We saw them, wealthy club owners – three sets from the United States – with their paws in the cookie jar, like rabid raccoons raiding a woodland camp.
Can’t blame a billionaire for trying. After buying their way into fabled soccer teams that grew on the affections of humble fans all over Europe, a dozen club owners showed their contempt for the fans…and the players they have “bought”…and for the history of the best soccer leagues in the world.
It’s our toy. We can do what we want.
In case you are not up on this spectacular pratfall by rich people, let me say briefly: twelve of the best clubs in England, Italy and Spain were plotting a separate mid-week tournament involving 15 “permanent” members and five annual “guest” clubs. They would defy the structure of European soccer because…well, because they are rich guys, and they wanted more.
But their heist sputtered immediately in the past few days, and now the owners will be forever remembered for their blatant stick-em-up.
It is quite fitting that three of the rapacious owners who would have undermined European soccer are from the United States-- John Henry of Liverpool, Stan Kroenke of Arsenal and the Glazer family of Manchester United.
Other ownerships come from other countries -- Middle Eastern potentates and Russian oligarchs and other such worthies from Italy and Spain. No negotiations. Just a power grab in the middle of the night. Shame.
European soccer has become so big that even rich Americans began buying into hallowed clubs that have evolved from local lads pounding a muddy leather ball, on rudimentary fields for the entertainment of friends and neighbors. The fans and players created nasty local/regional rivalries, known as “derbies” like Liverpool-Man U or Arsenal-Tottenham.
For decades, fans who supported these clubs -- mostly men – were herded into dismal stadiums, forced to stand, putting up with rudimentary “restrooms” and grubby “food.” Fans were herded behind locked gates, and if a fire or riot broke out, they were left to work it out for themselves, sometimes at the grotesque loss of life.
Via television, and the creature-comfort example of American football and baseball stadiums, European soccer has evolved, with more luxurious settings and sometimes even “family sections” where men dare bring their wives and daughters.
As European clubs relaxed their quotas for foreigners, the best players in Latin America and Africa and Asia and even this distant soccer outpost of North America flocked to western Europe. The leaders noticed the success of the Super Bowl of American football and created ways to make money via all-European mid-week tournaments and calling it the Champions League.
Good grief, wasn’t that enough, all that money and all those epic games, with the best players in the world traveling and running like well-paid hamsters on a wheel?
One reason the Champions League had succeeded in recent decades is that it was based on a meritocracy. True. Clubs could show some brains and ingenuity and upgrade themselves to the top ranks of the national leagues, thereby qualifying for the Champions League.
You may notice that six of the 12 willing teams of La Cosa Nostra (Our Thing) – to be called the Super League, how creative – were from England. Arsenal. Chelsea. Tottenham. Liverpool. Manchester United. Manchester City.
I looked it up, and in recent decades, other clubs in England managed to qualify for the Champions League tournament – Leeds United, Blackburn Rovers, Newcastle and Leicester City.
But some owners wanted more. They got together and dreamed up a Super League of the in crowd and invited guests.
What Messrs. Henry, Kroenke and Glazer never saw coming was the rage of fans who survived the nasty old pits, who stood in the rain and snow, to create these leagues. Nor did the American owners and their arrogant colleagues dream that their hired help – mere players and even cheeky club managers like the Spanish (Catalan) Pep Guardiola of Manchester City – would go public, immediately.
The rest of this epic pratfall – rich and arrogant men, tripping in muddy streets -- is in the newspapers and on the air waves and the Web. I am quoting Rory Smith, the European soccer correspondent for The New York Times, as he updated the epic failure:
“But it was not only how quickly it all dissipated — Sunday’s future of soccer did not even make it to Wednesday — but how easily those who had designed it and signed on to it seemed to capitulate.”
The schemers are probably not embarrassed. Also, they are still rich.
* * *
These people in the video made English soccer, not some Yankee carpetbaggers looking to make more money off other people's sport. (These blokes are rooting for the national team, but you get the point of who built English soccer.)
4/21/2021 11:27:31 am
4/21/2021 04:21:01 pm
Tom, thanks, man. You've been there, you know. GV
4/21/2021 11:27:33 am
To put this in perspective, imagine the big market teams in MLB or NFL breaking away from their American and National Leagues or Conferences to form a super league and leaving behind the smaller market clubs to fend for themselves. Shame on them, and great that the fans protests were heard loud and clear.
4/21/2021 04:24:39 pm
Marty, quite right. Imagine "big-market" teams forming a little cabal, and telling my two Ohio River franchises, Pittsburgh and Cincinnati, to muddle through the regular season. MLB economics are brutal enough, but at least the big clubs don't abandon the grand old "small market" franchises. Thanks, GV
4/21/2021 11:38:39 am
4/21/2021 04:31:44 pm
Bruce, I guess the masters of the NFL could try a relegation system for their teams, but what would be the point? The richer clubs need the poorer ones to beat up on. And bettors and real fans need both types. And some lesser teams are only one good QB draft choice from playoff status. I'm fine with the penalties for Euro soccer teams that cheat. The scandal in2005-6 in Italy caused the mighty Juventus, owned by the nefarious Agnellis, to be relegated,and 3-4 of their stars jumped ship. But Gigi Buffon, the keeper, and DelPiero, master playmaker, stayed and were back in Serie A soon.
4/21/2021 06:00:25 pm
4/21/2021 11:46:16 am
Metaphor of the year, George - "the best soccer players in the world traveling and running like well-paid hamsters on a wheel." Bravo!
4/21/2021 04:34:16 pm
Lee: thanks. Between clubs and national teams, the better players get only 2-3-4 weeks of real vacation a year. I have no idea how their bodies don't just give out.
4/21/2021 02:49:43 pm
Thanks, GV. Been looking forward to your thoughts. Didnt realize they withdrew.GOOD!
4/21/2021 04:41:25 pm
Ed: I understand how you suffered at the hands of the Yankees as a yoot. I can say I felt the same way as a Brooklyn fan, but when I covered the Yankees from 65-70, I saw the team hit bottom. (My great Newsday editor, Jack Mann, wrote a book called "The Decline and Fall of the New York Yankees." But I was friendly with so many of the Yankees in those years -- Bill Robinson, Steve Hamilton, Roy White, Horace Clarke, Ruben Amaro, Bobby Cox -- that I could not gloat. And really, the years of Jeter-Posada-Bernie-Mariano and Pettitte, plus Willie Randolph and Curtis Granderson, made it impossible to detest the Yankees. GV
4/22/2021 01:25:59 pm
I understand GV, but that is different than accepting. You are right on about my yout. 1941, 1947, 1949, 1952, 1953. (1950 Phillies and 1951 Jints, just added insult to injury.) and finally “The World Stood Still, 1955!!!!!!!!
4/21/2021 05:29:43 pm
Nicely done as always, George. Let me just say that we University of Missouri grads do not like to claim the carpetbagging Stan Kroenke as one of our own. But I distantly have an interest when Arsenal is doing well because my daughter is a fan-via-friendship with a hardcore Gunner follower. Walked past the Arsenal stadium a couple of years ago while visiting her in North London.
4/21/2021 09:27:34 pm
John, it could be worse. I was in the same class as Bernie Madoff. (Nobody knew him; he was a cipher.)
4/22/2021 12:20:30 pm
4/22/2021 04:55:51 pm
ed,,,,you left out the '54 jints.....did you have one year of acceptance before the boys of summer finally broke thru?
4/22/2021 11:35:43 pm
Bruce, 54 wasnt close, 50 last day loss the Phils, 51, Bobby Thomson.
4/22/2021 11:49:16 pm
4/23/2021 11:31:39 am
Great post, but you did not provide the recipe for the Meat Pie Sausage Roll.
4/23/2021 11:58:28 am
Comments are closed.
From the great Maureen Dowd:
As I write this, I’m in a deserted newsroom in The Times’s D.C. office. After working at home for two years during Covid, I was elated to get back, so I could wander around and pick up the latest scoop.
But in the last year, there has been only a smattering of people whenever I’m here, with row upon row of empty desks. Sometimes a larger group gets lured in for a meeting with a platter of bagels."
--- Dowd writes about the lost world of journalists clustered in newsrooms at all hours, smoking, drinking, gossipping, making phone calls, typing, editing.
"Putting out the paper," we called it.
Much more than nostalgia.