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For about 36 hours at the beginning of last week our most beloved team sport was thrown into an existential crisis when in the most outrageous move the game has ever seen, the six richest football clubs in the country announced their intention to join a new super league with the top teams from Spain and Italy.
In doing so, the owners of five of England’s top teams (and Arsenal) showed utter contempt for fans, their players and club managers, exposing not only an embarrassing ignorance of the role football has played in our society for almost 150 years, but also the actual philosophy of sport as a whole.
An invitation-only super league where no one faces relegation and the same teams would just go through it all again each season would take away the most important ingredient that separates sport from entertainment – competitiveness – rendering it the soccer equivalent of a snooker exhibition match or even worse, the WWE.
These clubs have the best head coaches in the world. Did they really think that the likes of Pep Guardiola or Jurgen Klopp would buy into this and stick around? Are Spurs owners ENIC so clueless that they think Harry Kane would want to be part of this circus? Or has club chairman Daniel Levy already resolved to cash in on his biggest asset on the field?
Of course, John W Henry, the Glazers and Sheikh Mansour. Khaldoon Al Mubarak may not understand the difference between fairground freak shows and football, but they do recognise the danger of damaging the Liverpool, Manchester United and City brands so when it became obvious from late on Sunday evening and through Monday that they had severely underestimated the passion, not only of their own fans, but of everyone who values our national game, players past and present (Gary Neville’s long held contempt for the Glazers almost became a call to arms on Monday evening) and even politicians, many of whom, like David Cameron, probably didn’t know the difference between the Hammers and the Villa before the weekend, the penny dropped on the potential worldwide damage to merchandising revenue.
With being thrown out of the Premier League altogether, clubs being barred from the Champions League and Europa Cup competitions and players prevented from representing England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland a real possibility, the backtracking began in earnest.
Manchester City was the first to withdraw with Chelsea quickly following with a statement that it was preparing documentation to do the same.
By the end of Tuesday, all of the English clubs had done a complete U-turn.
But the damage has been done and these billionaire owners can see what a huge mistake they made.
These are not people used to making apologies, but that’s what they’ve had to do over the past few days from Liverpool supremo John W Henry’s video where he accepted full responsibility for the upset the issue had caused to Manchester United’s terse: “We have listened carefully to the reaction from our fans, the UK government and other key stakeholders,” which you can tell almost choked them.
Others did the old tried and trusted expression of “regret” without actually saying sorry, because the only thing they’re actually sorry about is that they didn’t get what they want. Everything from now is about damage limitation.
Regardless of Real Madrid president Florentino Perez’s insistence that the clubs are bound by their contracts and cannot leave, the European Super League is as good as dead with only Real, Barcelona and Juventus still officially on board from the original 12.
The way supporters and football’s most respected figures came together with such force is no time at all shows that in the right numbers we can make a difference and this should stand as a message to any government or cabal of multinational bloodsuckers that they can no longer assume that the populace will be herded like sheep into situations it finds unacceptable.
That trying to mess with football was the moment we said as one: “NO!” is testament to the revered place it holds.
This will not be the last threat to our beautiful game, but if we want to continue attracting players of world class stature to our shores and keeping our own talent here, the big bucks needed to do that will inevitably come from people whose priority is definitely not football.
As the great Liverpool manager Bill Shankly once said: “Some people think football is a matter of life and death.
“I assure you, it’s much more serious than that.”