72 hours of chaos after an announcement on Sunday afternoon that rocked the game into disrepute and football by Tuesday night is back as ‘the peoples game’ again, much loved, all those involved doing the wright thing, in the words of an Arsenal goalscoring legend in his catchy mid-nineties one hit wonder.
I was asked to write about the benefits of the competition, then asked to highlight the similarities between ‘this’ and the invention of Rupert Murdoch’s super league rugby back when he took on the ARL over yes, broadcasting rights, back in the early 1990’s… I struggled for depth of positivity in either. Going on the record, I’ve already said the idea in principle is a good one, just implemented badly. A European Super League would be fantastic for the game, but it needs to have qualification, not fixed abodes in N17 and alike regardless of how badly teams such as Tottenham Hotspur do. Imagine finishing bottom of the table three years running and still getting the chance next season to compete with the best to be continents number one. How does that seem fair if there’s better elsewhere? Bayern Munich, PSG perhaps?
Rugby League tried it themselves with their breakaway competition that included the likes of Warrington, Castleford and Paris Saint-Germain. A closed shop for a super twelve. It didn’t last long before promotion and relegation was installed after teams found themselves struggling to fund their own over hyped ambitions and requested instead to pardon from coming campaigns. It was never all that if your name wasn’t Wigan, St Helens or Leeds.
I could not compare football to rugby league however as one is a global game enriched in the lives of billions worldwide whilst another, is played in northern England, Australia, New Zealand, a bit, and that is that.
But I can compare it to times gone before, when FIFA for example was first implemented in Paris to be the governing body of world football in 1904. The home nations back then, England, Scotland, Wales, Ireland, all unanimously rejected such a body ruling their game. Football has ‘never’ liked change.
When FIFA created the World Cup which was first staged in 1930, the Uruguayan FA ‘invited’ the home nations who by then had finally admitted, and resigned from FIFA, to participate in the first ever competition of invite only. The British nations rejected, not many ‘European’ teams in fact made the trip across sea to South America. In the end just France, Yugoslavia, Belgium and Romania participated. Destined to fail one might have thought? 91 years later, it still survives, these days merely as the biggest sporting event on the planet.
The European Cup got the same good old English scepticism too. Despite then champions of England, Wolverhampton Wanderers, being lorded up in the UK press, proclaimed by our media and Stan Cullis, the great old Manager of Wolves calling them “Champions of the world” for beating the best side in Hungary at the time, Honved.
Wolves, nor anyone from England appeared in the first edition of the European Club Championship. Won by Real Madrid in 1956, although Hibernian did reach the semi-finals, and a year later Manchester United would do the same as our countries first entrant, losing on aggregate to eventual winners Real Madrid who went on to retain their trophy. By then, football and the power of ‘who’s best’ had swung well away from these British isles. Football, international football, was pretty good elsewhere.
Cast forward to 1992 and the beginning of the Premier League, by then, not about improving the game so much, but about getting a better financial deal for the clubs involved, by getting a bigger more lucrative TV contract, sound familiar? There were many that didn’t like it back then.
At least the Premier League wasn’t a closed shop, but with UEFA going for a similar restructure around the same time on their own European knockout Cup (rebranded to a group driven Champions League format), the addition of more than just the continents domestic league winners was again controversial and not appreciated by everybody. For every pound I could have received for folk saying “How can non Champions play in the Champions League”… It made little sense… But what happened, was UEFA eventually created a monster.
The first ever ‘Champions League’ in 1993 was won by Marseille, the first and only time a French team has won it.
Post Marseille, we’ve had 10 Spanish winners, 5 English winners, 4 Italian winners, 4 German winners, 1 Portuguese and 1 Dutch.
In the ten years prior to Marseille winning the trophy there were three Italian wins, and one each for England, West Germany, Spain, Portugal, Netherlands, Romania and Yugoslavia. You can say the addition of ‘more’ teams from the fashionable western side of continent, has dramatically increased the chances of those ‘big league’s and brands winning more often, fair play? How can it be when for near thirty years those nations at the top of the game, have been given a helping hand to be pushed even further. And we as fans, because we are used to it, think it’s ok. The norm? Steaua who? Crvena Zvezwhat?
I’ve gone on the record to say how I want things implemented, but above all, fairness to give the best in one country, chance to beat the best in another, which after all, was what the original idea of the European Cup was all about, it needs to return to that format, and not just games for the sake of games to make owners rich through subscriptions.
Although I actually don’t have a problem with clubs wanting the best broadcasting deals for themselves. This week I have seen panic, from UEFA in concern to losing their clubs, in the Premier League in concern to losing it’s competitiveness and its edge, in SKY in concern that the TV rights are perhaps slipping away and into the hands of individuals that are happy to stream instead on PPV through various devices.
Football now needs to take a back step, and decide what it wants. The hoo-ha of the last couple of days is all very dramatic. But it highlights, that change is needed, and clubs want change, not happy stuck to the guidelines of major TV broadcasters and organising bodies that don’t always make the right decisions themselves.
When I think of it as greed, I see greed in every direction, from Stan Kroenke and co, to Gary Neville and else. Should a TV pundit get an offer they can’t refuse to commentate on such matches, I’m sure many wouldn’t say no… And with JP Morgan backing a super league that could earn clubs anything upwards of £100m a match, why would you not look at it and think great?
I’m sure the ESL will one day happen, with a compromise that doesn’t ‘guarantee’ the same teams entry, and if and when it does, however much it’ll cost us to watch, we’ll simply do what we always do, and that’s watch it regardless, then simply moan about it after! Eventually, it will be the norm, because in the end we learn to accept it.
A last word for fan power however who have at least had their say and stood up for the game they love, well done to all those involved, those at Chelsea, those at Leeds, and to Gary Neville who i’m sure didn’t outburst on the back of potentially losing his job at Sky. To the players that stood up, to the millions that opposed it, Everton Football Club who issued a brilliant statement, the likes of Wolves, Southampton and Valencia for having some fun with it too. Football is for everybody, it is the game what brings us together, and this week football has been ‘United’ to say NO. Proof that with our love for football we can do anything together!