Monthly Blackpool Gazette Column - Robert Whittaker BST Secretary
It has been an eventful couple of weeks in the world of football governance, as the European Super League reared its unlovely head ; and much of the football world recoiled in horror.
There was nothing inherently new about what was being proposed - some of Europe’s self-proclaimed elite have been edging towards this bombshell for some time now. Juventus have lead the lobbying for a souped up, exclusive version of the Champion’s League for some time, and it is only a month or so ago that we were debating changes to that competition that were designed to placate the greedier mouths at the trough.
What was different about this though was that it sought not to merely move money towards the few - which we have seen before. But this was a bare-faced attempt to undermine three of the biggest and most cherished Leagues in Europe. It felt more than disloyal - and looked more like betrayal.
Perhaps the worst aspects of what was being proposed was the abandonment of anything that looks like fair competition. Being rewarded for success is at the very heart of sport, especially when it is based on excellence in performance. But being rewarded with tens of millions of pounds every year simply because you are Manchester United or Liverpool is very different. Being similarly rewarded when you are Arsenal or Tottenham, and struggling to finish much above half way up your League, seems positively obscene. One can only wonder at what the fans of Leicester and West Ham have made of it all.
The outcry that has ensued ought to have been easily foreseen by the owners of the clubs involved. That they clearly miscalculated the reaction has been one of the most curious aspects of the whole affair, and it is probably fair to say that the outrage has most keenly been expressed in England, rather than in Spain or Italy. Here at least, history clearly still counts for something.
It is easy to be cynical about how the clubs have recanted. We have the distinct feeling that they are more sorry that they were caught trashing our heritage than they are that they tried to do so in the first place. Much more heart-warming is the fact that much of the push back against their power grab has come from their own supporters.
While there has been much debate about what Manchester United fans did on Sunday, the most significant thing about their actions was that they clearly understood that the game is far more important than the narrow interests of their own club. They should be greatly commended for demonstrating that English football is a collective. It seems to be a truism that is lost on the club’s American owners, who clearly thought that a franchise model that works well back home could easily be transposed into our national game. It was a grievous error of judgement.
In some ways, we should thank them ; in the space of one weekend they advanced the cause for reform of English football massively, and handed a huge gift to the Football Supporters Association and everyone else who has been campaigning for bold changes in the way that the game operates. To see the EPL, EFL and FA scrambling around trying to position themselves on the side of the angels has been surreal - but somehow wonderful at the same time.
There remains much to do. Our domestic structure has many flaws in it : grossly inequitable distribution of money that skews the behaviour of some club owners is only the half of it. The time has finally arrived when we can strive to create something that is fairer, and where poor performance is challenged and confronted before it leads to the kind of catastrophic failure that we have seen recently at Bury and Macclesfield.
The fan-led review of football is a once in a lifetime chance to do all this. At BST, we will play as full and active a part as we can in moving the national game towards something that works for supporters, rather than treating them like unpaid extras at their own sport. We are already working on our formal submission to the review ; and will use our past experiences and the lessons we have learned to maximum effect. It is time for change.