Stephen Cleeve: Non-league has not sold its soul
- Credit: Ian Burt
So the European Super League revolution, planned in such secrecy for months by the greatest brains in the game, turned out to be a one-day wonder.
The resolve of the billionaire owners of the six biggest, most famous clubs in Britain collapsed like a leaky balloon in the face of a grass-roots backlash. The fiasco proved one inalienable truth: that fan-power rules, okay!
While football fans during a game may have a different view from their opponents and will argue their side of the story ad infinitum, they are united in their loyalty to the game. As though speaking with one voice, football fans up and down the country took to the streets, the TV screens and the social media to knock out the Super League before it got started. The ‘no promotion, no relegation’ model may work in the American game and there is no doubt that financially the franchise model makes its owners a good deal of money, but destroying years of history in the pursuit of profit is simply anathema to the average British football fan.
What surprised me most is that the owners of all six English clubs that were due to compete in the Super League are all accomplished business magnates and one would assume that anyone who had done that well materially must have a decent level of intellect and a genuine understanding of their fanbase, or at least employ people who could advise them on what the fans are thinking. The irony is that if the Super League had been in operation this season, Spurs, Arsenal and Liverpool would probably have been rewarded for failure while Leicester City could have been penalised by missing their chance to play against the European big boys, even though they are on course to finish in third place.
English football fans may plead vociferously with the referee for a penalty in the heat of a game even if it seems dubious; they may well demand a booking for a 50/50 challenge on one of their heroes even if they believe it not to be just; but to rig the outcome of a league in the cold light of day, well that is just not cricket.
The Financial Fair Play (FFP) rules which Uefa have put in place are to my mind anything but fair - their intention is to stop clubs spending more than they can afford. But if the Saudi government wanted to take over Newcastle United and spend £1bn turning it into the best team on the planet, FFP would prevent them from doing so. What FFP does is to protect the big clubs from gate-crashers to the party and it is time these rules were overhauled.
Talk of any kind of European competition seems light years away for King’s Lynn Town at the moment but the fallout of this week’s events may see more fans heading down to The Walks for the first time in support of the grassroots game of their local team.
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Just this week a local man who has the misfortune to be a Spurs fan found himself installing new barriers at The Walks. He told Mark Hearle that he has decided next season to swap the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium for his local team. We have already had a few fans who swapped season tickets at London Premier League clubs for King’s Lynn.
One family claimed that travel expenses, refreshments, programmes and tickets left them with little change out of £250 when watching West Ham. At King’s Lynn Town a £5 note is enough to get under-16s through the turnstile.
At the club we are trying to predict our expected cashflows without having any real idea what attendances will be like next season or what capacities the authorities will allow at our games. Will some fans have found other ways to spend their time and will some of our older fans feel a little unsafe returning to a crowded space?
I have no answers to these questions, but we have to look at things with a positive attitude and hope that fans will flock back. We need to stay relevant to fans and our charity will play a vital part when it finally gets a bank account – (we’ve spent thousands setting it up and the banks all blame Covid for the delay). Fans know that they can connect with the club in a real way, players are not off-limits and neither for that matter is anyone else with a responsibility for our team’s performance.
The brand of football is as good as can be found anywhere: it is an authentic experience supported by local businesses who want the club to succeed. Fans are still pinching themselves over some of the household names now visiting The Walks. The club scours the local football scene looking for players who can be taken on a football journey and sent into the Football League after receiving a real football education.
At our level the game has not sold its soul - it is still very much part of the fabric of the local community and it is a club that fans are proud to support; in short, we are connected to our fans and for that reason I am hopeful that we would never experience the kind of fallout that we saw in the upper echelons this week.
I must sign off by congratulating everyone at Norwich City on their promotion back to the Premier League. Their football is a joy to watch and deserves to be seen at Premier League level. Who can say, with the reversal of the European Super League, where Norwich will end up?