Top Level Sports
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Top Level Sports

The Rise and Fall of the European Super-Flop

The almost-end to football as we know it

Photo by Janosch Diggelmann on Unsplash

April 18th, 2021. The day we almost lost football.

For years, the beautiful game has seen other major sports around it become snatched up by businessmen. The NBA and NFL have been capitalized to the point of clear-cut blatancy, with ads everywhere you look.

Football’s avoidance of this commercialisation has been its calling card — a sport where anyone can watch their favourite team compete, with reputation and reward at stake. Recent years have seen the English Premier League emerge as the most competitive league in football, with players the world over flying over to play.

Of course, at some point, the sport would become slightly business-oriented, but there was always a focus on the fans. Small teams have survived for years thanks to both fan support, and the availability of nationwide competitions. Nothing screams football like Spurs of the PL playing Marine in the Northern Premier League, after all.

There have been numerous times in history when small clubs have toppled the elite teams, and revenue from these types of showdowns plays a big part in keeping these teams alive.

Now imagine the worldwide fury on April 18th when plans to form a Super League were announced.

The COVID-19 pandemic had shaken football to the core, hitting club owners where it hurt most: their wallets. Real Madrid President Florentina Pérez was among those who suffered, but even before the pandemic hit, he already had plans for a Super League.

Pérez had brought up the idea of a 16-team tournament in 2018, looking to break away from the Champions League in a bid to make some money. This new league would allegedly be the “Promised Land” for football teams — owners took up this idea based on UEFA’s slowness to introduce new reforms.

The idea floated around for a few years, albeit fans not taking them too seriously. After all, the Champions League has been the biggest competition in club football for decades — any so-called “Super League” would dwarf in comparison.

Once COVID-19 emerged, this story was flipped on its head.

Pérez’s desire for an elites-only competition gained traction when American bank JPMorgan Chase invested €5 billion (around £4.2 billion) into the project. With this huge investment, football was threatening to become completely Americanized.

If you don’t know what it means for sports to become Americanized, look no further than the NBA and NFL. Everyone and everything that’s part of these two leagues are advertised. Even NBA buzzer-beaters are sponsored by Tissot — the equivalent of sponsoring a last-minute finish in the Champions League.

American sports are monopolies — they are undoubtedly entertaining, but they are still monopolies. Thankfully for sports fans worldwide, this heavy exploitation of sport as a business stayed firmly in America. Its threat towards football came in the form of a Super League, a proposition that screamed “we want money” to whomever it turned.

Sure enough, the cavalry came. Ironically, the day that the Super League was announced was just one day before UEFA was due to publicize the reforms which clubs had been waiting for. Upon hearing the news of Pérez’s project, UEFA president Aleksander Ceferin confirmed rumours that any player in the Super League would be banned from the World Cup and any other European competition.

Condemnations came from pundits, FIFA, even UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson, as all those with a voice sought to make the ESL as unappealing as possible.

However, nobody did it as the fans did.

Photo from Sky Sports

No fan was as angry about it as Premier League fans were. The “Big 6” teams called forward to join the league — Liverpool, Manchester United, Manchester City, Tottenham Hotspur, Arsenal (??), and Chelsea — all have filthy rich (and equally clueless) owners. Ranging from an Arabian deputy prime minister to one of Putin’s close friends, the ownership of these teams has a notoriously low knowledge for the actual sport. This ignorance has peaked hilariously multiple times, with an owner having to ask which team was his during a match.

The presence of many of the ESL’s participating clubs in Italy and Spain meant a monumental decrease in the number of fans able to watch their teams play in person. Season-ticket holders would be forced to watch from home, a nightmare prospect for fans who have travelled around the country, following their team wherever they go.

A Super League would also mean an even bigger economic loss for the remaining clubs in their respective leagues, most heavily in the Premier League, which is often fronted by its Big 6. With this powerhouse group gone, the Premier League’s overall revenue would drop — revenue which many of the competition’s smaller teams benefit from.

It’s pretty safe to say that fans did not like this, and from raiding teams’ social media pages to holding protests against ownership, every fan did what they could to force their teams to pull out of the competition.

And pull out, they did. On April 21st, the Super League was officially dead, with only 3 of the original 12 left — these teams being Barcelona, Juventus, and Real Madrid.

To say the Super League was a flop is an understatement. From its birth in 2018 until its short re-emergence three years later, the idea constantly pushed an anti-fan perspective. A closed competition like the Super League would simply mean the end of football as we know it. The collective movement against the founding clubs was a major success, and within all the madness, it all proved one thing.

Football belongs to the fans.

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Sedem Anyiri

Sedem Anyiri

Avid Sixers fan and sports journalism fanatic.

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