This is a website for Kent, so I hope you will excuse me if I go a little off-piste with the content of my article today. But the fact of the matter is that I’m piste-off.
The news that six English football teams are trying to form a break-away European Super League with teams from Italy and Spain has left me in despair. What are they thinking of? Money, is the short answer. But I’m hoping the response of the fans will bite them in their collective cash arse.
Today, I want to call on supporters of all the half dozen teams – and there will be many fans who reside in Kent – to use whatever means at their disposal to demonstrate their displeasure.
I support one of the so-called ‘big six’. I don’t plan to mention which one for two reasons. One, I’m feeling embarrassed. Two, I don’t wish to alienate those who regularly visit this site. But, let’s be honest, if you were to guess, you would have a one-in-six chance of being right.
My plan is not to renew my membership of this unnamed club which is coming up soon. Viewed in isolation, it is not big money, of course – 25 quid. Even if 50,000 others were to do the same it would only amount to £1.25m. The club couldn’t buy a tenth-rate centre-half for that (and, trust me, they need a first-rate one). But it would send out a message … and the implications wouldn’t stop there. If not a member, I wouldn’t be able to apply for match tickets. So, it would not be a one-off financial hit. Crowd numbers (football crowds, remember them?) would be down if enough folk act in tandem with me.
Among the many moans I’m hearing are that the six teams – Arsenal, Chelsea, Liverpool, Manchester City, Manchester United and Tottenham Hotspur – are nearly all owned by non-English people (Spurs being the exception). Fear not, this is not about to become a xenophobic rant. But, this non-Englishness does make it extremely difficult for these owners to fully comprehend what the game means to English people.
Two of the teams – Liverpool and Man U – are under American ownership. I like many, many American things. I have visited on several occasions and, indeed, at one time I aspired to moving there. So, I am not an America-basher. But I’m not overly keen on their approach to professional sport.
The concept that a team can up sticks and move to another city is alien to me. I very much like the San Francisco 49ers and, with a name like 49ers it would be almost impossible to imagine them playing anywhere else. But, take the example of another American team I like, the Raiders. That team started life in Oakland (close to San Francisco), went to Los Angeles, back to Oakland and is now resident in Las Vegas. It’s not like these moves are just down the road. The drive between San Francisco and Los Angeles takes between six and eight hours. I know, I’ve driven it. When Wimbledon was moved to Milton Keynes the distance was/is 50 miles and the drive takes about an hour and a quarter. Even so, Dons fans were not happy and formed another team which, I’m delighted to note, is now back in the league where it belongs.
My point is that you cannot apply what works in America to the UK all the time. Sometimes it works, others, it doesn’t. In America, a team is a franchise (hate that word), if it isn’t working in one location, it can move. Imagine trying to repeat that here (as the Milton Keynes Dons did). Given the majority of teams have names that end in City, Town, United or Athletic or have no second name (Liverpool, Everton, Chelsea, even our own Gillingham) such fluidity of location would be a naming nightmare.
Football needs promotion and relegation. It is the lifeblood of the sport.
Many years ago I worked at the Kent Messenger when a chap named Jim Thompson was the MD. He was also chairman of Maidstone United football club. Thompson was one of the main advocates of the current pyramid system that exists in English soccer. Before Thompson’s efforts in tandem with others, there was no automatic promotion from the Vanarama National League into the Football League’s bottom division. Teams that finished at the bottom of the (then) Fourth Division – often Hartlepool – had to apply for re-election which they were nearly always granted. Hartlepool applied 11 times and were successful on each occasion.
Thompson, sadly, died in 2009, but I think he might be glad to have avoided seeing the nonsense being played out now about Super Leagues. His message was that teams needed to have hope that one day they could play with the big boys. Even if that hope was never realised, it springs eternal.
Don’t let these greedy team owners take that hope away.
Postscript: Just a few days on a it looks like this European Super League scheme is dead in the water. What a relief! For the sake of fair play and, yes, decency, well done the ex-players and managers who spoke up against it happening. Much praise to the ‘big six’ managers Guardiola and Klopp who were swift to voice their negative opinions. I believe they, potentially, were putting their jobs on the line and, given what they had to lose, they should be applauded.