To the men who move only in dimly-lit halls and determine my future for me"
Hey folks, long time no see. Been up to much? I just wanted to point out that somewhere in the dark back halls of whatever Zoom enclave these people inhabit, the chairmen of twelve European football clubs managed to concoct an idea that made both Prince William and Boris Johnson wince and say, "Lads, that's a bit elitist". In some ways, you can only admire that.
Unless you've been focusing with undue attention on The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, you've probably noticed that several giants of European football, and also the current seventh and ninth best teams in England, have had some thoughts. A Super League has been proposed with eternal places available to twelve clubs from England, Spain and Italy, with no teams from Germany or France yet and five places available to waifs and strays, presumably to ensure that all the Founders have got someone to beat. Each club will remain in their domestic leagues, doubtlessly treating them with the same reverence that they traditionally reserve for cup competitions, and sundering over a century of history in the process. I'm immediately put in mind of that time Homer Simpson designed a car for his brother and bankrupted his company.
Look Marge, I designed a Super League!
Condemnation has been widespread, with most punditry focusing on the fact that the new league is all about money and driven entirely by greed. Well, no shit. In that sense, the last twenty four hours has been very helpful in identifying exactly who might vote for that leopards eating faces party that seems to have become so prevalent recently.
There is nothing profound in stating that football has succumbed to greed or that nobody cares about fans anymore. This has been true for an awfully long time, and these announcements do not somehow bring this to light. If you didn't think this before yesterday you haven't been paying attention. Nor should there be any scrabbling for the moral high ground from West Ham, Leicester, Everton et al. The only reason they haven't signed up for this is because they weren't asked. Those clubs literally sat around and watched inertly as lower league teams went to the wall, so spare me the idea that there is some kind of moral compass residing in the middle of the Premier League. A non zero threat to English football now is that whatever emerges from this wreckage is handed over to another self styled Big Six who immediately begin trying to siphon more money out of the sport.
But life sometimes casts unusual heroes and so it is that on a Monday night the entire country is watching Leeds - Leeds! - play Liverpool and it somehow feels like a battle line has been drawn. It's Us v Them, and God bless those beautiful Yorkshire top knots for their late equaliser.
But, when I read those who say "the game's gone", I have no idea what they mean. Have they watched the last twenty years of European football? The game hasn't gone anywhere. It's come. It's arrived on your doorstep in the shape of the Twelve Horseman of the Endless Makita Tournament, and they're not even bothering to beat around the bush anymore. The message of this power grab couldn't be any clearer if it was tattooed onto Roberto Firmino's teeth:
We can no longer afford to risk actual competition. So we're not bothering with that anymore.
That's it. There isn't any deeper meaning to this than a desperate desire to move to a model of guaranteed revenues. No more fucking about with playing actual games, or worrying about who has the best team. That's so last century, man. The pandemic has been both a disaster and a gift. It has ravaged them but it's mortally wounded us too. And so they strike now, and it has been quite a while in the making, after the years of appeasement have shockingly not worked. Fair enough, there's no historical precedent for that approach failing, after all.
But what's really shocking about this is the bluntness with which this has all been stated. Never before have these clubs been quite so brazen about wanting to erode the pesky little notion of having to earn their revenues. Here it is in Technicolor, sponsored by Your Friendly Local PetroChemical Company and coming to a North American metropolitan hub near you soon. Watch on your iPhone, vote to tell Jurgen Klopp who to bring on next, and be sure to post an Instagram snap of where you're watching from so we can send you a t-shirt to remind you who you actually support in case you've forgotten after six years of exhibition games.
If I may be so bold, I think it is this speaking of the unspeakable which is causing so much consternation. What is so embarrassing to the supporters of these clubs is that this latest stunt isn't really a huge leap from what these clubs were already angling for. The betrayal here is uttering the truth that these competitions have been rigged all along, and admitting that the only issue now is that they aren't rigged enough. The only way the lie works is if Liverpool fans can go to Madrid and win the Champions League and believe that they are the Rebel Alliance and not the Empire. Well, John Henry just arrived in a Super Star Destroyer, lads, and Jurgen is finding your lack of faith disturbing.
The Super League unveils it's new team coach designs
It has been standard for years for these clubs to murmur about the prospect of a Super League and then have to be placated by a greater share of revenues or an easier path to qualification. Consider that UEFA's proposed Swiss Style reformatting of the Champions League was going to reserve two places for big clubs who, God bless 'em, hadn't quite managed to qualify but are good fun at a barbecue and therefore really needed to attend.
Where was the outrage and upset at these egregiously stupid amendments? Where was the demand for equality and a sense of competition then? Instead of righteous anger we've just been subjected to a continued party line that "everybody agrees that things need to change" but never any suggestion of what these changes should be. More equitable revenue sharing? Bans on player hoarding? Nope - just some vague mutterings that the games are all boring before the quarter finals because the same teams always win, as though this was some great existential mystery.
I'm delighted that Gary Neville and Jamie Carragher are speaking so eloquently against this bullshit, that James Milner was prepared to register his distaste and I welcome the statements from the representative fan groups of the self styled Big Six. Don't underestimate the courage needed to stand up like that. But let's not kid ourselves that this hasn't been apparent for years. The owners have broken the omertà and spoken the truth aloud, and suddenly a lot of fans are being forced to confront realities they had previously been able to pretend didn't exist. Are we the baddies, indeed.
When Liverpool won the league last year I wrote a rather ungracious Twitter thread where I posited the theory that such title wins were indistinguishable from those of any other big club. That Manchester United, Manchester City and Liverpool were simply homogenous entities whose success was built upon a structure designed to reward and elevate them. Lots of Liverpool fans called me a virgin, an insult I'd not heard for a few years, and told me they were massive. And yet here we are a year later and I still can't distinguish those clubs from each other, other than that they've all signed up for an endless exhibition tournament.
What are their protests? That the same teams will be in it all the time? That there is no threat of big teams not qualifying? That it's boring? Er, lads, stop me if you think that you've heard this one before.
Because this is another aspect of the closed shop and the guaranteed revenues - there's not actually a need to win anymore. Early analysis of the financials of this thing are that the bulk of the money is dished out simply for being in it. James Corbett of OffThePitch.com wrote this thread a couple of months ago about the way the cash will be distributed in the brave new world, and you'll be delighted to hear that it's very much the taking part that counts. €180m for participating in the group stage (if you're a founder member) but just a further €30m if you win. Better yet, if by some miracle an interloping non founder member wins it, they get about half of what the big boys get just for being in the group stages. I suppose the one positive of this is that some men might finally get to experience what it's like to be paid like a woman.
There is a great Jerry Seinfeld bit in his stand up show when he starts speculating about horse racing. I can't do it justice so let me just repeat it for you here.
"I’ll tell you one thing the horses definitely do not know. They do not know that if you should accidentally trip and break your leg at any point during the race we blow your brains out. I think they’re missing that little tidbit of information. I think if they knew that you’d see some mighty careful stepping coming down that home stretch. “Take it easy, take it easy.” “You win, I’ll place… whatever.” “The important thing is your health.”
This appears to be the overriding principle of the Super League. Take it easy. You win, I'll place. The important thing is paying down the debt on your stadium. There's always next year, after all.
If you only knew
That I'm just like you"