It was revealed beyond all doubt this week that football at the highest level is rotten to the core, but of course we were all acutely aware of that already.
When five of the biggest clubs in England – plus hilariously Tottenham who were invited along for the joyride simply because their vehicle is shiny and plush – attempted to break away from the constraints of UEFA and form a European Super League, the response from the British public was one of outrage and disgust.
The ruthless avarice and overt sense of entitlement sickened the nation to its stomach. The closed shop nature of the proposal went against everything we hold dear regarding competitive sport.
But we weren’t remotely surprised by the development. Such a villainous power-grab, that threatened to harm the game root to branch, was entirely in character from the glorified gangsters who are installed in some of the most influential seats in world football and what’s more, the announcement last Sunday – that was depressingly timed to coincide with America waking up – had figuratively been in the post for some time.
We had all seen it coming sooner or later as evidenced by last year’s scuppered ‘Project Big Picture’, that was blackmail in all-but-name so the elite could get ‘special voting rights’ and greater control. Not only was this a rehearsal for what came next. It was an ominous signal of intent.
So, were we shocked when these same behemoths tried to claim the golden goose all for themselves, leaving the rest of the game to scavenge to survive? Absolutely. We were shocked at their shamelessness. Jolted by an act of opportunistic and self-serving venality during a global pandemic.
But were we surprised? Not one bit.
This is telling and it is meaningful too, when it’s acknowledged what was achieved in just two days when we collectively decided that enough was enough; that a line had been crossed and we would bear it no more.
Because when we all got together – fan-bases combining online in deafening condemnation; the government called to action; and the media who for once stopped playing it safe and instead bared its razor-sharp teeth – these architects of football’s demise swiftly backed down. They were put in their place. A wrong was righted.
And though this is a cause for celebration, with pats on the back all round as well as a swipe of the forehead in sheer relief, it also brings into focus an unsettling question: If we were able to stop this through sustained collective ire, what else might we have prevented had we cared enough?
To be clear: this is not an accusation that we have been complicit in football’s steady decline into a moral abyss; an abyss stuffed with fifty-pound notes and populated by shady individuals who only value profit and gain.
Ultimately, as much as we trumpet our deep and devoted love for football it is a pastime; a distraction. It is not beholden on us to govern or to arbitrate. Our only obligation is to support.
That though is only true to an extent. What about the ever-escalating prices of matchday tickets, that has excluded a generation and more from attending games since the Premier League’s founding in 1992? What about the ludicrous kick-off times and television networks scheduling Newcastle away at Brighton on a Monday evening? What about the grossly uneven distribution of not only wealth but hyperbole that gravitates to the supposed ‘big six’? What about agents becoming ‘super agents’ and bleeding the game dry or the miasmic, ever-present stain of racism that will never be stamped out while authorities continue to try and tackle it solely through token slogans?
All of this and much, much more has sullied the beautiful game, making it ripe for corruption and rife with unfairness so where was our unified stance against these wrongs? After all, if this week has taught us anything it’s that with sufficient strength of feeling and tribal differences put to one side it is we – the fans – who still retain a healthy degree of influence. An influence to change things.
Alas, for all of the examples given, we grumbled. We tweeted sarcastically. We undermined our condemnation by point-scoring over a rival. We said under our breath that the game was gone while rejoicing soon after at the signing of another multi-million pound forward.
All of that it seems is no more, however. Right now, we are mobilized, energized, and angry and with the rich and the powerful on the backfoot now is the time to capitalize and seek significant reforms.
An independent regulator needs to be introduced, one with genuine weight. The distribution of wealth needs to be addressed, making it fairer for all. The ‘fit and proper persons’ test has to be made fit for purpose with proper scrutiny so that charlatans and opportunists can no longer take control of our clubs and run them into the ground.
Presently UEFA, emboldened by the rare instance of being viewed as the good guys, are trying to put through new Champions League reforms, that will see under-performing marquee clubs given entry into the competition based on their ‘historical’ merit. No, we say. Enough is enough.
One of the most nauseating aspects of this past week was the revelation that leading clubs refer to us as ‘legacy fans’; that we are taken for granted and respected no more because what they desire are a new breed of supporter, the kind whose only consideration is which superstar is to be bought to salivate over via an expensive stream.
There is a rich irony here, because maybe – hopefully – the legacy of this week’s disastrous attempt to form a Super League is that we’ve been reminded of our obligation to keep football in check. We’ve remembered too that we have the ability to do this.
Because when we all come together, and speak as one, we truly do have one hell of a voice.