This is the story of a revolution.
Last weekend, people flooded the streets of London, outraged, carry signs and banners and roaring their disapproval. Social media exploded in outrage. They were demanding change – serious change.
But unlike most revolutions, this insurrection didn’t start because of oppressive taxation or domineering governments. No, people flooded the streets of London last week because of soccer.
And the revolution worked. Somehow, an army of angry fans across social media and the real world faced off against a cabal of soccer’s richest billionaire owners – and won.
The rise and fall of the European Super League demonstrates a lot of moral lessons. In fact, it’s a veritable Aesop’s fable of warnings about the future of sports. But perhaps more than anything else, it tells us just how powerful fans are when they choose to be.
Even if you don’t follow soccer closely, you probably heard the sudden announcement last week that the soccer world was imploding – and the even more sudden announcement that the Super League itself was imploding. It lasted barely 48 hours from start to finish, with 12 European teams announcing that they were changing soccer forever Sunday, then all pulling out in short order by Tuesday as events progressed.
The authorities of the soccer universe quickly clamped down on the 12 teams when the announcement broke. FIFA (the international governing body of soccer), UEFA (Europe’s governing body) and every domestic league involved voiced their displeasure – any team participating in the proposed breakaway league would be banned from all other competitions.
It was the 12 biggest teams in the world versus the rest of soccer, but it seemed like their owners were ready. Surely, they had considered this outcome. FIFA and UEFA had threatened to ban any teams that participated in a Super League before, and the hard line couldn’t have been unexpected.
But the 12 Super League owners, 12 angry men locked in boardrooms across the world, miscalculated – fatally. They failed to account for the army of soccer fans around the world that make the sport what it is.
At its core, the super league proposal wasn’t somehow unethical or evil, some form of dastardly illegal weapon to destroy society or hurt people. But it was fundamentally anti-sport, and soccer fans knew it from the very beginning.
Every European soccer team is rooted in its local history. The idea of a super league proposed making the long-standing histories of domestic leagues functionally irrelevant, pooling all soccer’s income in the hands of 12 unchanging elite clubs – and thus by default sweeping all other opposition aside.
Soccer fans hated that. As New York Times soccer correspondent Rory Smith said in a recent episode of the podcast “Set Piece Menu,” soccer fans are essentially conservative – in a way. They view the sport as a bastion of decency, a thing that by merely staying the same serves as a constant in people’s lives.
But in a way, fans are also fundamentally liberal. They demand equality and a sense of fairness across the board – and the feeling that oligarchs and businessmen would be willing to sacrifice the traditions of sport for capitalist greed enraged fans this week.
Over the past year, sports have served as an outlet for millions of people around the world to feel a sense of normalcy in a time when everything seems out of order. Everyone from big clubs to Premier League executives discussed the duty they had to fans to bring sports back after March 2020’s cancellations. This week proved that all those statements were nothing but empty chatter.
The 12 Super League teams thought they could break the ecosystem of soccer and fans would sit idly by, that their clout was so strong that no misbehavior could break their fans’ loyalty. But it turns out fans are more loyal to their sport than their teams when soccer’s owners don’t care about fans in the first place.
The Super League broke down Tuesday when it became clear that not only players and managers, but almost all fans, were vehemently opposed to the new plans. The fans really were serious – and they saved soccer.
The truth is – billionaire owners didn’t create the moments that made me love soccer anyway. I’ll never forget those minutes in my life as a child when I fell in love with the game of soccer, the moments where I sat on the edge of my seat, unable to move until the last dying second of a game.
Big clubs splashing money around to thrash smaller teams 5-0 didn’t create that love for me. Players and fans in love with their sport did.
And no one should be allowed to take that away.
John Nekrasov is the Sports Editor. Follow him on Twitter at @john_nekrasov.