By Wednesday morning, just 48 hours after the announcement of a new 12-club European Super League, the 6 English football clubs that had signed up to it had pulled out. The rest soon followed suit. So we saw the ESL collapse, before it had even kicked off!
It’s the fans’ reaction which is being given the credit for this. On Monday they gathered outside home pitches with hastily made banners saying: “Supergreed”, “Fans before Finance”, ”Buck off Super League!”.
But was this ESL just a ploy, as many suggest, by top clubs to get a bit more out of the UEFA’s new Champions League format? Did they cynically predict that fans - and even Boris Johnson, who knows all about capitalist greed (it gave us a vaccine, apparently) - would pipe up, on cue?
Quite possibly. But what’s certain, is that these super-greedy clubs do not give a damn about the fans. As for the ever more expensive - but sadly, indispensable players - they’re just raw material to be traded on the football market. The top club owners are corporate super-profiteers and the fact that football is their business is almost incidental.
Indeed, before the ESL scheme fell apart this week, the rights for showing their matches had already been discussed with Amazon, Facebook, Disney, and Sky. At £3.5bn a year, this was twice the amount currently generated by the Champions League. Big US bank JPMorgan Chase was offering a "welcome bonus" of up to £250 million to each club involved!
One banner outside Manchester United's stadium read "Created by the poor, stolen by the rich". But the beautiful game was “stolen by the rich” long ago. The Premier League itself was created via a breakaway from the rest of the English League, spurred on by a few clubs chasing ever more profits.
Up until the 1980s, TV and sponsorship money was shared out equally among the 92 teams in the English League. This ended in 1985 after the first threat of a breakaway: the old 1st Division demanded 50% of TV revenues. Then in 1992, the Premier League finally broke away, after striking a lucrative TV deal with Sky.
Thanks precisely to the beauty of the game itself, even the corruption of corporate greed can’t turn it ugly. But it would be far more beautiful if the football profiteers were booted out.