ARTICLES Opinion

The Super League: An Insult to Fans

“In closing, I would like to recognise that it is your support which makes this club so great, and we thank you for that” wrote Joel Glazer in his open letter. A closing statement which on the surface commends supporters, but in reality does little but insult those who pour their time, money and passion into Manchester United through their lifelong obsession with the club.

An ‘apology’ for a disastrous week which saw the football world united: politicians, celebrities, fans, players and managers alike all standing up to condemn a disgraceful cash grab spearheaded by Real Madrid president Florentino Perez and playing off the greed of the big six clubs’ owners. The protests outside Stamford Bridge before Chelsea took on Brighton demonstrated the power and anger of football fans towards the proposals which aimed to change football forever.

Suggestions of a ‘miscalculation’, and an ‘underestimation of fans’ feelings’ have been thrown around – but the reality is that the “deep-rooted traditions – promotion, relegation, the pyramid”, to which Mr Glazer alludes in his open letter, are exactly what his family and the other 12 clubs were prepared to exchange for a guaranteed income and vastly increased revenues.

We’ll never die

In 1878, Manchester United – or Newton Heath LYR as it was originally named – was founded by railway workers on the Lancashire and Yorkshire Railway. Since then, the club has survived multiple financial crises, damage from Second World War bombs, and of course, the biggest tragedy in the club’s history on February 6th 1958 when a plane carrying United’s players and officials crashed on the runway in Munich. Twenty-three lives were lost, including eight players – a night that lives on forever in the fabric of the club. Indeed, walking past the Munich memorial and through the Munich tunnel on matchdays provides a constant reminder of those who came before us.

The very fact that those United heroes gave their lives fighting for the club in Europe provides a constant reminder of the importance of competition. It was through the club’s domestic success under Sir Matt Busby – winning league titles in both 1956 and 1957, that they qualified for the European Cup. It was through their success within the Cup that they reached (and won) the quarter-final against Red Star Belgrade – the final game many of the Busby Babes would ever play for United.

Assistant manager Jimmy Murphy took responsibility for rebuilding the team after the tragedy – and maintained Busby’s focus on finding the best British talent, combined with the best youngsters – an instrumental part of the United way and identity. Throughout Sir Alex Ferguson‘s tenure, he maintained this focus, and current United boss Ole Gunnar Solskjær has worked to reinstate this approach as the basis of his squad. The spirit of Sir Matt Busby and the essence of Manchester United lives on. As the Stretford End sings after a late comeback, and on the Munich anniversary game every year – “we’ll keep the red flag flying high, ’cause Man United will never die”.

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From the past at United, the resurgence of the club following every setback, to reaching the privileged position in which the club sit today as one of the world’s largest commercial brands, true United fans appreciate the work of those who’ve come before us. There were no guarantees of money, no closed competitions. Players played for the love of the game. The club along with its players, managers and supporters have fought for everything we enjoy today. In every pub around Old Trafford on a matchday, in the Stretford End and the East Stand, “20 times, 20 times, Man United” rings out – a powerful reminder of the traditions of domestic success on which the club stands – success achieved through open and fair competition built on the United DNA.

An insult

By involving the club in this disgraceful proposition, the Glazer family have brought upon themselves the greatest fan pressure yet of a tenure which has seen them load the club with debt, take considerable annual dividends, and fail to invest adequately in the eyes of many fans. Old Trafford is decaying – with suggestions that metalwork is rusting, electronic turnstiles failing to work, and cracks/leaks regularly seen from the roof.

Signing up to a closed competition puts all United’s past comebacks from disaster, from the brink of ruin, firmly to one side in the pursuit of one thing: money. Yet not only was the fan backlash strong enough to see the Super League destroyed in 48 hours, it looks likely to bring some of the biggest anti-Glazer protests ever seen at Old Trafford. The fans have sent a firm message: the Glazers and their greed are not welcome in Manchester.

To every football person, the rumours flying out about the Super League were terrifying: the suggestions of shorter games, matches played abroad, teams having two squads. As a child, I remember vividly the pride I felt being told that we were playing 90 minute matches for the first time. The knowledge that you’re doing what your heroes do on TV and at the stadium every week. Little details like this are what make football special: the traditions and basics of the game that have remained the same for decades. Everyone growing up in the UK plays football, whether at lunchtime at school, for a club, or in the park with friends, everyone has their own stories and experiences of the beautiful game – this is what makes it everyone’s game. Football is such an important part of UK culture and fans are rightly keen to preserve it in its purest possible form.

Whilst VAR has undoubtedly removed some purity from the game – with many fans still unhappy – the ideas of changing the length of a game or moving matches away from the local communities and fans would obliterate the essence of the game. The accessibility of football combined with its simplicity make it a great equaliser, and this gives it near universal admiration within the UK and around the world. I am proud that the football community stood up to the wishes of the abhorrent, out-of-touch Perez, and that the Super League is dead in the water.

However, the job is not yet done. Governance in football needs reform: UEFA’s Champions League reform are barely better than the Super League, and the desperate greed of owners could see the next Super League attempt in the future. Whether the German 50+1 model is adopted, or something else, change is needed. Starting with the Glazers: the fans are making themselves heard.

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