Yeah, I know; “football“. Do I sound like I care?
In the lull between now and the scheduled start of The 2nd American Civil War (due once the jury are back in the Derek Chauvin trial), we can enjoy the light entertainment resulting from a group of English, Spanish and Italian soccerball clubs deciding to form an elite and exclusive breakaway super league.
Before I explain my absolute delight at this, some personal background is required and a quick description of what’s being proposed.
I’m originally English, I grew up in a city with a team that sometimes made it to the top level of wendyball, sometimes it struggled to stay afloat two divisions below. I couldn’t care less as soccerball bored the living daylights out of me. My winter sport was rugby, both to play and to watch. The thought of paying the equivalent of about a day’s wages to watch 22 millionaires in nylon shirts roll around on the floor every few minutes pretending to have been shot by a sniper, and then, after an hour and a half, for there to have been no actual result or often even any goals scored by either team, seemed a somewhat perverse way to spend one’s Saturday afternoons. Football is dull. It’s fine as a way to get nerdy kids to do some exercise in primary school but, as something grown ups should spend time and money on, there are many better activities.
Obviously, that puts me in the minority of English sports fans but I think I’ll cope with the social stigma somehow.
Over in Europe, a group of the best teams (and Tottenham) have come together with a proposal to form a breakaway league. It would seem the proposal doesn’t seek contributions from taxpayers, isn’t requiring a change in any legislation, doesn’t break any existing laws, won’t require any special treatment and is, frankly, a bunch of private entities exercising their rights to do business with each other. Fair enough, it’ll either succeed or it won’t and we’re not impacted either way. The employees of the clubs also have a free right to continue working for their club or seek employment elsewhere.
I’ll look at the English reaction specifically, mainly because my Spanish and Italian comprehension is not much use outside of a restaurant menu. Some context about those six English clubs and the league they’ve been playing in for 20 years; it’s called the Premier League (or the English Premier League or EPL) and was formed in February 2001….. following a hostile split from the previous established league. So these clubs have form, they’ve simply decided to ditch half their partners in elopement from two decades ago. The reason for the previous schism? To enable a more focused split of the revenue from TV rights negotiations.
Let’s focus in on one of the English clubs (chosen at random); Liverpool. Of the 29 players in the first team squad, it looks like 8 or 9 would be eligible to play for England. The remainder are ex-pats from various footballing nations such as Brazil, Spain, The Netherlands, some African countries and, erm, Switzerland. Of the 8 English players, I counted two who were actually from the city of Liverpool.
For reasons so far not adequately described to us, the proposal to form a new league has made many people livid. Which people?
- Both sides of politics; both Boris and Keith have made public statements condemning it and promising to find ways to prevent it,
- All of the clubs who weren’t invited,
- The existing leagues and governing bodies,
- Current sports commentators,
- Some fans.
Ok, so why are they upset?
An easy motivation to understand for many of the list above to object to the new league is, as Upton Sinclair might say, their salaries. If the answer to the question, “How do I get paid?” isn’t “From the new super league“, then we can be fairly certain the uninvited clubs, leagues, governing bodies, commentators and ex-players aren’t providing us quite the objective analysis they would like us to believe. Someone with more time on their hands might want to trawl back twenty years and check what loud voices such as Gary Linekar were saying about the schism resulting in the Premier League, for example. They’ve probably forgotten, so it’s going to be delicious as these historic hot takes are unearthed.
The politicians are currently providing the richest source of comedy on this, regardless of how irrelevant their opinion on who kicks a ball to whom is:
The British Prime Minister, Boris, has followed up his wonderful year of libertarianism and championing of the free market by suggesting he’s looking for ways to prevent 6 privately-owned companies and 80 employees from choosing to do business with other similar organisations and exporting English services to the EU.
The Leader of the Opposition (in name only, based on his “more lockdown, and sooner” tactics), Keith, has similarly come out with messages of sympathy for the working class and national sport of football, demanding something is done to prevent those 80 multi-millionaire athletes from changing employers.
In theory, the fans should be the only voice of authority worth listening to. What is it they’re saying? Again, if they’re fans of the clubs who’ve been left behind they’re really pissed off. The themes I’ve seen tend to be complaining about the greed of the 6 clubs and their players. Others are complaining about the damage it will do to the sport at a national level but I’ve yet to hear a coherent explanation as to why this might be the case, particularly as the English national wendyball team has been unable to beat their way out of a wet paper bag in every competition they’ve played in since 1966.
Regardless of where one stands on the desirability or not of the proposed new league, what chance do the objectors have of preventing it and how might they score this goalpoint (see, I know all the technical lingo)?
It would seem the only way clubs could be prevented would be via heavy-handed and targeted legislation at a national level. Even that might be avoided by relocating to a different jurisdiction, these clubs are not without a few quid after all.
The players will have to balance the pay rise (or perhaps even avoiding the pay cut of staying in the new domestic competition) against an inability to play for their national team, as FIFA have stated they will be barred in future. However, anyone who believes FIFA will hold the line and do the right thing, has clearly not read any news about FIFA officials for many decades. After all, he who pays the FIFA, calls the tune….
None of these genius plans seem like particularly watertight tactics to prevent Soccxit ™.
Just like Brexit, this upsets nearly all the right people and exposes the logical inconsistencies in their reasoning. Hopefully it’s going to be as drawn out as Brexit with a similar end result, i.e. our “betters” get a bloody nose.
The arguments against a breakaway league from a league that started life as a breakaway league are, of course ridiculous.
The complaints of corporate greed are similarly stupid, particularly when made by people who see nothing wrong with three figure ticket prices for “dead rubber” fixtures and who also said nothing when the clubs issued their third change of official shirt in a 12 month period in a blatant cash grab from the punters for another 80 quid for a thin nylon shirt with a cost price of less than a tenner.
The argument that any English soccer player will give a flying fuck about not being able to play for the English national team makes sense in theory, but in practice there’s barely any eligible players at the six clubs today and the performances of the national side over the lifetime of most people reading this would suggest it’s not considered the career peak most regular fans might hope. I suspect for years many top level English players have secretly considered the Premiership or FA Cup as much more attractive competitions than a world cup. The pay cheque for those is still massive and the likelihood of achieving it is far greater.
Finally, the people who seem most exercised by this foray into Europe by those 6 English clubs are quite closely correlated with those who were least able to accept the democratic vote to leave the EU. My advice is buy a wheelbarrow full of popcorn and enjoy the spectacle of them trying to prevent the free movement of labour, capital and trade across European borders in an ever closer union.