• Matthew Whiley

The Flailing "European Super League" Has Proven Football Ownership Needs Reform

Updated: Apr 24

In summer 2007, when I was eight years old, my Grandad took me into the local JJB Sports shop.


He invited me to pick from the wall of football shirts I saw before me, with the blue of Chelsea, the red of Manchester United, even the maroon and blue of FC Barcelona all competing for my attention. This was the football offseason, so while the colours were the first thing I saw, the labels with “clearance” and “sale” plastered over the previous season’s kits had caught Grandad’s eye.


I adored him, and one of the reasons for that was his generosity. That said, though… my word, did he like a bargain.


I saw a shirt I liked. On the lowest shelf, at my eye level, was a white shirt with a dark green trim. The logo of a beer company – probably the best in the world – adorned the front of it. I took it to Grandad, and said this one was my choice.


That was to be the start of my love for Liverpool Football Club. I freely admit to being the stereotypical ‘armchair fan’ – it’s ten years since I last attended a game at Anfield – but I would argue my support for the club has been no less than that of the next man. I’ve bought memberships. I’ve queued online for tickets, unsuccessfully. I’ve proudly worn the famous old red shirt.


Until now.


Sunday 18th April 2021 will go down as a dark day in football history. It will be forever remembered as the day that eleven of Europe’s elite clubs, and Tottenham Hotspur, made a shameless grab for power and wealth.


Regardless of recent announcements of clubs quitting or not, let us never allow them to forget what they tried to do. Furthermore, the competition is still planned for the six non-English clubsmust keep fighting until the entire project is formally consigned to the bin.


The announcement provoked quite a few emotions, though. It made me angry. It was the final realisation that these owners really couldn’t give a hoot about the fans.


And it has made me, over the last 48 hours, rethink my support for Liverpool.


There will be those that argue it might be easy for me to say that, given that I’ve never really had a personal connection with the city itself, but I maintain you don’t have to be from a place to love it. I’ve visited Sydney, Singapore, Amsterdam, and Edinburgh, and I love all four places. I have no personal connection to any of them.


You pick your football team at the age that I did. You’re allowed to have more than one – I’ve always retained a (very) soft spot for Halifax – because football is all about each person’s individual take on the game. Football would be very boring if everyone held the same opinions on it, after all.


But frankly, now is the time for everyone to have the same opinion. That opinion has to be that this Super League project has proven that the ownership situation at several Premier League clubs is out of control, and urgent reform is needed.


If Liverpool had continued to press ahead with their involvement in this project, I would have immediately abandoned the football club I’ve supported since I was still in primary school.


Not because I’m disloyal, but because the football club I chose, initially because I liked their kit, then because I idolised Steven Gerrard, and more recently because I’ve realised throughout its history, it has been aligned to my worldview, would have revealed itself to be the exact opposite of everything I thought it was.


To be quite honest, they’ve probably revealed that anyway, whether they’ve withdrawn or not.


You’ll Never Walk Alone. The importance of the collective. Never leaving anyone behind.


The European Super League spits in the face of Liverpool’s most endearing and heartfelt motto.


It’s by the elite, for the elite, designed to ensure that a select group of clubs, that are neither currently the best nor the historically most successful but in fact just have the most money-making power, can pocket more and more cash at the expense of everyone else.


The owners had been conspicuous by their absences prior to the exodus of English clubs last night. Liverpool owners Fenway Sports Group abandoned Jürgen Klopp and his players to face questions from the press, with several having said they only found out about the proposals at the time the news broke.


Maybe this is the reason I’m not an immensely wealthy businessperson and Premier League football club owner, but if I was involved in a project I was proud of and expected a good public reaction from, I wouldn’t hide away from talking about it or try and avoid scrutiny.


Also conspicuous by their absences throughout all this have been German clubs. Surely any ‘European Super League’ that wanted to be taken seriously has to include teams from the, on average, most well-attended league on the continent? Not to mention the individual teams themselves, with Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund not involved.


Put together, those two clubs are worth £1.4 billion and have won twelve European trophies, including the most recent Champions League in Bayern’s case. What are the possible reasons for not having them involved?


Well, we can answer that quite succinctly, which is the German football dictates that a club’s fans must own a majority stake in the club. Colloquially referred to as the ‘50+1 rule’, this ensures that the decisions clubs make will be in the best interest of their fans.


So German clubs immediately rejected any possibility of participating in this sham. Simple.


This is a model that we must urgently adopt in English football, and in fact across the continent. However much they try and say the opposite, these billionaire owners do not have their communities’ best interests at heart. They have shown their hand by attempting to participate in this disgrace.


I’d love to be proven wrong, but I just can’t see John W Henry, an individual with a net worth of almost $3 billion, putting the needs of the Liverpool community above his own business interests. If he will do that, brilliant. But the events of the last 48 hours have told a very different story.


The statements put out by the offending clubs as they backed away from this shambolic project last night were mealy-mouthed and insincere. We must always remember that they still think this competition is a good idea.


They aren’t backing away on principle. They’re backing away because they’ve been forced into it.


I'll conclude by just referring to Liverpool’s latest marketing slogan that now adorns the exterior of the Kop. It states “Tell Us Never”.


Okay. You should never have agreed to participate in this competition. It was never a good idea. It never will be. And let me warn you, you came very close to never again seeing me - and I'm sure countless others - in a Liverpool shirt.


To the chairmen and owners of the clubs involved, we may forgive you for what you did, but we will never forget.


To the government, and the football authorities, I urge you to reform ownership legislation, and quickly. Implement the 50+1 rule in English football, and give this sport back to its fans.


Please. Lest the ‘bonfire of greed’, as Italian daily newspaper La Gazzetta dello Sport so eloquently put it, destroy football as we know it.


Signing off,

Matthew

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