The legendary Jock Stein has been quoted more than ever this week.
“Without fans who pay at the turnstile, football is nothing.” The words are engraved on the base of his statue outside Celtic Park.
That argument was tested in extreme fashion this season. Even without supporters streaming into grounds up and down the country, football continued.
And let’s be thankful that it did. Throughout the pandemic, football has been an emotional and mental support during a dark time.
The familiar highs and lows of Saturday afternoons have given the pandemic at least some sense of normality. A welcome distraction from the unremitting gloom of life under Covid.
But, without fans in attendance, it’s fair to say that football this season has also been a pale imitation of its usual self. And no amount of fake crowd noise can make up for that.
It’s this emotional connection to the game which makes the news of a European Super League this week feel like a slap in the face to the real football fans who have shelled out their hard-earned cash over the years on season tickets, travelling to away games and endless replica shirts.
Of course, it’s no surprise that the faceless, billionaire owners behind the ‘big six’ have taken this stance. To them, football clubs are simply businesses, not institutions with history and grandeur.
They would no doubt prefer if the real supporters could be left out of the equation altogether. To them, these fans are nothing more than a minor revenue stream in comparison to the riches of TV deals and global sponsorship opportunities.
The iconic Jock Stein quote in full reads: “Without fans who pay at the turnstile, football is nothing. Sometimes we are inclined to forget that. The only chance of bringing them into stadiums is if they are entertained by what happens on the football field.”
In the wake of the ESL news, perhaps we should add that the only chance of bringing them back into stadiums is if they feel invested in what happens on the football field too.
Because, right now, fans up and the country feel left out of the conversation altogether.
The breakaway plans, led by investment bankers and sharp-suited shills, threaten the fabric and future of English football.
On the field, the competitive nature and ability of clubs to progress through the football pyramid will be reduced, while off the field, revenues will be in danger of collapsing. This will have a knock-on effect for our communities, not just our clubs.
That’s why NationalWorld, alongside our sister titles across JPI Media, is launching For the Fans, a campaign calling for a halt to the ESL, and for fans to have more say in the future of the clubs they’ve grown up supporting, through good times and bad.
It’s time for us to have a collective voice, and call on the authorities to protect our clubs and communities.
But first, we want to hear what you think.
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