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Requiem for football’s Super League

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Football’s new Super League may not involve English clubs, but its ramifications could be very damaging. Could there be parallels with our own profession?

21st Apr 2021
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Even an accountant with zero interest in football will have noticed the furore that surrounded the short-lived proposal for a European super league this week.

Every newspaper, not to mention the BBC, the heir to the throne but one and the Prime Minister rushed to pour scorn on plans to create an elite football league.

Rather than going into the ins and outs of new league and what it will mean for fans, it makes more sense to try and consider this issue from the perspective of accountants.

Greed and capitalism

Before going that far, it is worth a wry smile to observe that less than a month ago, our country’s leader was boasting about the fact that the NHS’s vaccination rollout was entirely the result of “greed and capitalism”.

Now, showing the kind of hypocrisy and U-turning on which his reputation has come to depend, Boris Johnson appears to be outraged by the prospect that football clubs should be driven by “greed and capitalism”.

That is the main criticism that has been levelled at the six British clubs that initially signed up to receive €300m each.

It might come as news to Johnson but, as this football-sceptic accountant understands it, the top echelons of football have been entirely ruled by money for decades.

Otherwise, how can he explain why almost all of the leading clubs seem to be owned by overseas billionaires?

At some point, someone will also work out that if lots of football matches take place between the best teams in the world, this has to be an attractive prospect both for their fans and neutral TV viewers.

Darwin rules

The problem lies in what it will do to those that do not make it into the elite echelon. However, in a society that is completely driven by “greed and capitalism” the answer has to be that they must try to step on to the Darwin escalator and either create their own super league or do whatever is necessary to get into the existing one.

It is often instructive to draw analogies from our own sector. Some obvious comparisons sping to mind: 

  1. A newly qualified auditor who deserts the mid-tier firm that has spent so much time and energy to train her to join a Big Four practice.
  2. A well-established partner informing colleagues that he has signed a lucrative contract to become the finance director of a client.
  3. Perhaps closest of all, the ageing partners in a practice entering into a “merger” with a larger firm in the full knowledge that within a couple of years 80% of staff and partners will have moved on, most pushed rather than jumping.

In this light, some of the suggestions from ministers of state as to the ways in which the government might intervene to stop the new league were farcical. More accurately, they mirror a number of recent actions that subsequently proved to be illegal.

This columnist may not know about football but he does have a long memory when it comes to cricket. Kerry Packer created World Series Cricket in the 1970s and basically did exactly the same to cricket as the current proposals suggest for football.

Various authorities in the UK attempted to ban the players. This proved to be illegal as a restraint of trade, and very expensive for those in authority who took the cases to court.

Regulatory responses

The best idea so far might be a windfall tax. If nothing else, at least that will bring in hundreds of millions of pounds to the Exchequer and, if the rate is set at a high enough level, maybe even billions.

Just for a laugh, it might also be worth trying in the suggestion that the Chancellor changes the law to ensure that all image rights derived by footballers are charged to PAYE and national insurance. That will be a nice little earner.

Another helpful move would be to increase business rates to any football team that joined a breakaway league.

One has to imagine that if some of these plans only attack a small, select group of players, they could be in breach of human rights legislation. If so, one would have to see the irony of implementing such legislation to protect the rights of the stinking rich.

Just as happened with the cricketing precedent, this will all blow over and might even end up benefiting society at large or, at the very least, smaller football clubs.

Postscript: After this article was completed, the English clubs appear to have withdrawn from the new league. However, before Messrs Johnson, Dowden et al get too smug, they should consider whether this might be a Pyrrhic victory. Having made it so clear to the owners of all of the biggest and best teams in the country that they are not wanted, it would hardly be a surprise if each and every one of them decided to cut their losses. What this would do for the health of English football and footballers is something on which the experts can opine. As an accountant, it sounds like very bad news.

Replies (6)

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By thomas34
21st Apr 2021 13:59

What an appalling piece.

"This columnist may not know about football" - entirely correct.

"BoJo appears to be outraged by the prospect that football clubs should be driven by "greed and capitalism"" - I don't recall him having said that. What he did say was the proposal would create a cartel.

The idea of the ESL came from the Real Madrid owners who saw it as an easy way to reduce or eliminate their debts via a J P Morgan backed £3.5B grant. All the six English clubs have large debt and jumped on the bandwagon via their owners (shareholders).

Most genuine supporters would be delighted if these owners "cut their losses" and walked away because although there would be winners and losers as far as trophies are concerned they all know that a certain Manchester United player on £0.5M per week would still be able to afford a decent house and lifestyle.

Yesterday was a historic day for real supporters who would have boycotted the new league and more importantly cancelled their pay per view subscriptions.

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By John Accountant
25th Apr 2021 10:43

Congratulations on the extreme mental contortions undertaken to convert a crisis in football into a Boris bashing left wing political rant.
Greed is nothing new, just look at Tony Blair and the vast fortune he has accumulated by abusing his position as an ex PM. No doubt you will be shouting about the accusations surrounding donations to the Conservative Party and access to the PM, but you will equally say nothing about the corrupt strangle hold that communist trade unions have on the Labour Party which is a fully paid for subsidiary of the trade union & communist movement.
The super league proposals were ill conceived. They claimed it was for “the best” teams, yet only 3 of the 6 British teams were currently in the top 6 of the Premier League. The whole idea was based on TV income and the fans have the say on that. Don’t pay for the games and the whole thing collapses. I would certainly have cancelled my Sky Sports subscription rather than pay to watch these matches. I would certainly not be flying to Spain or Italy to watch my team play, so, with zero income their so called “super league” would quickly collapse.
Boris was quite right to encourage the football league to expel these clubs from the Premier League thus leaving them without any income.

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Replying to John Accountant:
By Ruddles
26th Apr 2021 19:35

Same old, same old, John. Sorry, David.

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By Mike18
26th Apr 2021 16:03

Well done Philip Fisher. Although you say you know little about football, you have 'hit the back of the net' in my view. When I saw the crowds outside football grounds protesting against the European Super League I had one thought. They appeared to me to be same lot that were demanding unsuccessful club owners be defenestrated and losing clubs sold to multi billionaires who could buy the best players in the world, and pay them enough each week to fund a hospital.

Philip’s sharp financial brain enabled him to see that only regular competition between the best football clubs will raise the TV revenue to pay for the whole system. Presently the world audience is drifting away from football out of boredom.

Calm down you self-styled ‘true fans’ and ‘proud supporters’ and be careful what you wish for. No more money means no Real Madrid versus Manchester City, but unlimited Southend United versus Grimsby Town.

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Replying to Mike18:
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By John Accountant
27th Apr 2021 15:46

"Philip’s sharp financial brain enabled him to see that only regular competition between the best football clubs will raise the TV revenue to pay for the whole system. Presently the world audience is drifting away from football out of boredom."

Fans will not pay for a rigged league with teams that cannot be relegated. The proposed so called "super league" will result in a minute TV audience with insufficient revenue to sustain it.
As for the "best football clubs", who says they are? Look at league tables, the best clubs change all the time.

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Replying to John Accountant:
By Ruddles
27th Apr 2021 15:57

As for the "best football clubs", who says they are?

Spot on - Arsenal should never have been included in the six.

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