These past 48 hours in football history have seen the fans, and tradition, given another beating. Don’t, however, think that is a new concept. STEFFAN CHIRAZI explains
AS the story of this proposed European Super League broke, as it circulated like an international tornado, and as it started to fall apart in real-time, with a flood of public outcry against the “disgraceful” plan which would “ruin our game”, “take it from the working class” and “show fans they don’t matter”, I found myself getting increasingly angry. Certain things are a reality; there are a lot of arrogant, rich bastards currently swanning about sans a shred of empathy for anyone, we are all at the whims and mercies of said-bastards to a certain degree, and such bastards don’t look like changing their colours anytime soon. But the cringingly sanctimonious media (and public) rush to be heard proclaiming ‘moral’ virtues was getting impossible to accept quietly.
So I couldn’t.
Thus I decided to sit down and write this for my own therapy as much as anything. I’ll share it with you too. Here goes…
Let me first be very clear. I personally despised the idea of this ESL, like any football supporter with a soul, but I also knew that if it happened, my club needed to be at the same table or else probably go into financial ruin. It was most certainly not the most comfortable of places to be, morally knowing what a great pile of shit the proposal was, yet understanding why my club was left with little option but to buzz around the giant turd for a feed or else be swatted away into oblivion. But this thought that it represented the exact moment “football lost its soul” was ludicrous to me, and surely to anyone with a memory greater than that of a common household gnat.
Was anyone falling for Gary Neville’s rant as he brandished a mic with the SKY logo on it? Was the person who showed up outside Stamford Bridge waving a placard with an image of Drogba and the words ‘NO TO SUPERLEAGUE – DREAMS CAN’T BE BOUGHT’ exercising humour so dry as to make the Sahara look like an oasis? And then we had this, from Gianni Infantino, the President of those charitable humanitarians, FIFA.
“I’ve been working very hard and investing a big part of my life to defend the principles and the values which have given this success to the European football. We hope, of course, that everything will go back to normal, that everything will be settled but always, always with respect. Always acting responsibly and always with solidarity and always in the interest of national, European and global football.”
I’ve italicized certain parts of that quote for greater effect. It is worth remembering the Infantino was suspected of having broken FIFA ethics in 2016, and was interviewed by the FIFA Ethics Committee. Cynic that I can be, this seems to me like a bar manager investigating his friend, and celebrated nightly customer of 20 years, for being a suspected alcoholic.
Let’s not cheat UEFA President Aleksander Ceferin of his moral moment in the sun.
“I cannot stress more strongly at the moment that UEFA and the football world stand together alongside this disgraceful, self-serving project from a select few clubs in Europe fueled by greed above all else,” Ceferin said. “This idea is a spit in the face of all football lovers and our society as well. We must not let them take [football] away from us. I have seen many things in my life, I was a criminal lawyer for 24 years. I’ve seen many people. I’ve never seen anyone like that…”
Strange to think he never met the likes of Lennart Johansson, Michel Platini or Sepp Blatter, but hey, I suppose it is possible that one was in the loo as the other was leaving the building. And yes, I know Blatter was FIFA, but I’m sure they all shared brown lunch-saks together.
As if THIS wasn’t Twilight Zone enough, in came the politicians, unable to resist their own moral yearnings and thus desperate to (as ever) show they have the public at heart. Here was that people’s champion Boris Johnson (via Twitter of course):
“Earlier Oliver Dowden and I met with representatives from the FA and Premier League and football fan groups to discuss action against the proposed European Super League. No action is off the table and we are exploring every possibility to ensure these proposals are stopped.”
To cap it all, Dowden (the Culture Secretary) criticized the ‘…the big six English clubs…’ for going ‘…against the very spirit of the game.’
He added that they, “…should remember that they are only temporary custodians of these clubs and that they forget fans at their peril”.
The very same Johnson whose party single-handedly assisted the destruction of football as a working class sport in the ‘80s.
The very same Dowden who seems to have been OK letting grass routes football fight for oxygen and slowly perish as the covid restrictions kept on and on.
The queue for virtue has been quite something these past 48 hours, and of course it has sucked in millions of covid-frustrated, angry and increasingly disillusioned members of the public. They in turn have been flooding all manner of social media and broadcast channels with their vitriol and outrage at how this will ‘ruin the game for the aforementioned working class, and how utterly ‘disrespectful’ it is.
Again, personally I agree that the European Super League was always a disgraceful idea, thankfully however, my memory is slightly better than that of said-household gnat, and I can remember times not too far back when all of these issues were being shoved in our faces in just the same way.
Because it appears that everyone in the UK has forgotten what happened on May 27th 1992, when the ‘new Premier League’ was formed in a breakaway from the Football League (founded in 1888) to ‘take advantage’ of lucrative TV rights deals, with Sky being at the forefront (that is the Sky which is owned by philanthropist Rupert Murdoch). Currently, the TV partners for the Premiership are Sky Sports, BT Sports, Amazon Prime and BBC for highlights only. Those are the UK ones; look up the international rights. It boggles the mind to even consider the amount of money being taken in. Then consider the lengths to which these broadcasters go to preserve your experience as a loyal supporter, you know, normal 3pm kick-offs with mid-weeks at 7.45, the ability to see a few games a week on your own terrestrial TV service, decent ticket pricing, affordable transportation to away games, that sort of thing…if you’ve just read that thinking I have it wrong, you’re right. I have. What I described has long gone. And Because the truth is, domestically, the Premiership has had no more than the required amount of interest in your experience as a supporter, and has incrementally been chipping away at them via absurd kick-off times, bizarre match dates and an upwards spiral of pricing that do not(by any stretch of any imagination) have the ‘fans interests at heart.’ I’ve also heard it all before, back in 1992, and again when the Champions League expanded. Cries of, “I’m done with my club they can fuck themselves!” flooded pubs everywhere, only for these warriors of virtue to show up again a few days, weeks or months later because they are addicts just like me.
UEFA have also done their part, bless.
In 1992 the European Cup was binned off for the Champions League, and in 1997, the whole tournament was expanded further to include more group games over a longer stretch of time. If you want to wade through the qualification criteria, be my guest, but rest assured, financial gain was paramount in all plans. In 2021, there will be further expansion, and the creation of a third tournament -the Europa Conference League- which will ostensibly act as a European tournament for the “third tier” after the Champions League and the Europa League (which was itself created in 2009 with the UEFA Cup getting mothballed and the Cup Winners Cup having received the same treatment a few years earlier). The “magic” of European football seems within the reach of more clubs than ever, but the reality is that the money these tournaments generate continues to create a greater wealth gap between clubs than ever before. If you think the system is going to see Burnley in the Champions League any time soon, then send me your bank information and password so as I can help you make more of your money. By the way, this is the same UEFA that insisted on holding a Europa League Final between Arsenal and Chelsea in Baku and only giving them 6,000 tickets each for a 68,000 seat stadium in . The same UEFA who for our CL Final in 2019, gave both us and Liverpool a derisory total of 33,226 tickets TO SHARE for a 68,000 capacity stadium; fans first always, lifeblood of the game.
As for FIFA, well, there isn’t the page space, so glossing swiftly over the details of the 2015 FIFA corruption case which saw arrests for bribery, fraud and money laundering, just take a few minutes to absorb the details being Qatar 2022. I will give you one. Approximately 6500 migrant workers have died during site construction for the tournament. Since 2010, an average of 10 migrant workers from the likes of India, Pakistan, Nepal, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka have died each week. According to quotes in Sports Illustrated (my source for this information) those numbers are light a few bodies too. Remember though, “…always acting responsibly…”
…Oh I could go on.
Where has football been for the lower and non-league clubs during this pandemic?
How has football helped supporters achieve an affordable day out at a top match?
Hasn’t football been flexing the schedule for international followers for over a decade already?
Hasn’t the Premiership essentially been the same 5 or 6 clubs battling it out thanks to the riches those clubs have amassed?
How did Uefa protect football when it allowed Man City to dance around the Financial Fair Play rules in July 2020?
How has football protected itself when the likes of Chelsea were allowed to sign dozens of young players and loan them simply so as rivals couldn’t have them?
So again, whisper it…the Premier League, the Champions League, UEFA and FIFA do not actually place you or I at the top of their ‘concerns’ list. The ‘sanctity’ of the game is also not their primary driver and hasn’t been for decades. The money grab has been going on for years, and the greed syphons are only getting greater. That this ESL proposal even became a proposal says as much about the arrogance and entitlement of all those bodies as it does the equally clueless and arrogant owners who were behind it. Yet the fallout has left the Premier League, UEFA and FIFA looking like shining lights of normalcy and (shudder) tradition, while the likes of Abramovich and Mansour are suddenly benevolent saviours of the game for withdrawing from the ESL proposal abruptly (they have enough large dollops of filthy lucre between them already). It all reminds me of seeing George W Bush getting a hall-pass into credible guy world simply because he wasn’t Donald Trump. And it disgusts me as much as the ESL proposal.
We are all complicit.
We all look the other way when it suits us.
Nobody’s really doing much to tackle racism beyond some t-shirts and the knee, and nobody’s in the streets raging about dead migrant workers building an air-conditioned World Cup which will drop right in the middle of the 2022 season.
Where’s the anger? Where’s the outrage? Where are all those bastions of football leadership speaking about it, doing something about it? Where’s Boris saying we won’t compete in places which violate human rights so brazenly?
And here’s one you likely don’t know, or think, about. The flood of young men from the African continent who end up mistreated and disused as their families pay exorbitant sums to try and ensure their sons become professionals in Europe’s top leagues. The stories are out there, in publications ranging from The Guardian to Al Jazeera to When Saturday Comes (here’s the link to their excellent piece https://www.wsc.co.uk/stories/14102-player-trafficking-the-dirty-secret-of-football-s-global-transfer-business) yet I haven’t heard Infantino address it any way, shape or form, let alone the Premier League.
So do me a favour.
As you settle back and rejoice that ‘real’ football has ‘won’ and that ‘the greedy’ have not been ‘allowed’ to ‘win’, try to check your hypocrisy.
Try to hold yourself accountable. Try to maintain a grip. And if you really, really give a shit about the game, maintain your vitriol towards the OGs of football greed now that ‘normal service has been resumed’.
It’s OK, we’re all hypocrites to a degree, we’ve all bought into -and gone along with- the increasing shit that these bodies have thrown at us and our clubs. That’s why these vampires love football, because there’s a core of addicts like you and I who enable them to behave as they wish.
My fear is that those vampires will now behave worse, and with more impunity, than ever. Let’s hope I’m wrong and some good for the moral compass of the game will come of all this. Forgive me if I cynically suggest it won’t…