Farewell to ESL and all that… or is it?

So, it turns out VAR is not the thing ruining our national game but some scheming multi-billionaire owners! Suddenly, we find ourselves in an era where football governance has finally become ‘sexy’ to fans, enough for politicians to sit up and take notice.

Sunday 18 April was momentous for Leicester City. But it will also live long in the memory for other reasons, as prior to the kick-off of our triumphant FA Cup semi-final, the Foxes Trust were already embroiled in various conversations, WhatsApp and email messages regarding the announcement of the formation of the European Super League (ESL).  Our focus was on what action would be needed to halt it.

In many respects, none of what occurred on that day was a surprise – just the manner and timing of how the coup was attempted. We have spent nearly two years campaigning, along with the Football Supporters Association (FSA) associates and affiliates, against the UEFA club competition (UCC) reform, which included taking action against the proposed Project Big Picture reforms of European footfall, it was only a matter of time before the owners of the big clubs in Europe attempted to further feather their nests.

The unity shown by fans’ groups, football authorities, politicians of all parties, clubs up and down the leagues, even Prince William, demonstrated the importance of football to the national culture and conscience – the message is clear: this is our game and you the owners are only temporary custodians.

Now the dust has begun to settle, the issue is where do we go from here?  Getting the government to finally kick-start the long-promised fan-led review into football is a real result. Foxes Trust, via the FSA, will be making efforts to ensure the government are held to account in delivering real change for football – better governance, a fairer share of the spoils for all and, most importantly, some say for fans in how their clubs are run. The terms of reference for the review are wide ranging and nothing, at present, appears to be off the table.

However, we cannot let our guard drop. Florentino Pérez, President of Real Madrid, is insistent the ESL project is not dead, just ‘in development’. The injunction that the ESL took out, using European corporate law, preventing UEFA and national associations enacting sanctions against the clubs involved, is still in place.

Under the fog of the media storm caused by the ESL announcement, UEFA still voted through its UCC reforms, enlarging the Champions League and imposing more matches at the group stages. The Europa League is destined for a similar format and the Europa Conference will also come into being. More European football in an already crowded domestic calendar means something has to give – could Manchester City end up being the last club to win the League Cup if it is abandoned to make room?

Talking of domestic football, those fans wishing to see sanctions imposed on the ‘Big Six’ may have to wait and will probably be disappointed. The Premier League have already stated that any disciplinary action will have to follow the due process of league rules – although they have already called on various committee members from those clubs to resign their positions, in a token effort to curtail their influence. UEFA may yet take action against the ESL twelve. But it is likely the only concession Aleksander Čeferin, UEFA President, will perhaps make is to abandon the idea of places in the new Champions League being awarded on historical UEFA coefficients (i.e. not tied to the performances of those clubs in their domestic leagues).

Foxes Trust do not want to see sanctions imposed that hurt fans and players – this was not of their making or wanting and it is not a time to alienate those who helped bring down the ESL.  We would, however, be supportive of something that is aimed at the owners. Short-term measures, such as points deductions, would only be just that; financial penalties could be used if fines were distributed to the lower echelons of football. Imposing independent regulation and fan representation on club boards would be a start.

Foxes Trust are asking MPs to write to the head of the football review, Tracey Crouch MP, to publish a timetable – we want to see a report and recommendations in months not years. Some form of legislation relating to independent regulation, needs to go into the Queen’s Speech this autumn and no later. Football Supporters Europe, believe the only option for real change is to reform UEFA root and branch and to lobby for changes in European Law that would prevent such clubs hiding behind or using corporate law to their advantage.

Certainly, we need to build on the fan unity demonstrated in the past week. Foxes Trust urge all supporters to join their local trust or independent fans’ groups or to join the FSA as an individual member. At a hastily convened meeting with the Prime Minister last week, with fan representatives from the FSA and various executives from the footballing authorities, it is rumoured one fan rep began by asking: ‘Right Boris, we represent around 12 million voters, so what are you going to do for us’ – let’s hope those in power never forget that point and that clubs remember football is nothing without fans.

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