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Football fans boot off over plans for a European Super League

Critics say the proposal is about enriching billionaire owners at the expense of fans and the sport as a whole.

Finally, it seems there is something all Brits can agree on: opposition to a European Super League (ESL). The ESL is a new tournament for the continent’s top football clubs. Six British clubs announced in April that they would sign up for it, before quickly changing their minds due to huge backlash from fans, managers, players, and even politicians.

The major point of criticism is that the wealth and popularity of the teams invited to take part in the ESL means it would suck attention, talent and money away from the current football leagues. That is likely to financially benefit the ESL teams and their billionaire owners. But it  will damage or even destroy smaller or less-successful clubs. They would find it even harder to compete with the even-more-enriched top clubs. And if the popularity of the Premier League wanes, there's likely to be a corresponding fall in revenue from things like advertising and viewership rights.

The ESL also functions as a ‘closed shop’ which other clubs wouldn’t be allowed to take part in. For many fans, that makes the game as a whole less competitive and therefore less appealing. There’s no chance of ever seeing their team lift football’s newest trophy, or enjoying the excitement of an underdog team pulling off a surprising victory over the usual favourites, as Leicester City did in the 2016 Premier League.

This stuff matters, particularly considering how placed-based and deep-rooted Britain’s love of football is. Football can be an important component of people’s wellbeing and is often found at the heart of local communities. This can be particularly true for places and groups who are lower-income and don’t have access to a lot of alternatives. Plus, considering Covid-19 has barred most fans from attending games for over a year, it reads as particularly out of touch for footballing bigwigs to now push for a League that would see lots of games played abroad and therefore become more expensive or difficult to attend.

Despite the British clubs quick ditch of the ESL, many think the only way to put the idea to bed for good is to change the way clubs are controlled. At the moment, football clubs are private businesses that are generally bought up by wealthy individuals. Having a rich owner can mean a large source of money to invest into things like buying great players, but it also means that these well-off people can run the club however they see fit. So there’s growing calls to move to a model where fans own at least part of the club, and therefore have to be consulted. Protests by Manchester United fans calling for this ended up shutting down an important game at the start of this month.

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