This was a rather puerile documentary. I really didn’t need to see pictures of toilet flushes or cartoons of Popeye, and I’m not sure what Edith Piaf singing “Je ne regrette rien” was supposed to have to do with anything. Sky’s documentary on the same subject made most of the same points, but in a rather more sensible way.
However, there were two points which neither programme made. For one thing, there are now a lot more UEFA member states/national associations, and therefore a lot more leagues requiring places in European competitions, than there used to be. Eleven of the former Soviet states are UEFA members, and there are now seven members in place of the former Yugoslavia and two in place of the former Czechoslovakia. That’s seventeen extra leagues. It’s rather a lot, really. For another thing, people keep messing about with sports. When I were a lass and dinosaurs roamed the earth, the rugby league season ran parallel with the football season, cricketers wore white and no-one had ever heard of T20 (and don’t get me started on the IPL), and doubles matches in tennis were the best of three full sets, five full sets for men’s doubles in Grand Slam events. People tinker with sports. Let’s just thank goodness that the mad idea of making football matches shorter, which was actually mentioned in this programme, has never been seriously considered.
So what did it say? Well, pretty much what the Sky documentary said – and Sky a) got in first and b) said it all much better. In the good old days, football clubs were owned by local business people. Then Silvio Berlusconi got involved. Then the Champions League came along. Then new owners, often state-linked organisations from the Middle East, came along, and, rather like The Gilded Age, suddenly we’d got the old aristocracy (United, Liverpool, Real Madrid, Barcelona, Bayern Munich, Juventus, AC Milan, Inter Milan) being challenged by the nouveaux riches (led by City and Paris St Germain). A lot of the traditional big clubs had got into a lot of debt, and then along came Covid and made all the financial problems umpteen times worse.
As the Sky documentary did, this very much put the blame on the Spanish and Italian clubs involved, especially Real Madrid. And added a nasty little dig suggesting that United were somehow in league with 10 Downing Street – could we just lose this silly conspiracy theory, please?! And then made the point that it was English fans who killed the idea off … possibly with a little help from the Government, after Boris threatened to kill it off by legislation. Well, if Parliament could abolish purgatory, as it did in Henry VIII’s time, it could certainly do away with the Super League. But it never came to that. The English clubs pulled out, and the idea collapsed.
One suggestion which this programme made, which I don’t think Sky’s did, was that the cack-handed way in which it was all dealt with was because the owners concerned had all inherited their money, and didn’t have a clue about how the world really worked. This is an old, old story when it comes to old money versus nouveaux riches. But I don’t think that the argument works here. OK, we’re now on to the second generation of Glazers at Old Trafford, and the Agnelli family have been big shots in Turin for decades. But the driving force behind this was Florentino Perez of Real Madrid, and he worked his way up, in Franco’s Spain. How someone who’s made such a success in business could have made such a mess of this is an interesting question, but the BBC didn’t ask it. Maybe he’s just too used to getting what he wants.
Is he going to get it anyway? Remember that song by The Adventures of Stevie V? Did they ever even record another song, BTW?! Money talks, mmm, mmm, money talks. Dirty cash I want you, dirty cash I need you, ooh. It does look as if the idea of admitting some clubs based on their historic records, however poorly they’ve done in the season concerned, will go ahead anyway.Well, given what a bloody awful season United have had, this sounds like good news for us. But it’s wrong.
I think what we could really do with is some more input from abroad. Everyone in England seems to agree that this is wrong. But what do people in Spain and Italy think?
And whose word is going to count, in the end? Unfortunately, this story isn’t over yet. We’ve won the battle, but have we won the war?