Much harrumphing and kerfuffle in the land from Sunday to Tuesday, as the European Super League was announced, deplored and abandoned faster than Boris Johnson impregnating an intern (allegedly). And lo there were many angry Facebook statuses, and verily did twitter work into a froth, and yea did a bunch of rather silly looking Chelsea fans make the front page of the Grauniad. All thoroughly gripping / bemusing / infuriating/ dull, depending on where you stand on football's insistence that it is the single most important thing inn the world ever.
I can't take the piss too much, I did my share of deploring and frothing. But I will take the piss a little.
What struck me most of all amidst the bile and dottle was that there was very little self-reflection among the decriers. Chief amongst the critics was one Mr G Neville,late of the parish of Manchester United. That's the Manchester Utd that was bought out with its own money in a leveraged deal which has loaded the club with a crippling amount of debt. The Manchester Utd of "Official Battery Partners"and "Official Mattress" Partners, one of the most nakedly commercial businesses on the face of the earth. And yet it somehow came as a surprise to him that this three-new-kits-a-season behemoth might want to fuck a few more nickels from that gagging world of football fandom.
Because there's no -one quite so self-deluding as a football, and the past week has exposed that in a particularly pitiless fashion. I've seen umpteen squillion comments about football being "the people's game", "the working man's game" about how a football club is something that transcends business, an ur-touchstone fora community, symbolising continuity, constancy, fealty.
To which the only answer is, have you seen how much a season ticket is at Liverpool these days? Do you know how much money it costs to have the three services you now need to pay for to ensure you'll see every one of your club's games? Some working men can afford it all but not,I would argue, the bulk.
The only surprise about this entire farrago is that it hasn't happened sooner. Football's finances are a basket case, they have been ever since the explosion in global TV rights which opened up a whole new world of people to sell poor quality polyester shirts to. Falling over themselves to capture the largest share of the new global audience, clubs paid players higher and higher wages, a never-ending upward death spiral. People scoffed at Spurs taking Bale back on loan this season, but ask yourself how many shirts that sold in China.
Rather than address this, it's a natural progression for the clubs most in hock to this rampant globalisation to seek a larger slice of the pie, or, failing that,a whole new pie. The ESL was the logical extension of football's transmogrification into entertainment, a process that's been happening since Gazza's tears in 1990. Football fandom in the 80s was sniffed at, we were louts, hooligans, Heysel and Hillsborough.After England's glorious failure in Italia 90, though,the middle classes started coming back: there was Nick Hornby's Fever Pitch, Roy Keane getting sniffy about people eating prawn sandwiches,highbrow discussion in broadsheets, Skinner and Baddiel. Football became less threatening, more family friendly (this is not a bad thing, of course),and the formation of the Premier League put rocket boosters under the whole shebang. It was sexy again, it was sellable again. I remember clubs in Newquay bouncing in Euro 96 to "Three Lions",we were young,we were optimistic and England weren't totally shit anymore.
This era morphed seamlessly into the era of the oligarchs,of rich men buying clubs and transforming their fortunes. And this was the point at which people really should have started paying attention,because it was now that things started getting out of hand. If you're okay with Roman Abramovich owning a football club , then you don't really have any business getting snotty about what he chooses to do with it. You've already said you're for sale, the rest is just haggling. It was now that clubs ceased to be clubs and became brands. A detail which escaped Neville (who did alright out of being a player in this era).
Sky's constant boosterism of its new toy, its manipulation of schedules to pack pubs out on "Super Sundays", games moving to colonise the whole week rather than the traditional 3 o clock on a Saturday afternoon all helped drive this inevitability. It's year zero insistence that football didn't exist before 1991 meant that the focus fell entirely on the big clubs, some of the grandest old names of the game were ignored. Do you remember that Nottingham Forest won the European Cup?That Aston Villa did? Sky don't. The only teams that counted were the, for want of a better phrase "Big Six" (and the only reason that Spurs are considered part of that club is we've got the newest stadium, I reckon).
While the ESL was undoubtedly a dreadful idea, it was an entirely unsurprising one. Football long ago showed that all it cares about is money. The fans have turned the other cheek for a long,long time as the game became ever more commercialised. No one batted an eyelid when a world cup was awarded to Qatar. Few questions were asked when blood-soaked regimes took over Manchester City and PSG. There are noble exceptions to this, of course, the principled fans who set up FC Utd of Manchester for example,but in the bland, corporate world of clubs as brands, business just kept rolling on.
Fan outcry was enough to stop it this time, but, sooner or later, the numbers will stack up in such a way that it won't matter if you've been a fan since childhood, they're taking your club anyway. The clubs have already shown that they don't really care about "legacy fans", and for as long as football continues to matter so much that such ludicrous expenditure is deemed necessary the lure of ever greater riches will be a constant temptation.