The Handbook
The Handbook

Update! Spoiler alert: you can actually choose to totally ignore this article now, because since we ran it events have overtaken it and now they’ve dropped the whole Super League thing anyway! Still, if you want to look vaguely knowledgeable in the pub garden this week, read on…

I’m not a football person. I don’t ‘have a team’, I actively avoid conversations about football and find it as annoying as you do when people claim that ‘we won’ this or that football match. Spurs are worn with riding boots and I use Hammers to hang pictures.

My worst nightmare is when a football accidentally rolls in my direction in the park, I inevitably toe-punt it back to the football people only for the ball to veer off at ninety degrees. So, with my football credentials clearly on the table you’ll be relieved to know that I’m now The Handbook’s Chief Football Correspondent…

You’ve probably noticed that a lot of people are getting increasingly angry about football over the last 48 hours. People are caps-locked across social media and at first you ignored it, assuming it would go away. But by now it’s clear that it won’t and you’ll have to engage just a little bit but it’s way too far into the story to really grasp what’s happening. Like getting into Game of Thrones mid way through season three.

So here I am to get you up to speed…

What is football?

Classic. Okay, so let’s assume we’re not going to explain the off-side rule, but English football is currently structured in something called the pyramid system. That means that there are various leagues, each more skilled and exclusive than the last.

The top tier, the Premiership, consists of 20 teams that you’ve probably heard of, Manchester United, Arsenal and what have you. Each year the three teams which performed worst in their games that year are ‘relegated’ and three more teams, the best performing in the next league down (the English Football League) are promoted.

This is basically repeated in one form or another until we get to your local village football team, made up of off-duty policemen,  sporty dads and milkmen.

Is there anything above that?

Yes, the really successful teams from across Europe can enter the UEFA Champion’s League. This is, until now at least, considered the very top flight of football…

Okay, so what’s all the fuss about now?

Right. So. What’s happened now is that a group of the most powerful football teams in Europe, including six English teams (Manchester United, Manchester City, Arsenal, Chelsea, Liverpool and Tottenham Hotspur), have come together to create a brand new league, just for themselves. The Super League.

These 15 ‘founder members’ (each collecting between £200m-£300m for breaking away) would be automatically entered into all future seasons of the league, with another five teams given the opportunity to join temporarily every year.

Wait, this is why everyone’s furious? Not vaccine poverty or deforestation?

I know, I know. But people are furious because it upends the pyramid structure, creating something everyone’s calling a ‘closed shop’.

In effect, it’s not fair and it’s not meritocratic. The teams in the Premier League or the Champions League have fought their ways up into those positions, sometimes over decades, this new invention means that the founding members won’t have to work at all.

So how has the football industry reacted?

Seemingly blindsided by all this (it was announced on Sunday), the footballing world has reacted badly. UEFA (who presumably are set to lose a fortune if football screening rights and so on transfers to this new entity) have been incandescent.

The president of UEFA, Aleksander Ceferin, helpfully weighed in calling the founders “snakes” and “liars”.

He’s said that players who join the new Super League will be banned from playing in the World Cup and European Championships if this goes ahead, adding that it’s a “disgraceful and self-serving proposal from clubs motivated by greed”.

“The players who will play in teams that might play in the closed league will be banned from playing in the World Cup and Euros, so they will not be able to represent their national teams at any matches,”

What about the government?

Boris has put aside handling the pandemic and trying to get a trade deal with India to turn his attention to football, saying he’s willing to use a ‘legislative bomb’ (not a thing) to stop this happening. Ideas said to be ‘on the table’ include preventing working visas for footballers and refusing to police events (rendering them impossible to hold).

Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden (pictured), a sort of human version of Beaker from The Muppets, has also been highly critical, as have a raft of politicians from all major parties. Kier Starmer, looking sheepish after being barred from a pub in Bath, keen to re-burnish his everyman persona with a pledge to back the PM’s efforts.

Who else has weighed in?

Prince William clearly knows a thing or two about rifts, and as President of the Football Association he’s spoken out in a rare admonishment Tweeting “Now, more than ever, we must protect the entire football community – from the top level to the grassroots – and the values of competition and fairness at its core.

“I share the concerns of fans about the proposed Super League and the damage it risks causing to the game we love. W.”

But the list of angry people includes pretty much every politician, celebrity and all your Facebook friends who took a break from posting selfies from pub gardens or pictures of their boring kids.

Okay, I’m caught up. Now what?

Watch this space. Either the clubs will back down under the weight of government, sport and grass-roots opposition (supporters burnt Liverpool shirts outside Anfield last night, a hint at just how unpopular the plans are), or some kind of compromise will be hashed out. The ball is, to mix sporting metaphors, very much in their court…

Right, well I’ve spent the afternoon realising just why I’m still not a football fan. That’s your lot. I’m off to find something real to worry about. Perhaps everyone else should too?

Update! Wait I thought that was the end of the article?

So did we! Anyway, last night in the face of a barrage of pressure the six English teams pulled out of the league altogether, followed this morning by the two Spanish teams.

Juventus chairman Andrea Agnelli, one of the main bods involved with the European Super League, has admitted that with eight of the twelve currently slated pulling out it can’t go ahead.

Asked by journalists he said “I remain convinced of the beauty of that project, of the value that it would have developed to the pyramid, of the creation of the best competition in the world, but evidently no. I don’t think that project is now still up and running.”

So ‘poof’ the entire story has disappeared and everything’s back to normal in football-land. See, we were right when we said it didn’t matter!

The end.

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