Passion, tradition, and prestige are three of European football’s keystones. Without any one of them, the sport loved by so many would not be the same. And now, the creation of the European Super League threatens to strip football of all three.
Football: Unparalleled Passion
As a New Yorker, before the April of 2015, I had been to my fair share of professional sports games. I went to a few Yankees games (baseball), a handful of Giants games (American football), as well as a couple of Knicks (basketball) and Rangers (ice hockey) matches.
The atmosphere at all were impressive to me at the time. The applauding of a home run; the roar of a touchdown; the clapping of a basket; the songs of a goal. In terms of sports and passion, that was all I knew. And to me, nothing was wrong with the amount of passion in any of the stadiums/arenas.
But then came my first Watford match, a Championship clash against Middlesbrough (accompanied by a locally-supporting family member). I did not know much about football – much less Watford – before the match. After the match, my days of being an American sports supporter felt decades behind me.
I still keep tabs on American sports for sure, but from that day forward, Watford, and football as a whole, was my passion. The constant chants, the immersion of the crowd into the match, the feeling of directly helping the team through support, and so much more made one match all that was needed to make my lifelong allegiance. Even supporting from abroad, the passion can never die nor dwindle. Football has intangibles which no other sport has – and there are many more reasons, apart from match-day atmosphere, as to why.
The Breaking Of Tradition Strikes Football’s Soul
Football has been rapidly evolving over the past couple of decades. There are clubs like Manchester City that have had tremendous cash injections to propel themselves to domestic domination. There are teams such as Red Bull Leipzig who compete in the Champions League despite being founded in 2009. Even 20th-placed Premier League teams are paid nine figures.
Some change is inevitable, but through all the changes of the past, tradition in football was not lost. Arguably the most fundamental part of footballing tradition is there is always something to chase no matter a club’s trajectory: the idea that any team from anywhere can achieve anything – the notion that the sport of the people is going to provide thrills on all tiers – (most importantly) the promise of always having something to play for, whether it be for silverware, a European spot, promotion, or avoidance of relegation.
In American sports leagues, including the MLS, the truth is if you are not first, then nothing matters. If you win the championship, you are super successful. If you are the 7th best team out of thirty, so what? You might as well have been the worst team because, in the end, there is not too much incentive to finish in a higher position. In fact, the worse teams get rewarded with better draft picks.
Hardly any Americans complain about this system. The leagues have always been this way. The owners of the teams know they have a salary cap, know they will make revenue regardless of the season’s outcome, and know that they can be terrible for ten seasons and make their fans suffer and it would not financially matter. That is the way it has always been, so in America, the corporate-first system feels normal (not to mention the other logistical issues implementing promotion and relegation in American professional sports would have).
Seeing both sides, the promotion and relegation system is a tradition that cannot be abandoned. It breathes life into football. It gives every supporter of every team of the hundreds of teams in England reason to put their all behind their club. The traditions in football are the heartbeat of many people’s lives, especially now during the challenging times imposed by the pandemic.
Football is always going to have its changes, but with the loss of tradition will come an inevitable loss of truly inherent value.
European Super League Cannot Have Prestige
If the European Super League does commence, the format it will take, at the time of writing, remains unclear (as in what the implications are for domestic competitions). Either way, one thing is for certain: the value of winning in the European Super League is absent.
The notion that the founding teams cannot be relegated/leave the European Super League is this so-called “Americanization of the sport.” The league is not filled with for-the-fans football clubs; it is filled with franchises who care primarily, perhaps exclusively, about money.
With no risk of punishment for not performing well (as in no risk of relegation or missing out on European competition), what is the true incentive to winning? With guaranteed money, the owners and players have no reason to put their best forward. All that is being competed for is a trophy without history. A poor season is a poor season and there is no downside to it. A team does not have to try to improve at all when they know there is literally no need to.
Indeed, a positive is that the top clubs in the world will make more money as a result of this. That, however, is the only positive, and that is exactly at the heart of this problem, and the main reason why all fans of all clubs are uniting: football should never solely be about franchises making money – it is about being the sport of the people. It is about highs and lows, rivalries, passion, tradition, and so much more. Even if the top clubs go ahead with their plan and make more money, the true joy fans will get is lost. The money to be made by the few shareholders involved at the top is worth infinitely less than what football is meant to be to the billions of its followers.
Owning a football club is a business; that is a fact. But, it is more than that too. It is a duty to the followers. It is an oath of loyalty to uplift those who spend their entire lives following the team. Being an owner is more than just about making money – especially when profit comes at the expense of football, and even a way of life, as we know it.
And finally about the European Super League, well, it cannot be “super.” When everyone is super, no one is. Without lows, there are no highs. With “super matches” every week, none of the matches are truly unique. What makes given clashes have prestige and attraction is the value of witnessing one. The rarity of playing against top teams gives that handful of matches per season the extra value. When the scarcity and specialness of playing a “big” opposition go away, then the magnitude of each match declines.
Regardless of the format the European Super League will take, it is a direct attack on football and all that the sport is built upon. In America, similar systems work because franchised leagues are all that has been known for generations. But, the way football is different puts the value of the sport so above and beyond the value any other sport could have. The creation of the European Super League will tear football away from its core values, rip what sets it apart from all other sports, and signal the people’s sport being stripped away from the world in favor of money.
It might be too late to stop the league’s creation, but if we do not use our voices, then the die is certainly cast. It is up to all people of the sport, from pundit to supporter to player, to ensure football remains football as we know it – the football we all love.