I was texting a friend this morning lamenting about the amount of money I spend every month to make sure I don’t miss a single game played by the love of my life, Chelsea Football Club. Barely ten hours after that conversation, I’m sat here part angry, part ashamed, part sad, mostly defeated and on the verge of canceling those subscriptions and never watching another Chelsea game because a group of billionaires, driven by greed, are about to destroy the sport that hundreds of millions of fans around the world hold onto so dearly.
I was barely 14 when I was introduced to the English Premier League by my uncle. I knew nothing about it or had any specific reason to support any club. I was thousands of miles away from the action after all. But then I started watching the sport. The thrills of winning close games in the final minutes. The disappointment of losing games unexpectedly. The banter around games. The analysis after games and the magnificent theater of 90 minutes of passionate football played by 22 players backed by a stadium filled to the hilt by full throated fans (ranging from a few thousand in some stadiums to over 50,000 in others). For years I’ve harbored a dream to spend one full year in England traveling with fellow Chelsea fans around the country to stadiums big and small, supporting my club in our loudest collective voice. I’ve never been able to fully explain why I call Chelsea “my club” despite never having stepped foot in London but I crave the humannes of it all. A friend who studied in Newcastle often tells me about the ambience around St. James’ Park on match day. I can imagine a similar hustle and bustle around Stamforrd Bridge or that feeling of sitting in the away end as Liverpool fans sing “You’ll Never Walk Alone”- that famous anthem from the midlands which, after today’s disgraceful announcment almost feels cheapend. The closest I’ve been to that is in a supporters pub in New York where I routinely met fellow expats who, often, were fans of lower league teams since that was thier local team. No matter what team we supported and where we supported them from, we had something in common. We loved watching our teams play irrespective of results or success. So when success does come, we are jubilant. When failure comes, we’re devastated. But we love our teams nonetheless.
Football today, is a business. The glitz and glamour of modern stadiums, the high quality training grounds, the luxurious amenities, the multi-angle camera views, the punditry, the spectacle – it all costs money. A lot of money. So there’s nothing inherently wrong about clubs trying to recoupe those costs or trying to make money to improve that spectacle. But for decades now, football has tranformed into a primarily money-making enterprise. Expensive merchandise, streaming services, match day tickets all contribute to this enterprise. Billionaire owners have figured out that the fans are desperate to watch their teams. And so, fans will shell out large sums of money to support their teams and watch on as leagues sign increasingly large broadcast and advertising deals on the back of that demand. The owners were filling their coffers with money and the sport was drowning in it.
Predictably that greed has culminated in the formation of a breakaway European Super League. Comprised of 12 teams from Europe’s prominent domestic leagues, this competition will see the teams play each other week after week for one trophy and, more importantly for them, over 300 million pounds annually. As if it were a god-given right, these 12 teams will rake in that money every year because they’re guaranteed to never be out of this league. The 240+ other clubs in Europe have little to no chance of making it into this league and compete for the same prize. 12 billionnaire-backed teams have bought themselves into what they think is a perpetual money-making machine. Their only merit? Men with inflated egos and too much money are in-charge of them.
30 years ago, an equally drastic breakaway league of men resulted in the formation of the English Premier League. The difference this time, is that they’re accountable to no one other than themselves and don’t need to redistribute the obscene money they make via broadcast deals with anyone else. As many have pointed out, this elitist, entitled structure is no sudden accident. These billionaires have been on the prowl for an opportunity of this nature to remove all uncertainity from the football because uncertainity hurts their quest for more money and its beyond time that we stopped them.
Every business should be profitable but it should also be sustainable. In football, the sustainability comes from the quality of players that make it to the top and the making sure fans will watch it. Possibly the biggest money-puller in world football today, Cristiano Ronaldo, came through the ranks of a financially modest but proud Portuguese club and made his way up the ranks of world football. His story is not unique. Every young footballer needs to be supported by grassroots teams, coaches and have the opportunity to play for quality teams with resources and ambition. A closed league like the ESL would kill the money flow to domestic leagues and devastate the lower leagues. Delle Alli, N’golo Kante and dozens and dozens of other top premier league players literally started at the bottom and now they’re here. Imagine a world where they had to be furloughed in the early stages of their careers because their local teams could no longer afford to pay them. That’s not an hypothetical. COVID-19 has resulted in reduced revenues for most lower league teams. Leicester City’s premier league winning campaign after earning promotion through the ranks is the stuff football dreams! Imagine a world where they had no funds to keep their operations running in the lower leagues. Furloughs are already happening and people are losing their jobs and players’ dreams are being destroyed. It is in that context, in the middle of pandemic and a financial crunch, that these spoilt, rich men have announced this obscence 3.5billion pound elitist league designed specially to enable them to make more money that they don’t have to share. Its nauseating.
And then there’s the fans. I’m sure there will be exciting matches between these 12 teams. But for how many years will we have to watch the same 12 teams play each other? And what have these 12 done to deserve to be there? History? Well Arsenal and Spurs have never won the UCL so that can’t be it. Current league positions? 4 out of the 6 English teams in this godforsaken tournament are currently outside the top 4 of the English league. So that can’t be it either. Access to money? That’s embarrassing. You’ve bought your way into your own club because you’re too afraid of actually playing to earn that right. Shameful. Its cowardly. COVID-19 has kept fans out of stadiums for over a year. To make this announcement when fans aren’t in the stadium is absolute cowardice. I can only imagine how fans in the Kop or Stretford End or the Matthew Harding stand would react to this nonsense were the stadiums full. These faceless executives would’ve heard what the fans thought in full voice. But they probably wouldn’t hear it because the people who make these plans, I’m sure, are not football fans. They have little interest in what goes in the stadium or in the training ground. They’re too stuck in the balance sheets to care. The cowards.
I can barely keep up with my thoughts at the moment. Perhaps this should’ve come sooner. Perhaps football was destroyed when teams went around Financial Fair Play. Perhaps football had died in 1992 with the EPL. Perhaps football was changed forever when Neymar was sold for 200million. So perhaps this isn’t worse than what came before, it is simply the last straw. Or maybe it is the distillation of all of the above into an elitist, selfish trope that they shouldn’t be allowed to get away with. I don’t know. Ever since I was 14, I’ve prioritized Chelsea games over nearly everything. My vacations were planned around being in a place with access to Star Sports on match day. We’ve all skipped early morning classes because we stayed up till 4AM to watch UCL games. I’ve kepy my phone under my chair at wedding receptions or family functions to watch late evening games. When we visited family friends, I’ve rushed my family into the car so I’m not late for the games. I’ve cleared out my calendar, cancelled weekend plans for games and I’ve spent a lot of money to make sure I have a livestream of the game. For more than a decade, for every single game, I’ve worn my blue jersey and prayed and screamed and laughed and cried. I did it for our players. For the love of Chelsea. For the love of football.
But I will never do it so some billionaires can line their pockets.
So with that, and as a tear rolls down my cheek, I’m done with Chelsea. Thank you for the memories. KTBFFH.