My Dear Chairman,
Fury, expostulation, rage – with even the Duke of Cambridge joining in. Excellent! You will remember that this is exactly what we expected, and a sign that everything is going to plan.
Will the Government move to restrict television rights to the games? Let it try to get round your lawyers and the technology, with its web-based streaming options. Might it seek to deploy competition rules? But you’re scarcely going to risk breaching these by timetabling your games to clash with Premier League ones. Work permit restrictions for players? Bring on the ECHR.
Could it pass a law to force your club into fan ownership? Again, let’s see what the lawyers make of that. And what effect such theft – let’s not mince words here – would have on overseas investors.
Down here in the Lowerarchy, we watched Oliver Dowden’s Commons statement yesterday – and our laughter echoed, as the old saying has it, to hell and back. I promise you that when a Minister says “we are examining every option”, “we are reviewing everything” and “we are working at pace”, it means that he hasn’t a clue what to do!
Let Dowden, who I look forward to meeting in due course, puff and bluster. All he wants to do is get the other clubs, the football establishment, the Labour Party and, above all, Downing Street off his back.
Time, my dear Chairman, is our ally. So Tracey Crouch, who I fear is in cahoots with the Enemy, is to lead a review into football governance. (Talking of which, did you see Dowden tweet that he has “been left with no choice but to formally trigger the launch of our fan-led review of football”. A strange way to speak of one’s own manifesto commitment!)
If Ministers want to walk willingly into the swamp of legal, political, fan and voter problems that will follow, that’s their business. The Conservatives risk Labour trumping them at every turn.
The latter has already said that “no one should lose a much-loved football club just because of the pandemic” – paving the way for a taxpayer-funded baleout of any failing club. Let Crouch, Dowden and the Conservatives try to compete with that!
True, one shouldn’t don’t rule out the possibility that they will somehow make a success of the review. But either way, that’s none of your business – nor mine. As far as the Football Superleague and your own club is concerned, those Ministers will be shutting the stable door long after the horse has bolted.
So what, you go on to ask, of the football authorities themselves? Might they not stop us? Which of these glittering paragons of moral rectitude do you have in mind? FIFA, perhaps – the organisation under whose auspices the next World Cup was awarded to oil-rich Qatar? Which spawned Sepp Blatter and Michael Platini, whose accomodation down here is already booked?
Talking of Platini, is UEFA any better? Which leaves the Premier League. And as I say, my dear Chairman, time is our ally. In the short-term, I grant you, your players may face bans from the World Cup and your club from the European Championship – and, indeed, from the Premier League itself. But remember that, as discussed, we’re in it for the long-term.
Were I a Premier League bigwig this morning, I would be keeping my head down. Obviously, I would go with the flow, denouncing your club and the other five – bell, book and candle. I would not want to be on the wrong side of the left-wing football commentators, the frothing fans with their placards and petititons, the virtue-signalling politicians and newspapers: the whole pack of them.
But I would quietly be asking myself what to do in three, five, ten years’ time if the Superleague is a success: if you and your fellow five clubs in England, plus those involved abroad, buy a monopoly on the best players in the world. Who then play for teams which your organisation has chosen to exclude from its competitions.
So I would go with the flow, issue a few bans – and wait and see. Wait for Crouch and her report to gather dust, or be lost in token gestures. Wait for Dowden to quieten down as the media thunderstorm blow itself out, or be reshuffled later this year to another department. Wait for Johnson, in whom the Lowerarchy has a particular interest, to lose focus (which won’t take long).
What of the fans themselves, I hear you ask? Perhaps the best answer is a question: which ones? How much do fans of clubs other than those of the Six really care – particularly those in the lower leagues?
Closer to home, I’m well aware that your Twitter and Facebooks accounts are swamped by messages from incandescant fans, and that perhaps you, your fellow directors and club staff fear for your own safety. Let the prating politicians take responsibility if anything untoward takes place!
(Though it may not have been wise of you to let it be known that you refer to your supporters as “legacy fans”: good manners, remember, cost nothing, and the Prince of Darkness is a gentleman.)
Will some fans tear up their season tickets? Sure. Boycott Superleague matches? Doubtless. But over time, the spectacle of seeing some of the worlds’ best players take on more of the world’s best players will lure others back – the younger, the less attached, the more mobile and, let’s never forget it, the longer-living!
What if enough don’t return? You will remember that we discussed this possibility recently. Why does Manchester United, say, need fans in Manchester? (Oh, and by the way: where’s Marcus Rashford?)
There was once a time when fans and locality were one and the same, but that age has long gone. All you are doing is moving football to the next stage. How much does losing ten fans in Manchester matter if the club can gain ten thousand in Shenzen? Which is where our preparations come in.
In due course, parts of the Superleague season can be moved to China or America. In which context, imagination is useful. Stand by for the rebranding.
Why not Shanghai Arsenal? Chicago Tottenham Hotspur? Let’s hear it – if we really want to get incendiary – for Wuhan Liverpool! Then keep that going for five years or so, gradually squeezing the original club name from the branding. And finally, drop it. Or let it linger in some ameliorated form, as it the case already. You’ll have heard of Milton Keynes Dons?
As for those weary old arguments about the community versus the market, let them wind their way on. As you well know, modern football is about neither.
For if Manchester United doesn’t need a local community to sustain it, it doesn’t need a free market to do so either. After all, a market requires rules, order, fair dealing to work. It can cope with greed; it can’t cope with corruption.
I mean no disrespect to you or your five fellow clubs here in England, whose fellow owners and culture are morally irreproachable, but let’s call a spade a spade here. Money isn’t the market. It is simply – well, itself: money, the love of which, as someone once wrote somewhere, is the root of all evil.
Communist states have it no less than capitalist ones, as you will have noted recently, when scouting out China for your scheme. On which point, remember, the devil is in the detail! And finally: as for football losing its soul, we took possession of it long ago.
Your affectionate friend,
[With apologies to C.S.Lewis.]