avarice and incompetence seemingly forgotten.
And while some have taken a moment to ask whether the likes of UEFA, FIFA, Sky or Boris Johnson really deserve more than the slightest of thanks for their *push-you-and-catch-you* “saved your life!” routine, there’s been wall-to-wall self-congratulation from fans for their role in killing off the ESL.
Of course JP Morgan and the owners of the dirty dozen deserve everything they’re getting, but the fans and football press have failed to take the slightest responsibility for the mess in which football’s found itself.
For decades now, egged on by a media that loves constant sackings, sensationalism and storytelling, fans have played a key role in turning the game upside down.
Winning (and losing) is a vital part of any sport, but the pervasive idea that winning is everything and losing is nothing is necessarily self-destructive.
In a division of 20 teams, only one can win the title. Chuck in a few cups and maybe a bit of winning is spread around. But the idea that nearly all teams are “failures” every year and that these clubs “need” sackings and signings to rectify that sets a perpetual transfer machine in motion.
This utterly destructive spiral has been seen as an inevitable consequence of modern football, and with the honourable exception of The Ugly Game author Martin Calladine, few have seriously explored any of the multiple options for getting out of this whole mess.
And the obsession over player transfers hasn’t just equalled the sensible weekly worry about winning and losing football matches. It’s easily surpassed it. We’ve all read countless articles from journalists who should know better weighing up whether or not winning the FA Cup or even the League will facilitate buying players, rather than rightly seeing those trophies as triumphs in and of themselves.
Fans themselves are frequently even worse. From the terraces to Twitter, the constant cry is “spend some fucking money”.
Ticket prices and the cost of TV subscriptions skyrocket. Matchday employees in the capital are routinely paid less than the London Living Wage. Backroom staff are sacked midway through a global pandemic. All the while, transfer fees, player wages and agents’ fees rise and rise.
Yet for all the crimes and misdemeanours of various club owners, the one thing that routinely got fans of all clubs exercised before the ESL debacle was the worry that rich owners weren’t pumping in more money to clubs by “investing” in players.
Fans always complain that they’re not being listened to. In fact, the thing they yell about the most is what they’re actually getting a fair amount of: spiralling, unsustainable, game-destroying spending on transfers and wages.
If anything, it’s only the relative (if obviously self-interested) restraint of owners that has kept this horrorshow on the road as long as it has.
Clubs who spent beyond their means for years and decades and now face financial worries or even bankruptcy deserve little sympathy.
They reaped the suspect rewards of this “investment” by crushing their opponents on the pitch, collecting trophies like ever-more meaningless baubles and hoovering up fans, commercial deals and revenue at the expense of all the other clubs. And all the while their fans cheered on every galactico’s signature.
Remarkably, even as The Twelve’s owners made their embarrassing public apologies for their part in the ESL affair, the genuine response from a large percentage of fans was, “We’ll forgive you… if you sign Mbappe/Haaland.” They have learned absolutely nothing.
Beyond the laughter, the best bit about the rise and immediate collapse of ESL has been the proof that fans really do have an incredible amount of power. Now’s the time to use it.
Keep picketing. Keep protesting. But instead of urging your club to spend £100m on a player (and £300k a week on his wages), maybe suggest they take a year off buying anyone at all.
Ask them to pay their other staff a fair wage. Ask them to put some serious money into the local community on which the history and culture of their entire commercial venture is based.
Ask them to have cheaper season tickets and a matchday allocation for local schoolkids. Ask them to push for regulations to prevent the changing of match dates and times with minimal notice to please broadcasters. Maybe even ask them to push for a minimum number of free-to-air league games every season.
You’ve proved you’ve got the power. Now’s the time to use it to do more than preserve the rotten status quo.