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Wednesday, June 7, 2023

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    Throughout my years in the UK in the 70s, every single Premier League game I watched was a sheer life time experience – and I would have watched at least 50 of them even in their previous Division One glory.  It wasn't just the excitement of the game; the results; or seeing my football idols of my teenage years, it was a lot more than that. It was the unique English football culture which is so hard to explain.

    Whenever, I proudly stride into a stadium, be it  Wembley, Old Trafford, Anfield, Stamford Bridge, White Hart Lane, Elland Road, or Villa Park, there was this feeling of awe as I watch tens of thousands of English football fans fill up every seat available, weekend after weekend and on week nights, during a home match in the UEFA Champions League or Europa League.

    It's the mystique of football club tradition, dating back centuries in the form of the chants, the club songs, the paraphernalia proudly worn by fans of different generations that would surely stir you. It's almost, to use an emphatic phrase, a tribal ritual. The sentiment then, I gathered,  was loud and clear – THIS IS OUR CLUB; NOBODY CAN TAKE IT AWAY FROM US.

    Yet, a week ago, out of sheer greed, owners of six English Premier League (EPL) clubs announced they will organize the European Super League (ESL) without consultations with their managers, players and fans. Manchester City, Manchester United, Arsenal, Chelsea, Tottenham Hotspurs and Liverpool – all owned by foreign investors – had joined Barcelona, Real Madrid, AC Milan, Juventus and Atletico Madrid in what the newly appointed ESL President Florentino Perez, president of  Real Madrid, cynically claimed, "to save football." Ugh?

    Within 48 hours of the announcement of the ESL, all six of the English clubs meekly withdrew from the League amidst backlash from fans from, not only the six clubs but all 20 teams of the EPL, with strongest condemnation from former players and managers  and the all-powerful, English FA , followed by  a  blistering attack by the  Prime Minister Boris Johnson on behalf of the British government, threatening legislature in Britain to make the ESL non-profitable should it push through. 

    It was basically a battle between the Union of European Football Association (UEFA) and ESL as the new league will compete directly with the current Champions League. Interestingly, no club from the German Bundesliga – Bayern Munich, Borussia Dortmund, Leipzig  and the likes nor  from France – Paris St Germain, Lille and Monaco, the current leaders signified any interest in joining. Germany has a law that prohibits majority foreign ownership of the clubs. The fans are happy.

    The ESL, now a total flop after 48 hours, would have a fixed league of 20 teams across Europe, competing yearly, without prior qualifications as against the present Champions League with 32 teams which has reached an interesting final stage by next month. 

    Proponents of the ESL were hoping to reap in billions through television rights a la the National Football League (NFL), NBA or Major League Baseball (MLB) as in the US. But, alas, British football fans are not Yankees nor Bulls.

    The controversy has not died down as ESL President  Perez insists that the League is on "standby" and the English clubs have a contract and "cannot leave."

    At the other end of the field, fans throughout England especially from the 6 ESL teams, are demanding blood. See, what I said about their tribalistic behavior?  They want all the owners to leave; put the clubs up for sale and vamoose into thin air. 

    Fortunately, fans are not allowed into the stadiums due to this pandemic when the EPL matches are still being played. Nevertheless, any inkling of the presence of owners at the games, will gather thousands of them parading outside the grounds demanding that they take their money back to America, Saudi Arabia, Russia or wherever. We are British. This is football. This is our game.

    Things are unravelling by the day. The Manchester United  executive Vice Chairman Ed Woodward is stepping down by the end of the season. The remaining majority 14 clubs in the EPL are contemplating a motion to outvote the 6 rogue clubs out the league and with hefty fines. UEFA too has blown the whistle for a penalty.

    Already offers are coming in: Sportify wants to buy Arsenal. Fans, by the tens of thousands are looking at shares to  buy out, the owners have been red-carded. The British media has lambasted the owners' decision as pure greed, elitist and totally a betrayal of the trust the fans and club have given them. 

    UEFA  and FIFA have announced they will ban players from playing for their country if they participate in the ESL. This is the cringer and my sympathy go to the players. This will affect hundreds of the creme de la creme from all continents on earth now playing in Europe.

    UEFA Vs ESL : the game goes into extra time.

    Charles Lim is the founder and chairman of the Philippines Sports Tourism Awards. He has been an advocate of sports tourism since 2004 with the inception of the Sports Tourism Forum – a popular seminar for those in the sports and hospitality industries – which is presently still ongoing. He can be reached at charles.selrahco@gmail.com.



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