What Makes the European Super League so Crass has Been Happening in our Cities for Years
The allure of capital accumilation threatens to wrench some of Europe’s elite clubs from the communities which birthed them. This geographic dislocation has happened before in some of the world’s most important cities.
The currently evolving (at the time of writing) coup d’etat being undertaken by those involved with the nascent European Super League has, quite rightly, been derided as “an absolute disgrace” by no higher authority than Gary Neville. The former Man United and England defender, who has created a successful post-playing career as a pundit on Sky Sports, is in a nuanced position to lambast the, in his words, the ‘imposters’ — namely the six English clubs — who have become ‘founding members’ of this new pan-European money spinning endeavour. It appears that Arsenal, Chelsea, Liverpool, Mancherster United and City and, ashamedly as I have supported this club my entire life, Tottenham Hotspur, are all willing to forego playing in the Premier League and potentially sacrifice the ability for their players to represent their national sides. The words of the superb Jonanthan Liew perfectly sum up this imperfect, brave new footballing world, into which we are being thrust into:
This is an idea that could only have been devised by someone who truly hates football to its bones. Who hates football so much that they want to prune it, gut it, dismember it, from the grassroots game to the World Cup. Who finds the very idea of competitive sport offensive, an unhealthy distraction from the main objective, which in a way has always been capitalism’s main objective
On the surface the new league is just that, a new league where 20 clubs from across Europe will compete for a trophy of some sort, with the midweek games taking place from August. Yet, out of these 20 clubs, 15 will have guaranteed places — the six above, plus both the clubs from Madrid and Milan, plus Juventus and Barcelona, plus another three — and the other 5 will be selected to join, although as of yet this process is unclear. Therefore, relegation is banished. The clubs who finish at the bottom — most likely both hailing from north London — will face no jeopardy. They can become the Jacksonville Jaguars or Detroit Lions of European football; perpetually underperforming yet facing no real ramifications for their poor performance.
Coincidently, the funding for this league comes from JP Morgan and is headed by three American sport’s ownership entities — The Glazers, the loathsome Stan Kronky, and Fenway Sports Group — who, it seams are installing a U.S sports like franchise model, where relegation is non-existent. Perhaps we could see these team names being sold off to up and coming cities; Baku Hotspur or Diriyah Arsenal anyone?
The principle of relegation, and therefore promotion, is essential in explaining why the impact of this attempted breakaway is so heartfelt for millions of supporters and fans. Relegation and promotion is more than a means of punishing those who underperform and rewarding those who excel, it also connects, in a very tenuous manner, the non-professional, community club to the elite level, with their multi-million pound player deals and spaceship stadiums.
Take Loughborough Dynamo, the football club which represents the town where I currently live, who play in the Northern Premier League Division One South East which sits at the 8th tier of English football. If they won their league, they would be promoted up to the 7th tier and if they won that they would be promoted to the 6th, and so on. Now, for this to happen, the owners of Loughborough Dynamo will need to be bankrolled in order to upgrade their stadium, training facilities, and of course, their squad; but the point is, it isn’t impossible to climb this ladder. This system ensures, no matter how tenuous, there is a link between Loughborough Dynamo and, say, Premier League leaders Manchester City, and if Loughborough Dynamo went on to finish in the top four of the Prem, they could end up playing Barcelona in the Champions League; establishing a link to European football.
Now, this is a page focused around cities and how we make, develop and live within them; so what does the European Super League — other than the clubs involved representing seven cities — have to do with urbanism? Well, in my mind this separation from the national to the global context, has already been underway for decades in a number of our larger cities, resulting in what Saskia Sassen terms The Global City.
Cities today operate within, what Sassen terms, a “globally integrated organization of economic activity”, as a result, global cities are the “highly concentrated command points in the organization of the world economy” — amongst other things which fall beyond the scope of this essay. So, global cities operate within networks that link together other cities through their trading links. An example which Sassen uses is the global steel industry. For, if you are operating in the production or consumption of steel, you wouldn’t go to a certain country to ply your trade, but rather certain cities like Sao Paulo, Mumbai, Chicago or Shanghai. A side effect of this global trade — and the link between the European Super League and the global city — is according to Mark Gottdeiner and Leslie Budd, that
global cities are so connected to each other through the organization of international finance that they are disconnected from their national contexts. Manhattan, the City of London and the business/Ginza district of Tokyo have more in common with each other than with other cities in their respective countries.
The 12 clubs who have become founding members of the European Super League believe they have more in common with each other, than those with whom they share their domestic league. A world where Manchester has less in common with a cold winter’s night in Stoke and is more akin to Barcelona or Milan. This can be observed in the creation of state-of-the-art stadiums. An example of this comes from my own club. Compare the 118 year old White Hart Lane (demolished in 2017) to the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium which replaced it. Whilst admittedly impressive, the development of the new stadium participated in the widespread and rapid gentrification of London and was pursued by the club’s owners, Enic International, a conglomerate owned by billionaire tax exile Joe Lewis and ran by Daniel Levy. Nothing speaks to local identity like the development of a billion pound mega-stadium in one of London’s most deprived areas.
Ultimately, the ‘imposter’ clubs are, first and foremost, businesses. Unlike in Germany — where Bayern Munich, RB Leipzig and Borussia Dortmund have all come out against the new league — these clubs are not majority owned by supporters groups. They are vessels for capital accumulation and exist for, ultimately, making a profit. The morning after the announcement, Manchester United and Juventus both saw their stock price rise by ten points on the back of the news, demonstrating in the words of Daniel Harris, that “cearly the breakaway plan is seen as lucrative business for the clubs responsible, at the cost of wider harm to the football world”. For the detached, bourgeois cosmopolitans who own these cherished establishments, their connection to the community from which they arose is superfluous to profit.
Marx famously said in the Communist Manifesto that “the need of a constantly expanding market for its products chases the bourgeoisie over the whole surface of the globe”. For a business to grow and be successful, it must find new markets to sell its product. Cities did this in the 1970’s and 80’s by situating themselves as centres of commerce and expanding financial services beyond their local context, but, cities are still geographically situated. Workers commute into them, food and raw materials are still required and, although highly influential, global cities still follow national laws.
However a football club can move. As shown above, little actually roots Tottenham Hotspur in its current guise to the District of Tottenham, yet as a business its future lies in enhanced TV contracts and exporting their product to new markets such as China, the Middle East and America. For the fan from a country with little football pedigree, but a rising middle class, the history and context is far less relevant to the product to be consumed, and the logic goes, who would a fan on the other side of the world rather see, Manchester City vs Southampton or Manchester City vs Barcelona, or Inter Milan, week in week out?
The potential severing of not just communal, but sporting roots is the by product of crass capital accumulation. The former Premier League manager, most famous for promoting Blackpool to the top division in 2010, Ian Holloway rhetorically asked
what is football actually about? It’s about believing you can be better and catch the people who are the best. That’s what football is all about
This ‘de-rooting’, this unconscious uncoupling of elite sporting institutions and everything which produced them bears the hallmarks of a process which has taken place across the globe in our cities, where pursuit of revenue has resulted in geographic dislocation.
What the European Super League will accomplish is the placement of football as a mere experience which reveals an expatriate connection to the game; i.e. the ability for the wealthy, but broadly disinterested to place their attention, and thus money for a couple of hours on a game between two clubs in a manner which is devoid of context. The European Super League is the essence of the process which produced the global city distilled and directly injected into the soul of the world’s most popular game — at the cost of heritage and connection to the sport at a wider level. Therefore, personally speaking, I hope the discord felt on this Monday morning will reign in the seemingly unstoppable force of globalised capital, but I doubt it. If what is proposed takes place — that Tottenham will become a European Super League team, who, in the process will sever the last vestige of connection to the community from which it came — actually becomes reality, then as a result, this historic club will lose at least one life long fan, if not thousands more.
By Will Brown
Doctoral Researcher at Loughborough University
All sources cited in text.