It's on Boris Johnson to reform football: here are 5 ways to kick-off
"They think it’s all over… it is now"
That famous line of football commentary was resurrected by headline writers last week, to celebrate the speedy collapse of the Super League after its cocked-up launch.
It might have been more accurate, if less poetic, to have said: "It is for now."
Do not imagine for a moment that those behind the idea have given up. There are even voices who think the whole farce was deliberate. That it was designed to build massive publicity and generate controversy, with the view to bringing it back at a later date - promotion and relegation somehow worked into a more palatable proposal.
Perhaps that credits those behind it with more intelligence than they deserve but - whatever the truth - the bruised billionaires will be back. Football, and football fans, better be ready.
"Stand up if you hate Kroenke!"
Thousands of Arsenal fans turned out at the Emirates on Friday night to call for the Kroenke family to sell the club after their role in the Super League fiasco. pic.twitter.com/gMNS0tO6B5
— FootballJOE (@FootballJOE) April 24, 2021
The misfired launch, surely the single most unifying moment in the history of the English game, has created an opportunity. But if it isn't seized properly, there is a danger we'll fall back onto the same trajectory that led to this mess in the first place.
Football is close to a religion for many, and it inspires me - an atheist - to quote from the Bible, specifically Timothy, Chapter 6, Verse 10:
'For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils. It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs.’
What pangs will the Big Six billionaires’ club be feeling right now? Shame and guilt? Doubtful. Bruised ego? Maybe.
A better understanding of the world into which they've bought? Hope so.
Or is it an entitled pang of rage that whispers in their ear: 'We didn’t become billionaires by giving up at the first hurdle. We didn’t take charge of the people’s game by giving in to the masses - let this make us more determined to get our way.'
In his, otherwise superb, onslaught on the Super League plan for his bemused US audience on the Late Late Show, James Corden lost me when he said that it was destroying something "pure".
Football has been far from pure for some time. Fan power has been a myth for even longer. And if we think the Beautiful Game is back because this plan has been seen off - we will be making a big mistake.
Boris Johnson seized on the issue this week to divert attention from the sleaze questions lapping around his ankles, and appointed ex-sports minister Tracey Crouch to lead a review of the game. In doing so, he has created the expectation that change will come.
Though I know and don’t like Johnson, I also know and do like Crouch, who has an appreciation of the importance of sport not always shared by her colleagues.
I hope she thinks big and bold in five key areas:
- Players’ wages at the top end are unsustainable. A salary cap goes against everything that a right-wing, libertarian Tory like Johnson believes. But it has to be examined.
- There has to be greater transparency about who the game's top agents are, what they do, and how they do it.
- The Fit and Proper Person Test has to mean something, and club owners must display a genuine commitment to the communities in which they operate.
- Fans must be given a role in the culture and the running of the club. The Bundesliga model of ownership - designed to give a greater say to fans and prevent greed-driven takeovers - has to be looked at.
- The gap between the top and bottom of the game is too vast. Set up an independent regulator to increase alignment between the FA, the Premier League, the Football League and grassroots.
The aim must be to turn 'the people’s game’ from a myth into a modern reality. The Super League wasn’t the answer - but neither is the status quo.
We’ve all played a part in letting things get to the state they’re in. Now, we can play a part in shaping something better for the future.
Only then will it be all over, for good.
Alastair Campbell is a writer, strategist and former spokesman for Tony Blair, and a life-long supporter of Burnley FC.