Soccer fans decry European Super League

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The soccer world was seemingly forever changed when 12 of the world’s biggest teams announced their plans to form the European Super League, an unprecedented breakaway, mid-week tournament that would change the structure of leagues and soccer business forever. 

The proposed league would’ve guaranteed 15 of the 20 teams permanent places in the competition every season—which vastly differs from the current promotion/relegation system of European club soccer, where teams earn promotion into more prestigious competitions. Fans worldwide protested against the greed and lack of competition surrounding ESL, leading to the suspension of the league on Wednesday following 10 clubs’ withdrawals from it.

Soccer fans at The Beacon and the college expressed their frustrations with their clubs’ actions in the past few days in open letters below. Another writer explained the changes that must be made throughout the soccer industry following the attempted coup against the sport.

Arsenal FC – Camilo Fonseca

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The fifteen clubs of the ESL were sold as being the most talented and successful in Europe—super teams for a super league. I’m sure many fans were scratching their heads when Arsenal was announced as a founding member.

To be sure, Arsenal is not some sixth-rate club—it holds 13 league titles, 14 Football Association Cups, and is, according to Forbes, the eighth-most valuable soccer brand in the world. Yet even a lifelong Arsenal fan like myself would admit that our club’s once-insurmountable star has fallen.

Being one of the three ESL teams competing in the Europa League as opposed to the Champions League, the ESL would have been an elevation of sorts for Arsenal—a chance to play with the “big boys” again.

Despite this elevation, Arsenal fans were infuriated by the announcement. They adopted the mantra chanted by soccer fans globally: the sport “made by the poor” had been “stolen by the rich.”

Cognizant of the very public backlash, Arsenal announced its withdrawal from the ill-thought-out ESL on Tuesday.

“We know it will take time to restore your faith in what we are trying to achieve here at Arsenal,” the club’s public apology said.

Rarely are sports teams so open and honest about their failings. Arsenal was the first club to come out and explicitly and unequivocally apologize to its fans.

Good for them, because they were right. It will take time. 

Out of the Premier League’s “Big Six” teams, Arsenal claims the most long-suffering, frustrated, and angry fanbase. Arsenal has always been good, but within my memory, there has always been something holding it back from greatness.

The golden age of Arsene Wenger, Thierry Henry, and the legendary unbeaten run of 2003 are distant memories. Today, Arsenal possesses neither the managerial excellence of a Liverpool nor the star power of a Manchester United. Holding a dismal ninth place in the Premier League, the club is “fine”—despite a boatload of young talent, massive international fanbase, and $2.8 billion net worth.

Enter Stan Kroenke, owner of Arsenal; every sports fan will be an eternal critic of their team’s ownership, but Arsenal fans have had a bone to pick with Kroenke for time immemorial.

Kroenke knows nothing about running a soccer club—if he does, he doesn’t care enough to do it well. Despite his exponential wealth—derived not only from his business but also from the Los Angeles Rams, the Colorado Avalanche, and other sports teams he mismanages—his recalcitrance at investing in his club has caused years of bad transfers, painful mediocrity, and “close-but-no-cigar” league finishes.

What’s infuriating, though, is not his cheapness. It’s his hypocrisy—which this week was laid bare for the world, along with that of all the other members of the “billionaire owners club.” 

The man who views Arsenal as another source of revenue never cared about the club or the leagues. Despite protestations, he has no interest in winning a trophy—just the profit it entails. Apparently, the ESL seemed like the best way to increase his profitability.

Thankfully, Arsenal fans stood tall. In solidarity with their comrades of Liverpool, Chelsea—even the hated Tottenham Hotspur—they marched at the Emirates Stadium in North London in defense of the integrity of their sport and club.

It was none other than Wenger who predicted, 12 years ago, that unfettered capitalism—the financial incentives of the “big clubs” of Europe—would eventually take over the game’s soul.

“[European] football is the most popular sport in the world and [its unity] is one of the reasons,” Wenger said on Tuesday. “We have to fight to keep football simple, understandable and based on merit—everybody [should have] the same chance and dream to be successful.”

We’re trying, Arsene. We’re trying.

Chelsea FC – Birk Buchen

Chelsea FC played Brighton and Hove Albion at home in the Premier League on Tuesday following a delay outside of their stadium, Stamford Bridge, in London. The match was set to start at 3 p.m. EST but was delayed 15 minutes due to a large crowd of Chelsea fans who had gathered outside in protest of the ESL. Proposed two days prior to the match, the ESL was set to include Chelsea as one of the 6 Premier League teams to be invited to its new competition.

Founded in 1905, Chelsea holds six Premier League titles, one UEFA Champions League title, two UEFA Europa League titles, eight FA Cup titles, and one UEFA Super Cup. Many of these titles have been accumulated under the reign of Chelsea’s owner, Roman Abramovich. The Russian billionaire took ownership of the club in 2003, and like many other club owners, doesn’t speak publicly often. In his most recent interview with Forbes, however, Abramovich explained his two ambitions with the club, “to create world-class teams on the pitch; and to ensure the club plays a positive role in all of its communities.”

Abramovich, however, has failed to play a positive role in his community and went behind the backs of supporters, players, and staff to sell out our history to an Americanized sense of greed and profit.

In a pre-match interview, manager Thomas Tuchel differed to the Chelsea hierarchy concerning all questions about the ESL. It’s clear that even the manager wasn’t aware of the league’s formation. These talks were happening behind closed doors.

Thankfully, Chelsea’s assistant coach and former goalkeeping legend, Petr Čech, was able to convince the crowd of angry fans to let the bus through. Čech yelled to fans, “I know! Give us time!” As the teams began to warm up on the pitch, it was announced that Chelsea was the first team to withdraw from the ESL.

As a fan of the club for the past 12 years, I have never lost the passion to watch my team compete. And for the past two days, I’ve felt betrayed by my very own club, which attempted to steal my identity and change my community. Not only was I angry by the effect this news could have on the focus of the team and the possibility of losing our spot in the Champions League semifinal this year, I was also deeply saddened by the lack of respect for the people who matter: the supporters. It is clear that there is a need to allow the fans, players, and staff more power in the club’s future decision making. At the end of the day, Chelsea is more than just a team of 11 players on a field—it’s a culture.

Liverpool FC – Frankie Rowley 

Liverpool FC was one of the last teams to secede from the Super League—yet its supporters’ demonstrations against the league were among the strongest in the world. Outside of Anfield Stadium, fans burned jerseys and hung scarves and banners reading “SHAME ON YOU, RIP LFC” to show their dissent for the club’s decision.

Liverpool, a team renowned for its working-class history and community mindset, went against its history by joining the ESL. It took the withdrawal of several other clubs and social media criticism from the team’s own players for the owners to leave the competition.

The lame, two-sentence statement released by the club reeked of public relations flack—and there was no apology to the fans or to the institution of soccer to be seen. 

Fans continue to call on John W. Henry, the chairman of the Fenway Sports Group which owns both Liverpool and the Boston Red Sox, to sell the club. 

As someone from Liverpool, the events that unfolded within my hometown shook me. How could some greedy businessmen jeopardize the very nature of soccer for money? Soccer exceeds just a game; it’s a part of your life. Liverpool is a family heirloom, passed down from generation to generation. It becomes a part of your identity, and you’ll defend it until the day you die.

To see a bunch of Americans in Boston try to destroy the pride of Liverpool infuriated me.

Liverpool fans don’t forgive you, Henry. You threatened our club, our history, and the life of the city. A two-minute video apology saying “I’m sorry for trying to destroy the football pyramid for money” doesn’t erase the events that unfolded this week. You own the “brand” of Liverpool FC, but we, the fans, own the club.

Liverpool, I love you with all my heart. You are a part of me—from meeting club legends Fernando Torres and Pepe Reina as a child because my dad worked for the brand that provided the suits for the team to having club legend Sammy Lee at my christening. Liverpool has worked its way into every part of my life, as it does to all of us, simply because we’ll never walk alone. 

I remember the first time I heard “You’ll Never Walk Alone” sang at Anfield. It was during the Carabao Cup in 2019, and we won on penalties. Upon hearing the opening chords, I immediately started sobbing. I remember hugging my sister tight as we swayed to the rhythm and sang the famous lyrics in a crowd full of the people I truly love the most. 

Soccer is more than just a game to us in Britain—it’s a way of life. The actions that we witnessed over the weekend were a direct attack on the heart of England, one that we won’t stand for. It’s club over everything else. Nothing can break that bond.

Manchester United – Christopher Williams

Growing up as the son of an Englishman, my life has always surrounded soccer and Manchester United—my dad’s favorite club and arguably the biggest club in the world. I was raised watching David Beckham’s freekicks, Cristiano Ronaldo embarrassing defenders on the wing, Wayne Rooney scoring seemingly-impossible goals, and Sir Alex Ferguson—the greatest manager of all time—lifting the Champions League and Premier League trophies.

Needless to say, I was spoiled.

The past eight years since Ferguson’s retirement in 2013 have been difficult. The owners—the Glazer family, who also own the Tampa Bay Buccaneers—have fired three managers, leading the team to reach a high of second place across its last eight years of competition. The team only won three trophies—the FA Cup, Europa League, and League Cup.

The club’s failures are due to two parties: the Glazers and executive vice-chairman Ed Woodward. The Glazers are money-hungry American businessmen who couldn’t care less about United’s history and the 76,000 fans who fill Old Trafford each match day to watch their Red Devils play. Woodward, a rugby-loving Englishman, is the same. Mind you, the Glazers have taken £2 billion out of the club over their 16 years in charge, which could’ve been used to further our success by improving our squad and management.

During the ages of 13 and 14, I trained with Manchester United Soccer Schools in England. I was coached by the club’s academy coaches and surrounded by players who lived for the club and taught me how to live and play “The United Way”—respecting the club’s legacy, keeping faith during the hard times, and settling for nothing less than the best.

Selling out our team, our fans, and our history to play in a league that we don’t have to compete to stay in isn’t “The United Way.” United has always fought through the hard times, most notbaly when eight members of the team died in a plane crash in 1958 returning home from playing in the European Cup—now known as the Champions League. Manager Sir Matt Busby rebuilt the team and won the tournament 10 years later, starting the club’s winning tradition. 

The Glazers’ and Woodward’s actions are of no surprise after years of ignoring players’ and fans’ voices. Club Captain, Harry Maguire, confronting Woodward in his office to express the team’s outrage with the decision was the final straw, pushing him to finally resign from his role and  the club to withdraw from the ESL.

Tuesday’s events were the tip of the iceberg. Get the Glazers out of United, give the power to a true supporter of the club, and get back to winning.

What needs to happen next? – José Ríos

While going through the list of the 12 clubs that had publicly joined the proposed European Super League, two names were missing—Borussia Dortmund and FC Bayern München.

Due to the 50+1 rule, fans own at least 51% of the club’s shares for teams to play in the Bundesliga, the top flight of German soccer. The Bundesliga attributes its best qualities, such as “top quality play” and “great fan culture” to the implementation of the rule. 

What the world has seen in these past days is a cash grab of the highest degree, a danger the 50+1 rule has prevented for years. There is no loyalty to the clubs and passion for the game, just a hasty decision made by money hungry billionaires. 

The greed was made clear when an unnamed board member from one of the twelve clubs said, “Our primary job is to maximize our revenues and profits, the wider good of the game is a secondary concern.”

As teams continue to listen to their fans and leave the Super League, it’s the time to implement a 50+1 rule across Europe. Give the power back to the people who make the game beautiful. Give the ownership of the club back to Manchester United’s Stretford End and AC Milan’s Curva Sud—the fans who live for the clubs. Let’s make sure that from now on, be it “Mia San Mia,” “Més que un Club,” or “You’ll Never Walk Alone,” that the motto of the sport is to unite fans and give back to those who love the game.