Thom Goddard is an Uttesford district councillor.
The implications of remaining or leaving the European Union are numerous and will keep both sides arguing vociferously right up to the 23rd June. However, that date could not have been chosen more perfectly in terms of European football. The first qualifying round of fixtures for the UEFA Champions League 2016-17 will take place on 28th June, featuring a team from Wales, and the second qualifying round on 12 July, where the Welsh team would be joined by ones from Scotland and Northern Ireland.
It is worth beginning by stating clearly that leaving the European Union will have no effect on the British clubs ability to play in the UEFA Champions League or the UEFA Europa League. Many countries outside of the European Union, including Russia, Switzerland and even Israel, compete against the biggest football clubs in the world including Barcelona, Bayern Munich, Real Madrid and Paris St. Germain.
Instead, the primary concern for all British football clubs will not be European competition but European Court of Justice Ruling C-415/93 – otherwise known as “the Bosman Ruling”. In practise, the removal of this ruling would impose restrictions on foreign EU players in our leagues and force clubs to pay transfer fees for players who are at the end of their contracts. This would create a revolting stagnation of the English, Scottish, Welsh and Northern Irish leagues. The richest league clubs or even the leagues themselves might challenge this in the British courts, but it would take some time to rectify.
The next great Brexit worry for British clubs would be the work permits system. There are clear regulations in place that non-EU players must meet in order to receive a work permit and play in any of our leagues. The Guardian argues that every Premier League club would be affected by this: at the start of the 2015-16 Premier League season, only 50 out of the 161 European footballers in the Premier League met the criteria. The loss of these players would undoubtedly hurt British clubs performance in European competition and their ‘brand value’ with overseas audiences.
No British club wants to see that happen. For example, Manchester United have over 700million fans around the world who contribute billions to their earnings. And those global fans want to see success and the world’s best players at the club. The loss of both could be catastrophic. The passionate fans around the world and, most importantly those who go to the games, would be truly missing out with the loss of their favourite players. Following the work permit criteria, Manchester United migjt not be able to play David de Gea, Juan Mata, Morgan Schneiderlin and Anthony Martial. Arsenal might lose Héctor Bellerín and Francis Coquelin. Chelsea’s young, defensive stars Kurt Zouma and César Azpilicueta or West Ham’s shining light this season Dimitri Payet could all leave their clubs, and the Premier League, if we left the European Union. The impact on the Championship would be even worse.
On the one hand, all this might be argued to be a positive. More British national players would be given a chance in the absence of European players. However, fans who go to the games want to see the best players in the world. We all support our national teams and want them to be successful, but we also want to continue to see the world’s best play in our stadiums. Historically, British football fans have watched open mouthed at the skill of Thierry Henry, the audacity of Eric Cantona and the stunning goals of Cristiano Ronaldo. Long may that continue.
The fans biggest problem in the even of Brexit might be one that is already affecting them – the rising cost of going to watch your team. The UK being in the EU means fans can travel freely, and without restriction, to other EU countries. Fans would be faced with long passport queues, visa costs and entry or exit fees. Air duty, due to flying from outside the European Union, would also be added to the cost of travel. Ryanair and EasyJet becoming “a little less expensive airlines” instead of budget might stop many traveling fans. Or even roaming charges on mobile phones being reinstated so a quick call home costs more than your air fare.
Leaving the European Union would certainly have a detrimental impact on the cost of football fans attending European games. Like in football itself, perhaps it is all a matter of timing. The UEFA European Championships 2016 begin this week. England’s final group game is against Slovakia at 9pm on 20th June. England could wake up on 21st June with a hangover from a disastrous european exit. The question is, a few days later, will the United Kingdom do the same?