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Football fans, don’t be fooled by your apparent victory over (European Super League) club owners

The fans won’t stand for it, screamed one pundit after another, as they got wind of plans for a European Super League. And indeed, as the rapacious and miserable move collapsed in on itself, it did seem like the supporters had triumphed.

Football supporters demonstrate against the proposed European Super League outside of Stamford Bridge football stadium in London, UK on April 20, 2021, ahead of the English Premier League match between Chelsea and Brighton and Hove Albion.

Football supporters demonstrate against the proposed European Super League outside of Stamford Bridge football stadium in London, UK on April 20, 2021, ahead of the English Premier League match between Chelsea and Brighton and Hove Albion.

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The fans won’t stand for it, screamed one pundit after another, as they got wind of plans for a European Super League.

And indeed, as the rapacious and miserable move collapsed in on itself, it did seem like the supporters had triumphed.

It would be churlish to deny that their unbridled fury has played a major role, though it would also be shortsighted to ignore the show of strength from both footballing and political authorities.

There will be many this week heralding fan power, celebrating a new dawn in which fans are taken seriously. 

And yet fans would be well advised not to read too much into the collapse of such an ill-conceived idea. The core misjudgment was less the misreading of the fans than making the proposal too nakedly self-serving.

We supporters may have a win but we should not delude ourselves. We remain the phytoplankton of the footballing food chain. 

Indeed, the English football fan is one of the most deluded and over-sentimentalised creatures in modern life.

Speaking as one of those sad season-ticket-holding souls, I can say that fandom is an absurd existence, a state so defying rationality as to be on a par with the purchase of religious indulgences.

We are, after all, people who sit in the stands bellowing match tips to world-class athletes: “Come on Ronaldo, cross it!”

It speaks volumes of the soppiness that mushes the brains of soccer fans that they were even surprised by the indifference of owners for whom this is an entirely transactional business.

The same is as true of the Premier League. Football’s existing rulers may have played the fan card, but their thoughts were to their own structures and futures.

This was more a clash of cartels than a David vs Goliath victory. 

Furthermore, it was not irrational for these owners to have contempt for the fans.

No amount of moral rectitude or community outreach counts with supporters if the team is losing; no qualms over the source of club cash matters if they are winning.

If the choice for Manchester City fans is Sheikh Mansour and Kevin De Bruyne or some local business figure and a centre-forward recently acquired from Rochdale, few fans will choose the righteous path. 

In some nations, fans do matter. In Germany, the rules guarantee the clubs’ members — the fans — a 51 per cent stake in them.

But England is not yet one of those nations. 

Over the course of my life, I have wasted thousands of pounds to sit in the wet and the cold, with barely edible stadium food, mostly to watch my team underperform. No wonder owners disregard us.

Our judgment is utterly flawed. The joy I got was sometimes from the match itself, but mostly from the time spent with my father or the spawn.

When the girl opted to go to the theatre instead, I rejoiced in the novel experience of being overcharged in the warm.

Soccer and the arts are forms of entertainment. But you rarely see headlines about how the audience won’t stand for it if the National Theatre decides to stage Mamma Mia!.

In return for our cash, we get to see a play. If the shows don’t appeal, we stop going. 

What makes football different is the aspect of self-identity that keeps us paying, however bad things are.

For a big team, this means taking the fans for granted is normally a safe bet.

Many top-tier teams have, via rising ticket prices, already replaced working-class fans with a more affluent cohort, and are happy to replace them again with a global television audience, most of whom will never visit the ground. 

Yet we allow ourselves to be seduced by players kissing their club badge weeks before they shove off for higher wages, and by managers and owners talking of doing it for the fans.

The only fans who cannot be taken for granted are those who support clubs so small and hopeless that the owners know them all by name.

So yes, let’s celebrate what looks like a victory against owners who over-reached. We should treasure the moment as most clubs celebrate a trophy, knowing it may be the last for some time. FINANCIAL TIMES

 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Robert Shrimsley is United Kingdom chief political commentator and UK editor at large of the Financial Times. 

Related topics

football European Super League English Premier League

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