The Premier League is post-revolution royalty. They just don’t know it yet.By Ste Tudor | 15 April 2020
Here is an admittedly odd and laboured take that will undoubtedly peter out very quickly in a paragraph or two but let’s put it up for scrutiny nonetheless.
The Premier League deserves our sympathy right now.
Granted, we’re only talking about the tiniest thimbleful but even so, they really do because the organisation made up of venal, morally-bankrupt, corporate suits – who view our greatest love outside of family and friends as solely a commodity; a product to sell to the highest bidder – have encountered the world changing immeasurably and remarkably in the blink of an eye; and now suddenly they’re supposed to be no longer venal or morally-bankrupt anymore.
To expect an individual to dramatically transform in such a short space of time is unreasonable, even when circumstances absolutely dictate it. More so, it must be extremely difficult for a corporate body to collectively experience a road to Damascus moment overnight when the only roads they have previously travelled down have been paved with gold. This, let’s not forget is an organisation that once forced its 20 members to stump up £250,000 apiece to reward its outgoing chief executive Richard Scudamore with a bumper farewell gift. They have long adhered to an altogether different code of ethics to the rest of us. They live by their own rules in a bubble of their own making.
So it is that seemingly every day they put forward fresh suggestions on how to complete the 2019/20 season, each one more ludicrous than the last. ‘World Cup-style’ camps in the Midlands have been mooted, with players quarantined and tested regularly for the Coronavirus ahead of games being played behind closed doors. A frenetic June is the latest harebrained scheme, with the remaining 92 matches played across 35 days. It won’t be long before the satirical prediction of our very own Howard Hockin comes true and a trip to the moon is broached.
They are doing this, so we are repeatedly told, in an attempt to retain the ‘integrity of the league’ and why should we doubt that? After all, when you think of the Premier League, integrity is the first thing that comes to mind. It’s not grubby greed, haphazard kick-off times, Americanized ‘Super Sundays’, and persistent efforts to introduce a 39th fixture staged somewhere exotic and lucrative. Integrity may as well be their middle name.
Categorically, it is not because of the £762 million that will be lost if they fail to fulfil their broadcasting commitments to Sky Sports and BT Sport. It’s definitely not that.
Meanwhile, football supporters and the general public at large could not give a single damn who finishes where in a truncated and now wholly meaningless campaign because football supporters and the general public at large are dying. To date – Tuesday evening, April 14th 2020 – over 12,000 of our citizens have succumbed to the pandemic, a figure that rises daily and does not include care home deaths or indeed any deaths not officially registered in hospitals. People are losing their lives and they are losing their livelihoods and we cower frightened in our homes from a b-movie horror made manifest, venturing outside only for food and exercise. It is the biggest global crisis since the Second World War and comparatively football has been relegated to an utter irrelevance.
Yet still the Premier League bluster and manoeuvre, shameless and self-serving to the last. They are a man in a suit wailing loudly about his problems because his tie isn’t straight as he watches the world burn.
This week FIFA’s president Gianni Infantino warned against the dangers of restarting competitive football too early while from the get-go Manchester United have consistently stepped up and done the right thing, firstly reimbursing fans when an away trip to LASK in February was closed off to spectators at a late juncture, then reassuring their 900 staff that they will be paid in full until June 1st. The government meanwhile has – belatedly – closed Britain down at a cost of billions.
When FIFA, the Tories, and the Glazers are residing on a higher moral plateau than you then surely that’s the time to reassess everything you stand for? Or at least take a critical quick peek in the mirror?
Okay, enough with the castigation. It’s too easy. All we’re doing here is booing at a pantomime villain.
What is of much more interest is where the Premier League will eventually be designated within a social stratum that is being restructured before our very eyes and of more immediate pertinence, the question persists as to why they currently feel they can act so alarmingly out of step to everybody else.
The answer to the latter poser is hubris, pure and simple: ingrained and entitled hubris of monolithic proportions and here is where another vestige of sympathy is warranted, again just the teensiest smidgeon.
Because the Premier League these past few weeks have become a post-revolution royalty. They just don’t know it yet. They sit in their gilded palace, seemingly obvious to the chaos and cataclysm going on outside and certainly unaware that the product they punt is no longer adored; no longer matters.
And frankly, who can blame them for their detachment, or even deride their blissful ignorance because since 1992 they have been letting us eat cake and we in turn have willingly scoffed it down, crumbs and all. Rearranged kick-off times? Yeah we’ll kick up a fuss on social media but we will still pack out the away ends. Hiking up the prices of pretty much everything? Again, some criticism but again we cede. In the last quarter of a century they have given football a thorough corporate cleanse and in doing so dismantled the soul and yes, the integrity of the beautiful game and what have we done in response? We have worshipped it all. Celebrated and obsessed over every aspect. We have made them very rich and made them kings; untouchable and unaccountable.
But that is the past now as we potentially enter a brave new world, and if the Premier League’s determination to carry on regardless truly staggers it is only worsened by how it contrasts to the commendable adaptations made by the rest of the footballing fraternity around them.
The players get it, and for all of their wealth and elevated status we now see them for who they really are: just lads, normal and one of us. Harry Maguire has been spending the lock down supplying food packages and essentials to pensioners in Sheffield. Spurs defender Toby Alderweireld has donated numerous iPads to hospitals so the sick can keep in touch with their loved ones. Liverpool left-back Andrew Robertson has ensured that six food banks in the Glasgow area have been properly funded so they can help the poor. In his social media posts Marcus Rashford has revealed himself to be a lovely, caring fella of genuine substance.
How about this for a quote from Leicester stopper Kasper Schmeichel: “This is a difficult time for a huge number of people in our communities. We have a responsibility to make sure our actions now as a club are something our people can be proud of in the future.”
Last week it was revealed that stars from every top flight club have joined forces in an initiative called #PlayersTogether to pledge substantial sums to NHS charities. The players get it.
As too do the clubs, by and large and if this is most likely propelled by the need for good PR during a difficult period that has left them vulnerable to flak then frankly who cares? Grounds are being given over to the NHS to use as they see fit. The elderly and the at-risk are being contacted by club staff, to make sure they’re okay.
Even when they err, and revert back to their autonomous and avaricious ways, fan groups and social media are keeping them in check and successfully pressurising institutions that were previously answerable to nobody into committing to u-turns; an unprecedented state of affairs that is wholly welcomed. This we witnessed with Liverpool and – eventually – Tottenham as they disgracefully tried to furlough their non-playing staff and take millions of taxpayer’s money.
Had either club embarked upon such an unsavoury venture as recently as a couple of months ago – or at least its equivalence in terms of immorality – they would have surely got their way, easily riding out a passive storm in the process. But not now, not when they need us more than we need them; a reversal of sway that could be seismic and positive should it persist when we eventually emerge blinking into the sunlight to a world with fewer masks.
The hosting of football is a Premier League club’s superpower and their players are a front. Take away both and all they represent is an illusion of glamour and values that are completely at odds to an environment of struggle and fear. They need our goodwill right now. They need our support. And boy do they know it.
Which leaves just us, the fans, and we too can hold our heads up high. The Fans Supporting Foodbanks initiative is amazing and laudable and perfectly illustrates that away from the frivolities of competitive sport we are all in this together. Similarly, online tribalism has all but ceased; a truce called as a global emergency takes precedence. There is a purposeful reason why the admirable actions undertaken by Manchester City football club and its players have been omitted from the examples given above, despite this being a City site. It’s because it really doesn’t matter at present who plays for who and all that truly counts is which side you’re on. Are you doing the right thing, mucking in and helping out? Are you being a decent human being, considerate and compassionate? Or are you stubbornly keeping to old ways and the old order; tone-deaf and thinking only of yourself and money?
Are you listening Premier League?
When the Coronavirus passes and normality returns we will resurface to a vastly different landscape with a society reset. We will have a far greater value placed on ourselves as a collective and as a community. We will have far less tolerance to being kicked around and taken for granted. We will treasure courtesy and respect until the time comes when we inevitably won’t anymore.
And in that temporary oasis so much of football will be able to look us square in the eye but the Premier League – by putting self-interest top of their agenda throughout – will not.
They would be wise to heed the lessons of history, lessons that teach us that so often crisis brings out the very best in ourselves and reminds us of who we can be and what really matters. They would be wise too to recall what hubris did for Marie Antoinette.