We have witnessed the disruption of many business – from online dating, to delivery. Netflix, Amazon, Zipcar, Airbnb. Now the world of football seems to be up for disruption, but not in the same way. What all these businesses have achieved is to deliver accessibility to products and functions they could never have before. Yet the world of football is moving to a much more “selective” platform.
A couple days ago we all woke up and emotionally reacted to the idea of a European Super League and then, in a blink of an eye it’s something in the past due to the serious backlash. Yet didn’t we witness this in cricket and rugby? Everyone voicing the same opinion: this sport is for the community. However, we still cannot eliminate racism from the sport and access to the grounds remains expensive. Who is football really for? How does one define a sporting event? Is it entertainment? What is it? Until we define that we cannot move forward.
The Football World is currently flustered with the idea of a European Super League, with twelve of Europe’s top clubs having agreed to establish a new midweek competition. The idea was poised to rival the current European tournament, The Champions League, which would effectively be replaced if the Super League went ahead. The developments came just 24 hours before UEFA were set to announce the Champions League reforms. These were set to add teams to the competition, favouring these big clubs while offering a safety net of qualification. The big teams claim these reforms don’t go far enough. There is an argument to say the only reason these other bodies are reacting so harshly, is their own personal greed as well. UEFA will lose millions if this happens, so it is clearly not in their interests whether their priorities lie with keeping the competition of the game, or not.
The emotional reaction maintains the idea that football started by people just kicking a ball around and got developed into the world’s most viewed sport. It was built by blue-collared workers looking for entertainment on the weekends; however, over time we have seen the commercialisation of it, with the game becoming less about the fans and more about the money. The Super League eliminates all competition so these “big clubs” don’t risk losing money to underdogs who snatch leads in beautiful campaigns. No matter who you support, this is what people want to see. Everyone lives and dreams for moments such as Leicester’s title winning campaign of the 2015/16 season, or West Ham currently pursuing European football in emphatic style, after all, that is what football is about. The competition allows any club, any player to think they can keep pushing and one day end up playing the game they love against the absolute best. What this Super League would have done is maximise their profits through a monopoly, marking the death of continental football. It stops new clubs rising, and old clubs declining taking the life out of the beautiful game.
The clubs that would have been involved in England were Manchester United, Manchester City, Liverpool, Arsenal, Chelsea and Tottenham, and it’s all a little close to home for us. Gary Neville, an ex-United player and now a top pundit, has my upmost respect in speaking out when he sees the game he once loved changing. For example, his comments on racism after accusations were made against Spurs fans, in which he stood up and passionately stated that there is a racism problem in the UK, stemming from the top political offices. After the Super League seemed like it could be formed, he came out and said that from all clubs it’s a traitorous act. But the sting comes a bit more from Liverpool and United’s end. He went on to talk about Liverpool, the people’s club. You’ll Never Walk Alone is Liverpool’s motto known worldwide with them branding themselves as the people’s club; and there they were, looking for individual profits in this hard time. Currently pinned up at the Stretford End at Old Trafford, Manchester United’s stadium, are the words “Football is Nothing without Fans” which came from Sir Matt Busby, who knew what football meant to the working classes. The irony is the owners tried destroying that great man’s legacy who built the club and knew what football really meant. However, Gary Neville, a man who with 4 or 5 other ex-footballers bought a low league club, Salford City, and pumped in money creating unfair competition, so what makes this disruption of his any different and is it just hypocrisy?
Being a football fan, it is hard to see such a thing. For many, football is not just a TV channel but it’s what got these blue-collared workers through each week at work. Now, it was on the brink of being made into nothing more than just a cheque. However, it is wrong to go simply off emotions especially when they can be so transient. Even though I was strongly opposed to the idea, I am trying to display all the facts. At such a time where unity is needed more than ever; the disruption has caused a split in the sporting world. It was hard for many fans to witness these events; when towards the bottom of English football, clubs are folding and going into administration. However, there was such backlash from the Premier League and UEFA, with them threatening to ban such teams and players involved, the likelihood of it happening was always up in the air. Whether or not it had gone ahead, however, is irrelevant. It is the battle of gaining ownership of football between the people on one side and franchises and owners on the other. This game we all love is in the process of disruption, yet the word disruption means radical change by means of innovation, so would it have been such a bad thing? The main question we ought to ask is will this disruption cause a positive trickle-down effect or is this being done for individual greed of club owners.
While it is most likely to increase bargaining power over UEFA and is more of a power play, football is always changing whether for good or for bad. But, as seen in the last couple days, the fans always stand together, and the rollercoaster of a year we have had has shown their importance in sport. The fat cats in the governing bodies are now under scrutiny and are demanded to do something in football we haven’t really seen from them in 30 years. It is a timely reminder there are structural issues in the world of football and hopefully we will see a change in the lack of innovation in the governing infrastructure. If nothing else, we can only hope this causes a change that affects the man on the street and not just the rich. The disparity of wealth has been growing in football in the last two decades and is relying on the old adage that the foundation of any club is built on the fans; but in reality, the brand creates new fans. We live in a time where we have archaic mechanisms which can’t survive in the new paradigm. Rather than dismissing the whole idea, this could be a catalyst for a positive change that would be inclusive and not exclusive.