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22nd April 2021

Fan power wins the European Super League battle

Following the news of six English clubs pulling out of the proposed European Super League, Marc Luther Thomas takes a look at the influence of supporters and what more needs to be done…

Like all football fans I’ve welcomed the news that the European Super League abomination has fallen apart in less time than it took to complete the John Isner v Nicolas Mahut match at Wimbledon in 2010 (how incredible was that, by the way?)

It’s brought an end to a dramatic few days of uproar which has united players, staff, fans and the media alike. I’ve previously commented on the tribalistic nature of the sport, yet the football world overcoming this divide might not even be the most surprising factor of this whole saga – this issue has ignited greater unity in parliament than I can remember there being for a number of years!

In one fell swoop which cast aside the universal interests of football and dismissed the wants and needs of supporters, the owners of the so-called ‘big six’ now know, in no uncertain terms, the true meaning of ‘fan power’.

The likes of Gary Neville and Jamie Carragher have played an instrumental role in directing the anger in the right direction. When we refer to Manchester United, Manchester City, Liverpool, Arsenal, Chelsea and Tottenham in this situation, it’s important we distinguish between these entities as clubs – ie the players, coaching staff and all the employees that keep the club going on a day-to-day basis – the footballing people who we as fans feel an affiliation with. Then you have those names as businesses, ie their owners and a handful of senior executives.

Fans of some of the clubs involved, particularly Manchester United and Liverpool, have long held their own grievances against their respective owners. United fans have been at odds with the Glazer family since their purchase of the club in 2005 imposed hundreds of millions of pounds’ worth of debt, which it still finds itself ridden with today. No matter what has occurred previously, though, fans of the 12 breakaway teams can now have no doubts about the intentions of those running their clubs.

Returning to the example of United, the anti-Glazer sentiment among supporters is long-standing but, like with any club, the strength of protest against ownership has fluctuated in line with their team’s performances on the pitch. United fans have also been frustrated at the lack of public support for their cause among influential figures.

This is what makes this moment feel particularly significant. Neville himself admitted he had been quiet on the Glazer regime over the years, but didn’t hold back in his criticism of them in wake of their key role in the ESL launch. Pundits with affiliations to other clubs have similarly called out their respective owners, with media reports suggesting the remaining 14 Premier League clubs are directing their anger at these particular figures, rather than the clubs as a whole.

The issue of money in football is one we’ve all been conscious of for a long time, but nothing has quite brought it to a head like the events of the past few days. With the owners’ names tarnished so publicly and their motivations laid bare, football supporters collectively need to ensure we don’t rest on our laurels now they have reneged on their plans. We need to capitalise on this moment and ramp up pressure on politicians to take legislative action.

Some have rightly pointed this week to the track records of UEFA and FIFA, and how they would’ve stood to lose a lot of money. The same can be said of the other 14 Premier League Clubs who, rightfully again, rejected the idea of the European Super League. Money, or the potential loss of it, would have been one of their primary concerns, with the widespread outrage allowing them to show themselves to be acting in the best interests of supporters. The unfortunate reality is there are owners leeching from clubs throughout the entire football pyramid everyone fought so hard to protect. I’m sure many of them would’ve been all over the European Super League had they been in similar positions of power and influence.

Football fans need to continue to hold their allegiances aside and build on the immense momentum gained this week. This is the opportunity to force real change.