Kicking Off: The Rise and Fall of the Super League review – a load of old tut | European Super League


JMore than a year ago, an evil cabal of European billionaires, American hedge fund plutocrats, Russian oligarchs and Gulf royals devised a scheme to rip out the heart of the beautiful game and place it on the altar of their greed. Only the heroic resistance of ordinary football fans, aided by an Old Etonian Prime Minister on the populist pulse, stopped this diabolical freedom.

What – as Lord Sugar might have said, if the former Tottenham Hotspur chairman wasn’t part of the problem – a load of old tut.

And yet, this is the story told by Kicking Off: The Rise and Fall of the Super League (BBC Two), of the fateful days in April 2021 when the owners of 12 of Europe’s biggest clubs, including six from the Premier League, have unveiled their plans for a breakaway competition to rival the UEFA Champions League. Then, in just three days, the plans were in place, thanks to fan protests.

Another less flattering version of the story was retouched from this documentary. Fans of big clubs could just as well be seen not as resisters of capitalist excess, but as involved in its propagation. This story would tell how football uprooted communities, introduced pricing policies that make opera seem affordable, and allied itself with the world’s most despotic regimes, while fans cheered from the sidelines.

If you think I’m exaggerating, think about what happened at Stamford Bridge two months ago. Newcastle United supporters barricaded their Chelsea counterparts with a banner that read ‘We are richer than you’. Newcastle, you see, had recently been financed by Saudi Arabia’s £315billion public investment fund, giving it leverage beyond even Russian oligarch Roman Abramovich, owner of Chelsea, whose assets had just been frozen by the British government because of his intimate relationship with Vladimir Putin. . The day before this toon army boast, Saudi Arabia executed 81 men. In short, football fans aren’t always the principled souls portrayed by the talking heads in this documentary.

On the show, Match of the Day host and former England striker Gary Lineker makes an intriguing point:[Football] is not a religion. But it’s not far for many people. They don’t want it to go wrong. »

It is true that football fans worship in the temples of the Etihad or the Emirates as their ancestors did in church: the game is not exactly the opium of the masses, but of those who can afford surprisingly expensive subscriptions or are ready to make Rupert Murdoch richer by subscribing to Sky Sports.

But despite what Lineker says, fans have long been happy to see the game messed up. They’ve hailed transfusions of dirty money, cheered on teams full of vigilantes with six-figure weekly salaries, and even endorsed shirt sponsors who entice vulnerable people to gamble with money they don’t have. .

None of this is to say the dirty dozen should be released. This documentary explains how and why an old guard of debt-ridden elite clubs engineered the European Super League. A central motivation was to resist the rise of the new rich, like Manchester City and Paris Saint-Germain, both of which are backed by oil money from the Gulf states and able to tap into unprecedented capital to securing the best talent.

To survive, clubs like Real Madrid and Juventus wanted to tip the scales in their favor. Their proposal amounted to a competition between 20 teams, earmarked to include 15 founding members each year, plus five who would qualify based on their performances over the past five years, rather than season-by-season achievements in their domestic league. This would have brought the competition closer to the NFL and the NBA in the United States, which field the same teams every year.

Why is this intolerable for the fans? Because, as this documentary keeps telling us, it crosses a red line, namely that any team should be able to rise to the top by performance alone. In truth, it is nonsense on stilts. The playing field has long tipped in favor of the teams with the biggest stacks of tickets.

Bradford Park Avenue or Blyth Spartans (to name a few impecunious B’s) will never climb to the top unless something counterintuitive happens – say, a bored sheikh decides to throw a few hundred million at them. To pretend otherwise is to buy into the lie at the heart of this program, which is that football fans nobly fight evil plutocrats.

But here’s the twist. UEFA are fine-tuning their Champions League expansion plans. As Jonathan Liew argued in the Guardian last month, that could mean giving places to historically successful clubs that don’t qualify, making it a super league in name. This may prove that the fans’ battle to save the soul of football last April was not successful, as this program claims. And, even worse, that the supposedly beautiful game has become chronically, perhaps irretrievably, ugly.

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