The left should celebrate the stunning success of a mass mobilisation of football fans against corporate parasites, argues Sean Ledwith
The rise and fall of the European Super League within the space of forty-eight hours has been one of the most astonishing events in the history of modern football. Although not officially dead according to Florentina Perez, President of Real Madrid and one of its architects, the withdrawal of the six English participants on Tuesday evening has effectively blown the original plan out of the water.
The twelve clubs that sprang the attempted takeover of elite football on an unsuspecting world on Sunday afternoon undoubtedly expected that their combined corporate firepower would be enough to drive through the plan. What the English Big Six failed to anticipate was that their arrogance and hubris would ignite a grassroots uprising of predominantly working-class fans around the country that has prompted the implosion of the Super League on the launchpad.
This is a hugely symbolic and morale-boosting victory for all those in different sectors of society who have endured decades of rampant neoliberalism trampling over more humane values of community, collectivism and solidarity. It is noticeable how many fans were happy to put aside their traditional rivalries to create a united front of opposition that has overwhelmed the billionaires and their grubby conspiracy.
The Super League plan was so badly conceived and publicised it is difficult to comprehend how it even got the green light from its backers. The complete failure on Sunday or Monday to provide any credible justification on sporting terms was an astonishing oversight (although perhaps not so surprising in light of the fact Theresa May’s former chief of communications was apparently in charge of PR for the ESL!).
The notion of twelve of the most prestigious clubs in European football separating themselves from the rest to establish a midweek competition that was sealed off from the realistic possibility of smaller clubs joining or the founding members being relegated is an insult to the game’s traditions of sporting jeopardy and open competition.
The jaw-dropping arrogance of club owners such as the Glazer brothers at Manchester United and Fenway Sports Group at Liverpool to think they could get away this is, however, symptomatic of the growing gap between the neoliberal elite and the rest of us in the 21st century.
The episode also reveals the insidious connections between different sections of the global ruling class. The ESL was backed by $4 billion from US banking giant JP Morgan which was offering each participant club $500 million to sign up – that is three times the amount the winners of the current Champions League can expect to win.
The personalities behind the ESL are repellently typical of an increasingly out of touch plutocratic elite that think they are beyond accountability to anyone. As chief executive of Manchester United, Ed Woodward was one of the key Big Six plotters and a former employee of JP Morgan.
His resignation this week as a consequence of the debacle will be a satisfying scalp for United fans frustrated over not just this attempted betrayal of the game’s values but the whole direction of travel since the Glazer brothers took over the club.
The scuppering of the machinations of the likes of Woodward and Juventus chairman Agnelli represents a powerful re-assertion of an alternative agenda of community-centred football. The refusal of German giants, Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund, to sign up for the ESL was founded on the closer control exerted on them by local fans.
Spirit of Shankly
The mobilisation of fans outside the grounds of the Big Six on Sunday and Monday evenings were a striking demonstration of the ability of fans of a game rooted in working class communities and traditions to strike back against a corrupt clique of owners who have no awareness or interest in football’s heritage.
Liverpool fans rightly perceived the ESL as selling out their club’s organic association with the city’s working class and its battles against the egregious injustices of Tory governments, especially in the aftermath of the Hillsborough disaster. Their protests on Sunday and Monday were centred around the statue of legendary manager Bill Shankly outside Anfield.
Shankly and his spirit epitomises the working class values that have mobilised with impressive effect this week. A rebellion from below on this scale and with such dramatic results should inspire us to resist other elements of the neoliberal agenda wherever it rears its ugly head. In Shankly’s words:
“Team spirit is a form of socialism. I’m my own politics – I don’t go in for politics. But that kind of forms a camaraderie and it is a basis for socialism. When you hear people running down fellas that are socialists I think they are wrong. They don’t know what they are talking about…. I’m talking life. I’m not talking about politics in the true sense of politics…. I’m talking about humanity. People dealing with people and people helping people. The socialism I believe in is everybody working for the same goal and everybody having a share in the rewards. That’s how I see football, that’s how I see life.”
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