Clarke, Big Six and Big Money can, well, get tae f**k

Matt Stead

The ever excellent David Conn’s exclusive this week revealed that the Premier League kept Project Big Picture plans secret from clubs outside the Big Six and held talks without telling the other 14, with FA chairman Greg Clarke holding a copy of plans but choosing not to inform them.

Who talked to whom, when they did so, what they talked about and who they told about it, well who knows? The feeling the whole affair leaves us with is that everyone involved mistrusts everyone else.

Can we trust what any of this incestuous cast of characters say? It is hard to do so.

Can we trust their intentions are for the greater good? They have given us no reason to be able to do so.

It all paints a horrible picture of obfuscation, weasel words, sins of omission, secrecy, self-interest and greed.

It’s all a long way away from the wonderful community-based sport we all grew up loving and still love. It feels like it belongs to another world and not a nice one either.

And now Josep María Bartomeu’s final hurrah as the president of Barcelona was to announce the club’s participation in a European Super League and in the new format in FIFA’s Club World Cup, saying: “It would guarantee the future financial sustainability of the club.”

Have Barcelona, or anyone else, done any research to make them so sure it actually would pay them more money than playing in La Liga? We must presume they have assessed this with fact-based research and not just assumed it to be true, and as a result have come to the conclusion that more people will pay more money to watch this Super League on TV across the globe and that therefore the ad and rights revenues would be higher than what they currently receive.

But do you know anyone that is especially keen on the ESL idea, other than as a side show? Do fans of the breakaway clubs themselves want to travel across Europe for 17 away games? Even if those teams could keep one foot in the Premier League and play ESL games instead of the Champions League (highly unlikely long-term) is there any interest in those games even in the medium term when the novelty has worn off?

Obviously, the global audience is less bothered about domestic football and might be more interested in Big Brand v Big Brand games almost as exhibitions. And it is also worth bearing in mind that the average global audience per game for the Premier League, the most popular, TV-watched league on earth, isn’t that high at around 10 million and is thus a low bar to outperform if the ESL was to replace the Premier League as The Big Football Thing.

So perhaps they’ve done the numbers and worked out there is gold in them thar hills. Even if interest is watery in the UK – and that certainly seems to be the case – it may not matter to them.

But while they’ve been busy plotting ways to deflect criticism and accusations of greed and self-interest, they may not realise that quite possibly the vast majority of football enjoyers in these lands would welcome the Big Six or Five f**king right off. Parry, Masters, Clarke and all the other schemers do not need to convince us that an ESL is a good idea or for the good of the game – we’re already sold on the idea, not because we want to avidly watch it, but because we’re tired of money being the lever for success and want a more fair, level playing field and actively want these clubs to get themselves offski.

Don’t listen to anyone saying this season shows how competitive the Premier League is. History will judge this period as an outlier, played under extraordinary circumstances and delivering unusual results. This was not how it was and it will not be how it will be, if nothing changes. If you doubt this, Miguel Delaney’s piece earlier this year explains why.

It is obvious that without the richest clubs, English football would be much more competitive and unpredictable – two qualities we love but which Big Money hates. Obviously, those who see their football purchase as one dictated by an often confused notion of what the word ‘quality’ means in this context may drift away to Big Brand football, but the rest of us who understand that football’s primary attraction is that it exists, and not the entertainment value it offers, know everything would be fine.

Indeed, the ongoing revelations about this proposed semi or total breakaway are only making more people say “go on then, leave and leave as quickly as possible, we genuinely don’t care”, and are perhaps making all their proposals a self-fulfilling prophecy.

They should not make the mistake of thinking those of us who don’t support the Big Six care about watching the Big Six. We don’t. It is not a privilege, they do not bestow glamour upon us, they often play boring football, they actually annoy a lot of us because they remind us of the financial inequalities that are killing football more broadly.

So, as the vernacular would have it around these parts: “get tae f**k”.

John Nicholson