European Super League: Henry McLeish - I have never been so angry about anything in my life

A £10 billion breakaway European Super League is straight out of the Gordon Gekko playbook. It is a step too far by a game gripped with greed.

Leeds United players wear T-shirts with slogans against a proposed new European Super League during the warm up for a match against Liverpool (Picture: Clive Brunskill/pool/AFP via Getty Images)
Leeds United players wear T-shirts with slogans against a proposed new European Super League during the warm up for a match against Liverpool (Picture: Clive Brunskill/pool/AFP via Getty Images)

It is no surprise that this is all about “money, money, money” in – as the song suggests – a rich man’s world. This is the world these people live in. Three out of the six clubs are owned by American venture capitalists. No-one should be left in any doubt that this is for the good of money rather than the good of football.

When you consider JP Morgan are putting up £3.5 billion, with some of the bigger clubs getting more than £300 million as a starter fee, you know instantly the territory you are in.

There is no sense of football history, no sense of tradition, sentiment or loyalty or sacrifice. There is no acknowledgement of the ability of the small clubs to become big clubs. This example of football greed driven by billionaires using the game for financial ends could do enormous damage not only to the clubs involved, but to one of the most powerful, strongest football nations in the world – England.

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The tragedy for me is the game has been moving in this direction for a long, long time. The fans, the most important asset in football, are being asked to become merely walk-on extras as high finance drives forward this desire for more and more money.

The game has characteristically been driven by incentives, by merit, by rags-to-riches achievement and strong links with the broader community of interests that make up football. The signals now are this is no longer the case at the highest level. Irreparable damage will be done if the great clubs of English football betray their origins for money. It makes you wonder what will it take for the money men in the game to be impacted by the tremendous traditions that all of us want to maintain within football.

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Not only do we have international finance being imported into Europe, but also other alien ideas such as franchising. Attached to Liverpool and Manchester United, two of our biggest clubs, is tremendous sentiment, emotion, and nostalgia. Those great heroes Bill Shankly and Sir Matt Busby believed in community.

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Former First Minister and East Fife defender Henry McLeish is firmly against plans for a breakaway European Super League

They were brought up from the basics, they believed in fierce competition and they loved the will to win. They would have been horrified to know the game would later be wrecked by people happy to slip the bonds of sanity and perform such a sell-out of club, country and fans.

I have never been so angry about anything in my life. As a player, a supporter, a writer, and enthusiast about the beautiful game, I think it’s a great tragedy that football ends up being viewed as an endless treasure trove of money.

The Super League is based on money not merit. If you get into 'the club' early, you stay there because you have the fans. But what does it do for the great traditional teams such as Everton, Leicester, Aston Villa? They have again been sacrificed on this altar of finance.

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The gap between different levels of the game is widening. Much of the game in England and Scotland is desperate for finance to survive. That’s why I would urge UEFA, FIFA, the FA, supporters’ organisations and the government to put their strength behind killing this idea for all the reasons I have suggested. Some will argue that the highest level of football in Europe is already gripped by money. But this move is qualitatively different.

I would support removing the six teams from the Premier League, I would support banning players from playing for their country. A line must be drawn. I would appeal to players of the six clubs that they should also speak out. This is a humiliating step for the game. As recipients of salaries beyond their wildest dreams and sometimes beyond their abilities, players should be saying: enough is enough.

How much money do you need as a player before you become embarrassed about what the current set up is doing to the wider game? I would call on them and the Professional Footballers’ Association to get behind moves to sink this idea.

In some respects, Scotland is not involved but it should also be aware and learn lessons. There have been murmurings in Scotland about franchising and there’s also the question of the uneven distribution of finance within our own game. Some clubs are seeking success, most are seeking survival. There has been a tendency to focus on elites and what they can gain from the game and forget the rest.

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We are not in the position of England in that we don’t have clubs involved – for now. Nevertheless, money is a threat, it can be a danger, especially if elites cream off what’s available.

Some people have suggested the Super League might just be a sophisticated ruse to pressure UEFA into putting more cash into the Champions League. Let’s hope so. But my concern is that this feels different. The involvement of JP Morgan suggests this is a serious effort to go it alone, which I find deplorable.

Clearly this will have a seismic impact on the game. As far as I am concerned it is a declaration of war against football.

But you need to look for a silver lining on every cloud. Maybe this is the wake-up call needed. Of course, all clubs want as much finance as they can get. But there must be a line we never cross in relation to the damage it can do to the game.

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I believe the Super League is the red line being crossed. This is a struggle for the soul of the game, belated, yes, but it’s never too late. If we can present a united front then football will be better off.

Henry McLeish is former First Minister of Scotland

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