News is emerging that Rupert Murdoch may be about to unveil a “Summer Super League” plan for football, whereby 16 “elite” clubs would compete in a league-type competition throughout the traditional European close season. Matches would be played in cities around the world in a transparent move to open up new markets and further popularise the Sky/Murdoch brand before an international audience possibly running to billions.
The drawbacks to such a plan spring readily to mind. There is an obvious issue around the physical and mental demands upon players who might now be called upon to perform without a break in the whole calendar year. That is, assuming that the players involved would be the senior players of the “elite” clubs envisaged as making up this league; but that does seem a fair assumption. It is hardly likely that a project like this would have the necessary appeal and marketability if the competing teams were to field development squads – stars would be a pre-requisite for success.
What, then would be the impact on existing competitions? It would be easy to imagine that the effect on, say, domestic cups could be quite shattering. We’ve already had the precedent of Man U withdrawing from the FA Cup one season for some money-making prestige junket to South America where they competed for a version of the World Club Championship, and predictably sank without trace. If the likes of Man U, Man City, Chelsea and Arsenal were to be invited (as they most certainly would be) to compete in Murdoch’s latest commercial fandango, then we could quite probably predict that – at the very least – the FA Cup, and certainly the League Cup would slide yet further down the priority list for these in-demand clubs. Already we see shadow squads competing for the League Cup, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see withdrawals from that competition, and the treatment of the FA Cup as a proving ground for promising younger players. It would be the eager crowds in the Far East, Australia, the USA and the Middle East who would have the pleasure of seeing the Premier League’s major talents performing in the flesh.
The question also arises: what of the World Cup, and the slightly lesser competitions held on individual continents? Would FIFA be prepared to take on Murdoch and his increasingly omnipresent empire? The days when domestic cup competitions caused a thrill of excitement and a sense of occasion are already receding into golden memory. Will the same happen to the four-yearly cycle of the greatest international tournament of them all? It’s not impossible; and if it were to happen, we’d know what to blame – the three M’s. Murdoch, Money and Markets.
The time is fast approaching when Football as we know it will be in sore need of rescue by seemingly the only people left who actually care enough to want to preserve its proud history and tradition: the fans. Obviously, I mean those of us who are old enough to remember the game’s great days, before Murdoch got his talons on it; when you stood on a packed terrace and sampled an incomparable atmosphere as you cheered on your favourites for under a pound and moaned mightily when that went up to £1.50. When the only games shown live on the box were really big ones, Cup Finals, major International games, European nights and maybe the odd smattering of League games here and there. Those were the days when you would have laughed out loud at any suggestion that one day you might be asked to fork out £60 a month for “entertainment” which might include Norwich v Wigan on a Monday evening.
That’s the reality we have now, and it’s scary to look ahead and see how much more our game might change now that Uncle Rupert has had this spiffy new idea. He’ll want to make sure his audiences have their entertainment in a way that doesn’t put undue strain on their attention-spans, and allows enough time to sell, sell, sell in those commercial breaks. Didn’t someone once have a great idea about playing four quarters instead of two halves? What about time-outs? Why bother with boring draws, can’t we have an exciting shoot-out?
If you doubt things might actually go down that road – just cast your mind back 25 years, and see if you could have imagined then the kind of game we have to watch today, and ask yourself: couldn’t it maybe happen? Aren’t we in real danger of losing the last vestiges of the game we used to know and love? And isn’t it maybe time to think just what the hell we can do about it?