I was interested to read the response of the Football Supporters Association statement on the totally unsurprising news that Manchester United and Liverpool are in talks with fellow European Big Clubs with a view to setting up a European Super League. Here are the words from FSA CEO Kevin Miles:
“The latest reports of plots, allegedly involving Manchester United and Liverpool, to create a European Super League, expose the myth that billionaire owners care about the English football pyramid, or indeed anything other than their own greed.
“This has to be the last nail in the coffin of the idea that football can be relied upon to regulate itself: these billionaire owners are out of control. Football in all its forms in the UK, from grassroots to the top tier, occupies far too important a place in our society, our culture and our communities to be jeopardised by an even greater concentration of wealth in the hands of half a dozen big clubs.
“Decisive action is now needed to protect the game we love. We have already been promised by government a fan-led review of the governance and regulation of football: that process needs to start as a matter of urgency before the super-rich custodians of the biggest clubs can do any more damage.”
Where to begin with a statement that seems to be, at least on the face of it, entirely reasonable. Firstly, there was no need for Miles to expose a non existent myth that somehow the Premier League owners give a toss about the ‘English football pyramid.’ They’ve never cared, so there was never a myth to expose. In fact, greed was the very essence of why the Premier League was formed in the first place. Next, from 1992 onwards, when the EPL was formed, they have regulated themselves. Miles’s reference to “an even greater concentration of wealth in the hands of half a dozen big clubs” bears further examination so I’ll come back to that in a moment. Finally, “decisive action is now needed to protect the game we love” but not perhaps in the way Miles has envisaged. I have a very different point of view.
The idea of a European Super League goes back decades, to when the European Cup was a simple knockout competition. The advent of the Champions League meant that the majority of participating clubs were not actually champions, but it seemed to be a halfway house between the old cup and a European league. In truth, the mooted European Super League was always going to be the ultimate goal and anyone who thinks otherwise hasn’t been paying attention. The concerns of Miles and the FSA appear to be founded upon maintaining the status quo by trying to stop the rich clubs having all the money. My reaction is simple: if the big six want to break away to join a European Super League, just let them.
I can imagine the fears of some supporters, particularly those from other Premier League clubs who are terrified their income would be mightily diminished by the departure of The Big Clubs. Well, yes it would, but I don’t see that as a bad thing. If income from broadcasters was reduced, players would earn a lot less. Yes. And? Many EPL players earn hundreds of thousands a week. If they earned a couple of hundred grand a year, they would still earn vastly more than most people in the country. They would still bank a million quid in five years. And it would be cheaper for fans to buy tickets. But there’s more than that.
The Big Six disappear and let’s say the EFL returns to a 92 club league, with four divisions, named First, Second, Third and Fourth. Learn to live without Manchester United, Liverpool et al, whose fans would still see all their games, probably by pay per view. People in those areas from where the Big Clubs have departed might just pine for the old days of local derbies, of pre match pies and pints, of watching players come through the ranks who live in the world as they do. It might be an organic, evolutionary change, but let’s not even try to persuade the Big Boys to stay.
Separate from the FA, players playing for European Super League clubs might no longer be eligible to play for their own countries. The best ones would be left to choose between the honour of playing for their countries or aiming instead to trouser as much money as they could. The FA Cup would remain and, with any luck, be competed for by clubs who actually wanted to play in it instead of treating it as a meaningless kick about for the youth team. It would inevitably become the European Super League franchise, where squillionaire owners would bid against other squillionaire owners to have a piece of the action. Then, stick it on a new PPV channel for the Big Club fans and the rest of us can have our football back.
I see no merit in begging the Big Clubs to stay, to cobble together some squalid compromise whereby they stay in a massively reduced top flight, armed with even more money that they could easily maintain vast squads to compete on both a European Super League and arguably dominate still more a half-arsed revamped still uncompetitive Premier League.
A European Super League opens up a myriad of possibilities but the brightest one for me is the genuine possibility that we might get take back control of football. We might then seek to democratise our national game to make sure the horrors of the Premier League and European Super League never happen again. The latter point is for another day but waving goodbye to those clubs who don’t want to play in our league anymore is for today. Let’s get ready to wave.