Football should remain the people’s sport

Ellie Tomlin 11 May 2021

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of InQuire Media

Image courtesy of Ellie Tomlin

As a football fan, you wait until the end of the season to buy the home shirt when it goes on sale. That doesn’t make you any different to the fan who buys a new shirt at the top price every season. As a football fan, you cross your fingers for a Saturday off work to go along to the game. That doesn’t make you any different to the fan that goes to every single home and away game without fail. As a football fan, you remember your first ever match, perched on your parents’ shoulders for a better view, the anticipation thick in the air, with the realisation anything is possible during those 90 minutes. That doesn’t make you any different to the fan that goes and sits alone. The point is, once in that stadium and the echoing sounds of the manager chants are sung around the hustle and bustle of a 3-o'clock kickoff, the fans are all one. They leave their differences behind and cheer on their favourite team. Everyone in that stadium is transfixed on the beautiful game of football; a cherished game that the European Super League (ESL) had threatened to destroy.

After a somewhat turbulent few days for football, at least it could be said that football fans have been recognised as the beating heart of the industry. On the Tuesday before their game with Brighton, hundreds of Chelsea fans gathered outside Stamford Bridge, with the same happening at stadiums up and down the country in protest of the proposed ESL – an elite league compromised of major European teams. In the league were English teams Manchester United, Manchester City, Chelsea, Arsenal, Tottenham and Liverpool – who’s walking alone now, eh? It was proposed that matches from the league would be streamed on platforms such as Amazon, Disney and Facebook, generating revenues of up to 4 billion pounds to be shared between the clubs - not bad if you’re a football owner. Money, and the power it holds in football, has always been a highly debated topic in the game, and with the pandemic clubs are struggling with revenue more than ever. Without bums on seats, clubs have struggled to pay staff and players with those in Leagues 1 and 2 suffering the most. This proposal has highlighted just how out of touch with reality that some of these owners truly are.

This power grab was architected solely by foreign owners, strongly backed by American businessmen and banks, who have sadly overlooked the fact that they are only custodians of these institutions. The fans were here when they arrived, and will still be here long after they have departed into the sunset with their bulging profit margins. Sadly the truth about football is simple: the high-flying clubs are those with some of the best players, therefore the high-flying clubs are always the richest. But this is the truth for 2021 football, not where the game originated from. Football is a working-class sport, a game and league created by mill workers and dock workers to give them a break from their gruesome working hours. For many fans, football still is. Look at Southampton FC, formed in 1885 when St Mary’s Church of England Young Men’s Association decided its members would benefit from have a football team. Or Millwall; set up by factory workers in the capital’s east end in 1885. Or Preston North End; established in 1863 who started their football success in 1880 and became one of the founding members of the football league 8 years later. Or Doncaster Rovers; founded by railway workers in 1879. You get the picture. Football was created by the people and should continue to be for the people, not the money. Instead of joining this exclusive league, big clubs instead could invest a tiny proportion of their revenue into smaller, working-class clubs on the brink of bankruptcy - just a suggestion.

Universally, the proposal of the ESL has sparked an unprecedented outburst of united anger within the football community, where usually tribalism and club loyalty somewhat blinkers supporters. The mobilisation of players, supporters and footballing royalty alike has given hope for what can be done when we all stick together. As expected, once the first club had withdrawn, the others followed in a reluctant domino effect. Liverpool and Boston Red Sox owner, John. W. Henry, released a video to supporters and players profusely apologising for this farcical episode.

But should it have taken such an extreme attack on the game to realise the importance of supporters and the local community in football, something which is deeply embedded into the culture of this country?

The owners of these clubs are to blame but they are not alone in their greed. FIFA and UEFA both have a vibrant history of bribery and corruption in the face of big football tournaments and their involvement in the finances; it’s not a surprise that such an elite league was proposed as a result. Perhaps we should use this potential power grab to reform football worldwide, for the debacle has forced us to ask ourselves if the line between business and the sport itself becomes too blurred. What has happened to the game we love?

Football shouldn’t be greedy. Football shouldn’t be about money or the TV contracts or even the best players. Football is a sport born from the working-class and I’m ashamed that some English clubs put profit margins and revenue above their fans and community. For without the fans, there is no game.