“We decide when to play.”
– Fans of Manchester United
Exactly two weeks ago today, the owners of 12 football clubs made a profit above all else by forming a breakaway Super League.
It turns out that the project ended before it started, with most of the participants withdrawing their support only 48 hours later. The reaction to the proposals was volcanic from every corner of the football world.
Rival clubs, players, managers, experts, politicians and even members of the Royal Family have condemned the Super League. The loudest reaction of all came from the fans of the matches. All the countries involved in the Premier League faced strong support from supporters, although the optics were most powerful at Stamford Bridge.
Before their game against Brighton on Tuesday night, hundreds of Blues supporters gathered with bags of continental camp, posters and an arsenal of protest songs that Bob Dylan would envy. Okay, maybe not.
However, it turned out that the news of their club’s withdrawal from the breakaway race came as many of them were still basking in the sun in front of the stadium.
The protest was evidence of a growing appetite for fan activism in England. For many, the broken plot of the Super League has caused a long-suppressed sense of resentment. Undoubtedly fueled by the ban on stadiums for more than a year, fans of the matches are at the end of their wit and are finally ready to do something about the lack of freedom of agency and the gross disregard for the owners of their clubs.
Manchester United supporters took things to another level on Sunday, forcing their demonstration with Liverpool to be postponed. Starting in the early afternoon, a small group of United fans headed to the Lowry Hotel in Salford, preventing the team’s coach from making a short trip to Old Trafford.
A larger group of fans, at times numbering in the thousands, gathered in front of the stadium. Some even managed to make their way on the field at Old Trafford, damaging several cameras along the way. There were also clashes with police outside the country as they tried to clear the area for the team’s buses to arrive.
The “tut tut” brigade, led by Graeme Souness, quickly stabbed the knife after a statement from the Premier League, published after the fact that the protesters had no “excuse” for their actions.
This kind of hypocritical attitude is shared by a large part of the population; after the announcement of the plans for the Super League, the restaurant quickly began to receive vague glances at the idea of the humble supporter of the matches to take his clubs. However, once these same fans do something about the situation, tired old clichés about “hooligans” and “inappropriate football fans” are thrown away.
Then again, maybe they’re right. Football, after all, is just a game, and it seems difficult to justify bystanders injured during the demonstration. Having said that, it is also worth noting that the vast majority of those present behaved impeccably.
With this in mind, the anti-glaze and anti-modern football message of the protest should not be lost in the wake of the tsunami of moralizing editions that must follow in the coming days.
However, this cannot be the end.
The great scourge of supportive activism since the advent of the Premier League has been tribalism. A quick look at social media suggests that this could again hamper Chelsea and United fans’ victories over the past two weeks. During the two demonstrations, opposition fans denigrated the protesters’ efforts, either by throwing classic insults or by claiming that they could have done better.
This is exactly what these breakaway clubs want. Recent events have shown that united and coordinated direct action by supporters can be an extremely powerful tool. Allowing this flame of activism to be extinguished by songs about Liverpool fans eating rats, or United fans appearing on Jeremy Kyle, cannot be allowed if we want to have real change.
Germany is a good role model when it comes to this. When the Bundesliga announced it would introduce matches on Monday, supporters from clubs across the country turned their anger on the authorities, not on each other. Performative resistance followed across the country, including throwing volleyballs on the field, stunning typhoid demonstrations and even boycotts.
This thing proves that football fans I can change things. All it takes is a little coordination and unity. Thus, while the dreams of clubs gaining community asset status and the 50 + 1 rule that applies may seem like a lifetime, the battle must start somewhere. Why shouldn’t it be right now?