Sports & Games

Going loco about vocal for local: The righteousness of national leagues after the European Super League Money Monster was slayed

O tempora, OMG the righteousness! Going by the ‘Where’s me jumper?!’ reaction all around, I could have sworn they’ve just put down the 1857 mutiny. And now, with the European Super League nipped in the pre-bud, the story being dished out is how Mammon Inc, speaking in a noxious AmericanRussian-Arabic pidgin, has been thwacked dead in the water by the Little People. What Mel Gibson wouldn’t have done to swap roles from Braveheart to that of a fan of one of the ‘doughty local clubs’ standing up to, and slaying, this ESL Money Monster — ‘They make take our lives… but they’ll never take our WEEDOM!’

England’s Premier League fat cats have been the epitome of the purring proletariat ever since. EPL CEO Richard Masters reportedly called up the five executives of English clubs that had dared to go all Kerry Packer on the Anglican Church and ‘politely’ asked them to step down. The guillotine, this time, is probably sponsored by Gillette.

But ’ang on, ’ang on. While everyone is talking about the ‘victory of fans’ over the filthy lucre epitomised by the ESL Orcs, what’s missed out by the sentimental mob suddenly separating the wheat of TV rights (global included) and ‘genuine’ franchise jerseys, undies and keychains with the chaff of foreigners — owners and fans — who don’t have ‘local connect’ is how the real game has been played with EPL/La Liga/Serie A/Ligue 1 gents being set up as ‘a son of a bitch, but our son of a bitch’.

With empty stadium stands during Covid and turnstile collections being foregone for the near future, for national leagues to have someone uncannily resembling the same lot – bozos with more shekels to spare to get top (as in famous branded if not champion) clubs to play a tournament whose proceedings the former can’t share — is, well, scandalous. How can clubs like Real Estate, Barcelona – the only two left streetwalking in that horribly lecherous ESL street while everyone else has gone back home with a quick pint at the confession booth – Fanchester United, Manchester Citibank and Chelsea even think for a minute of selling their souls® to a rival gang?

For all you know, the ESL chaps may smell the same as the EPL chaps, but surely, they must be wearing horrible Russian oligarch-American Kardashian bling – as opposed to tasteful tweed.

The likes of Boris Johnson and Emmanuel Macron, new ultras in the game that’s as ‘working class’ in 2021 as Mick Jagger’s accent (both English and French), have joined the ‘good side’ — and how! If Brexit and Gallic primacy needed balls — and goalposts — fighting against ‘Godzilla globalisation’ that ESL has been hoiked up to be, it hit them in this ‘us vs them’ between ticket collectors and ticket collection filchers.

The fact that England’s Premier League suits are now talking about ‘expanding the league’ to include Scottish rivals Celtic and Rangers — an invitation is brewing for them to leave the Scottish Professional Football League (SPFL) and join Dad’s Army in the form of a British Premier League — gives the game away. The worry of chich-ching leaving the scepter’d isle has made EPL want to be to SPFL what ESL tried to be to EPL. If you think that’s a convoluted sentence, you should see the EPL press releases being churned out to present itself as the defender of the people. Pox Britannia Redux.

In all this, fans who pushed back against the European monster come across as bona fide village idiots. It’s understandable that they want to pay their tithes to their local feudal lords rather than to a ‘world organisation’ with members who have names sounding like Bond villains. La Liga clubs like Cadiz, Premier League Clubs like Crystal Palace, Serie A clubs like Genoa and Ligue 1 clubs like Girondins de Bordeaux may or may not wonder what the big fuss was all about. But then, no one was willing to pay them hafta to play an ‘American style’ closed league between top teams.

What would have happened if ESL had happened? In a theoretical world where German teams would have also joined (they were not interested from the start), Barcelona could have played Bayern Munich more often than the pitiful ten times in history.

‘My’ club Arsenal — unsure how ‘my’ my is now considering I don’t have the same Jacobin credentials, it seems, that Gooners from north London say they and they alone have — would have played games with a club I admire, Borussia Dortmund, certainly more than the 11 times they have sparred. How bad could these encounters have been for football, for the clubs, for competition, for world peace? Would one extra weekday game have killed these golden geese?

The fact of the matter is that tradition and ‘roots’ are just one — and not the only — ingredient for club loyalty. To think otherwise is to be as stupid as my fellow club members who have been raving and ranting about Mohun Bagan FC being ‘destroyed’ after being merged with Atletico de Kolkata and bearing the ATK moniker before the club’s name. For national leagues and clubs to get all righteous and nativist is all rubbish. Trump would have got away building that wall to protect ‘local culture’ otherwise.

As Der Spiegel wrote after the whole mockumentary played out its first comic chapter: ‘The lack of German clubs, specifically Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund, is due to the fact that the Super League is viewed more negatively by the public in Germany than in England, for example… Bayern Munich and Dortmund know what thin ice they would be on if they went against this consensus… These qualms ceased to exist at Real Madrid or Manchester United long ago.’ Boom.

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