Friday, September 24

Separatist leagues are nothing new and neither are negative reactions | European Super League

IIn mid-April, 12 clubs that were believed to be the biggest, the most important and, frankly, the most potentially lucrative made a controversial announcement. They had decided to form a league together and no one could do anything to stop them.

Indignation of outrage. “A dozen clubs, calling themselves the talent pick, have come together for their own mutual benefit, seemingly unconcerned about those unfortunately left out by the cold,” one newspaper enraged. “Is it fair that clubs like this have quietly allowed themselves to change? On what principle was the selection made? Are the chosen clubs absolutely the strongest, or is it about starving prosperous and dangerous rivals? “

Another enraged: “The league is not formed for the purpose of promoting football, it is formed so that allied clubs can earn more money than they already earn,” describing the clubs involved as “nothing better than circus shows.” and the idea as “a great strategy to get into the pockets of the public.”

It was 1888 and the first season of the Football League was being planned. Precisely 133 years and a day later, the launch of a new international super league was announced.

Within 48 hours he had died under a deluge of outrage, and aside from the vast amount that leaked from social media platforms, there was very little to differentiate most of what had happened before. Soccer is not a game that tends to react well to innovation, or that is able to differentiate between the positive type (establishing a league instead of playing constant friendlies and varied cup competitions, for example) and the really harmful.

The idea of ​​a European super league has not always been unpopular. In 1960, after Bristol Rovers proposed a reorganization of English football (a top flight of 18 teams fed by two regional second divisions, four regional third divisions, etc.), the Times wrote of the “imperative need to create a superior team , forming a super league of no more than 16 clubs that can perform and become wiser in some newly established European League … only the best at the top, free and able to compete with their counterparts in Europe ”.

At the same time, the Observer proposed “a Premier League of 16 clubs chosen for their playing history, field facilities, financial strength and spectator population” of which “the best teams [would] enter a European league ”. In 1972, the conservative sports minister Eldon Griffiths organized a theoretically secret meeting in his London apartment, where he tried to persuade the Football League to launch a European equivalent, which he described as “inevitable”. In February 1957, The Guardian reported that “some voices within the Football Association would favor a supernational European league that pitted the best talents from all countries.”

Manchester United goalkeeper Ray Wood throws the ball over the crossbar, watched by Real Madrid's Alfredo Di Stefano, during the second leg of the 1957 European Cup semi-final.
Manchester United goalkeeper Ray Wood throws the ball over the crossbar, watched by Real Madrid’s Alfredo Di Stefano, during the second leg of the 1957 European Cup semi-final. Photograph: Offside / L’Equipe / Offside

Above all, however, the idea has been met, like this year, with nothing but hostility and grievances that could almost be copied and pasted into any recently posted comment. “A European league would take the cream off English football, and to support such a plan would be tantamount to suicide for the Football League,” wrote The Guardian in 1957. “The clubs themselves, at least the currently successful ones, will demand the right to get involved, and those successful clubs are precisely the ones the league would have the hardest time to contradict. Its effect, at least initially, should be to increase the prosperity of the leading clubs and decrease that of the poorest ”.

That was the first season in which an English club played in Europe, Manchester United ignored the “strong request” of the Football League not to participate and reached the semi-finals of the European Cup. In 1958 it was speculated that United could be expelled from the league for accepting an invitation to play, offered in response to the Munich air disaster, despite failing to win their national title, which was seen as a terrible precedent. But speculation about separatist leagues, both national and European, really intensified in the 1980s.

In 1985 talks were held between the so-called Big Five (Liverpool, Everton, Manchester United, Tottenham and Arsenal), as well as Manchester City, Newcastle and Southampton, to discuss a separatist league and The Guardian was enraged over the prospect of “the few richest and most successful clubs ”establishing themselves, declaring the idea“ tasteless and greedy. ”Graham Kelly, secretary of the Football League, who a few years later and by then in the FA played a major role in make the Premier League a reality, he complained that “the emphasis now is on money, not football, and the sooner everyone recognizes that the best.

In 1988, the story simmered again, with the added impetus of Silvio Berlusconi hatching a European version, and The Guardian wrote about a project that “is about money and television” and added: “The best clubs, believing, correctly, that the armchair fan just wants to see them, he sees no reason why the money should go anywhere else. [But] the English game is 92 clubs, not 10 or 13. “

In the Times, Stuart Jones wrote “the figures representing the leading clubs deserve to be discredited,” adding: “They are accused of greed, or deception, or political maneuvering, or undemocratic activity, or lack of goodwill, or all five. transgressions “. … Rather than being run by gentle ambassadors and knowledgeable dignitaries, the game is dominated primarily by egomaniacs who revel in the power they wield. “

Milan president Silvio Berlusconi is carried away by his players after winning Serie A in 1988 at the San Siro.
Milan president Silvio Berlusconi is carried away by his players after winning Serie A in 1988 at the San Siro. Photograph: Ferdinando Meazza / AP

The following year, David Lacey, a football correspondent for The Guardian, noted that the story never quite goes away: “You always have the feeling that one day the threats will be more than a series of back cover headlines designed to keep the hoi-polloi in order. “And in 1991 the domestic escape finally took place, with the resignation of the 22 First Division clubs to the Football League to settle alone.” I think that greed, power, status and authority have much more to do with current events that what really benefits the game, “concluded England coach Graham Taylor.

The Observer wrote: “It remains to be seen how the new arrangements will quench the big clubs’ thirst for money and power, or where the elitism among this autonomous group will stop. Money will speak and the time will surely come when they will want the poor to no longer be with them. The impetus for a new break may come from Europe, whose most influential figures have lobbied for a super league across the continent. The machinations of the final season will have made it clear that those who are a genuine force in football will always believe that there is a more important game around the corner. “

In 1990 there was talk of an agreement in principle between 16 clubs in Europe, with Liverpool and Rangers representing Great Britain. In 1992, the European Cup became the Champions League: “It cannot be denied that 90% of total income comes from these big clubs,” said UEFA President Lennart Johansson, “and that if they demand a change, we have to listen ”- but the conspirators hardly stopped.

The owners of the six English clubs involved in the latest escape attempt were all born and based overseas, a fact many have blamed for their willingness to put tradition and history aside, but in 1998, when it was reported to the representatives of a dozen European clubs. To have met in London, Manchester United had a president from Cheshire, Liverpool had an owner from Merseyside, Everton was from Birkenhead, Arsenal and Tottenham were from London, and Manchester City were from Lancashire. There didn’t seem to be much of a difference.

“The projected European super league is pure, naked and pure greed,” wrote Jeff Powell in the Daily Mail. “Not content with having a lot of money and pockets of influence, the giant clubs of this continent seem to want all the money and absolute power. What we have here and now is the ugly specter of billionaire clubs indulging in their megalomania, without thinking about the good of the game that has served them so well and for so long. “And apparently, not much has changed since then. .

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