The bombshell that a group of 12 elite English, Italian and Spanish clubs would form a European Super League (SL) sent the footballing world spinning this week.
Manchester City and Manchester United were among six elite English football clubs who vowed to join the Super League – the others being Arsenal, Chelsea, Liverpool and Tottenham.
The proposed competition format would have consisted of 15 founding clubs immune from relegation regardless of performance. There would also have been a mechanism for an additional five teams to qualify annually based on their performance, according to an SL statement.
All six English clubs have now withdrawn from the competition. However, Manchester’s football fans, MPs and local economy experts believe the aborted plan underlines a desperate need to democratise the beautiful game. The Meteor presents their views of the plans*.
Manchester football fans were furious.
In a statement, the Manchester United Supporters Trust (MUST) condemned the club’s intentions to be a founding member of the Super League.
“These proposals are completely unacceptable and will shock Manchester United fans, as well as those of many other clubs… A ‘Super League’ based on a closed shop of self-selected wealthy clubs goes against everything football, and Manchester United, should stand for.
The supporter-owned co-op FC United Manchester (FCUM) is based in Moston. A spokesperson told The Meteor the plans represented “a power struggle for the control of football” and went on to say:
“It has taken 16 years for the full extent of the Glazer takeover of Manchester United to come to full fruition. People can see what modern football ownership has become. Lifelong fans no longer matter. This is a whole new ball game.
“It’s a question of who owns football. Is it the rich nation-states and foreign banking conglomerates, or the fans? This is the chance to stop it now. Once it’s established, there’s no turning back. If you have any love for the game, it has to be resisted.”
For FCUM the Super League announcement was the logical conclusion of capitalist ownership in football and underlined the importance of democratising the game. “We were founded in 2005 in relation to the Malcolm Glazer takeover of Manchester United that year. At FCUM, fans are front and centre. The Super League represents the opposite. They are not even trying to pretend this is anything other than a power grab.”
Wythenshawe Amateurs is a community-owned football club established in 1946. Its Chairman, Carl Barratt said:
“I am obviously disappointed that once again clubs who are at the top of the pyramid or deem themselves at the top feel that they are above the history, traditions and control of our game. Citing finances, improving the game and generating more funds for smaller clubs is laughable, we all know where the extra money will go.
“It simply wouldn’t be allowed to happen at a fan-owned club such as ours, where fans would vote on their club’s involvement. No true football fan would ever vote for such a league. Despite being ignored, fans have the power to make life incredibly difficult for owners, broadcasters and players alike, and that’s why ultimately fan power, supported by the governing bodies, will most likely see this off for the time being.”
However Barratt highlighted just how financially precarious a situation in which grassroots football clubs find themselves.
“I do worry that we are just kicking the can down the road. The money in the game from TV cannot be sustained and it will eventually stop or need to be reviewed. I worry more for that point in time, despite what seems a huge gulf from top to bottom, what happens at the top ultimately affects the bottom of the pyramid.
“Luckily, we have a loyal fan base and a hugely supportive community. We are now starting to see fans of bigger clubs waver, and they are returning to local grassroots football. We feel the atmosphere again. They are amongst like-minded fans, having a drink with mates and watching a good old fashioned game of competitive football.
“I can assure you that fans from all clubs will always be welcomed down here at the ‘Ammies’.”
Manchester’s MPs on Monday wrote a letter to the chairmen of Man City and Man Utd urging them to reconsider their clubs’ involvement in the Super League.
Jeff Smith, Labour MP for Manchester Withington, told The Meteor:
“Football fans have overwhelmingly rejected the idea of a European Super League, knowing it would be a disaster for English football and must not be allowed to go ahead. As a lifelong Manchester City supporter, I was particularly ashamed to see my club involved in the proposals.
“Plans for a self-selected elite of the richest teams in a ‘closed shop’ arrangement would make it impossible for other teams to compete at the highest level on merit alone – the very ambition that is key to our sporting culture. These plans would accelerate the concentration of wealth and power within a few teams and their billionaire owners, exaggerating the already large gulf between the financing of the ‘big six’ and the rest.”
Smith said the Government’s announcement of a fan-led review of football governance was “welcome but long overdue”, saying “urgent legislative action must also be taken if necessary to stop this happening.”
Local economy experts
The Centre for Local Economic Strategy (CLES) is a think tank in Manchester which has produced research on how democratic forms of ownership and governance, coupled with clubs using community wealth building practices, could give the people’s game back to fans and communities. Its outgoing Director, Neil McInroy, told The Meteor:
“This move shows the complete disconnection between the major clubs and the communities that have supported and served them for generations, but that disconnection is hardly new or surprising. It is symbolic of wider, systemic issues with the economy surrounding the game.
“Modern football is increasingly marked by inequality, debt, and a growing detachment from communities. But it doesn’t have to be this way – there are meaningful ways to democratise the game and bring it back home.
“Clubs in the Australian Football League are owned by members and surpluses are distributed back to the club, and in Germany fan ownership of football clubs enables collective decision-making that reflects the significance of clubs to their communities.” Significantly, no German clubs signed up to the Super League because their fans opposed it.
“Alongside regulation and democratic reforms to day-to-day operations, UK clubs need to recognise their roles as anchors in communities: they have the ability to advance economic and social justice in the areas they are based, as well as acting as cultural landmarks.”
*The Meteor requested these comments prior to the announcement that the six English football clubs withdrew from the proposed competition on 20 April 2021.
Sign up to The Meteor mailing list for monthly meteorites delivered directly to your inbox– click here.
The Meteor workshop – Essential skills for online news reporting – is on Saturday 10 April at 3pm. To find out more and sign up – click here
Feature image: FCUM.