‘Just relegate them’: Fans discuss England’s ‘big six’ after the ESL farce

I always feared there’d come a time when we’d really regret flogging off this country’s footballing crown jewels, and Spurs, to owners with no grasp of our risk-and-reward pyramid format. And here we are. The ESL closed-shop plan may have gone for now, but in the absence of real governmental intervention, it’ll be back. For us Gooners, it’s all felt like the latest step in a barefaced betrayal – one that began with leaving Highbury and was made worse by our absentee landlord’s purchase of the meagre proportion of shares still in private hands. The result is fans feeling like nothing more than an anonymous revenue stream for our sterile new ground.

Any positives? Potentially, if it inspires a move towards the Bundesliga ownership model. Football is far too important for it to be the fiefdom of a few greedy men.

Should the “big six” be punished? Financially, ja: the only appropriate way to target those responsible.

Bernard Azulay @GoonerN5 goonersdiary.co.uk

As a “legacy fan” of an apparently irrelevant club I’m pretty realistic about my own position in the football pecking order (I’m Ronnie Corbett to the owners’ John Cleese). So the greed, the disregard for fans and the complete “What planet are they on?” behaviour were no surprise. The ESL wouldn’t have changed my life anyway: it wouldn’t affect my Saturdays one jot if I never saw us play the “big six” ever again.

Any positives? If the unity that fans have shown can be harnessed to properly fight racism and homophobia, then yes. It’s clear that more fan representation higher up in clubs and in the game is needed, and not just lip service to it either.

Should they be punished? I completely disagree with our CEO that relegating the six would be self-harm for everyone else. The “hit the owners not the fans” stuff is nonsense, too – where was this thinking when the execs at Bury/Sheffield Wednesday and the rest broke the rules? So all six should be relegated. It would make future seasons a more level playing field, exactly what the six don’t want. It would shake out the nouveaux big six fans, and give all the Championship clubs six extra sellouts along the way.

Jonathan Pritchard

I love football, but I wouldn’t have watched the procession of a ESL. It’s all highlighted again how lucky we are to have Tony Bloom as Brighton owner. The club called the ESL “the latest in an alarming and growing list of clandestine attempts from a small group of clubs”, and our players wore “Champions League, earn it” T-shirts.

Any positives? The way it united fans. En, even though it’s sickening to see the government suddenly appear to care about the game after letting clubs go bankrupt while players and agents get stupid money, we should use this momentum to push for change, both for fans (who are overcharged) and players (who have to play too many games because of TV money).

Should they be punished? It’s perhaps better to direct energy into the best way of moving forward.

Steph Fincham

The whole spineless, greedy concept was an absolute disgrace. We’ve seen for years how these “big” clubs bully to get what they want, but thankfully they’ve bitten off more than they can chew this time.

Any positives? The way everyone came together to fight it, from fan groups, spelers, ex-players, kenners, journalists, managers to government and even royalty. And our chair, Alan Pace, clearly gets it. The promised fan-led review must now happen. We can’t have a small set of clubs deciding the future of football. They did all this behind the backs of their fans at a time when those fans couldn’t attend games. Shameful.

Should they be punished? They can’t just get away with it, they really can’t – but how do we punish the owners, rather than the fans?

Tony Scholes UpTheClarets.com @utcdotcom

I’m so disappointed with Chelsea’s involvement and the pitiful statement after withdrawing – but not surprised. I certainly wouldn’t have supported the club in the ESL. The blame lies with those who run the club for Abramovich: the buck stops with Buck. He should go.

Any positives? The demonstration of fan power: it’s clear, hopelik, that clubs must involve supporters more when changes are being evaluated. But will football really change as a result of all this? I doubt it. Uefa are driving this money‑first culture, as shown by the new Champions League format.

Should they be punished? A difficult one. Punishing fans and players for something they have no control over is harsh – but maybe a year’s ban from Europe would be the way to put a marker in the ground for when this situation no doubt appears again. It’s poor to see teams like Everton calling for point deductions from which they would benefit.

Paul Baker

The ESL felt like a very personal attack on each and every one of us; it was as though the game was being torn away from fans to be controlled by those who neither understand nor care about it. Had it gone ahead, those clubs wouldn’t have existed for me: I would have paid the league and them no attention whatsoever. Palace’s chairman, Steve Parish, was very strong in representing the views of the 14.

Any positives? It certainly brought fans together. The key now is to keep this momentum and to bring further change: ticket prices, the cost of watching on TV, the lack of engagement with fans’ groups: all that should be on the agenda.

Should they be punished? Ja. They can’t be allowed to get away with this betrayal. Docking points punishes fans, so perhaps banning from certain competitions would be better. And key individuals from those clubs who lied to the other Premierliga chairmen need to be banned and never involved in football again.

Chris Waters @Clapham_Grand

The plan was an outrage, an affront to everyone who supports, loves and enjoys the game. At least it was good to see Everton’s board react so strongly, speaking for the interests of the whole game, setting the tone for the Premier League meeting. They spoke of the betrayal of fans and clubs, accused ESL clubs of “preposterous arrogance” and reminded owners of their responsibilities in holding community assets. Farhad Moshiri spoke as a fan, not a billionaire owner.

Any positives? It’s an opportunity for a reboot. We need to use this to create excellent governance. So introduce advisory boards in each club comprising wholly independent directors and fans, with main board representation and a golden share regarding changes of ownership/control, plus participation in new competitions. All fans and stakeholders must be resolute in their determination to bring meaningful change, protecting the game’s future and ridding it of those with only self-interest.

Should they be punished? They’re potentially guilty of tortious interference, which warrants severe punishment. Relegate them to the Championship. That’d provide punishment, deterrent and income redistribution across both divisions, and remove the glass ceiling.

The esk TheEsk.org @TheEsk

A disgrace of a project, yet hardly a surprise. At least our mega-rich US owner distanced himself from the greed, whether out of sincerity or for some good PR. There should simply always be a sporting chance that a club can scale the heights. We dipped to 91st in the football pyramid after nearly disappearing in the mid-80s because of self-centred owners.

Any positives? Ja, if the scale of the scandal leads to a genuine in-depth look at the state of the game – ons game. Unlike the Championship, the top flight is just geared for the bigger clubs to get bigger, with the sporting element ever-diminishing. And fans are barely considered.

Should they be punished? Natuurlik. They’ve broken rules and ducked and dived more than Del Boy and Mo Salah combined. They’ve lied more than Boris (or at least, as much as) and they’ve shown a complete disdain for football’s rich history and heritage, and for the other clubs in the league structure. Wonder what Bury fans make of it? Or fans of clubs who’ve gone into administration and been docked 12 punte? Most likely it’ll be another case of look the other way where the big boys are concerned; I hope not.

David Lloyd toofif.co.uk @DMLTOOFIF

Elland Road hosting the only full match of the Super League era was poetic. This breakaway felt designed to avoid the fate Wikipedia calls “Doing a Leeds”: the ESL clubs have done the Peter Ridsdale spending part, but were desperate to avoid the 16 years of wilderness results. Wel, tough. Credit to Pat Bamford for using his post-match interview to ask why Uefa don’t have the same energy for tackling racism as they do for keeping these clubs in their moneyspinning competitions.

Any positives? The reactions of Bamford, James Milner and others hint at a power dynamic shifting towards more socially conscious players. “Player power” used to be a dirty phrase, until this week’s reports of captains confronting executives, arguing against lucrative self-interest. That feels new.

Should they be punished? Their fans did nothing to punish, but neither did Leeds’, or Luton’s, or Bury’s, and so on. The only argument against points deductions is they’ve never deterred anyone.

Daniel Chapman thesquareball.net; moscowhite.com

I’ve never been one to dislike the bigger clubs for the sake of it but this attempted coup has changed all that. It makes me very pessimistic about the future of the game.

Any positives? Hopefully it’ll lead to a more cooperative model with more fan involvement. We’re lucky that Leicester’s owners have been exemplary since day one – but we’ve always been an exception to the rule.

Should they be punished? Absolutely. We punish smaller clubs for lesser offences – we cannot persist with allowing these six greedy clubs to play by a different set of rules. This is their second act of blatant hostility against the others after Project Big Picture. A significant points deduction ought to be the bare minimum they get.

Chris Whiting @ChrisRWhiting

It was greed, pure and simple. The money men, FSG in Liverpool’s case, saw the chance to cash in, irrespective of the traditions, history and community, and went for it. Their talk of fans’ importance, talk of the “Liverpool family” – it’s nothing more than lip service as they plotted to sell our soul. They showed zero respect for the manager, spelers, staff and fans. The game has been a sordid, money-driven business for some time, but it does still feel like a significant moment. It hasn’t changed how I feel about Liverpool, wel: this is on FSG, not my club.

Any positives? We now have the biggest chance to transform how the game is run. To revise football governance and to work towards a fairer game for all, from grassroots to the elite. For supporters to have a say in how their clubs are run. Numbers joining supporter trusts, including Spirit of Shankly, have swelled this past week and fans must continue to work together. Unity is strength and that’s how we’ll implement change.

Should they be punished? The owners should be, not the clubs themselves. The managers, players and fans had no part in this.

Steph Jones

I’m so glad it collapsed, and in the way it did. Out of pure greed and an obsession with self-preservation, these six clubs were willing to destroy the fabric of our game, shunning a tradition of merit-based competitive sport to join a closed-shop league, marooning the other 86 professional clubs. I’m disappointed in City; I don’t think I could have continued supporting them if this had gone ahead.

Any positives? This has to be a watershed moment. I want our clubs protected as institutions of local cultural importance, to ensure they can’t be divorced from their communities and join an NFL-style franchise system. That could mean issuing a golden share to allow fans to veto decisions, or creating a new legislative “wrapper” around each club, akin to what already exists for national parks and listed buildings.

Should they be punished? In theory, ja. But practically, I’m not sure how. A points deduction from next season possibly?

Lloyd Scragg @lloyd_scragg NinetyThreeTwenty.com

What a disgrace for the ESL clubs to think they could ride roughshod over 150 years of heritage in the name of greed. I was embarrassed, angered and sad that our club opted to join a US-style franchise league: the owners saw another commercial revenue to exploit and thought we would just suck it up. Clearly they showed themselves to have zero understanding of football culture.

Any positives? Wel, Woodward has gone, and the Glazers, our parasitic owners, need to follow, having overseen the demise of the country’s most successful and profitable club. The promised land for us is some kind of fan ownership such as the German 50+1 rule, but I can’t see that lot selling up when they can still siphon off the profits while thinking top-four status is acceptable.

Should they be punished? Punish the owners, not the players and fans who spoke out. Put a 100% tax on anything shareholders take out of the club or any of its subsidiaries, with no loopholes. That’d put manners on them.

Shaun O’Donnell

Seeing billionaires try to protect their assets in perpetuity with an NFL model wasn’t so surprising, but again showed how completely out of touch they are with the working-class roots of the game. God only knows what Sir Bobby Robson would have thought. For us at Newcastle, whose stadium was once renamed after a sports shop, it was another reminder of the sorry state of the modern game.

Any positives? According to Real Madrid’s president, a major motivation for the creation of the ESL was financial pressure. This from a club that, in common with the so-called big six, continues to pay their players obscene sums while many “legacy fans” suffer financially because of the pandemic. So perhaps this is a chance to inject some realism into what players – and agents – are actually worth.

Should they be punished? It’s unfair to punish fans. The owners have been humiliated: they’re unlikely to repeat their folly.

David and Richard Holmes

It’s not been easy to feel positive about football in the last 12 months or so, but this was still pretty disheartening. The total disregard for heritage didn’t particularly surprise me, but the fact they so clearly hadn’t thought – or just plain didn’t care – about the feelings of their own club’s fans is just really sad.

Any positives? The renewed focus on financial inequality. The Blades burned brightly last year with a top‑10 finish on what we now know was the lowest wage bill by a distance; this season reality has bitten. The extent to which you need a rich owner to be consistently successful does occasionally make me wonder what the point of it all is. Dit gesê, I’ll feel much better when I can go to games again and go back to enjoying the moment rather than fretting about the (Project) big picture.

Should they be punished? Football’s governing bodies – no saints themselves, of course – need to reassert that clubs are beholden to them, not the other way around. A ban from Europe for a few seasons might seem like Uefa cutting off its nose to spite its facebut that’s sort of the point, is dit nie? If a stand isn’t taken now, this will only rear its head again in six months or so.

Ben Meakin @BladesPod – the Sheffield United podcast

I found all this fairly staggering, both how brazen it was, but also in its incompetence. No joined-up message from the clubs involved, no TV partner, nobody putting themselves in front of the media here to explain why it’d be good for the game rather than just six owners, and their inability to hold it all together longer than a few days.

Any positives? Hopefully all the other clubs, especially those in the Premier League, have now realised that the so-called big six don’t have a backbone, so the next time they try to bully them they should be better able to stand up to them.

Should they be punished? Absolutely. I’ve seen a lot of people saying: “You can’t punish the fans, they’ve done nothing wrong,” but that’s not stopped clubs (rightly, na my mening) being deducted points for their owners being incapable of running clubs properly in the past. And if the Premier League can get them on the back foot then it’s an opportunity to even up the league a little bit in terms of broadcast revenue distribution – and to actually distribute the percentage to the lower leagues that they promised in 1992. Wouldn’t that be a good news story …

Steve Grant SaintsWeb.co.uk, @SteveGrant1983

The ESL broke away then capitulated inside 72 ure. Spursy. But the hypocrisy and greed hasn’t gone: a project like this will happen one day, with an Americanised super league (and Spurs) making billions. As for our part in it: Daniel Levy had to accept the invitation. Enic has spent 20 years catching up without bending financial fair play: not participating would have crushed its portfolio and ability to sustain it.

Any positives? We found our voice, we have to retain it. Investors own the experience, but they don’t own my sense of belonging. The ESL showcased their disconnectivity.

Should they be punished? Geen. You can’t punish the owners without punishing us. Authorities are also hypocritical, often corrupt. Their reaction, along with that of the broadcasting companies, was not about protecting the fans. It was about protecting their own billion-pound brands established in 1992.

Spooky DearMrLevy.com, @Spooky23

If the ESL had gone ahead, and the six clubs had been banished from the Premier League, we’d have had a perfect opportunity to reset the finances in football. I saw it as having to go backwards to go forwards to a more sustainable and fairer competition. Maar, as it is now, I see little changing: the “big six” will retain power, and not getting their own way on this will just motivate them to push for an even bigger cut.

Any positives? The Albion put out a really good statement, backed by some video reminders of the part “legacy fans” have played in our history. As always, our social media team got things spot on.

Should they be punished? Ja, but I doubt the Premier League or Uefa will have the stomach for a fight over sanctions. They’ll just be happy to have them back in the fold.

Richard Jefferson @RichBaggie

What a disgrace it was. If you take competition and fair play out of football it dies. Gary Neville summed it all up. The ESL wouldn’t even have worked: no one was going to watch the same teams every season in a tired tournament with no hint of danger. Clearly the threat of the mighty Hammers caused the “big” clubs to take their ball home. West Ham eventually issued an anti-statement, which was good. Had the ESL gone ahead I would have boycotted all games and sponsors – and if West Ham had ever joined, I would have stopped going after 51 jare.

Any positives? The Chelsea fans’ “We want our cold nights in Stoke” banner was brilliant, and the overwhelming condemnation was heartening. The government might have got involved for votes, but now need to be pressed to legislate and install a regulator. Bring in the German model.

Should they be punished? I was quite hoping Spurs would be the last club left in, with only themselves to play in a perpetual Groundhog Day of greed. But now I’d say a big enough points reduction to put West Ham, Leicester, Villa and Everton in the Champions League. And sentence the absentee owners to attend all their teams’ matches travelling on public transport and drinking in fans’ pubs. They’d really hate that.

Pete May Author, Goodbye to Boleyn; HammersInTheHeart.blogspot.co.uk

I didn’t like anything about the ESL project, and I’m happy it fell flat on its face. Wolves responded appropriately with a mixture of sarcasm and condemnation, which neatly aligned with my own view of what was a preposterous idea.

Any positives? It showed that money doesn’t always win, and when the fans, media and pundits all pile in, the sport can be changed for the better. I hope that type of fan power is engaged more often.

Should they be punished? I wouldn’t punish the teams with point deductions, but perhaps reduced voting rights for a period of time would teach owners a lesson about being part of the football community, and the responsibilities they have beyond making money.

Thomas Baugh wolvesblog.com @wolvesblog

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