Fan power prevails. Let's harness its potential
QPR fan, Ray Snoddy picks over the bones of the European Super League and suggests what should happen now
Just imagine for a moment that the new European Super League, announced out of the blue on Sunday, was going ahead- which of course it is not.
What would have happened next?
There would have been chaos, the destruction of football competitions and existing historic structures, the dynamiting of fan loyalty, followed by endless litigation.
Current television rights deals would have been torn-up as contracts were breached, and at least in the short-term, the finances of the remaining clubs, already hit hard by the pandemic, would have been further undermined.
Avid fans of Liverpool FC might have had to start supporting Everton and the poor football fans of Manchester would have had nowhere to go because both Manchester City and Manchester United in particular, were up to their necks in this dark plot.
There would have been a better than even chance that the likes of the mighty Amazon, which has already shown more than a passing interest in live sport, would have swooped to buy the television rights.
It might have been more likely that the putative League would have taken control of its own broadcasting rights so better to abstract more money from fans of the big clubs scattered across the world.
The greatest significant of such a League would have been a victory for the American billionaire owners of British clubs who have no interest in football and are rarely, if ever seen at games.
They would have managed to import American sports franchise culture into Europe – where a baseball or basketball team can be uprooted and transferred across country at the whim of the owner.
The only thing even remotely like it to happen here was the hugely controversial move in 2003 of Wimbledon becoming MK Dons in Milton Keynes and the club is still hated for the manoeuvre.
At the heart of the now dead European Super League was the deeply offensive American concept of permanent membership – life everlasting with no prospect of relegation, or indeed promotion.
No jeopardy. No movement. No excitement. Simple.
The scheme, therefore, carried within it the seeds of its own destruction – the same old clubs playing the same old clubs week in week out, and mid-week to boot with little chance of a surprise.
The result would have been falling attendances and audiences and a less attractive “product” for advertisers and sponsors.
The international audiences may not even have materialised because of the timings. Would mid-week evening games in Europe really attract millions in the middle of a working night in Asia?
If the very serious plot had gone ahead, the remaining 14 clubs of the Premier League would have had little choice, and they would certainly have had the power, to exclude the six rebel clubs, however illustrious, from their league and bring in fresh blood from the Championship.
UEFA, the European football organisation, would have little option but to exclude the rebel clubs from existing competitions and their players might have been prevented from representing their countries in the up-coming Euros, with FIFA taking a similar line for the World Cup.
Instead, American sports culture has been shown the door.
We no more want it than we want American police culture, whilst huge reputational damage has been caused to the six clubs involved who plotted in secret without consulting anyone.
Future derision will be their fate.
It is even possible that some of the American owners, who have been thwarted in their desires, might now sell-up, to widespread cheers.
Slightly bizarrely, we are now going to have an inquiry into the state of football when the cause of its creation has evaporated in the face of fan fury.
Such a crisis should not be wasted and if football is to be more than an anonymous, international business and reflect its origins and community roots, several simple measures would help.
They involve greater fan influence and greater media visibility for the sport.
Elected fan representatives on club boards would be a small step forward but for anything of substance to change, a much more radical step is needed – golden shares.
Fans, members or season ticket-holders should hold a golden share with the power to block unwelcome changes of ownership.
Particularly, in the case of quoted companies this would require legislation and now is the time to persuade the Government, following the inquiry, to turn fine words into action.
More power to fans would also stop any further attempts by a cabal of rich owners to disrupt the history and continuity of the sport for little reason other than self-enrichment.
Greater media visibility, and associated advertising, is another huge issue.
In line with the tradition of protected events the Government could mandate that a percentage of games covered by broadcast contracts should be available on free-to-air television.
There has been an element of that during the lockdowns and greater visibility as a result.
It almost certainly would be in the best long-term interests of the game –in an age of ever increasing competition for the attention of consumers, particularly fans of the future.
The pandemic has given another signal. Fans, for instance of QPR (this one included) have been able to watch live feeds home and away for £10 a go.
When it will feel safe, or comfortable, to go back to the stands is unclear.
Greater flexibility is now needed so that fans whether of uncertain age or vulnerability, who are unhappy to return for now, should still be able to pay for live feeds.
Likewise, most fans have neither the time, nor the money or even the inclination, to travel across the country for away games. Why should they not be able to watch and contribute?
The small number of true diehards will continue to turn-up.
As for the six big English clubs who were prepared to upend the pyramid of football for their own selfish interests, a special place in hell is reserved for those who plot in secret and fail.
Football fans have very long memories. A player who was seen to have “betrayed” a club by joining a rival is roundly booed when he returns to his old ground, even 10 years later.
As the Sun put it on its front page, in a reference to the traditional cruel football shout at clubs about to be relegated: “Cheerio! Cheerio! Cheerio!”
On the back page: “Six As a Parrot” – the six errant chairmen in a cage in a reference to Month Python’s dead parrot sketch.